One of college football’s biggest early-season games in 2018 was the matchup between FSU and Virginia Tech.
As hyped as that game was, the teams only won a combined 11 games that season, ultimately falling off the map in the ACC.
There may or may not be teams with that drastic of a turn for the worst this season. But today, I’ll be looking at a team from each conference that is getting too much preseason credit.
These overrated teams will be both contenders inside their conference (Nebraska) and those who will be lucky just to win a couple of games (Georgia State).
For these odds, I’m using 5Dimes, where all the over/under betting props for FBS teams are listed. And don’t forget to take a look at my previous article where we check the most underrated NCAAF teams over/under odds.
So let the list kick off with a team that’s bound to fall in the ACC.
*The odds listed beside each team mark the “under” number for them.
ACC: NC State Wolfpack
7½ Wins (-140)
Dave Doeren has continued to keep the Wolfpack on the cusp of national relevance over the past few years. But there were a few leaks in this roster last year, and they’ve now lost Ryan Finley at quarterback.
Finley was the unquestioned leader and near 4,000-yard passer in 2018. With him and a few keys playmakers gone, it will be hard for NC State to fill those spots. Besides the offensive line, they don’t stand out much at any offensive position. There certainly aren’t any incredible playmakers.
Teams like Virginia and Syracuse have passed the Wolfpack in the conference, and FSU and Miami will undoubtedly do the same. Virginia Tech is another school that continues to out-recruit the Wolfpack. It seems NC State may get buried inside this conference and have to deal with mediocrity.
Even the pass-rush and overall look of their front-seven doesn’t look as imposing as in years past. Jarius Morehead at safety may be the only player that jumps out at you on this defense.
With toss-up games against FSU, West Virginia, Boston College, and Wake Forest on the road, this just doesn’t look to be their year to be the pests they once were.
AAC: South Florida Bulls
7 Wins (-350)
This pick is a bit risky just because USF is one of the most talented teams in the country. But they’ve also underperformed the last two years under Charlie Strong, and they always seem to be an unstable group.
At the top of their potential, they’d probably win eight games. Unfortunately, they’ve fallen into funks in terms of both production and mental focus. Losing six games in a row to end the season isn’t a good omen.
Blake Barnett will be a bright spot at quarterback. If he stays healthy, he should have a productive year. However, the defense has a lot to answer for after giving up nearly 40 points per game during that six-game skid. 104th in total defense is a glaring weakness.
And even in a 7-6 record, most of their wins were against inferior opponents and sloppy victories. They have a lot to learn before they become a threat to this conference again. And the late-season stretch of Temple, Cinci, Memphis, and UCF doesn’t look promising.
Big Ten: Nebraska Cornhuskers
8½ Wins (-110)
It was hard to pick a team in the Big Ten. There appears to be so much give and take in the middle of the conference that it’s difficult to see where these teams differ.
So I decided to go with the team that seems to be on the top of everyone’s West Division.
Just because Nebraska won a slugfest near the end of the year with Michigan State and creamed Illinois doesn’t mean they’re taking over this division. Neither does the track record of Scott Frost with UCF in a non-power-five league.
This was a four-win team that played like a highly unstable six-win team at the end of the year. Adrian Martinez is a wonderful quarterback who has a bright future ahead of him under Frost’s tutelage. But he doesn’t have the skill players established around him to lead this team to the Big Ten title game this year.
There might be another second-half upsurge for this team as the building blocks take place. But that’s the time they will be playing at Purdue and facing off against Wisconsin and Iowa. They also have the crossover game versus Ohio State.
Their schedule is manageable overall, which is the only reason for hesitation on this one. Starting a season with South Alabama, Colorado, Northern Illinois, and Illinois is not very daunting.
There’s still not a single position group yet, apart from the QBs that jump out at you. There are a few athletes like JD Spielman (WR), Maurice Washington (RB), and Mohamed Barry (LB) that stick out. But depth is still a concern in most areas.
That includes the trench positions, which matter more in the Big Ten than in most conferences.
Big 12: Texas Tech Red Raiders
6½ Wins (-160)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Texas Tech will have a great offense, and might not make a bowl game.
