2021 College Football Win Totals: Finding Betting Value Using Collin Wilson’s Projections
Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Brian Kelly (center) and Notre Dame players.
The end of May has arrived, which means one thing for college football bettors: Opening win totals.
DraftKings released odds for each team on Tuesday, signaling that the 2021 season is drawing near. The Action Network’s very own Collin Wilson has delivered his projected totals (without juice) for every FBS team, which can help bettors find value right away.
Wilson will deliver his favorite bets on the site and in the Action App soon. But in the meantime, check out DraftKings’ team win total openers and Wilson’s team-by-team projections below. We have also included high-level analysis for each conference in order to highlight which team totals offer the greatest betting edge according to Wilson’s projections.
College Football Win Totals
American Athletic Conference
The team with the highest projected win total comes as no surprise as Cincinnati finished last season ranked No. 8 in the final AP Poll after a narrow loss to No. 7 Georgia in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
UCF comes in right under the Bearcats’ win total at 9.5. With Heisman Trophy candidate Dillon Gabriel returning under center, the Knights could compete for an AAC title.
But, the betting value doesn’t pop until one spot further down the board.
Memphis opened with a win total of 8.5, but Wilson sets the Tigers’ number at 6.72. Memphis faces Mike Leach’s Mississippi State squad in its third non-conference game before eventually taking on Tulsa, UCF and Houston on the road.
Although Kenneth Gainwell didn’t play in 2020, it will be an interesting year for the Tigers as they attempt to replace his rushing production from 2019. Memphis must also find a replacement for quarterback Brady White, who posted a solid 2020 stat line with 3,380 yards and 31 passing touchdowns.
Atlantic Coast Conference
The top of the ACC is stacked.
Clemson, North Carolina and Miami are likely on their way to high-quality bowl games or a College Football Playoff appearance with stellar quarterbacks leading all three programs.
As for win totals, you’re essentially betting on whether or not Clemson can go undefeated — and, relatedly, whether or not North Carolina can hang with the Tigers.
A team with nearly one full win of value based on our projections comes in the middle of the table with Virginia Tech. Non-conference games against West Virginia and former ACC member Notre Dame could make things go south in a hurry. However, on the plus side, the Hokies also draw Syracuse, Georgia Tech, Duke and Virginia in four of their final six games.
Still, Virginia Tech is not the team with the most value. That honor goes to Louisville.
DraftKings has the Cardinals’ win total at 6.5, but Wilson’s projections have the line closer to 7.94. Despite having to replace running back Javian Hawkins and wide receivers Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick, the Cardinals could be in for a big year with Malik Cunningham returning at quarterback.
After all, Louisville’s 2020 season largely came down to four close games against Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, and Boston College — each of which was decided by one possession.
Many expect the Big 12 to be a two-horse race between Oklahoma and Iowa State this season. That might also be true when it comes to betting win totals.
There will be enough Iowa State Over 9.5 money to power dozens of villages mining #BTC
— Collin Wilson (@_Collin1) May 24, 2021
With Brock Purdy and Breece Hall returning for the Cyclones and Heisman favorite Spencer Rattler taking the field for Oklahoma, both overs could see plenty of money.
But, there’s also value down the board, as well.
Wilson projects TCU and Texas Tech to win at least one more game than DraftKings’ opening total for each team, respectively.
The Horned Frogs face Oklahoma, Iowa State and Oklahoma State on the road, which could be a daunting impediment to their conference title aspirations. However, if they can steal a win over the Cowboys and close out a revenge game against the Cyclones, then they could conceivably will themselves to the Big 12 Championship. DraftKings offers +900 odds for the Frogs to make it to the title game.
Wilson thinks that’s possible, as stated in his favorite conference and division bets:
“Gary Patterson dealt with everything under the sun in 2020 from a Max Duggan heart issue to COVID-19 canceling the Texas Bowl.
Duggan returns with 92% of the offense intact and a much more experienced offensive line. After the Frogs’ spring scrimmage, Patterson was optimistic that his team could become much more explosive in 2021.
The TCU Poisson distribution has the Frogs winning six conference games 45% of the time.
A coin-toss win and a revenge victory over Iowa State could very well place Patterson in the Big 12 Championship, where DraftKings lists TCU generously at +900.”
