Is Texas really back? Don't be fooled by the preseason hype or high win total, as fading the Longhorns will be profitable in 2019.
The college football season is approaching, so that means it’s time to get ready with some win totals. SI Gambling will be rolling out our favorite over and under bet for each power conference using current win totals available at New Jersey sportsbooks (FanDuel, DraftKings, William Hill). After diving deep into the Pac-12 and ACC, we move onto Big 12 country.
Baylor: 7 (Over -145, Under +125 at FanDuel)
It’s a year of transition throughout the Big 12 conference. Four teams have new head coaches. As many as four teams will be breaking in new quarterbacks. So in looking for a Big 12 over, a team that has plenty of returning experience and a favorable schedule is key.
Since each Big 12 team plays nine conference games, four teams will have five home games and four teams will play five road games (Texas and Oklahoma play four at home, four on the road and the Red River Showdown on a neutral). The four teams with five home games? Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Baylor and Kansas.
It’s an even bigger boost when one of those four Big 12 road games is at Kansas, which even in Les Miles’s first season will reside in the basement. Kansas State and Baylor fit the bill there.
But the only Big 12 team that does not face a Power 5 opponent in non-conference play? That would be Baylor, who does not leave the state of Texas when facing Stephen F. Austin and UTSA at home along with a road contest at Rice.
Not only do the Bears have the easiest schedule in the conference, they also return 15 starters, including quarterback Charlie Brewer. The junior completed 61.5% of his throws last season, and tossed 19 touchdowns compared to nine interceptions. He also had seven rushing touchdowns in 2018.
Brewer suffered a concussion in late October, and his injury led to a midseason cold streak by the Baylor offense. There was a four-game stretch where the Bears scored 14 points or fewer in each game, and the one they didn’t (a 35-31 win over Oklahoma State, Brewer threw just eight passes. But he ended the year strong, throwing for nearly 700 passing yards and accumulating for seven touchdowns in wins over Texas Tech and Vanderbilt—with Baylor scoring a combined 80 points in those games.
He has several weapons back in his arsenal as well, as Baylor’s three top rushers and four of its top five leading receivers return. That doesn’t include sophomore wideout Josh Fleeks, who was listed as a starter on the preseason depth chart and has freakish speed.
Baylor’s offensive line has given up the most sacks in the Big 12 in two straight seasons, and it lost two linemen who started every game in Blake Blackmar and Patrick Lawrence. The five projected starters for this season, however, all started games last season. That experience should lead to at least some improvement in pass protection.
The defense had some major issues last season. The Bears couldn’t pressure the quarterback (82nd in adjusted sack rate) or force turnovers (tied for 127th in takeaways). The run defense wasn’t much better, as Baylor was 109th in stuff rate (percentage of carries that are stopped at or before the line of scrimmage). Between that and the lack of sacks, the Bears weren’t good at generating negative yardage plays. But they were “elite” in allowing big ones, ranking 122nd in IsoPPP (explosiveness). Baylor gave up 19 plays of at least 50 yards and 11 plays of at least 60 yards (only Georgia State was worse in both categories).
Yet like the offense, there are several starters coming back. Clay Johnston is one of the Big 12’s best linebackers. The defensive line should be the strength of the unit with James Lynch (led the team last year with 5.5 sacks), Bravvion Roy and James Lockhart leading the way. If that group can generate some more heat on the quarterback, that would ease things up for a secondary that has some question marks.
The offense was the reason why Matt Rhule went from 1-11 in his first year in Waco to 7-6 last season. Rhule did bring over his defensive coordinator Phil Snow from Temple, and the Owls did have success on defense with those two coaching them up. In Year 3 with all of that experience returning, there should at least be a step forward on defense.
Add in the conference’s most favorable schedule, and you have your Big 12 dark horse. I’ve seen other sportsbooks have this number at 7.5, but you should feel confident laying this juice here just so you have the safety net of exactly seven wins in your back pocket. Eight wins is certainly a very reachable total here, though.
