Every Wednesday during the fall, SabreBetrics explores college football from an analytical sports betting perspective. This week, we conclude our preview of the preseason by exploring Vegas expectations for the Virginia football team. Before getting started, there are a couple important caveats to share:
- As a Virginia alum and regular reader of The Sabre, I love talking about the Cavaliers. However, I never bet for or against Virginia in my personal portfolio. I recommend this approach to anyone considering sports betting for the first time: leave your team out of it. I will always try to provide objective analysis of Virginia’s prospects in this column, but any time I pick “against” the Cavaliers, you can be sure I am rooting against it.
- For those of you living in the Commonwealth, omitting Virginia from your betting profile won’t be a problem. Virginia is one of many states that bans placing bets on its in-state programs. So, if you are looking to place a bet on the Hoos, you will either need to use an offshore sportsbook or travel outside the state.
- Overall record: 6-6
- Record against the spread: 7-5
- Record in hitting overs: 4-8
For many Wahoo fans, finishing at .500 was a significant letdown after how the season started. Entering the last week of October, Virginia sat at 6-2 after four consecutive conference victories. The passing attack fired on all cylinders with quarterback Brennan Armstrong setting school records for passing yards and total offense in a season. However, four straight losses – three to ranked teams and the finale against VPISU – demonstrated that Virginia did not have the depth of talent, particularly on defense, to be a true conference contender.
If you did bet on Virginia against the spread, you rarely had late game stress. UVA covered the spread in each of its six victories, surpassing the line by an average of 15 points. Similarly, in the five games the Cavaliers failed to cover the spread, they missed the line by an average of 16 points. Given Virginia’s offensive prowess and defensive ineptitude, it is a little surprising that so many games still fell short of the projected point total. Though fans might have taken a while to grow accustomed to watching high-scoring shootouts, Vegas sportsbooks had these assumptions baked into their models from the very outset of the season.
As a side note, if you bet on the over in the BYU game (67 points), you cashed in with 1:27 left in the second quarter.
2022 Available Bets
- Regular Season Win Total: 7.5
- To win the Coastal Division: +750
- To win the ACC Championship: +4000
Virginia is a difficult team to project because of roster turnover, a new coaching staff, and a clear disparity of talent between offense and defense. ESPN’s Bill Connelly projects a wide range of possibilities with his model, giving UVA a 1% chance of going 2-10 and a 2% chance of going 10-2. Though both scenarios are unlikely, it’s easy to imagine the circumstances that would pull the Cavaliers’ season in either direction.
If you are an optimist at heart, you probably expect an encore performance from one of the nation’s best passing teams. In 2021, Virginia averaged 397 passing yards per game (second nationally) and 6.5 yards per play (ninth nationally). Armstrong, returning for his senior season, is surrounded by offensive weapons. It is not hyperbole to suggest that the receiving corps of Keytaon Thompson, Dontayvion Wicks, Billy Kemp IV, and Lavel Davis is one of the best in the country. Though Tony Elliot has expressed an interest in establishing a more balanced offensive approach, the roster is set up once again to be dynamic through the air.
Virginia also benefits from having a manageable schedule. Barring significant injuries, the Cavaliers are likely to be favored in all four out-of-conference games (Richmond, Illinois, ODU, Coastal Carolina). The four most difficult conference games on paper – Louisville, Miami, North Carolina, and Pittsburgh – are at home. Road trips to Syracuse, Georgia Tech, Duke and VPISU are winnable games. After watching the football team struggle for the better part of two decades, it is refreshing to have a program with realistic expectations to win any individual game on the schedule.
Despite these reasons for optimism, there are significant question marks on the roster that cannot be overlooked.
The Cavaliers’ biggest issue is once again likely to be the defense. In 2021, Virginia ranked 121st in opposing yards per game allowed (466), 123rd in yards allowed per rush (5.79), and 114th in sack rate (4.5%). This was a team that struggled mightily to stop the run and generated little pressure on the quarterback. Only 50% of the defensive production returns in 2022, which ranks 112th among FBS programs. New coordinator John Rudzinski has a proven track record of building stable defenses from his tenure at Air Force, but the Cavaliers have a long way to go to be merely an average defensive team.
The offensive line also needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. All five starters from last season left the program via graduation or the transfer portal. Offensive tackle Jonathan Leech is the only lineman who has ever started a FBS game (twice) and he may miss the opener with an injury. This lack of experience will test Armstrong’s resolve in the pocket and challenge an abysmal rushing attack that ranked 108th in yards per game in 2021.
I think the modal outcome for Virginia this season is a less extreme version of what we saw in 2021. The Cavaliers are unlikely to match elite production from the passing game. Despite roster churn, it would be nearly impossible for UVA to be worse at playing defense or rushing the ball. Thus, you have a team that deserves to be favored against middling opposition but will likely struggle against potent offenses and speedy pass rushers. This feels like another 6-6 or 7-5 season to me, which isn’t the worst result for a first-time head coach.
Most sportsbooks have Virginia as the fourth most likely team to win the ACC Coastal, with implied odds close to 12%. Those odds seem high to me given the current state of the program, but crazier things have certainly happened in the Coastal Division.
Next week, the real fun begins. We will have real, live college football games to watch and gamble on. Stay tuned for a preview of Week 1 betting opportunities, including a prediction for Virginia’s opening game against Richmond.
SabreBetrics is a Virginia graduate and longtime fan of The Sabre. The opinions expressed in this article are not directly associated with TheSabre 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.