College Football Betting Odds, Predictions: Collin Wilson’s Top Thursday Bets, Including West Virginia vs. Pitt & More
John Adams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Pitt wide receiver Jared Wayne.
- It wouldn't be Week 1 of the college football season with Collin Wilson betting Thursday night's games.
- Wilson sees value on a number of games, including West Virginia vs. Pitt, Central Michigan vs. Oklahoma State and Missouri State vs. Central Arkansas.
- Check out all three of Wilson's top bets for Thursday's college football games below.
Week 1 is here, signaling the beginning of the season for every team that didn’t participate in Week 0.
This week starts off on a high note with a loaded slate of games on Thursday before Friday’s tune-up brings us into a monster Saturday.
Thursday’s games are highlighted by the Backyard Brawl between West Virginia and Pitt in the Steel City. After an 11-year absence, the Panthers hope a win over the Mountaineers will propel them to another ACC title.
After Spencer Sanders takes center stage for an Oklahoma State team without Jim Knowles, former Arkansas and Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino steps into the spotlight. Petrino looks to get his Missouri State team off to a 1-0 start with a cover against Central Arkansas.
With so much going on for the Week 1 Thursday slate, let’s dive into three of my favorite plays.
Collin Wilson’s College Football Best Bets
The team logos in the table below represent each of the matchups that our college football staff is targeting from today’s slate of games. Click the team logos for one of the matchups below to navigate to a specific bet discussed in this article.
|Specific bet 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.|
West Virginia vs. Pitt
The Backyard Brawl finally returns to college football after a multi-year absence.
The rivalry first started in 1895 with Pitt holding a commanding 61-40-3 all-time lead over West Virginia.
With the Mountaineers’ move to the Big 12, the series ceased play in 2011. Athletic directors heard the voices of fans, as both the Panthers and Mountaineers will meet in non-conference play for eight of the next 11 seasons.
Both squads are undergoing changes heading into the first week of the season. Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi will look to replace the uptempo offense led by quarterback Kenny Pickett with a slower run-based offense led by USC transfer Kedon Slovis.
The Panthers will again be led by one of the best defenses in the nation as they look to repeat as ACC champions.
West Virginia is also going through a transformation — one brought on by the transfer portal. Head coach Neal Brown has fielded a top Big 12 defense throughout his tenure in Morgantown, but this season will have plenty of fresh faces in the back seven.
The Mountaineers gained 10 players and more than 7,000 snaps through the portal, as new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell looks to bring offense to the Brown coaching regime.
Harrell’s past history with USC — and specifically working with Slovis — makes the renewal of this rivalry a perfect setting for Thursday night of Week 1.
Co-defensive coordinators Jordan Lesley and ShaDon Brown have been essential in creating a stingy West Virginia defense. The Mountaineers ended last season ranking top-30 in Stuff Rate, Finishing Drives and tackling.
The 2022 defensive unit returns just four starters and 42% of experience, per TARP. West Virginia loses more than half of its passes defensed and tackles from 2021, putting the spotlight on defensive tackle Dante Stills.
Dante Stills with the defensive lineman INT❗ pic.twitter.com/CVBesZwHeU
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) November 6, 2021
Stills finished top-40 nationally in individual tackles for loss, also generating six quarterback hits on the season. The remainder of the starting defense features a collection of JUCO, FCS and other FBS defensive players inherited through the portal.
Lesley and Brown have been aggressive in blitz packages in previous seasons, successfully finishing top-30 in opponent third-down conversions. The offseason plan for the defense was to make the secondary faster and more athletic. That strategy will be put to the test against Pitt’s ground attack.
USC and Georgia transfer JT Daniels enters the season as the leader of the offense. During Daniels’ freshman season at Southern Cal, the quarterback worked in Harrell’s Air Raid scheme, posting a 14:10 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Arm strength has never been a question with Daniels, but durability has plagued the fifth-year quarterback at every stop.
With the new scheme consisting of quick passing, the weapons around Daniels must contribute. Tony Mathis moves up on the running back depth chart after creating 19 missed tackles in 72 attempts last year.
Bryce Ford-Wheaton and Sam James return 42 catches apiece, along with eight touchdowns for last season. Neither receiver posted high grades in yards per route run, leaving questions as to whether the West Virginia passing attack can be explosive.
The current ACC champions are changing the formula on offense. Mark Whipple departs as offensive coordinator for Nebraska amid rumors that Pitt’s uptempo passing style in 2021 was not a fit for Narduzzi.
Pitt reached out to Boston College, bringing in Frank Cignetti Jr. after a few seasons working with quarterback Phil Jurkovec.
Cignetti’s offense from Boston College will be a culture shock to the returning offensive players at Pitt, as the Eagles ran the ball on 61% of plays.
