Betting Stuff: Tips, trends and advice to win big in Week 1 in college football
Betting Stuff is a regular sports gambling column here at Saturday Down South with a focus on college football wagering (though don’t be surprised to see some non-college football insights from time to time). Betting Stuff is brought to you by MyBookie. If you’re looking for a place to make a deposit and start getting in on the action, look no further than MyBookie.
Thoughts On Limited Practice Reps
Compared to the NFL, college football coaches are always up against it when it comes to practice time. Before COVID-19 complicated things, the NCAA had already tightened the reins on weekly practice time and sessions in which teams could hit. In the current climate, virtually every FBS program was deprived of nearly all of its spring practices. February, March and April are when many teams install schemes, tinker with personnel packages and build their collective depth through invaluable reps. What does that mean for games in the early going? Continuity is king.
The college game is not only a revolving door of personnel on the field but also along the sidelines and in the press box. Early on this season, I’m giving 1.5 to 3 extra points in my power rankings to teams that return their starting quarterbacks, offensive coordinators, and play-callers. This continuity will help mitigate the loss of practice reps on the offensive side of the ball. For example, Middle Tennessee returns veteran quarterback Asher O’Hara and Tony Franklin at OC and PC. Franklin, a highly-regarded offensive mind, has called the plays for MTSU since 2016 and has helped O’Hara make a massive leap forward during his sophomore season in Murfreesboro. It also doesn’t hurt that MTSU is entering its 15th season under head coach Rick Stockstill (6th most tenured coach in all of FBS).
Looking for teams transitioning on the fly? Texas State is hosting SMU on Saturday afternoon with a first-time starter at quarterback and a brand new, 36-year-old offensive coordinator. It’s unclear if Jacob Peeler will be calling plays for the first time or passing those duties off to head coach Jake Spavital. Either way, they’ll have their hands full trying to keep pace with one of the most dynamic offenses in the country.
I suspect tackling and special teams will also be lackluster in the early going this fall. Austin Peay and Central Arkansas met on Saturday night and there was a bevy of special teams miscues. Austin Peay was down 2 long-snappers and had to rely upon a 5th-year senior who had never snapped in a college or high school game. Teams have to make cuts in the practice schedule and special teams will suffer as a result. Experience alone at kicker and punter won’t counterbalance the lack of practice time, either. Special teams, for lack of a better phrase, is truly a “team effort,” requiring cohesion and precise timing. For this reason, if you can find any sportsbooks offering odds on blocked kicks or special teams touchdowns, I’d highly recommend a play on over.
One final note, ESPN’s “Returning Production” chart should prove to be particularly useful this month. As players struggle to get into game shape, more players will see the field, and unfortunately, there’s an increased chance of injuries. Teams with experience, beyond returning starters, should be the beneficiaries of the new normal.
Games I’ll Be Playing In Week 1
Middle Tennessee at Army-3.5 (55.5)
A good friend and gambling confidant likes to say that he bets countless Service Academy unders, and is proud to admit that he’s never watched a single minute of them. Betting unders isn’t fun, plain and simple. You’re rooting for long and methodical drives that end in red-zone turnovers or missed field goals. Aesthetics and excitement aside, there are some teams and spots that warrant siding with the under. What’s interesting to me is that the general public seems to think Army, Navy, and Air Force are an under-bettor’s dream. Since 2010, the trio of option operators have gone over the closing number 187 times and under the number … 188 times. To gamblers, a winning percentage of 50.13% with that kind of volume is a pure loser. If you bet under in each contest, you lost 17.7 units.
So with that triple-option-under myth debunked, do I like over between the Blue Raiders and Cadets? Absolutely. Jeff Monken’s offense can be explosive at times, especially with the right triggerman at the helm. The final preseason depth chart for Army football was released Tuesday, and junior Christian Anderson has been named the starting quarterback. This is important because Anderson is a true dual-threat. He was a prolific passer in high school and gives them an added dimension and the capacity to create more big plays. The over will be aided by the fact that Anderson and his teammates will be facing a MTSU defense that ranks 101st in returning production after a rotten 2019 campaign (114th total D). Plus, limited tackling reps in spring and fall practice will come back to bite them against Army’s bruising triple-option attack.
When Army takes the field on defense there will be a lot of new faces (118th in returning production). Under Jay Bateman, Army finished with a top-10 defense twice in a 3-year stretch. Bateman left after the 2018 season, and Army took a step backward, albeit a small one. This season the bottom will fall out, particularly against talented quarterbacks. Enter Asher O’Hara. The Blue Raiders’ dual-threat finished last season on a tear, averaging 350 total yards and 3 total TDs per game in O’Hara’s final 4 games. Rick Stockstill’s offense returns virtually everyone and welcomes in a pair of major conference transfers at tailback. I would be shocked if they failed to break 31 in this one.
Play: Over 55.5 / Leaning MTSU+3.5
Arkansas State at Memphis-19 (73)
In a completely watered down slate of college football action, this game has all the makings of a good ol’ fashioned shootout. Memphis, last season’s Group of 5 New Year’s 6 bowl representative, returns its QB1, RB1 and WR1. Well, at least until this week. Facing a tragic situation, running back Kenneth Gainwell opted out of the season, after losing 4 family members to COVID-19. Gainwell was absolutely fantastic last season for the Tigers (2K+ Total Yards, 16 TDs) and gave their offense a maddening “pick your poison” feel. Now Arkansas State can focus on quarterback Brady White and future NFL wide receiver Damonte Coxie. When you toss in the fact that Memphis is under a first-year head coach and a first-time play-caller, all of a sudden a Memphis rout doesn’t look so certain.