The futility of the Red Raiders defense has been so great over the years, that even the coach they just fired got an NFL head coaching job. That also goes to show just how innovative the Air Raid style was at Texas Tech.
But now that Kliff Kingsbury is gone, Matt Wells has been brought in, so there won’t be too much of a difference on offense besides utilizing the run a bit more. While that may improve the 109th-ranked rushing team, it also means defense still won’t be much of a focus.
Going to Oklahoma, Baylor, and West Virginia probably spell losses. Iowa State is no longer a toss-up game. They’ll be heavy underdogs in that one. Throw in going to Texas at the end of the year, and a bowl appearance seems like a lofty goal.
Once again, Tech has the weapons to aid in spreading the field. But they don’t have the secondary pieces to cover the best in their conference. Also, the beef up front isn’t there to apply pressure to force off-balanced throws. I’m, giving the Red Raiders a 5-7 record for this year.
C-USA: Old Dominion Monarchs
4½ Wins (-190)
All of the East Division in Conference USA looks improved this year except for the Monarchs.
They lost their top three receivers and a group of top tacklers from last year’s team and will be hard-pressed to raise their win level from last season (four).
Their linebackers are likely the only group even in the middle-of-the-pack in the C-USA. RB Kesean Strong might be their only impact player on offense.
Struggles on both lines will likely plague them throughout the season. Isaac Weaver at RG is the only stable force on the O-line that has all new starters otherwise.
Playing at places like Marshall, UAB, FIU, and Middle Tennessee doesn’t bode well. All of those teams look like bowl teams or better.
The Monarchs have a special teams’ unit that might flip the field and steal them a game along the way. But Norfolk State and UTSA are the only two wins that seem like the only sure-thing wins on the schedule.
East Carolina and Charlotte will be close games. But even if they win both, that still doesn’t get them to five wins. And with the speed that Charlotte coach Will Healy turned Austin Peay around, I wouldn’t be surprised if he did the same with the 49ers.
MAC: Toledo Rockets
8 Wins (-175)
The MAC conference has almost as much parity as ever, even after a 7-6 Akron team won the title a couple of years back.
And I think there will be two teams that finally find their way out of the crowd in this conference. One is Ohio in the East Division, with all-conference quarterback Nathan Rourke. The second one is going to be Western Michigan in the West, which means Toledo will be relegated to the pack.
The Broncos won’t be the P.J. Fleck version of 2016, but they will be a group that has highlights at every position aside from the DB’s.
Toledo will get them at home, but it looks like the Broncos have closed the gap on them in terms of offense.
Yes, the Rockets pulled away from them last year. But if WMU shuts down even a small amount of the red zone opportunities, they’re in great shape. It’s hard to believe that defense was in the top-60 in yards but 106th in points allowed.
If Toledo loses that game, that could signal a dramatic 2-3 start. That would suck a lot of life out of the conference slate, which includes a not-so-easy trip to Buffalo. Thankfully, there’s no crossover with Ohio.
But with unresolved issues at linebacker and a need for major improvements against the pass (103rd in 2019), It’s easy to see how Toledo could slip into the slew of also-rans in this conference.
MWC: Air Force Falcons
8 Wins (+175)
Given the odds for this one, it may seem as somewhat of a surprise.
But just because the Falcons have a fair share of returning starters doesn’t mean they’ll automatically improve from a five-win season.
They have an offensive line that can move well laterally and can also pin back even a solid defensive line. That bodes well for their offense, a triple-option/spread hybrid attack.
And that’s about all I can say for this team. There are a lot of capable pieces, but nothing that’s going to give this team even a sniff of the better teams in the conference.
Those teams are Boise State, Utah State, and Fresno State. Unfortunately, Air Force has to play each of those programs in 2019. Going to Colorado probably won’t be all that much fun either, even if the Buffaloes are a sub-par PAC team.
Throw in a high-powered Army team churning away on them, and you already have five losses. Going to Hawaii with Cole McDonald and the damage he does at home (20 TDs-5 INTs, 147.3 passer rating) will give them their sixth.
