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2013 Outlook - AAC
AAC · ACC · Big Ten · Big 12 · SEC · Pac-12 · Mountain West
Skinny: 5Dimes has Louisville installed as the -140 favorite to repeat as conference champs in this newly-formed league that has six of the same schools from the old Big East. The Cardinals closed last season with a blowout win over Florida at the Sugar Bowl. The game wasn’t as close as the 33-23 final score indicated.

The victory over the Gators was preceded by head coach Charlie Strong turning down several overtures from other schools, including a lucrative offer from Tennessee. Really, things can’t get a whole lot better for U of L unless…well, it can win a national title in football this season. Rick Pitino just brought the Cardinals their first basketball national title since 1986 and the baseball team made it to the World Series in Omaha.

How realistic is it for U of L to be in the national-title mix late in November? According to 5Dimes, the Cardinals have the eighth-shortest odds to win the BCS Championship (26/1). They have one of the best quarterbacks in America in true junior Teddy Bridgewater, who completed 68.5 percent of his passes for 3,718 yards with a 27/8 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2012.

Louisville returns 10 starters on defense and six on offense. Most important, the schedule is a complete joke. In fact, The Golden Nugget in Las Vegas has U of L as a double-digit favorite in every one of its lined games with just once exception, as it is a 3.5-point road ‘chalk’ in its regular-season finale at Cincinnati.

Louisville gets the rest of its toughest American Athletic Conference games at home, including Rutgers and UCF in back-to-back weeks. An Oct. 26 trip to Tampa to meet South Florida could be a dangerous spot.

If Strong’s bunch can stay undefeated, it will need help to get to Pasadena. In other words, U of L’s schedule isn’t strong enough to get a No. 2 BCS ranking ahead of a one-loss SEC team or a one-loss Oregon and/or Ohio State.

But if the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 have league champs with two defeats, there will be a very real opportunity for Bridgewater to get his team to Pasadena to face an SEC squad.

Rutgers and Cincinnati share the second-shortest odds to win the first AAC title (+490, risk $100 to win $490). RU is entering its second season under Kyle Flood, who led the Scarlet Knights to a 9-1 start in his first year after replacing Greg Schiano, who should have a statue of his bust erected for the masterful job he did in Piscataway before taking the Buccaneers job.

RU lost its last three games, including a 20-17 defeat vs. Louisville and a 13-10 overtime decision to Va. Tech at the Russell Athletic Bowl. But the Scarlet Knights return 80 percent of their offensive line, QB Gary Nova and All-American candidate Brandon Coleman at wide receiver.

Leading rusher Jawan Jamison bolted for the NFL after eclipsing the 1,000-yard rushing mark as a sophomore. However, junior Savon Huggins demonstrated his ability by rushing for 179 yards in a 10-3 win at Cincinnati when Jamison was injured.

Rutgers had a stout defense last year, finishing fourth in the nation in scoring defense by allowing only 14.2 points per game. But this unit has only four starters back.

Cincinnati made the most stunning off-season hire when it was able to get Tommy Tuberville to leave Texas Tech after Butch Jones took the Tennessee job. The Bearcats hired a veteran head coach that’s a winner in The Riverboat Gambler.

Cincy went 10-3 last season, finishing the year with a miraculous cover thanks to a defensive touchdown on the game’s final play for a 48-34 win over Duke. The Bearcats’ three losses came by 16 combined points at Toledo, at Louisville and vs. Rutgers.

Cincy has seven starters back on offense and six on defense. The entire offensive line is back along with WR Anthony McClung, who had 34 catches for 539 yards last season.

Senior QB Brendon Kay replaced Munchie Legaux late last season and played extremely well down the stretch. Kay connected on 63.0 percent of his throws with a 10/2 TD-INT ratio. He also rushed for 6.4 yards per carry and a pair of scores.

Cincy faces a pair of Big Ten schools in non-conference play, hosting Purdue in the season opener before playing at Illinois in Week 2. The Bearcats play at Rutgers on Nov. 16.

Central Florida, Houston, Memphis and SMU have joined the league from out of Conference USA. UCF is the most highly regarded program by oddsmakers, evidenced by its 10/1 odds to win the AAC.

