This is a list of the best bets for each Group of 5 and independent team in college football.
The college football season is the best time of year for sports bettors. With the college football season starting up, it can be difficult to find the best bets on teams in the Group of 5 and independents.
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The Group of 5 and independent institutions are examined further in our college football league preview.
Our experts — Bill Connelly, David Hale, Doug Kezirian, Joe Fortenbaugh, and Tyler Fulghum — offer their best bets now that the victory totals, conference title odds, and national championship odds for every FBS team have been published.
Caesars Sportsbook provided the odds.
Best bets for groups of five and independents
Notre Dame Fighting Irish win by less than nine points (-125)
Kezirian: In 2020, the Irish heeded the challenge and went unbeaten in the ACC, including a victory against Clemson. Even without a full league schedule, I don’t see comparable success coming season. This boils down to the Irish losing quarterback Ian Book (the school’s all-time QB win leader) and the Golden Domers stubbed their toe on many occasions. The Irish will receive everyone’s best shot, and although I like Brian Kelly, we can’t expect the greatest version of the squad every week. Even the season’s first game in Tallahassee isn’t a foregone conclusion, and the team will face many of comparable opponents throughout the season. The Irish are still on the road against Virginia Tech, Virginia, and Stanford, who are all rated in the preseason Top 25. Yes, the Cardinals aren’t anticipated to do much, but it’s the last game of the regular season, and they’ll be much better by then. So be it if Notre Dame wins by a double-digit margin. I believe we have a good chance of pushing or winning.
UNLV Rebels are favored by less than 1.5 points (-115)
Kezirian: The Rebels get to play at Allegiant Stadium, but that’s the only unique feature the show can promote. Last season, they finished 0-6 (0-5-1 ATS) with an offense and defense that were both at the bottom of the league in most categories. UNLV doesn’t seem to have much in the way of relief, but QB transfer Tate Martell is a huge wild card. However, given that Martell has previously hopped through many schools before returning to his home state, I don’t think he’ll be the savior. UNLV just needs two victories, and they may get a break with a visiting team breaking curfew and hitting the Las Vegas strip, but this is shaping up to be yet another dismal season. Aside from the opener against tough FCS school Eastern Washington, the Mountain West has some good teams, thus there aren’t any winnable matchups on the schedule.
The Memphis Tigers are favored to win the American Athletic Conference (+1200).
Connelly: Cincinnati is the clear AAC favorite at -220, and it’s no surprise that UCF is ranked second at +450. Memphis, on the other hand, is a possible second-year jump candidate under Ryan Silverfield, and even without veteran starting quarterback Brady White, the Tigers return enough to rank 47th in SP+ in league play, with an average projected win total of 5.1 games. That puts them in third place overall, only 0.5 wins behind UCF. That means they’re just a single upset away from clinching the conference championship… and that +1200 is a solid bet.
Over 6.5 wins; San Diego State Aztecs to win the Mountain West (+1200). (-105)
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Connelly: I’m a little perplexed by these sentences. SDSU has been one of the more reliable teams in the MWC in recent years, and although they went 4-4 in Brady Hoke’s first season, (a) the defense was still a force, and (b) the four defeats were all close games against BYU (11-2), Colorado (4-2), SJSU (7-1) and Nevada (7-2). The offense is still unreliable, but it doesn’t have to be great to warrant taking a risk on +1200 conference championship odds, and even with those worries, SP+ projects the Aztecs to win at least seven games.
Over 4.5 wins for the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (-130)
Kezirian: With Skip Holtz at the helm, the Bulldogs have gone bowling in seven consecutive seasons, and I’m not about to break that tradition. Even Bill Connelly said in his season preview that he may be underestimating this team, which just finds ways to win. The calendar is loaded with winnable games, and cashing this over will come down to fourth-quarter performance. A lot is resting on the shoulders of quarterback Luke Anthony, the Conference-USA Newcomer of the Year who sustained a leg injury earlier this season but is expected to play in the opener. I’m betting on Holtz and company to win five games and make it to the Super Bowl for the eighth time in a row.
Western Michigan Broncos (+800) to win the MAC
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Connelly: With both Buffalo (+280) and Ohio (+700) losing their head coaches this offseason at inconvenient periods (Buffalo lost Lance Leipold to Kansas in the spring and Ohio’s Frank Solich retired in the summer), the MAC may be wide open this season. However, without any adjustments, SP+ still predicted WMU to have the second-most conference victories (5.2), behind only Toledo (5.6). With the sixth-best conference championship chances, the No. 2 predicted team? To me, this seems like a great opportunity.
Over 7 wins; Florida Atlantic Owls to win Conference USA (+1200). (-110)
Connelly: FAU returns nearly all of its starters from a team that went 5-1 last season and had some of the top defense in the Group of 5. The offense was abysmal, but Willie Taggart brought in a slew of Power-conference transfers to increase the competition level, and SP+ predicts the Owls to improve from 95th to 75th overall, putting them ahead of Marshall (+260 to win the league).
Over 2.5 victories for the UTEP Miners (-150)
Connelly: To believe that UTEP would be especially excellent in 2021 would need extremely rose-colored spectacles. In Dana Dimel’s three seasons as head coach, the Miners had a 5-27 record, including 2-26 versus FBS opponents. When you face eight schools ranked 104th or below in SP+, though, you’re certain to find some chances to win. UTEP is ranked 125th overall by SP+, but they have a 90 percent probability of winning at least three games. You’re already two-thirds of the way there after beating New Mexico State and Bethune-Cookman in your first two games.
Over 1.5 victories for the UMass Minutemen (-150)
Connelly: UTEP’s thinking process is the same as UTEP’s. Walt Bell’s Minutemen have little reason to anticipate big things, although they do face two FCS opponents, as well as UConn (127th in SP+) and New Mexico State (130th). If you go 2-2 versus those teams, you’ll hit the over, regardless of whether you’re competitive against anybody else.
Over 3 victories for the Temple Owls (-110)
Connelly: My SP+ predictions don’t account for “How much did COVID testing and tracking ruin your depth chart last year?” although Temple had a tough time with it. And it played a part in how they were competitive for three weeks — beating USF and losing close games to Navy and Memphis — before totally collapsing. SP+ still gives the Owls a 78 percent probability of winning four or more games without adjusting for that. If they’re better than the statistics suggest due to depth chart problems, their chances will only improve.
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