College Football Group of 5 Parlay: Our Top Picks for Week 6, Featuring Tulane & UTEP
Joe Murphy/Getty Images. Pictured: Zakhari Franklin (4) of the UTSA Roadrunners.
Each week, to coincide with the release of the “Group of Five Deep Dive” under the Big Bets On Campus podcast banner, I’ll be sharing my Group of Five Parlay of the week.
Last week, the Bowling Green pass defense humbled Kent State, SMU ran away from South Florida down the stretch and Michigan State made sure to double bolt the backdoor against Western Kentucky. I was only on the right side of one of those outcomes.
At 9-6 on the year, it’s time to get this column humming again.
This week, I’m siding with a home dog on a short week down in the Big Easy, tossing my pickaxe over my shoulder and riding the hottest team in the Lone Star State and banking on a shootout in the Commonwealth between the Toppers and Roadrunners.
Reported odds and specific bet recommendations come from the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing.
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Houston vs. Tulane
The Cougars have raced out to a 4-1 start, the program’s best under Dana Holgorsen.
But UH has been the beneficiary of one of the nation’s easiest schedules. According to the Sagarin Ratings, which combine both levels of Division I football, the Coogs have faced the 137th-best schedule.
You would think, given their easy slate, that their offensive numbers would pop off the page, but they don’t. Houston enters 86th in total offense, unable to consistently run the ball and still prone to interceptions through the air.
Plenty of checkdown throws have helped Clayton Tune complete 71.3% of his passes, but the combination of their lackluster yards per attempt average (77th) and high interception rate (105th) is negating any of the positives these easy completions are affording the Coogs.
In just about 16 quarters of work, Tune has already thrown six interceptions, an issue that I foresee playing a major role at Yulman Stadium on Thursday night.
Offensively, Tulane has the ability to outlast UH in a shootout, but it’ll need more from Michael Pratt. The second-year freshman got off to a tremendous start, nearly orchestrating an upset of Oklahoma in Norman to start the season.
But in his last two games, he’s turned the ball over five times and struggled to find a groove through the air.
Houston has made life miserable for teams when they go to the air, picking off twice as many passes (6) as the total number of touchdowns they’ve allowed (3).
But when you dig deeper into Houston’s schedule, Navy and Grambling contributed to its statistical resume so much that you have to discount its high national rankings against the pass. The Midshipmen and Tigers threw the ball 20 times, collectively, against UH and rank just about dead last in passing yardage in the FBS and FCS, respectively.
Tulane will be a shock to the UH system, and Pratt has the overall skill set to help the Green Wave pull the outright upset.
Pick: Tulane +200
UTEP vs. Southern Miss
UTEP hasn’t had this kind of buzz since the Mike Price days. The pipe dream of a bowl invitation is quickly becoming a reality, which means it could claim a postseason win for the first time since LBJ was in office.
But it can’t do it without winning games like this one.
And while I’m unabashedly into this West Texas revival, this is more than a good story for C-USA.
The Miners aren’t running a gimmick offense or blitzing like crazy with an all-or-nothing approach. They’re simply rock-solid through and through, winning with stout defense and a well-balanced offensive attack.
Bradley Dale Peveto, a longtime assistant with a slew of former mailing addresses in SEC country, has taken this opportunity with the Miners and made the most of it.
UTEP’s defensive coordinator has this unit top-50 in scoring defense, 21st in total defense, 20th in yards per carry allowed, and has put opposing pass attacks in a chokehold (48% completions, 3rd).
Offensively, UTEP has the big strike capability of Gavin Hardison to Jacob Cowley (24.4 yards per reception, 4 TDs) and a healthy bellcow at running back (Deion Hankins).
The Miners rode Hankins down the stretch against Old Dominion during last week’s win but may need to rely on their passing attack to pull away from USM this week.
The Golden Eagles have startling defensive splits. They boast a top-25 rushing defense and a horrific passing defense (Opp. Completion %, 129th).
When USM has the ball, its anemic offense is going to face major problems and the likelihood of needing to start a third-string quarterback. Jack Lange threw three interceptions in relief last week, and the former walk-on is likely to take the first snap on Saturday in what would be his first career start.
Time to fade Brett Favre’s alma mater.
Pick: UTEP -2
UTSA vs. Western Kentucky
Whenever I see a total above 70, I like to check in on the pace ratings.
The Hilltoppers check in at a respectable 40th in plays per game and proved last week against MIchigan State that they can up the tempo when playing from behind. They’re also likely to put the ball in orbit 50+ times, which should aid this over all night.
But UTSA is really the keystone piece to this over play.
The Roadrunners are third in plays per game, and when you combine their blazing pace with WKU’s average, we’re looking at 158 plays. That’s a lot of scoring opportunities.
For perspective, the predicted slugfest in Iowa City between the Hawkeyes and Nittany Lions will likely check in around a full 20 or so plays below that figure.
But extra snaps are only as good as the offenses running them, and WKU and UTSA both have their go-to styles and are facing defenses that can’t contain said styles.
The Hilltoppers and their quarterback, Bailey Zappe, are the nation’s best passing game by a country mile. He’s approaching 430 yards per game through the air and will be facing a Roadrunner pass defense that won’t have anywhere to hide (70th Pass D).
When UTSA has the ball, human battering ram Sincere McCormick will be the first, second and third option. Only one player (Jaylen Warren, OK State) has more carries in the last three games than McCormick (94), and WKU will be greeting him with the 120th-best run defense (216.5 yards per game).
Major strengths pitted up against major weaknesses. A recipe for an over if there ever was one.