College Football Odds & Picks: How to Bet Iowa vs. Minnesota, Cincinnati vs. East Carolina, More Friday Games
Matthew Holst/Getty Images. Pictured: Amani Jones (52), Justin Britt (63) and Wes Dvorak (1).
Friday Night Lights.
Don’t get us wrong: At The Action Network, we rep midweek MACtion to the fullest, Thursday Fun Belt (or Mountain West) games, and — of course — Saturday’s wall-to-wall college action. But there’s just something about Friday night college football under the lights that hits differently.
This week, we’ve been blessed with yet another three-game card for Friday night. We’ve analyzed the odds, poured through the tape, broken down schemes, and highlighted our favorite betting positions for each of those three games. Below, check out comprehensive game guides for each of Friday’s college football matchups:
- 7:00 p.m. ET | Iowa vs. Minnesota
- 7:00 p.m. ET | Florida Atlantic vs. Florida International
- 7:30 p.m. ET | East Carolina vs. Cincinnati
Iowa vs. Minnesota
|Iowa Odds||-3 [BET NOW]|
|Minnesota Odds||+3 [BET NOW]|
|Moneyline||-139 / +114 [BET NOW]|
|Over/Under||58.5 [BET NOW]|
|Time||Friday, 7 p.m. ET|
After losses to Purdue and Northwestern by a combined five points, the Hawkeyes busted out against a Michigan State. It could be argued that the Spartans were on hangover from a win over Michigan, but special teams and defense led Iowa to the blowout. The Hawkeyes put up three touchdowns in their first four possessions before other units pitched in to take a 35-0 lead into halftime.
While the score was a bit outrageous, the box score indicates that the Iowa offense did not have a breakout performance. The Hawkeyes posted just two explosive drives in 15 possessions. Only 27% of their drives contained two-plus first downs — 15% below the national average. The Hawkeyes posted a negative Success Rate in running plays and standard downs.
Credit should go to the Hawkeyes defense so far this season, with top-35 ranks in tackling, coverage and Line Yards. A rank of 94th in Finishing Drives reveals that opponents are scoring points when given the chance. In Michigan State’s lone visit to the red zone, the Spartans were able to put a touchdown on the board.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Much like the Hawkeyes, the Gophers showed up big on the scoreboard after starting the season 0-2. Illinois has had issues with COVID-19, contributing to an effort that netted only 14 points and a 23% Success Rate in passing downs against Minnesota. Despite the lack of starting players for the Fighting Illini, the Gophers needed a game to get healthy in the secondary; they owned a Pro Football Focus grade of 108th in coverage.
The passing game came together, as wide receiver Rashod Bateman collected his first score of the season. Tanner Morgan led an attack that had a 66% Success Rate in passing downs, converting 8-of-10 third downs.
After a disastrous start in the first two games of the season, there are signs of life from Minnesota. The Gophers are top-40 in opponent pass explosiveness, while the offense is top-25 in a bevy of categories, including Finishing Drives, Passing Success Rate and Line Yards.
Betting Analysis & Pick
The news was great in Week 10 for the Gophers defense to draw a COVID-19 depleted Illinois team, but hosting Iowa may be a different story.
Minnesota still ranks as one of the worst teams in the nation against opponent rush explosiveness. That is not a good sign against an Iowa offense featuring running back Tyler Goodson. The sophomore averages 3.65 yards after contact on 43 rushing attempts this season.
The key to stopping the Iowa offense is putting quarterback Spencer Petras in passing downs, defined as yardage greater than 3rd-and-4 or 2nd-and-7. Minnesota ranks 118th in the nation in defensive standard downs Success Rate, which translates to Iowa facing plenty of short-yardage third downs.
Conversely, Minnesota has rushed the ball at a 65% clip under new offensive coordinator Mike Sanford. Iowa ranks third in FBS in defensive standard downs Success Rate and ranks seventh in defensive Rushing Success Rate. So, Morgan will have to take to the air, where Iowa ranks 13th in opponent pass explosiveness.
While the market is a bit higher on Iowa than our Action Network projections, there is every statistical indication that the Hawkeyes will get chunk yardage on the ground in standard downs. The Week 11 Pace Report calls for a total of 55 with a heavy dose coming from Iowa, because the Minnesota defense is one of the worst in the trenches and in coverage.
