Saturday College Football Betting Picks: Our Staff’s Best Bets for Cincinnati-Army, Baylor-Kansas, More (Sept. 26)
Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Darius Harper
- Looking to bet Saturday's full slate of college football games? Our staff has you covered with our top-four picks from games around the country.
- Below, you'll find odds, picks and analysis to help you bet Saturday's full-day card.
Editors note: Games that kicked off at 12 p.m. ET have been moved below the afternoon and evening matchups.
College football season has been underway for almost a month, but it feels more real entering Saturday. That’s because we’ve got nearly 30 games featuring FBS teams, including the start of the SEC’s conference-only season.
We’re of course venturing out from the most popular conferences and teams, and instead focusing on…
- Syracuse vs. Georgia Tech
- ECU vs. UCF
- Cincinnati vs. Army
- Baylor vs. Kansas
Here’s what we’re betting on Saturday, and why:
College Football Picks, Sept. 26
Collin Wilson: Cincinnati -12.5 vs. Army
There’s some history with Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell and the triple option.
Navy and Malcolm Perry embarrassed Cincy on the ground in a 42-32 win in 2017. So Fickell put in extra prep in during spring practice and August to prepare for just one game: Navy.
Cincy beat Navy 42-0 and limited Navy to 2.4 yards per rush the next year. In that game, the Bearcats posted nine tackles for loss, nine stuffed runs, and 4.0 yards per play on rushing attempts.
This year, Cincinnati return nine starters from a defense that was 17th in the country in TFL, 16th Standard Down Line Yards, and 30th in Stuff Rate.
Army has forced six turnovers on ULM and MTSU, so quarterback Desmond Ridder and running back Gerrid Doaks must be efficient, and the offensive line must control the trenches. Army has yet to really face adversity, now playing on the road against a much more talented team. I’ll lay the number with Cincy.
Mike Calabrese: Under 45.5 Cincinnati-Army
It goes without saying that when a Service Academy team is operating at peak performance, lower scoring games seem to follow. In the case of Army and head coach Jeff Monken, this is especially true. The triple option evangelist believes in long drives, fourth and short conversions and very few passes attempts.
Thus far in 2020, the Cadets have attempted just nine passes but they haven’t really needed a single one of them. The Black Knights of the Hudson are leading the nation with a staggering 389.5 yard per game on the ground. They’ve also cashed in 10 rushing touchdowns in just eight quarters. I’m equally shocked by the fact that they’re 18th nationally in plays of 30+ yards with four. Right now they’re getting the best of both worlds. They’re efficient and explosive all while playing keep away. It’s rather remarkable.
But this play comes down to big-game strategizing. All seven of Army’s contests against ranked opponents since Monken arrived at West Point in 2014 have gone under. That includes overtime tilts with Michigan and Oklahoma in recent years. When there’s a chance to spark an upset, Monken shrinks the game even further with lengthy drives.
Cincinnati emptied its bench against Austin Peay and played a base defense down the stretch last week. The Bearcats performance belies their potential to be a stout defense once again under Luke Fickell. Offensively, they’ll be missing Alec Pierce, their top receiver. This critical injury is enough to tip this one in favor of under, because without a reliable target an aggressive Army defense should create enough negative plays to make life hard on Desmond Ridder and his inexperienced group of skill position players.
Keep in mind, with better personnel last season, Cincy still finished 80th in total offense and averaged just 29.5 points per game. I would play this under all the way down to 42.5.
Darin Gardner: Baylor -17 vs. Kansas
I have Baylor favored by over 23 points here. So that’s a start.
Kansas had an average score differential of -19.67 in Big 12 play last year, and is coming off a 38-23 loss at home to Coastal Carolina in its first game. The Chants put up a better success rate in that win than they did against their Sun Belt schedule last year.
Kansas does not return very much on either side of the ball. The Jayhawks rank 115th in offensive returning production and 117th in defensive returning production.
