College football season is upon us and that means schools, large and small, are readying for kickoff. Over the last month or so, I looked closely at the Power 5 teams likely to contend for league championships (SEC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12, ACC). Today, we shift gears and check in on some of the smaller schools. While marquee teams are contending to win it all, the best online sportsbooks keep close tabs on them and there are rarely flawed lines. The smaller the school, the better the opportunity to take advantage of a bad spread. Here is my approach to betting in the 2017 season for four of the most powerful Group of 5 teams.
TOP COLLEGE FOOTBALL TEAMS IN THE GROUP OF FIVE
South Florida Bulls
Almost immediately after he was dismissed at Texas, Charlie Strong was lured to Tampa and it’s not hard to see why. Outgoing coach Willie Taggart turned the team into a power over his four years at the helm. The Bulls went 11-2 last year and finished 19th in both the AP and Coaches Poll, a season which landed Taggart the Oregon job. Strong will have 16 starters back, including dual-threat quarterback Quinton Flowers who might be the best unknown player in the country. Last year, Flowers passed for over 2,800 yards and 24 touchdowns while running for over 1,500 yards and 18 scores. If they beat Illinois in September, USF should be unbeaten into November and knocking on the door of a perfect regular season that will stir debate about whether they deserve a playoff berth.
Last year the Bulls were 8-5 against the spread. They opened the season on Saturday with a relatively unimpressive 42-22 victory over San Jose State, narrowly missing the cover on a 20.5-point spread.
Betting outlook: Flowers has the ability to run up the score on AAC teams. Betting the Bulls to cover early in the year, before everyone realizes what a talent they have in Flowers, could work out.
Boise State Broncos
Chris Petersen went 92-12 with the Broncos before departing for Washington following the 2013 campaign. The transition to Bryan Harsin has been solid, with Boise State going 12-2, 9-4, and 10-3 during his first three years. However, because everyone knows the name Boise State, they are only 18-22 ATS in those three seasons.
Only nine starters are back for the Broncos, and dealing with the loss of running back Jeremy McNichols and wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck will be difficult. That said, quarterback Brett Rypien returns after connecting on 62-percent of his tosses for more than 3,600 yards and 24 touchdowns last year.
Betting outlook: fading the Broncos will be the play more often than not. Public money pushes their lines higher than they should be on a regular basis.
Justin Fuente built up a program that had struggled for decades, leading the Tigers to 10 wins in 2014 and nine the next season before leaving for Virginia Tech. Mike Norvell took over and went 8-5 last year (5-8 ATS). The season included a win over nationally-ranked Houston, and losses on the road to strong programs like Ole Miss, Navy, and South Florida. Memphis has 15 starters back this year and quarterback Riley Ferguson, who threw for just under 3,700 yards and 32 TD’s last year, could go as high as the second-round in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Betting outlook: like South Florida, the Tigers should be able to overwhelm weaker competition and run up some scores, leading to early-season covers.
Appalachian State Mountaineers
It is impossible to forget the now decade-old upset that the Mountaineers pulled against Michigan in the Big House. After ASU struggled at the end of long-time coach Jerry Moore’s tenure, Scott Satterfield has built things back up. App went 11-2 in 2015, and 10-3 last season (7-6 ATS).
ASU has 13 starters back, including running back Jalin Moore who, in two years, has rushed for over 2,000 yards, averaged more than six yards per carry, and scored 15 touchdowns. Their only chance to pull another shocking upset comes Week 1 (Sep. 2) at Georgia. They’re currently 14-point dogs.
Betting outlook: last year, App State split their two games against Power 5 teams (ATS-wise), getting blown out at home by Miami (45-10) as 4.5-point underdogs, but hanging tough with Tennessee on the road (20-13) as 21.5-point dogs. Their ability to run the ball should let this no-fear team hang around in Sanford Stadium this weekend.