College Football Odds & Pick For Tulsa vs. SMU: Bet the Golden Hurricane on Saturday
Julio Aguilar/Getty Images. Pictured: Zaven Collins (#23) celebrates an interception.
- Tulsa looks to stay unbeaten in the AAC as it takes on a strong SMU squad.
- But the Mustangs’ offense has been electric this season, led by QB Shane Buechele.
- Stuckey explains how he is looking to bet Tulsa below.
Tulsa vs. SMU Odds
|Tulsa Odds||pk [BET NOW]|
|SMU Odds||pk [BET NOW]|
|Moneyline||-109/-112 [BET NOW]|
|Over/Under||64 [BET NOW]|
|Time||7 p.m. ET|
UConn’s departure caused the American Athletic Conference to eliminate divisions, which means Saturday’s matchup between Tulsa and SMU will go a long way in potentially determining who will face Cincinnati in the AAC title game.
Tulsa is the only other undefeated team in league play, along with Cincy. Meanwhile, SMU is the only team in the AAC with one loss, which came at the hands of the Bearcats.
And in true 2020 fashion, even though both teams only have one overall loss, SMU has actually played twice as many games (eight) as Tulsa (four).
Let’s dig into one of the more intriguing matchups of the weekend from a betting perspective.
As I mentioned above, the Mustangs have jumped out to a 7-1 start and national ranking, with their one loss coming against a potential College Football Playoff sleeper in Cincinnati.
When talking about SMU football in 2020, it all starts with senior quarterback Shane Buechele, who runs the show in Sonny Dykes’ up-tempo Air Raid offense. The output has been there so far this season for the dual-threat QB, who can use his legs in the read-option game and beat defenses with the deep ball when warranted. Buechele owns a top-three national QB Rating on deep passes, with five touchdowns and no interceptions.
SMU is one of only 17 teams in FBS to average at least 7.0 yards per play. It also ranks in the top 25 in the following categories:
- Total Yards Per Game (9th)
- Total Points Per Game (15th)
- Passing Yards Per Attempt (15th)
- Completion Percentage (24th)
The Mustangs lost two primary starters in wide receiver Reggie Roberson Jr. and running back TJ McDaniel earlier this season against Memphis.
However, the rushing attack hasn’t missed a beat since losing McDaniel, who was supposed to replace two lost starters from 2019. Ulysses Bentley has filled in admirably and now ranks in the top five nationally in rushing yards.
In contrast, even with plenty of talent on the outside with the likes of JUCO transfer Danny Gray and Rashee Rice (and star tight end Kylen Granson), they will still miss the dynamic Roberson against upper echelon defenses.
The offensive line also boasts an abundance of returning experience.
Last year’s defense gave up its fair share of points and yards but it also forced a substantial amount of negative plays by getting into opposing backfields. The Ponies actually led the nation in sacks in 2019. While generating pressure remains their strength this season, they’ve seen a slight drop-off after heavy attrition along the defensive line and at linebacker.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Kane has helped make tremendous improvements, but it was still a slightly below national average defense in 2019 — where it should finish again this year.
The biggest improvement for SMU might be on special teams. After monumental struggles in the field goal department last season, Texas transfer Chris Naggar finally gives the Mustangs a reliable kicker.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Unlike SMU, Tulsa football starts with head coach Philip Montgomery’s defense, which has benefited immensely from a switch to a 3-3-5 base scheme back in 2018. For the season, Tulsa is one of only 21 teams holding opponents to under 5.0 yards per play, despite half of its games coming against Oklahoma State and UCF, two teams ranked No. 11 at the time in explosive offense.
Tulsa held UCF to two full yards per play below its season average while holding the Knights to under 30 points — something only one other team (Cincy) has achieved over a 45-game stretch since 2017.
Its three-man front, led by Jaxon Player, should dominate the line of scrimmage here. It won’t get a ton of QB pressure, but it’ll eat blocks and stuff a high percentage of runs. The Golden Hurricane rank inside the top 10 nationally in Line Yards, Stuff Rate and Power Rate, per Football Outsiders.
