The biggest problem college football underdogs have in trying to get the attention of bookmakers and gamblers is that every week, every FBS game, everybody has to favor somebody.
It’s like Michael Wilbon says about head coaches who aren’t always effective (or unbeaten) but get promoted to jobs in the Power-5 anyway. “Everybody has to hire somebody,” he said once on Pardon the Interruption. “Who are they gonna hire, only undefeated coaches?”
A gambler wouldn’t want to take “only undefeated” FBS teams against the point spread to begin with, since an elite program is often its own worst enemy when it comes time for handicappers to tout them ATS. For instance, Dabo Swinney is a fantastic coach and a recruiting genius, but his 2018 Clemson Tigers were overvalued as a 35-point favorite against Georgia Southern last autumn.
The remnants of a hurricane were bearing down on Death Valley, and a distracted Clemson team knew that A) they were likely to contend for a CFP title in January and B) they needed to get the game over with and get the hell out of there. Georgia Southern lost, of course, but the Eagles covered ATS as coach Chad Lundford’s modern-day “Georgia Power Company” managed some time-consuming possessions and brave defense. Swinney probably didn’t mind the occasional sustained drive against his own unit, as at least the game clock was running.
Expectations rise – sometimes too high – for top-ranked Power-5 schools during a season. “Name brand” programs are always more likely to be overvalued ATS thanks to heavy wagering action, and most name-brand institutions hire name-brand skippers.
Everybody has to favor somebody, and it doesn’t matter to everyone that Vegas handicappers set point spreads on pairs of teams with any disparity of size, skill, talent and reputation in mind. Alabama can be favored by 50 points and still be a more-popular ATS market than the underdog.
As always, successful gamblers are those who look deeper into each conference’s lineup of teams – and who value the contributions of coaches whose schools always play more competitively on the gridiron than pundits, handicappers, and the betting public give them credit for.
Can we find 5 NCAA football coaches whose teams always tend to surprise their opponents, win, lose, or tropical squall?
10 of the Very Best College Coaches ATS
Jeff Tedford (Fresno State)
It’s important to give every coach’s entire career a look-see for how well his squads have performed against whatever the expectations were. If an HC was mediocre ATS with his old program, but his new team tends to blow away the Las Vegas lines, that doesn’t make the latter school a flaky gamble. But if he was 10-2 ATS in 2018 but 2-10 ATS 2 years ago with a different university, then there’s probably a lot of luck and good fortune involved in the recent betting statistics.
Jeff Tedford has always been a fine skipper, and his resume includes Coach of the Year honors with the California Golden Bears of the Pac-12. His Fresno State teams of the past few years have taken the cake ATS however…and taken a few division and conference titles too.
The Bulldogs are simply magnificent against Las Vegas.
Fresno State hit rock-bottom in 2016 when former coach Tim DeRuyter was let go. The Mountain West school had already covered in a handful of games that season, but was incapable of actually winning until Tedford took over in November. Since 2017, Fresno State is an astounding 21-6-1 against consensus point spreads, averaging beating the Sin City spread by 8.3 points.
That’s more than a touchdown and a 2-point conversion, ladies and gents. Whenever the Bulldogs have been a TD-underdog to a given opponent they have usually been the true favorite by at least an XP or a field goal in actual gambling value. What a great wager!
Recent starting QBs like Marcus McMaryion have soaked-up a lot of press coverage in NorCal, but what I really like about Tedford’s teams is the stubborn defense. In a series of high-pressure conference meetings with Boise State over the last 2 seasons, Fresno State has allowed 17, 17, 24 and 13 points from the Broncos over 4 quarters a pop.
Meanwhile, the Las Vegas Bowl has become an annual ritual of over-hyped P5 coaches losing to superior skippers from the Group-of-5. After Willie Taggart left the Oregon Ducks high and dry in 2017, Mario Cristobal and his troubled team were touted as big favorites over the Boise Blue. That was ridiculous as Cristobal is just a guy who used to coach the OL. Boise embarrassed Oregon at Sam Boyd Stadium. In 2018, coach Herman Edwards and Arizona State were touted-to-win the Las Vegas Bowl over the Fresno State Bulldogs…at team which has been covering ATS more than 75% of the time under Tedford.
Edwards had the hype, the Power-5 recruits, the money, the slogans, and the media in his pocket. All Jeff Tedford had in the Las Vegas Bowl was the superior roster and coaching staff.
You would think it would be easier for handicappers at college football betting sites (and the impulse-gamblers who affect the pregame lines) to learn their lessons, especially given that there’s an annual scoreboard education available free-of-charge a stone’s throw from Circus Circus.
