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College Football Odds & Market Report: 4 Early Bets for Week 1, Including West Virginia vs. Pitt & Rice vs. USC

College Football Odds & Market Report: 4 Early Bets for Week 1, Including West Virginia vs. Pitt & Rice vs. USC article feature image
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Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: USC’s Romello Height.

We all know the college football market moves a lot over the course of the week. Money pours in all over the place from the time lines open on Sunday afternoon to 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 could have all been avoided if the bet was locked in at -6.5 Monday morning.

I’m here to help you navigate the market by providing a few lines I’m buying right now with my specific thresholds or other lines that I’m waiting to buy for 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 TAN 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? I’ll be keeping track throughout the year of exactly how many points we’ve beaten the market by:

Week 0

Now, let’s jump into Week 1.

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West Virginia vs. Pitt Odds

Thursday, Sept. 1
7 p.m. ET
ESPN
West Virginia Odds
Spread Total Moneyline
+7.5
-120
50.5
-110o / -110u
+230
Pitt Odds
Spread Total Moneyline
-7.5
+100
50.5
-110o / -110u
-285
Odds via FanDuel. Get up-to-the-minute college football odds here.
Projections
TAN SP+ Cunningham
Pittsburgh -13.4
Pittsburgh -13.2
Pittsburgh -12.9

The Backyard Brawl returns this season for the first time since 2011.

Pittsburgh begins a new era under USC transfer quarterback Kedon Slovis, who hopes to seamlessly replace the production of Kenny Pickett.

Pitt’s getting a mixed bag with Slovis because in games against San Jose State, Colorado and Utah last season, he put up a PFF passing grade over 75. The problem was he was below 75 in his other seven starts. However, he has a great nucleus around him at Pitt.

The Panthers bring back their entire offensive line and their top three running backs. The offensive line did lead the way for Pittsburgh to rank 37th in Rushing Success Rate a season ago.

Plus, Slovis will be working with new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr., who comes over from Boston College, where he ran the ball 59.8% of the time.

Pitt did lose Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison to USC, but it returns its second-best pass-catcher in Jared Wayne, the second-highest graded tight end in the ACC by PFF in Gavin Bartholomew and coveted Akron transfer Konata Mumpfield to be its top wideout.

#Pitt is getting a talented, smooth route runner to join their offense in former #Akron WR Konata Mumpfield, who should combine as a great tandem with Jordan Addison.

Love this transfer! Pitt’s receiver room is going to be fun.

pic.twitter.com/JB1c7KtzWX https://t.co/uOXnj99IP7

— Devin Jackson (@RealD_Jackson) January 2, 2022

The West Virginia linebacking core got completely gutted after last season, losing its top six tacklers. However, it does return Dante Stills and Taijh Alston back on the defensive line after the duo combined for 12 sacks and 14 tackles for loss.

With that being said, West Virginia has only one defensive back with starting experience in their secondary this season. So, if Cignetti runs even a little bit of a vertical passing, the Panthers will light up the scoreboard on Thursday night.

West Virginia begins its new era with another former USC quarterback in JT Daniels. It also brought in his offensive coordinator from 2019, Graham Harrell.

The problem is West Virginia loses top running back Leddy Brown and top receiver Winston Wright. That’s not good news for an offense that finished 78th in EPA/Play and averaged only 4.5 yards per play (95th in FBS).

Defensively, Pitt brings back its entire starting defensive line that was fifth in Defensive Line Yards, third in Power Success Rate Allowed, 11th in Rushing Success Rate Allowed and 16th in rushing explosiveness allowed.

It also loses just one starter in the secondary. So, without any weapons, it’s going to long night for Daniels.

The market is starting to trend toward Pitt with most books moving it to -7.5 after opening at -6.5. With all three projection models having Pitt at higher than -12, I wouldn’t be surprised if this closes at -8.5 or -9. So, I’d grab the Panthers at -7.5 right now, which you can get at +100 at FanDuel.

