Conference media days are now behind us, which means the 2019 college football season is almost here. And though win totals have been on the boards at sports books for months, there is still value to be found if you know where to look.
Using CFB Winning Edge game-by-game and full-season projections for all 130 FBS teams, we’ve selected the five best bets still available. (Odds referenced reflect those posted by the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas, as of July 16, 2019).
Cal Under 5.5 (+130)
CFB Winning Edge uses an overall player ratings formula (VGR+) as the foundation for its team projections. Because Cal ranks 65th in the country and last in the Pac-12 in our Roster Strength metric (which uses recruiting rating talent projections and applies weight for experience and production), it’s understandable we are low on the Golden Bears.
Cal’s biggest question mark is its offense. The Bears rank no better than No. 10 in the conference in Roster Strength in any offensive position group, and the quarterback and offensive line units are ranked lowest in the league. As a result, the overall Cal offense falls to the very bottom of the Pac (pun intended), and sits at No. 100 out of 130 FBS programs.
Of course, we’ve seen Cal rise above expectations. Head coach Justin Wilcox led his team to three outright upsets during the regular season (including two of the three games Cal won without scoring more than 15 points), and the Bears earned a bowl bid for the first time since 2015.
Seven starters return from a unit that ranked No. 13 in Defensive S&P+ and led the conference and ranked in the top 10 nationally in pass defense (175.1 yards allowed per game, No. 9). Cal also ranked in the Top 25 in both scoring defense (20.4 points allowed per game, No. 22) and total defense (317.2 yards allowed per game, No. 15).
All four starters are back in the secondary, led by safety Jaylinn Hawkins and his max VGR+ 100 rating, and Ashtyn Davis (98.99), whose elite speed also makes him a dynamic return man. Phil Steele called the Cal defensive backfield the second-best in the country, and though we rank the unit No.
9 in Roster Strength, it is the top-rated secondary in the Pac-12.
Evan Weaver, a 100-rated inside linebacker whose 158 tackles in 2018 are the most among returning players nationally, is one of the best players in the conference regardless of position.But the fact remains, on the whole, Cal is the lesser talented team on the field more often than not.
All nine of the CFB Winning Edge power rankings models (which apply a varied weight to our Roster Strength and Head Coach ratings), have the Bears favored in just three games this season: home dates with FCS opponent UC Davis, a tricky North Texas squad, and an improving Oregon State team.
And Cal has only a 40 percent chance or better of upsetting two other teams (42 percent versus Arizona State and 44 percent against Washington State), according to our projections. Add up all the win probabilities, and we expect the Bears to win 4.88 games on average.
Wilcox has built the Cal defense into one of the best in the nation, but unless sophomore quarterback Chase Garbers or former UCLA QB Devon Modster elevates the quarterback play and sparks the offense, Under 5.5 seems like a good bet, especially at plus money.
Cincinnati Under 7.5 (+120)
The Cincinnati Bearcats were one of the most improved teams in the country in 2019, and even spent some time ranked in the AP Top 25 on the way to an 11-2 overall record and 6-2 mark in AAC play. QB Desmond Ridder and running back Michael Warren II were key cogs in an offense that ranked in the top 25 nationally in scoring offense (34.9, No. 23), rushing offense (239.5) and total defense (458.5). Both return along with five other offensive starters.
The defense was even better. Cincinnati led the AAC in scoring defense (17.2), rushing (113.0) and total defense (303.5), and defensive-minded head coach Luke Fickell welcomes back seven starters on that side of the football. The linebacker corps is particularly good, led by Jerrell White and Bryan White, who ranked second and third on the team in tackles last season, respectively.
With the addition of Duke transfer Tinashe Bere and returning starter Perry Young, it’s a deep unit that ranks No. 27 in the country in Roster Strength.
As a whole, the Cincinnati defense is a Top 50 unit in Roster Strength, which is a rarity for a Group of Five program. In fact, only Marshall (21), Temple (33) and UCF (45) have more talented defenses among G5 conference teams.
So an 11-win team returning a wealth of experience should be a lock to go ‘Over’ 7.5, right? Not so fast.
The Bearcats jumped out to a 6-0 start in part because they drew UCLA in Week 1 of Chip Kelly’s first season with the Bruins, and pulled off an upset on the road. Though Cincinnati hosts UCLA in the season opener this year, and the Bruins won only three games last season, we should expect Kelly’s squad to be much improved. Although the Bearcats are favored by the
sports books right now, CFB Winning Edge currently likes UCLA to win outright.
