An oddsmaker we interviewed for our college football preview was asked about Oregon State and its chances to bounce back in 2012 after putting together a laughable 3-9 season, easily the worst of the Mike Riley era.
Riley is entering his 10th season in Corvallis and has posted five eight-win seasons, including a 10-4 record in 2006 and back-to-back 9-4′s in 2007 and 2008. But it’s been downhill from there: Eight wins in 2009, five wins in 2010, followed by last year’s debacle that began with a stunning loss to Sacramento State as four-touchdown favorites.
“The cupboard looks awfully bare for the Beavers,” the oddsmaker said. “However, Riley always seems to perform at his best when the expectations are extremely low.”
On that note, perhaps it’s time to take a strong look at Oregon State as a potential sleeper team in 2012—and more importantly, as a strong against-the-spread team. If you break down the last two years, the thing that immediately stands out is how poorly the Beavers have played on the road.
Oregon State went 20-20 straight up and 25-15-2 ATS on the road in Riley’s first seven seasons. The last two years, the Beavers have gone 2-10 and 5-6 ATS, an uncharacteristically poor performance.
College Football By The Numbers, an analytics blog, recently tried to determine which teams in the country are most improved relative to last year. Scott Albrecht, the site’s operator, uses the following methodology:
- Start with a final power ranking from 2011.
- Adjust the number for lost production, per-play production of replacement players, and general strength of the program (i.e., ability to reload.)
Albrecht’s model believes this year’s Oregon State team is 7.4 points better than last year. Only Georgia (7.3 points better), Tulane (7) and Akron (7) come close.
Oregon State will be a forgotten program in a conference that’s ripe with teams the public loves, including USC, Oregon, Stanford and, to some extent, Washington State. The middle-of-the-road teams are all selling hope: The two Arizona schools have new head coaches hoping to build high-powered offenses, and Jim Mora is trying to restore UCLA’s tradition. Cal, Utah and Washington are respected and viewed as ready to take the next step, whatever that is.
And then there’s the Beavers, a team with 15 returning starters (including quarterback Sean Mannion) that’s trying to remain relevant as its in-state rival continues to solidify itself as a top-5 program in the country.
Oregon State’s offense scored fewer points per game (21) than any previous team over the last five years and its defense allowed more points (30) than any previous team over the last five years. Both units will be improved in 2012 and those numbers should meet somewhere in the middle.
The Beavers also finished minus-8 in turnovers, the first time they’ve been minus since 2005.
We’ll go with Oregon State as our college football ATS sleeper, looking to reverse last year’s 4-8 ATS record.