Betting Stuff: The battle for the Golden Boot has a profitable angle
When you play a pair of overs and neither game features a single point in the first quarter, you know you’re headed for a bad week. South Alabama nearly mounted a major comeback with their backup quarterback at the helm, but that bet, as it turned out, was ill-fated as well. But this column isn’t a group therapy session; it’s a place to find winners. So Betting Stuff is headed back to its fundamentals: Group of 5 bets.
This week, I’m tapping the Sun Belt, Mountain West and Conference-USA for three bets and ‘capping the Battle for the Golden Boot down in Baton Rouge. And just for good measure, I’m explaining why it’s high time to hop on the Sooner bandwagon.
Last Week: 1-4, -3.4 Units
Season Record: 37-23 (61.6%), +18.35 Units
Western Kentucky at Rice Team Total Over 40.5
The Bailey Zappe show has been consistently productive throughout the season, particularly once the Hilltoppers entered C-USA play. How good has he been? Try 395 passing yards per game with a 21:3 TD-INT ratio in conference play good. He’s the maestro of the nation’s best passing game, without question.
As a whole, the Tops’ offense is now pumping in 43.2 points per game in conference play, which included a 46-point outburst against nationally-ranked UTSA.
The aerial show has been dynamite from Day 1 thanks to a deep receiving corps headlined by probable All-American Jerreth Sterns. The pint-sized receiver already has 104 receptions and 11 touchdowns through 9 games.
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) November 5, 2021
What’s nice is that the WKU running game has come into its own, by Air Raid standards, in recent weeks. Adam Cofield and Noah Whittington have provided balance on the ground, opening up even more throwing lanes for Zappe and his perimeter playmakers.
Can Rice slow down the Tops? Not a chance. Rice can rush the passer, but that’s its only calling card. Big plays will be there all game if WKU can protect Zappe.
Luckily, the WKU offensive line has gelled in 2021, allowing just 11 sacks through 9 games. Given how many dropbacks Western called for Zappe, only SMU has a better sack/pass attempt résumé this season.
Rice has played 3 top-25 scoring offenses (Houston, Texas, UTSA), and it surrendered 40+ in all three. Make this No. 4.
Oklahoma-5.5 at Baylor
It’s interesting that both the public and CFP committee seem to have their minds made up on Oklahoma already. Early-season stumbles against Tulane, Nebraska, West Virginia and Kansas State made it easy for fans and gamblers alike to jump off the bandwagon.
But from an evaluation standpoint, I don’t consider any game that Caleb Williams didn’t start as useful data. This offense literally went from a dysfunctional, turnover-prone mess to a well-oiled machine in the same game (Texas).
Since the Sooners’ comeback in the Red River Showdown, they’ve played 3 games, blowing out 2 opponents (TCU, Texas Tech) while sleepwalking past a third (Kansas).
The Kansas game really boiled down to a slow first half. OU spotted the Jayhawks a 10-point lead at the break, and then turned on the afterburners to score 35 second-half points (scoring TDs on every drive).
Is that a bad win? Absolutely. Should it harm its reputation more than an outright loss like the ones suffered by Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State? That’s the debate right now.
Regardless of which side of the OU debate you’re on, the fact that it controls its fate is a major development. Facing 3 ranked opponents in the next month gives it a platform to impress the committee, which screams “running up the score” to me. Are they capable of boat-racing a team like Baylor? I believe so. Consider this, since Williams took over, OU has the nation’s highest points per play rating, by a large margin.
TD No. 5️⃣ for Caleb Williams
He becomes the first true freshman with 5 passing TDs in a game in Oklahoma history
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 30, 2021
I also like the fact that the Sooners’ run defense continues to improve down the stretch. They’ve allowed the 21st-lowest yards per carry figure to opponents (3.43 YPC) and check in at 17th nationally in rushing defense (111 YPG).
This is going to play a big role in how they finish the season with 3 run-heavy teams on their schedule (Baylor, Iowa State, Oklahoma State). Baylor and Oklahoma State run more than 60% of the time, top-20 nationally.
If OU keeps this up and shuts down the Baylor running game, this could be a classic OU blowout in Big 12 play.
