As someone who primarily plays underdogs, I’m always looking for an edge with a live
dog that can win the game outright, and with the college football season on the horizon,
it’s important to go into the 2019 fall campaign as well-equipped as possible.
The first four weeks of the season can prove to be profitable if you have a good grasp
on what you’re doing. This is when the line is most vulnerable and over-adjusted from
week-to-week in many cases. That’s why I put a great emphasis on experience and
returning starters in the early going.

Updated College Football Odds from Vegas and Offshore

Each year I categorize a set of teams that I refer to as “returning starter teams” (RSTs)
and there is a lot of value to be found in these teams as an underdog with some solid
data to back it up. Below are some criteria on what to look for and factor in before
making your first college football wager. Following these guidelines will give you the
upper hand in the month of September and carry you through the entire season with a
good base of knowledge.

What to look for:
1) Seven or more returning offensive starters, including the QB
2) Seven or more returning defensive starters
3) Returning coach
4) At least fourteen junior and senior starters
5) Team with at least four wins the previous season
6) Team installed as an underdog

Factor in:
1) Teams with a disappointing finish in 2018
2) Teams with a strong finish in 2018
3) Teams which lost several close games the previous season
4) Teams building to an apex in the head coach’s third or fourth season
5) Teams that underachieved the previous season
6) Teams who built depth due to former starters injured the previous season

This is a very basic approach to betting college football, and it’s been around a long
time, but it’s a good starting point and very effective. There were 28 RSTs in 2018 and
they fared well when getting points. Overall, last year’s RSTs finished a combined 85-47
ATS (64.3%) when installed as an underdog (54 SU wins), 33-18 ATS (64.7%) as a
double-digit underdog and 27-14 ATS (65.8%) as an underdog in the month of
September. Remarkably, just two of those 28 teams had a losing ATS record as a dog
the entire season.

Ask the Experts: Tips on Betting Early College Football Spreads and Futures

Kelly Stewart talks with Sports Betting Experts Ralph Michaels, and Teddy Covers as they cover some questions direct from our viewers about betting early College Football spreads and futures.

2019 Returning Starter Teams:

There are 32 RSTs that made the list this year. I tried to stay within the guidelines and
be as objective as possible. A few of the teams don’t meet the exact criteria, but there
are other factors justifying their place on the list. All 32 teams have at least 14 junior and
senior starters. In some cases, players who were not starters initially last year that
started or played extensively in four or more games are considered returning starters.
Also note, QBs who started for a different team last year that have transferred and are
eligible this year, qualify as a returning starting QB. There are several other teams that
have the required number of starters returning, but they don’t have their coach and/or
QB back; or the required number of minimum wins.

AAC
Cincinnati (14), Memphis (14), SMU (16), South Florida (15)

Cincinnati is coming off a stellar 11-2 season, but they played a relatively easy schedule
(#90) and only three of their eleven wins came against teams with a winning record. The
Bearcats return 14 starters, including QB Desmond Ridder, who passed for 2,359 yards,
19 TDs and 5 interceptions, while also rushing for 563 yards and five TDs as a
freshman; and he was a big reason the Cats averaged 34.9 ppg after scoring just 20.9
ppg in 2017. The defense returns a solid nucleus after ranking 11 th last year with 303
ypg allowed. Cincy only had one bad game a year ago, a 38-13 loss at 11 th -ranked UCF
as +7½ point dogs. Their other setback was a 24-17 (+3) decision at Temple in OT.

Memphis returns 14 starters this fall after an 8-6 season in ’18. After transferring from
Arizona State, QB Brady White led a prolific offense, tossing 25 TDs against just eight
interceptions while passing for 3,125 yards. The Tigers finished the year ranked 4th in
total offense (523 ypg) and 4 th in rushing with 279 ypg, but the running game will take a
hit with the early departure of Darrell Henderson (1,909 yards, 22 TDs), who left for the
NFL. Eight starters are back on defense and they will need to improve on their numbers
from a year ago (428 ypg allowed – #89). The Tigers also allowed more than 200
rushing yards five times and went 0-5 in those games. Memphis had two 1-point losses
last season and lost another close one vs. Wake Forest (37-34) in the Birmingham
Bowl.

