SabreBetrics: Preseason Betting Guide – Season Unders

Every Wednesday during the fall, SabreBetrics explores college football from an analytical sports betting perspective. Last week, I outlined teams that may win more games than expected. This week, I am evaluating the other side of the coin: programs that will have a difficult time matching the season win totals set by Vegas oddsmakers.

As fun as it is to adopt new schools for betting purposes, it is often more fun to find teams to root against. I’ll be the first to admit it: disdain plays a powerful role in how I consume college football. Few things in life replicate the unadulterated joy of watching a hated rival lose an important conference game or seeing a blue-blood program upset by an unranked school. In this article, I hope to provide teams you can add to your “hate watch” list for the season.

If things like returning production and continuity of coaching staff make a team more likely to overachieve, then the inverse is true for underachievers. Change is often disruptive, particularly in the short term. Very few college football coaches have been instantly successful when taking the reins of a new program. It takes time to get the right personnel on the roster to match preferred schemes. Even when coaches successfully fill roster deficiencies using the transfer portal or highly touted recruiting classes, players need time to learn new vocabulary, understand cultural expectations, and build cohesiveness with new teammates.

Admittedly, there is not a lot of data on massive roster overhauls using the transfer portal because it is a relatively new phenomenon in college football. Indeed, there are several high-profile programs that will be interesting case studies of how efficiently the portal can be used to build a national contender. In the meantime, I remain skeptical of instantaneous hype that comes from dramatic changes.

Additionally, teams that end up going under their projected win total generally share some of these common elements:

  1. A difficult strength of schedule, particularly true road games
  2. A lack of quality roster depth
  3. Positive “luck factors” from the previous season, such as turnover margin and the number of close victories

Using these criteria, I have identified six college football teams that you can bet as “unders” for the preseason. Note: The win total and vig vary between different sportsbooks.

Season Overs

Oklahoma under 9.5 wins (-120): This was one of the most turbulent offseasons in Sooner history. Following the departure of Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma lost 15 players to the transfer portal, including Heisman hopeful quarterback Caleb Williams. New coach Brent Venables was equally active in recruiting players, bringing in 13 players from the portal including former UCF standout Dillon Gabriel.

Those expecting Oklahoma to crater are likely to be disappointed. Purely in terms of roster talent, Oklahoma is a top 10 program. However, I think it is unreasonable to expect Venables to reach 10 wins in his first ever coaching gig. Gabriel’s health remains a concern after his 2021 season ended following a gruesome collarbone injury. The Sooners face difficult tests against Texas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and Baylor, as well as road matchups against Nebraska and Iowa State. It’s difficult to know what to expect with so many changing faces, but I’m betting against Oklahoma as a legitimate playoff contender in 2022.

USC under 9.5 wins (-135): Speaking of Lincoln Riley, no program improved its long-term health better than USC this offseason. Riley’s presence brought instant credibility and momentum to a team that went 4-8 last season. Announcing an upcoming move to the Big 10 certainly didn’t hurt his recruiting efforts either. The Trojans appear to have an elite offense led by transfers Caleb Williams (Oklahoma), Mario Williams (Oklahoma), Jordan Addison (Pittsburgh), and Travis Dye (Oregon).

However, its difficult to know what to expect from the USC defense. It certainly can’t be worse than last year’s team that surrendered an average of 32 points and 410 yards per game. Though there are talented individual contributors, there does not seem to be a lot of depth. With road games at Utah and UCLA as well as home contests against Notre Dame and Fresno State, USC will get the opportunity to prove that the preseason hype was warranted.

North Carolina under 7.5 wins (-135): It may not take much persuasion to convince you to root against UNC. However, there may be a financial benefit in doing so. The Tar Heels lost a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball, including quarterback Sam Howell, running back Ty Chandler, and half of the starting offensive line. Last year’s defense returned 10 starters but was still dreadful, allowing almost 34 points per game (108th nationally). Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik will start his second stint at Carolina after a five-year hiatus from coaching. It’s the same position he resigned from in 2017 after fielding defensive units that ranked 96th and 63rd nationally in yards allowed.

Outside of the normal chaos of the ACC Coastal division, the Tar Heels have home games against Notre Dame and North Carolina State, as well as a treacherous September trip to Boone to play Appalachian State. There’s still enough talent on the roster for North Carolina to make a bowl game, but eight wins seems like a stretch.

Georgia Tech under 3.5 wins (-115): Geoff Collins is sitting on one of the hottest seats in college football. In three seasons at Georgia Tech, Collins has a record of 9-25. That’s the worst record for any coach’s tenure at the school in 120 years. The program returns only eight starters from a three-win team that ranked 126th in passing yards allowed per game.

The Jackets have only five true home games, as the season opener against Clemson was moved to Mercedes-Benz Stadium (which will undoubtedly be a hostile environment even in Atlanta). The out-of-conference schedule is one of the most brutal in all of college football with games against UCF, Mississippi, and Georgia. The Yellow Jackets are likely to be favored in only two games all season (against Western Carolina and Duke). I generally try to avoid picking unders with a total this low, but it is hard to imagine a scenario where Collins is still the head coach by the end of November.

Arkansas under 7.5 wins (-145): In two short years at Arkansas, coach Sam Pittman has drastically redefined expectations. Coming off a 9-4 season, there’s a lot to like about the Razorbacks’ offense. Behind an experienced offensive line, Arkansas gained 223 yards per game on the ground (9th nationally). The passing game is more of a question mark in 2022. Though quarterback KJ Jefferson returns, he loses three of his top four receivers including first round draft pick Treylon Burks. The defense is also suspect, returning only four starters.

That’s not the level of continuity you want when going up against an SEC West that is loaded with NFL-ready talent. Out-of-conference games against Cincinnati and BYU add complexity to a schedule that includes Alabama, Texas A&M, Mississippi, LSU, and Mississippi State. Arkansas may be a rising star in the SEC, but it will be very difficult to replicate last year’s eight-win regular season.
Hawaii under 4.5 wins (-135): Unlike most teams in the FBS, the Rainbow Warriors will have 13 regular season games to work with when trying to beat the Vegas line. This extra game explains why the line is higher than expected. Hawaii has the second fewest returning starters (six) of any team in the FBS. The offseason was mired in turmoil, as head coach Todd Graham was forced to resign after former players accused him of creating an abusive environment. It’s never a good sign when the coach’s own son eagerly jumps into the transfer portal to escape the program.

Replacement coach Timmy Chang is familiar with Hawaii – he was one of the most prolific quarterbacks in college football history – but he has never served as a head coach before. It will take some time for Chang to change the culture and find his footing as the face of the program.

Next week, we will preview conference championship bets. Until then, let us know in the comments or on the message board which teams you think are overhyped this season.

SabreBetrics is written by a Virginia graduate and long-time fan of The Sabre. The opinions expressed in this article are not directly associated with and are intended for recreational use only. Sports betting should be a fun activity, not a stressful one. Please do not bet more than you can reasonably afford to lose.

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