College Football Odds, Picks & Best Bets: Our Top Plays for Noon Games, Including Kansas State vs. Stanford & Wisconsin vs. Penn State (Saturday, Sept. 4)
Scott Taetsch/Getty Images. Pictured: Sean Clifford.
- The first kickoff window of the first college football Saturday is finally upon us.
- Our staff broke down a number of games for the noon window, including Wisconsin vs. Penn State, Western Michigan vs. Michigan, and Kansas State vs. Stanford.
- Check out all of our writers' best bets, complete with odds and a breakdown, below.
Last Saturday was fun. So was Thursday. So was Friday. But now, the biggest slate of the college football season thus far is finally upon us.
College football was made for Saturdays, and after eight months off, we finally have it back in full force.
So, what better way to celebrate than sitting on the couch for hours on end watching the action unfold while pocketing a little bit of money at the same time?
Our college football staff has been dying to do just that for weeks, so they broke down their four favorite bets from Saturday’s noon slate, including Penn State vs. Wisconsin. Western Michigan vs. Michigan, and Stanford vs. Kansas State.
Check out all of their picks below, and use the table to navigate to any of the four bets.
Looking for our afternoon or evening bets, too? Be sure to check out our writers’ favorite bets for the afternoon and evening slates as well.
|«« Afternoon Best Bets (3:30 p.m. ET)||Evening Best Bets (7:30 p.m. ET) »»|
Week 1 College Football Best Bets for Saturday, Sept. 4
The set of college football team logos below reflects each of our college football staff’s best bets for Saturday’s Week 1 slate of games. Click any logo to navigate to a specific pick 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.
Photos via Getty Images.
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford had the worst season possible in 2020 and is back this year with essentially the same offensive weapons to prove it was a pandemic fluke.
Penn State returns 74% of Offensive TARP and 82% of receiving production from last year.
New offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich was one of the best hires of the offseason. Since 2013, when Yurcich was hired as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, his offenses have averaged 6.49 yards per play — which ranks first among OCs since 2013 — and 14.03 yards per completion, which is first among Power Five offensive coordinators.
Betting on Penn State’s offense this year boils down to believing in Yurcich and the progress of Clifford with another stellar season from Jahan Dotson. The third-year starter’s confidence appears to be back this offseason, and Yurcich is going to do everything in his power to make the game is easy as possible for Clifford early on against the Badgers, So, there will likely be a lot of short, quick passes to Dotson and Penn State’s stable of running backs.
Simply put, I like my chances at these explosive players breaking off for something big against a Badgers defense that ranked only 76th in tackling last season. I only need two touchdowns to cash this bet.
Additionally, Yurcich’s offenses have scored at least 40 points in 51 of the 102 games he’s been a part of as an OC since 2013, the most in all of FBS. This will be the first look any team has of his scheme at Penn State.
Sure the Badgers have one of the best back sevens in the country and a strong defensive line, but the defensive ends failed to generate much pressure last season with a Sack Rate ranking 104th. Clifford should have plenty of time to not force bad throws and make those poor decisions he made in 2020, and the return of Noah Cain should help the offense alleviate some of those red-zone woes.
The first-half scoring total for Penn State is only 10.5. Penn State may not get the win, but two touchdowns seems like a given in the first half. And for plus-money at that? Take my money.
It was a short sample size, but Kaleb Eleby absolutely lit up MAC defenses in 2020.
The sophomore averaged a whopping 11.2 yards per attempt and threw 18 touchdowns compared to only two picks. He was graded as the No. 24 quarterback in the country in 2020, per Pro Football Focus, putting up a 8.4% big-time throw rate and only a 2.1% turnover-worthy play rate, both of which were top-10 in the country.
Eleby does lose his top target D’Wayne Eskridge, but he gets back the rest of his receiving corps, including Skyy Moore, who was graded as the No 18 wide receiver in the group of five last season by PFF. The Broncos passing attack may take a dip from ranking 16th in Success Rate, but they’ll still be lethal with Eleby under center.
Eleby also gets four of his five offensive linemen back from a season ago, and they were tremendous in both run blocking and protection, ranking inside the top 30 in Offensive Line Yards, Havoc and Sack Rate.
Michigan’s defense under Don Brown last season was horrendous. Brown’s blitz-happy style wasn’t effective in getting to the quarterback since Michigan ranked 121st in Sack Rate and left its secondary exposed. Michigan ranked 62nd in Passing Success Rate Allowed and 76th in coverage, according to PFF.
