College Football Odds, Picks: Saturday Night Best Bets for BYU vs Sam Houston, Houston vs UTSA
Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: The Sam Houston Bearkats.
- Our Week 1 college football Saturday slate is starting to wind down, but it's not over yet.
- Our NCAAF writers hand-picked seven best bets for Saturday night, including picks for BYU vs. Sam Houston, Houston vs. UTSA, Colorado State vs. Washington State and more.
- Read on for all seven Saturday night Week 1 best bets.
The beginning of wall-to-wall college football action is always fun — but there's something different about the gridiron when the lights come on.
Our staff clearly thinks so, too, as our writers hand-picked seven best bets for Saturday night's games. Whether you want some action on a night game at Beaver Stadium or you want to back FBS newcomer Sam Houston against Big 12 newcomer BYU, we have you covered.
Read on for all seven of our college football best bets for Saturday night. And if you haven't already, be sure to check out our top picks for Saturday's noon and afternoon kickoffs.
Saturday Night College Football Best Bets
The team logos in the table below represent each of the matchups that our college football betting staff is targeting from Saturday night's games. Click on the team logos for any of the matchups below to navigate to a specific bet discussed in this article.
Specific betting recommendations come from the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing. Always shop for the best price using our NCAAF Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.
Washington State vs. Colorado State
Washington State is going through a transition period on offense. It has a new offensive coordinator in Ben Arbuckle, who was the co-offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky last season and has worked for many years under Texas Tech's Zach Kittley.
That means the pace is going to be ramped up to the max, and Washington State is going to play like a pass-heavy team.
That’s all well and good, but that doesn't really fit starting quarterback Cam Ward, which was evident last season.
Ward is a fantastic athlete and oftentimes will make video game-type plays with his feet, but he's really not that great of a passer. Last season, he put up a PFF passing grade of just 58.0 with only 10 big-time throws and 21 turnover-worthy plays.
Washington State threw the ball close to 60% of the time — the same as Western Kentucky — and Ward really struggled.
With Jay Norvell coming over from Nevada last season, Colorado State went through an entire identity change. It went from a run-oriented offense to an Air Raid, and the results were awful. The Rams finished 121st in EPA/Play and 131st in Finishing Drives.
In the second year of the new system, Clay Millen should improve on a decent first season after averaging 8.2 yards per attempt with a 75.0 PFF passing grade.
Washington State had an average secondary a season ago, and another year in the Air Raid for Millen should only improve on his already decent passing numbers.
I only have Washington State projected as a -4.8 favorite, so I love the value on the Rams at +11.
UTSA vs. Houston
By Brett Pund
This is a great rematch to open the college football season, with the game last year between these two resulting in a triple-overtime thriller that was won by Houston.
In that matchup in San Antonio, the Cougars closed as 3.5-point favorites. But after departures on the offensive side of the ball this offseason for Houston, I will be backing UTSA to get revenge in this one.
The key departure for the Cougars is veteran quarterback Clayton Tune, who was a 4,000-yard passer that also led the team in rushing yards in 2022-23.
Meanwhile, Dana Holgorsen also has to replace receiver Tank Dell’s 1,398 yards and 17 touchdowns.
On defense, eight of the top nine tacklers from a season ago also depart, which all adds up to Houston entering the season at 95th in the country in our net returning production rankings.
The same can’t be said for the Roadrunners, headlined by the return of quarterback Frank Harris – who’s in his seventh season – to go along with 15 starters back in total.
We also have to remember that it took 17 points in the fourth quarter for the Cougars to force overtime in that matchup last year; Tune threw three touchdowns and ran in another and Dell caught a pair of scores.
The line has moved towards UTSA in recent weeks, so we aren’t getting the best number. However, I still like the Roadrunners to pull off the victory.
West Virginia vs. Penn State
Look, I understand what Beaver Stadium at night can do to opponents. The PSU faithful will be fired up for a team that they believe can do special things this season.
