After the worst college football season in mankind, the upcoming 2021 college football season will return to normalcy with fans in the stands for a full schedule. No cancelled games (hopefully), no missing players due to COVID (fingers crossed), just good old fashioned college football.
This return to normalcy means Underdogs Against The Spread is back. We’ll go through each conference from the American to the Sun Belt and choose one over, and one under for the conference. After we give out those winners, we’ll choose one longshot conference title winner that may be worth sprinkling a few shekels over.
Let’s get to the winners shall we.
Win totals courtesy of BetMGM
Cyrus Smith: SMU 6.5, Over -115 - Since arriving in Dallas, Sonny Dykes has won at least four games in conference play every year. In year four I don’t see SMU regressing to the point where they don’t reach that benchmark again. With Abilene Christian, North Texas and Louisiana Tech in non-conference play, SMU should finish no worse than 7-5. If former Oklahoma QB Tanner Mordecai lives up to his recruiting hype and thrives, this ticket could be a winner by October.
Eric Henry: South Florida 3.5, Over +110 - I know I’m going out on a limb here. However, It wasn’t that long ago that the South Florida Bulls (Al Keck voice) were a respectable college football program. While they’re still a year away from bowl contention, I do believe they’ll hit the over here.
J.P. Scott: Navy 3.5, Over -110 - Down year or not, Navy is a hard team for good teams to prep for. They return a lot of upperclassmen experience on the offensive line and eight starters on defense. This is a roster that could flirt with the .500 mark.
Cyrus Smith: UCF 9.5, Under -110 - Love the Gus hire but first-year head coaches rarely excel unless the cupboard is over flowing with talent. While that may have been the case with Josh Heupel, I don’t think Gus is walking into a similar situation. His offenses really petered out at the end of his Auburn tenure and I’m not sure if he’s going to adapt to the Baylor offenses Dillion Gabriel has thrived in or combine his own philosophy. A 10-2 record is certainly attainable but I think 9-3 is more likely.
Eric Henry: Houston 8.5, Under -115 - There’s a lot of talk coming out of Houston about a renewed energy in year three of the Dana Holgerson era. And that may very well be true. However, a six-game leap would be needed here. Sorry, I don’t think we’ve seen that much juice come out Houston since Mike Jones....or the 2017 Astros.
J.P. Scott: Cincinnati, 10, Under -110 - Expectations are heavy. They aren’t sneaking up on anyone this season. They play two early road games against Indiana and Notre Dame — both of whom have more talented rosters. It’s not hard to envision the Bearcats getting knocked around in those games to the point where it derails their season. They still have games with UCF and SMU — two teams with Power 5-caliber talent — to deal with later on.
Cyrus Smith: FIU 4.5, Over +110 - FIU was terrible last season but I think that had more to do with COVID hitting the roster hard. Butch Davis has a roster that is talent wise closer to the top of C-USA rather than the bottom. D’Vonte Price is a stud RB who will be in the NFL next season. The secondary is good and QB play can’t possibly be any worse than 2020. Even with a shaky QB situation, this is .500 team at worst. Long Island, Texas State, Old Dominion, North Texas, WKU and Charlotte all visit The Cage. Surely winning five of these six games at home is doable.
Eric Henry: Florida Atlantic 7.5, Over +115 - FAU was a quarterback away from being a Conference USA East contender last year. Their defense was a year ahead of schedule and return virtually every major contributor — plus they get Keke Leroy back. If Willie Taggart can manage the running back rotation and Miami transfer N’Kosi Perry can give the Owls above average play at QB, hammer the over.
J.P. Scott: UAB 7.5, Over -165 - This is a talented club that returns nine starters on defense and five seniors — including four starters — on the offensive line. There’s a pretty good chance they are favored in every game outside of the matchup with Georgia on Sept. 11.
Cyrus Smith: Old Dominion 3.5, Under +105 - This is a value play more than anything. ODU didn’t field a football team last season so they are a complete unknown. Looking at the schedule I really can’t see four wins. Hampton is the only guaranteed win. In conference play all of their winnable games (at FIU, at Middle Tennessee, at UTEP) are on the road.
