Group of Five and Independents

First things first, welcome to the 2021 pre-season! I am feeling much more optimistic than last year, and excited about college football returning to our Saturdays. The idea of a win totals bet always feels overwhelming and an area I struggled to find a process that made much logical sense. Historically, I would just go down a schedule and feel as if a line was too high or too low. Unfortunately, Vegas is too smart for that process to be +EV (Expected Value). 

Enter Bill Connelly’s mega-conference previews, where he uses his SP+ (a tempo- and opponent-adjusted measure of college football efficiency) rankings to lay a foundation of likely wins and losses on each teams’ schedule. Additionally, he lists “toss-up” games which land with a win percentage between 35-65% according to his process. Thinking through this, I realized not all win totals are created equal. For instance, some teams’ Sportsbook wins total is the same number as Connelly’s “likely wins”. That means the team only would need to pull out one victory from its toss-up group. Conversely, South Alabama has no likely wins on their schedule but is still sitting at a total of 4.5 according to Vegas. Theoretically, the Jaguars need to win most of their toss-up games to cover the number, making it a pretty hazardous bet.

I tabulated all Group of Five teams with their win totals and compared those to Connelly’s likely wins, losses, and toss-up games. The goal was to find teams with season win totals that were the same as Connelly’s likely wins. Once I had that group, I looked for teams needing only one or fewer toss-up games to go my way for a winning ticket. 

Given the volatility of college football, ideally, a bet won’t need a lot of toss-ups to cash. For the purpose of this article, we are assuming all likely wins and losses happen as predicted and will focus in on a toss-up schedule that favors the bettor.  


Free money, if there is such a thing

Coastal Carolina 

Courtesy of USA Today

Win total line: 10

Connelly likely Ws:  11

Toss-up games needed: 0/1 (@AppSt)

The Chanticleers enter 2021 with expectations unlike any team in the program’s history. After their 11-1 season including an impromptu national spotlight game against BYU, the little team from Conway, South Carolina will begin the season ranked inside the top 25. 

Bill Connelly gives them an astonishing 11 likely wins and yet their total is only 10. Per this process, that means they could lose a game they should win, lose the single toss-up game, and still push their win total. Kansas comes to Coastal in their biggest Power Five game, and their second-toughest roadie is at Buffalo. The Bulls were formidable in 2020 but just lost RB Jaret Patterson, coach Lance Leipold, and a host of transfers. Unfortunately, the toss-up is at Sun Belt stalwart Appalachian State, but it’s still very winnable. There is no other bet like this on the table. 

Break-even floor?


Courtesy of The News & Advance

Win total line: 9

Connelly likely Ws:  9

Toss-up games needed: 1/2 (@Troy, UL)

Liberty enjoyed a breakout season in 2020 with Auburn transfer Malik Willis establishing himself as one of college football’s most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks. He returns for his redshirt senior season with NFL first-round buzz already picking up.

If Liberty takes care of business with their nine winnable games, they’d only need to take one of two toss-ups to bring home the bacon. Of the two games, the easier one is away at Troy with a high-quality Louisiana team coming into Lynchburg. Finally, their assumed loss is still a candidate for an upset in my opinion as the Flames will travel to Oxford in a likely shootout against Ole Miss. If nothing else, that contest will be very fun for daily fantasy purposes. 

Boise State

Win total line: 9

Connelly likely Ws:  9

Toss-up games needed: 1/3 (@UCF, OkSt, @BYU)

The Broncos of the blue field will transition to a new coach after seven years under Bryan Harsin. Andy Avalos will inherit a loaded offense after coordinating the defense at Oregon for the past two seasons. 

While the win total and Connelly’s projection qualified this team as a safe bet, I am less excited about counting on Boise here. A winning ticket only needs one of three toss-ups, but two of them are on the road. Then the one home game in question is against competent Power Five member Oklahoma State. Their date at BYU seems promising to result in a win since the Cougars will be adjusting to life post-Zach Wilson, but they are still a tough out in Provo. 


Courtesy of

Win total line: 10

Connelly likely Ws:  10

Toss-up games needed: 1/2 (@IND, @ND)

Luke Fickell has built quite a culture at Cincinnati and the program is flourishing as the premier Group of Five team in the country. With star quarterback Desmond Ridder and a stifling defense, the Bearcats hope to build on their near-victory against Georgia in last year’s Peach Bowl.

Like Boise State, this bet qualifies as a safe one but feels shaky. Both toss-up games cause me to wrinkle my nose and wonder if they are truly winnable. The good news for Ridder is that he will have two premium road games to strut his stuff. On the flip side, Indiana is a sneaky good squad and Notre Dame is a bully. I don’t like this bet after a closer look at the details.  

