Every year there are a number of teams that excel at the betting window. There’s no better feeling than being on one of these schools from the start.
More times than not, the team(s) that excels against the spread isn’t one of your top tier programs. The books are much faster to adjust on the elite teams. So while they might start out strong, they typically end up being a bad bet down the stretch.
These under the radar covering machines are a critical part of a successful year handicapping NCAA football. The thing is, it’s rarely easy to spot these teams. Just look at the top teams from last year.
Top 5 College Football Against the Spread Records Last Year (2016)
As you can see in the table below, the best bet of 2017 was Iowa State. The Cyclones are exactly the kind of team we are talking about.
Going into the 2017 season, ISU had posted a 11-37 (SU) record over the previous 4 years, failing to win more than 3 games in a single season during this putrid stretch. The Cyclones went 8-5 and would win outright 4 times as an underdog, including a 38-31 win at Oklahoma as a 31-point dog.
The next team on the list really came out of no where. Fresno State finished the 2016 campaign at 1-11 with their only win against FCS foe Sacramento State. They went 10-4 and reached the MWC title game.
|Iowa State||11-2 (84.6%)|
|Fresno State||11-2-1 (84.6%)|
All-Time Best NCAA Football Single Season ATS Records
Here’s a look at the best all-time seasons against the spread. They are ordered from worst to the best and are sorted by win percentage.
1988 Notre Dame Fighting Irish – 10-1-1 (90.9%)
Fighting Irish fans know how great the 1988 campaign was. Notre Dame finished with a perfect 12-0 record and won a National Championship. This Irish team is considered by many as one of the best of our time. That year was full of huge wins. They finished the year having beat four teams that were ranked in the Top 10. No victory was sweeter than the one over No. 1 Miami in mid October. Notre Dame squeaked out a 31-30 victory. That win snapped the Hurricanes 36-game regular-season winning streak. They concluded with 10 of their 12 wins come by 10 or more points. The only two expections being against Miami and their bowl win over then No. 3 West Virginia.
1990 North Carolina Tar Heels – 10-1 (90.9%)
Chances are there will be some North Carolina fans that are surprised to see they made the list. The Tar Heels barely had a winning record at 6-4-1. UNC wasn’t even invited to a bowl. Not to mention they played 8 of their 11 games in the role of the underdog. In the three games the Tar Heels were actually favored they dominated. They shutout (34-0) Miami Ohio, cruised past UConn (48-21) and escaped with a 1/2-point cover in a 16-13 win over Kentucky. The only contest they failed to cover was a road slate against South Carolina. The Tar Heels were 13-point underdogs and would lose by 22 points.
2003 Rutgers Scarlet Knights – 10-1-1 (90.9%)
Greg Shiano’s stock was in the red and expectations were low for the 2003 Rutgers Scarlet Knights. They would play as underdogs in 11 of their 12 games and finish the year with a 5-7 record straight up. The Scarlet Knights were underdogs of 10 or more points five times. Their only ATS loss came against rival Boston College in a 25-35 game. Rutgers was listed as a 7.5 point underdog and they had a five point lead early in the fourth quarter. That late collapse is the only thing from them being the only team in NCAA football history to not lose a contest against the spread.
2007 Kansas Jayhawks – 11-1 (91.7%)
Expectations have never been high for the Kansas Jayhawks when it comes to football. They Jayhawks entered 2007 coming off a 6-6 campaign in 2006. Kansas surprised everyone and finished that campaign with a 12-1 record. That included a 7-1 record in the Big 12. Even more impressive was the 11-1 ATS record posted by the Jayhawks. Their only non-cover was the same matchup as their only straight up loss. The Jayhawks were a 1-point favorite against Missouri, but ended up losing 28-36. That loss also prevented Kansas from winning the Big 12 title. The was no line set on one of their games, but that did not stop Kansas from laying a 62-0 beat down on Southeast Louisiana.
2012 Northwestern Wildcats – 12-1 ATS (92.3%)
The Wildcats came out of no where in 2012 to finish 10-3. Even more surprising was their 12-1 record against the betting lines. Their lone ATS loss came in Big Ten play versus Penn State. The Wildcats were 3-point underdogs in that game, but would lose by 11-points with a 28-39 final score. All three of Northwestern’s defeats came in conference play.