Bill Clark (UAB)
Coach Bill Clark has had pretty good records straight-up and ATS in his short career as a skipper, even going back to his brief stint at Jacksonville State.
But over the past several years at UAB, Clark has not only proved his value in defying expectations. The Blazers have defied expectations just by suiting-up and stepping on the field.
NCAA punishments have killed Power-5 teams for years or decades, thanks to a lack of scholarships and opportunities that coaches in the wake of a harsh ruling are able to promise their recruits.
How about not having a program at all. Would that have an adverse effect on recruiting?
UAB, of course, suspended football operations in 2014. It would have been a minor miracle just for Clark to put together a worthy roster and have some type of competitive season when the Blazers were revived on the gridiron in 2017.
Instead, the Blazers have gone 18-8-1 ATS since returning to the gridiron, and won a truly amazing Conference USA title before prevailing again in the postseason in 2018.
I used to think the greatest coaching job of all time occurred in Bill Walsh’s first 2 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. But the 49ers didn’t shut down operations for multiple seasons, cast away all of its players except walk-on tryout bodies, and still win the NFC Championship.
Will UAB quickly become a modest wager ATS because the team’s unlikely success will drive the lines in a new Blazer-happy direction? Maybe…in Conference USA. Look for Clark’s program to potentially cover an underdog’s ATS market against Tennessee on November 2nd if the Volunteers gallop to a strong start before facing the stretch run of an SEC schedule.
Frank Solich (Ohio)
Players tend to get too much credit when there’s a great head coach on campus – nay, scratch that. There’s no such thing as giving too much credit to a roster of student-athletes who can’t overwhelm opponents physically but win and win again, consistently, over time. Teams without 5-star recruits must prevail with tactics, coaching, cooperation, and toughness. That’s an art form.
But we’re giving too much attention – from a handicapping point of view – to individual players at schools like Ohio University when we overlook the importance of its head coach.
Since 2015, Solich’s Bobcats are an excellent 34-19 against the Vegas spread. That’s pretty much all on the skipper. No team in the FBS is as defined by its mentor as the Ohio program and its aged patriarch.
Ohio has a methodical style that can be boring to watch. It doesn’t help that some of ESPN’s broadcasts of the MAC are the sleepiest, most phoned-in productions ever. I’ve laughed on the blog about Ohio’s penchant for mechanical, timid offense and a defense that only ever plays at a world-class level once you’ve given up on it. But the Bobcats’ discipline, attention to detail, blocking, tackling, and ball-control tend to beat down on conference rivals over time…and the squad’s stubbornness and poise helps cover ATS when games against Power-5 teams ought to be academic losses.
Jeff Monken (Army)
Flexbone football – referred to on TV as “the triple option,” even though the Air Raid isn’t called the “Bubble Screen” and Stanford’s offense is not called “Inside Hand-Off” – is at the crossroads in the FBS. Navy is no longer a powerhouse for the time being, and Air Force can’t improve its athleticism in recruiting despite the fine stewardship of Trey Calhoun. Georgia Tech has waved goodbye to Paul Johnson, turning the Yellow Jackets into Vanderbilt for the next 5 to 10 seasons.
But the Army Academy is flourishing under Jeff Monken’s old-school attack. Johnson’s disciple at Georgia Southern, Monken can be even closer to the vest in his game planning than the Georgia Tech teams of the past several years. In contrast, Navy’s head coach Ken Niumatalolo is an experimenter. Monken simply drilled-in the blocking “rules” and lessons of a devilish offense (and an underrated defensive alignment) until a new generation of West Pointers were ready to excel.
Army was written-off last season when former QB Ahmad Bradshaw was denied another year of eligibility. The Black Knights rode an easy schedule to 10-2, but an OT classic with Oklahoma, another win over hated Navy, and the absolute devastation of the Houston Cougars in bowl season show that Monken’s teams – which have beaten the spread 60% of the time over the past 2 years – are not to be taken lightly on the moneyline or ATS.
Mike Leach (Washington State)
I don’t really like Mike Leach as a person, and I especially don’t like his tactical approach to the gridiron. Nintendo is Nintendo and already quite enjoyable as itself. We don’t need it on the football field.
Air Raid, Schmare-Raid!
But there’s no denying it – I was wrong about the Washington State Cougars’ chances last season, and so were a lot of handicappers and bettors, as the program went 11-2 against the point spread in 2018.
If I ever luck out and become a head coach somewhere, I think I’ll gain 200 pounds, bully everyone within earshot, make stupid chauvinistic remarks and call 100 passes in a row in every game, bribing my offensive tackles to keep fighting uphill for 60 minutes at a time.
After all, it’s working for somebody in Pullman.