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College Football Betting Awards: Honoring sports books’ best teams this season

College Picks

Charlie Neibergall / AP

Iowa State quarterback Kyle Kempt warms up before a game against TCU, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in Ames, Iowa.

Oklahoma and Alabama have collected most of the major college football awards this season.

Neither the Sooners nor the Crimson Tide are recipients of the Sun’s annual accolade allocation, though. Same goes for most of the other teams fans would expect to draw the most acclaim.

This is a different kind of awards. These are the College Football Betting Awards.

With one game left to go this year — Monday’s national championship between Alabama and Georgia — let’s look back on the season in sports books. For the third consecutive year, we’re recognizing teams for outstanding performances in six different gambling categories.

Team of the Year (Team with the best against the spread record in the nation): Iowa State Cyclones

Past winners: 2016 Temple, 2015 Bowling Green

Kyle Kempt deserves to go down as a betting folk hero. In the first start of his career, the third-string senior walk-on quarterback led Iowa State to a 38-31 victory over Oklahoma as 31-point underdogs, arguably the biggest upset all year in college football. Kempt never stopped from there. He’ll leave Ames, Iowa — unless the NCAA grants the sixth year of eligibility he’s petitioned for — having never lost against the spread. Iowa State went 11-1-1 against the spread, and 8-5 straight-up, in a program-revitalizing year behind Kempt and second-year coach Matt Campbell. The Cyclones pushed in a 20-16 loss to West Virginia in November, but haven’t failed to cover since a 17-7 defeat at Texas in September — the game before Kempt took over.

Overachievement Award (Team that furthest eclipsed its over/under preseason win total): UAB Blazers

Past winners: 2016 Wyoming, 2015 Iowa

Expectations couldn’t have been lower for the Blazers in their first season since 2014, when the program was prematurely shuttered before later being reinstated. Some oddsmakers power-rated them as the worst of the 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams going into the season. UAB was tied for the lowest win total in the country at over/under 2.5 victories. The Blazers eclipsed the number in five weeks, ultimately finishing the regular season 8-4 straight-up. The 5.5-win difference between their record and their line is the biggest discrepancy of any team in the last three years. Despite a blowout loss in the Bahamas Bowl, 41-6 to Ohio as 6.5-point underdogs, it was the greatest season in UAB history.

Covering Streak Of Excellence (Team that holds the longest against the spread winning streak): Fresno State Bulldogs

Click to enlarge photo

Fresno State's coach Jeff Tedford looks on during a route of Nevada in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Fresno, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)

Past winners: 2016 Penn State, 2015 Virginia

Five teams came into bowl season with equal or greater covering streaks than Fresno State. They all lost. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, knocked off Houston 33-27 as 3-point underdogs in the Hawaii Bowl for a fifth consecutive cash at sports books. It capped off a season that, like the two earlier honorees, was program-revitalizing. In his first year on the job, coach Jeff Tedford got the Bulldogs within three points of winning the Mountain West Conference championship. In addition to going 11-2-1 against the spread, Fresno State went 10-4 straight-up — equaling the number of wins the Bulldogs had in the last three seasons combined. Georgia could equal Fresno State’s streak with a fifth straight cover if it can play Alabama within four points in Monday's game.

Note: The final three awards are more subjective, but chosen after careful consideration from closely monitoring the betting market all season.

Bettors’ Choice (Team that made the most money for gamblers through point-spread victories): Penn State Nittany Lions

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In this Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, file photo, Penn State's Saquon Barkley (26) makes a move on Michigan's Khaleke Hudson (7) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa. Barkley has run roughshod over Big Ten defenses this year.

Past winners: 2016 USC, 2015 Oklahoma

Eighty percent of the money wagered at William Hill sports books was on Penn State as a 3-point favorite going into last Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl against Washington. The Nittany Lions were covering the number within four minutes of kickoff, and never dipped below it. It was one last treat to gamblers from departing stars Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley in a season full of them. Perhaps the only teams the public bet more consistently than Penn State this year were Clemson and Alabama. The Nittany Lions finished 8-4-1 against the spread, better than both the Tigers and Crimson Tide. Their cashes included back-to-back successes in late October in arguably their two biggest games — a 42-13 victory against Michigan as 7.5-point favorites and a 39-38 loss at Ohio State as 7-point underdogs. Penn State let down backers the next week, falling 27-24 to Michigan State as 9.5-point underdogs, but those moments were minimized the rest of the year.

Bookmakers’ Choice (Team that made the most money through the house through point-spread victories): California Golden Bears

Past winners: 2016 Wisconsin, 2015 Arkansas

In Week 1, betting action pushed North Carolina up from a 10.5- to a 13.5-point favorite against California. The Golden Bears traveled nearly 3,000 miles and won outright, beating the Tar Heels 35-30. That established a pattern for the rest of the season where the Golden Bears consistently limited sports books’ exposure by busting parlays. California went 7-3 against the spread as an underdog, including notable covers against highly-bet teams like USC and Arizona and outright upsets over Washington State and Ole Miss. The Golden Bears ended up falling just short of bowl eligibility by ending the season with a pair of three-point losses to UCLA and Stanford, but they appropriately covered in both games.

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Army celebrates after defeating Navy in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017, in Philadelphia. Army won 14-13.

Underdog of the Year (Team that performed the most exemplary with the odds stacked against it): Army Black Knights

Past winners: 2016 Colorado, 2015 Michigan State

Army erased fourth-quarter deficits to win in thrilling fashion against both Navy and San Diego State to close the season. The pair of victories improved their record on the year to 5-1 against the spread, 4-2 straight-up as an underdog. It was a memorable run that started with a narrow cover against one of the best teams in the nation. In Week 3, Army fell 38-7 to Ohio State as 32.5-point underdogs. The Knights only got better from there, eventually winning six straight. The season concluded with their first Commander-In-Chief's Trophy and 10-win season in 21 years, and their first-ever College Football Betting Award.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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