College Football Stability Scores:

Since 2017, I have been sharing my methodology on College Football Stability with VSiN subscribers. I offer the analysis for the first four weeks of every season (weeks 0, 1, 2, and 3). It is one of the foremost strategies I employ yearly to find value early. The thought behind it: Teams in more stable year-to-year situations are better bets early, while those that have undergone a lot of change in the offseason should be faded. The logic is fundamentally sound. Returning fewer starters, starting over at quarterback, and welcoming in new head coaches or coordinators are always hurdles to get over for teams. Eventually, the teams may overcome these hurdles, even later that season, but the general thought is that it doesn’t happen early, and oddsmakers don’t account for these factors nearly enough in building their lines.

The foundation of what is considered “stable” in college football has been shaken in recent years as teams, fans, bettors, and oddsmakers wrestle with the transfer portal’s impact. Over the last two years, I’ve concluded that instability is instability, regardless of the form. In other words, a transfer quarterback for a team, even if he has three years of starting experience somewhere else, is still a new quarterback. He is still learning new schemes. While his veteran experience may lessen some of the bumps along the way, there are still, in fact, hurdles to overcome early with this new player in the key position.

 

Having worked with people on both sides of the betting window for many years, I have found that the amount of preseason preparation that people take on can vary greatly from book to book, from bettor to bettor. Because of this, there can be huge misses by those setting the numbers. Doing homework early has become one of the most important aspects for college football bettors hoping to enjoy a successful campaign. Those bettors that scour the various betting publications, such as the VSiN College Football Betting Guide each summer, before the season tend to be best prepared once Week 1 rolls around. Other resources I am certain to take in each spring are the Phil Steele annual pub and the work of Brad Powers, who makes regular VSiN appearances as a college football expert.

There are many reasons why things can change dramatically from one season to the next in college football, among them the four-year eligibility rules, the pressure now placed on coaching staffs at every level program, the ever-growing transfer portal, and player transgressions off the field. The result is that there is always turnover from year to year, both on the field and on the sidelines. Bettors expecting to see the same thing they watched from a team at the end of the prior season can often be startled by the mammoth nature of the change.

Over the last 12 years, I have implemented an early season strategy that employs backing the teams with the greatest stability ratings in matchups against those in the most unstable situations. I can tell you that in those 12 years, I have NEVER experienced a losing record by playing the games on the lists for the four weeks of the season. The degree of success has varied during that span, but in all 12 years, I have closed with a profit, including last year, when the plays I shared went 30-23 ATS (56.5%). That is a typical year for this system, followed by 2022 results of 57.4%, and had a bettor been playing $100 wagers on each game, they would have profited $470. Of course, these numbers can be improved by factoring in other successful handicapping strategies or by more closely examining the individual factors of instability, but as a stand-alone strategy, the success level is tough to beat.

Below, I’ve put together a chart of the College Football Stability Scores for 2024. When the season arrives, I will put together lists in each of the first four weeks detailing the top mismatches. I have found that a Stability Mismatch score of 8 is the minimum on which I will consider a play for this thought process. Incidentally, SMU hosting Nevada in Week 0 shows the first 2024 playable game with a difference of 11.

For those of you reading now who might be new to my College Football Stability System, here are the basics for how I determine each team’s Total Stability Score. The score is determined from five different stabilizing factors: Head Coach, Offensive Coordinator, Defensive Coordinator, Quarterback, and Overall Returning Starters. Here is how the scores are determined:

Returning Head Coach Points
Yes, same Head Coach as 2023: 4 points
No, new Head Coach for 2024: 0 points

Returning Offensive Coordinator Points
Yes, same Offensive Coordinator as 2023: 3 points
No, new Offensive Coordinator for 2024: 0 points

Returning Defensive Coordinator Points
Yes, same Defensive Coordinator as 2023: 3 points
No, new Defensive Coordinator for 2024: 0 points