SMU returns 16 starters after a 5-7 finish last year. Head coach Sonny Dykes (second
year) added former Texas starter Shane Buechele to the roster and he is expected to
lead the Mustangs offense that averaged just 387 ypg (#80). Buechele is a solid veteran
and he should have a seamless transition into the SMU offense with an experienced
receiving corp. The defense gave up too many yards (429 ypg – # 91) and too many
points (35 ppg – # 110). The Mustangs allowed 40 points or more five times and went 1-
4 in those game, but nine starters are returning, which could be a good thing or a bad
thing depending how you look at it. SMU had two losses of six points or less and a 1-
point win over Navy (31-30).

South Florida bolted out to a 7-0 start in 2018 but ended with a disappointing finish with
six straight losses to close out the year, including a 38-20 defeat at the hands of
Marshall in the Gasparilla Bowl. Fifteen starters are back, along with QB Blake Barnett
and head coach Charlie Strong. Barnett completed 62% of his passes for 2,493 yards
with 11 touchdowns and 11 picks. The defense needs to improve after allowing 446 ypg
(#104) and 32 ppg (#95) and stopping the run is of the utmost importance. The Bulls
running defense was torched for 247 ypg (#122) and 36 TDs on the ground last year
and that must be the focus heading into the fall. They will get tested right off the bat in
the season opener at home against Wisconsin.

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ACC
Florida State (16), Virginia Tech (16), Virginia (14)

Florida State is coming off its first losing season since 1976, when the Seminoles
posted a 5-6 mark. FSU was just 5-7 in head coach Willie Taggart’s first year at the
helm, but 16 starters are back, eight on both sides of the ball, including at total of six
offensive linemen (four starters) with a combined 58 career starts. QB Deondre
Francois has transferred to FAU, but QB James Blackman, who saw action in four
games (one start), looked promising with 510 passing yards with 5 touchdowns and one
interception. With eight starters back, look for a vast improvement in the defense after
the ‘Noles gave up an uncharacteristic 31.5 ppg (#90) and 416 ypg (#80) last year.

Virginia Tech beat Florida State 24-3 in last year’s opener as +7 point road dogs and
looked like a legitimate Top-25 team, then lost a few weeks later at Old Dominion in a
49-35 debacle as -30 point road favs, which pretty much summed up their season.
Things are looking up in Blacksburg though, as head coach Justin Fuente brings back
16 starters in his 4th year. The offense was decent (428 ypg – # 39), led by QB Ryan
Willis, who is back for his junior year after a productive sophomore season (2,497 yards,
22 TDs, 8 ints.) The defense was very un-Bud Foster like, giving up 438 ypg (#98) and
31 ppg (#85). The Hokies needed wins in their final two games to become bowl-eligible
and closed out the year with a 35-31 loss to Cincinnati in the Military Bowl, resulting in a
6-7 finish.

The Virginia football program has made great strides since the hiring of Bronco
Mendenhall. Following a 2-10 finish in 2016, Virginia improved to 6-7 in ’17 and went 8-
5 last year. Fourteen starters are back this season for Mendenhall, now in his 4 th year,
and the Cavs could be better than the ’18 edition. Dual-threat QB Bryce Perkins returns
after passing for 2,472 yards, 22 TDs and 9 picks, while also adding 842 yards and 9
TDs on the ground. Three of UVA’s five losses were by 4 points or less, including back-
to-back three-point OT road losses to close out the regular season. The Cavaliers
rebounded with a convincing 28-0 win over South Carolina in the Belk Bowl. Eight
starters are back on a defense that ranked 20 th last year with 330 ypg allowed.

Big Ten
Indiana (14), Michigan State (17), Minnesota (16), Nebraska (14)

Indiana closed out 2018 on a disappointing 1-6 skid after a promising 4-1 start to the
season. Head coach Tom Allen (year three) has fourteen starters returning and
something to build on after last year’s sub-par finish. The Hoosiers were very
competitive in late season losses to Penn State (38-33), Minnesota (38-31), Michigan
(30-21) and Purdue (28-21) and went 3-0 ATS as double-digit dogs against conference
heavyweights Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. Indiana moved the ball well last
season (415 ypg) with QB Peyton Ramsey (2,875 yards, 19 TDs, 13 ints., 66%
completion rate), but the “D” gave up 423 ypg (#83) and 29.9 ppg (#81).

