The focus of bettors is usually on bigger names such as Alabama, Clemson, Texas, etc., but you should actually turn your attention to less mentioned, smaller conferences. Less popular could mean more lucrative for your bankroll.
Winners out of the Group of 5 conferences may be tougher to call during the preseason, but there are betting tidbits you can look for in-season to help you cash tickets. Let’s look at both the American Athletic and the Mountain West conferences.
Cincinnati Bearcats (AAC)
Season win total OVER/UNDER 10 (-115)
Win AAC (-225)
Betting nugget: fantastic home team
The Bearcats last year were what UCF was in 2018. Undefeated until the bowl game and lost to a Power 5 school. UCF lost to LSU 40-32; Cincinnati lost to Georgia 24-21.
A few things made this team great. Cincy had a top-10 pass rush, a top-30 rushing attack, and were top 10 in total defense. Let’s break down their strengths.
Last year, the Bearcats ranked 10th in quarterback sacks. DL Myjai Sanders, who led the team in sacks and sack yards, returns along with the next four defensive lineman behind him. This unit could be very strong once again.
Quarterback Desmond Ridder returns after throwing for nearly 2,300 yards last year. He was second on the team in rushing yards and led the team in rushing touchdowns. My concern: The offensive line was 43rd in quarterback protection and lost two starters, including C Jakari Robinson. Anytime a team loses a center, it gives me pause.
Cincinnati was 26th last year in rushing yards. They lose top running back Gerrid Doaks, now with the Miami Dolphins in the NFL, which leaves Ridder as the leading rusher entering the season. Doaks will be a big loss. He hit 97 or more rushing yards in four of the nine games played, while adding 200 receiving yards.
Jerome Ford should fill in nicely, as he was second on the team in rushing touchdowns. I would, however, like to see this unit prove itself behind a less experienced offensive line.
The Bearcats were 14th in opponent rushing yards but will enter the season having lost leading linebacker Jarell White. He led the team in solo tackles and total tackles in his senior season, but Cincy does return the rest of its linebacker unit. Cincinnati was also top 40 in opponent passing yards and will return their top two cornerbacks despite losing two safeties.
I need to see this secondary in action. An opportunity presents itself out of the gate with a home game against MAC’s Miami (OH). The RedHawks had a top 20 offensive line and top 50 passing game last year. I’d like to see Cincinnati handle them comfortably.
Betting strength: winning at home
In four years as head coach, Luke Fickell and Cincinnati are 21-4 at home and 19-0 in the last three years. Big matchups that could jeopardize that record: playing UCF in October (Cincy won by three last year) and Tulsa (won by three as 14-point favorites in the AAC title game) in November.
This team could be just as good as last year. I’m just not quite ready to say the Bearcats will be better than their 2020 selves. I will, however, be looking for this team to win games at home and keep its record intact.
San Jose State Spartans (Mountain West)
Season win total: OVER 7.5 (-125), UNDER (+100)
Win Mountain West (+650)
Betting nugget: a good in-conference ATS bet
The Spartans finished the season 7-1 last year, including a 34-20 win over Boise State in the Mountain West title game as seven-point underdogs.
It was their first winning season under four-year head coach Brent Brennan and their first since 2012. San Jose State is the third favorite to win the conference at +650, and those odds have my attention.
With a top-10 offensive line, top-20 passing game, and top-15 defense, this team was good. They were a pleasure to watch, winning three games outright by double digits as underdogs of at least seven points.
Quarterback Nick Starkel was sacked just six times in eight games on 254 attempts last season. The line ranked eighth last season and the entire unit returns.
It was Starkel’s first year with the Spartans and he definitely made an impact, with an offense that ranked 18th in passing yards. He threw for nearly 2,200 yards, completed 642 percent of his passes, averaged 8.6 yards per completion, and tossed 17 touchdowns. My concern: Starkel loses his two best receiving weapons in WRs Bailey Gaither and Tre Walker. The two made up eight of the team's 19 total receiving touchdowns and more than half of the total receiving yards. Next man up.
The Spartans were ninth best in pass rushing with 27 total quarterback sacks and ranked 15th in total defense. The entire unit returns.
The Spartans were 19th best in run defense, limiting opponents to 123 rushing yards per game, and were top 40 in team tackles for loss.
Betting Strength: good ATS in conference games
Under Brennan in the last four years, San Jose State is 19-9-3 ATS against conference opponents, 10-3-2 in the last two years, and 6-0-1 ATS last year.
The Spartans schedule may be a tricky one. They avoid Boise State, but do face Hawaii and Nevada on the road.
The big question mark for this team is the receiving corp. If the next man up can prove to be just as much of a threat, then this San Jose State team could be threatening once again and eyeing back-to-back titles.
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