College Football Odds, Early Bets for Week 2: 3 Picks for Illinois vs. Kansas, Arizona vs. Mississippi State & More
Justin Ford/Getty Images. Pictured: Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers.
Week 1 is in the rearview mirror, and what a week it was. With a top-10 matchup on Monday and two new FBS coaches scoring major upsets on Saturday, it was definitely a week to remember — and hopefully you cashed some tickets along the way.
But now, it's time to refocus. Week 2 is here, and there are plenty of bets to be made before lines move.
The market clearly moves a lot over the course of the week. Money pours from the time lines open until kickoff on Saturday. Like any other sport, it's paramount to get the best price possible when betting on college football.
For example, a -6.5 favorite could move to -7.5 on Saturday morning, and then you run the risk of that team winning by one of the most likely outcomes — a seven-point victory — and you just lost your bet. It happens every week.
But that mess could have been avoided if the bet was locked in at -6.5 on Monday morning.
I'm here to help you navigate the market by providing a few lines I'm buying right now — or other lines that I'm waiting to buy later in the week.
The hope for this piece is to beat the market, get the best price possible, and in the long run, save you some money with closing line value. To do that, we'll utilize our Action Network PRO projections, ESPN's SP+ and my own projections to create a consensus.
You hear all the time, "Process over results." The best way to know if the process is working is by closing line value (CLV), meaning how many points did you beat the closing line by? Well, I'm here to help you hopefully get the most CLV possible early on in the week so you're sitting in a great position by the time we reach Saturday.
Illinois vs. Kansas Odds
Illinois vs. Kansas Projections
|Kansas -1.1||Kansas -0.8||Illinois -4.6|
Kansas took care of business against Missouri State in its season opener, while Illinois barely survived against Toledo.
The Kansas offense is going to once again be electric, but Jalon Daniels missed the opener with a back injury. The expectation at the time of writing this is that he will suit up, but it's uncertain if he will be 100% healthy.
Kansas QB Jalon Daniels, who missed last week's game vs. Missouri State w/back tightness, expected to play Friday vs. Illinois, source told @ActionNetworkHQ. Daniels is Big 12 preseason Offensive Player of Year
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) September 3, 2023
The Jayhawks return a whopping 10 starters on offense with the only starter lost being on the offensive line.
Last season, this offense was the best in the nation in EPA/Play and ranked third in explosiveness.
Daniels is now extremely comfortable in an Andy Kotelnicki offense that's very difficult to prepare for given the range of motion and formations he throws at opponents.
Daniels posted an 80.4 PFF passing grade last season as the Jayhawks led the nation in EPA/Pass. While Daniels is a dynamic runner, he wasn't that effective over the second half of the season. Now with a back injury, you have to ask how effective he's going to be as a runner in this game or if we'll see some action from backup Jason Bean.
Image via PFF.
Illinois lost defensive coordinator Ryan Walters, who became the head coach at Purdue, but Aaron Henry was promoted from defensive backs coach, so there won't be too much of a change to the system.
The Illini returned only six starters on defense, and it showed in the opener against Toledo as they gave up over 400 yards. However, Toledo did run 79 plays, which means Illinois gave up 5.3 yards per play, so it's not as bad as it looks.
Plus, this is the same defense that ranked No. 1 in the country in Finishing Drives Allowed last season.
Illinois is stacked in the front seven, bringing back its top two defensive linemen, including Jer'Zhan Newton, who was a first-team All-American a season ago after posting a 91.9 run defense grade with 36 quarterback hurries.
The problem for Illinois is it loses three starters in the secondary who are all in the NFL, so Daniels will have to beat the Illini through the air.
On the offensive side for Illinois, Bret Bielema went out and brought in quarterback transfer Luke Altmyer from Ole Miss. Altmyer had a decent game in the opener, going 18-for-26 for 206 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 76 yards on five attempts.
Altmyer was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and had previously played in only one college game — the 2021 Sugar Bowl, where he struggled. However, Matt Corral had decided to play in the bowl game after an unbelievable season and got hurt in the first quarter, so it was a really difficult spot for Altmyer to step into.
Bielema's offense is built on running the football, though. Illinois ran the ball at a 56.7% clip last season, which held true in the first game as it ran on 57% of its 61 plays and averaged 4.7 yards per carry.
Chase Brown has moved on, but Reggie Love III proved to be very good in a backup role. He had a 84.8 PFF rushing grade, averaged 4.6 yards per carry and forced a whopping 25 tackles on 72 carries last season.
Illinois has two NFL-caliber offensive linemen, so it shouldn't drop off a ton in the run game.
— Illinois Football Focus (@IlliniFB) September 3, 2023
The real handicap of this game is fading the Kansas defense, which is going to be horrible. Missouri State didn't do much against the Jayhawks in the opener, but the Bears only ran 45 plays.
Seven starters return to a defense that allowed 6.3 yards per play. KU ranked 120th in Success Rate Allowed, 123rd in EPA/Play Allowed and 131st in Havoc. Anybody with a decent offensive line can dominate Kansas up front, as the Jayhawks finished the season ranked 125th in Stuff Rate, 123rd in Defensive Line Yards and 123rd in EPA/Rush Allowed.
