As PFF enters into its sixth season of collecting data and grading players at the college level, we continue to refine our mathematical modeling and machine learning to make against-the-spread and over/under picks in the new PFF College Greenline product. These models rely heavily on our PFFELO rating system for college football but also include situational information along with opponent-adjusted information on things like how well a quarterback performs from a clean pocket or how many yards a running back gains after contact.
With the season fast approaching, we wanted to look closely at our preseason numbers to find favorable odds on some college football futures before the season gets underway. Below are our five favorite bets to target before kickoff on August 24th.
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Georgia to win the SEC (+275)
With all of the hype surrounding the returning talent at Clemson and Alabama, Georgia feels like a distant third in most preseason power rankings and an afterthought to win the SEC title. Similarly, Jake Fromm has flown a bit under the radar when discussions on the top echelon of quarterbacks occur. This may be an oversight, as his 2018 production ranks well among returning quarterbacks in the Power 5 conferences. Among this group, he had a top-five passing grade and threw an accurate throw on 67.1% of attempts which ranked second. Defensively, the Bulldogs lost DeAndre Baker but Eric Stokes appears ready to step in and be the dominant shutdown corner this team needs. Their schedule sets up as well as can be expected, and after tough road matchups against Florida and Auburn, a clear path to the SEC title game emerges — a game in which they’ll very likely face an opponent against whom they’ve had success the last two years.
Stanford to win Pac 12 +2000
In the most wide-open conference among the Power 5, the Pac-12 has Washington and Oregon with identical odds to win at +275, with Utah, USC and Washington State rounding out the top five. Stanford checks in at six but offers considerably better odds than the top five at +2000. Our PFFELO rankings have Stanford as a top-20 team and the second-best team in the Pac-12. Oddsmakers appear down on them as they have one of the hardest non-conference schedules in the FBS. They also lost a significant amount of starters among their offensive unit, but return K.J. Costello at the game's most important position and will be less likely to employ a run-run-pass script without what everyone believed was a Heisman-caliber back in Bryce Love.
Despite the hype for Justin Herbert, Costello actually put up a better overall passing grade with a higher average depth of target in 2018. He had the highest percentage of total yards coming from air yards in the Pac-12, and he threw past the sticks at the second-highest rate in the conference. Simply put, he won where it matters most in 2018; now if that is correlated directly to the ability of J.J. Arcega-Whiteside downfield or not will be tested early in 2019. Still, the price is right and the quarterback play is set for the Cardinals to make a run at the wide-open Pac-12 title in 2019.
Cincinnati to win AAC +600
Cincinnati is tied with Houston for the third-best odds to win the AAC behind Central Florida (+125) and Memphis (+300). UCF has a massive question mark at quarterback with Houston and Memphis returning established playmakers at the position. The Bearcats appear to be well-positioned to build off their impressive 2018 season with one of the youngest returning rosters in the AAC. Desmond Ridder rode a roller coaster of performances in 2018 with four games with a 90.0-plus passing grade but also four games with a passing grade below 60.0. Almost 8% of his throws earned the big-time throw designation, and he had the second-highest amount of accurate passes on targets 10-plus yards downfield.
Michael Warren and his impressive 3.6 yards after contact per attempt return to help alleviate some of the pressure on Ridder offensively. Warren forced a missed tackle on 20% of his rushing attempts and is active in the passing game, as well. With seven starters returning from an impressive unit, the Bearcats figure to have the best overall defense in the AAC. With an overall coverage grade of 91.3, the Bearcats' allowed EPA on pass plays was -0.274, with only 35% of attempts deemed successful. Defense doesn’t win championships anymore, but with impressive play like that, they have a built-in cushion if their young signal-caller suffers at all from a sophomore slump.
Temple Owls Over 6.5 wins -130
Despite all of the quarterback talent currently residing in the AAC, Anthony Russo can potentially lay claim to being the most impressive returning signal-caller from 2018. Leading the AAC by a significant amount with 17.2% of his throws grading as “accurate plus” throws, he also had the third-highest overall accuracy percentage. While posting a middling aDOT, Russo still threw past the sticks 52.3% of his attempts and was “accurate plus” on 23.3% of his attempts that traveled 10 or more yards in the air. Russo also returns three of his top four pass-catchers from 2018. Six and a half wins seem like an overreaction to an offseason of turmoil, and it is simply too low for a team with a quarterback this talented and a number of talented, returning pass-catchers.
North Texas Over 7.5 wins -140
This should be an easy one as long as Mason Fine stays healthy. Outside of the quarterback play at Alabama and Clemson, North Texas actually returns the third-best signal-caller according to opponent- and context-adjusted passing grade. With the majority of this offensive unit returning intact, it is more a matter of consistency than talent in 2019. The offense will be the focal point, as their defensive unit could struggle to replace two outstanding playmakers at both linebacker and cornerback. With early non-conference matchups against California and Houston looming, oddsmakers have set a very reasonable win total of 7.5 games. Even if things start off dicey, the Mean Green should roll through the meat of their Conference USA schedule, secure the over 7.5 win total and challenge for the conference title in 2019.