Week 0’s Saturday kickoff doesn’t feature too many big names, but there is some value to be had with some of the spreads and totals. The plan for this series is to update accordingly with line movement up through kickoff. The spread and over/under in the title are reflective of DraftKings. The recommendation in each section will include the best line from multiple books. Not every play has the same level of confidence, which is reflected at the bottom of the article.
Although this is our first week, we’ll be tracking our total return at the end of each week and cumulative throughout the season to maintain transparency in our process.
Nebraska (-7) at Illinois (O/U 55)
The line opened with Nebraska as 9-point favorites and has come down to 7-points over the last few weeks. That makes sense as Illinois is coming off an upset last season where Nebraska was favored by 16.5 points. The spread here is probably fair, given that Nebraska is the better team with an okay defense. The Cornhuskers are absolutely the better team on paper with an overall SP+ rating of 32nd overall compared to Illinois 81st, but the Scott Frost tenure has been anything but expected.
If Illinois is going to cover, they probably need to get RB Chase Brown involved. With Brett Bielema taking the reins, I don’t think it’s out of the question for Illinois to ground and pound their way to covering and could eek a win out. Add in the addition of Appalachian State OC Tony Peterson. Illinois returned four of five offensive line starters and 80% of their offensive production. I expect a heavy dose of Brown against a Nebraska run D allowed 169.5 yards per game in 2021. That was the highlight of the Illinois offense (rushing for over 196 yards per game).
Since Scott Frost took over in 2018, Nebraska has failed to cover the spread 64.7% of the time as a favorite, including 60% of the time as an away favorite. As a home team and in games where they’re a home underdog, Illinois has covered 50% of the time. This Illini team plays extremely well at home, and if their game against Nebraska is any indication, Illinois might have their number on Saturday. The MoneyLine is in play this week but I’m not rushing to bet it. Illinois can win outright but I’m far more confident taking them +7 than the ML.
1 unit: Illinois +7 at -115 (DraftKings)
.5 units: Illinois ML @ +220 (Caesars)
UConn at Fresno State (-27) (O/U 62.5)
It’s difficult to cover a 27.5-point spread, but if any team on the slate can do it, it’s probably Fresno State. Led by head coach Kalen Deboer, the Bulldogs remain aggressive even with the lead. In their wins last season, they averaged a margin of victory of 17.7 points with key offensive players in the game for the fourth quarter consistently. In 2021, they’ll return 76% of their 2020 production, including quarterback Jack Haener and all of his key weapons.
It doesn’t help the Huskies case that they didn’t play in 2020, and when they played in 2019, they were one of the worst teams in the FBS. Their 18.9 points per game ranked 120th in the country despite a bottom half strength of schedule. Since 2018, UConn has also failed to cover the spread in 66.7% of their games as the underdog (14 of 21) with an average margin of defeat of 30.0 points and an average failure to cover 5.3 points. I have a hard time seeing UConn coming close to covering the gigantic spread even with the porous Fresno State defense (107th in SP+). An extremely rusty Huskies team facing a fast-paced Fresno State team that averaged over 32.8 points per game last season is a recipe for a blowout.
Surprisingly, UConn has 51% of the money while only having 45% of the bets. 27.5 is a difficult cover, but there’s a good chance UConn is simply the worst team in college football Week 0, and knowing the tendencies of Deboer, I’m still taking Fresno State to cover.
**This isn’t my favorite bet of the day simply due to the large spread and variance, so if you’re only looking to wager on 2-3 games, I wouldn’t rush to put anything down on this one.
1 unit: Fresno State -27.5 at -110 (DraftKings)
Hawaii at UCLA (-17) (O/U 69.5)
By far the highest point total on Saturday, the Rainbow Warriors head to the Rose Bowl to take on UCLA. The 17-point spread feels like a lot considering the Hawaii offense can produce and UCLA defense leaves some to be desired. In 2020 they allowed 30.7 points per game with over 274.1 passing yards (11th worst in the country). According to ESPN, they return 88% of their defensive production from 2020 but still only rank 68th in defensive SP+. Hawaii QB Chevan Cordeiro is a dual-threat player who can produce both through the air and with his legs. Given UCLA’s pass defense, he could find success through the air. Hawaii did have an inconsistent season dealing with COVID-19 and starting late but showed boom potential, scoring over 24 points in eight of nine games and over 32 in four of nine games.
Another potential note when speaking to Hawaii covering – in games where UCLA has been the favorite under Chip Kelly (since 2018), they have the fourth-worst Cover % in the country. He has also failed to cover the spread by an average of 8.8 points in those games. In fact, in those games as a favorite, UCLA has a negative average margin of victory (-0.9), and in his three years at UCLA, Kelly has still failed to beat a non-conference opponent, going 0-6 in those games. I think he gets the win here but giving them 17 points is excessive.
Both defenses leave a lot to be desired, and the strength of each team matchups up well. UCLA, a team that prefers to run, even in neutral game scripts (52% rush rate), faces a Hawaii defense that allows 212.8 rushing yards per game last season (11th worst) while UCLA ran for 231.3 yards per game (6th best). The combination of Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Brittain Brown could see over 200 yards combined in this matchup. While Hawaii does return a defense with all 11 starters, it still ranks outside the top 100 in defensive SP+ headed into the season. However, the UCLA pass defense ranks among the country’s worst, so we could see a massive shootout.
1 unit: Hawaii (+17.5) @ -110 (SugarHouse)
.5 units: OVER 68.5 @ -113 (SugarHouse)
UTEP (-9) at New Mexico State (O/U 54)
Neither of these teams is particularly good, but New Mexico State is by far the worst team playing this weekend. Taking 2020 off, we have seen them play twice in the spring against FCS opponents. First was an absolute beatdown (43-17) at the hands of Tarleton State (who?) and a 36-29 win against Dixie State (again, who?). New Mexico State being only 9.5-point dogs is generous given what we saw in spring and what we didn’t see last season.
In those two matchups, New Mexico State allowed (per game) 36 points, 305 passing yards, and 199.5 rushing yards. Against two FCS opponents.
There isn’t much more to add here. I’m shocked by the current low spread, but I’m extremely confident taking UTEP to cover. They could cover by another 10 points if we’re honest, and it wouldn’t shock me. This is the best bet of the slate.
To underscore this point: 87% of the money is on UTEP right now, and honestly, that’s spot on. The -9 is still too little given what we know about New Mexico State…and you can get it at 8.5 in some places.
1.5 units: UTEP (-8.5) @ -115 (FanDuel)
2 units: UTEP ML @ -335 (DraftKings)
Summary Based on Confidence
· 2 units: UTEP ML @ -335 (DraftKings)
· 1.5 units: UTEP (-8.5) @ -115 (Fanduel)
· 1 unit: Hawaii (+17.5) @ -110 (SugarHouse)
Less Confident but Still Interested:
· .5 units: UCLA/Hawaii OVER 68.5 @ -110 (SugarHouse)
· 1 unit: Fresno State (-27.5) @ -110 (DraftKings)
· 1 unit Illinois (+7) @ -115 (DraftKings)
· 5 units: Illinois ML @ +220 (Caesars)
Bonus: 4-Play Parlay of the Week (DraftKings):
UTEP (-9) @ -110
+ Hawaii (+17) @ -110
+ UCLA/Hawaii OVER 69.5 @ -110
+ Illinois (+7) @ -110
Total Odds: +1262