After detailing five teams I expect to go over their 2021 season win total in Thursday’s Bet Smart, here’s the flip side (odds by BetMGM and DraftKings).
Buffalo Under 8.5: After six successful seasons, coach Lance Leipold has departed for Kansas and the Big 12. I wouldn’t say he left the cupboard bare for his replacement, Maurice Linguist, but there is going to be a lot different about the Bulls this year. While QB Kyle Vantrease does return at quarterback, only nine other starters do, and the MAC is loaded with veteran teams in 2021, several with at least 20 starters back. They also lost the bell cow of last year’s offense in RB Jaret Patterson. This program has been known for getting more out of its recruiting than almost everyone else. How does that change under a new coach?
Marshall Under 8: After bursting out to a 7-0 start and scoring 37.4 ppg in 2020, the Herd offense hit the wall, mustering just 23 points the rest of the way in going 0-3. The collapse cost Doc Holliday his job, replaced by Charles Huff, and a new defensive coordinator steps in as well. There are 16 starters back, including QB Grant Wells, but it’s fair to express concern over the confidence level of the offense after the late-season implosion. Plus, Marshall’s last two recruiting classes were the worst I had on record. I’ll call for the Herd to miss out on a bowl game this season for just the second time since 2012.
Northwestern Under 6.5: I believe coach Pat Fitzgerald will pay the price now for last year’s success, as 14 starters are lost from that overachieving group, including QB Peyton Ramsey. The 2020 team was extremely gritty, going 8-1 against the spread and taking care of Auburn 35-19 in the Citrus Bowl. Grit isn’t easily recaptured when experience is lost. Keep in mind only four teams in the nation return fewer than 10 starters. My projected conference standings based upon recent recruiting scores showed Northwestern as the Big Ten’s 11th-best team. That would net a sub-.500 record.
Notre Dame Under 9: In a year when experience is going to be a huge plus for teams that didn’t get ravaged by the NFL draft or transfers, the fact the Irish have just nine starters back is going to be a lot to overcome. The 2021 schedule is difficult as always, and is made worse by the Irish playing six teams who have the prior week off. Games against Wisconsin, Cincinnati, USC and North Carolina will be huge tests for this very inexperienced team. My preseason power ratings are probably generous for coach Brian Kelly’s team, and I still project it for right around nine wins. Those projections don’t account for that extra schedule difficulty. I believe the loss of QB Ian Book is being underestimated, and it will affect the Irish big time, possibly as early as Week 1 at Florida State.
Tennessee Under 6: Over the last four years, Tennessee has a 20-27 record, an average of five wins per season. Now, with what is one of the lowest Stability Scores on my scale (2), the Volunteers are asked to win six games to meet their DraftKings win prop. They fit into several of the play-against systems I tracked for offseason personnel changes, not only because of a coaching changeover, but also because they will be breaking in a new quarterback and have just 12 starters back. I like the thought of new coach Josh Heupel taking over long term, and the addition of QB Joe Milton from Michigan is favorable, but I don’t see it coming together this season.