Illinois should be able to run at will against them.
All three projection models are showing value on Illinois, so I like the value on the Illini at +3.5 and would play them to +3.
Western Michigan vs. Syracuse Odds
Western Michigan vs. Syracuse Projections
|Syracuse -25.9||Syracuse -24.7||Syracuse -23.3|
Western Michigan is undergoing a regime change after hiring Louisville offensive coordinator Lance Taylor as its new head coach.
Louisville was a run-heavy offense because it had one of the best running quarterbacks in college football in Malik Cunningham. Taylor brought over Hayden Wolff from Old Dominion via the transfer portal, but I'm not sure that's an upgrade.
Wolff put up a PFF passing grade of just 64.9 with a 66.7% adjusted completion percentage. He loves to throw the ball deep with almost 50% of his passes going 10 yards. He did end up with 26 big-time throws, which is impressive — but not when you factor in that he had 22 turnover-worthy plays at the same time.
Western Michigan returns eight starters on the offense, but top running back Sean Tyler hit the transfer portal and landed at Minnesota. He was the only bright spot from a rushing attack that averaged just 3.5 yards per carry and ranked 129th in Rushing Success Rate.
Syracuse did one thing at an elite level defensively last year: limit big plays. The Orange were the No. 1 team in the country in explosiveness allowed, which allowed them to rank inside the top 30 in EPA/Play Allowed.
They shut Colgate out in their opener and gave up just 1.8 yards per carry.
Seven starters return defensively, including seven of their top eight tacklers from last season, so they should have no issues shutting down Western Michigan's offense.
Garrett Shrader returns at quarterback for the Orange after a very up-and-down season. He finished with an 80.2 PFF passing grade while averaging 8.2 yards per attempt with 22 big-time throws.
As you can see with Shrader, the range of outcomes can be quite large, but he did light up lesser competition for the most part.
Image via PFF.
Shrader gets his top target back in tight end Oronde Gadsden II after he nearly broke the 1,000-yard receiving mark last season. Gadsden recorded an 82.7 PFF receiving grade, which was the seventh-best among tight ends who generated over 40 targets last season.
All-American running back Sean Tucker is gone, meaning backup LeQuint Allen will take over as the starter. In a very small sample size, Allen proved to be a very effective runner by averaging a whopping 6.7 yards per carry on 41 carries.
Western Michigan is going through a total rebuild defensively. The Broncos return two starters after boasting one of the better defenses in the MAC.
They brought in a couple of Power 5 transfers who barely played at their previous school, but this defense is going to go through some growing pains after losing their top seven tacklers from last season.
All three projection models have Syracuse projected north of -23, so I would grab the lone -20.5 out there, which is still available at BetMGM as of writing.
Arizona vs. Mississippi State Odds
Arizona vs. Mississippi State Projections
|Miss State -12.4||Miss State -17.3||Miss State -15.4|
Mississippi State is going through a transition period on the offensive side of the ball. The Bulldogs are going to have a more balanced attack as opposed to the late Mike Leach's Air Raid.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay comes over from Appalachian State, where he had a run rate over 55%. It will be a new system for quarterback Will Rogers, but that may actually be a benefit.
Rogers posted a 72.5 PFF passing grade last year but threw the ball 40-plus times a game. Meanwhile, Barbay's App State offense last season ranked top-25 in Rushing Success Rate and EPA/Rush.
Top running back Jo'Quavious Marks returns after averaging 5.2 yards per carry and helping Mississippi State rank in the top 50 in Rushing Success Rate last year.
In addition to Marks coming back, 113 starts return on the offensive line. So although this offense will look different, it should be pretty solid.
Arizona couldn't stop anybody last season. The Wildcats allowed 6.5 yards per play while ranking 130th in Success Rate Allowed, 129th in EPA/Play Allowed and 123rd in Finishing Drives Allowed.
The Wildcats bring back only three starters on defense, and even though they brought in a few transfers in their front seven, I don't know how they're going to stop Mississippi State's offense.
Jayden de Laura is back at quarterback for Arizona and still remains extremely erratic. He had 29 total touchdowns last year but threw 13 interceptions and fumbled 13 times. He really struggled against Mississippi State last season, going 23-for-45 for 220 yards with three interceptions.
de Laura did average 8.4 yards per attempt, but he put up a PFF passing grade of just 72.7 because of all of the turnovers.
Seven other starters return on the offense with de Laura getting most of his skill-position weapons back. Top back Michael Wiley, who averaged a whopping 6.8 yards per carry, returns alongside five of the top six pass-catchers.
The only problem with the offense is it brings back only three starters on an offensive line that really struggled and ranked outside the top 70 in both PFF run-blocking and pass-blocking grades.
Zach Arnett turned Mississippi State into a formidable defense last year, as the Bulldogs finished top-40 in Success Rate Allowed, EPA/Play Allowed and Finishing Drives Allowed. They return only four starters, but their top three tacklers and most experienced defenders are back ,which is huge when there are a lot of new faces.
All three projection models have Mississippi State north of -12, so I'd grab the Bulldogs now at -9 and would play them up to -10.