Returning Starting Quarterback Points
Yes, same Starting Quarterback as 2023: 4 points
No, new Starting Quarterback for 2024: 0 points

Very important, so I reiterate…I consider a transfer quarterback who is expected to start for his team as a NEW QUARTERBACK, regardless of the starting experience level he brings to the table. For 2024, there are again numerous recognizable QBs that have found new starting homes across the country. For instance, Dillon Gabriel at Oklahoma or DJ Uiagalelei at Florida State are among the veteran QBs across the country who boast a wealth of college football experience but will be in new schemes this fall. While they are not your typical first-year quarterbacks, they are new to those programs.

Total Number of Returning Starters Points
0-7 returning offensive & defensive starters: 0 points
8-9: 1 point
10-12: 2 points
13-16: 3 points
17-19: 4 points
20-22: 5 points

VIEW COLLEGE FOOTBALL STABILITY SCORES HERE

As you analyze the chart of the 134 FBS teams, you’ll see that there are again teams this season in both very stable and very unsettling situations, more of a return to normal, if you will, with the super senior rule that was offered before 2021 winding down. Many teams over the last few years brought back fifth-year seniors. That era is close to ending. Looking back at the last five years, prior to the 2020 season, there were a total of 19 teams that were returning 17 starters or more. For 2021, there were 69 teams, more than half of the total FBS programs! The average for the last three seasons, including 2024, has been just 17.

Furthermore, in 2021, 89 teams brought back their starting quarterbacks, along with eight entire starting offensive units and nine full defenses. For 2022, those numbers dropped to 78 QBs, zero full offenses, and just one intact defense. In 2023, there were 72 returning starting QBs, and only one intact unit of any kind. Finally, in 2024, only 53 starting quarterbacks return to the spot they occupied last season. And only Virginia Tech’s offense and Boise State’s defense are intact.

Furthermore, there are also 29 new head coaches along with 120 coordinator changes, resulting in 18 teams with Stability Scores of 3 or less, the most I have seen in a season since employing this system. I had naively predicted that there would be a return to normalcy after the 2021 season, but clearly, that has not been the case due to the transfer portal and its effect on both quarterbacks and coaching staffs.

Let’s dig into the teams on both ends of the stability scale a little deeper.

Highly Stable Teams with scores of 18 or higher

In 2019, there were seven teams with scores of 18 or higher, and in 2020, only three. For 2021, the number ballooned to 30 teams that met that benchmark for stability! Keep in mind the maximum score is 19. From 2022-2024, the average has been just 7.0, including the seven for this fall. Even with all of this inconsistency, the stability system continues to thrive as it is.

In short, these programs figure to be in good shape for the coming season, at least early.

VIRGINIA TECH (ACC) – 19
I wrote last week about how Virginia Tech’s recruiting efforts have slightly fallen off in recent years. That doesn’t figure to impact what could be a boom year for the Hokies, as they bring back 21 starters from their 7-6 and Military Bowl-winning team from 2023. Leading the charge is dual-threat quarterback Kyron Drones, who ran for over 800 yards and threw for over 2000 a year ago. Head Coach Brent Pry begins his third season in Blacksburg and might have a team capable of being a surprise contender in the ACC.

OLE MISS (SEC) – 18
While Georgia would seem to be the team to beat in a loaded and expanded SEC this fall, one team could be a looming threat to the Bulldogs supremacy, and that team hosts the head-to-head game between the teams in November. That would be Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss club, which comes off an 11-2 campaign in 2023 and has 10 starting players back on each side of the ball, including QB Jaxson Dart, a multi-year starter now that led the team to 35+ PPG. The defense also allowed a 9-year low of 22.5 PPG this past season. This team’s loaded, and its SEC schedule is minus Alabama this season.