Looking at Baylor, the offense returns seven starters, including quarterback Charlie Brewer, who will be leading an offense that ranked 35th in success rate and 36th in yards per play a season ago. On defense, Baylor was very successful in 2019, ranking 15th in EPA and 16th in yards per play allowed.
The Bears do have to replace a lot of production on defense, but that unit looks to be in good hands with former LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda taking over as head coach. Aranda is well-known for his creative schemes and finding unique ways to generate pressure on the quarterback.
Although there is a fair bit of uncertainty with Baylor, I cannot see Kansas putting up much of a fight in this matchup, and I’ll play my numbers here.
BJ Cunningham: Syracuse +8.5
This is an ugly pick, but for some reason I cannot ignore this line. Yes, Tommy DeVito and Rex Culpepper have struggled behind a horrible offensive line and the Orange struggled to run the ball too, but those two games were against two of the best defenses in the ACC.
Now they get to play Georgia Tech, which is a pretty big step down in competition. The Yellow Jackets defense ranked 92nd in rushing success and 102nd in passing success last season. Georgia Tech also lacks the size up front to compete in the ACC. Last season, they averaged only 262 pounds on their defensive line (12th in ACC) and 215 pounds in their linebacking corps (14th in ACC). With 94% of their defense returning this season, they aren’t getting any bigger.
UCF lit up their defense last Saturday allowing 49 points, 660 yards, and 7.17 yards per play. Even though the Syracuse offense has sputtered in their first two games, I think they’ll be able to get back on track against the Yellow Jackets defense.
GT freshman quarterback Jeff Sims took some lumps against UCF, turning the ball over three times last Saturday. However, it’s not all his fault as the Yellow Jackets don’t have much talent around him. Pivoting from the triple-option in favor of a more modern spread offense has its challenges, even if they are a little over a year removed from it.
Much like the defense, the biggest issue facing Georgia Tech is facing right now from switching from the triple-option is size and talent up front to compete in the ACC. The Yellow Jackets’ 2019 offensive line averaged only 264 pounds in 2019, which ranked dead-last in the league.
Syracuse made a switch to the 3-3-5 formation this offseason, which allows them to emphasize its best position group on defense, their secondary. They return three of their top players in the back end, including the FBS active interception leader, Andre Cisco. The switch in formation has seen pretty good success through the first two games, allowing only 5.2 yards per play to North Carolina and Pittsburgh.
Now, they’ll have an even more favorable matchup against the Yellow Jackets offense that is much worse than both of their previous opponents.
I think Georgia Tech being favored by more than a touchdown is crazy, even if Tommy DeVito can’t play. I’ll take Syracuse and the 8.5 points at home.
Steve Petrella: East Carolina 1H Moneyline (+800)
When I say favorite bet, I don’t always mean that one that has the highest likelihood of winning. Maybe I’ve been betting too much golf. But here it goes, for any masochists who want to join me.
Last year, I relied on this premise a lot: games with high totals have more variance, especially in the first half. And when you have a capable offense and a quarterback who’s not afraid to sling it, you might catch lightning in a bottle and steal a halftime lead from a much better team.
Our data in Bet Labs backs it up.
While the system typically applies to smaller underdogs than ECU is on Saturday — it’s a four-touchdown dog on the full game line — the Pirates’ offense is at least interesting enough to take a small stab on.
Quarterback Holton Ahlers let loose in the final two-thirds of the 2019 season, averaging 8.8 yards per attempt compared to 5.6 in his first four games. ECU still lost five of its last six, but averaged 33 points per game. Still bad, but much more interesting. Ahlers’ three best receivers were freshmen or sophomores, too.
UCF is a force and the offense is still absolutely terrifying. What you’re looking for here is ECU’s offense to keep up, maybe luck into UCF turnover, and get the ball to end the half with a chance to steal a lead, then inevitably get blown out in the second half. At 8-1, I’ll take a shot.