Can plucky Arkansas State take advantage of a less dangerous Memphis offense? In short, yes. The Red Wolves have attended a bowl game in 6 consecutive seasons under Blake Anderson, while posting a strong overall record of 47-30. They nearly knocked off SMU in last season’s opener, the same Mustangs’ team that won 10 games and came within a touchdown against Memphis of going to the Cotton Bowl. Arkansas State returns 8 offensive starters, including its entire offensive line. Even if ASU plays 2 quarterbacks, both Logan Bonner and Layne Hatcher (former Alabama walk-on) have breakout potential. I love taking high-scoring offenses (ASU, 33.1 ppg) when I’m catching big numbers, and the fact that this spread hasn’t moved much (steady at -19 at MyBookie) after the Gainwell news is music to my ears.
One final note on the home-field advantage angle: Arkansas State will be traveling just one hour by bus and Memphis officials have stated that only a fraction of ticket holders will be allowed to attend. Translation: No home-field advantage whatsoever in this one.
Pick: Arkansas State+19
BYU at Navy-2.5 (52.5)
This game was cobbled together after Notre Dame pulled the plug on Navy’s season-opener, but this matchup might end up providing more entertainment than the Irish and Middies could have generated. Both BYU and Navy were excellent down the stretch last season (BYU 5-2, Navy 6-1) and noticeably more dangerous on offense. This explains the total opening at 55.5 last week. But sharps have hammered that number down to 52.5 and I think it could end up at 51 before kickoff (currently at 52.5 at MyBookie).
The 2020 versions of these offenses are riddled with question marks. Navy needs to rebuild considerably, most notably at quarterback. Malcolm Perry was a triple-option savant who actually has a chance to make an NFL roster and contribute this fall. His shoes will be difficult to fill. On the other sideline, BYU has a potential star at quarterback in Zach Wilson, but the Cougars just lost their only reliable target to a season-ending injury (TE, Matt Bushman). I anticipate this will create growing pains for the boys from Provo.
Defensively, BYU is well suited to slow down this option attack. Despite playing 4 Power 5 programs and Boise State last fall, the Cougars only allowed 4.2 yards per rush and they welcome back 5 seniors in their front 7. Navy was even more impressive on defense in 2019 (16th nationally in Total D), and returns 3 of its 4 starting defensive backs. The secret to their success was Brian Newberry. The relatively unknown defensive coordinator is a strategist’s strategist. He patched every hole in Navy’s leaky defense and helped the Middies finish with their best numbers against the run since the 1960s. The Broyles Award semifinalist will likely be snapped up by a major program next offseason.
The combination of Newberry’s defensive play-calling and a green field-general under center for Navy should lead to a low-scoring affair but competitive affair.
Pick: Under 52.5
Interesting Gambling Facts About Week 1
As I mentioned in a previous installment of Betting Stuff, when first-time starters face off in a season-opener, under is the play. Since 2016, unders have hit 62% of the time in this scenario when 2 FBS teams square off. Unfortunately, with the limited gambling menu, there are no such matchups available to pounce on.
That doesn’t mean that this Week 1 is without some interesting gambling tidbits. For instance, Week 1 features 3 coaches who are tremendous against the spread in season openers.
- Marshall’s Doc Holliday: 6-3-1
- SMU’s Sonny Dykes: 6-3
- UAB’s Bill Clark: 4-1
Trust in Sonny Dykes’ offense on Saturday night, at least in terms of providing a high scoring game. The Mike Leach disciple is a reliable bet to run it up when favored. Since arriving in Dallas, when SMU is favored, 75% of its games have gone over (9-3). Also, check MyBookie to find their team total (should be between 42-45) and consider the over there as well. In 3 of Dykes’ past 4 openers, his teams have blown past their team total.
Thinking about fading a team because of a long road trip? BYU is headed all the way to Annapolis (2,121 miles) for their opener, but that’s nothing new. In fact, the Cougars traveled an astounding 18,243 miles last year for their road tilts. Did all that air travel become normal? Apparently not. They finished 2-5 against the spread. But wait, there’s a twist when it comes to BYU road games.
It’s pretty rare for a stat to completely take me by surprise, but after noting BYU’s road struggles in 2019, it was shocking to come across this. Since Kalani Sitake took over for Bronco Mendenhall in 2016, the Cougars are 10-2 ATS as a road underdog. As a road favorite? 3-6 ATS. Of qualifying teams, that’s the 3rd-largest win percentage differential (83.3% – 33.3%) for a road team between being a favorite and being an underdog since 2016.
Most books will be posting FBS vs. FCS lines and totals on Friday, and I have my eye on one game in particular: Houston Baptist at North Texas.
North Texas is breaking in new pieces on offense, including a new starting QB, but boy, oh boy is HBU bad on defense. The Huskies finished 121st in total defense at the FCS level, just a swing pass from allowing 500 yards per game.
Interestingly, HBU’s offense is just as good as their defense is bad (12th in yardage, 14th in ppg). What a combo to play over in this spot. Keep in mind, in HBU’s 4 nonconference games last year, the average final score was 53-33. If this total opens below 72.5, grab it right away.