2019 college football: Line projections for 12 important August games

The 2019 college football season won’t kick off for five months, but with several spring games airing on national TV this month, the sport is still top of mind for many fans.

Early point spreads are even available for select games.

Last month, BetOnline posted point spreads for 47 regular-season games, including four season-opening matchups.

Part-time in-state rivals Miami and Florida moved their Week 1 meeting to Aug. 24, and the neutral-site showdown will now headline “Week 0,” with Arizona’s trip to Hawai’i serving as the undercard. The Gators, coming off a 10-win season in head coach Dan Mullen’s first year, are 7.5-point favorites over the Hurricanes and first-year head coach Manny Diaz, according to the online sportsbook.

Smart bettors should see value in that line.

I started CFB Winning Edge because I believed there was a better way to evaluate college football teams. By taking the projected talent potential of every major FBS player and adjusting for experience and on-field production, our researchers and number crunchers assign an overall rating for more than 10,000 players across the country. Combining those individual player ratings with our statis-based coaching ratings, we built computer power rankings we use to project point spreads for every FBS vs. FBS matchup.

In 2018, we tested our model against Las Vegas odds makers. Though we posted a modest .513 winning percentage (388-369-13) against the spread for the full season, the model proved proficient in a few key areas. We posted a 39-29-4 record (.574) ATS with 33 outright winners when our ratings favored a betting underdog. Our model also hit 60.3 percent (35-23-2) in games featuring two ranked teams, 57.4 percent (109-81-5) when ranked teams played an opponent from a Power 5 conference, and 64.1 percent (25-14) in bowl games. In other words, our player-based ratings model was at its best in the most important matchups of the season.

And, as we update our rosters and depth charts to include 2019 recruits, graduates, early NFL draft entrants and more-important-than-ever transfers, we have begun to run the new numbers.

Using our current power rankings – updated through April 4 – and sticking with the matchups we diagnose best, we can offer early projections for 12 of the biggest early games of 2019.

Aug. 24: Florida vs. Miami (Orlando, Fla.)

Neither team will have homefield advantage, though the Gators have a distinct advantage in experience. Florida returns more than 70 percent of its passing (100 percent), rushing (72.7 percent) and receiving (88.17 percent) yards from last year’s team, as well as 71.6 percent of its total tackles, a rare combination.

The Gators are the only Power 5 team that returns 70-plus percent of its production in each of those four categories.

Miami returns less than 70 percent of its production in all four areas, one of just five Power 5 teams with that distinction (Georgia Tech, Missouri, Penn State and Syracuse).

Given its overall talent (Florida ranks No. 8 nationally with a 89.51 Roster Strength Rating according to CFB Winning Edge), plus a veteran quarterback and the understanding teams often show progress in Year 2 under a head coach, we should treat Florida as a legitimate national championship contender. The Gators currently sit No. 5 overall in our power rankings (compared to No. 6 in S&P+ and No. 11 in FPI).

Meanwhile, Miami is set to open the season with a first-time head coach. The Canes are also in the midst of a three-way quarterback battle, while also attempting to sort a half-dozen newcomers from transfer portal. Given all the uncertainties, the Hurricanes sit at No. 41 in our rankings (lower than both S&P+ and FPI) and enter Week 0 as nearly a two-touchdown underdog according to our model.

CFB Winning Edge Projection: Florida -13.24

Aug. 24: Arizona at Hawaii (Honolulu, Hawaii)

Surprise! Though this Power 5-Group of 5 non-conference matchup falls outside our highest-performing areas from 2018, you will have waited 229 games between college football games by the time the Wildcats and Rainbow Warriors meet in Aloha Stadium.

Hawaii plays 13 regular-season games each season, most of which kick off at midnight ET, giving bettors one last crack at a winning Saturday. So it’s wise to keep an eye on coach Nick Rolovich’s team.

