A quick refresher on my philosophy for betting season win totals.
1.) I don’t pay much attention to schedule. We overthink this, despite only a handful of teams being obvious mismatches each year. For the most part, everyone is playing the bulk of their schedule against the meat of the bell curve and we tend not to be great at guessing successful teams before the season.
2.) I heavily consider luck. Did a team have awful turnover luck? Awful field position differentials? Win a bunch of close games? All those factor into my thought process.
3.) Who under/over performed from a year earlier? Yes, stats from the previous year don’t always matter much in an era of significant roster turnover, but still, when a team’s EPA/WPA/successful play rate, etc. look good and their record does not — it’s usually a sign that something weird happened and is unlikely to happen again.
With that in mind, my 20 win total bets for 2022.
Florida International, Over 3 (-140)
FIU was an example of a team that was a complete train wreck because virtually everyone cashed in their chips by the end of September. Butch Davis was leaving. The team wasn’t going to win many games regardless. The end result was misery. But we’ve seen this before, right? Think 2017 Baylor or 2018 Louisville or even last year’s Utah State. New coach, new energy, new results. And in a league as weak as Conference USA, there’s really no reason to assume FIU can’t turn things around quickly.
Toledo, Over 7.5 (-145)
Maybe my favorite bet of the year. The Rockets ranked 17th nationally in EPA/play last year. Of the 16 teams ahead of them, 15 won 10 games or more. They finished 7-6. Of Toledo’s second-half offensive drives last year, 71% were played with the Rockets either ahead or within 3 points. Louisville is the only team with a higher rate of 2H drives within 3 who won less than eight games. Indeed, Toledo went 0-4 in games decided by a FG or less last year. Bill Connelly’s metrics show Toledo with at least a roughly 50/50 shot to win all but one game (Ohio State) this year. Some marginally better luck and Toledo is a 10-win team this year.
Louisiana-Lafayette, Under 8.5 (-105)
The Cajuns were one of my favorite under bets last year — and it didn’t pay off. Why? Because they went 7-0 in games decided by a TD or less. ULL and Nebraska had essentially the same cumulative EPA in 2021. The Cajuns were 7-0 in close games and finished 11-1 for the regular season. Nebraska was 0-8 in close games and finished 3-9 for the regular season. These things matter. The Cajuns also had among the highest differential of drives starting in opponent territory (a bit of luck that doesn’t often repeat itself). The Cajuns have been among the luckiest teams in the country for two straight years, but they’re now without their longtime starting QB and their head coach, so this is the year when the luck runs out.
Central Michigan, Under 7.5 (even)
CMU won eight regular-season games last year, but three came by four points or less (as did a bowl win over Washington State). The impetus for that good luck begins with field position. CMU was +22.5% — best by a wide margin — in percentage of drives beginning in opponent territory. For comparison, that’s about the same differential USC enjoyed in 2020, and look what happened to the Trojans in 2021.
Of note: I also leaned heavily toward the Eastern Michigan under (6.5, -160), but the juice was a bit too high for my liking, and frankly, someone in the MAC has to win games this year.
Penn State, Over 8.5 (+105)
Last year, Penn State was also one of my favorite over bets. They had awful luck during the crazy COVID season of 2020, including two losses in which they out-gained their opponent by 200+ yards. That simply never happens. So, did their luck turn in 2021? Ah, no. The Nittany Lions played 95.5% of their drives either ahead or within a TD and still managed to lose six games. Four losses were by four points or less, including an L vs. Iowa because their QB got hurt in the second half.
Ball State, Under 5.5 (-130)
Ball State had a successful play margin (successful offensive rate minus unsuccessful defensive rate) of -6.6% last year — good for 111th out of 130 teams. No team worse won more than four games. Ball State won six. They were +7 in turnover margin for the year but were out-gained by an average of 83 yards per game.
Roadrunners are one of four teams that have seen a 3 points per game increase in points-off-turnover differential in each of the last two years. Their +3.85 shift from 2020 to 2021 was the 21st-largest move. Meanwhile, UTSA was 6-0 in games decided by a TD or less. In addition, UTSA struggled down the stretch, with a negative scoring differential over their last five games (3-2).
Arizona State, over 6.5 (+105)
No part of me likes this bet. Between the truckload of guys who transferred out and Herm Edwards’ job status a daily talking point, there’s every reason to assume Arizona State goes off the rails this year. But — I’m letting the numbers tell the story for me. The Sun Devils went 8-5 last year. Four losses were away from home. All were by 14 or less. The defense held opponents to 28 or less in 10 of 13 games. And then there’s this number: Arizona State saw a nearly 14 points/game swing in points off turnovers from 2020 to 2021. That’s two TDs PER GAME based solely off turnovers. So it a seven-win season — even with all the other issues — too much to ask?
