Miller: 4 Under-the-Radar College Football Teams to Bet Before the Market Catches Up
Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: East Carolina Pirates quarterback Holton Ahlers (12).
- Coaching changes and returning production can fuel quick rises in small conferences.
- Kyle Miller looks at four Group of Five teams worth your bet at the start of the 2019 season.
One of the most important aspects of preseason college football handicapping is returning production — and just how good that returning production is.
It’s only one of the many things you must consider, but players getting more time to develop their bodies and learn the system is going to be a major asset early in the season.
Many bettors are using returning production to inform their decisions, so we have to dig a little deeper and find edges the market isn’t accounting for.
Here are four under-the-radar teams I’m looking to back to start 2019.
Jay Hopson has been slowly building up the Golden Eagles and as he enters his fourth season in Hattiesburg, he has his most experienced team yet. Quarterback Jack Abraham returns for his junior year after leading the nation in completion percentage with a 73.1% mark in 2018.
Despite Abraham’s accurate arm, they ranked just 92nd in offensive S&P+, so Hopson brought in Arkansas State’s Buster Faulkner to run his offense (after attempting to hire outcasted former Baylor coach Art Briles). The Red Wolves offenses finished 57th and 56th in S&P+ over the last two seasons.
Faulkner’s got a good quarterback in Abraham, an electric receiver in Quez Watkins, and a deep, veteran offensive line.
— Jesse Finver (@JfinverSports12) October 13, 2018
Southern Miss had one of the best Group of Five defenses in 2018 and it returns six starters, including All-Conference USA first team defensive lineman Jacques Turner. I expect this unit to replicate last year’s production, at a minimum.
Following a likely a win against FCS Alcorn State in Week 1, the Golden Eagles have three consecutive road games at Mississippi State, Troy, and Alabama. It’s a tough three-game stretch, but I expect my power ratings to suggest bets on Southern Miss as big underdogs early on.
After floundering under defensive-minded head coach Everett Withers, Texas State changed course and hired long time Big 12 offensive coordinator Jake Spavital to get them to their first ever bowl game. What he inherits is the most experienced Texas State team in years.
Withers leaves behind 10 returning starters from the fifth-best defense in the Sun Belt. Their anemic 2018 offense gets a boost from Spavital, his offensive coordinator hire Bob Stitt, and Stitt’s former quarterback at Montana, Gresch Jensen.
We don’t have much data on Stitt, but he became a college football cult hero for his creative offenses at Division II Colorado School of Mines and FCS Montana.
Spavital spent the last two seasons at West Virginia, engineering offensive rankings of 36th and 18th, respectively, with a pass heavy, explosive attack. Stitt has been noted as one of the most innovative spread offense minds in college football, so he’ll know what to do with his nine returning starters.
— Texas State Football (@TXSTATEFOOTBALL) August 7, 2019
I’m excited about the combination of experience on defense and potential offensive improvements from coaching. An energized, experienced football team gets Texas A&M (Texas State is +34.5 as of writing) in Week 1 before the Aggies’ showdown with Clemson.
That’s a great spot where I’ll be backing them but I think the Bobcats are worth your attention all season long, assuming they find any semblance of an offense.
Senior quarterback John Wassink returns almost all of his skill position players and key offensive linemen from a good offense in 2018.
The defense, on the other hand, was downright bad.
They were a young, ultra-aggressive unit but they do return 10 starters. Having more experience in the secondary should lead to fewer explosive plays allowed from this blitz-heavy defense.
The Broncos will get their chance to prove that early on, as they make trips to Michigan State and Syracuse in the first four weeks of the season. I make Western Michigan +18.5 and +14, respectively, in those games but the most experienced team in America will be a live dog early in the year.
Since 2011, only one coach has beaten North Dakota State for the FCS National Championship. East Carolina hired that coach, Mike Houston, to get the Pirates back to a bowl game for the first time since 2014.
Houston brings both James Madison coordinators with him to Greenville, which should make for a smooth transition. He had prolific offenses at JMU and inherits former high 3-star quarterback Holton Ahlers.
The 6-foot-3 lefty has drawn comparisons to Tim Tebow for his strong running ability and bulky frame. Houston can build around Ahlers with a strong receiving core and an experienced offensive line.
— ECU Athletics (@ECUAthletics) October 2, 2018
The defense loses AAC Defensive Player of the Year Nate Harvey, but the cupboard isn’t bare. New defensive coordinator Bob Trott never allowed more than 21.2 points per game at JMU, so he can certainly coach up the talent he has.
The Pirates will travel to in-state NC State (say that five times fast) in Week 1. Mike Houston will want to prove early in the year that he’s the right man for this job, and ECU is +17.5.