The Rainbow Warriors lit up scoreboards after reinstalling the run-and-shoot offense in 2018, and though quarterback Cole McDonald returns, he must also survive a challenge from redshirt freshman Chevan Cordeiro to keep the starting job. The quarterback will need to find a new top target following John Ursua’s early NFL departure. Hawaii must also improve its defense dramatically if it hopes to keep former Heisman Trophy candidate Khalil Tate and All-Pac-12 running back J.J. Taylor in check.

We’re bullish on Arizona in Year 2 of the Kevin Sumlin era, and the Wildcats rank No. 32 nationally in our current power rankings (Hawaii ranks No. 99). If Tate recovers from a disappointing 2018, Arizona could compete with reigning champion Utah in the Pac-12 South.

CFB Winning Edge Projection: Arizona -9.4

Aug. 29 Georgia Tech at Clemson (Clemson, S.C.)

The defending national champions are likely to open the 2019 season No. 1 in the AP Top 25 and should be heavy favorites to beat ACC rival Georgia Tech in the Thursday night opener.

Clemson ranks third in Roster Strength (91.07) nationally, behind only Alabama (92.56) and Ohio State (91.55).

Dabo Swinney is one of only two head coaches (bet you can’t guess the other) with a perfect 100 coaching rating, according to our metrics. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne and receiver Justyn Ross headline what should be an explosive offense, and though the defense must replace more than half its overall production (and lost four starters early to the NFL), the Tigers are still loaded.

Georgia Tech is a program in transition, and new head coach Geoff Collins has brought renewed optimism to the potential sleeping giant. Collins was good but not great at Temple (his 76.31 Coach Rating ranks No. 96 overall and No. 13 in the ACC), but he has a solid reputation as a recruiter and found success as a defensive coordinator at multiple SEC schools.

Nevertheless, the Yellow Jackets could struggle in 2019. Georgia Tech currently rank No. 94 in our overall ratings. Collins is abandoning the triple option, which gave the team the ability to consistently narrow the talent gap against better opponents.

Expect a big transition as Collins reshapes the personnel to fit his system, so the Tigers should cruise.

CFB Winning Edge Projection: Clemson -33.94

Aug. 30: Oklahoma State at Oregon State (Corvallis, Ore.)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys were a roller coaster in 2018. Mike Gundy’s Pokes have developed a well-earned reputation as overachievers, and last year Oklahoma State beat four opponents (Boise State, Texas, West Virginia and Missouri – all outright upsets) that fielded a more talented roster according to our metrics. However, the Cowboys also lost to four teams (Texas Tech, Iowa State, Kansas State and Baylor) in which they had a talent advantage and five (including TCU) in which they were favored by the oddsmakers.

Might 2019 be the same? Oklahoma State is starting over at quarterback and lost productive running back Justice Hill and standout wideout Tyron Johnson to the NFL draft.

Oregon State had a relatively straightforward season, losing 10 games overall and posting a 4-8 record ATS. However, there were bright spots, including an incredible comeback upset victory over Colorado and 1,380 rushing yards from freshman Jermar Jefferson. Another sign of optimism: an influx of transfers helped the Beavers improve 5.50 points in Roster Strength compared to the end of the 2018 season, second best nationally.

CFB Winning Edge Projection: Oklahoma State -4.02

Aug. 31: South Carolina vs. North Carolina (Charlotte, N.C.)

The CFB Winning Edge Coach Ratings take many historical statistics into account, though recent seasons are weighted more heavily.

New North Carolina head coach Mack Brown has put together a Hall of Fame career, including a national championship from his time at Texas. But because he’s been out of coaching since 2013, Brown enters this season with an 81.66 Coach Rating (No. 59 nationally and seventh in the ACC).

Few would campaign to put South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp in the College Football Hall of Fame. Support for Muschamp is split among college football fans, though the wild-eyed defensive mastermind has found success with the Gamecocks, boosting his Coach Rating to 83.41 (ninth in the SEC and No. 48 in the country).

Muschamp has a more talented roster at his disposal (88.34 Roster Strength, No. 14 nationally), but the gap is narrower than many believe. Brown inherited a program that lost 18 games combined over the last two seasons, but North Carolina ranks fourth in the ACC and No. 28 overall with an 85.77 Roster Strength Rating.