Michigan State was also an RST last year (19 starters), but they underachieved for the
most part. The defense was solid all season, ranking 10th in the land with 303 ypg
ceded. However, the offense struggled, finishing a dismal 116th in the nation in total
yards (342 ypg). The Spartans have 17 starters back this year and the defense should
be the strength of the team again this fall. If they can find an offense, they will be
dangerous. That will depend on senior QB Brian Lewerke, who must improve on his
54.2 completion percentage and his 8/10 TD/int ratio. The offense averaged a mere 8.0
ppg in its last four contests, which included a 7-6 loss to Oregon in the Redbox Bowl in
a game they dominated statistically.

The Gophers have steadily shown progress under head coach PJ Fleck, now in his third
year. Minnesota went 5-7 in 2017 and turned it around last season with a 7-6 mark
capped off with a 34-10 win over Georgia Tech in the Quick Lane Bowl. The Gophers
played well late in season with surprising wins over Purdue (41-10/+10½) and
Wisconsin (37-15/+11½) to become bowl eligible. Sixteen starters return (9 offense/7
defense) and if the trend of improvement is to continue, the offense needs to pick it up
after ranking #86 (379 ypg). The defense, which was average at best (385 ypg – #54 /
26.5 ppg – #59), gave up 15 points or less in six games (6-0 SU/6-0 ATS) and 30 or
more points in six games (1-5 SU/2-4 ATS).

Scott Frost had a rough go at it in his first season at his alma mater, but Nebraska was
probably better than its 4-8 record as five of their losses were by five points or less.
They started 0-6, with the low point a 24-19 home loss (-10) to Troy of the Sun Belt
Conference on Sept. 15th , followed by a 56-10 beating at Michigan the next week. The
Cornhuskers rebounded down the stretch though, with a strong 4-2 finish to close out
the year, with both losses on the road by a total of eight points, 36-31 (+18) at Ohio
State and 31-28 (+8½) at Iowa in the season finale. The 'Huskers ranked 25 th in total
offense (456 ypg) with dual-threat freshman QB Adrian Martinez, who threw 17 TDs and
rushed for eight scores, and accounted for 3,246 total yards of offense. The defense
struggled (433 ypg – #94), but it’s a veteran group comprised of all junior and senior
starters.

Big-12
Baylor (15), Iowa State (16)

Baylor head coach Matt Rhule bounced back from his inaugural 1-11 campaign in 2017
with a respectable 7-6 showing last year, which included a 45-38 win (+4½) over
Vanderbilt in the Texas Bowl. Baylor needed a 35-24 win (+7) at Texas Tech in the
season finale to get to the postseason. Fifteen starters are back in Rhule’s third year
and the Bears could be a dark horse in the chase for the Big-12 title. BU ranked 22nd in
total offense with 459 ypg, led by QB Charlie Brewer, who threw for 2,635 yards, 17
TDs and eight picks. He could have a better season in 2019 behind a veteran offensive
line and eight starters back in the fold. The defense gave up 425 ypg (#85) and 31.7
ppg (#91), and seven of the top ten tacklers and seven starters are coming back.

Iowa State suffered through some lean years earlier this decade, going a combined 8-
28 between 2013-15 with 3-9, 2-10 and 3-9 finishes, respectively. Matt Campbell was
hired in 2016 and the Cyclones went through a transition in his first year with a 3-9
mark, but things have turned around quickly with back-to-back 8-5 seasons. Campbell
may have his best team yet with the return of 16 starters as his first recruiting class
comes to fruition. The Cyclones have posted some signature wins the last two seasons,
winning 38-31 (+30½) at #3 Oklahoma and 14-7 (+7) at home against #4 TCU in 2017.
They did it again last year at #24 Oklahoma State (48-42 / +10) and at home vs. #6
West Virginia (30-14 /+5). Iowa State was in every game last year, with tough losses at
Iowa (13-3), at home against Oklahoma (37-27) and at TCU (17-14).

CUSA
FAU (14), FIU (16), Marshall (14), So Miss (16)

Florida Atlantic will look to rebound after posting a 5-7 record last year. Lane Kiffin
begins his third year with the program and has a solid foundation to work with. The Owls
added QB Deondre Francois, who started 11 games for Florida State in 2018 (2,731
PY, 15TDs, 12 ints.) and he is immediately eligible. FAU had a good rushing offense
last year (241 rypg / #13) and ranked 14th in total yards (478 ypg), but the defense was
a problem all year, allowing 427 ypg (#88) and 31.8 ppg (#92). The Owls had three
losses of three points or less, including back-to-back three-point setbacks to close out
the season, but things should turn around this year in Boca Raton with 14 starters back
in the mix.