Arkansas State at UL Monroe Over 66
No team in the country gives up more explosive plays this year than Arkansas State. For perspective, Georgia has given up 7 plays of 30 yards or more all season. Arkansas State’s defense has surrendered 39 such plays.
The Warhawks’ Chandler Rogers will be able to spark the big play through the air or on the ground, as he did against a much stouter South Alabama defense last month.
Since taking the reins, Rogers is averaging 51.5 yards per game on the ground in games he’s started and finished. Expect that number to increase against the Red Wolves’ nonexistent front seven. No team in the country has allowed more rushing yards during conference play than ASU (331.6 yards per game).
It takes two to tango on an over, so what can the road team contribute in this tilt?
Well, Arkansas State is gonna throw it a lot for starters (44 times per game), and I expect a bounce-back performance after a rough month offensively for ASU. It faced 4 tough Sun Belt defenses in a row: Coastal, Louisiana, South Alabama and App State. That murderers’ row is over.
UL Monroe allows opponents to hit 68% of their passes. And it can’t offset that with a decent pass rush.
And finally, expect a lot of play in this one. Arkansas State plays fast, nearly sitting top-25 in plays per game, and UL Monroe isn’t far behind at 37th. This has track meet written all over it.
Arkansas-2.5 at LSU
I was surprised to see this game below the key number of 3, with LSU coming off an emotional loss to Alabama. For a team with a lame-duck head coach, that felt like the dead cat bounce moment. With little to play for down the stretch, it would be human nature for the Tigers to fold.
But this play isn’t just predicated on fading the Bayou Bengals. Arkansas is coming off a quality win against Mississippi State and has discovered Dominique Johnson as a viable lead back in the past 2 weeks. The sophomore running back punched in 2 scores while eclipsing the 100-yard mark against the Bulldogs in Fayetteville last week.
Defensively, after bottoming out in a shootout against Ole Miss in early October, the Hogs have rebounded and now own respectable metrics against the pass. Where they continue to struggle is in the turnover department, with fewer than 1 takeaway per game this season (112th). I’m banking on a positive regression in that department. LSU has been more than happy to hand the ball to the other team this season with 5 turnovers in their past 2 games.
KJ Jefferson is THAT dude.pic.twitter.com/hpUMCRZUEp
— Daniel Fair (@DanFair88) November 7, 2021
And finally, there’s KJ Jefferson. He won’t be mistaken for an elite quarterback anytime soon, but the big-bodied sophomore has accounted for 13 touchdowns in his past 4 games, against just 1 turnover. That’s the kind of math that will push U-of-A over the top in Death Valley.
Utah State ML+160 at San Jose State
The Aggies are one of the best stories going in college football this season.
In fact, if Blake Anderson’s squad can reel off 3 more wins, a proposition that isn’t out of the question given the manageable slate, the first-year head coach will likely find himself as a National Coach of the Year finalist.
Utah State was 1-5 last season, and all of a sudden, it controls its fate in the Mountain West’s Mountain Division. That’s a special turnaround.
The major driver of this special season has been the passing attack. Utah State is now all the way up to 12th in passing yards per game.
The Logan Bonner-to-Deven Thompkins connection is officially out of control. In the past 2 games, they connected for 16 passes, 391 yards and 2 TDs. The stage is set for more of that against an average Spartans secondary.
.@USUFootball's Deven Thompkins leads the nation in:
∙ All-Purpose Yards per Game
∙ Receiving Yards
∙ Receiving Yards per Game@GrandmasterDT joins @JKurtz_MWN to discuss his performance as the Aggies chase a berth in the MW Championship Game#AtThePeak | #AggiesAllTheWay pic.twitter.com/m6NQEP0iMl
— Mountain West (@MountainWest) November 10, 2021
After winning the Mountain West last year, SJSU’s pass defense has fallen off considerably. Opposing quarterbacks are connecting on 62.5% of their attempts (77th), and the Spartans don’t pick off opposing passers (100th).
When you compound those numbers with their anemic pass rush, it’s clear that Utah State will be a live dog in this one.