BetOnline lists the Gamecocks as a 7.5-point favorite, but we would set the line closer to 5.5.

CFB Winning Edge Projection: South Carolina -5.6

Aug. 31: Georgia at Vanderbilt (Nashville, Tenn.)

Georgia has established itself as a perennial contender for both the SEC title and the College Football Playoff under Kirby Smart, and all signs point to another successful season in Athens.

Despite major losses in the receiving corps and at linebacker, the Bulldogs rank among the nation’s elite in Roster Strength (90.77, No. 4), and as a result, currently sit No. 4 overall in our power rankings. A lack of depth behind quarterback Jake Fromm could eventually make a huge impact on Georgia’s season, but assuming Fromm avoids injury in spring practice and summer camp, that shouldn’t be a factor in the season opener.

SEC schools often open their seasons with a cupcake from the FCS or Group of 5, or a mega-matchup at a neutral site.

However, Vanderbilt will host Georgia in a rare SEC season-opening game. The Commodores face a tough test, especially for a new quarterback making his first start with a new team (Ball State transfer Riley Neal has the inside track).

But Neal (or Deuce Wallace, who was suspended in 2018) will enjoy some skill-player talent around him, including home-run threat Ke’Shawn Vaughn at running back, and receiver Kalija Lipscomb and tight end Jared Pinkney.

CFB Winning Edge Projection: Georgia -13.42

Aug. 31: Virginia at Pitt (Pittsburgh, Pa.)

Expect a lot of 2019 talk about how Virginia is the only ACC Coastal team yet to win the division and make it to the conference championship game, now that Pitt has achieved that feat.

Led by dynamic quarterback Bryce Perkins, who led the Cavaliers to an 8-5 record last year, optimism is high. A win over the defending champs would be a big step in the right direction. Pitt – which lost standout running backs Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison to graduation – won’t enter the season as the favorite to repeat.

But the Panthers shouldn’t be considered a one-year wonder. Quarterback Kenny Pickett returns for his second full season as the starter, as does a receiving corps that welcomes back 70.8 percent of its yardage. Currently No. 55 in our power rankings, Pitt has a slight edge over the No. 59 Hoos. And home-field advantage in Week 1 points toward Pitt as the favorite.

CFB Winning Edge Projection: Pitt -4.18

Aug. 31: Virginia Tech at Boston College (Chestnut Hill, Mass.)

Virginia Tech made what we thought was a huge statement with a dominant 24-3 upset road victory over Florida State in Week 1 last year.

Of course, it didn’t take long to figure out the Hokies (or Seminoles, for that matter) weren’t a top 20 team. An unspeakable loss to Old Dominion and a midseason swoon that included a four-game ACC losing streak led to a rare sub-.500 record. As a result, expectations are modest heading into 2019.

Expectations are always modest for Boston College, though the Eagles rose as high as No. 17 in the polls last season following a 31-21 victory over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Unfortunately, three losses followed, and the First Responder Bowl was canceled shortly after what would have been A.J. Dillon’s 11th touchdown run of the season, robbing BC of the potential momentum following a bowl victory over a 10-win opponent.

Dillon returns, but head coach Steve Addazio must rebuild the defensive line and the secondary.

Despite some headline-grabbing transfers over the winter, Virginia Tech is in a much better position with respect to returning personnel on defense.

CFB Winning Edge Projection: Virginia Tech -4.70

Aug. 31: Alabama vs. Duke (Atlanta, Ga.)

It shouldn’t come as a shock, but Alabama tops our preseason power rankings. Nick Saban has built a recruiting juggernaut in Tuscaloosa that gives the Crimson Tide the No. 1 Roster Strength Rating (92.56) in the nation despite the loss of seven early entrants to the NFL draft.

Of course, arguably the most impactful player on last year’s SEC championship roster returns in quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, as does arguably the best receiving corps in the country. On paper, Alabama has few meaningful weaknesses.

Duke must replace its starting quarterback following the loss of Daniel Jones. Quentin Harris has talent and experience (he started twice while Jones nursed an injury in 2018), and David Cutcliffe is a noted QB whisperer, but just 29.2 percent of last year’s receiving yardage returns as well.