OKLAHOMA STATE (Big 12) – 18
With its foremost rivals in the Big 12, Texas & Oklahoma, now off to the SEC, a very experienced Oklahoma State team could be a nice underdog wage as an option to emerge as the frontrunner this season. Most prognosticators have pegged Utah as the formal favorite, but head coach Mike Gundy’s Cowboys host the Utes in a late September game and have 19 starters back from their 10-win team in 2023. Quarterback Alan Bowman is back at QB but will have to be better than last year when he had a 15-14 TD-Int ratio. The overall experience will have to make a bigger difference this fall, as OSU only outscored opponents by 1.0 PPG last year in going 10-4.

SOUTH FLORIDA (American) – 18
South Florida was one of my best season-win total OVER wagers last season, winning seven games against a prop of just 3.5. The Bulls had won just eight games total in the prior four seasons combined but rode the dynamic talents of QB Byrum Brown to a major improvement. He accounted for over 4,000 yards of offense and 37 TDs and had a coming-out party for national viewers in a 45-0 thrashing of Syracuse in the Boca Raton Bowl. Brown will lead a group of 18 starters back for second-year head coach Alex Golesh. The schedule is enhanced, however, for this year and features at Alabama and home versus Miami in non-league play.

STANFORD (ACC) – 18
The timing could be ideal for second-year head coach Troy Taylor and Stanford in their move to the ACC, as the Cardinal bring back a wealth of experience to deal with their changing circumstances. There are 18 starters back from the 3-9 team of a year ago, including QB Ashton Daniels, who showed some promise as a sophomore starter. Taylor’s team will have to be way better defensively to compete in the ACC, as the defenses are much more stingy there than in the Pac-12. This team’s unit allowed a whopping 37.7 PPG. Stanford has one of the toughest road schedules in the country, and perhaps covering point spreads might be the most realistic goal.

NEBRASKA (Big Ten) – 18
The expanded Big Ten will be a challenge for all the teams that used to reside in the conference’s West Division, as all four teams being added to the league boasted elite offenses last season. Nebraska is one of the teams that figures to be affected most, as the Cornhuskers scored just 18 PPG last season. That said, head coach Matt Rhule, in his second year now in Lincoln, brings back 17 starters, although the starting QB might (should) be a different one than a year ago. Freshman Donovan Raiola, a highly touted recruit, figures to get the nod and provides plenty of reason for optimism. The “Blackshirt” defense was stellar last year in allowing just 18.3 PPG and could be even better with all but three starters returning. Rhule’s teams at Temple and Baylor made significant leaps in his second season. Could that same thing happen for Nebraska this fall?

TEXAS (SEC) – 18
Georgia is commonly recognized as the national title favorite this season in college football. However, my pick will be Texas, with head coach Steve Sarkisian’s team returning from a CFP playoff appearance with 15 starters back. Sure, the new surroundings in the SEC will make things tougher overall, but in my humble opinion, the Longhorns have the top returning quarterback in the country in Quinn Ewers. A junior now, Ewers has 22 starts on his record for Texas. The team’s defense allowed just 18.9 PPG last season, their best since 2009. Coach Sark also knows the SEC. This is as good of a season for this program to make the leap to the SEC as ever.

Unstable Teams with scores of 2 or lower

From 2019-21, there were 16 teams going into the fall with Stability Scores of 3 or lower. The numbers have been double-digits each year since, including this year’s total of 14, matching the high mark from 2022. I haven’t studied it as closely since 2021, with so many teams now qualifying, but at that point, the teams meeting this low benchmark were proven to be less than 45% ATS performers over the prior 5-year span.

BUFFALO (MAC) – 2
Former Buffalo head coach Maurice Linguist proved to be a better recruiter than on-field leader while there, and now that he and his staff have been replaced, it’s up to newly hired Pete Lembo to turn the tide coming off a 3-9 campaign. Only 10 starters will be back to implement the new systems, and the first FBS game of the season will be extremely difficult at Missouri. I can tell you that the game already meets the criteria for a September 7 stability mismatch in favor of the Tigers.

