Bowl season starts in 10 days.
There’s work to be done for college football handicappers, as we get more than 40 postseason games.
But with dozens of FBS teams done until September, and the coaching carousel finishing earlier than ever due to the early signing period, smart handicappers already are reviewing the 2018 season and beginning their analysis for 2019.
I have been fortunate to provide gambling-related college football content for AL.com this fall, following the monumental Supreme Court ruling in May that led to legalized gambling in neighboring Mississippi.
As such, I’ve made dozens of predictions on Alabama and Auburn. Before bowl season starts, I thought it would be fun to look back at some of my best and worst picks.
I was perhaps the first person to write preseason that betting Alabama overs was a good idea. I figured Alabama’s offense would get a lot more explosive in the passing game with Tua Tagovailoa, and that Nick Saban would allow for more aggression. But I underrated Tagovailoa’s impact.
I also wrote that Alabama’s young defense would get out of position at times and allow big plays. I was partially correct, but Alabama’s defense has been better than I anticipated.
My two biggest predictions for Alabama’s season remain to be decided, but my analysis already is wrong.
I predicted that Alabama very well could go unbeaten in the regular season but fail to win a national championship. Well, the Tide are a clear favorite to repeat as champions, though Clemson would present a tough challenge in a potential title game.
I warned bettors to avoid betting on Tagovailoa to win the Heisman Trophy. The outcome may back me up, as Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray is getting a lot of buzz in the days leading up to the ceremony. But I shot an air ball on just how good Tagovailoa would be this season.
I also suggested that Trace McSorely, Will Grier and Justin Herbert may have better value as Heisman futures bets. Yikes.
Before the season started, I wrote a post expressing concern with Auburn’s running game. The team lost its top two rushers, four starting offensive linemen and missed out on a big-time grad transfer at offensive tackle. And projected No. 1 back Kam Martin seemed too small to become the type of bell-cow back that Gus Malzahn prefers.
I felt correctly handicapping Auburn’s ability to run the ball was the key to predicting the entire season.
Here’s a snippet of what I wrote:
“Making matters worse for Auburn, all 4 games that I project as one-possession margins feature dominant front 7s on defense that will hold matchup advantages against this Auburn offensive line.
“If the Tigers can’t run the ball against Washington, Mississippi State, Georgia and Alabama, those teams will be able to tee off against Jarrett Stidham. And those teams feature pass rushers capable of beating Wanogho Jr. and Jack Driscoll Jr.
“If Auburn’s running game finishes on the lower end of reasonable projections, it’s possible the Tigers lose all four of those games. Home contests against LSU and Texas A&M could become tight. Fall too far below last year’s total of 3,056 rushing yards and Auburn should finish 8-4 or 7-5.”
I thought Auburn would be 9-3 or worse and made a small play on under 9 wins, the number the betting market projected for this team. However, I did slot Auburn at No. 10 in my preseason power rankings. As it turns out, I should’ve been more aggressive about following my own handicapping and ignoring the market.
It turns out Auburn was difficult to predict in terms of wins and losses. I didn’t expect Auburn to beat Washington, lose to LSU or lose to Tennessee. I also thought Auburn would cover the spread against Southern Miss (it didn’t), but my strong Auburn gambling opinions otherwise were correct.
Some advice I gave Auburn bettors: LSU should not be such a big underdog, a struggling Auburn team likely will cover the spread against Arkansas, bet the Auburn-Mississippi State under, hammer Tennessee as an underdog, buy low on Auburn against Ole Miss and bet on Auburn to skewer Liberty’s defense.
SEC, COLLEGE FOOTBALL GAMBLING NOTES
Here are the SEC teams ranked by ATS record (against the spread).
I also track aggregate spread margin, which I’ll include. For example, if Alabama was a two-touchdown favorite but won by 21, that’s +7 points relative to the spread.
T1. Mississippi State 8-4 ATS, +81.5
T1. Vanderbilt 8-4, +61
T1. Florida 8-4, +31.5
T1. Texas A&M 8-4, +4.5
T5. Alabama 8-5, +39.5
T5. Georgia 8-5, +24.5
T7. Missouri 7-5, +74
T7. South Carolina 7-5, +9
9. LSU 6-6, +42
T10. Kentucky 5-7, +64.5
T10. Auburn 5-7, -41
T10. Tennessee 5-7, -41
T10. Arkansas 5-7, -67.5
14. Ole Miss 3-9, -47.5
–According to The Action Network, pulling from a database that started in 1994, Ole Miss is the only SEC team that has finished without a single ATS win or push. The Rebels join 2010 Michigan (Rich Rodriguez, Denard Robinson) and 2008 Washington (Tyrone Willingham, Jack Locker) in infamy as the third Power 5 team to go winless ATS against conference teams in that time frame.
-Only five SEC teams finished at least two games from their Vegas season win total. And only two finished more than two games from their Vegas win total: Kentucky and Arkansas. Vegas set a season win total of 5.5 for the Wildcats, which won a stunning nine regular-season games. Sportsbooks also took bets on a season win total of 5.5 for the Razorbacks, which finished an embarrassing 2-10 in Chad Morris’ first year as head coach.
-Mississippi State was the most profitable “under” team in the SEC, as unders went 8-2-1 in Bulldogs games. Alabama was the most profitable “over” team in the SEC (9-4).
-My power rankings reflect which team I’d favor against the spread on a neutral field if I was accepting wagers. I ranked Kentucky 48th prior to the season and 19th as of Wednesday morning, for an increase of 29 spots. But that was only the second-biggest mover I had in the SEC this year. I ranked Vanderbilt 72nd prior to the year, and I have the Commodores up to 38th now, for a jump of 34 spots.
-Other SEC teams that moved the most in my rankings: Arkansas (down 24 spots), Missouri (up 23 spots), LSU (up 16 spots) and Texas A&M (up 15 spots).
-My preseason top 11: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Clemson, No. 3 Georgia, No. 4 Ohio State, No. 5 Washington, No. 6 Michigan, No. 7 Wisconsin, No. 8 Oklahoma, No. 9 Penn State, No. 10 Auburn and No. 11 Notre Dame. I totally missed on Washington, Wisconsin and Auburn. I’m pretty proud of my top three, as it remains the same this week.
-The five worst FBS teams in terms of pure power ratings, in my opinion: No. 130 UConn, No. 129 Rice, No. 128 UTEP, No. 127 New Mexico State and No. 126 Georgia State.
-My lowest-rated Power 5 teams are No. 105 Louisville, 101 Rutgers, No. 100 Oregon State, No. 80 Arkansas and No. 77 North Carolina.
-Louisville went 1-11 ATS. Based on the closing number at the Westgate SuperBook, Louisville finished with an aggregate ATS of minus-217. In other words, Louisville failed to cover the spread by an average of 18.1 points per game. I’ve never seen anything like that as a bettor. Sportsbooks simply were baffled by how bad the program got under Bobby Petrino.
-Utah State was the only team with a positive aggregate spread margin into the triple digits. The team went 9-3 ATS with a +102 margin. That was good enough to get head coach Matt Wells the Texas Tech job.