Pick: Pitt -7.5 (Play to -9)


Cincinnati vs. Arkansas Odds

Saturday, Sept. 3
3:30 p.m. ET
ESPN
Cincinnati Odds
Spread Total Moneyline
+6
-110
51.5
-110o / -110u
+192
Arkansas Odds
Spread Total Moneyline
-6
-110
51.5
-110o / -110u
-235
Odds via Caesars. Get up-to-the-minute college football odds here.
Projections
TAN SP+ Cunningham
Arkansas -4.8
Arkansas -2.7
Arkansas -2.9

Cincinnati begins life without Desmond Ridder on the road at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium by taking on Sam Pittman’s Arkansas team.

I’m not going to lie, the losses are heavy for Cincinnati coming off a College Football Playoff berth. It loses its starting quarterback, starting running back, top wide receiver, top two defensive linemen and two All-Americans in the secondary.

Offensively, if there’s any good news, the Bearcats bring back their entire offensive line that has 107 career starts. That offensive line ranked 37th in Offensive Line Yards, eighth in Power Success Rate and 15th in Rushing Success Rate.

New starting running back Ryan Montgomery was electric in his limited playing time last season. He averaged 6.8 yards per carry on 46 totes and averaged 4.14 yards after contact per attempt, per PFF.

Ryan Montgomery rumbled his way into the end zone 😳 pic.twitter.com/3LLKjxzJAW

— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) November 13, 2021

Defensively, Arkansas brings back just four starters, lost two 100+ tacklers in the linebacking core and returns only one defensive lineman. However, it did bring in a number of transfers like Drew Sanders from Alabama to help fill the void.

The problem I’m having with Arkansas in this matchup comes down to a simple question: Is Arkansas going to exploit Cincinnati’s weaknesses in the secondary?

The Razorbacks lost four of their top five pass-catchers, including starTreylon Burks. KJ Jefferson was really good last season as a passer, putting up 9.3 yards per attempt and an 82.8 PFF passing grade.

However, a lot of his throws were off RPOs and allowed Burks to work off of screens. But the reality is he’s pretty average throwing downfield.

Image via PFF.

On top of that, Arkansas ran the ball 63% of the time, which isn’t the best of plans when going up against Cincinnati’s front seven. Last season, the Bearcats finished top-20 in both Defensive Success Rate and explosiveness allowed while also allowing only 3.7 yards per attempt and owning the 16th-best run defense grade, per PFF.

Even though the Cats lost their top two defensive linemen, they add former four-star recruit Noah Potter from Ohio State, and he should make an instant impact.

Cincinnati is going to have a really good linebacking core even though it lost its top two tacklers. Deshawn Pace was a freshman who started only four games but still ended up fourth on the team in tackles. It also added his brother, Ivan, who was the MAC Defensive Player of the Year at Miami (Ohio) with 125 tackles.

The market has come down on Arkansas since opening up at -7 with most books dropping the Razorbacks to -6.

I would grab a +6.5 if any are available considering every other book is at -6 and all three projection systems have Arkansas projected below -5. However, I would still play the Bearcats to +6.

Pick: Cincinnati +6.5 (Play to +6)


Rice vs. USC Odds

Saturday, Sept. 3
6 p.m. ET
Pac-12 Network
Rice Odds
Spread Total Moneyline
+34.5
-110
63.5
-110o / -110u
+5000
USC Odds
Spread Total Moneyline
-34.5
-110
63.5
-110o / -110u
-10000
Odds via BetMGM. Get up-to-the-minute college football odds here.
Projections
TAN SP+ Cunningham
USC -28.8
USC -26.4
USC -15.8

Am I really about to recommend a bet on Rice? You bet I am.

USC now has all of the glitz and glamour with Lincoln Riley, Caleb Williams, Jordan Addison and Travis Dye. But let’s not forget, this team went 4-8 last season, so suddenly making the transition back to being one of college football’s premier programs isn’t going to happen overnight.

There are also concerns on the defensive side of the ball. USC returns only four starts from last season with its front seven being extremely thin. The defensive line returns only one starter with a handful of non-impact transfers, while the linebacking core brings back just one starter and loses its top tackler in Kana’i Mauga.

