For as much as we think we know about sports, bettors tend to have very short memories. Also, we’re a naturally pessimistic lot. If you were bad to us last season, we’ve either assumed you’re going to be bad to us this season or we simply don’t care to bet on your games. Sports betting odds are an exercise in understanding perception. There are buy points and there are sell points.
There are teams every year that come into the season with buy points and they aren’t the teams that you would expect. Everybody is lining up to back the new-look Nebraska Cornhuskers and National Championship* head coach Scott Frost. There isn’t going to be value in that team. Everybody wants to bet on Alabama, Clemson, Auburn, Ohio State, and Oklahoma because those are really good teams. You’re going to pay a premium.
All bettors should survey the college football landscape to find those under-the-radar teams that aren’t getting a lot of press or a lot of buzz for one reason or another. Maybe they are just forgettable. One of those teams that just floats aimlessly until somebody either shows up to rescue them or they drown by season’s end. Maybe they were extremely bad last season. Maybe they had an outlier of a year that gets chalked up as a flash in the pan.
Isolating these teams can be a good way to make money early in the year. You always want to do research and find some betting angles that you can use as a starting point for building up that bankroll. Finding teams that the majority of gamblers aren’t looking at is an excellent way to get ahead of the game.
With that in mind, let’s look at some ATS buy teams for the 2018 college football season (team names are links to season previews):
Ole Miss – Expectations in Oxford aren’t particularly high. Matt Luke had a fortunate win over Mississippi State to end the season, as the Rebels were outgained 501-355 and only had 11 first downs. But, that Egg Bowl win got the team to 6-6. With the uninspiring hire of Luke by taking off the interim tag, and with no chance at a bowl game because of a ban, Ole Miss will be an afterthought in the rough-and-tumble SEC West. The Rebels were 3-1 as a road dog last season and just 2-6 in all other games. They should remain scrappy and should have reduced favorite prices off of last year’s mediocrity.
Tennessee – The Volunteers were just 2-10 ATS last season and are just 7-17-1 ATS over the last two seasons. Things in Knoxville have been downright comical with botched coaching searches and the Butch Jones tenure. Jeremy Pruitt isn’t getting nearly the love that other first-year coaches are getting, but Tennessee should stiffen up defensively on his watch and the offense should improve dramatically. UT has been passed by in the SEC East by several teams and won’t get a whole lot of respect after going 3-12-1 ATS in SEC play the last two seasons. That should create value for us.
Minnesota – The Golden Gophers went 5-7 in PJ Fleck’s first year and just 4-7-1 ATS. The hype of his hire has completely died down now. It’s also worth pointing out that the Golden Gophers don’t have a starting quarterback with experience throwing a FBS pass. That won’t sit well with bettors. But, the Gophers were stingy defensively last season and likely hurt themselves by going 3-0 ATS in the non-conference before going 2-6-1 in conference with some lines that weren’t really in line with their realistic expectations. A tougher non-conference schedule is likely to create conference ATS value.
Syracuse – The Orange are in Year Three of the Dino Babers era, which is usually when we would expect to see improvement from a program. The Orange were just 2-5 ATS in the Carrier Dome last season, but covered four of five games away from home when getting points. The Orange defense shaved six points per game off of its ledger and 0.5 yards per play. This is a team with several buy signs, including the likely regression to the mean of last season’s -12 turnover margin.
North Carolina – The ACC Coastal Division has a lot of interchangeable teams outside of the top dog Miami Hurricanes. The Tar Heels lost virtually everybody of consequence on offense prior to last season and went 3-9 with a 5-7 ATS record. There are a lot of returning starters this season on both sides of the ball and this will be the second season for John Papuchis after last year’s defensive debacle in the first year without Gene Chizik. This team has been discarded and forgotten by most bettors, but they could be an ATS juggernaut.
BYU – Ty Detmer’s attempts at a pro-style offense failed miserably. The Cougars scored 17.1 points per game, were -10 in turnovers, and managed just 5.1 yards per play. Lost in all of that futility is that the defense still only allowed 5.3 yards per play and held the opposition to 24.7 points per game. With the spread back thanks to former offensive line coach Jeff Grimes, look for BYU to get back to being one of those tough teams to play. The Cougars were just 1-5 in the altitude in Provo, which isn’t likely to happen again.
Memphis – The Tigers are going to fall a few points in the minds of bettors with some huge losses. Riley Ferguson and Anthony Miller are hard to replace, but the Tigers still have a strong ground game and a very interesting P5 transfer in Brady White, who was originally recruited to Arizona State by Memphis head coach Mike Norvell. Memphis faces one of the worst schedules in the country, which could force them to cover some big numbers, but with a power ratings drop, those should be more manageable for this retooled offense.
Wyoming – A lot of times, we look at buy teams as those that struggled or underachieved. Here, we see a Wyoming team that is 18-9 ATS over the last two seasons and it doesn’t feel like a fluke. Craig Bohl is doing an awesome job in Laramie. The loss of a first-round QB like Josh Allen will send ripples through the betting community, but this team went 8-5 ATS last season with a putrid offense. It was the defense that basically cut its point total in half and allowed 1.9 fewer yards per play. With eight returning starters on that side of the ball and a cautious, conservative game plan, Wyoming can keep covering numbers. There are 17 returning starters here after all.
Ball State – The Maryland Terrapins can make a great case, but it’s hard to say that any team was hit worse by injuries last season than Ball State. The Cardinals used four different quarterbacks and star running back James Gilbert was never healthy. As a result, the Cardinals fell nearly 10 points per game from 2016 and the defense suffered with immense pressure. Ball State went just 2-8 as an underdog last season, so when the Cardinals lost, they lost badly. With better health and head coach Mike Neu in his third year, the Cardinals should make a big leap up the ATS standings.
Bowling Green – It took a while, but Mike Jinks and the BGSU coaching staff finally found a quarterback. The Falcons were 2-2 ATS with Jarret Doege as the QB over the last four games, with three of those matchups on the road. Considering BG was 1-7 ATS before Doege took over full-time, it’s pretty clear that he helped. After all, the Falcons averaged 35 points per game in his four starts. The defense was still awful, but Bowling Green’s offense should tick up this season and Carl Pelini is taking over the defense. Don’t be surprised if BG is one of the best bets of the 2018 season from an ATS standpoint.
Old Dominion – Few head coaches get as much out of their teams as Bobby Wilder. Last season, injuries and graduation losses forced the Monarchs into some tough spots. Stephen Johnson was starting games at 18 years of age and he was doing so without star running back Ray Lawry healthy and without top WR Jonathan Duhart, who tore his ACL. The Monarchs went just 4-8 ATS and were badly outscored on the season 428-332. Applying context to understand why things got so bad is important and a reversal of fortunes is certainly possible in 2018.
Georgia Southern – A lot of smart people seem to be intrigued by the Eagles this season. As the Sun Belt Conference goes to divisions for the first time, the Eagles are looking to rebound from a horrible 2-10 SU and 3-7-2 ATS campaign. They’re getting back to their option roots with Chad Lunsford and that could be all it takes to be one of the better ATS bets in 2018.