— Barstool College Football Show (@BarstoolCFB) August 24, 2022
Slovis enters a new offense that will consist of heavy rush and play-action passing.
During ACC Media Days, Narduzzi told Action Network about the football IQ and leadership credentials of his new quarterback. The statistics also say Slovis may be the perfect fit for this offense, as the fourth-year quarterback has logged a 15:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio in three seasons of play-action passing.
To set up the play action, the running backs and offensive line must generate Line Yards and first downs to draw in the secondary. Pitt returns nearly all offensive line snaps from a group that ranked top-50 in Rushing Success Rate.
Israel Abanikanda generated 40 missed tackles and a grinding 3.6 yards after contact. More importantly, this offense rarely made mistakes, ranking 21st in Havoc Allowed. Abanikanda had zero fumbles on the season on 123 rushing attempts.
West Virginia vs. Pitt Betting Pick
Steam has taken hold of both the side and total for the Backyard Brawl.
Pitt has received the most attention from a point-spread perspective, as the Panthers offense versus the Mountaineers defense is one of the biggest mismatches in terms of experience in Week 1.
The bigger question is whether or not the West Virginia defensive line can disrupt the rushing attack expected from Cignetti’s offense.
Stills may expect a load of double-teams from an offensive line that fields two guards who finished top 100 in individual run-blocking grades, per PFF. The Pitt offensive line features more depth than any two-deep in the country after finishing 23rd in run blocking and first in pass blocking a season ago.
It will be important to keep an eye on Pitt in the red zone, as Whipple led the Panthers to a rank of 10th in Finishing Drives. Cignetti’s Boston College team finished middle-of-the-pack in terms of scoring on drives that extended past the 40-yard line.
If there’s a reason for the spread movement, it may be because of whispers about the offensive line out of West Virginia’s camp. Right tackle has been a concern, as Brandon Yates and Ja’Quay Hubbard battled in fall camp.
All five starters return for the Mountaineers, but penalties have plagued the group in recent scrimmages. This WVU offensive line also finished 89th in Havoc Allowed last season and ranked near dead last in tackles for loss yards allowed.
Daniels will be harassed early and often by a Pitt defense that consistently ranks best in the nation in Defensive Havoc. Star linebacker SirVocea Dennis returns a team-leading 87 tackles, while safeties Brandon Hill and Erick Hallett posted a combined 15 pass breakups.
This could be a long afternoon for West Virginia to find any ground past the line of scrimmage.
The Action Network projection places the spread closer to two touchdowns, aligning with the steam in the market. Although the offense will be run at a much slower pace, any number on Pitt in single digits is actionable.
As for the total, Whipple’s uptempo pace will be replaced with one of the slowest seconds-per-play rates from Cignetti. The Pitt game script may be as simple as running the ball frequently to set up the play-action pass.
The steam on the under throughout the summer is directly linked to an expected drop in pace by the Panthers.
With 55 and 51 being the two biggest key numbers for totals, the current market number marks the last chance for a full-game total bet before the Mountaineers’ team total under is worth a look.
Pick: Pitt -7.5 (Play to -9.5) · Under 51 or better
Central Michigan vs. Oklahoma State
The untimed down is still a pain point for Oklahoma State and head coach Mike Gundy. Central Michigan traveled to Stillwater in 2016 and pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season, thanks to a play that never should have happened.
Gundy called for quarterback Mason Rudolph to throw a pass out of bounds with four seconds left to play. Because the receivers did not run routes, intentional grounding resulted in Central Michigan getting one untimed down to end the game.
What happened next was college football at its finest moment.
— Campus Insiders (@CampusInsiders) September 10, 2016
Six years later a different head coach of Central Michigan heads to Stillwater looking for similar results. Jim McElwain has made an impression in his short three years in the MAC, winning the West division twice and Coach of the Year of the conference in 2019.
The Chippewas are in a rebuilding season at most positions but do return one of the most explosive MAC combinations at quarterback and running back.
Oklahoma State also looks to rebound from a loss in the Big 12 Championship game to Baylor. While the offense returns an all-Big 12 quarterback, the defense will see the biggest changes in personnel with a new coordinator.
While none of the players or coaches involved with the 2016 upset are playing in this game, Central Michigan has the offensive weapons to make some noise in Stillwater.
McElwain returns 67% of the offense, per TARP, with the heaviest amount of experience in quarterback Daniel Richardson and running back Lew Nichols III.
As a full-time starter last season, Richardson was one of the more steady signal callers in FBS. The fourth-year quarterback posted twice as many big-time throws as turnover-worthy plays, riding up 24 passing touchdowns on the season.
The Chippewas were a top-25 explosive team on passing downs.