PICK: OVER 7 Wins
Texas: 9.5 (Over +125, Under -145 at William Hill)
A 28-21 win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl meant that we were going to hear “Texas is back” for the entire offseason. And sure enough, we have. But the Longhorns currently enter the 2019 campaign as one of the most overhyped teams in the country, and it’s time to take advantage of that by fading them even before opening kickoff.
Everyone remembers how Texas finished last year, but some may forget how the Longhorns had to scratch and claw just to get to nine wins in the regular season. After losing to Maryland to start the season, Texas snuck past lowly Tulsa at home with a seven-point win. The Longhorns also had one-score wins against Kansas State, Texas Tech and Kansas, none of whom made a bowl last season. And the close games weren’t misleading: Texas was actually outgained in yards per play (the Longhorns defense allowed 5.6 YPP, offense averaged 5.5 YPP last season).
According to Bill Connelly, Texas had a second-order win total of 8.3 last season, meaning that this was the Longhorns’ most likely number of wins based on their statistical profile. Second-order wins measures a team’s luck, and a team with a big difference in actual wins vs. second-order wins (like Texas’s 1.7) means more likely than not that regression is in store.
Then there’s the fact that the Longhorns have to replace a good number of starters. Texas ranks 121st in Connelly’s returning production metric, the worst mark of any Power 5 team. That includes a ranking of 123rd on defense, which makes sense given the entire defensive line, two leading tacklers at linebacker, both starting outside cornerbacks and starting nickel are gone from last year’s team. On the other side of the ball, there will be turnover on the offensive line with three new starters to be broken in (though one is projected to be junior guard Derek Kerstetter, who started 15 games in his first two seasons). Sam Ehlinger also lost top target Lil’Jordan Humphrey.
Ehlinger and freakish 6’6” receiver Collin Johnson are the two biggest names on the offense, while fellow senior wideout Devin Duvernay and sophomore tailback Keaontay Ingram—the team’s second-leading rusher (683 yards on 5.1 YPC) last season—also figure to play big roles. Despite all the talent on offense last year, that unit simply wasn’t explosive, as it ranked 115th in IsoPPP. Texas was tied for 124th in 40-yard offensive plays, and was one of two schools (Central Michigan the other) that didn’t register a 50-yard play the entire season.
Ehlinger’s dual-play capability has both its positives and negatives. His running can open things up for Ingram and freshman back Jordan Whittington, which is needed since the Longhorns weren’t particularly efficient running the ball last season. But because he runs so often (he had five games of at least 15 carries last season), he gets hit often. And that leads to more injuries, like when he was removed from games against Baylor and Iowa State due to hurting his throwing shoulder. Last season, Texas was rescued by the play of backup Shane Buechele when Ehlinger was hurt on the sideline. With Buechele transferring to SMU, the backup duties now fall to redshirt freshman Casey Thompson.
On defense there are more questions, particularly with talented, but inexperienced players expected to start at cornerback and linebacker. Safeties Caden Sterns (a 2018 freshman All-American) and Brandon Jones are the strength of the unit, though the defensive line features a few upperclassmen in the rotation. But even with Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year Charles Omenihu (9.5 sacks) in the fold last season, Texas only ranked 91st in adjusted sack rate. Getting to the quarterback quicker and more often would certainly make life easier for this young secondary.
There are already a few Texas lines available on FanDuel’s Games of the Year (William Hill doesn’t have GOY lines available), and they paint an interesting picture regarding how to bet the Longhorns’ win total. Texas is a 2.5-point home underdog vs. LSU and a four-point underdog against Oklahoma on a neutral. The Longhorns are also just 2.5-point road favorites at Iowa State and three-point road favorites at TCU. Based on those odds, their expected wins in those four games is 1.94. There’s also a trip to Baylor the following week after playing at Iowa State and a home affair against Oklahoma State, whom the Longhorns have lost to four straight years.
Granted, Tom Herman does get his teams ready for big games, which could make the LSU and Oklahoma games more winnable than they appear. But with the lack of returning production, a tricky schedule and a strong chance of regression from last year, it’ll be an extremely tough road for Texas to improve upon 2018’s record and reach double-digit wins in the regular season. This juice without the round win total number is tough to digest, but you will profit fading the Longhorns in 2019.
PICK: UNDER 9.5 Wins