Now that 2018 college football is done, let’s recognize the heroes of the sportsbooks. These were the teams that most reliably exceeded Vegas expectations on a weekly basis, whether for better or for worse — a bet on a team being bad cashes the same as a bet on a team being good, after all.
All records against Vegas come from the annual Team Rankings database.
One of the most reliable bets in football history: 2018 Louisville losing big
If you bet against Louisville in all 12 games this season, you likely went to the window 11 times. Bobby Petrino’s only cover all year was a four-point loss to Florida State.
The Cardinals opened the post-Lamar Jackson era as more than a three-TD ‘dog against Alabama, and the Tide set the tone by breezing past that spread.
It gets worse. Team Rankings lists Louisville as coming 18.4 points shy of covering in its average game, the worst FBS performance in the 16-year database. The previous worst was 2008 Washington State averaging 14.4 points shy of the spread.
Actually good covering team of the year: Washington State
The spreads took forever to catch up with Wazzu just being sustainably good.
Per the most consensus odds, the Cougs went 11-2 against the spread, including a cover in a three-point loss to USC and squeaking out a cover in the Alamo Bowl. Wazzu was a couple scores against Washington and field goal against Cal away from being the first team in Team Rankings history (back to 2003) to beat the spread in every game for an entire season.
The total package: Oklahoma
Despite drawing large over/under point totals almost every week, at least 11 of 14 Oklahoma games hit the over (the Orange Bowl against Alabama did as well, at least for some bettors). Sooners games topped Vegas by an average of 12.2 points per week.
We knew Kyler Murray’s offense was awesome, and we know OU’s defense was bad. But both those statements just became truer and truer as the season went along. Games against Oklahoma State and West Virginia both topped totals in the 80s.
The underboss: North Texas
Almost every UNT game went under the total, minus an over in a win against FAU and a push in a win against Rice.
It seems few people realized the Mean Green’s defense had improved since the previous year while their offense (and offensive tempo) remained about the same.
Also, even if you pay pretty close attention to college football, “the North Texas Mean Green” just sounds like a team that gets into rootin’ tootin’ shootouts, right? How do you not hammer the over in a game called “North Texas-SMU?” Very sneaky branding.
The sneaky underbosses: Washington and Cal
The two teams right behind North Texas in hitting the under on the year, with their games scoring fewer points than the Vegas total in 11 of 14 weeks each, including Cal beating Washington in a 22-point thriller (the total was 46).
Washington, meanwhile, is essentially a Big Ten Very West team, even though most of the betting public will forever think, “Chris Petersen? Oh I’m sure he’s got a few points up his tricky sleeves.”
Great team of the year: THE RAGIN’ CAJUNS
You know the mantra:
“Good teams win. Great teams cover.”
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns did some of the former, going .500 on the year, but more of the latter, hitting 9-5 against the spread. Most of the other teams in their ATS realm won 10 or so games.
Additionally, we can look at win totals. Cincinnati and (once again) Louisville are your VEGAS CRUSHERS here.
Bud Elliott tracked these all season long. These two don’t even count bowl wins by both these teams:
From the Power 5, Washington State’s 10 wins are an incredible four wins better than its preseason line of six.
And from the Group of 5, give it up for Cincinnati! The Bearcats doubled their preseason number of 5 by throwing up a 10 in the win column.
And here’s the bad list:
From the Group of 5, Navy has just three wins. The preseason number for the Midshipmen was seven! (Note: Navy can still beat Army this weekend. The year would still be a huge disappointment for certain gamblers, if much less so for Navy fans.)
And Arkansas had a preseason number of six. Oops. The Razorbacks won just twice.
But the champion for the most disappointing of all, is Louisville. Louisville’s number was seven, and it finished with just two wins!