Veteran head coach Butch Davis begins his third season at FIU, and his team is loaded
with the return of 16 starters, eight on offense and eight on defense. The Panthers
posted a 9-4 mark in ’18, capped off with a 35-32 win over Toledo as +7 point
underdogs in the Bahamas Bowl. FIU is the preseason favorite to win the CUSA and it
all starts with QB James Morgan, who returns after an impressive first season following
his transfer from Bowling Green to the Panthers. Morgan passed for 2,727 yards and 26
touchdowns while completing 65 percent of his passes and had just seven picks. FIU
averaged 421 ypg (#46) and 34.6 ppg (#27) and scored 28 points or more in nine
games. The defense allowed 386 ypg (#56) and 24 ppg (#46) and held teams to 24
points or less seven times, and seven of the top nine tacklers return.

Coming off a 9-4 campaign in 2018, Marshall welcomes back 14 starters in head coach
Doc Holliday’s 10th season in Huntington, including a veteran offensive line. QB Isaiah
Green also returns after a successful rookie season that landed him a spot on the
Conference USA All-Freshman Team. Green threw for 2,459 yards, 15 TDs and 10
picks in 10 games. The offense ranked #72 in the nation a year ago with 393 ypg, but
turnovers were a big issue for Marshall’s offense as the Herd committed 24, second
most in the CUSA. The defense was the strength of the team, ranking 25th (338 ypg)
and 27 th in scoring defense (21.8 ppg). Marshall was 6-0 last season when it scored 30
points or more, and 0-3 when it allowed 30 points or more, and the Herd is now 0-13
since 2015 in games when they surrender 30 points or more (3-11 ATS).

Southern Miss finished 6-5 last season and was one of four teams with six wins that
didn’t go bowling. The offense struggled to produce consistently with just 367 ypg (#99)
and 26.2 ppg (#89), but ten starters are returning, including the entire offensive line. The
Golden Eagles lost three games by 3 points or less and finished the season on a high
note with a 3-1 SU mark to close out the regular season. The defense carried the team
in ’18, ranking 3 rd in the land with 278 ypg allowed and six starters are back from that
unit that gave up 19.8 ppg (#19) and ceded 24 points or less in nine of their eleven
games. The “D”will be the strength of the team again this season and the offense is
expected to make strides, making Southern Miss a dark horse contender in the CUSA.

Independents
BYU (17), Notre Dame (13)

BYU has 17 starters returning after a 7-6 season in 2018. They had a signature win at
#6 Wisconsin (24-21) as +24 point road dogs, but also lost at home to Northern Illinois
(7-6) as -7½ point chalks. The Cougars were also an RST last year and went 4-1 ATS
as an underdog. The Cougars defense allowed 324 ypg (#18) and 21.4 ppg (#24) and
should be just as good or better with eight starters back. The offense was inconsistent
at best, but nine starters return. QB Zach Wilson got a lot of experience in his freshman
year with 1,261 passing yards, eight TDs and three interceptions. BYU had three losses
of 4 points or less and only had two bad losses (35-7 at Washington / 45-20 at home vs.
Utah State).

Notre Dame ran through the regular season with a perfect 12-0 record and made it to
the CFB playoffs, where they lost 30-3 (+11½) to Clemson in the Cotton Bowl. Thirteen
starters are back in the mix for head coach Brian Kelly, entering his 10th year in South
Bend. The Irish offense churned out 440 ypg a year ago (#32) and seven starters,
including QB Ian Book, are back. Book had a great season, throwing for 2,468 yards
(70.4% completion rate), 19 TDs and just 6 picks. RB Dexter Williams, who ran for 941
yards and 12 TDs despite sitting out the first four games due to suspension is off to the
NFL, but Tony Jones Jr. (392 rush yards, 3 TDs) and Jafar Armstrong (377 rush yards,
7 TDs) are ready to take over. The defense allowed 347 ypg (#30) and they lose three
of their top five tacklers. The Irish made RST the list despite having just six returning
defensive starters, but they’ll overcome that with their great recruiting.