In combination with its rush explosiveness, Iowa also ranks 13th in average predicted points per field position on offense. That is enough to bank on the Hawkeyes to score plenty of points on Friday night.
Pick: Iowa Team Total Over 31 or better.
Florida Atlantic vs. Florida International
|Florida Atlantic Odds||-9 [BET NOW]|
|Florida International Odds||+9 [BET NOW]|
|Moneyline||-385 / +290 [BET NOW]|
|Over/Under||41 [BET NOW]|
|Time||Friday, 7 p.m. ET|
|TV||CBS Sports Network|
As mentioned in our Week 11 Pace Report, there has been an identity change on the defensive side of the ball with coordinator Jim Leavitt.
The Owls have obtained a top-30 rank in coverage, sack rate and against opponent pass explosiveness through four games. A tackling grade of 22nd in the country is just the tip of the iceberg.
Safety Jordan Helm ranks top-35 in individual pass coverage, and corners Zyon Gilbert and Romain Mungin have allowed less than a 50% completion rate when targeted by opposing quarterbacks.
Offensively, head coach Willie Taggart has been rush-based without much success moving the chains, but the Owls have achieved a handful of explosive plays.
There may continue to be formations to get the ball into the Owls’ biggest offensive threats, with quarterback Javion Posey getting a boost against Western Kentucky with nine rushing attempts last Saturday. However, Posey was picked off on his lone passing attempt, which has been par for the course in Florida Atlantic’s air attack.
Quarterback Nick Tronti has taken 10 sacks, a batted pass, four scrambles and five throwaways in 102 drop backs. The offensive line has been unable to protect Tronti, nor have the wide receivers been helpful when open. In 47 pass completions, Florida Atlantic’s skill personnel has only evaded eight total tackles.
The season has been tough sledding for the Panthers with so many COVID-19 interruptions. Scheduled opponents Central Florida, Charlotte, Marshall and UTEP have all been affected by the pandemic.
The Panthers have played just a single game since October 10, which was a nine-point loss to Jacksonville State. The Gamecocks logged over a 50% success rate in running plays and standard downs against a Panthers defense that ranks 100th in tackling per Pro Football Focus.
In more positive news, there is explosiveness in the offensive ground game. Malcolm Davidson averages 4.2 yards after contact, while James Charles has avoided 16 tackles on 33 rushing attempts this season.
Betting Analysis & Picks
Oddsmakers will be short of gamblers looking to invest in a Florida International team that has played just once in a month and was soundly defeated by an FCS team.
That may work to the benefit of sharp investors, but the question remains if the Panthers are focused and motivated.
Our Action Network projection lines Florida Atlantic at -7, but this is a short week for the Owls against a well-rested Panthers team. Taggart mentioned the quarterback position is “always open,” indicating Posey may see an increase in snaps that will have a parallel effect on the rise in rush rate.
If the expected rush rate is going to increase for the Owls, it is important to note that Florida International has one of the worst passing attacks with a tempo that ranks 67th overall.
Weather could also play a factor, as a tropical storm makes its way over South Florida midweek.
While the precipitation will pass through by Friday’s kickoff, the winds will still be present with a forecast of 10 mph throughout the game.
Tropical storm Eta makes landfall on Lower Matecumbe Key with 65 mph winds. pic.twitter.com/82F3zZDc9T
— Craig Setzer (@CraigSetzer) November 9, 2020
More and more factors line this game up to be an Under play. But, as the total dips, value increases on a Florida International number north of a touchdown.
The Panthers are top-40 in opponent explosiveness with a rank of 44th in defensive line yards. Those numbers are amazing considering the COVID-19 disruption to the staff and players. A healthy Panthers team with a full 85-man roster and coaching staff should be available for Friday night.