DUKE – (ACC) – 2
Duke suffered a big loss when HC Mike Elko opted to go back to College Station and take over the Texas A&M program. His teams were fantastic overachievers at Duke. His replacement for the Blue Devils is Manny Diaz, whose talented teams at Miami were best known for not living up to the billing. It should be an interesting season or two in Durham, as Diaz takes over a team that won 17 games over the last two years but now brings back only 10 starters. Diaz did bring in talented QB Maalik Murphy out of the transfer portal from Texas to fill the void left by Riley Leonard’s move to Notre Dame.

GEORGIA STATE (Sun Belt) -2
When former head coach Shawn Elliott opted for an assistant job at South Carolina, Georgia State was left searching for answers. They hope they found the answer in Dell McGee, who was instrumental as an offensive assistant for Georgia in their recent title runs. McGee will bring new coordinators and systems with him and just 10 starters return for the Panthers in 2024, so it will be an unstable situation, at least early. This program has won bowl games in two of the last three seasons, so I wouldn’t expect a total drop-off. However, GSU will be a fade play on the stability system in the opener at Georgia Tech.

SAN DIEGO STATE (Mtn West) – 2
San Diego State has had plenty of great seasons and memories to savor over the last decade in college football, as the Aztecs have won double-digit games in five of the last nine seasons. The 2023 season left a bad taste in fans’ mouths, and 2024 might too in the first season under new head coach Sean Lewis. It’s unfortunate, as the program opens up its new home this year, Snap Dragon Stadium. Only 10 starters will be back from last fall’s 4-8 team. Lewis has commanded potent offenses at Colorado and Kent State in recent years but it could take some time to materialize at SDSU.

UCLA – (Big Ten) -2
The Bruins find themselves in a difficult spot as they make their first trek into Big Ten country this year. Not only does the program transition at head coach to DeShaun Foster, taking the reigns of a team for the first time, but the 2024 schedule plots out to be one of the toughest in the country. Only 12 starters are back from the 8-5 team of a year ago, and recruiting took a hit in this first offseason under Foster. Earning a bowl bid would be a tremendous accomplishment this season.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (SEC) – 1
Last year was a tough one for the Mississippi State program. Not only were the Bulldogs still recovering from the death of former head coach Mike Leach in December 2022, but the team won just one SEC game, typing for the worst season since 2006. Veteran QB Will Rogers also transferred out, leaving just nine returning starters for 2024 and new Head Coach Jeff Lebby. Making matters far worse, the SEC is better than ever this season, with Texas and Oklahoma coming on board. The MSU early schedule is manageable before a brutal league slate kicks in. Unfortunately for Lebby & Co., instability usually hits worst early.

NEW MEXICO (Mtn West) – 1
I have to admit I was astounded to see the DraftKings win total for New Mexico this year set at 2, a figure one higher than the Lobos’ stability score heading into the season. It seems that new head coach Bronco Mendenhall will have his hands full this season as he and his new staff work to field a team with just nine starters back. After digging deeper, it’s tough to find even a single game where UNM “should” win this season, assuming the season isn’t a total surprise. Even the opener versus an FCS team (Montana State) figures to be too tough for this unstable team.

NEW MEXICO STATE – (Conf USA) – 1
Football may be quite tough to watch for fans in the great state of New Mexico. Perhaps watching native Walter White in five seasons of Breaking Bad might be a better option. Both of the state’s colleges face stability scores of 1 to start the 2024 season. NMSU figures to be a bigger shock this year to most average college football fans. The Aggies come off two great seasons under former head coach Jerry Kill, who abruptly decided he couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to do the job anymore. The program then lost stud QB Diego Pavia to the transfer portal. The new head coach is Tony Sanchez, who struggled to a 20-40 record in five years at UNLV. Quite realistically, this team would be a great bet to undergo the worst decline from 2023 to 2024.