Pac-12: USC Trojans
7 Wins (+125)
USC had a load of growing pains last year as they finished 2018 without a bowl appearance.
And just because expectations are higher in the second year with these prized recruits, it doesn’t mean the Trojans will be that much better.
Clay Helton’s attack will open up a lot more with Graham Harrell taking the reins of the offense. Having an easier playbook for J.T. Daniels to absorb should help things. But just how much will they improve?
Eight wins certainly seems like a lot with an O-line that was busted up all of last year. A little bit extra maturity doesn’t fill the kinds of holes they had all across the front last year.
Better quarterbacks will beat the defense. It’s no coincidence that Washington State, Texas, and Utah combined for 114 points against them last season. They had impressive signal-callers who burnt the Trojan secondary.
They have to travel to Washington and Notre Dame and will have a lot of passing difficulties at Cal. Also, their game at Arizona State is another toss-up game.
SEC: Auburn Tigers
8 Wins (-150)
Auburn isn’t going to have a poor year necessarily. They just have a slew of competition in the SEC. Having to play Georgia and Florida from the SEC East isn’t very fair. And that’s on top of juggernauts like Alabama, LSU, and Texas A&M.
They’d be lucky to go 2-3 in those games. That leaves them no more wiggle room on their schedule in terms of the over/under.
The Tigers have their bright spots. The defensive line might be the best in the country. Derrick Brown is in the running for All-American honors. The secondary isn’t of Florida, Alabama, or LSU’s level, but it’s not far behind either.
The team was already 75th in passing last season. Although the receiving unit is maturing, there’s still a long way to go with this group. There’s a lot of natural talent with guys like Anthony Schwartz, but sprinter’s speed isn’t the same as premier route running.
The five games at the top bring a bevy of challenges to this Auburn squad. Throw in a tough opener against a top-15 Oregon team, and eight seems like the absolute ceiling. No matter how well last season ended.
Sun Belt: Georgia State Panthers
3½ Wins (+130)
The poor Panthers. How do you overhype a team that only won two games the whole of last season?
First off, this team didn’t even look competitive in the latter portion of the season. They lost their last four games by a combined 63 points. Only one of their losses was a one-possession game, and their victory over ULM was their single conference win.
Dan Ellington is carrying this whole team on his back. The dual-threat quarterback is the lone bright spot on the roster apart from a couple of pieces on the O-line. If protection remains steady, there will be a chance to improve upon a passing game that 92nd last season.
But the defense is another story. There’s experience there. Though it’s hard to know how effective it is when a team is 125th in the nation out of 130 teams.
Tennessee and Western Michigan on the road, on top of playing Army make for just as tough of a non-conference slate as they had last year. Maybe the Panthers add another win thanks to experience. But that might still not get them out of the Sun Belt cellar.
Independents: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
9½ Wins (-145)
Everyone knows the Fighting Irish had a lot of lucky breaks and close games in 2018 that got them to the College Football Playoffs. But they got there, nonetheless.
This year, however, the breaks could end up going the opposite way and have to leave Notre Dame just as easily with seven wins.
Some huge pieces are missing on defense this year. CB Julian Love (23 PDs in 2018), DT Jerry Tillery (first-round pick), and LB Drue Tranquill (nine tackles-for-loss) leave them with holes at each phase of the D. Te’von Coney’s another top LB they lose.
The secondary should be fine, but the front-seven has questions like it did a couple of years ago. They’re going to need to find a pressure source and quick. Going to Georgia in week 3 isn’t a definite loss, but it’s going to be an incredible uphill battle in the trenches for Notre Dame’s D-line.
Playing Virginia right after that doesn’t automatically spell a “W” either, as the Cavaliers could be front-runners in the ACC Coastal. That will be one of several toss-up games (Virginia Tech, USC, Stanford) that could go either way.
And they also have to go to the Big House to play Michigan, who might be the Big Ten favorites.
I think the offense will be stable with Ian Book returning at quarterback. The line in front of him looks like a typical Notre Dame front that will dominate lesser opponents. But the front-seven on D is looking at some early season lessons that might be learned the hard way.