College football is back, albeit in an abbreviated form for a few more weeks.
The first official Division I college football game of the season — Austin Peay vs. Central Arkansas — took place over the weekend. It was sloppy, but it was fun. And it came down to the wire with Central Arkansas scoring the game-winning touchdown (and covering the spread) in the final minute.
There are nine games scheduled in the coming days for Week 1, with five FBS games on the board at BetMGM (the four others are FBS vs. FCS matchups). Teams from Power Five conferences aren’t scheduled to play for another week, but those of you itching to wager on college football will have your chances very soon.
Here’s a look at your options.
(Note: All times ET, games on Saturday unless otherwise noted, odds from BetMGM)
South Alabama at Southern Mississippi
Time: 9 p.m. (Thursday) | TV: CBSSN | Line: Southern Miss -14.5 | Total: 53.5
Southern Miss has five straight winning seasons under its belt and is one of Conference USA’s most-experienced teams entering 2020 despite a slew of transfers that hit in recent weeks. South Alabama is just 5-19 in two seasons under Steve Campbell, but returns 15 starters and has a nice influx of junior college transfers.
South Alabama had just a 2-10 record in 2019, but went 7-5 against the spread, including covering in six of its last eight games. In fact, the Jaguars covered all three times they were underdogs of 14 points or more. At the same time, Southern Miss was 3-1 as a double-digit favorite, so a more fruitful approach to take in this game could be the total.
After an abbreviated and often-interrupted offseason, I tend to believe that offenses won’t exactly be sharp, and mistakes could be plentiful. Combine those factors with the fact that the under hit in 17 of these teams’ combined 25 games in 2019, and that seems like the way to go.
Pick: Under 53.5
Middle Tennessee at Army
Time: 1:30 p.m. | TV: CBSSN | Line: Army -4 | Total: 54.5
Here’s a game featuring two programs coming off disappointing seasons. Army was a combined 21-5 in 2017 and 2018 but dropped to 5-8 in 2019. Middle Tennessee’s streak of seven straight .500 seasons was snapped with a rough 4-8 campaign.
Army is breaking in a new starting quarterback to run its option attack, but has Sandon McCoy and Artice Hobbs back in the fold at the skill positions and an experienced offensive line. That could spell trouble for MTSU. The Blue Raiders were one of the worst teams in the country at defending the run in 2019. This game was added to the schedule three weeks ago, so the coaching staff has not had much time to prepare the defense to defend the option.
Pick: Army -4
SMU at Texas State
Time: 4:30 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: SMU -21.5 | Total: 67.5
In 2019, SMU notched its first 10-win season since 1984 and is a legitimate AAC title contender in 2020. An offense that ranked No. 9 in the country returns most of its starters, including QB Shane Buechele, WR Reggie Roberson and nearly the entire offensive line. On the other side, Texas State is entering its second season under Jake Spavital. He inherited a substantial rebuilding project for a program with just one winning season since moving to the FBS in 2012.
SMU is clearly the better team, but a spread that large in Week 1 on the road after a topsy-turvy offseason can be tough to get behind. Texas State, though, was 3-8-1 against the spread in 2019, including 1-4 at home, 0-3 as a home underdog and 1-4 as a double-digit underdog.
Pick: SMU -21.5
Arkansas State at Memphis
Time: 8 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: Memphis -20.5 | Total: 71.5
Memphis, the defending AAC champions, enters 2020 without head coach Mike Norvell and running back Kenny Gainwell, but returns QB Brady White and receiver Damonte Coxie under new head coach Ryan Silverfield, promoted from OL coach. Arkansas State, meanwhile, has been a consistent winning program under Blake Anderson and enters 2020 as one of the Sun Belt’s most-experienced teams. Going on the road to Memphis will be a tough task, though, as evidenced by the nearly three-TD spread.
The number that catches my eye more here is the total: 71.5. Memphis’ offense was prolific last year and the over was 9-5 in the Tigers’ 14 games. Comparatively, the over was 8-5 in Arkansas State’s 2019 games. But doesn’t 71.5 just seem way too high for Week 1? Memphis games did exceed 71.5 points five times last year, but the under is my lean here.
Pick: Under 71.5
BYU at Navy
Time: 8 p.m. (Monday) | TV: ESPN | Line: BYU -2 | Total: 53.5
BYU’s schedule was decimated by the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Mountain West all deciding to postpone their seasons. The Cougars scrambled and managed to assemble an eight-game slate, including this prime-time, Labor Day opener against Navy in Annapolis.
When you’ve got an option team like Navy on your schedule, a coaching staff will usually devote plenty of time over the course of an offseason to prepare to defend it. BYU has had just a few weeks. That factor, plus the game being played under the lights at Navy, makes it a bit curious that BYU is currently a two-point favorite at the time of this writing.
During Ken Niumatalolo’s 12 seasons coaching Navy, the Midshipmen are 34-23-4 against the spread as an underdog, including a 7-4-1 mark as a home dog.
Pick: Navy +2
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