LOUSIANA MONROE (Sun Belt) – 0
A stability score of ZERO used to be unheard of prior to 2022, as usually, teams were able to bring back at least eight starters in a given year to earn that point. The transfer portal has decimated that theory so much that for 2024, we have six teams that produce that dubious score. I can assure you that teams in this state never do as well as the prior season and usually struggle to cover point spreads. Leading off the ZERO brigade is UL-Monroe, a team that brings back just seven starters from a 2-10 team for new head coach Bryant Vincent, who got his feet wet with UAB in the 2022 season and boasts a 7-6 career record. He faces his former team in early September and will be a stability system fade that game.

MICHIGAN (Big Ten) – 0
College football fans will be as shocked as I am to find both CFP National Championship Game participants with stability scores of ZERO as they attempt to build off their landmark campaigns. Defending national champ Michigan starts anew with head coach Sherrone Moore taking over for Jim Harbaugh. Moore was a staunch supporter of Harbaugh in the controversial last few seasons and knows and bleeds Michigan Blue. However, just seven starters are back from the 15-0 team, and they’ll have a new quarterback under center to replace first-round NFL pick JJ McCarthy. There’s still plenty of talent in place, but instability is instability, and it can prove a challenge for ANY team. Of note, the Wolverines open the season at home against three very stable programs for 2024 and will be stability system fade plays in all three, including Week 2 versus a loaded Texas team.

OREGON STATE (Pac 12) – 0
The Pac-12 crumbled around Oregon State and Washington State; the teams left to pick up the pieces. Now, what the future holds for what recently deceased Bill Walton once referred to as the “Conference of Champions” is still to be determined, but for now, Beavers will face a 2024 schedule heavy with teams from the Mountain West Conference. They will do it with a new coaching staff headed by Trent Bray and will return just five starters from the 8-5 team of 2023. While it certainly will be a season of transition and instability at the start, it doesn’t mean this team can’t win as many games against a softened slate.

SOUTH ALABAMA – (Sun Belt) – 0
The South Alabama program has enjoyed back-to-back strong seasons, and former head coach Kane Wommack left on a high note with his team winning a 59-10 decision in its bowl game this past December against Eastern Michigan. The job of maintaining that level of success falls to Major Applewhite, who last head coached at Houston in 2018. He was the OC here for the last three years, so this might not be as strong of a ZERO stability score as some other qualifiers. However, there are only seven total starters back for 2024, and the road slate is fairly tough, so getting to .500 and another bowl game might be a stretch.

TROY (Sun Belt) – 0
While I noted that Sun Belt rival South Alabama may have an easier transition as a stability zero than most others on this list, for Troy, the 2024 season figures to be a complete reboot. New head coach Gerad Parker comes over from Notre Dame where he was an OC/TE assistant. Only four starters are back from the Trojans’ 11-3 team of a year ago, two on each side of the ball. After winning five games in each season from 2019-21, Troy recorded 23 victories over the last two years. It’s a safe assumption to speculate that winning five games with this massively unstable situation would be a great achievement.

WASHINGTON – (Big Ten) – 0
Kalen DeBoer took Washington from a 4-8 team when he took over in 2021 to 25 victories and a spot in the national title contest in just two seasons. With him moving on to take Nick Saban’s place at Alabama, ushering the Huskies into a new era of football in the Big Ten falls to Jedd Fisch. When I indicate “falls to,” that might be a misnomer, as UW was thrilled to land Fisch, a coach whose start was on the rise after resurrecting the Arizona program over three seasons of work. That said, keeping the Huskies viable in a loaded Big Ten will be a challenge, particularly this season when just five total starters are back. The truly difficult job of replacing QB Michael Penix goes to transfer Will Rogers, who gained plenty of experience with Mississippi State. Fisch’s team will be a stability system fade play in both of its early September FBS games against Eastern Michigan and Washington State. If they survive those games to go 3-0, perhaps the recent winning culture can catch up once the Big Ten season arrives.