Perennially Strong Power Conference Teams Look for Bounce Back Seasons
College football's first full week kicks off over Labor Day weekend, and bettors are gearing up for making their picks and parlays at the sports books. Many fans and bettors will focus their attention on the top teams, and you'll be inundated by the media from the start of the college football season on the power conference teams, top-25 rankings and those perennial powers that are projected to contend for conference titles and major postseason bowls.
But under the radar will be teams that suffered disappointing seasons last year, and many of them have been proven winning programs in recent years and the past decade, but suffered multiple close losses, injuries, too many turnovers or perhaps a significant loss of talent and experience in which they could not overcome last season.
I've examined some power conference teams below that are candidates for bounce back seasons that may also offer some betting value early or throughout the campaign. All these teams suffered losing seasons last year, but had significant winning years combined the previous three seasons. All these teams also suffered a negative net turnover margin last year, which is often difficult to overcome. I've listed some of the stats and variables that you can review and consider, along with returning starters, as you determine if these teams will 'bounce back' and meet expectations in 2017.
I've included some additional notes on these power conference teams below. However, recognize that there are plenty of other teams, and especially those from smaller conferences that get even less coverage and wagering support at the sports books that will make strides, bounce back and show major improvement.
|Team||2016 SU||2016 ATS||Ret Off||Ret Def|
Oregon – Few teams fell further than the Ducks last season, as Oregon sunk to a 4-8 record winning just 2 of their final 10 games. The Ducks also covered just 2 point spreads, as their public image could not be shed as an offensive juggernaut that the public just loved to support. Problem is the Ducks defense kept getting worse, and in fact, Oregon went from allowing 20 points per game (PPG) and 370 yards per game (YPG) to 41 PPG and 518 YPG in less than 4 years. New coach Willie Taggert takes over, coming in from South Florida where his no-nonsense approach led the Bulls to an 11-2 record last season. Some rebuilding and scheme changes will take time, but the Ducks are a contender to bounce back this season following a near decade of dominance which included a record of 33-8 the three previous seasons before last year's downer and debacle.
Arizona – Head coach Rich Rodriguez is boiling in Tucson, despite leading the Wildcats to 4-straight bowl games entering last season. But a lost season last year may need to be followed by a big bounce back this season or he could suffer a similar fate as Oregon's coach. It's going to be tough to do so in the Pac-12 South, but bettors will be getting plenty of points with an Arizona team that won just 3 games last season after compiling a 25-15 record the previous 3 seasons. It was one blowout after another for Rich Rod's clawless 'Cats last season, suffering through an 8-game losing stream with 7 losses by at least 2 touchdowns before the season-ending victory over rival Arizona State. The Wildcats offensive production dropped by nearly 13 PPG last year, dipping to 25 PPG while going just 2-10 ATS. But the defense has been deficient the past two seasons allowing more than 35 PPG and nearly 470 YPG with point of attack problems and unable to slow the opponents running game. The Wildcats are picked for the basement by most in the Pac-12 South, so they have much work to do in a recovery or bounce-back season.
Michigan State – The Spartans have been a dominant program since head coach Mark Dantonio took over a decade ago, going to a record 9-straight bowl games during his tenure. Prior to last year's disastrous 3-9 fallout (4-7 ATS), Sparty had gone 36-5 the previous 3 seasons. That was aided by a +45 net turnover margin, which shows how powerful turnovers can be, as last year MSU suffered a negative turnover margin (-5) and couldn't recover. Dantonio's job is safe, and a bounce back season was imminent until off field issues cost them a number or players. Michigan State will be the least experienced team in the Big Ten while returning just four starters on each side of the ball. Six wins and a bowl bid would be a nice recovery.
Notre Dame – The Irish are a big rebound team this year following a 4-8 SU/ATS fallout last season. Head coach Brian Kelly had guided the Irish to a 27-12 record the previous 3 seasons, and new offensive coordinator Chip Long may have Notre Dame's most potent offense in Kelly's 8th year in South Bend. Four returning starters along the line are key, as is the impact of a first-year junior starting quarterback. Road redemption rematches at Michigan State and Stanford are one's to watch, while similar scenarios at home against USC and Boston College will have the Irish fired up. Notre Dame plays 11 bowl teams from last year, but the Irish will be significantly better and the defense will be improved with a new coordinator after suffering costly injuries and inexperience last year.
TCU – The Horned Frogs are another team looking to bounce back after falling hard and failing to meet lofty expectations last year. Head coach Gary Patterson enters his 17th year following a rare losing season. TCU went 6-7 last year, but buried their betting backers at 3-9 ATS. The previous two seasons saw the Frogs go 23-3, and they bounced back big from a 4-8 season in 2013 to win 12 games the following year. Now 10 starters return on offense, after just 2 returned prior to last year's struggles. Overall, TCU will be one of the most experienced teams in the country, and while they are likely to play in many higher-scoring and closer games in the Big 12, it's likely TCU rises to the challenge and shows their strength in a bounce back year.
Texas – Unlike the 'Horns conference and state rival TCU, Texas has underachieved for years despite often having the pick of the litter for recruiting. Hiring Charlie Strong was a foolish mistake, and fortunately for Longhorns fans, the Bro was let go after losing his final 3 games, all as a favorite. In comes Tom Hermann, who has had great success everywhere he's been, including at Houston where he led the Cougars to a 13-1 record his first year and a New Year's Day bowl win over Florida State as a TD 'Dog. Houston dipped to 9-4 last year, losing their last two games but beating #3 Louisville as a 14-point 'Dog to improve his record to 6-0 vs. ranked teams. Strong was weak in so many areas running this top-tier program, and Hermann likely pays big dividends in his first year in Austin with 17 returners a good place to start.
UCLA – Bruins betting backers got buried last season, as UCLA was another highly-regarded and hyped team entering 2016 and picked by many to win the Pac-12 South. But a 4-8 season was coach Jim Mora's worst result while losing six of their final seven games. That followed a 28-11 run the previous 3 seasons. After averaging more than 190 rushing YPG the previous three seasons, UCLA had one of the worst rushing attacks in the country last season at 84 YPG and 2.4 YPR. Coach Mora and UCLA beat crosstown rival USC in each of his first three seasons in Westwood, but the Bruins have been buried by the Trojans each of the past two years. The Bruins offense tailed off to 25 PPG last season; nearly 9 PPG and 80 YPG less than their average the previous four seasons. An entirely new offensive coaching staff will coach up 9 returning starters including future NFL quarterback Josh Rosen, who went out with a shoulder injury last year and was lost for the season in week 6. The schedule rates among the toughest with road games at Stanford, Washington, Utah and USC, and the Bruins open the season against Texas A&M. But expect the Bruins to bounce back this season.
FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay