Wilson’s 2019 Conference USA Betting Guide: An Always Volatile League Creates Betting Value
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Lane Kiffin
The UAB Blazers have been a great story not just for college football, but for gamblers who have backed coach Bill Clark. Not only do the Blazers lead The Action Network home field advantage rankings, a 20-1 to win the Conference USA was the most fun a gambler could have in 2018.
Teams move fast in C-USA. Southern Miss won Conference USA in 2011 only to finish 0-12 in 2012. Western Kentucky also had a sharp decline, from 2016 champions with an electric offense to finish last in the East in 2018. Longshots can be extremely profitable in a conference full of coaches and players on the move.
In this piece I will look for value in Conference USA championship and division futures, give out my projected win totals compared to what sportsbooks have posted and break down my favorite futures bets for the conference.
What’s New in C-USA East?
Florida Atlantic will be the most prolific team in the conference while Lane Kiffin is head coach. League winners in 2017, the Owls fell off the map last season missing a bowl with a 5-7 season. An offense that was best in the nation in finishing drives and top 10 in the nation in efficiency fell to 58th in success rate.
Most of that can be pinned on offensive coordinator Kendall Briles, who left the Owls at the end of 2017 for Houston, and is considered among the best playcallers in the nation.
25-year old Charlie Weis Jr. was hired to replace Briles and quarterback Chris Robison had a 12/12 TD/INT ratio last year.
The non-conference slate is brutal, but this is the easiest road schedule in Conference USA by far. The Owls will visit Charlotte, Old Dominion, Western Kentucky and UTSA.
Marshall head coach Doc Holliday is now 6-0 in bowls, and is projected to make another in 2019. A defensive returning production rank of 105th on defense suggests the Thundering Herd may take a step back, with the biggest hit in the linebacker unit. A trip to Florida Atlantic would seem like an advantage to the Owls, but Holliday has a long history of covering the spread in the state of Florida.
An Action Network piece earlier this summer focused on IsoPPP — a measure of explosiveness — and its relation to covering the spread. The research for that assignment uncovered some stats for Florida International. Head coach Butch Davis returns an offense that is No. 8 in returning production and had an IsoPPP rating of 1.30.
The rout is now officially on! Maurice Alexander takes the short pass from James Morgan to the house from 38 yards out as @FIUFootball opens up a 35-10 lead on @UMassFootball. #CUSAFB #TheCUSAWay #UMASS #FIU pic.twitter.com/721pKPMQaT
— beIN COLLEGE SPORTS (@beINCOLLEGE) September 16, 2018
The Panthers defense is 26th in returning production and had a 1.07 IsoPPP rating. Those marks were near the top of FBS on the both sides of the ball, making Florida International a team to bet on early this season. The schedule is the issue for FIU down the line, with road trips to Louisiana Tech, Florida Atlantic and Marshall.
Western Kentucky was one of the few teams that had positive offseason bumps across the board. A second-order win total of +1.2 and a returning production rank of 14th overall were just a few of the elements. Tyson Helton takes over as head coach after a few years as USC and Tennessee quarterbacks coach, which should translate to more efficiency for an offense that was 111th in passing S&P+. Helton helped lead WKU to historic offensive numbers in 2014 and 2015.
The Stockstill connection at Middle Tennessee has finally come to an end. Quarterback Brent Stockstill has graduated and taken a job with Lane Kiffin. Yes, MTSU head coach Rick Stockstill will take on his son at Florida Atlantic on Oct. 12.
The Middle Tennessee postgame press conference was by far the most emotional one I’ve ever covered. Rick Stockstill and Brent Stockstill both fighting back the tears following a heartbreaking championship loss. pic.twitter.com/hLAzpInwa9
— Justin Beasley (@JBeasleyWSMV) December 2, 2018
The Blue Raiders should struggle this season, having an overall returning production rank of 122nd from a team that won the East last year. The schedule does them no favors starting at Michigan and playing later at Iowa. The offensive line loses 117 career starts, putting the spotlight on the health of whoever the new quarterback will be.