Eric Henry: Marshall 8.5, Under -115 - First year head coach Charles Huff is a huge believer in keeping the “rat poison” away from his program. Well, he won’t have to worry about it coming from this side of things. I think he’s going to do great things at Marshall. However, I think this team will be affected by multiple offseason losses and a much tougher schedule than last season.
J.P. Scott: UTEP 3, Under -110 - There’s question marks in the secondary, inexperience in key positions on offense, and a tough schedule by Group of Five standards. Every game outside of Bethune Cookman is going to be tough to win — and even that one could get dicey.
Cyrus Smith: UCONN 2.5, Over -120 - Home games against Holy Cross and Yale. On the road against UMass. The Huskies are bad. But that aren’t that bad, right?
Eric Henry: Liberty 9, Over -120 - Have you seen Liberty’s schedule? UAB, Louisiana and Ole Miss will provide formidable competition. The rest, well...won’t.
J.P. Scott: BYU 6.5, Over -125 - With what they return from a phenomenal campaign last season, I see 7 games on their schedule they should not lose. The rest are coin flips. I like those odds.
Cyrus Smith: Miami (OH) 5.5, Over +120 - The Redhawks have recruited well enough for me to trust that Chuck Martin can get to bowl eligibility. Throw in the volatility that always persists in the MAC and I’ll take the value play.
Eric Henry: Central Michigan 6.5, Over +105, - This was a tough one. But I believe there’s enough there in place and Jim McElwain is an excellent coach at this level. I think they’ll perform well enough in the MAC and then they have to get two OOC games — the most likely of which is Florida International.
J.P. Scott: Buffalo 7.5, Over +100 - Leipold or not, this is a team that went 6-1 last season. They return 4 starters on the offensive line, the starting quarterback, and 9 defensive starters. The two most talented rosters on the schedule are Nebraska and Coastal Carolina, and Buffalo is good enough to beat both of them.
Cyrus Smith: Buffalo 7.5, Under -120 - Not predicting a total backslide for the Bulls without Lance Leipold but coaching changes that late in the game are tough to completely bounce back from. Throw in the mass exodus of talent to the transfer portal and I can’t see the Bulls hitting the over. New head coach Maurice Linguist is considered an ace recruiter. Time to see if he has the chops to be a good head coach.
Eric Henry: Ball State 7.5, Under -105 - This was another tough one. To be honest, I would have taken Toledo — but J.P. beat me to the punch. I think there’s a trap game or two on their schedule that could trip up Ball State.
J.P. Scott: Toledo 8.5, Under -115 - They are going to lose to Notre Dame. They also have road trips to Ohio and Ball State — toss-ups at best. And they get an underrated Colorado State team early. With more experience at quarterback, I might lean toward the Over.
Cyrus Smith: New Mexico 4.5, Under -125 - There’s been nothing but good vibes in the ABQ since Danny Gonzales took over as the head coach but I’m dubious. Terry Wilson will be the starting QB after transferring over from Kentucky and he’s an extremely limited passer. UNM will make you sweat this ticket thanks to a hard nosed defense, but I’m not putting money on a QB who can’t stretch the field.
Eric Henry: UNLV 1.5, Over -110 - This is REALLY going out on a limb. The Tony Sanchez era at UNLV was a major disappoint as he wasn’t able to translate his high school success into above-average recruiting classes. However, Charles Williams is still one of the better backs in the Mountain West. If they can get any semblance of decent quarterback play, I think they can get two wins.
J.P. Scott: Boise State 9, Over +100 - The Broncos are loaded on both sides of the ball, and their new head coach is someone who understands all things Boise State. It’s nothing but experienced upperclassmen in the starting 22, led by a future NFL quarterback under center. Nine wins? I’ll be stunned if Boise State doesn’t run the table in the regular season.
Cyrus Smith: Nevada 7.5, Over -125 - I’m all in on Nevada QB Carson Strong. Jay Norvell has recruited well and has been building towards this season as this will be the Wolf Pack’s best chance at winning the MWC since Norvell took over. Two weeks to prepare for Boise State and a home game against San Jose State is what stands in the way of a title. I think they get it done.
