October 10, 2020 | 10:01am
In the first five weeks of the college season, home teams have struggling most with the COVID-19 environment. Last weekend saw six outright upsets by road teams, four of which were double-digit underdogs.
For bettors who pounced on those money-making opportunities, congratulations. Even more for those who had the guts to make moneyline wagers. This method of wagering should be noted, particularly in this strange season.
Look at this trend through five weeks: Road teams own a 60-53-2 ATS (53.1 percent) edge over home teams and are 46-69 outright for a profit of 41.75 units. The return on investment for playing all road teams on moneyline wagers this season has been 36.3 percent. Home teams have lost 79.95 units for their moneyline backers, an ROI of -69.5 percent.
We can’t be certain this pattern will continue, but it’s clearly something we should monitor in this peculiar season. With little home-field advantage, the chance for road wins — and road upsets — is greater than ever.
Here are two other situations worth considering. First, here are the most-improved teams since last season according to my power ratings:
Miami (+11.5 power points): QB D’Eriq King has been a major difference-maker, as he has the Hurricanes up almost 18 ppg from a season ago. He has accounted for seven touchdowns in the first three games, and the offense has shown balance not seen in many years. Miami gets a huge test at Clemson. We’ll know if it’s for real by the end of Saturday night.
North Carolina State (+11): The Wolfpack have pulled outright upsets in two of their three games while scoring 33 ppg (up 11 ppg). NC State scored just 22 ppg a year ago, though it brought back 10 starters on that side of the ball, so perhaps the experience gained in last year’s trying 4-8 season is paying off. Quarterback Devin Leary, who posted very modest numbers in 2019, has a 5-0 TD-INT ratio and a rating of 164.3. This week’s opening number has coach Dave Doeren’s team a much larger underdog (+7.5 at Virginia) than my ratings indicate. Perhaps oddsmakers are still sleeping on this team.
UAB (+10): The Blazers came back as one of the most stable and experienced teams in the country, returning the coaching staff and 18 starters. They’ve won back-to-back games since starting quarterback Tyler Johnson went down with a shoulder injury. UAB (3-1) put up 918 yards in those two games and did not miss a beat. Something to watch, though: Coach Bill Clark’s team is just 1-3 ATS, and its next opponent will be Western Kentucky on Oct. 17.
And these are the biggest decliners:
LSU (-18.5): After hemorrhaging a decade’s worth of NFL talent following its 2019 national title, LSU was expected to be down. But this is perhaps the most any team ever has fallen. The Tigers were upset by Mississippi State in the opener and responded with a blowout win at Vanderbilt. With two polar-opposite performances, the only certainty is that this is not last year’s LSU team. Tread carefully.
Louisiana-Monroe (-13.5): Heavily affected by a COVID-19 outbreak, the Warhawks have struggled to an 0-4 start, being outscored by 20.3 ppg. The last three defeats have come at home, and twice they were blown out by teams against which they should have been highly competitive. Four of the next five games are on the road, and it’s hard to see a spot in which ULM will be expected to win.
Navy (-12): Aside from a highly unexpected second-half outburst against Tulane in its second game, Navy could easily be considered the most puzzling disappointment of the season. The Midshipmen were expected to be down from their 11-2 season of a year ago, but not this much. They were outscored 95-10 in losses to BYU and Air Force and were even favored in the latter game. Oddsmakers have no idea what to do with this team.