Friday Five: Ranking the best college football coaches against the spread

It’s late May, which means we’re still a few months away from the start of a new college football season. However, that hasn’t stopped bookmakers from doing what bookmakers do. In the last week, we’ve seen online sportsbooks like BetOnline and Bovada release point spreads for games that won’t be played for another three months, and believe it or not, some people are already betting on these games.

What are they basing their wagers on? I don’t know.

I tried to figure it out and failed, but while doing so I came up with an idea for this week’s Friday Five. Maybe these gamblers aren’t betting on teams this early, but on coaches. There are some coaches who seem to do better against the spread than others.

And with that in mind came this week’s Friday Five topic: the best college football coaches against the spread. I went back through the last five seasons and looked at how coaches have fared against the bookmakers, and sure enough, some stand out far more than others. So here’s some information to keep in mind as the new season approaches. These coaches might not win all the games, but over the last five years, they’ve shown a penchant for winning you money.

5. P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan and Minnesota (30-19 ATS): What makes Fleck’s overall record remarkable is how poor a start he got off to. The 2013 season was Fleck’s first at Western Michigan, and none of us were all that familiar with the idea of rowing boats just yet. Fleck’s first team at WMU went 1-11 on the field and was only slightly better at the sportsbook, going 4-8 ATS. That turned around quickly, as the Broncos went 10-2 ATS in Fleck’s second season, and then a respectable 7-5 in 2016. In 2017, Fleck’s first season at Minnesota, the Gophers went 9-4 ATS. He’s young, energetic and certainly causes people to feel one way or another about him, but I’m pretty sure I know how gamblers feel about Fleck.

4. David Cutcliffe, Duke (36-23-2 ATS): Cutcliffe has been at Duke since the 2008 season, and in that time he’s never had a losing record ATS (he’s had losing seasons money wise for gamblers as they fell victim to the juice). He’s gone 5-5-1 once and 6-6 twice, and that’s his worst mark ATS in any season. Since 2013 he’s been solid, though his overall record in that span is held up by the 2013 season itself. Duke went 10-4 that year and won the ACC Coastal Division, surprising everyone. It also surprised a lot of the books, as the Blue Devils went 10-3 ATS.

3. Dave Clawson, Bowling Green and Wake Forest (37-23-1 ATS): Clawson is a lot like David Cutcliffe in that he’s never had a horrible season against the spread, but the difference is that he’s had two standout seasons in the last five years. The first came at Bowling Green in 2013. That’s the year the Falcons went 10-3, won the MAC and helped Clawson land his job at Wake Forest. The Falcons were also great against the number that season, going 10-3 ATS. In his first two seasons at Wake, Clawson’s teams went 6-18 on the field, but were 12-12 ATS — a sign of things to come. Not surprisingly, as the Deacons improved each of the last two seasons (15-11), they’ve improved ATS as well, going 15-8-1. Blindly betting on Wake Forest the last two seasons would have proven quite profitable.

2. Matt Campbell, Toledo and Iowa State (36-21-2 ATS): Campbell and Iowa State not only surprised teams like Oklahoma and TCU last season, but they surprised quite a few gamblers as well. The Cyclones went a remarkable 10-2 ATS last season, and are 17-7 ATS in Campbell’s two seasons in Ames. Campbell had similar success at Toledo, where he went 8-2-1 ATS in his final season with the Rockets. Do some quick math and you’ll see that he’s 25-9-1 ATS over the last three seasons.

1. Matt Rhule, Temple and Baylor (39-22 ATS): Have you noticed a theme with these coaches yet? They tend to be good coaches at programs that are often overlooked by your casual bettor. Matt Rhule is just another example. While at Temple, he helped build the program from something of an afterthought into an AAC power, going 20-7 over his final two seasons. While going 28-23 in four seasons with the Owls, Rhule’s teams went 34-15 ATS, including a remarkable record of 12-1 ATS in 2016. And if Baylor fans are looking for signs of hope following a 1-11 season, they needn’t look past how Baylor performed ATS last season. It was the first time Rhule ever posted a losing record ATS as a head coach, but even in a year when the Bears went 1-11 on the field, they managed to go 5-7 ATS. That’s a sign things should improve on the field going forward.

Honorable Mention: Ken Niumatalolo, Navy (35-24-2 ATS); Mike Leach, Washington State (35-25 ATS); Willie Fritz, Georgia Southern and Tulane (29-20-3 ATS); Blake Anderson, Arkansas State (28-19 ATS)