AAC Football Odds, Picks: Full Betting Previews for Week 9
Ryan Collinsworth/Action Network.
- It's a big day in the American Athletic Conference as four matchups take center stage.
- No. 20 Cincinnati travels to the Bounce House while Houston, SMU and Temple are all in action.
- Get full betting previews, picks and odds below.
AAC Football Betting Previews for Week 9
The team logos in the table below represent each of four American Athletic Conference matchups that the Action Network NCAAF staff is betting on Saturday, Oct. 29. Click the team logos for one of the matchups below to jump to a specific bet discussed in this article.
|Specific bet recommendations come from the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing. Always shop for the best price using our NCAAF Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.|
USF vs Houston
By Dan Keegan
The back half of the AAC season is in full swing. South Florida heads to Houston on Saturday to take on a Cougars squad looking to turn around their season.
USF is mired in a serious funk. It sits at 1-6, with its only win coming in Week 2 over FCS Howard. Quarterback Gerry Bohanon was lost for the season in the Bulls’ last game, and rumors have been swirling about head coach Jeff Scott’s future.
The Cougars will be looking to pounce. They took full advantage of mismatches in last week’s blowout win over Navy and will look to keep the good times rolling on their home turf.
The line is big; Houston is favored by 17.5. Should you lay the points in this conference matchup, or does USF have what it takes to keep it close?
This season has been a year to forget for the Bulls — and they have only just reached their first game after the bye week.
This is Scott’s third year at the helm, and there has been very little progress with the program. He’s notched only one win over an FBS opponent — against three-win Temple last year.
The Bulls rank 98th in SP+ overall this season, with a drastic split on each side of the ball. They’re a respectable 62nd on offense and a catastrophic 123rd on defense.
The offensive resume was built almost entirely on the capable arm and legs of Bohanon, the transfer quarterback from Baylor. Unfortunately, he’s now lost for the season, and backup Katravis Marsh will take over.
Bohanon’s injury is particularly devastating for the Bulls because not only is he the entire South Florida offense — Bohanon led the team in rushing from the quarterback position — but also he was on fire in October.
Once the calendar turned to spooky season, Bohanon went to work putting a fright into defenses. In two-and-a-half games in October, he completed 63% of his passes for 501 yards, six touchdowns and no picks. He also chipped in 250 yards on the ground and two scores on 7.8 yards per carry in those games.
Bohanon was playing by far the best ball of his career, but because it was opposite one of the worst defenses in the sport, his team lost all three of those contests. Now he’s out for the season — a cruel twist.
Bohanon was single-handedly breathing competence into the South Florida offense. Things don’t look promising going forward, as his replacement has struggled mightily in his three years of college football.
Marsh has seen limited action in all three seasons, including in the last game against Tulane when Bohanon left. He has attempted 97 passes and has a 46% completion percentage for 521 yards. He has tossed three big-time throws and 11 turnover-worthy plays, according to PFF charting.
When he’s pressured, it ends in a sack 29% of the time. Ideally, the rate should be about half of that.
Marsh also doesn’t open up the defense as a rusher the way Bohanon could. He has carried the ball just seven times for 25 yards in his career. I expect a big day for the top-ranked Houston pass rush and its defense which ranks 20th in creating Havoc.
This season has been a nightmare for the USF defense. It has surrendered an average of 42 points per game to FBS opponents.
The Bulls do have a strength in limiting explosive plays, ranking 22nd in the nation in that category. This is a bad matchup because Houston sits 97th in passing explosiveness. The Cougs don’t attack defenses with the big play, preferring to dink-and-dunk the ball down the field.
In terms of Passing Success Rate, Houston’s offense ranks 42nd in FBS, and South Florida’s pass defense is 110th.
The Cougars entered this season as one of the favorites to win the AAC and potentially snag the designated New Year’s Six bowl bid reserved for a Group of Five team.
