Early success in college football guarantees nothing

Sep 29, 2015 3:10 AM

If you bet on all 13 of the college football teams that entered last weekend with a 3-0 ATS mark, you lost money. ’Nuff said.

The early season success stories find it hard to maintain their under-the-radar ATS status. But what about the teams at the other end of the spectrum; the early season ATS bottom feeders? New Mexico State, Central Florida, San Diego St., Akron, Old Dominion, Cincinnati, Auburn, Arizona State, Missouri and Michigan State all opened with 0-3 ATS marks. The vast majority of those teams went to 0-4 ATS last Saturday.

Michigan State once again never sniffed a point spread cover as big favorites over Central Michigan. Missouri finally lost an SEC road game, snapping their string of 11 consecutive away victories, scoring only 13 points in a defeat at Kentucky.

Arizona State got throttled by USC, down 35-0 by halftime of an ugly blowout loss. Auburn’s offense was non-existent once again, held to nine points in a home loss to Mississippi State. Central Florida led at halftime at mediocre South Carolina without the Gamecocks starting quarterback. George O’Leary’s squad was then outscored 23-0 after the break, another SU and ATS defeat.

Old Dominion got eviscerated 49-0 at home by Appalachian State. San Diego State lost SU and ATS at Penn State. Cincinnati won, lost or pushed in their TD defeat at Memphis, depending on when and where you placed your wager, although they did cover against the widely available gameday point spread. New Mexico State had the week off.

Out of the ten teams that opened the season 0-3 ATS, only one Akron covered against the opening and closing point spread. And frankly, Akron was a “tough luck” 0-3 ATS, failing to cover each of their first three games by a single score.

Many of the teams that have been point spread failures in September are pretty good, simply unable to live up to the lofty heights set by the betting marketplace. No reasonable observer could call Michigan State – ranked 2 in the nation in both major polls – a weakling.

The Spartans aren’t made to win by big margins; without an explosive, quick strike, playmaker laden offense. A sky-high power rating number coupled with that inability to score quickly and easily have left Mark Dantonio’s squad as an ATS disaster area. After going 10-4 ATS in 2013 and 9-4 ATS last year, the markets have caught up with Michigan State, plain and simple.

Arizona State won 10 games in 2013 and 10 more last year, but they didn’t return a profit for their supporters in either season, finishing 7-7 and 6-7 ATS. Throw in a +14 and +15 turnover margin in those two seasons and you could see the writing on the wall for the early part of 2015; a squad that was primed to underachieve ATS.

This year, ASU is -3 in turnovers through four games, ranked in the bottom quartile of college football in that key statistical category. Bottom line: The Sun Devils weren’t nearly as good as expected in September, an obvious criteria for ATS failure.

Missouri came into 2015 off back-2-back shocking SEC East title while going 20-8 ATS in the process. They’ve suffered from a Michigan State like problem – a lack of quick strike skill position talent, leading to sluggish, lower scoring finals and an inability to cover as a favorite.

San Diego State’s problem has been very comparable – relatively high power rating numbers coupled with an offense that isn’t capable of scoring points in bunches.

And then there are the “bottom just dropped out” kind of programs; the very real underachievers. Auburn is the most obvious example, a team that was ranked in the Top 10 in both preseason polls.

The Tigers have failed ATS by multi-score margins in each of the last three weeks. That being said, Auburn’s biggest problem, both SU and ATS, has been an offense that just isn’t producing points.

O’Leary’s UCF Knights certainly fall into both categories – the bottom has dropped out from a formerly successful program and the offense can’t score. The Knights have been an elite level mid-major in recent seasons, winning 31 games over the previous three seasons. This season UCF hasn’t scored more than 16 points in any game on their way to a 0-4 SU, 0-4 ATS start.

Old Dominion lost the best QB in the history of the program when Taylor Heineke went to the NFL this past offseason off a 30 TD senior campaign. His replacement, redshirt frosh Shuler Bentley, has thrown only three touchdown passes in four games for the struggling Monarchs, a “bottom dropped out” type of scenario.

Perennial bottom feeder New Mexico State is on this list as well. The Aggies’ last bowl game came in 1960, and they haven’t won more than four games in any season in the last decade. After going 2-10 SU in each of the first two years of the Doug Martin era while compiling a dismal 7-15-1 ATS mark during that span, it’s not like the Aggies were highly regarded coming into the campaign.

The two prevailing themes for early season ATS failures are easy to identify. Many squads have a much weaker than expected offense leaving teams unable to build margins as favorites. Other squads are just flat out underachievers, unable to live up to any of their preseason hype and expectations.

While neither of these issues is a “slam dunk” to see ahead of time, by the end of the first or second week of the campaign, these deficiencies become clear.

Unlike the ATS early season success stories, the very worst point spread teams in college football tend to start poorly and finish just as poorly.

Find Teddy at Sportsmemo.com and Twitter @teddy_covers. Email: [email protected].