Indiana, over 4 (-120)
Speaking of Arizona State’s insane swing in points off turnovers, Indiana was also really darned unlucky, with a nearly 9 point-per-game year-over-year shift in the wrong direction. Another way of looking at it: Indiana had one of the worst starting field position differentials in 2021, again a product of bad turnover luck. Part of this can be attributed to a particularly lucky 2020 campaign in which the Hoosiers won their fair share of games they had no business winning. But this also wasn’t nearly as awful as the 2-10 record in 2021 suggests, and with a better QB situation and lower expectations, there’s no reason to think a bowl game can’t be in the cards.
Louisville, over 6.5 (-105)
Another team with bad luck in 2020 that I expected to swing back in 2021… and it didn’t happen. Some of this can be chalked up to the fact that 2020 was an inherently strange year, making identifying bad luck metrics tougher than other seasons played under normal circumstances. Still, it’s hard to argue that Scott Satterfield’s bunch hasn’t been one of the unluckiest teams in the country the past two seasons, including an 0-3 record in games decided by a FG or less last year. Virginia won on a last second field goal. Clemson won only due to a second-half injury to Malik Cunningham. Last season, Louisville was within 3 points or ahead on 71% of its second-half drives vs. FBS teams and won just five of those games. Michigan State, Utah, Utah State, Iowa and Purdue all profiled about the same — and all won nine games or more.
TCU, under 6.5 (+110)
I like the Sonny Dykes hire, but I’m not sure this is a Year 1 boon. The Frogs won just five games last year, and still were among the most overachieving squads in the country. They had the same explosive play differential as ULM and Northwestern. They ranked 105th in EPA/play. They went 3-0 in games decided by a FG or less.
Syracuse, over 4.5 (-105)
The Orange were a breath away from bowl eligibility last year, losing three straight games in the middle of the season by 3 points each. The defense was actually quite good — just two teams topped 400 yards of total offense against them — and Sean Tucker is one of the best runners in the country. But Syracuse was hurt by bad luck with takeaways — just four INTs all year after having 44 in the previous three seasons combined, and just three fumble recoveries after collecting 11 the prior year. They also were killed by late transfers, and figure to be a deeper team this time around. The biggest obstacle to five wins is that there aren’t many obvious wins on the schedule and the ACC Atlantic is deep.
Mississippi State, over 6.5 (-120)
The Bulldogs had the seventh-best successful play differential in college football last year and still went 7-6. They lost games by 2, 3, 4 and 10. They return a QB who seems perfect for Mike Leach’s offense. They’ve got Memphis, Arizona, Bowling Green and East Tennessee State out of conference. Georgia and Alabama are the only two games I see as obvious losses.
Northern Illinois, under 6.5 (+120)
The books are already taking into account NIU’s extremely good luck last year — but I’m not sure they’re taking it into account enough. NIU was 4-0 in games decided by a FG or less (including four wins when trailing in the fourth quarter). They won nine games despite a successful play rate differential of -3.9 percentage points. Only three other teams with a -3% or worse rate won more than six (and none more than seven).
Bowling Green, under 3.5 (+120)
No team had a bigger year-over-year shift in a positive direction in points off turnover differential per game. Still, the Falcons went 4-8 last year and how they beat Minnesota should be a 30 for 30 one day.
Utah, under 9 (-135)
Did the Utes catch lightning in a bottle last season with Cam Rising at QB, a lot of emotion on the line, and a weak Pac-12? Maybe. They had among the most advantageous field position in the country (+18.5% differential on drives starting in opponent territory) and had the largest overall field position differential in FBS.
Houston, under 9 (-105)
I really want to be a buyer on Houston, but the numbers say otherwise. The Cougars won five games last year in which they trailed in the second half (three in which they trailed in the fourth quarter). They had the sixth-highest year-over-year shift in points off turnover differential. And, at the end of the day, the public likes them too much.
Marshall, over 6.5 (-160)
Aside from the juice, I absolutely love this bet. Four of Marshall’s five regular-season losses came by a TD or less last year. The Herd were ahead or within a TD on 82% of their second-half drives last season vs. FBS and still won just six of those games. They ranked 28th in successful play margin and 37th in EPA/game and every team ahead of them in both metrics won at least seven games. The move to the Sun Belt makes this a bit more complicated, but there are nine winnable games on the slate and in Year 2 under Charles Huff, I think real progress is made.
Louisiana Tech, over 4.5 (-105)
La Tech had approximately the same percentage of snaps last year in which it had a 50%+ win probability as Iowa and Western Kentucky. Iowa won 10 games. WKU won nine games. La Tech won three. They’re not going 0-3 in games decided by a field goal or less again in 2022.
Kent State, under 5 (-105)
They went 7-7 last year despite being +13 in turnover margin. They had a negative points differential for the year. Their best wins were NIU by five and Miami (Ohio) but one. They lose a very good, veteran QB. I’d still love to see this go to 5.5. Would feel much better about that.