Things did not play out that way in the first half of the season — they dropped games to Texas Tech, Kansas and Tulane, and needed second-half comebacks to score their three wins over UTSA, Rice and Memphis.
The hope was their “fall behind, then rally late” formula was also a microcosm for the season, and the bye week reset would begin their hot streak. Well, so far, so good.
The Cougars stormed out of their bye, trouncing Navy, 38-20, in Annapolis. They were a particularly poor matchup for the Midshipmen, as their passing-oriented offense could avoid Navy’s tough run defense and exploit its weak secondary.
That’s exactly what happened when quarterback Clayton Tune tossed five touchdowns in the comfortable win.
The Cougars look to extend the second-half success on Saturday and will be able to move the ball against a porous Bulls defense. Much like Bohanon, Tune is the straw that stirs the drink for the 28th-ranked Houston offense, per SP+.
Tune is second on the team with 256 rushing yards and three scores on the ground to go along with his prolific passing that includes 1,828 yards, 17 touchdowns and four picks.
Wide receiver Sam Brown has emerged in the middle of the season, giving Tune another weapon alongside star slot receiver Tank Dell. Brown has 183 yards and two scores in only three games, complementing Dell’s 51 catches for 627 yards and eight scores.
The Tune-to-Dell combination is one of the most reliable connections in the sport right now, and USF’s poor defense will have little hope of slowing them down.
Houston defensive coordinator Doug Belk is one of the rising stars in the coaching ranks, but his outfit has been on the disappointing side so far in 2022. UH ranks 82nd overall in defensive SP+ despite ranking No. 1 overall in PFF pass-rush grading with a ferocious front four.
But the Cougs have been a sturdy “bend-don’t-break” defense, ranking 102nd in Parker Fleming’s ECKEL ratio and 48th in Points Per ECKEL.
They may allow teams to have scoring opportunities, but they’re above average at standing them up or forcing a field goal try.
Their pass rush and red-zone stops, combined with Marsh’s generosity with the ball, all point to a big day for the Houston defense.
USF vs Houston Pick
I anticipate a long day for the Bulls. Houston’s offense is clicking right now, and Marsh has not shown anything near the level of Bohanon’s production.
Marsh will be in for a long day with this Cougs pass rush hounding him. I like Houston to cover the big number, but I’ll also take South Florida’s team total under 20.5 at DraftKings and would play it to 20.
Pick: USF Team Total Under 20.5 ⋅ Play to 20.5
Temple vs Navy
Two struggling programs in the American Athletic Conference will meet in Maryland on Saturday as two-win Temple visits two-win Navy.
The Owls showed some early-season promise with a dominant win against UMass and a competitive loss to Rutgers, but consecutive uncompetitive defeats to UCF and Tulsa have the Owls near the basement of the conference standings.
Navy started the season terribly with a loss to FCS program Delaware and a blowout defeat to Memphis in the conference opener.
The Midshipmen represented well in their games since, with a victory against East Carolina in double overtime, close losses and covers against Air Force and SMU and a dominant victory against Tulsa.
The Owls and Midshipmen only have two common opponents on the schedule at this point in the season. Even though Navy dominated Tulsa and the Owls lost comfortably to Tulsa, the value in this matchup on Saturday still lies with Temple.
Programs like Navy — that run the triple option — have had major problems getting large margin to cover big spreads because of their play style. It’s hard for them to separate because drives take so long and they lack explosiveness across the field.
I’m always going to look toward the dog when the spread is double digits and the total sits at just 40 points. Even though the Owls have lacked much juice the last two weeks, I’m backing them.
The strength of the Navy defense is up front, as teams have really struggled to run the ball against it. The Midshipmen are top-10 in Defensive Line Yards and top-25 in Rushing Success Rate Allowed.
That doesn’t really matter in this case because the Owls haven’t been able to run the ball against anyone.
Rushing success is not how the Owls are going to move the ball, so they won’t be missing much facing a Navy front that stuffs the run effectively.