MAC
Ball State (17), Western Michigan (17)

Ball State is in the 4 th year of the Mike Neu experiment and he needs to produce this
season after compiling a 10-26 record in his first three years. Seventeen starters return
for the Cardinals and it’s now or never for Neu & Co. The offense gets back eight
starters, along with QB Drew Pitt (1,008 PY, 6 TDs, 8 ints.), who started the last three
games of 2018. BSU moved the ball fairly well (408 ypg / #63) on offense, but they
couldn’t stop anyone on defense, allowing 450 ypg (#109) and 32.4 ppg (#96). Nine
starters are back on “D” but they will need to do a better job of stopping the run after
giving up 238.8 rushing yards per game (#119). It got worse late in the season as BSU
gave up 360 rush yards or more in three of its last four games.

The Broncos ended the season on a sour note with a 49-18 loss (+12) to BYU in the
Potato Bowl, but optimism is abound in Kalamazoo this fall as Western Michigan returns
17 starters from last year’s 7-6 team. Ten starters are back on a defense that ranked
57 th (387 ypg). The offense (436 ypg / #35) has seven starters returning, including QB
Jon Wassink, who threw for 1,994 yards with 16 TDs and 6 picks in nine starts before
going down with a season-ending foot injury in a 51-24 home loss vs. Toledo on
October 25 th . This is a senior-laden team and this senior class was part of the 2016
team that went 13-0 in the regular season and lost 24-16 (+8) to Wisconsin in the
Cotton Bowl.

MWC
Air Force (14), Hawaii (18)

Air Force (5-7) had some tough losses in ‘18, losing five games by a TD or less. Troy
Calhoun enters his 13 th season in Colorado Springs and with 14 starters back, he could
have his best team in years. The Falcons used two QBs last year, Isaiah Sanders (844
PY, 4 TDs, 3 ints., 466 RY) and Donald Hammond III (623 PY, 5 TDs, 2 picks, 374 RY).
Both did well when they were in the lineup and both return. Air Force averaged 414 ypg
on offense, and as usual, had a prolific rushing "O" with 283 rypg (#3); and five of the
top six rushers are all back this fall, as well as four of the top five linemen. The defense
played well most of the season and ranked #43 (360 ypg) in the nation when it was all
said and done. Look for Air Force to get back to a bowl this year after missing out the
past two seasons.

Hawaii started strong out of the gates with a 6-1 mark but faltered down the home-
stretch with a 2-5 log to close things out. This could be another successful year as 18
starters are back from last year’s 8-6 team that lost 31-14 (+1½) to Louisiana Tech in
the Hawaii Bowl. This is head coach Nick Rolovich’s 4th season in Honolulu and the
Warriors turned it around last year after finishing 3-9 in 2017. The offense put up 419
ypg (#48) and they should be better this season with nine starters back in the fold. QB
Cole McDonald (3,790 PY, 35 TDs, 8 ints.) finished 8th in the nation in passing while
also adding 370 rushing yards and 4 TDs on the ground. The defense ranked 100 th in
yards allowed (440 ypg) and 109 th in scoring defense (35 ppg) and nine starters return.

Pac-12
Arizona (15), Oregon (17), UCLA (19), Utah (14)

Kevin Sumlin starts year two in Tucson after a 5-7 finish in year one. The Wildcats had
four losses of five points or less, including two excruciating one-point setbacks at UCLA
(31-30) and 41-40 at home to rival ASU in the regular season finale. QB Khalil Tate
passed for 2,530 yards, 26 TDs and 8 picks and is back for his senior year along with
six other offensive starters. The “O” cranked out 457 ypg (#24) and led the Pac-12 in
total offense and rushing offense (202 ypg) and were a member of the 200-200 Club,
teams who averaged over 200 rush yards per game and 200 pass yards per game.
Eight starters are back on a defense that struggled with 432 ypg allowed (#92) and 32.6
ppg allowed (98).