Eric Henry: Wyoming 7.5, Under +115 - The MWC is one of the better Group of Five conferences in the nation. While Wyoming misses Nevada, they do have both San Jose State and Boise State on the slate. I think the Cowboys will be good. But if I have to pick, I see them right at the seven-win mark.
J.P. Scott: Air Force 6.5, Under -121 - The Mountain West is going to be tough this season, and the Falcons only return 3 starters on offense. They are also going to be vulnerable from an experience standpoint in the defensive backfield. Air Force is already fighting an uphill battle when it comes to academic standards and talent. With their lack of experience and strength of schedule, it’s tough to envision them doing better than .500.
Cyrus Smith: Coastal Carolina 10, Under +100 - Coastal Carolina was a tremendous story last season but am I really supposed to think they can go 11-1? At Arkansas State, at App State, at Georgia Southern, and at Buffalo are the toughest games on their schedule. I’ll take the value here. At worse you push and get your money back.
Eric Henry: Georgia Southern 4.5, Over +100 - I’m taking the over on Georgia Southern and I know they have some losses from last year, plus question marks at the quarterback position. But not only are they a tough matchup every week, I think their schedule works ouy favorably to reach six wins.
J.P. Scott: Appalachian State 9, Over -110 - The Mountaineers return 9 starters from one of the best defenses in the country. There are only three teams on their schedule who should give them any trouble — Miami, Coastal Carolina, and Louisiana. I’d be stunned if Appalachian State doesn’t beat at least one of them.
Cyrus Smith: ULM 1.5, Under +125 - I’m sorry but I’m cheating here and doing two unders for the Sun Belt. Look at ULM’s schedule and tell me where the two wins are coming from. Jackson State is one. But where’s the next? Home against Georgia State? South Alabama? At Texas State? You can buy into the Rich Rodriguez-Rhett Rodriguez, father-son duo if you want to but I’ll gladly laugh to the bank here.
Eric Henry: Coastal Carolina 10, Under +100 - Since Cyrus is cheating with his pick, I’ll do the same and double up on Coastal. I think Grayson McCall is a hell of a player and as someone who covered the Cure Bowl, that team is going to be out for vengeance given the heartbreaking way their season ended. But it’s a tough ask to win 10-plus games in consecutive seasons.
J.P. Scott: Troy 6.5, Under +100 - Full disclosure, I didn’t want to pick anyone here. That said, Troy’s strength of schedule scares me. They play Liberty, South Carolina, Georgia Southern, Coastal Carolina, Louisiana, Appalachian State, and Georgia State. They could easily lose all seven of those games.
Longshot Conference Title Winners
Cyrus Smith: FAU +1100 to win Conference USA - Willie Taggart enters his second season in Boca Raton with one of the best defenses in C-USA, proven RB depth in Larry McCammon III, James Charles, and former USF RB Johnny Ford (1,175 career rushing yards), and former P5 QBs N’Kosi Perry (Miami) and Michael Johnson Jr. (Penn State). The value here is simply too good with that much talent on the roster.
Eric Henry: Western Kentucky +800 to win Conference USA - Full disclosure, I voted for Florida Atlantic to win the East. But since Cyrus has the Owls, I’ll make the trip up to Bowling Green. Here’s the deal — the Bailey Zappe/Zach Kittley experiment is either going to pay great dividends or fail miserably, in my opinion. But I love the fact that Tyson Helton made the investment in getting the signal-caller who ran Kittley’s offense to great success at Houston Baptist. They did lose an excellent defensive coordinator in Clayton White and DT Ricky Barber, but I think there’s enough there to perform well defensively.
J.P. Scott: UCF at +400 to win the American - As I mentioned earlier, I think Cincinnati is going to feel the pressure of the national spotlight and run into a couple of buzzsaws early on. If UCF can knock off Boise State early on, look out. This team has talent, swagger, an elite quarterback, and a coach who knows how to win big games.