The question is whether the Owls can move the ball through the air at all. The Navy defense ranks in the bottom 15 in the nation in Passing Success Rate Allowed and is pretty mediocre in terms of pass rush numbers.
Freshman quarterback E.J. Warner has some of the most drastic plays in the country when pressured versus when he’s kept clean.
Warner has a serviceable passing grade in clean pockets (69.5) and an equal number of Big Time Throws to Turnover Worthy Plays. When he’s pressured, his PFF grade drops to 35 with one Big Time Throw and seven Turnover Worthy Plays.
His yards per attempt drops by 1.7 yards, as well.
Keeping Warner clean in the pocket can give this offense life, and Navy is just 85th in pass rushing efficiency.
Navy should be able to find some success running the ball against this Owls front, but the Owls aren’t exactly a sieve against the run either. Temple is 74th in Rushing EPA/play allowed and 49th in Defensive Success Rate Allowed against the run.
One reason why Navy could struggle is that the Owls are good at forcing defensive Havoc and negative plays. Temple is 16th in Havoc created and that means there should be some stuffs and tackles for loss against the triple option.
That’s a problem for Navy because the Midshipmen are so bad in passing downs.
They rely on sustaining drives and staying ahead of the chains. When they don’t, the Midshipmen are bottom 20 in the country in passing down EPA/play and Success Rate.
Another problem for Navy is that the Owls really tighten up defensively in the red zone. They don’t let teams frequently turn yards and scoring opportunities into touchdowns.
Both offenses are outside the top 100 in Finishing Drives — hence the low total — and the Owls’ defense is top 40 at preventing finished drives.
It’s not an easy matchup for Navy to easily create the margin required to separate and cover a two-touchdown spread.
Temple vs Navy Pick
Temple’s offensive issues likely mean that Navy will dominate the time of possession and the ball control in this game. However, the Owls’ defense grades out well in tackling and is good enough against the runs to force Navy into long drives.
The Midshipmen secondary isn’t good enough to trust.
My colleague Stuckey has written at length about betting against service academies when laying double digits. If you faded every service academy since 2005, you’d win over 56% of the time, per our Action Labs database.
The Midshipmen have too many holes in the secondary and don’t get enough pressure. It would only take Warner making one or two explosive plays for the Owls to cover this spread on the road.
Temple already faced a run-heavy attack earlier this season in UMass, and it was able to slow down that unit.
Navy is better than UMass, but is almost as one-dimensional with the third-highest rushing rate in the country.
Take the Owls with the points, but try to catch the 14 points as it is a key number here.
SMU vs Tulsa
By Doug Ziefel
The AAC has been a surprising conference to cover this season, as the dominance of Cincinnati has been one-upped by Tulane.
In this matchup, we’ll see two of the other conference contenders who are in need of a turnaround.
The SMU Mustangs have been an exciting team to watch as their Air Raid offense has allowed them to compete with every opponent. However, the issue so far has been that for as much as the offense has scored, the defense has allowed even more.
They face another offense with plenty of explosiveness this week, and it remains to be seen if the Mustangs can flip the script defensively.
The Golden Hurricane enter this matchup off of a win against Temple, and it was one they desperately needed. Prior to last week, Tulsa had lost three straight, and one loss was a blowout to Navy.
The Golden Hurricane are in an excellent spot to keep rolling, as they match up surprisingly well with the Mustangs.
So, how does that impact our handicap? Let’s take a closer look to find out.
This SMU offense flows through one man: Tanner Mordecai. Mordecai leads this Air Raid offense with a cannon of an arm.
However, he was injured in last week’s contest against Cincy and was not a participant in practice on Wednesday. With his status up in the air, the offense may be in the hands of redshirt freshman Preston Stone.
Stone has already filled in on a handful of occasions this year. Still, he has only attempted 38 passes in his collegiate career and has yet to show that he can have a similar explosive impact like Mordecai.