Texas Tech could also markedly improve from a 4-6 season after snagging former Oregon quarterback Tyler Shough via the transfer portal.
Shough threw for 13 touchdowns and ran for two more last season. He will also get another crack at Iowa State after suffering a 34-17 loss to the Cyclones in the Fiesta Bowl.
Could it be another down year for the Big Ten?
Last year, we saw perennial powerhouses such as Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan struggle to reach and stay above the .500 mark. Granted, Ohio State still made it to the CFP National Championship — and Indiana and Northwestern lost only one game in conference play during the regular season. Still, it felt like an off-year for the conference as a whole.
Wilson projects six teams from the Big Ten to win fewer games than their listed totals.
That list includes Ohio State, which boasts one of the lowest returning production rates in the country. That might encourage some bettors to fade the Buckeyes, but as Wilson cautions, “I would like to remind any reader that this is Ohio State, and returning production does not matter.”
Michigan also makes the list, and Wilson projects it at 6.14 wins compared to the 8-win line offered at DraftKings. With crossover games against Wisconsin, Northwestern and Nebraska, nothing is a guarantee for Jim Harbaugh’s squad — except for khakis, of course.
Joe Milton transferred to Tennessee, so it looks as if the Maize and Blue will roll out sophomore Cade McNamara to start under center.
The Wolverines also must replace second-leading rusher Zach Charbonnet after he entered the transfer portal and took his talents to UCLA.
Moreover, Harbaugh’s squad has key holes to fill on defense following the departures of leading sack men Kwity Paye and Carlo Kemp to the NFL.
After stellar seasons in 2020, it appears as if Indiana and Northwestern could be due for some negative regression as well.
The Hoosiers open the season against the Iowa Hawkeyes in a crossover game that will likely be contentious. Then two weeks later, the Hoosiers face one of the best Group of Five teams in college football: The Cincinnati Bearcats. Indiana returns the duo of Michael Penix Jr. and Ty Fryfogle, but opening the year with that kind of gauntlet is less than ideal.
Northwestern’s schedule isn’t horrible in the early going, drawing dates with Michigan State, Indiana State, Duke and Ohio. On the other hand, the Wildcats report a paltry 28% TARP (Transferring Assets & Returning Production) on offense and 50% on defense.
This is where the value really starts popping. Among Conference USA’s 13 teams, Wilson projects a difference of at least 0.9 wins for eight of them.
After a 7-5 regular season, UTSA finds itself on top of C-USA from a win totals perspective.
While the Roadrunners should compete for a conference title, the immediate value lies with the conference’s best team in 2020: Marshall.
Star running back Brenden Knox departed in hopes of finding a spot on the Dallas Cowboys roster, but having quarterback Grant Wells back for his second season should do wonders for the Thundering Herd. They also return at least 57% production on both sides of the ball.
With a win total of 7.5 set at DraftKings, Wilson projects Marshall to eclipse that mark by nearly 2.5 wins.
Rice and Middle Tennessee own percentages of at least 70% in terms of TARP on defense, while Western Kentucky comes in at under 45% on both sides of the ball.
And, of course, we can’t forget UTEP.
We live in a world with a UTEP Win Total at 3 and there’s small value on the Over #PicksUp ⛏
— Collin Wilson (@_Collin1) May 24, 2021
Well, this is different.
Liberty is projected for 9.31 wins, and Notre Dame is projected to win 6.38 games? Army is projected for 8.34 wins and BYU is projected to win 5.56 games?
Welcome to FBS Independent football in 2021.
Notre Dame and BYU both lost instrumental pieces, with the Fighting Irish returning only 25% of their 2020 production on offense and losing quarterback Ian Book in the process. Those losses are incredibly tough for a team that put together one of the best seasons in all of college football last year.
The Cougars return 63% of their offense, but the loss of Zach Wilson cannot be understated.
Still, there is one Independent team with a Heisman Trophy candidate and potential first-round draft selection returning at quarterback: The Liberty Flames, quarterbacked by budding star Malik Willis.
Willis threw for 2,260 yards, 20 touchdowns and six interceptions while racking up 944 yards and 14 scores on the ground in 2020. He should be one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country this season, which bolsters modest value on the Flames’ over.