The Knights won 10 games last year but will be facing tougher competition in the AAC. Junior QB Blake Bortles connected on 69.2 percent of his passes for 3,059 yards with a 25/9 TD-INT ratio. Bortles finished the year by throwing 174 straight passes without an interception.

George O’Leary’s squad has six starters back on offense and four on defense. There are two non-conference games in which UCF will be in underdog situations, at Penn St. and vs. South Carolina.

South Florida is starting anew following a disappointing three-year run under Skip Holtz, whose exit was triggered by 14 losses in his last 16 Big East games. The Bulls were one of the nation’s biggest flops with their abysmal 3-9 record in 2012.

Optimism is high in Tampa, however, thanks to the arrival of new head coach Willie Taggart, who did a stellar job in three years at Western Kentucky (18-7 against the spread in his last two seasons). Taggart, whose mantra for the program is “Do Something,” inherits a club returning six starters on offense and seven on defense.

Paul Pasqualoni is on the hot seat after posting 5-7 records in both of his first two seasons at Connecticut. The Huskies had an outstanding defense in 2012, finishing seventh in the nation in rushing defense, ninth in total defense and 19th in scoring defense (19.8 points per game).

But when your starting QB (Chandler Whitmer) has a 9/16 TD-INT ratio and your offense averages only 17.8 PPG, a quality defense can only do so much. Whitmer will have to battle redshirt freshman Casey Cochran for the starting job.

UConn returns eight starters on offense and five on defense.

Houston didn’t fare well in its first season without former HC Kevin Sumlin and the school’s all-time leading passer Case Keenum. The Cougars limped to a 5-7 record in its last year in C-USA, giving up a whopping 36.0 PPG.

Tony Levine’s second team should have a prolific offense, returning 10 starters from a unit that averaged 32.4 PPG. The defense returns just five starters, but that might be a good thing. Look for a bunch of high totals in Houston games.

SMU brings momentum into the 2013 campaign after trouncing Fresno St. by a 43-10 count as a 13-point underdog at last year’s Hawaii Bowl. The Mustangs bring back six starters on offense and five on defense.

QB Garrett Gilbert struggled early in the season, but June Jones has to be pleased with the fact that Garrett didn’t throw any interceptions in the last five games.

Temple lost its head coach Steve Addazio to Boston College after struggling to a 4-7 record last season. The Owls have eight returning starters on offense and six on defense. They open the year in South Bend against Notre Dame.

The good news for Memphis is that it won three consecutive games to close Justin Fuente’s inaugural campaign as HC. The bad news is those victories came against Tulane, UAB and a winless So. Miss squad.

The Tigers, who have eight starters back on both sides of the ball, are going to struggle to compete in the AAC.

Games to Watch

1-Rutgers at Louisville (Oct. 10) – This is a Thursday night game with both teams playing on a short week of preparation. But Rutgers, which plays in Dallas against SMU five days before, will be at a disadvantage due to the travel. U of L is also on the road on Oct. 5 at Temple, but it only has to travel from Philadelphia back to Louisville. RU will go from Dallas to Piscataway and then down to the ‘Ville. The Golden Nugget opened the Cardinals as 10-point favorites.

2-Louisville at Cincinnati (Dec. 5) – This is another Thursday game but both schools have open dates beforehand. The Bearcats will be looking to avenge a 34-31 OT loss from 2012. Strong and Tuberville have faced each other many times dating back to their days in the SEC.

3-Rutgers at UCF (Nov. 21) – RU will be coming off a 60-minute war at home vs. Cincy, while UCF will probably have an easier time in its prior game at Temple. In yet another Thursday game, the Scarlet Knights will have to travel down to the Sunshine State on a short week off of a tough game.

4-UCF vs. South Carolina (Sept. 28) – Both teams have open dates prior to meeting in Orlando and also have easy games on deck (at Memphis and vs. Kentucky). Those factors are a wash, but we mention this tilt because the Knights will have a chance to make a national splash if they pull the upset.

5-Louisville at South Florida (Oct. 26) – The Golden Nugget opened U of L as a 13-point road ‘chalk.’ The Bulls have an open date to prepare for the Cardinals, who play at UCF eight days before.

