College football is back. The season kicks off the last Saturday of August. But before it even gets going, there are plenty of opportunities to get in bets. So what is worth a wager now, are the big three worth betting, and what does the future hold for USC? Our analysts are here to offer advice going into the season.
Is there a college football win total out there right now that you advise to take right now?
David Hale: Toledo (O/U: 8 wins)
There are a number of bets I like right now, including overs on Penn State, Arizona State and Indiana and unders on Louisiana, Utah and TCU, but if I’m picking just one team to plunk some cash down on, it’s Toledo. The Rockets ranked 17th nationally in EPA/play last year. Of the 16 teams ahead of them, 15 won 10 games or more. Toledo, meanwhile, finished 7-6. Last season, 71% of Toledo’s drives came with the Rockets either ahead or within three points. Only one other team with a better rate finished with fewer than eight wins. Toledo was remarkably unlucky in close games, including an 0-4 mark in games decided by a field goal or less. Aside from Ohio State, there’s not a game on the schedule the Rockets shouldn’t have a good shot to win, and a host of their 2022 opponents — Ball State, Kent State, NIU, Central Michigan — rank among my schools most likely for a decline this year.
Joe Fortenbaugh: UNLV (O/U: 4 wins)
Believe it or not, I’ve already made a wager on UNLV going over 4 wins this season (-110). For starters, this is priced at 4.5 wins at other shops around Vegas, so I’m a big fan of the price. Second, there’s reason for optimism in Sin City. The Rebels went just 2-10 a year ago, but finished 97th in the country in turnover differential (-5) and a damn near impossible 0-6 in one-score games. Those are two metrics pointing toward positive regression in 2022. Further, UNLV opens the season on Aug. 27 in a very favorable spot against Idaho State, which means the Rebels should be 1-0 with a bye week before heading to the Bay Area to play California. Four wins are more than attainable.
Bill Connelly: Bowling Green (O/U 3.5 wins)
I like Toledo, but from a win totals perspective I like Bowling Green even more. The Falcons are among the most experienced teams in the country. My summer SP+ projections have them averaging 5.3 wins and give them an 89% chance of topping their current 3.5 total. I don’t want to pretend they’re potential MAC contenders or anything, but they shouldn’t be the worst in the conference by any means, either.
Elsewhere, I’m generally an “always bet the under on 10.5 or higher, always bet the over on 2.5” guy, which gives you plenty to choose from. Plus, Syracuse over 4 looks pretty good (the schedule features two almost sure wins and a lot of potential tossups), and Wake Forest is a good under pick if you see the Deacons at 8 or higher (they still have to play defense, no matter how fun that offense is). And if you want to really ride that anxiety train, say hello to Auburn over 6. With their talent, the Tigers should never be that low, even if the chaos around that program is high, even by Auburn standards.
Tyler Fulghum: Pittsburgh (O/U: 8.5 wins)
Similar to a bet I made last season that worked (North Carolina Tar Heels), I’m fading a team that lost way too much talent on offense. I like the Pittsburgh Panthers to go under 8.5 wins in 2022. Losing QB Kenny Pickett to the NFL and WR Jordan Addison to USC is too much for me to find nine wins. Although their schedule is far from daunting, it’s hard to imagine their offense will be anywhere close to as potent as it was in 2021. This looks more like a 7-8 win team to me than a 9+ win team. Jump on that Pitt under ASAP.
Doug Kezirian: Colorado (O/U: 3 wins)
The market has moved from 3.5 to 3, but I still think the under is the play. ESPN’s Football Power Index currently projects the Buffaloes as an underdog in every game, and the schedule is the key for this wager. CU has a home-field advantage with the altitude, which was illustrated last year with all four wins coming in Boulder. However, its home conference opponents this year are top-tier teams: UCLA, California, Arizona State, Oregon and Utah. I do not see four wins at all, especially with its season opener against TCU at home, as opposed to Northern Colorado in 2021..
Kezirian: Bowling Green (O/U: 4.5 wins)
Kezirian: I realize the Falcons’ track record. They have been a punchline for the last five years with a total of 12 wins, including a double-digit home loss to lowly Akron last season. But this is supposed to be the year when Scott Loeffler has his stars line up for bowl-eligibility. It starts with senior quarterback Matt McDonald, who is expected to shine. Plus, the Falcons played a lot of underclassmen last year but now they’re experienced. This is a program that won at Minnesota last year, so they have the potential.
Alabama and Ohio State win totals are 11, while the defending champion Georgia Bulldogs are also now at 11 (down from 11.5). Which team is a safer bet?
Connelly: The easy answer is “none.” (See my “always bet the under on 10.5 or higher” lean above.) But of those, I probably feel the best (least bad?) about Ohio State. The Buckeyes do play three teams in my projected SP+ top 10, but all three are at home, and the offense is the surest thing in college football this year. The defense merely has to be good for them to be national title favorites, or very close to it.
Fortenbaugh: I’m not rushing to bet an over on any of these three teams, but Ohio State has my curiosity. The schedule sets up beautifully for the Buckeyes, with the first five games at home followed by a soft road schedule that features Michigan State, Maryland, Northwestern and Penn State. Granted, the Penn State game will be tough, but that’s the only road trip worth worrying about. The upgrade on defense from coordinator Kerry Coombs to Jim Knowles is the biggest reason for optimism. Did you see what Knowles did at Oklahoma State last season?
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USC has been in the news all offseason, first with the Lincoln Riley hire from Oklahoma and then the move to the Big Ten in a few years. The Trojans’ win total is set at 9. Do you like over or under?
Hale: Riley, Caleb Williams, Jordan Addison — lots of big names added to the USC roster this offseason. The only problem? Someone still has to play defense. The Trojans ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in yards-per-play allowed last season and surrendered nearly 32 points per game. That leaves a lot of work to be done to get from a 4-8 season to a 9-3 (or better) year. Yes, the Trojans will see some huge improvements and will be immensely fun to watch, but if you’re betting on a 10-win season, you might want to also start polishing the Heisman for Williams and a Coach of the Year trophy for Riley while you’re at it.
Connelly: Exactly what Hale said. Even with those additions, SP+ projects only an average of 6.7 wins for the Trojans, and while I’m assuming they’ll win more than that (they’re rather unprojectable at the moment), 9 is lofty. Granted, their schedule is extremely forgiving — there’s a chance Fresno State is the third- or fourth-best opponent they’ll face — which will give them a shot. But that defense has not earned anyone’s trust yet.