Every college football betting season, once the sportswriters put down their crystal balls and play begins, a sleeper team emerges in just about every power conference. Look at TCU. They went 4-8 in 2013, but they finished as Big 12 co-champions in 2014. Auburn went 3-9 in 2012 but came out of nowhere to win the SEC in 2013 with such miraculous finishes as that field goal return with no time left against Alabama. Sleepers tend to fix the biggest weakness; TCU hired a new coordinator to fix its struggling offense, and it ended up being a dominant team that just missed the four-team playoff. Here are the likeliest sleeper teams for each power conference in 2015.
Analyzing the NCAA Football Lines Sleeper Teams for the 2015 Season
Big Ten East turning into college football beast http://t.co/7WRof9lBNV
— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) June 12, 2015
Pittsburgh Panthers (ACC, 6-7 and 4-4 in 2014)
The Panthers already control the football well. They finished #8 in the country for methodical drives, which means 10 or more plays. ACC Player of the Year James Conner carried the ball over and over for Pitt, helping them grind their way down the field. Their biggest problem comes on the other side of the ball. They finished #99 in the nation in “havoc rate” (plays that end in tackles for loss, passes defended or forced fumbles). They only forced 14 turnovers all season, ranking #116 in that category. New head coach Pat Narduzzi, the defensive coordinator from Michigan State, had his team finish #3 in forced turnovers and #9 in havoc rate. He plans to bring that zone pressure scheme to Pitt.
Purdue Boilermakers (Big Ten, 3-9 and 1-7 in 2014)
The Boilermakers do a great job dontrolling the line of scrimmage. Their adjusted sack rate (pass protection) ranked #46 in the nation, and their adjusted line yards (a measure of run blocking) ranked #47. Only 24 other teams had both units rank in the top 50. Purdue’s offensive line is all returning, so those numbers should go up. Purdue does struggle passing the ball, though. Even with that great line, Purdue ranked #103 in passing yards per game (187.5). They only averaged 5.2 yards per pass attempt – second worst in the nation. They ranked #124 in QB rating at 102.02. Both quarterbacks Danny Etling and Austin Appleby struggled through the season, but they now have more experience. Also, Purdue is in the Big Ten West, so they don’t have to play Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State this year. They do play at Michigan State, but they have a very manageable schedule.
Texas Tech Red Raiders (Big 12, 4-8 and 2-7 in 2014)
Texas Tech generates big plays, making at least 10 yards per play on 22.2 percent of its drives, ranking #8 in the nation. Quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Davis Webb are both capable of finding receivers in the scheme. However, they turn the ball over too often (28 times last year) and don’t force enough (only 15), giving them rankings below the top 100 in those areas.
California Bears (Pac 12, 5-7 and 3-6 in 2014)
Cal ranked #13 in 2014 in yards per game with 495.2, and #11 in points per game with 38.3. They converted first downs on 76.7 percent of their drives, for a #8 ranking. They only threw 95 more passes than they had rushing attempts. There is no problem on the offensive side of the ball. However, they gave up 39.8 points per game, 511.8 yards per game and 6.27 yards per play. Yikes.
Texas A&M Aggies (SEC, 8-5 and 3-5 in 2014)
The Aggies already have a balanced offensive attack, ranking #19 in passing efficiency and #20 in rushing efficiency in 2014. Only 12 other teams had both sides in the top 20. Eight starters return on office, and five-star receiver prospect Christian Kirk joins the team, so this should improve. However, the Aggies give up too many big plays – 193 plays of at least 10 yards that season. Opposing teams made at least one first down on 74.6 percent of their drives. The Aggies gave up 5.91 yards per play and over 450 yards per game. This has to improve for the Aggies to contend.