Oregon averaged 427 ypg on offense last year (#41) along with 35 ppg (#25) and with
ten offensive starters returning, they should be an elite offense this season. Senior QB
Justin Herbert is coming off a banner year, passing for 2,985 yards, 28 TDs and 8
interceptions. He could have declared for the NFL draft and was a projected top-five
draft pick but decided to return to Eugene. Also back is leading rusher CJ Verdell (975
rush yards, 10 TDs) and the entire offensive line, considered by many as the best OL in
the nation. The defense gets back seven starters after giving up 385 ypg (#55). The
Ducks closed out the season strong, winning four of their last five, capped off with a
lackluster 7-6 win over Michigan State in the Redbox Bowl.

UCLA struggled in Chip Kelly’s first season, but the Bruins showed some progress and
promise after an atrocious 0-5 start. Nineteen starters are back for Kelly, nine on
offense and 10 on defense. Three of their losses were by seven points or less and they
did knock off rival USC (34-27) late in the year. The offense ranked #74 (392 ypg) and
production should increase as Kelly gets his system in full swing. The offensive line had
its struggles, allowing 32 sacks and 75 tackles for loss, and all five starters return. The
defense gave up 445 ypg (#102) and ten starters are back. UCLA is the only team on
this year’s returning starters team list that did not have the required number of minimum
wins (3-9), but they warrant being an RST.

Utah is coming off a 9-5 season and 14 starters are back, seven on offense and seven
on defense. Two of their losses were to Pac-12 champion Washington and they only
had one bad loss. QB Tyler Huntley passed for 1,788 yards, 12 TDs and 6 ints before
he was lost for the season with a collarbone injury in a 38-20 road loss to Arizona State
(worst loss) on November 3rd, but he’s back for his senior season. Also returning is RB
Zack Moss, who ran for 1,092 yards (6.1 ypc) and 11 TDs before getting knocked out
for the year (knee) in that same loss to ASU. The defense should be a force once again
after ranking #15 in the FBS with 315 ypg allowed. The Utes were 5th in the nation in
rush defense (100 ypg) and they have almost everyone back on the defensive line.

SEC
LSU (16), South Carolina (14), Tennessee (16)

With sixteen starters returning from last year’s 10-3 team, LSU is considered a
legitimate national title contender. The Tigers had one bad loss in ’18, a 29-0 setback at
home to Alabama (+14). They lost 27-19 at Florida in a game they could/should have
won and dropped a wild 74-72 (7 OT) decision at Texas A&M late in the year. Eight
starters return on offense after the unit averaged 402 ypg (#68). QB Joe Burrow is back
after throwing for 2,500 yards, 12 TDs and 4 picks, but leading rusher Nick Brossette
(922 rush yards, 14 TDs) has taken his talents to the NFL. Burrow also added 375
rushing yards and 7 TDs on the ground. The defense allowed 339 ypg (#25) and
21.8ppg (#26) and eight starters and seven of the top nine tacklers are back.

Head coach Will Muschamp starts his 4 th year in Columbia and has 14 starters back
from last year’s 7-6 finish. Seven starters are returning to an offense that ranked #43
(425 ypg) in total yards. QB Jake Bentley will lead the “O” after a productive 2018 in
which he threw for 2,953 yards, 27 TDs and 12 interceptions. Seven starters are also
back on a defense that allowed 424 ypg (#84) and 27.2 ppg (#69). South Carolina was
involved in five games decided by five points or less in 2018, going 3-2 in those
matchups. The Gamecocks have a brutal schedule this season, which is ranked the
toughest in the nation. They do get Alabama, Florida and Clemson at home, and have
road games at Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas A&M and could potentially be
an underdog in all those matchups.

Tennessee went through the normal growing pains in Jeremy Pruitt’s first season in
Knoxville, finishing 5-7. The highlight of the year was undoubtedly a 30-24 win at
Auburn (+15) in mid-October. The Vols could have become bowl eligible, but a 38-13
(+3) road loss at rival Vanderbilt in the season finale sealed their postseason fate. The
offense was anemic at times, averaging just 325 ypg (#121), but 10 starters are back
and there is only one way to go as far as performance is concerned. QB Jarrett
Guarantano threw for 1,907 yards (62.2 completion rate) with 12 TDs against just three
picks. The defense held their own (377 ypg – #49) and a six of the eight leading tacklers
are back. The Vols will have their work cut out for them this year as they face 10 bowl
teams from 2018 and they will be worth a look as a dog in certain matchups.