Regardless of which quarterback is at the helm, he will have a difficult matchup. The Golden Hurricane secondary has been outstanding this season, as they enter ranked 19th in Passing Success Rate Allowed and are 16th in PFF Coverage Rating.
However, the numbers for the Golden Hurricane don’t stop there, as they will contain this SMU passing attack.
Tulsa is also 11th in opponent completion percentage and 21st in yards per pass allowed, and that number will drop significantly if Stone plays over Mordecai.
While it hasn’t paid dividends in the win column, the Tulsa offense has been solid this season. The Golden Hurricane will deploy a balanced attack that will feature two men: quarterback Davis Brin and running back Steven Anderson.
Brin has been explosive in the pocket, as he’s averaged nine yards per completion and holds a 16:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. That yards per pass mark is good for 43rd in the country, and he should maintain, if not exceed, that average in this matchup.
The Mustangs’ secondary has shown to be decent from a coverage perspective, but they’ve also allowed their share of big plays, as they rank 98th in yards per pass allowed.
However, Tulsa will dominate is on the ground. Despite Anderson not having the greatest season running the ball, he should find some holes against SMU.
The Mustangs have been rolling out the red carpet for opposing rushers this year, as they are allowing 5.2 yards per carry. That has translated into ranking 123rd in rushing yards allowed per game.
The Mustangs will be challenged against a Golden Hurricane offense that has already proven capable in plus territory, ranking 12th in Offensive Finishing Drives.
SMU vs Tulsa Pick
This was a tight matchup prior to the Mordecai injury, as Tulsa should contain the SMU passing attack and control the game with its rushing attack.
If Stone starts for the Mustangs, SMU will be much less dangerous on offense and, therefore, more beatable.
Regardless of who plays quarterback, this is an excellent spot for the Golden Hurricane as home dogs, and I’m willing to take all the points I can get with them.
No. 20 Cincinnati vs UCF
After going 12-0 last season, the Cincinnati Bearcats became the first Group of Five team to earn a College Football Playoff berth.
Despite setting a Group of Five record with nine players drafted to the NFL, the Bearcats have kept on rolling this season.
Cincinnati lost the season opener on the road at Arkansas, but has won its past six games and is ranked No. 20 in the AP Poll, sitting in prime position for another New Year’s Six bowl appearance.
But now the Bearcats have a trip to Orlando for a date with UCF.
Gus Malzahn’s team is 5-2 with losses to Louisville and East Carolina.
These two teams are tied for the most New Year’s Six appearances by Group of Five teams.
The winner of this game has the inside track to a berth in the American Athletic Conference title game, potentially against Tulane. Cincinnati has won 17 straight conference games, but if you exclude the 2020 season, UCF has won 18 straight conference games at home.
Something’s got to give here.
While the defense got all the headlines, the Bearcats also had to replace four-year starter quarterback Desmond Ridder. Fifth-year senior Ben Bryant took over after three seasons as Ridder’s backup and a brief stint at Eastern Michigan.
The loss of Jerome Ford at running back has resulted in a 94th-ranked Rushing Success Rate. Charles McClelland has been gone lately, but the step back in the run game has resulted in Bryant averaging over 31 passing attempts per game.
Despite the uptick in pass attempts, Bryant is just seventh in the conference with 251.6 passing yards per game. He’s also thrown 15 touchdowns and six interceptions.
In his past three games, he has just four touchdowns and three interceptions.
Cincinnati has been better in the passing game, but is still just 51st in Success Rate.
Even with the star power losses on defense, the Bearcats have still been elite this year. The 4.03 yards per play allowed is the third-best in the country, and they have the eighth-best Success Rate in the FBS.
A large reason for that has been the play of linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. After leading the MAC in tackles last year, Pace transferred from Miami (OH) and has been an absolute monster, averaging more than 10 tackles per game this season.
Pace has racked up 15.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks on the year, which are both the most in the entire country.