In this case, I don’t care. 2023 is very clearly Neal Brown’s last stand as the man in charge of the WVU program, and by all accounts this team is prepared to go down swinging.
Brown has been good against the spread as a double-digit underdog throughout his time in Morgantown, and Saturday night should be no different.
West Virginia closed 2022 with victories over Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and has built some continuity and momentum with a new offense that has Garrett Greene set to lead the charge.
Meanwhile, I understand how talented Drew Allar is, but I expect there to be some early jitters and growing pains for the youngster – since he’s making his first start as the full-time QB of the Nittany Lions.
I expect the Mountaineers to hang around in this one and be competitive all the way through the fourth quarter.
Country Roads, take us home to the cover.
Toledo vs. Illinois
By Cody Goggin
Illinois was a great story last year, as its dominating defense led it back to bowl eligibility and it was ranked for the first time since 2011.
Things have changed a bit this year in Champaign, however.
This year, the Illini will be without much of the secondary talent that anchored the defense. Devon Witherspoon, Sydney Brown and Jartavius Martin have all departed for the NFL.
With six returning starters, they’re just 88th in percentage of last year’s tackles returning. They’re also without defensive coordinator Ryan Walters, who took over as head coach of Purdue.
Under Walters, this team was third in Defensive Success Rate and first in Finishing Drives last season. While great, these numbers are buoyed by facing three backup quarterbacks and likely won’t be sustained.
Offensively, the Illini return six starters. Included in these losses is running back Chase Brown, who the offense ran through last year. Brown has 1,643 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns to go along with another 240 yards and three touchdowns through the air.
The quarterback for the Illini this year is Luke Altmyer, who transfers over from Ole Miss after starting one game in his career there.
Last year, Illinois was 58th in Success Rate, 131st in Offensive Explosiveness and 106th in Finishing Drives. With a new quarterback and no Brown, I find it difficult to believe that the Illini will even be able to rival this level of play in 2023.
Toledo, on the other hand, returns much of its team that won nine games last year. The Rockets are 14th in net returning production, as they bring back eight starters from a defense that ranked seventh in Success Rate a season ago.
Offensively, they weren’t quite as strong. Toledo ranked 66th in Offensive Success Rate and 35th in Finishing Drives last season.
The Rockets were more successful when throwing the ball, which will match up well against this new-look Illinois secondary. Quarterback Dequan Finn is possibly the best returning quarterback in the MAC and will give Illinois trouble.
I believe that Illinois is being overvalued based on its 2023 defensive performance. Everything points towards there being certain regression on that side of the ball, as well as the offense taking a step back.
I think that Jason Candle’s squad can cover 9.5 points and potentially even compete for a win on the road.
South Alabama vs. Tulane
Obviously, we’re getting the wrong side of the hook here – as this spread has moved within a touchdown — but I still like it. I think South Alabama can win this game.
The Jaguars went 10-3 last year, with losses to UCLA by one, Troy by four and Western Kentucky in the bowl game.
This offense really clicked last season under quarterback Carter Bradley. South Alabama ranked 26th in Passing Success Rate and returned its top two receivers and a loaded tight end room.
If Bradley can cut down on the turnovers, this passing attack can be even better this season.
Running back La’Damian Webb was All-Conference after he rushed for over 1,000 yards with 13 touchdowns. Four of the Jaguars' five offensive linemen are back to anchor an offense that should pick up right where it left off.
As much as we all loved Tulane last season, it will take a big step back on defense, as it lost a boat load of talent. Dorian Williams, Macon Clark, Jadon Canady, Larry Brooks and Nick Anderson were all really good players who either transferred to Power 5 schools or are in the NFL.
Just three starters return for the Green Wave defense, and they’ll have their hands full with an experienced and talented Jaguars offense.
Michael Pratt returns at quarterback and is as tough as they come, but running back Tyjae Spears was such a massive part of this offense and is impossible to replace.