Sun Belt
Georgia Southern (14), UL-Monroe (15)

Georgia Southern has 14 starters back from last year’s 10-3 team, but they will be hard-
pressed to reach double-digit wins again. The Eagles ran for 266 ypg (#7) and that
production may be down a bit with the loss of their top two RBs to graduation. QB Shai
Werts returns though after passing for 954 yards and 10 TDs (no picks), while also
rushing for 829 yards and a team-leading 13 rush TDs. The defense (7 starters) ranked
#41 a year ago (357 ypg allowed) and was the beneficiary of the Georgia Southern
rushing offense, which controls the clock and gives the “D” plenty of rest. Seven of their
wins last year came against non-bowl teams, but their schedule will be tougher this
season as they open on the road at LSU and play at Minnesota a few weeks later.
UL-Monroe, coming off a 6-6 season in which they didn’t go bowling, has 15 starters
back (seven offense/eight defense). QB Caleb Evans returns for his senior year after
throwing for 2,869 yards with 16 TDs and 12 interceptions. Evans also rushed for 632
yards and 10 TDs and the Warhawks fortunes rest on his shoulders this season. The
offense ranked #52 (414 ypg) at year’s end, while the defense gave up 429 ypg (#90)
and 32 ppg (#92). This is head coach's Matt Viator’s 4th season in Monroe. The
Warhawks posted back-to-back 4-8 seasons his first two years before winning six
games a year ago. They were -12 in turnovers last year and if they can improve in that
category, they have a shot at a winning season and a bowl bid.

So, in summary, this is an underdog system. I am looking for the above teams when
they are an underdog this season as I feel that is where the value will be. However, I
don’t blindly bet these teams just because they are a dog. I look for situations when
these teams are under-valued and always take several other things into account and
will put the appropriate amount of weight on the returning starter aspect before making
a final decision. There are ten RSTs that are underdogs in the opening slate of CFB
games and five of those underdogs happen to be playing another RST. Those
matchups are:

Arizona at Hawaii (+11½)
UCLA (+3½) at Cincinnati
Utah at BYU (+6½)
Ball State (+17) vs. Indiana @ Lucas Oil Stadium
Georgia So (+26) at LSU

Some of those underdogs look enticing and there could be a SU winner or two in the
bunch. However, when two RSTs face each other, I usually proceed with caution and
would rarely consider the favorite, mainly because I don’t play favorites in general.
Other matchups:

FIU (+2) at Tulane
Wisconsin at USF (+11)
FAU (+26½) at Ohio State
SMU (+4) at Arkansas State
Oregon (+3) vs. Auburn @ ATT Stadium

It’s still early and these odds will change. Don’t be surprised if you see a lot of sharp
money come in on most of these underdogs. Of course, there are a lot of unknowns
heading into a new year that can affect a team, such as injuries and suspensions. If a
team qualifies as an RST and endures a slew of injuries/suspensions to key starters
early on, they would obviously warrant less consideration moving forward. Keep in
mind, the value of the "returning starters" dynamic diminishes as the season
progresses; however, it still should be taken into consideration on a weekly basis in
addition to stat-based and situational analysis in October and November; and even in
bowl games. Last year’s RSTs finished 14-7 ATS (66.6%) overall in bowl games and 7-
3 ATS (70%) as an underdog in bowls. This is just one approach to betting college
football and it certainly shouldn’t be the only angle, strategy or system implemented
during the season, but as I said, it’s a good starting point.

Mark Simons

Mark "Shark" Simons has been a pioneer and a fixture in the sports betting industry since 1981 and has compiled an impressive resume since that time. Shark was the line service manager for Jim Feist's National Sports Services from 1981-1993, manager of Don Best Sports from 1993-2000, manager of Sports Options from 2008-2016 and manager of Don Best Sports once again in 2017-2018.Shark was also the co-host of the Don Best Radio Show from 1998-2000 and has had guest appearances on several sports betting-related radio shows in Las Vegas. In addition, Shark wrote a weekly column for Buzz Daly's Player Guide in the early 2000's, wrote college football game analysis for Sports Options and has also provided content for Texas Sports Wire.Shark has been handicapping and betting games over the last four decades and had a second-place finish in the prestigious Stardust Invitational Handicapping Contest in 1999. Shark's years of experience give him a keen insight on line value, line moves, injury value and other key intangibles vital to understanding the sports betting market.

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