While it’s hardly sexy to follow conferences like the Sun Belt,WAC and the MAC, you’re simply leaving money on the table if you ignore these leagues. In 2011, 4 of the top 5 money makers in FBS were from Non-BCS conferences. Here’s a look at the top earners from the minor leagues in 2011 and a general outlook for them heading into 2012.
Louisiana Tech (2011 Record ATS: 11-2, 1st in FBS)
If you hitched a ride on the Sonny Dykes express last season you were handsomely rewarded, as the technically-sound Bulldogs were a team that “just got it done”. While it’s not reasonable to expect another 11-2 finish, the WAC has turned into arguably FBS’s weakest conference with the defection of Hawaii, Fresno State, and Nevada. Utah State appears to be the only legitimate threat to La Tech and with 14 starters returning (including senior QB Colby Cameron), I see no reason La Tech doesn’t turn another profit. Week 1 at home against rebuilding Texas A&M could prove to be a lucrative money line opportunity.
Western Kentucky (2011 Record ATS: 10-2, 2nd in FBS)
Is Willie Taggart the next hot name in head coaching? The Harbaugh disciple is 17-7 ATS the last two seasons and is starting to build a serious resume. Though I saw some potential heading into 2011, I can’t say I foresaw these results, which included 5 money-line wins as an underdog. The Hilltoppers return 15 starters and are still getting a lack of respect in the Sun Belt; I expect another very profitable year from WKU and will set my sites on them after their spanking from Alabama on September 8th.
Houston (2011 Record ATS: 11-3, 4th in FBS)
Case Keenum is out and so is the man along for the ride, Kevin Sumlin. Considering Keenum’s accolades since 2008 it’s obvious that the Cougars will see a significant drop heading into 2012. However, with an underrated defense returning 7 starters and an experienced QB in David Piland taking the snaps, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Houston end up in the black once more.
Arkansas State (2011 Record ATS: 10-3, 5th in FBS)
Before our very eyes, Arkansas State has become a breeding ground for mad scientists. Hugh Freeze parlayed his one lucrative season into the Ole Miss head job, and Auburn OC Gus Malzahn shocked everyone by taking a job many felt wasn’t up to his credentials. It’s clear that the brain power didn’t drop off, but we’ll have to see if Gus runs as tight a ship a Freeze did. The pieces are in place – Ryan Aplin is the Sun Belt’s best QB and that should be enough to keep the ship afloat, though with early season games at Oregon and Nebraska you may want to wait until October to mess with the Red Wolves.
Louisiana (2011 Record ATS: 9-4, T-8th in FBS)
While this preview is filled with up and coming coaches, if I had my choice I’d take Mark Hudspeth, who engineered an immediate turnaround of one of FBS’s worst programs in his year year at the helm, a season which included a bowl win. Good karma surrounds the program and with a senior QB at the helm (Blaine Gautier), the formula is in place for another great season. Just be careful about the defense, which gave up 400 ypg a year ago and reload with the return of only 4 starters.