Guess who the best bet in college football has been so far in the 2015 season. They’re a program that’s never been to a major bowl game. They have serious problems on offense. There’s only a couple marginal NFL prospects on defense. Heck, they don’t even have a winning record. Meet the Central Michigan Chippewas. Their 6-0-1 against the spread (ATS), making them the only team in major college football not to lose a bet for their backers in Las Vegas.
Central Michigan is 3-4 overall. Their quarterback, Cooper Rush, plays a high-percentage game, completing 68.5% of his passes with a 16/6 TD-INT ratio. Rush only gets 8.02 yards-per-attempt, a nice average. But there is no running game to speak of—the team’s leading rusher has just 228 yards. The result is an offense that’s 131st in the country in scoring in spite of playing almost half their games against fellow Mid-American Conference members, a league noted for its wide-open styles.
That’s what makes Central Michigan so interesting from a handicapping perspective. ATS records have a strong tendency to find their way back to the middle as bettors adjust and the oddsmakers shift the line. But Central Michigan’s low public profile and the fact they won’t play any signature games the rest of the season means the betting public is not going to be in action…which means they might continue to slide under the radar.
This coming week is going to be a test case of Central Michigan’s continued ATS viability. They have to go on the road as a favorite—more than a touchdown no less, giving (-7.5) at Ball State. It’s not against good competition, as Ball State is 2-5, but quietly covering a game like this would be a good sign that the Chippewas will continue to be a good bet.
Central Michigan might be the only unbeaten ATS team, but there are five others who have only lost one game against the number. Here’s the rundown…
Notre Dame (6-1 ATS, 6-1 overall): We move from a low profile school to the school with perhaps the highest brand-name recognition. Because of that, Notre Dame usually isn’t a good bet. But years of subpar performances and a collapse at the end of last year’s regular season finally took the wind out of the Irish’s sails.
Sure enough, they bounce right back with a strong performance both on the field and at the betting window. In spite of losing their starting running back and starting quarterback to season-ending injuries, Notre Dame is 14th in the country in rush yardage and 32nd in pass yardage. Their betting value is going to be tested as a road favorite against feisty teams in Temple and Pitt later on this year and the Irish close the season with a big battle at Stanford the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Southern Miss (6-1 ATS, 4-3 overall): The Golden Eagles are similar to Central Michigan. They get quarterback play, with Nick Mullens leading a passing offense that ranks 13th nationally in pass yardage. The defense is more problematic. Like Central Michigan, the Golden Eagles have to go on the road as a favorite on Saturday. They play a week Charlotte team and lay (-15.5).
Stanford (5-1 ATS, 5-1 overall): That season finale with Notre Dame could be a big battle for the College Football Playoff and a big battle for standing in Las Vegas. The Cardinal are doing it the way they’ve done it is the entire period ascendancy under Jim Harbaugh and now David Shaw. They run the football, with Christian McCaffrey leading the way with 844 yards. Kevin Hogan doesn’t have to throw a lot, but he averages a sparkling 9.53 yards-per-attempt and has a 12-3 TD/INT ratio.
Stanford isn’t going to slide under anyone’s radar, so keep a close eye on what sort of adjustments oddsmakers make. They play Washington on Saturday, although as I write this no line has been posted, due to uncertainty at quarterback for the Huskies.
Toledo (5-1 ATS, 6-0 overall): Toledo is the MAC frontrunner, ranked #22 in the nation and in the conversation to receive a bid to one of the six major bowl games (The “New Year’s Six” that include the two playoff semifinals, take one team drawn from either the MAC, Mountain West, Conference USA, Sun Belt or American). Based on that, you would think they’d draw enough attention from the betting public to eventually force oddsmakers to readjust.
But maybe not. Toledo isn’t going to be a contender for the College Football Playoff. They won’t play any marquee games. They don’t even have marquee talent. In spite of a terrific defense that’s ranked seventh in the nation, there’s no future Khalil Mack, the great linebacker from the University of Buffalo who came out of this conference a few years ago.
That’s illustrated by the pointspread this Saturday. Toledo is a relatively modest (-14.5) favorite at UMass, a team that has only one win, and that 15-10 win over Kent last week is a candidate for ugliest game of 2015. Maybe the value will continue to hold. And if ATS records were like overall records, the Toledo-Central Michigan game on November 10 would be the most hyped game of the year.
Navy (4-1 ATS, 4-1 overall): The Middies just do what they do. They run the football with their triple option and their ultimate ATS value is usually determined by their defense. This season, with the D ranking #30 in the country, it’s pretty good. So the Mids are covering the number. They’re giving a hefty (-23) at Tulane this week. What’s more interesting is looking ahead to games against teams that are currently undefeated, at Memphis on November 7 and at Houston on November 27. Navy will likely be getting points in both spots.
The season’s biggest games are still ahead of us and the attention of the media is going to focus in like never before on the handful of teams that are in the conversation for the Playoff. We love all that as much as anyone. But we also know that a team’s marquee value or Playoff status have nothing to do with whether they can make you money. Keep an eye on all of these teams here today moving forward.
Jim Hurley has been a successful public handicapper since 1985, when he began a Network that emphasized a team approach to handicapping. Hurley consults with statistical analysts, personnel experts and Vegas insiders to narrow the NFL and college cards down to the most bettable games each and every week. Visit him online at www.winningedge.com.