And for what it’s worth, CFB Winning Edge was 39-29-4 against the spread in false favorite situations last season: a 57.4 percent win rate – with 33 outright upsets.
As for the rest of the non-conference schedule, we also see Cincinnati as an underdog to Ohio State and Marshall. So, what was a 4-0 romp prior to AAC play last year is more likely to be a 2-2 or even a 1-3 start this season, if the Bearcats lose those coin flips to both the Bruins and Thundering Herd.
Furthermore, Cincinnati drew a favorable slate of SMU, Navy and Tulane from the AAC West in 2018. This year, the Bearcats must play at Houston, home against Tulsa and at division favorite Memphis.
Though Cincinnati has an 80 percent chance of beating Tulsa, according to our preseason projections, the Bearcats have just a 42 percent chance of victory against Houston, and 37 percent at Memphis, and the Cougars and Tigers are the top-rated teams in the division at this point.
Throw in a home date with league heavyweight UCF in the conference opener and a November trip to Tampa to face a talented USF squad, and we have Cincinnati favored in only five games in our main power ratings projections (with a high of six and low of four).
Tallying up the win probability projections, we can expect the Bearcats to win 6.46 games on average – a full game under the 7.5 at the Westgate. And, if you’re really interested in value, Bovada lists Cincinnati ‘Under’ 6.5 for a +175 return.
Florida Over 9 (+130)
We’re all looking forward to the season-opening matchup between the Florida Gators and Miami Hurricanes in Orlando. Not only is it the first game of the 2019 college football season, but it is also a premiere matchup. And, opinions are wide ranging on the two squads.
For instance, fellow Major Wager voice Christopher Smith of @CFBLocksmith noted earlier this week he “locked in Miami +8 (-105)” in June. CFB Winning Edge has long favored the Gators to cover, going back to our earliest projected point spreads this year.
Currently, our primary power ratings (which posted a 109-81-5 record ATS when a ranked team played a Power Five opponent
last season) expects Florida to win by more than two touchdowns.
Our Week 0 point spread projection relies heavily on Dan Mullen’s 92.52 Head Coach rating (fifth-best in the country), compared to first-time first-year head coach Manny Diaz (73.37, No. 102). But Florida is much more than Mullen.
His squad enters the season ranked No. 7 overall and No. 4 in the SEC in overall Roster Strength. Every unit of the Florida offense ranks among the top 20 nationally, and the Gators offense as a whole is the sixth-best in the country.
Defensively, Florida ranks No. 12 in Roster Strength overall, with the defensive line and secondary both considered Top-10 units. The Gators also rank highly in pure talent, with an average 247Sports Composite rating of .8916 on the current roster, which is also fourth-best in the SEC and No. 10 in the country.
Because of the combination of coaching and elite talent, CFB Winning Edge projects the Gators to be favored in 10 or more games in our nine sets of our power ratings. One set even has Florida going undefeated.
The Gators certainly play a strong schedule, so it’s highly unlikely the team will survive unscathed. Florida offset its two FCS opponents with rivalry games against Miami and Florida
State, who rank No. 14 and No. 10 in Roster Strength, respectively.
Mullen must also lead his squad against Georgia (No. 4 in Roster Strength) and LSU (No. 6), away from Gainesville. The Gators also host Auburn this season.
Nevertheless, CFB Winning Edge’s individual win probability projections give Florida a better-than 70 percent chance of winning in nine separate games. The matchup in which the Gators have the worst odds to win is the trip to face LSU in Death Valley, which is a virtual toss-up at 46 percent.
Therefore, we can expect Florida to win 8.89 games on average, which should make you comfortable taking ‘Over’ 9.
Kansas State Over 5.5 (+130)
K-State ranks ninth in the conference and No. 64 in the nation in Roster Strength, so the Wildcats aren’t likely to out-talent their way to bowl eligibility. But that’s long been the case in Manhattan.
Kansas State has a history of playing above expectations thanks to great coaching and player development. And while Bill Snyder is no longer roaming the sidelines for the Wildcats, there’s a great chance K-State continues its winning ways.
