College Football Against The Spread Sleeper Teams

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Perception means a lot in college football when it comes to setting lines. Year after year, there are countless examples of teams that have a great ATS season in the previous year and fall completely fall the following season. Similarly, teams that were terrible, straight up or ATS, are rarely priced properly. Not only is that true early in the season, but sometimes oddsmakers fail to catch up to a team for a while because they may not be believers in that team. Another reason is that the public simply may not be backing that team and there’s not enough volume to take a second look.

That’s where bettors like you come into play. If you’re reading, it’s because you want to find those things that give you an edge or want to be more informed. In looking at some of last season’s results, there are a lot of teams that fall into the criteria of being surprise teams, both straight up and ATS, this season. To further illustrate this point, here’s a list of teams that improved immensely from 2012 to 2013:


2012: 4-8 SU/3-9 ATS

2013: 12-2/12-2


2012: 5-7/6-6

2013: 12-2/11-3

Michigan State

2012: 7-6/5-8

2013: 13-1/10-4


2012: 4-8/4-8

2013: 8-5/8-5


2012: 6-7/6-7

2013: 10-4/10-3-1


2012: 1-11/3-9

2013: 4-8/7-5

Washington State

2012: 3-9/5-7

2013: 6-7/9-4


2012: 8-5/4-9

2013: 9-4/10-3


2012: 5-7/5-7

2013: 8-5/10-3


2012: 2-10/6-5-1

2013: 7-6/9-4

North Texas

2012: 4-8/5-7

2013: 9-4/10-3

South Alabama

2012: 2-11/4-9

2013: 6-6/8-4

Consider the teams that are on this list. Most of them either had new coaches, a new head coach in his second season, a conference change, or simply performed closer to expectations. There are teams like this every season and finding one of those teams and riding their coattails to profit can really help your bottom line during football season.

With that in mind, here are some teams that bettors may want to keep a very close eye on for the 2014 season:

Florida: The Florida Gators were 4-8 last season and just 3-8-1 against the spread. It’s harder to find value on Florida after a down year than it would be for most teams, but the perception is very low on the Gators and Will Muschamp hasn’t done much to instill confidence in the betting market. New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper could be a difference maker and the Gators could improve to a 7-6 or 8-5 straight up record with a similar or better ATS mark.

Northwestern: Perception is unquestionably lower on the Wildcats than it was a couple of weeks ago when Venric Mark was still in the program and Christian Jones’s ACL was in tact. Last season, Pat Fitzgerald’s bunch was 5-7 and 3-9 against the number. The Wildcats were just 1-7 ATS against the Big Ten. Take advantage of the bad news the Wildcats received earlier this month and look for value on them.

North Carolina State: The Wolfpack were in the first year of Dave Doeren’s system last season and it showed. They were just 3-9 and 3-8-1 against the spread. From the above list, Washington State was in the second year under Mike Leach, Houston was in Tony Levine’s second season, and Tulane was in the second season under Curtis Johnson. That second season of spring practices, summer workouts, and recruiting classes makes a difference.

California: Like NC State, the Cal Golden Bears will be in the second year of Sonny Dykes’s “Bear Raid” offense. They were a putrid 1-11 and 2-10 against the spread last season. The defense was appalling and the offense had problems converting third downs. Any time a team can score, they’re a backdoor cover threat and the Bears should be in much better shape with a second year under Dykes.

TCU: The second season in the Big 12 caught up with TCU last season as they were 4-8 straight up and ATS. They lost some key contributors and had a revolving door at quarterback with Casey Pachall’s personal troubles. Even though most of it came in the Mountain West, Gary Patterson has had plenty of success and TCU should snag some better in-state recruits as they continue being a member of the Big 12.

Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane had just two returning starters on defense and it showed. The Hurricane went from allowing 23.6 points per game to 33.9 points per game and their returning starters on offense struggled. With a jump in competition going from Conference USA to the AAC, perception is going to be extremely low on Bill Blankenship’s team. In a conference that’s not particularly strong, Tulsa should be on your radar as a team to drastically improve upon last season’s 3-9 SU and ATS mark.

UConn: The UConn Huskies began the season 0-9 before they won their last three games and finished the season 5-7 ATS. Casey Cochran took over the offense and had an 11/4 TD/INT ratio and the Huskies hung 45 on a very good Memphis defense to end the season. Projected to finish last in the AAC by Phil Steele will keep the public off of this team and likely inflate their lines a tad. Their blowout loss to Buffalo really changed the outlook on the season and UConn was 2-7 ATS before three straight underdog outright upsets to close the season.

Akron: It’s been a long time since the Akron Zips were relevant in the MAC, but they have built up the roster under Terry Bowden and are poised to be one of the better teams in the MAC East Division. They were 5-7 and 5-6-1 ATS last season and didn’t fare well in their four favored games last season. They’ll be getting points or laying low numbers all season long and this is a much-improved team worthy of keeping an eye on. The MAC East down a few notches from last season and the Zips should capitalize.

Keep in mind that these teams don’t need to win games to be profitable. Perception will be down on most of them and that means catching points, oftentimes, too many points. If you notice, many of them are afterthoughts in power conferences or teams that don’t generate much of a betting handle. Lines on top teams tend to be very efficient, while there’s money to be made on the forgotten teams. Don’t forget about these teams.

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Adam Burke

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Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.

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