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College Football 2012 Win Total Projections: Athlon vs. Vegas

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Even if you don't place any wagers on sports, the lines/projections from the good folks in Vegas are always something to check out before each season and before each week of games. Not only is it interesting content, but Vegas has a good pulse on the teams and is often one of the most accurate sources of predictions. 

To get ready for the upcoming college football season, Athlon took a look at how its predictions matched up against a couple of sports books and one excellent source of Vegas information (Beyond the Bets). 

Athlon and the sports books in Vegas largely agreed the win totals for teams, as there weren't many large variations in projections. However, below are a few props we like heading into 2012, as well as a few that should be avoided. 

BEST BETS

Boise State –Despite having only seven returning starters, the Broncos are still the team to beat in the Mountain West. Quarterback Kellen Moore will be impossible to replace, but Boise State’s offense can lean on senior running back D.J. Harper and a veteran offensive line. Most books have the Broncos pegged at 9.5 wins, while Athlon has them slotted for 10. Outside of Michigan State, there’s not a sure loss on the schedule. Games against BYU, Nevada and Wyoming won’t be easy, but it’s hard to imagine Boise State losing all three of those games.

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Boston College – The Eagles closed out 2011 with some momentum, winning two out of their final three games, including a 24-17 upset win over Miami. Although Boston College has some momentum entering the offseason, the 5Dimes over/under total of 5.5 seems optimistic. The Eagles play Notre Dame, Army and Northwestern in the non-conference portion of the schedule, while catching Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech – arguably the two best teams from the Coastal – in ACC play. Outside of the Sept. 8 date against Maine, there’s really not a guaranteed win on Boston College’s schedule, so the under at 5.5 looks awfully enticing.

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Hawaii – Norm Chow is a popular hire for Hawaii, but his debut season could be a rough one. The Warriors open with USC and close out September with games against Nevada and BYU. A 1-3 start is likely, and the schedule doesn’t get any easier with road games against San Diego State, Colorado State and Fresno State in October/early November. The Warriors also have question marks at quarterback and are transitioning from the run and shoot to more of a pro-style attack. Although Hawaii has some talent returning on both sides of the ball, surpassing more than four wins seems unlikely.

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Illinois – Even though Athlon agrees with Vegas on the Fighting Illini’s win projection (6), this one has some potential. Illinois has one guaranteed win in non-conference play (Charleston Southern) and has three swing games against Western Michigan, Arizona State and Louisiana Tech. The Big Ten slate got a little easier too with the defections at Penn State. With games against Minnesota, Purdue and Indiana in conference play, it seems pretty reasonable the Fighting Illini should have a good shot to get to seven wins in 2012.

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Iowa State – Most win projections have the Cyclones at four wins for 2012. However, that seems a little low considering Paul Rhoads’ teams have overachieved every year since he arrived in Ames. Iowa State has a difficult non-conference slate, which includes matchups against Tulsa and Iowa. Although a bowl game seems to be out of reach, getting to five victories and exceeding expectations once again is well within the reach of the Cyclones. This one is risky, but history suggests Iowa State will surprise once again.

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Kansas State - Everything seemed to go the Wildcats' way last season, winning eight of their 10 games by seven points or less. Although Kansas State was outgained by an average of 106.8 yards per game in conference play, winning the turnover battle (+12) helped to close the gap on its Big 12 foes. It will be tough for Kansas State to repeat last season's 10 wins, but getting to eight or nine is a reasonable expectation. Most books have the Wildcats at 7 or 8 wins, which doesn't drift too far from Athlon's thinking (7-5). Even though Athlon likes Kansas State to finish with seven wins, if you can catch this prop at seven and take the over, there's a good chance the Wildcats pull off an upset or two and finish with eight or nine wins. 

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Louisville – Most books seem to have the Cardinals at 8 or 9 wins, while Athlon has this team projected at 10 victories. Considering Louisville is a young team and the Big East is unpredictable, this one certainly has some risk involved. However, the Cardinals return 12 starters, and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is primed for a breakout year after throwing for 2,129 yards last season. The schedule is also very manageable, as Louisville could be favored in every game, except the season finale at Rutgers. Considering the schedule and returning talent, 10 or 11 wins is a reasonable expectation for Charlie Strong's team.

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LSU – The Honey Badger is gone, but don’t expect that to slow down the Tigers in 2012. LSU is Athlon’s pick to win the SEC and finish the regular season with an unbeaten 12-0 mark. Going undefeated in the SEC is never easy, but the Tigers managed to run through the conference slate without a loss last year. Most win total projections have LSU at 10/10.5, so the over looks like a good pick.

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Miami – The win projections all seem to agree Miami will have right around six or seven wins in 2012, but a schedule that features non-conference games against Kansas State, Notre Dame and South Florida could make it difficult just to get bowl eligible. Also, there’s still a NCAA investigation hanging over the program, and a bowl ban could impact how this team performs in 2012. Athlon projects Miami to get to six wins, so any place that has the Hurricanes at 6.5 or 7 is a good spot to take the under.