Our Staff’s 6 Favorite College Football Bets for Thursday’s Slate
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Arizona State Sun Devils head coach Herm Edwards looks on prior to facing the UCLA Bruins at Sun Devil Stadium.
- Five of our college football experts give out their favorite bets for Thursday's slate, available to EDGE subscribers.
It’s not Tuesday MACtion or Wednesday FunBelt. But we’ve got weekday college football back on Thursday night.
There are six FBS games on Thursday’s slate, including Clemson as a 5-touchdown favorite vs. Georgia Tech and the Holy War between BYU and Utah, which has gotten more hype than almost anyone this preseason.
Let’s dive in, starting with the UCLA vs. Cincinnati game at 7 p.m. and working down the slate.
Our Favorite Bets for College Football Week 1
- Game: UCLA at Cincinnati
- Odds: Cincinnati -3
- Total: 57.5
- Time: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Recreational bettors overvalue favorites and home-field advantage in college football.
A simple contrarian strategy as a result is to bet small road underdogs to win outright, instead of taking the points.
Since 2005, betting small road dogs to win has returned a profit of $10,071 for a $100 bettor. They only hit at 48%, but the plus-money payouts result in a nice profit.
According to The Action Network college football power ratings, UCLA would be a 7-point favorite over Cincy on a neutral field. Even with home field advantage, the Bearcats shouldn’t be giving points to the Bruins. Also S&P+ projects UCLA to win by 6.5 points on average.
History and the projections point to UCLA winning outright.
Pick: UCLA Moneyline (+115)
- Game: Georgia Tech at Clemson
- Odds: Clemson -37
- Total: 60.5
- Time: 8 p.m. ET, ACC Network
I wrote a more in-depth piece about this game, but it basically boils down to three key points:
- Georgia Tech should struggle immensely on offense as it transitions to a brand new offensive scheme with a roster full of players recruited for the option. As a result, I think they will still be heavily reliant for this first game and call the game very conservatively.
- Clemson might want to go ultra vanilla and pull its offensive starters (especially Lawrence) earlier than usual with Texas A&M (its best regular season opponent) on deck.
- Georgia Tech has an excellent punter and Clemson’s best punt returner from last season is still recovering from an ACL injury. That should help with field position.
Pick: Under 60.5
- Game: Alabama State at UAB
- Odds: UAB -38.5
- Total: 50.5
- Time: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN+
I couldn’t have told you a single thing about Alabama State football prior to starting this writeup, but I’m now pretty well-versed on the topic. I can tell you that their mascot is the Hornets, they’re nearly 40-point underdogs to UAB tomorrow and they’ve attracted 67% of bettors at that number.
Without previous weeks’ score to look back on, it’s not uncommon for casual bettors to be a bit skeptical of hefty point spreads in Week 1. For that reason (I think), there’s been value in backing unpopular big favorites in their opening game.
Now for whatever reason, this isn’t the most heavily-bet of Thursday’s games, so it’s certainly possible that we could see some changes to the betting percentages as kickoff approaches. For now, though, the 33% of UAB bettors have accounted for 54% of actual money being wagered, which puts the Blazers in what’s been another very profitable spot.
Favorites of at least a touchdown getting no more than 35% of bets and having a money percentage more than five points higher have gone 16-4 against the spread since 2015 (when we began tracking money data).
Pick: UAB -38.5
- Game: Texas State at Texas A&M
- Odds: Texas A&M -33
- Over/Under: 56.5
- Time: 8:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network
It’s just too many points for a Texas State team with what should be a pretty creative offense that nobody has tape on.
New coach and former West Virginia offensive coordinator Jake Spavital will bring variants of the air raid system, while former Colorado School of Mines (seriously) and Montana coach Bob Stitt will add some flair with his jet sweeps and motion. This could end up being a really modern offense that I’m excited to see.
I’m pretty bullish on Texas A&M this season and can almost guarantee I’ll be on the Aggies in Week 2 at Clemson, but the Bobcats can keep this game inside a big number, especially if Jimbo Fisher takes his foot off the gas with that monster matchup on deck.
Pick: Texas State +33.5
- Game: South Dakota State at Minnesota
- Odds: Minnesota -14.5
- Over/Under: 56
- Time: 9 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
Minnesota has some lofty expectations relative to where they were last year. After getting blown out by Illinois, PJ Fleck made a defensive coordinator change and the Gophers’ stop unit took off from there. They gave up just 15-points per game over their final four contests and went 3-1 in that span.
South Dakota State is coming off another great season where it reached the FCS semifinals for the second straight year. The Jackrabbits lost their starting quarterback, but enter the season ranked fourth in the FCS coaches poll.
They’ll look to run the ball with a stable of good running backs, a solid offensive line, and get it in space to some experienced receivers.
New quarterback J’Bore Gibbs takes over after one year of learning the system and receiving some mentorship from the previous starter, Taryn Christion. Practice reports say Gibbs has been taking care of the ball very well and running the offense to the liking of the coaches. He’s not going to be as good as Christion immediately, but the coaching staff likes his potential.
I made a play on this game at +14, betting on one of the best FCS teams in the country to play Minnesota close throughout the game. The line has since moved to +14.5 and I’d grab that hook as soon as possible because Sagarin makes this game just a six point spread.
The Pick: SDSU +14 or better
- Game: Kent State at Arizona State
- Odds: Arizona State -24.5
- Total: 60
- Time: 10 p.m. ET, 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 33