Charlotte had its coach in place, Mike Houston from FCS James Madison, before East Carolina swooped in. Will Healy comes in from Austin Peay, famous for hanging with Central Florida for a half of football. The 49ers offense could use the boost, ranking 112th in success rate and 117th in IsoPPP last season.
The biggest upset of 2018 was Old Dominion over Virginia Tech 49-35. The Monarchs were 27.5-point underdogs against the Hokies, but amazingly they won just three Conference USA games.
The offense is 113th in returning production, so the burst over Virginia Tech may not be repeated in a revenge spot at Blacksburg on Sept. 7. The Monarchs do draw UTSA and UAB from the West, but this is a rebuild for Bobby Wilder in his 11th season.
What’s New in C-USA West?
Curious is the best way to describe a Southern Miss offseason, where head coach Jay Hopson inquired about Art Briles as an offensive coordinator. Arkansas State OC Buster Faulkner eventually won the position, but Hopson’s process has been under scrutiny in Hattiesburg.
The Golden Eagles are first in the nation in offensive returning production, but that unit was 116th in success rate last season. Road trips to Rice and UTSA certainly do not strike fear if you’re looking to bet them to win the division, but the West may be decided in a season finale against Florida Atlantic.
North Texas seemed to be a program in limbo at the end of last season. Reports were out that head coach Seth Littrell was close to a deal with Kansas State before eventually withdrawing his name. This November distraction showed on the field with a loss to Old Dominion and a pair of 3-point wins over Florida Atlantic and UTSA. A blowout loss to a coachless Utah State in the New Mexico Bowl shows how much prep went into bowl planning.
— Collin Wilson (@_Collin1) December 15, 2018
This is the easiest schedule in the West with cross division games against rebuilding Charlotte and Middle Tennessee. Road trips to Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech will decide the division, but it must be taken into account how focused Littrell will be in November when teams come calling.
Louisiana Tech has never won Conference USA, as Skip Holtz lost the championship game in 2014 and 2016. A rank of 30th overall in returning production dictates the Bulldogs will not be a pushover this season, especially with Amik Robertson shadowing every team’s top target.
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) September 10, 2017
The Conference USA West will run through Shreveport, as Louisiana Tech hosts North Texas and Southern Miss. A painless road schedule consists of Rice, UTEP and a depleted UAB.
We love our UAB Blazers at the Action Network, but we are in the business of making investments when the time is right. Bill Clark was underrated the past two seasons amassing an 18-8-1 record against the spread. It is safe to say the cat is out of the bag with the current odds, and the Blazers are 130th in returning production.
UAB returns talented running back Spencer Brown, but a loss of the top four receiving targets and top four offensive linemen will make this season a struggle.
Could we put Rice, UTEP and UTSA all in the same boat? This group of Texas teams went 6-31 straight up last season. Last season these three teams ranked 127th, 129th and 130th in S&P+ rankings.
Somehow, the UTEP and UTSA rosters are 89th or worst in returning production. The Owls are third overall in that category but will be double digit underdogs to everyone on the schedule except UTEP and UTSA.
Bets to Watch
- Florida International to Win Conference +450: Butch Davis has done nothing but fast track the Panthers since he took over a 4-8 team in 2017. Hidden IsoPPP metrics prove it will be tough for any team to blow out the Panthers. Quarterback James Morgan is the best in the conference not named Mason Fine from North Texas. Some hidden bye weeks will help FIU’s conference odds also. The Panthers have New Hampshire scheduled before travel to Louisiana Tech and Old Dominion before travel to Florida Atlantic.
- Middle Tennessee Under 5.5: This was an early and larger investment from me, and not just because Rick Stockstill must turn to a quarterback who isn’t his son for the first time since 2014. Depleted units on both sides of the ball make this a fade season for the Blue Raiders.
- Louisiana Tech to Win the West +350: A stellar defense and a high returning production rank are advantages, but getting North Texas and Southern Miss at home will help. Skip Holtz has finished higher than than Littrell’s Mean Green in two of the last three seasons.