There are even bigger questions at linebacker, as Duke must replace 100-rated starters Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris.

CFB Winning Edge Projection: Alabama -22.34

Aug. 31: Auburn vs. Oregon (Arlington, Tex.)

For the second straight year, Auburn will open its season on a neutral site against a Pac-12 title contender. However, the matchup with Oregon is much further from home for the Tigers than last season’s game against Washington in Atlanta.

Both teams should be ranked, making this arguably the biggest game of college football’s opening week.

Unlike last year, Auburn is at a distinct disadvantage at quarterback. Three inexperienced Tigers QBs are competing to start (redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood is the current favorite with true freshman Bo Nix a legitimate contender to win the job), while Oregon is set to put Justin Herbert behind center for the 29th time.

Herbert isn’t just a game manager – he’s expected to be a first round NFL draft pick.

The Tigers recruit at an elite level, and the Auburn defensive line could be the best in the nation.

Nevertheless, Gus Malzahn’s squad struggled mightily along the offensive line in 2018 (though all five starters return). The Tigers fell to No. 23 in Roster Strength (86.64) following the departure of nine seniors, three early NFL draft entrants and seven transfers from last year’s roster. Attrition hit linebacker the hardest.

Mario Cristobal has improved Oregon’s recruiting considerably since being promoted to head coach. The Ducks return more production at nearly every position outside of defensive line.

BetOnline made Auburn a 3-point favorite, but this is our first WTF of 2019: Wrong Team Favored.

CFB Winning Edge Projection: Oregon -1.48

Aug. 31: Northwestern at Stanford (Stanford, Calif.)

CFB Winning Edge might have been the only outlet in college football to project Northwestern to win the Big Ten West ahead of Wisconsin during the 2018 preseason.

Nevertheless, the Wildcats proved to be one of the most maddening teams in the country on a weekly basis. Northwestern was favored six times last season and finished 0-6 ATS in those games with two outright losses.

Conversely, the Wildcats were 6-1-1 ATS as an underdog (including five outright upsets) and also beat Purdue as a pick’em in the season opener.

Stanford was far more predictable, losing twice as a favorite, but following the script otherwise.

David Shaw must replace several weapons on offense, but quarterback K.J. Costello is one of the most talented signal callers in the nation, and cornerback Paulson Adebo has All-American potential.

Given the more talented roster and homefield advantage, we can expect the Cardinal to be a solid favorite. Of course, that’s Northwestern’s comfort zone.

CFB Winning Edge Projection: Stanford -10.06

Sept. 2: Notre Dame at Louisville (Louisville, Ky.)

If you’ve gotten this far, you probably haven’t completely written off the early CFB Winning Edge projected point spreads as a bunch of mumbo jumbo developed by know-nothing nerds poking away at a keyboard in mom’s basement.

You may want to avoid reading the following, lest it change your view on us: Louisville currently sits No. 49 in our power rankings as the eighth-highest rated team in the ACC.

Yep, the same Louisville that finished 2-10 overall, allowed 49.8 points per game in conference play and posted an unfathomable 1-11 record against the spread.

The Cardinals posted a horrific 70.36 Team Performance Rating (think: average game grade based on statistical performance) last season, which was the worst among Power 5 programs and No. 127 overall.

If you made a fortune betting against Louisville last season, it may be difficult to change course and jump on the bandwagon this year. But you might also be missing an opportunity.

Coach ratings are a small percentage of a team’s overall rating, but Scott Satterfield (83.09, No. 50 overall) should have a positive impact in Year 1.

Satterfield also inherited a stronger roster than most would expect given last year’s results. The Cards currently rank No. 46 nationally and No. 7 among ACC rivals in Roster Strength (84.17) – not exceptionally far behind No. 24 Notre Dame (86.53). The Fighting Irish, who rank No. 9 in our overall power rankings, should win – but we expect Louisville to be much, much more competitive in 2019.

CFB Winning Edge Projection: Notre Dame -8.00

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