Things aren’t going to change with Mike Macdonald coming in because the Ravens had the highest blitz percentage in the NFL last season. What often happens with Michigan’s defense is it blitzes and plays man coverage, which doesn’t work if the defense can’t create any Havoc (ranked 120th last season).
Cade McNamara has won the starting quarterback job, but based on what we saw in a limited sample size last season, he’s not going to be the savior for Michigan. McNamara started the game against Rutgers, throwing for 260 yards on 36 attempts to go along with four touchdowns, but he then struggled and got injured against Penn State, when he threw for only 91 yards on 25 attempts.
In McNamara’s limited sample size, he received only a 65.9 passing grade, per PFF.
Western Michigan defensive line returns everyone from last season and is one of the most talented units in the MAC. Ali Fayad will be wreaking Havoc in the Michigan backfield all afternoon from the defensive edge. He had four sacks in six games and earned a 90.4 pass-rushing grade from PFF.
The Broncos defensive line, as a whole, tore up the MAC last season, ranking top 35 nationally in Sack Rate, Defensive Line Yards, and Havoc. That unit is likely to make life difficult for McNamara.
I only have Michigan projected at -8.76, and the great Collin Wilson, whose projections you can check out under the PRO Projections on the Action Network App, has Michigan projected as only -11.1 favorites, so I think there is some value on the Broncos at +17 at -110 and would play it down to +15.
These teams are well-coached and won’t turn the ball over much, so this game will come down to which offense is more successful in the red zone and which defense steps up and makes plays. I give the edge to the Cardinal.
Stanford has better talent overall, and its improved depth and athleticism at linebacker will propel it to victory in this matchup.
The Stanford defense was one of the best tackling teams in the country last season, whereas Kansas State struggled mightily in tackling. While Stanford’s defense graded poorly both against the run and pass last season, it did step up and make winning plays against Oregon State and UCLA to seal victories in crunch time.
Stanford also has the edge on Kansas State in special teams, as the Wildcats have two starters listed at both kicker and punter. Defensive end Thomas Booker blocked extra points in consecutive games last season, including a last-second swat that gave Stanford a one-point win in the Big Game over California. Expect Pete Alamar’s special teams unit to be consistent again this season.
The Cardinal offensive line, like the Wildcats offensive line, will have success blocking in the run game, but the difference between these two units is that Stanford’s line has two tackles who will play on Sundays and can protect against speed rushers off the edge. The Stanford offensive line ranked second in the Pac-12 in pressures allowed (25.4%) last season, per PFF.
Overall, I like Stanford to win and love the value on it as an underdog at +135 on DraftKings.
David Shaw has proven multiple times in his tenure that his Cardinal teams can be effective early in the season before they pick a quarterback because of their consistency running the football and their ability to shorten games and limit turnovers.
The Cardinal beat Kansas State in their previous 2016 matchup with Ryan Burns as the starter, and although he didn’t finish the season as QB1, the Cardinal put him in position to manage the game and pick up a 26-13 win.
Expect the Cardinal to keep things simple for their inexperienced quarterbacks again as their offensive line and linebackers lead them to a victory in Arlington.
The matchup between Kansas State and Stanford was moved from Manhattan to the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. This helps the Wildcats, who will be playing closer to home, although that potential advantage won’t be necessary against the Cardinal.
David Shaw enters his 11th season as head coach of the Cardinal, and he wants to do one thing: run the ball. Austin Jones will lead a deep backfield that is going to run behind a two-tight end set in hopes of overpowering defenses.
After losing quarterback David Mills, Stanford has yet to announce the starting quarterback between Jack West and Tanner McKee.
The Cardinal ran the ball 47% of the time last year, and we can expect that number to be even higher without Mills. But the issue is Stanford wasn’t very efficient in running the ball at just 4.0 yards per carry. It has key pieces to replace returning only 14 starters on both sides, and Shaw’s team owns the lowest offensive TARP rating in the PAC-12 at 52%.
Stanford faces a Kansas State team that began 2020 at 4-1 before going on a five-game losing streak due to COVID-19 and the injury bug.
Quarterback Skylar Thompson returns for his sixth season after going down in the third game of last season. The Wildcats offense was a well-oiled machine with him on the field and simply ran out of gas when he got hurt.
In Thompson’s three games, he averaged 9.8 yards per pass attempt (YPPA) and contributed seven touchdowns without committing a turnover. In the seven games without him, K-State’s number dropped to 7.0 YPPA with just eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions and an average of just 127 yards.
The Wildcats return 10 offensive starters, including their entire offensive line, and own an 82% offensive TARP rating.
Kansas State is undervalued and should bounce back in a big way with the return of its veteran quarterback.