Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Lane Kiffin
- Temple has as good a shot as any team to win the American Athletic Conference; the Owls' 25-1 betting odds are way off.
- Nevada and Arkansas State should both benefit from weak schedules.
- Florida Atlantic is a trendy pick to win Conference USA, but UAB actually has the most betting value at 15-1
Check the expiration date on your milk. It’s more than likely within range of the Duquesne-UMass kickoff on Aug. 25. So now is the perfect time to start finalizing your college football futures card.
We looked at my five favorite Power 5 future bets on Monday, but we can’t forget about the Group of 5. After all, UTSA futures pay out just the same as Clemson’s. Trust me.
Let’s get to it.
All lines taken from Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook on July 30. Always shop for the best line.
Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Temple QB Frank Nutile
Last year, all the preseason chatter in the AAC centered upon Charlie Strong running the table at South Florida. Meanwhile, Central Florida, the eventual champion, sat at 25-1 to win the conference.
Fast forward a year and we’re seeing the same thing. Central Florida is now the chalky pick, and Temple has taken on the role of the darkhorse.
Do I think the Owls can run the table and make a New Year’s Six bowl? No, but they have just as good of a shot to win the AAC in 2018 as any other listed team. And that’s crazy, considering they’re 25-1.
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One of the things that gives me the most hope? Geoff Collins, the stud defensive coordinator formerly at Mississippi State and Florida from 2011-16, enters his second season at the helm. Temple showed plenty of promise in Year 1 under Collins, ranking 21st in adjusted sack rate, 24th in Passing Downs S&P+ and eighth in defensive line havoc.
In short, the Owls aren’t afraid to take chances, and they make a habit of capitalizing on their opportunities.
And it’s not like Temple’s offense is devoid of playmakers: After Frank Nutile took over the full-time QB job in late October, the Owls offense thrived. He averaged a strong 8.0 yards per pass attempt (top 35 nationally) while throwing 12 touchdown passes to seven interceptions and compiling a 4-2 record as a starter.
Bolstering the case for Temple, there are plenty of reasons to fade Central Florida and South Florida in the East division — key player departures and coaching changes among them.
Both the Knights and Bulls draw tougher conference schedules, while Temple avoids Memphis from the West, gets to host South Florida and will face Central Florida after a bye week. Dating back to his days as Mississippi State’s defensive coordinator, Collins is 8-1 straight up after a bye week.
At 25-1, you’ll also have ample room to hedge your Temple bet should the Owls reach the AAC title game.
Season Win Total
Nevada Over 5.5 (-130)
Kiel Maddox-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Nevada WR Trevion Armstrong
Nevada’s 3-9 record from 2017 is a little misleading, as the Wolfpack lost three games by three or fewer points. The growth of now-senior quarterback Ty Gangi in the Air Raid offense was key to Nevada bouncing back after an 0-5 start. Gangi’s completion percentage and TD/INT splits both got a big boost last season compared to 2016.
The Wolfpack ranked 59th nationally and fourth in the Mountain West in offensive efficiency, two marks that should only go up. Why? They return all but one of their main skill players — and some decent depth along the O-line.
All Nevada needs is some effort on defense to make a bowl in 2018.
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The schedule is kind, which is part of the reason my projections call for 6.2 wins. Division rivals San Diego State and Fresno State come to Reno, and Nevada gets road games against three of the lower-rated Mountain West teams in Air Force, Hawaii and San Jose State. Add in non-conference matchups against Portland State and Oregon State (which looks one of the worst Power 5 teams) and the Wolfpack will have ample opportunity to cash for Over 5.5 bettors.
UAB to win Conference USA (+1500)
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: UAB coach Bill Clark
No Lane Kiffin future for Conference USA? There’s not much value on FAU to win the league at -110. The Owls visit competent division foes Marshall and Middle Tennessee. The Thundering Herd gave Florida Atlantic all it could handle in 2017, outgaining the Owls 381-353. But Marshall threw four interceptions and lost 30-25. FAU will have its hands full with the Thundering Herd again this season.
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The main reasons UAB has a lot of value at 15-1: It returns some quality experience, plays in the West division and has an easy schedule.
Bill Clark was the Conference USA Coach of the Year in 2017, and the Blazers rank 10th overall in returning production for 2018.
Conference USA West foes North Texas and Louisiana Tech both have much tougher schedules than UAB. The Mean Green and Blue Raiders must face Florida Atlantic from the East, while UAB was gifted with lowly Charlotte.
UAB plays Rice and UTEP on the road — not exactly a murderers’ row. This number opened 20-1 at Westgate and has since come down. I’ll roll with the Blazers, knowing I could hedge should UAB play Florida Atlantic in the conference title game.
Game of the Year
Oct. 19: Air Force vs. UNLV -1
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Air Force WR Ronald Cleveland
In 2017, Air Force rallied from a 27-point deficit in the second half against UNLV to win 34-30. Another nearly 900-yard affair again looks to be the forecast for 2018, with neither team making jumps in defense.
UNLV quarterback Armani Rogers ran for more than he passed last season vs. Air Force, and he’ll look to lead the Rebels in this revenge spot.
Scheduling wise, this could not be a better spot to fade Air Force. The Falcons play Navy on Oct. 6, travel to San Diego State on Oct. 12 and head to Las Vegas on a short week to play UNLV on Oct. 19.
If that isn’t enough, Air Force has a tough game looming against Boise State the weekend after playing UNLV, meaning the Falcons could be caught looking ahead.
Fortunately for UNLV, it will see a triple-option offense two weeks earlier with New Mexico on Oct. 6. With revenge on the Rebels’ mind, a great scheduling spot and the defense getting experience against the triple option, this is a must bet in the game of the year department.
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Arkansas State QB Justice Hansen
The biggest Sun Belt news this offseason: There will be two divisions and a conference title game in 2018. Red flags should have gone up for every handicapper out there, as App State and Troy go to the East, leaving Arkansas State in the West. My two worst-ranked Sun Belt teams are Texas State and Louisiana-Lafayette, both of whom are slotted in the West and scheduled to be road opponents for Arkansas State.
The Sun Belt East could even be open for a new contender to emerge. Ranking 117th overall in returning production, Troy must replace plenty of experience, and Appalachian State will have to replace quarterback Taylor Lamb, who played 51 games for the Mountaineers over the past four seasons.
The bottom line — Arkansas State’s talent and schedule dictate that the Red Wolves are likely to play in the Sun Belt Championship Game. Arkansas State should be the favorite in the conference-title clash, allowing this bet an easy hedge at any point. Take this future up to +100 and feel safe that you will have a great shot to cash in early December.