Week 1 College Football Betting Odds, Predictions for UCF vs. Boise State: Can the Knights Cover as Favorites?
Conor Kvatek/Collegiate Images/Getty Images. Pictured: Dillon Gabriel.
Week 1 College Football Betting Odds
UCF vs. Boise State
Two of the best Group of Five schools in the nation go to battle Thursday night as the Boise State Broncos travel to Orlando to face the UCF Knights.
Both teams are going through transition periods, as Andy Avalos takes over at Boise State while Gus Malzahn begins a new era at UCF.
So, where does the betting value lie in this high-flying G5 matchup? Let’s dig in.
The Golden Knights begin a new era under former Auburn head coach Malzahn. He inherits a team that is poised to challenge Cincinnati for the AAC title with one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the country in Dillon Gabriel.
The Knights are the second favorite behind Cincinnati at +400 to win the AAC, but their success will be predicated by Malzahn’s offense led by Gabriel under center, as the defense needs to drastically improve from last season.
Gabriel saw a ton of success in Josh Heupel’s system, throwing for 32 touchdowns and only four picks while averaging 8.6 yards per attempt in 2020.
UCF was the fastest-paced team in the country under Heupel, ranking first in seconds per play, and while they won’t have that fast of a tempo under Malzahn, they will still play very quickly.
Malzahn brought in two co-offensive coordinators in the offseason: Tim Lewis Jr. from Florida International and CJ Kinne from Hawaii.
It’s unclear who is going to be calling plays, but if they allow Gabriel to play under a similar system like Heupel’s, he should be able to light up the Boise State secondary. If Kinne is calling the plays, UCF is going to play fast because Kinne’s offense at Hawaii ranked 33rd in seconds per play last season.
Gabriel was one of the best downfield passers in college football last season, putting up a 6.5% big-time throw rate compared to a 1.9% turnover-worthy play rate, both of which ranked inside the top 10 in the nation, per PFF.
Another guy that stands out is Dillon Gabriel. Great arm and a fun player to watch for UCF pic.twitter.com/wp3De4U5dQ
— Joe Broback (@joebroback) May 2, 2021
However, with all of the fanfare over Gabriel, there are a lot of question marks at the wide receiver position.
UCF loses its top target from last season in Marlon Willams, who had five games with over 100 receiving yards, along with their third- and fourth-leading receivers. It will rely on Jaylon Robinson, who had 55 catches for 970 yards and six touchdowns last season, as well as with three transfers.
The offensive line returns a lot of experience and depth with 99 career starts across the line.
UCF did lose its top two rushers from last season, but junior Bentavious Thompson Jr. is poised to take the lead role, as he averaged 5.2 yards per carry in 73 attempts last season. He will be joined by two transfers in Mark-Antony Richards from Auburn and Isaiah Bowser from Northwestern.
So, it should be a solid backfield and UCF shouldn’t see a big drop off from ranking inside the top 35 in Rushing Success, Offensive Line Yards, and Power Success Rate last season.
UCF had all sorts of issues on the defensive side of the ball last season, ranking outside 95th in Defensive Success Rate, 107th in Points per Opportunity, and 107th in Finishing Drives.
The Knights only bring back 61%, according to TARP, and a lot of their issues are going to once again come in the secondary. UCF ranked outside the top 100 in Passing Success Allowed and passing explosiveness allowed in 2020, which led it to give up a whopping 8.5 yards per attempt.
To make matters worse, they lose their two starting safeties, most notably Richie Grant, who was first-team All-AAC and a Thorpe Award finalist.
They had a bunch of freshmen rotating at the cornerback positions last season and struggled mightily, earning a coverage rank of 101st, according to PFF. Those same corners will continue to man the outsides, so if they don’t make big improvements, it’s going be a long night for them against Bachmeier and Shakir.
The front seven struggled last season but will receive a boost going into the season with the return of one of its best defensive lineman, Kalia Davis, who opted out of last season. The Knights also bring in Auburn transfer Big Kat Bryant, who was second-team All-SEC in 2020.
They added Western Kentucky transfer Ricky Barber Jr. as well, who was a freshman All-American last season and posted a 80.2 defensive grade, per PFF.
The Knights should be able to shut down a poor Boise State rushing attack, but the real question marks with the UCF defense are going to come in the secondary.