Pick: Under 42 or better; Florida Panthers +9 or better
East Carolina vs. Cincinnati
|East Carolina Odds||+27.5 [BET NOW]|
|Cincinnati Odds||-27.5 [BET NOW]|
|Moneyline||+1400 / -2899 [BET NOW]|
|Over/Under||55.5 [BET NOW]|
|Time||Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET|
The narrative surrounding Cincinnati this preseason was that Luke Fickell’s defense was College Football Playoff caliber, but the Desmond Ridder-led Bearcat offense was an anchor dragging it down. Six games into Cincy’s 2020 campaign, it’s clear that those preseason projections were only half right.
The Bearcats’ defensive Havoc rating has lived up to the hype. checking in at 16th nationally, which means they’re creating negative yardage plays or taking the ball away on 20% of their snaps. What is surprising is that Desmond Ridder has been a revelation as of late, with 13 total touchdowns in his last three games.
Sportsbooks have been slow to adjust to Cincy’s new offensive attack, which explains why it’s been able to cover the spread by an average of 12.7 points per game (ninth).
On the other side, East Carolina has plenty of experience as a large, double-digit underdog. Friday night’s game will be the third time this season that ECU has been an underdog of 17 points or more. Against UCF (+28), the Pirates’ starting quarterback, Holton Ahlers, orchestrated an 11-play, 77-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter to secure a backdoor cover. A month later, Ahlers and the Pirates traveled to play the AAC’s most disruptive defense in Tulsa and nearly upset the Golden Hurricane on the road as 17-point underdogs.
Something has to give with Cincy running up huge blowout victories and ECU proving to be a live dog when catching three or more scores. In this AAC matchup, I’m more comfortable siding with the Pirates and their 60-minute, never-say-die, mentality.
As I mentioned above, Ridder has been a game-changer for Fickell and his staff this season. He entered the season with nearly 300 career carries, and it appeared that the book had been written on the tall, junior signal-caller. Ridder was an improving game-manager, with the ability to hurt defenses on the read option and could extend plays with relative ease moving outside the pocket.
This season, Ridder has expanded upon that skillset and added a breakaway-touchdown-run element to his game. In his last three games, Ridder is averaging 16.2 yards per carry with eight rushing touchdowns. An overmatched ECU defense hasn’t faced an opponent that features the QB-run game this heavily since last season, when it fell, 45-20, to USF in Greenville, North Carolina. The Pirates surrendered 179 rushing yards on just 14 attempts to USF’s quarterbacks.
For all of the excitement around Ridder’s production on the ground, he’s still a work in progress through the air. Ridder has been picked off five times in his last four games, and his overall numbers (Y/A, pass yards, QB rating) have been inflated by the big play. If ECU can limit Ridder’s explosive plays and force Cincy to string together long drives, the prospect of covering four touchdowns becomes a less daunting task. Unfortunately, hoping for such containment may be aspirational, as ECU ranks 105th and 88th in surrendering plays of 20+ and 30+ yards, respectively.
East Carolina Pirates
Playing the Pirates in this spot comes down to head coach Mike Houston’s refusal to pack it in this season. The Pirates have fought valiantly, both SU and ATS, throughout the season and have allowed Ahlers and the offense every opportunity to put more points on the board, even in blowouts. That kind of information may seem anecdotal to some, but when it comes to anticipating backdoor covers, it’s vital.
Ahlers, a stout 6-foot-3, 230-pounder, gives off a poor man’s Tim Tebow vibe. He entered his third season with 12 career touchdowns on the ground, but that power rushing element has given way to more passing from the pocket here in 2020. Ahlers is on a 9:1 touchdown-to-interception run and put together his best career game against a Tulsa defense that stymied Oklahoma State earlier in the season. Blake Proehl has also emerged as a serious receiving threat and he’s coming off of a 13/182/2 performance, so it’s safe to say it’s not all on Ahlers’ shoulders.
Defensively, the Pirates are a mess, seemingly across the board. But one thing they can do is create turnovers. The Pirates have taken the ball away 11 times through six games. If they can avoid giveaways (13), they could actually use that defensive Havoc to hang around for a while in this game.
Betting Analysis & Pick
I’ve successfully tailed ECU as a big underdog before, and when you toss in the lookahead factor (Cincy-UCF next week), I think the only play against the spread in this spot is ECU plus the points. Grabbing the Pirates to win the first quarter is also a prop bet I will explore if I can find a book offering it at better than 5-1.