College Football-NFL Best Bets: 3 Picks on Memphis, Eagles vs. Patriots, More
John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: G.J. Kinne.
With the NFL now back in full force, I’ll be building out a weekly card drawing from both the collegiate and professional ranks. So, if your cable provider is still beefing with ESPN, now would be a good time to make alternate plans because my plays will range from the featured Game of the Week in the NFL to a lowly Group of Five matchup being played on ESPN+.
Speaking of streaming games on your television, let’s start down in San Antonio and take a stroll on the River Walk as two high-scoring Texas schools meet in Week 2 of the college football season.
Texas State vs. UTSA
If you haven’t been following college football closely in the past few seasons, you might gloss right past this matchup. But rest assured, this could end up being the most entertaining shootout of the entire weekend.
The Roadrunners of UTSA are one of the very best Group of Five teams, having won back-to-back C-USA titles before receiving the call-up to the AAC. They’re led by seventh-year quarterback Frank Harris, who somehow is just one touchdown away from 100 in his storied career. They were slowed in the opener by Houston and Doug Belk, one of the nation’s best defensive coordinators.
Harris tossed a red zone pick and two other interceptions and the Roadrunners missed a field goal, all in a three-point loss. But running back Kevorian Barnes looked really sharp, rumbling for 103 yards on just 16 carries. This makes UTSA a prime candidate for a positive regression in Week 2 against a vulnerable Texas State defense.
Texas State enters one week removed from the biggest win in school history. Their 42-31 upset of Baylor as four-touchdown underdogs was major college football’s introduction to G.J. Kinne. The 34-year-old Kinne set the world on fire with Incarnate Word, helping the Cardinals reach the FCS semifinals last season while leading the country in scoring (51.5 ppg). His quarterback, Lindsay Scott Jr., won the Walter Payton Award (FCS Heisman) and accounted for 71 total touchdowns. But Texas State’s cupboard was completely bare, so Kinne pulled a “pseudo-Sanders” in the offseason, overturning his roster.
After a wave of transfers signed with the Bobcats, their 2023 roster had 49 new faces. He just needed either T.J. Finley or Malik Hornsby, who arrived with SEC experience, to give this team hope at quarterback. Finley did just that in game one. He exploded for 316 yards and four scores. Their offensive line held up against a Power Five opponent and Dave Aranda’s secondary couldn’t slow down the TSU receiving corps. I expect more of that when the ‘Bobs tangle with the Roadrunners at the Alamodome.
Memphis vs. Arkansas State
These schools are separated by a state border but sit just 76 miles apart. They often find themselves in recruiting battles for players and have met on the field 60 times dating all the way back to 1914. As the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. This rivalry even has its own name, “The Paint Bucket Bowl,” and a matching trophy.
Memphis has won four straight in this series, including three entertaining shootouts in the past three seasons. But Saturday will be different. While Memphis is a solid Group of Five program with a reasonable chance to make some noise in the AAC, Arkansas State is on life support. The Red Wolves are 5-20 under Butch Jones and just lost to Oklahoma 73-0.
In the portal era as teams reload, but Arkansas State reeled in just eight transfers. As a result, they’re talent-devoid across the board. J.T. Shrout, their transfer quarterback from Colorado, posted a QBR of 23.2 last season and failed to complete half of his attempts on Saturday. Their offense has one lone playmaker, Corey Rucker. Memphis will blanket him all game long as OU did, holding him to a single reception.
When it comes to defense, Arkansas State surrendered 95% of available yards to Oklahoma on Saturday and 36 first downs. Both of those statistics are absurd, but they align with a defense that should be in the running for the very worst nationally. Last year they finished 107th in scoring defense and their secondary is completely lost. Dillon Gabriel and true freshman Jackson Arnold combined to average 12.8 yards per pass attempt against ASU.
While Memphis isn’t in Oklahoma’s class, they have their fair share of playmakers and a veteran signal-caller. Seth Henigan, Memphis’ junior quarterback, has started 25 games and looked sharp in the opener. He completed 75% of his passes for two scores with a 9.3 yards per attempt average. But the big story with Memphis is their offensive line and new line coach Jeff Myers. He earned a reputation for putting together excellent lines at Iowa State. On Saturday, Memphis’ line allowed just one sack and paved the way for 208 yards and five scores on the ground.
This offense will flirt with fifty points against Arkansas State in what could go down as the worst beatdown in Paint Bucket Bowl history.
Eagles vs. Patriots
Right off the bat when I saw this total hovering in the mid-40s, I thought about all the time Belichick would have to prepare for the Eagles’ offense.
Belichick is the greatest defensive mind in the history of the NFL and has made good use of extra time throughout the course of his career. This is the same legendary tactician that flummoxed the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV, the “Greatest Show on Turf” in Super Bowl XXXVI and Peyton Manning on countless occasions throughout his career.
And now Belichick has his best starting 11 on defense since Brady left in 2020. Last season, New England finished with the best defense in the NFL according to the DVOA weighted rankings. This offseason they added Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez to their secondary. Reports out of New England are that Gonzalez is set to start and is ready to be a difference-maker from the first snap.
Situationally, I also love this play. The Patriots have been a home underdog on eight occasions since the GOAT headed off for greener pastures. The under has paid out in six of those eight contests. When facing a superior opponent, Belichick likes to pair a ball-control offense with an expertly designed defensive game plan. The Eagles, while viewed by the public as a dominant offense in the NFC, were actually a great ‘under’ team down the stretch last season, cashing five-of-seven at the window to close out their ‘22-’23 campaign.
The Eagles’ defense was a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks last season. They surrendered the third-lowest opposing passer QBR while amassing 70 sacks, the third-highest regular season total in NFL history. But their run defense was mediocre at best. They allowed 4.7 yards per carry (24th) and even though they were often playing with a lead, they still gave up 121 yards per game on the ground (16th).
The Pats have the potential to field a top-10 offensive line if left guard Cole Strange can continue to improve in his second year and Riley Reiff stays healthy. Knowing that this unit is healthy in game one, I believe they’ll be able to move the ball with Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott now that they have a capable play caller in Bill O’Brien.
Toss in the weather forecast of scattered thunderstorms and wind in the 10 mph range and I like this under even more, which is why it’s my top play of Week 1.