The Week 0 appetizer is out of the way, which means that it’s time to really dig in here at Betting Stuff. Fall practices are just about done, depth charts have been finalized, and everyone from the local guy at the deli to your pastor has a sure-fire parlay for you. This wouldn’t be a gambling column without some picks, so I have 6 of them to get you into the black.

South Florida at NC State-18

Two teams that I’m very opinionated about. NC State has the goods across the board. A defense loaded with experience and a potential DPOY at middle linebacker (Payton Wilson).

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Dangerous offensive weapons like Bam Knight and Emeka Emezie to go along with a talented quarterback and stellar offensive line. And then there’s USF. This offense is completely broken, and despite dipping into the transfer portal they’re going with Cade Fortin, a UNC transfer in his second year with the program. Defensively they have a lot to replace from a unit that was 121st in scoring last season. This defense gave up 114 points in its final 2 games and hasn’t brought in the requisite talent to stop the bleeding. Not only will I be playing the Wolfpack -18, I’ll be hitting them on the alternate line all the way up to -34.5 in the +350 range.

Penn State+175 at Wisconsin

Penn State is a potential sleeping giant on offense. The Nittany Lions bring in Mike Yurcich, a tremendously talented offensive mind. Since 2013, as an OC, his teams have scored 40 or more points in half of their games. With this offense, he gets to play with Jahan Dotson and a loaded backfield.

https://twitter.com/BigTenNetwork/status/1429073689593716737

It really just comes down to Sean Clifford, who had one great season as a starter in 2019 and a lousy statistical year last fall. In 2019, he finished 17th nationally in Total QBR and posted 28 total touchdowns against just 8 turnovers. Last year he was a turnover machine in the early going before righting the ship during PSU’s 4-game winning streak to end the season. I love him to bounce back and a very talented defense to suffocate Graham Mertz and the Wisconsin offense at Camp Randall.

Fresno State+21 at Oregon

The classic look-ahead spot for Oregon. No pressure Ducks, the entire Pac-12 is just relying on you to validate the conference by upsetting Ohio State in Columbus in Week 2. Fresno State also received the benefit of a tune-up game against lowly UConn in Week 0, so they’ll be the beneficiaries of the traditional Week 1 to Week 2 bump. The Bulldogs fielded the most efficient offense in the MWC last year, and return all the key pieces. Jake Haener, Ronnie Rivers and Jalen Cropper are an elite Group of 5 Big Three, but this play comes down to their defense. Last season, Fresno couldn’t stop anyone from running the football, but I’m banking on them to noticeably improve behind 10 returning starters and the arrival of former 3-star linebacker Tyson Maeva. If they can hold Oregon to 45 points or less, I love their offense to deliver a backdoor cover.

Iowa-3 vs. Indiana

For all of the love that the Hoosiers received last season, they beat exactly one team (Wisconsin 4-3) with a winning record. They’re also relying on Michael Penix Jr. to recovery from major knee surgery and be ready to rock from the first snap against the top-rated preseason defense according to SP+. Since 2017, no program has picked off more passes than Iowa and they return their entire secondary. On offense, Iowa turned the corner during its 6-game winning streak. The Hawkeyes averaged 36 points per game during their streak behind the steady play of do-it-all running back Tyler Goodson.

The junior averaged 122 all-purpose yards and a touchdown in his final 6 games. Then there’s Kinnick Stadium. Since 2018, Iowa is 14-4 SU at home (3rd-best in Big Ten) and has beat the spread at home by an average of 4.4 points per game (2nd-best in Big Ten).

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UTSA+200 at Illinois

I would much rather put my money behind an overachieving Group of 5 program than a downtrodden Power 5 team in the midst of a rebuild. Illinois wants to run the football, UTSA can run the football, that’s the difference. Last season, the Roadrunners lived up to their name and were top 20 nationally in yards per carry and yards per game along the ground. QB Frank Harris and RB Sincere McCormick pose major problems for defenses attempting to stop the zone read.

Of returning starters at quarterback, only Liberty’s Malik Willis and TCU’s Max Duggan had higher ratings as a runner than Harris. And finally, UTSA played a pair of top-15 programs last year (BYU, ULL) and came within a touchdown against both. They’re ready to break through.

Georgia-Clemson Under 52.5

Two top-5 defenses collide in Charlotte and I’m expecting a slobber knocker of a game. Clemson took a step back last season from an explosiveness standpoint, despite finishing with a PFF grade of 88.2 (10th) through the air. Travis Etienne took on the role of home run hitter and with him off the roster, I’m not sure where the big plays come from. Yes, Georgia is replacing a lot of departed talent in its defensive backfield, but Derion Kendrick, Kelee Ringo and Ameer Speed give the Bulldogs a great blend of experience and star power on the perimeter.

When Georgia has the football, the loss of George Pickens and the no-show status of Arik Gilbert indicate that we could see more of a ball-control offense against the Tigers. Clemson returns 92% of its defensive production (3rd) and potential All-Americans along its defensive front. It’s also worth noting, under Kirby Smart the Bulldogs have gone under 61.9% (13-8) when playing outside the SEC. I see this game played in the high teens, low 20s.

Kent State vs. Texas A&M-29

Kent State was a major beneficiary of COVID rescheduling last season. Instead of an opening month that would feature road trips to Penn State, Kentucky and Alabama, the Golden Flashes feasted on an All-MAC buffet. As a result, Kent led the nation in scoring (49.8 ppg), finished 10th in passing, and generated nearly 4 plays of 30+ yards or more every game. But here’s the thing, they did it in 4 games. And in 2 of those games, they played a pair of teams that finished in the bottom four of the SP+ rankings. When they finally played a team with a pulse? They got stomped 70-41. And gave up, you ready for this, 406 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns to one player.

https://twitter.com/MyBookie/status/1332794650806063110

Toss in the fact that Kent is playing without its best offensive playmaker (Isaiah McKoy) for the first time, and I have a hard time believing they’ll be able to move the ball effectively against the preseason, by SP+ standards, No. 6 defense. Defensively, Kent couldn’t stop anyone from running the football and while the Aggies may have some early growing pains through the air, they should be elite on the ground. If you can find a prop bet offering Texas A&M to run for 300 or more yards, hammer that as well.

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Bonus EA Sports NCAA Football ’14 Simulation

Last season, I ran a simulation series matching my top picks with outcomes from NCAA Football ’14. The classic video game continues to be updated by passionate fans, so all rosters match current 2021 real-life teams.

I already shared my top 6 picks with you, but one that was just on the cusp was Appalachian State-10.5 at home against East Carolina.

In the simulation, Camerun Peoples exploded for 207 all-purpose yards and 3 TDs, while ECU’s Holton Ahlers was picked off 3 times by the ‘Neers secondary. App State comfortably took the Thursday night opener by a score of 38-17.