Wilson: My Favorite College Football Bets for Thursday Week 1
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Zach Wilson
The CW9 — a piece with my nine favorite picks on the college football slate –was born in the summer of 2017.
And after a couple of successful seasons picking winners, the column will grow similarly to a toddler trading Gerber for pizza. This space has been a dedicated painting area for my weekly college football sides, stressing market price, investment timing and how to best work weekly line consumption with full season wagers.
The CW9 was a selection of my favorite nine games. But there were weeks where my Action App profile had many more or sometimes fewer plays than that.
With the U.S. sports betting market developing, it was time to make this column about my favorite bets at the time of publish. No matter the variance in number of bets in the weekly column, the goal remains to wake up Sunday with more money in our pocket.
So for up to the minute picks, give myself and plenty of others a follow in The Action Network App. When the rubber band comes peeling off the cash roll, a notification will be there to help you beat the market.
And as excited as I am about Steve and Joe’s appearance on Blue’s Clue’s, my inner-toddler is just as excited about the start of Michigan’s new offense, Oklahoma State scoring a zillion and Trevor Lawrence getting that Heisman campaign underway.
Let’s get to it.
Texas State at Texas A&M
- Spread: Texas A&M -33.5
- Over/Under: 56.5
- Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
- TV: SEC Network
It was around February when I started contemplating this spot for Texas State.
The returning production would be one of the best in FBS for new coach Jake Spavital and offensive coordinator Bob Stitt, who will both bring unique offensive philosophies to the program — Spavital the air raid concepts from West Virginia and Stitt the motion and jet sweeps from his days at Montana and prior.
Transfers made their way to the Bobcats in hopes to turn around a team that is 2-22 in conference play over the past three years. Hopefully 2019 signifies the season we can stop necktie abuse in San Marcos.
The Bobcats return an entire roster, but the biggest decision was quarterback. Montana transfer Gresch Jensen battled explosive true sophomore Tyler Vitt, who won the job at the end of camp.
The word around Texas State was a neck-and-neck battle between Vitt and Jensen, as both earned positive marks through camp. But Vitt’s ability to create explosive plays was the final decision leading to his ascension as the starting quarterback against Texas A&M.
For those of us that are in to betting point spreads, Vitt is a gambler’s best shot at covering the Aggies.
As talented as Texas A&M can be, its achilles heel was explosive plays last season. A defensive IsoPPP rank of 119th came as a result of allowing big plays weekly.
Specifically, the Aggies were 124th against pass explosiveness, something Vitt will try to exploit with more than 150 targets returning from last year’s roster.
Texas A&M is 108th in returning production on defense, and coordinator Mike Elko must find a way to fix those issues from last season.
On the flip side, Texas State returns plenty against a high-powered Aggies offense. Quarterback Kellen Mood should continue as an excellent dual-threat option, but the loss of three offensive lineman may keep the majority of the game on the ground.
Jimbo Fisher may have a vanilla offensive attack in mind with Clemson on deck, as well.
The Action Network power ratings have this game at 28.5, but there should be sharp Texas A&M buy back at 31. I’m playing Texas State at the current number.
The Pick: Texas State +33.5
Kent State at Arizona State
- Spread: Arizona State -24.5
- Over/Under: 60
- Time: 10:00 p.m. ET
- TV: Pac-12 Network
The Manny Wilkins to N’Keal Harry connection has come to an end, but that is no where near the top of my reasons to look for an under in Tempe on Thursday night.
While Kent State ranks No. 8 overall in returning production, Arizona State’s defense is 14th. The Sun Devils are in the second year of a 3-3-5 scheme from defensive coordinator Danny Gonzalez, who mastered the scheme at San Diego State, and should improve on a final rank of 86th on defense (they made the jump from 106th last season).
Kent State is actually a team I’m looking to bet this season. The Golden Flashes are the best bet of any MAC cellar team to crawl out and possibly flirt with a bowl game, which is unheard of.
Second-year head coach Sean Lewis, who wants an uptempo offense, will lead the charge.
Kent State moved from 66 plays per game in 2017 to 79 last year, with an ending result of ninth in adjusted pace.
But no matter the pace Lewis wants to play, he can’t control the weather — the kickoff temperature is expected to be 107 degrees. The Golden Flashes are leaving Kent, Ohio, which had an average temperature of 75 degrees this week.
In this very same spot last season, Michigan State and Arizona State put up three points in the first half.
With high returning production for both teams, I expect Kent State to struggle with a 3-3-5 defense and true freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels to start slow for ASU’s offense.
The temperature will be relentless throughout the game, a factor the Golden Flashes coaching staff cannot replicate for their roster.
Pick: First Half Under 31.5
Utah at BYU
- Spread: BYU +6.5
- Over/Under: 48
- Time: 10:15 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPN
The Holy War is upon us and another victory by Utah would set records.
This rivalry has been played since 1896, the good old days of Grover Cleveland’s second stint in office.
In that same year, Utah became the 45th state of the union, and since then, no team in this rivalry has surpassed a nine-game win streak. Utah has the chance to tie the streak at No. 9 on Thursday night.
These teams know each other quite well obviously, and Utah’s 35-27 victory last November added more fuel to an already tense and hate-filled rivalry. If you’ve never watched the Holy War, you’ll quickly learn it’s one of the most brutal rivalries in college football.
BYU led 20-0 at halftime last season and outgained Utah by more than 50 total yards in the game. The fourth quarter of that game may still give Cougars’ players and alumni heartburn, as Utah racked up 21 points to win.
Since then, Utah has hired a new offensive coordinator in Andy Ludwig. While Ludwig has logged time previously at Utah, this will be his first time coaching offensive weapons like quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss, who were injured down the stretch for the Utes and in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
The make-or-break question for BYU is which version they get of Zach Wilson, who emerged as one of the hottest quarterbacks at the end of 2018.
Wilson was perfect in the Potato Bowl last season, as every pass attempt was caught for four total touchdowns and 300-plus yards. The Cougars will need everything they can get against a Utah defense that could lead the Utes contend to a Pac-12 Championship.
Defensively, BYU needs to keep doing what worked last year. The Cougars ranked No. 1 overall in opponent IsoPPP, with one of the highest grades in the history of the metric. They simply did not give up big plays.
This game will be a slugfest between two heavyweights that have played some rough games over the last 120 years.
Our ratings make this game Utah -7, and this may be the rare case where waiting for a +7 or paying for the half-point may be the smart wager.
The line touched +7 on Wednesday afternoon, but saw resistance there and bounced back to +6. Wait it out if you can.
Pick: BYU +7 or better