This article will serve mostly as a primer headed into the week with some free picks. It will be accompanied by weekly episodes of 3&Out and by Wil’s (@BiasedOpinions_)betting piece. We will also review a lot of these picks and more on the Tailgate on Saturday morning. The spread and totals are taken from DraftKngs for the purpose of consistency but when applicable, the best line is recommended below.
Ohio State (-13.5) @ Minnesota OU: 64.5
The early season trend for most home teams is generally spotting them a few points. This trend continues as the C.J. Stroud-led Buckeyes head to Minnesota this week. Generally, a top-5 team in the country playing a team border-line top-25 gets a little more than a two-touchdown edge but alas, here we are. The Ohio State offense should be prolific against a Gophers defense ranked as ESPN’s SP+ 50th best.
The bigger question is whether the Buckeyes’ defense can stop a Minnesota offense that should be pretty good this year. Even though Ohio State returns one of their weaker units in recent memory, they should have a very strong line and overall front seven. The real weakness of this unit is the back end, but Tanner Morgan doesn’t strike much fear into anyone. Mohamed Ibrahim does run behind a top-10 offensive line but in a game that is likely won in the trenches, Ohio State still has the edge.
I think the Buckeyes handily take care of the Gophers but don’t be surprised if this game goes over (however, that’s not a formal recommendation). As a home underdog, Minnesota is 5-5 against the spread under P.J. Fleck while Ohio State is 6-1 ATS as an away favorite in the Ryan Day era. Additionally, the Buckeyes under Day have managed to cover the spread by an average of a whopping 13.4 points to go along with a 35.4 average margin of victory.
Ohio State 1H (-7.5) @ +100 (DraftKings)
Ohio State (-13.5) @ -110 (DraftKings)
Bowling Green @ Tennessee (-35.5) OU: 61
Generally, I prefer not to make wagers on spreads this large with teams I don’t believe are particularly good. I don’t think Tennessee is particularly good. While I am avoiding a spread that has widened by a full touchdown since open, this is a good game to target the under bet. Even though they bring in new coach Josh Heupel, the Volunteers are still a top-50ish team in the country going against possibly the worst team in the country.
The Vols defense should be solid in this matchup as they’re ranked 30th in ESPN SP+ going up against an offense ranked 128th. Bowling Green’s implied team total is currently 12.3, which is attainable but the real question is whether Tennessee can hit their team total of 46.75. Michigan washout Joe Milton III takes the reigns for the high flying Heupel offense, but that implied team total is just too much. The under in this game is by far my favorite play.
1H Under 31.5 @ +105 (DraftKings)
Under 61 @ -110 (DraftKings)
UNC (-5.5) @ Virginia Tech OU: 64
We continue our trend of the home underdog being spotted a handful too many points. Do I think it’s going to be easy for the Tar Heels to head into Blacksburg and cover? No, but I think they manage to pull it off. Under Fuente, the Hokies are 3-5 ATS as a home dog, failing to cover by an average of 3.1 points. While North Carolina doesn’t have much experience on the road in September, this is still a team with title aspirations that needs a statement win to start their season.
The Tarheels also just a better squad. Ranked 12th overall by ESPN SP+, they bring a top-5 offense to spar with a Hokies’ defense that leaves some to be desired. I like this Virginia Tech team and think they have an outside shot to finish ranked in the top-25 but UNC should win by more than six.
I think UNC covers in what could be a shootout. Both teams bring high-end offenses into the year and lackluster defensive play, with both units being ranked outside the top-49 by ESPN SP+. The Sam Howell-led Tar Heels are going to pile on points but the UNC defense struggled last season and still lacks a cohesive unit could bleed points. I am envisioning a game that ends up something like 38-31.
UNC (-5.5) @ -110 (DraftKings)
Over 64 @ -105 (DraftKings)
Stanford @ Kansas State (-2.5) OU: 53
Kansas State is straight-up better than Stanford. Skylar Thompson returns after a season-ending injury cut his 2020 unfortunately short. In his three games, the Wildcats upset Oklahoma in Norman winning 38-35, and followed up that with another win against Texas Tech. After their 4-1 start, Kansas State ended up losing five in a row to end the year under backup QB Will Howard. This year they return many starters on a solid offense and still have a passable defense. Under head coach Chris Kleiman, they have managed to go 3-2 ATS as a home favorite, covering by an average of 4.9 points. On the other hand, Stanford has gone 2-4 as the away underdog, over the past two years, failing to cover by 5.2 points.