The one area of weakness has been trying to replace star cornerbacks Sauce Gardner and Coby Bryant. Cincinnati has really struggled in coverage and has given up a bunch of big plays, ranking 109th in defending Passing Explosiveness.
UCF had to replace its quarterback as well, as Dillon Gabriel transferred to Oklahoma after missing most of last season with a broken collarbone.
In came John Rhys Plumlee, who transferred from Ole Miss to give Malzahn the dual-threat quarterback he wants in his offense.
Plumlee has been more dangerous with his legs this season, averaging 72.3 rushing yards. Only two quarterbacks in the country have averaged more rushing yards, and he has also been able to pick up 35 first downs with his legs, the second-most among any quarterback.
And let’s not forget that he also has seven rushing touchdowns on the year.
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) September 18, 2022
The Knights also have three good running backs in Isaiah Bowser, RJ Harvey and Johnny Richardson, who have combined to help UCF rack up the sixth-most rushing yards this season.
UCF is averaging 242.4 yards per game on the ground.
When they do throw the ball, the Knights have depth at receiver, with Javon Baker, Ryan O’Keefe and Kobe Hudson each averaging over 50 yards per game.
Plumlee has looked better throwing the ball of late, averaging 328 yards per game through the air over the past three weeks.
JOHN RHYS PLUMLEE IS HAVING A NIGHT!
He finds Kobe Hudson for his 7️⃣ th total TD 😱 pic.twitter.com/5ziYq32pEy
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) October 14, 2022
Last season, UCF’s defense was really strong against the pass, but got torched against the run at times. This year, the unit has flipped the script — the Knights’ defense has been really leaky against the pass, but has looked dominant against the run.
Linebacker Jason Johnson is their leading tackler, and their cornerbacks are also great tacklers. UCF ranks 11th in Success Rate against the run.
While teams have been able to move the ball through the air, the Knights have allowed just five passing touchdowns all year — only four teams have allowed fewer.
That has been the recipe for UCF this season. Even when teams are able to move the ball a little bit, the Knights build a moat around the end zone and don’t let them score.
They have the best red-zone defense in the country, allowing just 15 scores (touchdowns or field goals) on 26 total trips for opponents.
Cincinnati vs UCF Pick
If UCF is going to win this game, it is going to do it in the red zone. Cincinnati has struggled to find success on the ground, and that is the Knights’ strength.
UCF should be able to shut down the run game and force Cincinnati to throw the ball down the field.
When they do throw, the Bearcats have had success and should be able to move the ball against this UCF secondary. But once they get into scoring range, it gets extremely difficult.
Scott and Tucker are both good receivers for the Bearcats, but they are both undersized and not big red zone threats. Cincinnati ranks just 88th in the nation in Finishing Drives. UCF has the best red-zone defense and will make it hard for the Bearcats to punch it in.
Plumlee and this offense have done a great job all season and have a balanced attack that could give Cincinnati issues.
The Bearcats have had issues against the two mobile quarterbacks they have faced this season. Arkansas rushed for 224 yards, with 62 yards and a touchdown coming from KJ Jefferson. South Florida ran for 224 yards, 117 of which were courtesy of Gerry Bohanon.
Despite Cincinnati’s AAC winning streak, the Bearcats have not shown the dominance we typically expect. They are just 2-5 against the spread this year and have failed to cover in three straight.
They beat Tulsa by 10, only beat South Florida by four and needed a failed two-point conversion to beat SMU and its backup quarterback last week.
UCF has won 18 straight conference games at the Bounce House, excluding the 2020 season. Cincinnati is just 1-2 at UCF, with the lone win coming by three points during the 2020 season when UCF had just 10,668 people in attendance (24% of total capacity).
In the two other games in Orlando, UCF out-scored Cincinnati by a combined score of 62-16.
This weekend is homecoming for the Knights, so the Bounce House is going to be absolutely rocking.
UCF is going to pick up a big win against the Bearcats.