The Broncos are going through a bit of a transition period right now with former head coach Bryan Harsin leaving the program after six years to take the Auburn job that Malzahn was fired from. Ironic.
The Broncos are currently -125 favorites to win the Mountain West and will be tested here early against a really good UCF team that also has a new head coach in Malzahn.
Avalos returns to Boise State after spending two seasons as the defensive coordinator for Oregon.
Since Avalos’ background is on the defensive side of the ball, he brought in UC Davis’ Tim Plough. Plough’s UC Davis offense led the FCS in passing yards the past three seasons and ran a really high tempo, averaging only 23 seconds per play, which would be top-25 in FBS.
He was also quoted as saying he won’t even look at the scoreboard until they hang half a hundred on their opponents.
“I’ve had a saying for a long time that we’re not even going to look at the scoreboard until we have half a hundred…And I’ve had some fans telling me half a hundred may not be enough.”
New OC Tim Plough embracing big expectations at Boise State:https://t.co/hQNXT8z5Sl
— B.J. Rains (@BJRains) January 13, 2021
Plough will have a lot to work with, too, because Boise State brings back a ton on the offensive side of the ball.
Hank Bachmeier is back for his third season as the Boise State starter at quarterback after taking a bit of a dip in 2020. Bachmeier played in only five games, but his yards per attempt went down from 8.6 in his freshman season to 7.4 in 2020.
He’ll be asked to throw a lot more in Plough’s offense because the coach threw the ball 65% of the time in 2019, and the Broncos rushing attack was suspect last season.
Boise State does bring back four offensive linemen, but the rushing attack needs to improve. The Broncos ranked 110th in Offensive Line Yards, 123rd rushing explosiveness, and gained only 3.3 yards per carry.
Bachmeier will have a ton around him, as the Broncos return 75% of their offense, according to TARP, including one of the best receivers in the country in Khalil Shakir.
Last season, PFF had him graded as the No. 9 wide receiver after catching 52 balls on 76 targets for 719 yards and six touchdowns in only seven games.
He should be able to light up a UCF secondary that ranked outside the top 100 last season in Passing Success Allowed, pass explosiveness allowed, and tackling.
Boise State’s defense was one of the best in the Mountain West last season and brings backs 77%, according to TARP.
The Broncos were stellar versus both the run and the pass last season, ranking top-20 nationally in both Passing and Rushing Success Allowed. However, with that being said, their secondary is going to be tested all season because they lost their two starting cornerbacks.
Junior Markel Reed should be able to fill the void for one of the cornerback slots. In rotation last season, he earned a 75.8 coverage grade, per PFF, and a 43.8% catch rate allowed over the past two seasons.
They are breaking in a Bowling Green transfer at the other corner spot and are bringing back their two starting safeties. But the secondary ranked 119th in explosive passing allowed, so going up against Dillon Gabriel and a top-15 explosive passing offense from last season is definitely a concern for Avalos.
The front seven brings back a lot of production from last season, but the group really struggled against solid rushing attacks in 2020.
Air Force gained 415 yards and 6.3 yards per carry against the front seven last season, and BYU recorded 5.8 yards per carry.
UCF owned a top-20 rushing attack in terms of Success Rate and Line Yards, so Boise State will have its hands full on Thursday night.
Boise State vs. UCF Matchup Analysis
Toggle the dropdowns below to hide or show how Boise State and UCF match up statistically:
Boise State Offense vs. UCF Defense
UCF Offense vs. Boise State Defense
Pace of Play / Other
This is going to be a fast-paced game with two of the best offenses outside of the Power Five.
With the additions of Plough and Kinne as offensive coordinators for Boise State and UCF, the pace of this game is going to be ridiculous. Both offenses should be able to torch each other’s secondaries, as both ranked outside the top 90 in coverage and outside the top 100 in passing explosiveness allowed, per PFF.
Boise State vs. UCF Betting Pick
The total has steadily dropped since opening up at 72.5 at DraftKings and is all the way down to 68. In my opinion, I think 68 points is too low for a game with this type of pace between two incredibly talented quarterbacks.
I have 78.68 points projected for this game, so I think there’s value on over 68 points at -110, and I would play it up to 71 points at -113 odds.