For Stanford, the departure of Davis Mills into the NFL draft really stings. Likely starter Tanner McKee was once a high-end recruit, but we haven’t seen anything from him yet. They’re likely to rely on Austin Jones, but K-State should be formidable enough on the ground to thwart what Stanford does best. The Cardinal did catch fire last season to end the year and looks to continue that momentum but with departures at key positions, this week will be a learning curve.
Additionally, I probably won’t play it but I do think the over bet is intriguing. Both defenses rank outside the top-75 according to ESPN SP+ and I can see low-key shootout potential. Since 2019, Stanford has hit the over (or push) 100% of the time as an away dog (5-0-1) by an average of 13.4 points. Kansas State is 3-2 in hitting the over as a home favorite in that same time frame. Don’t sleep on the point potential in this game.
Kansas State (-2.5) @ -110 (DraftKings)
Over 53 @ -105 (DraftKings)
Boise State @ UCF (-5.5) OU: 68.5
These teams are fairly evenly matched heading into the season amid turnover within both programs. At Boise, alum Andy Avalos takes over as HC and in Orlando, Gus Malzahn takes the reigns from Josh Heupel. The line has continually moved up since opening at 4.5 and now rests at 5.5. I like the Broncos and points. Ranked 34th and 39th in ESPN SP+, this game should stay close with both head coaches feeling out their new personnel. I don’t think it’s a must-play by any means, but this Boise State team is better than the spread is giving them credit for.
Beyond Boise +5.5, the under looks tasty. Andy Avalos comes from a defensive background and while he brings in Tim Plough as OC from UC Davis, he could tend to manage games conservatively like many coaches from a defensive background. The real variable here is how Malzahn coaches UCF. Malzahn had a below-average pass rate compared to Heupel who was one of the country’s most aggressive coaches through the air. It’s going to be a different attack for the Knights than it has been for the last few years and the game total doesn’t take that into account enough.
Boise State (+5.5) @ -110 (DraftKings)
Under 68 @ -105 (DraftKings)
Army @ Georgia State (-2) OU: 50.5
These teams are evenly matched so this spread makes sense, however you can still get Army at +3 at some books (Caesers). I don’t love the value elsewhere as on FanDuel they’re only +1.5 and DraftKings they’re +2. If you can get them catching a full field goal, I think that’s a solid play.
Last season Army had the second-best scoring defense in the country allowing only 14.8 points per game. It likely won’t be as good this season, but it should still should approach top-50 in the country. They’ll have their hands full against a good Georgia State offense this week.
The best play in this game is the over 50.5. The Georgia State offense should be prolific, and their defense is poor (at best.) Army’s rushing offense should be able to put up points as last season they averaged 272.8 yards on the ground per game with their triple option. Even though the Army defense is good, I expect this to be closer to a shootout than a low-scoring affair.
Army (+3) @ -110 (Caesars)
Over 50.5 @ +100 (DraftKings) OR Over 49.5 @ -110 (FanDuel)
Marshall (-2.5) @ Navy OU: 48.5
This spread actually opened at -3.5 and I liked it then, now it’s even lower I’m even more excited. I don’t really get this spread, to be honest, Marshall is a much better team than Navy. Despite the road match up, I think they should still be favored by more than a field goal. I have the same confidence in this game that I did in UTEP-NMSU state last week. The they could cover the spread by more than 10 points and I wouldn’t be shocked.
Marshall’s offense definitely leaves some to be desired but Grant Wells should be healthy and gets a Navy defense ranked 91st in ESPN’s SP+. The real asset for the Thundering Herd is their running game led by (likely) starter Sheldon Evans. Last year Marshall averaged 178.4 yards per game, which was top-40 in the country and they get a Navy defense who bled rushing yards giving up 204.7 yards per game. Some of that is inflated due to playing against triple-option teams, but the fact remains their front seven is quite poor.
Marshall’s defense may not allow Navy to see much daylight. Ranking first in the country they only allowing 13 points per game a year ago, and they get a Navy offense that ranks among the worst in the country (119th in ESPN SP+). Marshall is an upper half-FBS defense but not quite as good as their season last year. Either way – Navy is going to struggle.
Marshall (-2.5) @ -110 (DraftKings)
Clemson (-3) – Georgia OU: 51.5
Kirby Smart, who thinks he’s SMARTer than everyone else, refused to release his depth chart despite everyone knowing what it’s going to look like. This is annoying. Now that’s out of the way – it’s going to be tough for Georgia to win this week. Clemson will unleash Trevor Lawrence’s successor, D.J. Uiagalelei at quarterback. Last season he flashed while Lawrence was out and looked more than up to the challenge. I like this pick because I think a push is the most likely outcome, and it’s more likely for Clemson to win than Georgia to pull off the slight upset.
Clemson (-3) @ -110 (DraftKings)