Group of Five and Independents Betting Preview: 4 Over/Under Bets to Make

Notre Dame played in the ACC last season due to the pandemic, but they’re back to being without a conference. Cincinnati finished in the top 10 of the AP Poll at the end of last year and four other teams that are either independent or from Group of Five conferences finished in the top 20: BYU, Coastal Carolina, Louisiana, and Liberty.

Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Coastal Carolina, and Louisiana all made it into the preseason AP Poll this year, so bettors shouldn’t count out the teams from outside the Power Five.

Since we’re covering multiple conferences this time around, we’ll stick to examining the win totals for some of the most intriguing teams in this group. Totals and odds are courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook.

Notre Dame (O/U: 8.5 wins)

The Irish were undefeated last year until they played Clemson in the ACC Championship. Clemson, who was missing Trevor Lawrence for the first meeting with Notre Dame last year, routed the Irish to take their sixth ACC title in a row. Notre Dame still qualified for the College Football Playoff but were dominated by Alabama.

Brian Kelly’s squad only returns nine starters, and their schedule is fairly difficult relative to last season. Luckily for Notre Dame fans, most of their toughest opponents have to come to South Bend: Cincinnati, North Carolina, and USC are all home games. Notre Dame also plays Wisconsin in Chicago, and they should be sizable favorites in the games on their schedule.

If the Irish stay perfect in the other eight games, they’ll just need to win one of the four aforementioned matchups to go over their total. Even with a relatively inexperienced roster, the Irish can rely on future NFLers like running back Kyren Williams, who average 5.3 yards per carry last season, and safety Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame’s leading tackler.

Bettors should consider taking the Irish to win over 8.5 games, as Notre Dame has the potential to make a playoff push.

Cincinnati (O/U: 10 wins)

Luke Fickell and the Bearcats are poised to build on their 9-1 season and start the season ranked eighth in the AP Poll. They should be favored in all of their games with the potential exceptions of road trips to Indiana and Notre Dame. If they’re perfect otherwise and lose to the Hoosiers and the Irish, the bet would be a push.

Cincinnati’s defense can be expected to be amongst the country’s best, led by top NFL prospects Ahmad Gardner at cornerback and Myjai Sanders at defensive end. However, besides quarterback Desmond Ridder, their offense can’t match the talent level of their defense. Ultimately, Cincinnati will have to rely on their defense to get stops and hope that Ridder can lead the offense to score enough points to win.

It won’t matter against other AAC opponents, since the Bearcats are in a class of their own in the conference, but the two road trips in Indiana could prove to be difficult. Avoiding Cincinnati’s total altogether might be the best strategy because there is a slim margin of error for the over, and the Bearcats are just too talented on defense to take the under.

SMU (O/U: 6.5 wins)

The Mustangs finished 7-3 last year and spent time ranked in the AP Poll until their second loss of the season at Tulsa. They return 18 starters and brought in transfer quarterback Tanner Mordecai from Oklahoma. Mordecai never played any high-stakes downs for the Sooners because he was always stuck behind the starter in the depth chart, whether it was Jalen Hurts or Spencer Rattler.

SMU has a lot of weapons to help smooth Mordecai’s transition. Ulysses Bentley was an all-AAC first-teamer last season, and the Mustangs also brought in Mordecai’s former teammate, Grant Calcaterra, to play tight end. Calcaterra briefly retired due to concussions but decided to transfer to SMU after sitting out the 2020 season.

SMU has a few difficult road opponents on their schedule such as Cincinnati, TCU, Houston, and Memphis, but if the offense clicks, it should be enough for the Mustangs to finish with a winning record.

Boise State (O/U: 8.5 wins)

First-year head coach Andy Avalos inherits a talented Broncos team but faces a fairly tough schedule. Boise State has Central Florida, Oklahoma State, and BYU in non-conference matchups and draw Nevada and San Diego State out of the West division. They’re favored to win the conference for a reason, though, with 17 returning starters that include four members from the all-Mountain West preseason team.

The Broncos won all of their conference games last season before being upset by San Jose State in the Mountain West Championship. However, they’re facing more robust competition from their own conference this season. Division rivals Wyoming and Air Force should improve upon last season, and that, combined with their non-conference schedule, is why Boise State might take a small step back in 2021.

Marshall (O/U: 8.5 wins)

The Thundering Herd is one of the three favorites along with UTSA and UAB to win Conference USA behind coach Charles Huff in his first year at Marshall. Last season, Marshall lost the Conference USA Championship to UAB after starting the season 7-0, which included an upset of Appalachian State at home.

This season, the Herd has non-conference opponents Navy and Appalachian State on the road and UAB from the West division. Their own division will be more crowded at the top, as Florida Atlantic returns 20 starters in coach Willie Taggart’s second year. Marshall has to play the Owls on the road, as well.

Even though they return 15 starters themselves, they’re missing many of their best players from last year’s team: offensive lineman Cain Madden transferred to Notre Dame, and they had three all-Conference USA players drafted to the NFL (offensive lineman Josh Ball, linebacker Tavante Beckett, and defensive end Darius Hodge).

Bettors should look for the Herd to regress and bet them to finish under the total.

Best Bets:

Notre Dame over 8.5 wins (-135)
SMU over 6.5 wins (-105)
Boise State under 8.5 wins (-110)
Marshall under 8.5 wins (-110)