There were six college football programs that managed to cover the spread in 10 of their games last season.
Those breadwinners ranged, in terms of exposure, from a national-title runner-up to a team that finished 7-5 SU in the weakest conference in NCAA football.
Whether a program wins or loses on the scoreboard doesn’t concern college football bettors. All that matters is making money, and that’s just what these six select teams did. But can they do it again?
Here’s a look at the best bets from last year’s NCAAF action and their chances of keeping boosters and backers happy at the sportsbook:
Arkansas State Red Wolves – 10-2 SU, 10-2 ATS
The Red Wolves were the class of the Sun Belt, which is like beating the Olsen Twins in a pie-eating contest. Arkansas State has some new and old faces this upcoming season, most notably new head coach Gus Malzahn and returning QB Ryan Aplin, who totaled 4,176 yards of offense (3,588 passing/588 rushing) last year. The Red Wolves will be running a no-huddle offense and should be able to put plenty of points on the board, which always gives bettors a shot at covering the spread.
Arkansas State is, however, returning only three defensive starters and will be up against some top-level competition to open the schedule. It opens at Oregon on Sept. 1 and travels to Nebraska on Sept. 15 – two games that will keep the scoreboard buzzing.
The losses on the defensive side will hurt bettors more in conference play, where ASU will be heavy chalk against Sun Belt rivals. The Red Wolves will continue to dominate league foes but another 10-win ATS season isn’t in the cards.
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs – 8-4 SU, 10-2 ATS
Louisiana Tech finished the season with eight straight ATS wins, including a 31-24 loss to TCU as a 10-point pup in the Poinsettia Bowl. Now, the defending WAC champs are looking for a successful swan song in the conference before joining the C-USA next year.
La. Tech brings back the QB-WR combo of Colby Cameron and Quinton Patton, along with third-leading receiver Myles White and second-leading rusher Hunter Lee. And, perhaps the most important returning piece of the Bulldogs’ puzzle is golden-footed punter Ryan Allen, who was named to Phil Steele’s first-team All-American list.
Louisiana Tech opens the season against SEC transplant Texas A&M in Shreveport on Aug. 30, then faces future C-USA foes Houston (for now) and Rice before taking on Illinois and Virginia in late September. The Bulldogs have a great chance to cover in all of those games and maybe even pull off an upset or two. As for WAC play, as long as the program stays focused on this season and not next year’s move to the C-USA, La. Tech can continue to come through for Bayou bettors.
Stanford Cardinal – 11-1 SU, 10-2 ATS
The loss of super QB Andrew Luck is a tough pill to swallow for Stanford, but it may just make the Cardinal the most undervalued BCS program on the block. Luck’s arm led the team to plenty of wins in 2011 but there was also a ton of talent around him – talent that is back on the field in 2012.
Stanford will be going ground-and-pound this season, jumping on the back of RB Stepfan Taylor, who was fourth in the Pac-12 in rushing last season (1,330 yards). The Cardinal also boasted one of the better stop units in the conference in 2011, especially against the run. They limited opponents to just over 88 yards per game and bring back six starters from the front seven.
It won’t be pretty, like Luck’s pinpoint rocket passes, but Stanford has the horses to shake up the Pac-12 and the national rankings. The Cardinal clash with top-ranked Southern Cal – a program they’ve hounded for years – at home on Sept 15 and visit South Bend in October. Road dates with Washington, Oregon, and UCLA will also present some extra value on the spread for the smarty-pants from Palo Alto, who should continue to cash in for bettors in 2012.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers – 7-5 SU, 10-2 ATS
Western Kentucky grew by leaps and bounds in 2011, coming off a 2-10 campaign in 2010 and a 0-12 record in 2009 – its first two seasons in the Sun Belt. The Hilltoppers flirted with the program’s first bowl appearance since 1963, but was snubbed despite going 7-1 in their final eight games (8-0 ATS) with the lone loss coming against LSU.
Head coach Willie Taggart has his work cut out for him this season. His first order of business is finding a replacement for offensive Swiss Army knife Bobby Rainey, who totaled over 2,000 all-purpose yards and 17 touchdowns. Quarterback Kawaun Jakes must limit his mistakes but does have a solid offensive line paving the way. Defensively, WKU brings back six starters and has a respectable front seven which allowed 134.33 rushing yards per game last season.
The Hilltoppers have the most contrasting opening slate in college, facing FCS Austin Peay in Week 1 and defending national champ Alabama in Week 2. That opening contest reeks of look-ahead spot – if your book bothers to set a line for the game. Western Kentucky will struggle to plug the holes left by the departure of Rainey, who single-handedly covered spreads for WKU last season.
Houston Cougars – 12-1 SU, 10-3 ATS
Perhaps no team in college football will undergo a bigger facelift than the Cougars, who for four years turned the C-USA into a weekly air show behind the arm of NCAA all-time leading passer Case Keenum. Now, Keenum is gone as are Houston’s top-four receiving threats and two of its top rushers.
Those losses come at a bad time, when the program is trying to convince the Big East that it’s BCS material while also adjusting to newly appointed head coach Tony Levine. The Cougars, who join the BCS conference in 2013, could be rebuilding and looking ahead to next season. Quarterback David Piland has the chops to keep up the scoring, stepping in for Keenum in 2010. He passed for 2,641 and 24 touchdowns in just eight games that year.
In a complete twist of roles, it will be the defense bailing out the offense more often than not in 2012. The Cougars stop unit looked sharp down the stretch, unleashing an aggressive 3-4 scheme that will take chances for the big play. But when you had an offense that could put up 70 points, you could afford to roll the dice a little. Not so much this year.
Louisiana State Tigers – 13-0 SU, 10-3 ATS
The Tigers were a big part of the 2011 early-season trend of favorites continuing to cover the spread. Books took a shit kicking in the first half of the schedule, when LSU rolled out to 6-2 ATS mark through the first two months.
The Bayou Bengals bring back a ton of Sunday-ready talent, including all-world corner Tyrann Mathieu, who is a Heisman sleeper and a big reason why LSU is listed among the favorites, at +400, to win the BCS Championship. Head coach Les Miles is working in a new QB in Zach Mettenberger, which could keep the scoring down for Tigers backers.
Last year’s schedule had a lot to do with that 10-3 ATS mark. Louisiana State played a tough-as-nails slate and was awarded with some discounted spreads because of it. This year, the Tigers are slumming it for the first month, facing North Texas, Washington, Idaho, and Towson (and playing Auburn on Sept. 22). Those matchups will demand big-time chalk, perhaps too much for even LSU to handle.