The first four weeks of the college football season are in the books and it’s a perfect time to assess the teams that have exceeded expectations or have underachieved against the point spread. Most teams have played three or four games, so it’s enough of a sample to learn something about programs and try to forecast what to expect going forward.
Here are four teams that have overachieved and four that have underachieved so far this season:
I wrote last week about the line in the Michigan-Wisconsin game swinging too much after each team played two games. I was clearly wrong and the line move wasn’t drastic enough; the Badgers rolled past the Wolverines 35-14 and covered by 17.5 points.
Wisconsin scored the first 35 points in the game and allowed their first points all season late in the third quarter when the game was out of reach. The Badgers covered the spread by 38.5 points in Week 1 at South Florida and 26.5 in Week 2 against Central Michigan. Going forward, I would stay away from betting against Wisconsin. They host Northwestern in Week 5 and the line moved from -21 to -24 in less than 24 hours, as bettors have no problem laying the points with the Badgers now.
There was a lot of hype this offseason about Baylor and Iowa State competing for a spot in the Big 12 title game, and Kansas stole all the headlines by hiring Les Miles. A program with a new coach that flew under the radar was Kansas State, who hired North Dakota State’s Chris Klieman to replace legendary coach Bill Snyder.
There was uncertainty with how the Wildcats would play this season with a coaching staff coming from the FCS level, but they have greatly exceeded expectations so far. They easily covered against Nicholls and Bowling Green. The big result was upsetting Mississippi State 31-24 as seven-point underdogs on the road.
Kansas State was able to enjoy the victory for a little longer with a bye this past Saturday. They go back on the road to face Oklahoma State in Week 5. The Wildcats opened as a 5.5-point underdog on Sunday afternoon and the line has been bet down to +4. They might not have the talent of other Big 12 schools, but it looks like Kansas State made a great hire at head coach that could thrive at covering numbers.
Auburn has exceeded expectations by going 4-0 against the spread. They covered by 2.5 points against Oregon in a game they were fortunate to even win, and then had narrow covers against Tulane and Kent State.
The reason they made this list was because of their 28-20 win as four-point underdogs at Texas A&M this past weekend. It was a difficult spot for true freshman quarterback Bo Nix, but the Tigers did enough to hold off the Aggies despite being outgained by 92 yards and 0.8 yards per play. Overachieving early in the season makes Auburn a sell candidate for me in their upcoming games. They host Mississippi State this week and then play three road games in October, including trips to Florida and LSU.
The preseason perception of Ohio State may be have been low by their standards with a new head coach in Ryan Day and some uncertainty about Georgia transfer quarterback Justin Fields. The Buckeyes haven’t played a marquee non-conference game, but they have been dominant this season. They failed to cover in Week 1 as 28-point favorites against FAU, but they were leading 28-0 with 6:50 left in the first quarter before taking their foot off the gas.
Ohio State then went on to beat Cincinnati, Indiana and Miami (OH) by a combined score of 169-15 and covered the spread by an average of 27 points in each of those three contests. Their dominance is one reason why they opened as a 14.5-point favorites at Nebraska in Week 5 and the line has climbed to -17.5 as of Monday afternoon.
Now, for the underachievers:
Michigan was a popular pick to win the Big Ten and maybe even make the College Football Playoff, but those aspirations look very unlikely now – and we’re still in September. Michigan beat Middle Tennessee by 19 points when favored by 34 in Week 1 and needed overtime to get past Army as 22.5-point chalk. Then there was the nightmare in Madison where the game felt out of reach when Wisconsin look a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter.
The perception of Michigan is so low on a national level that maybe there’s a buy-low opportunity at some point. However, I want to see it first before I bet on Jim Harbaugh’s team.
Virginia Tech failed to cover a spread in each of the first three weeks of the season. They lost straight up as 4.5-point favorites at Boston College, then limped past Old Dominion and Furman at home while never threatening to cover big numbers. The Boston College result was especially concerning after BC got manhandled by Kansas in Week 3.
Based on early line movement, the markets continue to be down on the Hokies for their Week 5 game against Duke. Virginia Tech opened as a six-point favorite, but enough action came in on the Blue Devils to move the line 3.5 points and make the Hokies just a 2.5-point favorite on Friday night.
There was an expectation that Tennessee could show improvement in 2019 and make a bowl game in Jeremy Pruitt’s second season. A regular season win total of 6.5 indicated that the Volunteers were trending in the right direction. However, things went awry at home early when they lost outright as 24.5-point favorites to Georgia State and then lost to BYU the week after. They did cover against Chattanooga, but lost 34-3 at Florida as 13-point underdogs in Week 4.
A bye week is on deck for Tennessee, so maybe that will benefit a young roster, but October dates against Georgia and Alabama could cause more misery in Knoxville.
Minnesota has a 3-0 record but you have to look deeper to assess the Golden Gophers. They trailed in the fourth quarter against South Dakota State before winning 28-21 as 14.5-point favorites in Week 1. Then they grinded out a push in overtime to beat Fresno State in Week 2, converting a fourth and 13 for a touchdown in the final minute to force OT.
Minnesota’s luck continued when they trailed Georgia Southern late in the fourth quarter as 16.5-point favorites and scored the go-ahead touchdown with 13 seconds left to win by three points. Maybe the bye week this past Saturday came at the perfect time for Minnesota to fix their issues, but their 3-0 record is misleading and could make them overvalued as their Big Ten schedule starts this week at Purdue.