As mentioned briefly in relation to Manny Diaz, CFB Winning Edge Head Coach ratings are not sympathetic to first-time head coaches. However, the ratings are much kinder to those who excelled at the lower levels of college football, such as new Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman.
Because of Klieman’s incredible record at North Dakota State, he enters his first FBS season ranked No. 21 in the country and fourth in the Big 12. Too high? Perhaps, but that rating also reflects an adjustment for FCS level of competition, as well as a first-year penalty for taking over a new program.
Plus, Klieman has some talent and experience to work with. Quarterback Skylar Thompson has started 14 games over the last two seasons, and the dual-threat QB should take another step forward as a junior.
Thompson will also have the benefit of a strong running game led by a pair of grad transfers, James Gilbert from Ball State and Jordon Brown from North Carolina. Gilbert ran for more than 2,500 yards combined in his three seasons with the Cardinals, which has boosted his VGR+ player rating to 93.84.
Brown (89.15), was less productive, but the pair gives K-State the fourth-ranked backfield in the conference in Roster Strength, and with 96 starts returning along the offensive line (including three players who have started at least 25 games), the Wildcats should have plenty of holes to run through.
Throw in a solid defense led by 100-rated pass rusher Reggie Walker, and Kansas State should keep itself in most games.
On that note, CFB Winning Edge has the Wildcats favored in seven games in five of its power rankings, and in eight contests in four. Kansas State plays six games in which it has between a 40 percent chance of winning (K-State is a 4.3-point underdog at Oklahoma State) and 61 percent (the Wildcats are 4.6 points better than Kansas, on paper).
Looking at the combined probability projections, we can expect K-State to win 6.39 games on average.
UCF Over 9 (+110)
All good things must come to an end, right? UCF had its 25-game winning streak snapped at the hands of LSU in the Fiesta Bowl. Had star quarterback McKenzie Milton been available to play against the Tigers, the Knights might be celebrating a second consecutive “national championship.”
Instead, backup Darriel Mack, Jr. started in place of the injured Milton, and completed just 11 passes while averaging an ugly 3.2 yards per attempt. Neither Milton nor Mack will be available for UCF to start the 2019 season, leaving Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush as the likely starter at QB.
Wimbush was a highly rated high school recruit (.9792 rating in the 247Sports Composite), who started 15 games for the Fighting Irish. Though he struggled with accuracy (he completed just 52.9 percent of his passes in 2018 and 49.5 percent in 2017), Wimbush has a big arm and is a dangerous runner.
As a sophomore, Wimbush ran for more than 100 yards four times. As a result, he’s earned enough Production Points to receive a 100 rating according to CFB Winning Edge VGR+; same as Milton.
In other words, we shouldn’t see much of a drop-off at the QB position for the Knights in 2019. And, combined with a running back unit that ranks No. 15 in Roster Strength, and the No. 13 offensive line in the country (both best in the AAC), the Knights should be just as explosive offensively.
The defense is competent as well and features a trio of All-AAC selections in defensive lineman Brendon Hays and defensive backs Neville Clarke and Richie Grant. Though the Knights struggled to stop the run (222.3 rushing yards allowed per game ranked No. 118 nationally) and on third down (opponents converted on 41.86 percent of opportunities, which ranked 95th) the unit is No. 2 in the conference in Roster Strength, and should benefit from a pair of P5 transfers in defensive lineman Brandon Wilson (Indiana) and Jordan Hayes (Duke).
Josh Huepel may be the beneficiary of a small sample, but his only season as UCF head coach resulted in a 91.13 rating, which ranks ninth in the country. Huepel also has the most talented team in the AAC, leading the league and ranking No. 26 overall in Roster Strength (87.19) and No. 62 in average 247Sports Composite rating (.8280).
Given the talent advantage UCF enjoys on nearly a weekly basis, it should be no surprise the Knights are favored in all 12 regular season games by all nine CFB Winning Edge power ratings projections. The Knights are favored by double digits in 10 games in our primary projections model, and host Stanford in Week 3 in what should be a matchup of Top 25 teams on a national stage.
UCF has a 55 percent chance to win, according to our win probabilities, and if it does, should run the table. According to Bovada, the Knights are currently 200-to-1 to win the national title and some books have the odds at 500-to-1.
Playoff politics aside, given the CFB Winning Edge preseason projections, it might be worth throwing a few bucks at UCF to win it all.