College Football Overachievers, Underachievers Against the Spread: Who Will Improve and Regress?

Oct 09, 2018 6:03 PM EDT
  • College football teams don't go undefeated or winless against the spread, so overachieving teams are bound to come back to earth, and vice versa.
  • But which ones should you back as we enter the second half of the season, and which should you fade?

College football teams do not go undefeated or winless against the spread in a single season.

An FBS team hasn’t done either since at least 1990, although a few came close. There were the 2008 Washington Huskies, who lost quarterback Jake Locker to a broken thumb and went 1-11 ATS, and the 2001 Tulsa Golden Hurricane, who covered their last game of the season after starting 0-9 ATS.

The point: Teams that are unbeaten or winless against the spread won’t stay that way.

So far this season, there are a few programs outperforming Vegas expectations by a wide margin, and a few are doing the opposite. These teams overachieve and underachieve even relative to what oddsmakers thought.

A team such as UConn, which might have the worst defense in the last 100 years, doesn’t make this list because everyone thought the Huskies would be terrible, and the odds reflected that.

Let’s dive into other teams that are the biggest overachievers and underachievers ATS through six weeks. You can check out full college football ATS standings here.

Biggest College Football Overachievers Against the Spread

Appalachian State Mountaineers

  • Average cover margin: 19.8 points
  • ATS record: 4-0
  • Straight-up record: 3-1

There have been four matchups so far this season between teams currently ranked in the S&P+ top 15.

One of these teams is … not like the other.

Appalachian State has exceeded expectations for a few reasons. It lost a four-year starter at quarterback and an excellent defensive coordinator in Nate Woody to Georgia Tech, but hasn’t missed a beat.

The Mountaineers took Penn State to overtime as 24-point dogs, and have given up a total of 23 points to their next three opponents.

S&P+ projects a margin of victory greater than 13 points in every remaining game for App State. The Action Network power ratings say it will be at least a 6-point favorite in those contests.

This feels like a situation where the lines will get so high against bad teams that the Mountaineers just won’t get outside the number like they were earlier in the season.

You’re already starting to see it — 71% of bettors are backing App State as 10-point road favorites against Arkansas State, the preseason Sun Belt favorite, on Tuesday night. (See live data here.)

Utah State Aggies

  • Average cover margin: 15.1 points
  • ATS record: 5-0
  • Straight-up record: 4-1

Utah State had some pieces to put together a quality season, but the Aggies have exceeded expectations. Their S&P+ ratings on offense, defense and special teams all rank in the top 45.

Utah State will be a double-digit favorite against every team left except for Boise State. After a Friday night beatdown of BYU, you won’t get this team at a discount anytime soon.

Cincinnati Bearcats

  • Average cover margin: 14.4 points
  • ATS record: 5-1
  • Straight-up record: 6-0

Utah State and App State almost pulled off massive upsets. Cincinnati actually did it against UCLA. Too bad that win hasn’t aged well.

Cincinnati hasn’t played anyone of merit because the UCLA win looks so mediocre now. Quality of opponent is of course factored into a point spread — that’s the whole objective — but there are major tests looming for the Bearcats. And I don’t think their offense is up for the task.

Left on Cincinnati’s schedule is:

  • A Navy team that ran for 569 yards in this matchup last year.
  • Central Florida’s terrifyingly good offense.
  • South Florida’s very good (but not terrifying) offense, and above average defense.

I’ll be looking to back Temple if it opens as an underdog next week, and will look to fade Cincinnati in a few of those games down the stretch.

Biggest College Football Underachievers Against the Spread

Louisville Cardinals

  • Average cover margin: -16.8 points
  • ATS record: 1-5
  • Straight-up record: 2-4

Where do you even begin with Louisville? It’s had issues everywhere, and really only deserved to win one game: The 31-7 victory over Indiana State. In every other contest, the Cardinals had a postgame win expectancy of less than 30%, according to Football Study Hall.

The one positive is that quarterback Jawon Pass might be getting a little better. The negative? The defense is getting worse.

Here is Louisville’s yards per play allowed per game.

  • Alabama: 7.6
  • Indiana State: 3.4
  • Western Kentucky: 5.3
  • Virginia: 6.2
  • Florida State: 6.4
  • Georgia Tech: 8.3

Louisville will cover a few more games this season, but I won’t be jumping in front of this runaway freight train of turmoil.

UL-Monroe Warhawks

  • Average cover margin: -14.8 points
  • ATS record: 1-5
  • Straight-up record: 2-4

UL-Monroe ranked 17th in offensive S&P+ last year and returned almost everyone, including quarterback Caleb Evans. So what do the Warhawks have to show for it in their five games against FBS opponents?

  • 5.6 yards per play
  • 18.1 points per game

There’s one glaring problem in the offensive profile: Finishing drives. ULM is averaging 3.26 points per trip inside the opponents’ 40-yard line, which is dead last in FBS.

Finishing drives is a skill, so it’s not like it will naturally get better. But last year, the Warhawks ranked 29th of 130 FBS teams in that category. The offense will start finishing more drives.

The defense … good luck. It’s allowing 7.41 yards per play, which ranks 128th of 130 FBS teams. It’s seventh-worst in points per possession (3.13) and sixth-worst in points per game (41.67).

I think UL-Monroe will get a little better on offense while the defense continues to struggle. Will it cover? Who knows? But some more games might go over the total.

Navy Midshipmen

  • Average cover margin: -13 points
  • ATS record: 1-4
  • Straight-up record: 2-3

Navy has had a weird season. It got smoked by Hawaii, beat a pretty good Memphis team then scored seven points against Air Force.

In theory, Navy should be immune to being this bad against the spread. The triple option limits opponents’ possessions and usually levels the talent and athleticism gap, so the Midshipmen can cover against good teams.

According to Bet Labs, the service academy teams are 19-6-1 as 20-plus point underdogs since 2005. So if you subscribe to that theory, you will have opportunities to back Navy down the stretch against Notre Dame and UCF.

Credit:

USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Jordan Love and Bobby Petrino

Follow Steve Petrella on Twitter
@steve_petrella

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SCHEDULE
OPEN
CURR
# BETS
MSU
MICH
+6.5
47.5
+7.5
40
LSU
MSST
-6.5
44.5
-6.5
46
TEM
CIN
-3.5
48.5
-3.5
47.5
ECU
UCF
+24
64.5
+21.5
65.5
USF
CONN
-31
70
-32
69
WASH
COLO
-17
51
-17
50
TCU
OKLA
+7.5
61
+7.5
62
WSU
ORE
-2
66
-3
69
UK
VAN
-11.5
48
-11
46
TENN
BAMA
+28.5
58
+30
57.5
CLEM
NCST
-17
53.5
-17.5
58
IOWA
MD
-13.5
51.5
-9
42.5
PUR
OSU
+12
64.5
+13.5
68
WISC
ILL
-25.5
54.5
-24
55.5
IND
PSU
+13
62
+14
57