Over looks good but the hook lurks

Central Michigan

Courtesy of

Win total line: 6.5

Connelly likely Ws:  6

Toss-up games needed: 1/4 (@Ohio, Toledo, @WMU, @BallSt)

The Chippewas have a very fun offense and will make for excellent viewing in classic MAC fashion. The best part about his bet is should they win all their presumed victories, you’ll have four chances to get over that hook. The pessimist will point out that three of those four games are on the road. 

With many Group of Five teams returning most players and this quartet with all head coaches back, we can peek at last year’s results for an idea of what to expect. Underscoring the toss-up moniker, CMU was 1-2 against Ohio, WMU, and Toledo with a grand total of 12 points being the difference in the three games. They got blitzed by Ball State to the tune of a 45-20 loss, however. As far as betting goes, this feels pretty safe to turn a profit with even a likely loss that could turn into an upset at Missouri. But don’t even tune in for week 3 as there is no hope for the Chippewas in LSU’s Death Valley. 


Win total line: 1.5

Connelly likely Ws: 1

Tossup games needed: 1/3 (@NMSU, UConn, Maine)

Whew-whee this is a stinker! UMass faces two FCS opponents and still has a win total of 1.5! Connelly likes them to beat Rhode Island and so we’ve got to find one more win out of three toss-ups. There are certainly some good candidates. 

Their lone road possibility is at New Mexico State, which has a win total of only two themselves. It’s not exactly must-see TV, but definitely winnable. It may be a lot to ask the Minutemen to win all the way across the country, and fortunately, there are two reasonable options at home. However, this bet is not for the faint of heart. Should they exceed 1.5 wins on the season, it would double the total number of wins for head coach Walt Bell in his prior 2 campaigns in Amherst. 


Courtesy of

Win total line: 9.5

Connelly likely Ws: 9  

Toss-up games needed: 1/3 (@Texas, AppSt, @Liberty)

The fact that a game at Texas in week 1 is listed as a toss-up is very telling for the state of Louisiana football. After jumping on Iowa State to open the 2020 season, they rolled to a 9-1 record and won their bowl game. They lost their top two running backs, but return quarterback Levi Lewis and freshman star receiver Kyren Lacy. 

This is a team with a strong identity that plays with purpose and I think nine wins one way or another is going to happen. The problem here is the hook. All three toss-ups are thin, and while only one needs to hit I can’t look at any I would feel comfortable putting money on. This bet is a pass for me, despite the process saying it’s a value.


The hook is your friend

Northern Illinois

Courtesy of SB Nation

Win total line: 3.5

Connelly likely Ws:  1

Toss-up games needed: 0/2 (EMU, @Kent St)

As we turn the page to under bets, remember toss-up games needed mean losses. In the case of Northern Illinois, we wouldn’t need any toss-up to be lost! They have to get to four wins and even with their “guaranteed” victory against Maine, they can win both toss-ups and still need to steal a likely loss from their schedule. 

I am not confident that either toss-up will fall NIU’s way, especially not at Kent State who will challenge for the conference title. Even if they take both, the best chance at an additional win to go over 3.5 is when Western Michigan comes to town. On paper, I do not think NIU has the horses to run with the Broncos from Kalamazoo. Despite a low total, I really like taking the under for the Huskies, a program heading the wrong way.

New Mexico 

Win total line: 4.5

Connelly likely Ws:  2

Toss-up games needed: 1/3 (@UTEP, UNLV, USU)

I’ll be honest, the New Mexico Lobos are the team I probably know least about on this list. They popped as a potential under play because they would have to win all their toss-ups to take the over. Two of these three in question are at home and against objectively bad opponents in UNLV and Utah State. Winning in El Paso is more challenging, but I’m not comfortable assuming UTEP will beat anyone. 

Still, five wins for New Mexico seems aggressive if for no other reason than there is not really a promising upset in the likely losses. The Lobos really do have to sweep the wins and toss-ups to get over 4.5 and I typically like betting against any team that has to be perfect for any part of their schedule.

No likely wins

South Alabama 

Courtesy of

Win total line: 4.5

Connelly likely Ws:  0

Toss-up games needed: 2/6 (Southern Miss, @BGSU, Alcorn State, @Texas State, @Louisiana-Monroe,  Arkansas State)

This South Alabama line is a weird one, as per Connelly they have exactly zero likely wins on the schedule. Personally, I can’t believe how Bowling Green is not a gimme for anyone but I just work here. I like the idea of betting an under for a team with no obvious wins to be had. 

The Jaguars do have a college football stud in receiver Jalen Tolbert and their coaching overhaul brought in Major Applewhite as offensive coordinator. They have the pieces to score a lot but will it all gel in time? Even giving USA wins against FCS opponent Alcorn State and MAC doorstep BGSU, they’d still need to win three of four conference toss-ups with two on the road. I like those odds, and this feels like a solid under bet.

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