Also of note, Liberty could very well be favored in its first nine games and head to Oxford, Mississippi undefeated in Hugh Freeze’s return to his old stomping grounds. An undefeated Freeze vs. Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss? Yes, please.
MACtion is back — and if you’re looking for value, then look no further than the top of the table.
Buffalo lost star running back Jaret Patterson, who ran for 1,072 and 19 touchdowns in only six games last year. Nonetheless, the Bulls report over 56% TARP on both sides of that ball and return leading tackler James Patterson, Jaret’s brother.
Toledo boasts a Net TARP of 5 — one of the best marks in the country — so, its 9.51-win projection (more than 1.5 wins higher than DraftKings’ opening win total) is justified.
Despite returning the majority of its defense, Northern Illinois probably won’t look like its former self this season. After going winless in 2020, things should be better this time around — but that doesn’t mean all should go swimmingly.
After a magical run that culminated in an Arizona Bowl bid, San Jose State now looks to repeat as Mountain West Conference champions. Wilson likes the Spartans’ odds to go back-to-back, projecting San Jose State to win the most games in the conference.
Now with his third college program, Spartans quarterback Nick Starkel took his career to new heights last season by throwing for 2,174 yards and 17 touchdowns en route to a Mountain West Conference title. With only 28% TARP on offense, things could get dicey, but the Spartans boast a TARP of 73% on defense and return Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Cade Hall.
Nevada could also prove to be a dangerous team with Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year Carson Strong returning to lead the Wolf Pack.
Lower down the odds board, Utah State is lurking and ready to make a statement. While the Aggies might not make a run to the conference title — or perhaps even a bowl game — the return of Deven Thompkins at wide receiver should give them a small boost to get them moving in the right direction.
No conference in college football returns more on the offensive side of the ball than the Pac-12. Yet, we have win totals projected lower than the listed number for the top-four teams.
But, that’s where it stops.
Utah has the potential to blow apart all expectations. With the addition of former Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer, plus a defense that returns more than 90% of its production after ranking second in Success Rate last season, anything is possible for the Utes.
They have a 60% chance to win at least seven games and a 45% chance of finishing with just one loss.
UCLA finds itself in a similar situation, as it returns 85% of its production from last season. With all four of the team’s losses coming by one possession or less, expect the Bruins to make some noise this season.
On the other side of the coin, Stanford could be an immediate fade.
The Cardinal must suffer through one of the toughest schedules in college football while ranking bottom-10 in TARP.
It’s shaping up to be another classic year in the SEC with Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and Florida sitting at the top.
Head coach Nick Saban’s teams rarely struggle early in the season, but the Crimson Tide face Miami and Florida in their first three weeks. That’s not an easy task for any program in the country, even one as lauded as Alabama.
Meanwhile, Georgia opens the season against Clemson, but the Bulldogs avoid Alabama and have three conference road trips to Vanderbilt, Auburn, and Tennessee.
Ole Miss boasts the highest returning production in the conference and avoids matchups with Georgia and Florida.
Coming off an average 5-5 season, LSU could struggle once again in 2021. The Tigers open the season at UCLA before facing Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M and Auburn. Ouch.
Then, near the bottom of the SEC’s projected standings, betting value finally emerges on the over for Mississippi State and Arkansas. The Razorbacks own a TARP of 88% on defense, while Mike Leach’s defense sits at 87%.
The Chants are all the way back.
After an incredible 11-1 regular season that ended with a heartbreaking loss to Liberty in the Cure Bowl, Coastal Carolina will look to do the same thing all over again — but this time with a perfect ending.
The Chanticleers may not face significant resistance as they cruise through their conference schedule. Meanwhile, one of Coastal Carolina’s foremost rivals for Sun Belt supremacy may travel a rockier path: The Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns.
Louisiana reports an offensive TARP of 83% and a defensive TARP of 91%, but its early-season schedule is daunting. The Ragin’ Cajuns open the 2021 season at Texas before facing Ohio, Appalachian State and Liberty.
Troy doesn’t return much on offense, but the Trojans boast a defensive TARP rating of 92%. If variance breaks in favor of the Trojans, then they could surprise fans and bettors as one of the best teams in the Sun Belt.
Finally, South Alabama could also hold some value. With a TARP of over 80% on both sides of the ball, the Jaguars join the Troy Trojans among the Sun Belt’s lurking dark horses.
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