Tulane’s top two wide receivers are gone as well, putting all of the pressure on Pratt to carry his squad against a fantastic Jaguars defense. South Alabama ranked in the top 26 in Success Rate against both the pass and the rush.
South Alabama was fifth in the country last year, allowing just 93.9 rushing yards per game. The Jaguars return their entire defensive line, all of their linebackers and most of their secondary.
They have just two new starters this year, and one of those new guys missed last season with an injury but was a second team All-Conference performer in 2021.
The Green Wave just have too many important pieces gone to repeat their results from 2022, especially on defense.
South Alabama returns nearly every key player and has its eyes set on a Sun Belt Championship run.
These are two of the best teams in the Group of 5, but they’re not separated by this many points.
Hopefully, we’ll get a +7 again, but I would play this down to +6. Frankly, I think the Jaguars win this game.
Old Dominion vs. Virginia Tech
The Brent Pry era at Virginia Tech got off to a very rocky start last season, with the Hokies losing his inaugural game against Old Dominion. Adding insult to injury, the defeated Hokies returned to their locker room to find that their stuff had been robbed during the game.
In what was described as a comedy of errors after the game, I expect the result of this matchup to tell a completely different story.
Grant Wells will be back under center this season after winning a summer camp competition against Baylor transfer Kyron Drones. Wells was underwhelming in 2022, but Virginia Tech has made a number of changes to address a lack of talent and underwhelming play calling.
The Hokies added three transfer wide receivers, with Old Dominion transfer Ali Jennings being an instant upgrade on the outside.
Offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen was named the quarterback coach – in addition to his existing duties – to increase rapport and cohesiveness with Wells.
The passing game situation seems to have been addressed, and I fully expect Wells to have a much better game than his four-interception performance against Old Dominion last year. However, Virginia Tech will feature a run-heavy offense this year to supplement the passing game.
Running back Malachi Thomas will be the lead back after missing most of last season. He’ll look to build on his 2021 campaign when he was the first freshman with back-to-back 100 yard rushing performances since 2001.
The offensive line will be returning three starters, and they added talent from the portal.
Defense will be a trouble spot for Old Dominion, especially against a heavy ground attack. The Monarchs finished last season as the 118th-ranked rushing defense by allowing 198.3 yards per game.
Additionally, the Monarchs’ secondary looks to be in the midst of a rebuild after losing three starters. That should make for an easier evening for Wells and his revamped receiving corps.
The Virginia Tech defense will be the strength of this team again and will get a favorable matchup against FCS Fordham transfer Grant Wilson.
I think the motivation factor will be heavily on the Virginia Tech side, as it looks to right the record after losing outright as a six-point favorite last year.
I recommend laying the chalk at 17 or better, as the hosting Hokies come out as the more talented and motivated squad.
Sam Houston vs. BYU
By John Feltman
K.C. Keeler's group will look to make a big statement in the Bearkats' first FBS game against Kilani Sitake's Cougars. I honestly think this spread is way too large, and Sam Houston is not getting enough respect from the market here.
The Bearkats offense was pretty underwhelming last season, but I think they should be able to take advantage of a BYU defense that struggled mightily last season. This BYU defensive unit finished 124th in Havoc, and I think the additions they made through the portal will take some time to gel.
BYU QB Kedon Slovis is in for a rude awakening going up against this Kats defensive front. This group is physical, and they find themselves ranking 21st in returning defensive production.
If Jaren Hall was still a Cougar, this would be a completely different handicap. Slovis is prone to turning over the ball, so don't be surprised if there are a few mistakes early on in this matchup.
I don't have the stones to take the Kats on the moneyline here, but I certainly believe they are live to win this game outright. I have all of the respect in the world for Sitake, but with all of the roster changes, it's going to take time to sync.
This is pure disrespect from the market, as Keeler's group is not your prototypical FCS program. I absolutely love the Bearkats getting the points in this spot.