6-SMU at Texas A&M (Sept. 21) – No, we aren’t thinking upset here – not even close! However, the situation is worth noting because the Aggies host Alabama the previous week and therefore fall into a vintage letdown spot. Also, SMU has an open date to give June Jones two weeks to prepare for A&M’s defense. If the Mustangs are catching 35-plus points, they might be worth a look if their offense shows life in the first two games.

Fearless Predictions
(No Championship Game)

2013 Win-Loss Projections
School Record Win Total (5Dimes) Bowl Projection
Louisville 11-1 10 ½ Orange vs. ACC champ (Clemson)
Cincinnati 9-3 9 ½ Russell Athletic vs. Miami, FL
Rutgers 8-4 6 ½ Belk vs. North Carolina
Central Florida 7-5 8 ½ Pinstripe vs. TCU
South Florida 7-5 5 ½ BBVA Compass vs. Auburn
Houston 7-5 5 ½  Beef ‘O’ Brady’s vs. At Large or C-USA #2-5
SMU 5-7 5 ½ -
Connecticut 5-7 5 ½ -
Temple 5-7 4 ½ -
Memphis 3-9 4 ½ -

Week 1 Best Bet(s)

-- Play Notre Dame -24 vs. Temple: Even though the Irish lost starting QB Everett Golson, this team has eight starters returning from a defense that ranked second nationally in scoring defense (12.8 PPG). With an unsettled QB situation, I don’t see the Owls generating much offense. I like the Irish to win a 38-6 type of game. I found this line at 5Dimes on June 20.

-- Play Texas Tech -2.5 at SMU: Michael Brewer takes over for Seth Doege at QB and I expect it to be a seamless transition to the true sophomore, who completed 34-of-48 passes for four TDs without an interception in limited playing time as a true freshman. Brewer was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school. I have the Red Raiders as 6.5-point favorites in this spot.

Players to Watch

1-Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville) – According to the numbers at, Bridgewater is the No. 10 candidate to win the Heisman Trophy with 15/1 odds (risk $100 to win $1,500). Some NFL scouts think even more of him and he’s certainly in the conversation to be the No. 1 pick in next spring’s draft. With the Cardinals’ soft schedule, Bridgewater will have a chance to put up monster numbers. I typically don’t bet on Heisman props but I’m not against taking a flyer on Bridgewater for the generous 15/1 return. Assuming he stays healthy, U of L should be in the Top 10 for the entire season. I’ll be surprised if he’s not a finalist in New York City in mid-December.

2-Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers) – Coleman, a 6’6” junior, is a big target who can go up in the air and make plays in traffic. His numbers from last year’s sophomore season don’t jump off the page (43 catches, 718 yards and 10 TDs), but Rutgers had a ground-and-pound offensive approach with an emphasis on running the ball and playing stout defense. If Nova improves at QB, Coleman should have big numbers and could be in the mix for the Fred Biletnikoff Award given to the nation’s top wideout.

3-Yawin Smallwood (LB, UConn) – Smallwood is a leading candidate for the Butkus Award as a junior. In his sophomore year, Smallwood produced a team-high 120 tackles with 11 tackles for loss and four sacks to earn first-team All Big East honors. He was the main reason why UConn allowed only 19.8 PPG. In 2011, he was a second-team Freshman All-American after making 94 tackles. This will be his last year in Storrs before playing on Sundays.

4-Charles Sims (RB, Houston) ***– The senior RB is a two-time All C-USA selection who keeps Houston’s high-octane offense balanced. With 2,370 career rushing yards, Sims needs just 878 yards this season to become Houston’s second all-time leading rusher. If he can gain 1,267 yards on the ground, he’ll go down as the school’s all-time best back. ***6/21 UPDATE: Sims has decided to transfer to West Virginia. Because he's a grad student, he can play right away for the Mountaineers. That's a big get for WVU. 

5-Blake Bortles (QB, UCF) – Bortles has 4,017 passing yards with a 31/10 TD-INT ratio in his first two seasons at UCF. Although I have the Knights going 7-5, it could easily turn in their favor to 9-3 if Bortles continues to improve. If UCF becomes the league’s surprise team, it will be because Bortles makes it happen.

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