The Trojans did add Alabama transfer Shane Lee, which will have an immediate impact, but this was a defense that ranked 117th in EPA/Play and allowed 5.8 yards per play.

Lincoln Riley brought over Alex Grinch from Oklahoma to be his defensive coordinator, which means USC is switching to an entirely new 3-4 system that has been dubbed “Speed D.” Well, “Speed D” at Oklahoma finished 89th in EPA/Play last year.

Even though Rice was outside the top 100 in EPA/Play a season ago, it has a lot of production coming back.

Starting running back Ari Broussard (4.9 yards per carry) and top wide receiver Cedric Patterson (6 TDs) return, while Luke McCaffrey (Christian McCaffrey’s brother) is making the switch from quarterback to wide receiver.

The biggest thing for Rice in this matchup is all five of its starters in the secondary are back from last year, which will be big when facing Williams and Addison.

All three projection systems have USC projected below -30. So, I would grab Rice at +34.5 right now, as some books have already moved the Trojans to -34.

Pick: Rice +34.5 (Play to +32)


Boise State vs. Oregon State Odds

Saturday, Sept. 3
10:30 p.m. ET
ESPN
Boise State Odds
Spread Total Moneyline
+3
-110
57
-110o / -110u
+130
Oregon State Odds
Spread Total Moneyline
-3
-110
57
-110o / -110u
-150
Odds via DraftKings. Get up-to-the-minute college football odds here.
Projections
TAN SP+ Cunningham
Boise State -1.8
Boise State -3.6
Boise State -5.5

Oregon State really should not be favored in this game even though it’s in Corvallis.

Boise State is coming off a 7-5 season, but it returns a ton of production. Starting quarterback Hank Bachmeier is back under center in his second season in Tim Plough’s system.

Bachmeier was incredibly solid last season, putting up a PFF passing grade of 82.9 with 21 big-time throws and only eight turnover-worthy plays.

He does lose his top receiver in Khalil Shakir, so I would imagine Boise State will lean on its rushing attack with veteran George Holani, who averaged 4.8 yards per carry last season.

Hello Holani!! 👋

RB George Holani is back with a vengeance and gets SIX for his first Boise State carry of the season #CFB pic.twitter.com/tOHRLDbpsx

— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 11, 2021

Bachmeier also has 86 starts coming back on the offensive line with two All-Mountain West performers last season.

Oregon State was a catastrophe on defense last season, allowing opponents to record 5.8 yards per play while ranking 95th in EPA/Play and 99th in Havoc.

The problem this season is that although it returns nine starters, it loses the leader of the defense in Avery Roberts. So, I’d imagine this defense isn’t going to drastically improve.

Oregon State had an electric offense last season with Chance Nolan at quarterback. The Beavers finished eighth in the entire country in EPA/Play and ranked fifth in Success Rate. A lot of that had to do with their rushing attack, which averaged 5.3 yards per carry behind the No. 1-ranked offensive line in terms of Offensive Line Yards.

Well, things are changing in Corvallis.

The Beavers lose starting running back BJ Baylor, who had 1,337 yards on 227 attempts last season, first-team All-Pac 12 center Nathan Eldridge and right guard Nous Keobounnam.

Andy Avalos is known for his ability as a defensive coordinator and propelled that unit for Boise State in 2021. The Broncos finished the year 21st in Success Rate Allowed and 23rd in Finishing Drives. PFF also graded them as the 32nd-best defense in college football.

Avalos gets his entire defensive line, three of his top four linebackers and entire secondary back, which is almost unheard of into college football today.

The front seven ranked top-30 in Rushing Success Rate Allowed, Stuff Rate and Power Success Rate allowed — all key factors that you need when facing Oregon State’s rushing attack.

The secondary had an 87.8 coverage grade by PFF last season and ranked 25th in Passing Success Rate Allowed, so it’s going to be difficult for Oregon State to move the ball.

The Beavers opened as a -4 favorite but have been bet down to -2.5 at some books.

With all three projection systems having Boise State projected as a favorite, I would grab Boise State at +3.

Pick: Boise State +3 (Play to +1)

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