As a professional handicapper, I’m always looking for those college football teams that are going to exceed expectations on a given year. With so many teams in the FBS, there’s going to be a handful or so that prove to be extremely profitable bets throughout the course of the season. The Northwestern Wildcats are coming off a 12-1 ATS campaign in 2012 in which they cashed in 92.3% of the time against the number. This feat prompted me to look back and see which teams have been the most profitable bets against the spread over the course of an entire season. Here is what I have found with the Top 5 best bets of all-time.
The Wildcats were coming off a 6-7 campaign in 2011 that concluded with a 33-22 loss to Texas A&M in the 2011 Meineke Car Care Bowl. Expectations clearly weren’t very high, but seventh-year head coach Pat Fitzgerald clearly got the most out of his team. Northwestern would go 10-3 (5-3 Big Ten) including a sensational 12-1-0 ATS for the entire season. Its lone ATS loss would come at Penn State in a 28-39 setback as a 3-point underdog. The Wildcats would cap off their tremendous season with a 34-20 victory over Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl to pick up their first bowl victory since the 1949 Rose Bowl.
Not known as a power in college football, the Jayhawks were coming off a 6-6 season in 2006 and expectations were low. However, they would put together one of the best seasons in the school’s 118 years of intercollegiate football by going 12-1 (7-1 Big 12) and an impressive 11-1-0 ATS. The twelve victories set a new school record after a 24-21 triumph over Virginia Tech in the FedEx Orange Bowl. Despite playing 13 games, there was only a spread in 12 of those contests as there was no line set in a 62-0 home triumph over Southeast Louisiana that year. The Jayhawks’ lone ATS loss came in a 28-36 setback against Missouri as a 1-point favorite, which essentially cost them a shot at a Big 12 Title.
The 1990 Tar Heels are the only team that makes this list that didn’t actually play in a bowl game that season. That’s because they went just 6-4-1 during the regular season. The thing about this team is that the expectations were so low that they were an underdog in eight of their 11 games that year. North Carolina would win and cover in all three games it was a favorite in with a 34-0 victory over Miami Ohio as a 14-point favorite, a 48-21 triumph over UConn as a 13-point favorite, and a 16-13 win over Kentucky as a 2.5-point favorite. Its lone ATS loss came in a 5-27 road setback at South Carolina as a 13-point underdog.
The 1988 Irish, coached by Lou Holtz, ended the season with a perfect 12-0 record and a National Championship. They would also go an impressive 10-1-1 ATS in the process. The Irish won the title by defeating previously unbeaten and No. 3 ranked West Virginia in the Sunkist Fiesta Bowl, 34-21. That 1988 squad, which was one of 11 national title teams for Notre Dame, is considered to be one of the best undefeated teams in the history of college football. The Irish beat the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 teams in the country at the time they played them. Ten of their 12 victories came by double-digits that year. However, they are best remembered for their 31-30 upset victory over then-No. 1 Miami, ending the Hurricanes’ 36-game regular season winning streak.
Led by third-year head coach, Greg Schiano, the Scarlet Knights clearly had little expectations in 2003. That was evident by the fact that they were installed as an underdog in 11 of the 12 games they played that year. Despite not making a bowl and finishing 5-7 (2-5 Big East) in a tie with Syracuse for sixth place within the conference, Rutgers was a machine against the spread. It finished 10-1-1 ATS that year and proved to be a bettors’ dream team. It was a double-digit dog five times, covering in all five of those contests despite losing outright in each instance. Its lone ATS loss in 2003 came with a 25-35 home defeat at the hands of Boston College as a 7.5-point underdog.