The linebackers are the stars for Tulsa, and they’re led by Zaven Collins — one of the best linebackers in the entire country who will surely play on Sundays. While Tulsa’s defensive line doesn’t record a ton of sacks, it can generate pressure with its linebackers, forcing opposing quarterbacks into costly mistakes.
Collins and fellow linebacker Justin Wright rank in the top 20 in PRP — which measures sacks, hits and hurries on pass-rushing snaps — of 181 backers with at least 20 rushes, per Pro Football Focus. That duo and a stout defensive line has helped Tulsa average 9.3 tackles for loss per game (third in FBS).
In regards to the secondary, Tulsa did lose cornerback Reggie Robinson to the NFL but still brought back sufficient experience at corner with Akayleb Evans and Allie Green. Both are long, athletic upperclassmen with very good size.
Tulsa did graduate two starters at safety, but Kendarin Ray is a future star, and JUCO transfer TieNeal Martin has played at a high level to start the season. Lamar Mullins also has shown promise at free safety, while the experienced Cristian Williams returned for a sixth year at the nickel safety spot, where he excels in coverage.
Overall, this is a top-30 defense (at worst) with one of the best linebackers in the nation in Collins.
On the other side, Tulsa’s offense is led by an experienced returning quarterback in Zach Smith. The former Baylor transfer did lose one of his primary 2019 weapons in Keenen Johnson, but everybody else returned, including a strong tight end room and electric wideout Keylon Stokes.
Tulsa did suffer a major blow before the season started when it lost top back Shamari Brooks to an ACL injury. Consequently, the ground game has struggled to get going in front of an underwhelming offensive line.
The Golden Hurricane don’t have an efficient offense by any stretch, but they’re very explosive in the passing game.
Betting Analysis & Pick
SMU’s offense will cook most years in this system with a reliable quarterback, but I do think the passing attack is still a step behind last year when the Mustangs had both James Proche (Ravens) and Roberson (injured).
While the passing numbers are impressive, if you dig a bit deeper, you’ll see that SMU has benefited tremendously from a very easy schedule of opposing pass defenses. Take a look at the Passing Efficiency Defense rankings for the teams the Mustangs have beat this year:
- North Texas (109)
- Texas St (88)
- Memphis (108)
- Tulane (98)
- Navy (82)
- Temple (113)
- Stephen F Austin (FCS – N/R)
Their only loss came against the elite pass defense of Cincy, which held them to 13 points in a blowout win.
While Tulsa’s secondary doesn’t have the same pedigree as Cincinnati, it’s an above-average coverage unit that can also generate pressure with its linebackers. And that’s exactly how you throw Buechele off his game.
When under pressure this season, Buechele ranks 74th of 93 quarterbacks (min. 100 dropbacks) with a 37.7 QB rating (one touchdown, three interceptions) — and has completed only 38.3% of his passes.
Something also has to give in this matchup when it comes to third downs. Will it be Tulsa’s stingy third-down defense against SMU’s efficient third-down offense, or Tulsa’s poor third-down offense against SMU’s inefficient third-down defense?
I’m personally siding with Tulsa’s 3-3-5 defense, which is built to slow down these types of spread attacks. I expect Buechele to efficiently move the ball at times with quick throws underneath. After all, SMU does rank 16th nationally in Passing Success Rate against a Tulsa defense that ranks 70th in that same category.
However, Tulsa should create a number of negative plays, and its defense doesn’t give up anything downfield (top 10 in Pass Explosiveness). The Golden Hurricane also lock down in the red zone, where SMU’s offense can struggle.
I don’t expect Tulsa’s offense to suddenly become uber-efficient on third downs, but I do expect it to hit a few explosive passing plays against a secondary that will blow a few coverages.
Ultimately, I think Tulsa will hit more explosive plays through the air and have more success finishing drives off with touchdowns than SMU.
From a situational perspective, Tulsa has extra rest and preparation after getting last weekend off while SMU will be playing its second straight road game. Tulsa should also come out with a little extra fire, looking to avenge a heartbreaking 43-37 loss in 3OT at SMU last year. It blew a three-touchdown fourth-quarter lead and missed multiple game-winning kicks. That loss sent its season on a downward spiral.
Give me Tulsa at -3 or better.