With over 1,800 yards and 16 touchdowns on the season, Nichols returns after posting 67 missed tackles.
— Collin Wilson (@_Collin1) November 18, 2021
The primary area of concern for the Chipps’ offense is the trench, as underclassmen are expected to fill the holes at the tackle position. The offense did sputter in sustaining drives and ended the season ranked 88th in Finishing Drives.
Richardson loses his top target in Kalil Pimpleton, and Dallas Dixon returns 45 catches with a vanilla 1.9 yards per route run.
If Nichols is not successful running against the Oklahoma State defensive interior, Richardson will be left with finding explosiveness in the pass game.
The defense will be without half of the counting stats from last season in tackles, pressure and stops. Cornerback Donte Kent is the leading tackler from last season, but is crucial in pass defense after nearly leading the FBS with 14 pass breakups.
The 4-2-5 scheme from defensive coordinator Robb Akey will have new faces on the edge and at the nickelback positions, making the middle of the field the target for the Oklahoma State offense.
With fourth-year quarterback Spencer Sanders coming off of his best season yet, there is no expected change for the Cowboys’ offense. Sanders posted an increase in adjusted completion percentage, with a 20:12 touchdown to interception ratio.
Pressured dropbacks had an increase in efficiency with Sanders under center, while play-action passing recorded twice as many big-time throws as turnover-worthy plays.
Receiver Tay Martin moves on, but Sanders gets his next four top targets back this season.
One of those targets is sophomore slot receiver Brennan Presley. He became Sanders’ favorite option in the bowl game, with 10 catches for 137 yards against Notre Dame. Presley can also change the game from a special teams perspective.
BRENNAN PRESLEY TO THE CRIBBO pic.twitter.com/z8Z3DB43zD
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 28, 2021
The defense cracked headlines this offseason with the change in coordinator. Jim Knowles led the Cowboys to a top-five national rank in Havoc, coverage and stuff rate. The 4-2-5 scheme played in the backfield of every opponent and allowed just three points per opponent scoring opportunities.
New defensive coordinator Derek Mason enters from Auburn after filling the same role for one season. While the Tigers were top-15 against the rush, allowing explosive plays was the downfall of the defense.
The Cowboy defensive coaches did a great job of mixing in some pre-snap movement on the defensive front, which you see from Collin Oliver here, to really mess with the ND offensive line. pic.twitter.com/u7yUyNYbZn
— Feels Like 45 Podcast (@FeelsLike45Pod) January 5, 2022
The Cowboys return both Collin Oliver and Tyler Lacy to the edge position, but new faces fill the linebacker and corner positions. The biggest hit comes in a loss of more than 80% in passes defensed and tackles.
Outside of the edge positions, Oklahoma State will be looking to establish new names while maintaining a top-20 rank in Havoc.
Central Michigan vs. Oklahoma State Betting Pick
There are numerous questions for both teams heading into this game, specifically if each defense is going to be able to contain the opponent’s offense.
Richardson and Nichols are the best rush-pass combination in the MAC, but questions on the offensive line may limit first downs.
The point of attack against the Oklahoma State defense is the back seven. If there is no speed bump for Richardson with a handful of new targets, the Oklahoma State defense will allow explosive plays.
The Chippewas expect to be in plenty of shootouts this season, as the back seven is projected to be the worst in the MAC. With the exception of Kent at the corner position, every position off the line of scrimmage fields inexperience.
Kent’s 17% forced incompletion rate is top-20 of all individual corners, as the sophomore is expected to take half the field away from the Cowboys’ passing attack.
Sanders will look to avoid Kent and have plenty of time to throw against a Central Michigan front seven that will not be able to generate pressure. The Action Network projection makes Oklahoma State an 18-point favorite, just shy of the market number.
Any number higher than three touchdowns will get Central Michigan action, as investors will look for the hook and a backdoor cover.
The difference in this game is Nichols’ ability to catch balls in space. Along with being an elite runner, the sophomore was targeted 49 times last season, averaging 7.8 yards after the catch.
The strength of Oklahoma State is on the defensive line, but a backfield weapon like Nichols — in conjunction with a seasoned quarterback — will keep the Chippewas in this game.
Pick: Central Michigan +22.5 (Play to 21)
Missouri State vs. Central Arkansas
The road from Springfield, Missouri, to Conway, Arkansas, runs right past the Pig Trail.
One of the more twisted and winding state highways in the nation, the Pig Trail served as the scene where Bobby Petrino met his end as head coach of the Razorbacks. The coach quickly popped back up at Western Kentucky before revisiting Louisville during the Lamar Jackson years.
There are always two constants with a Petrino coaching regime, plenty of early success as an offensive juggernaut and a crash with a team revolt at the end. Missouri State heads into its third season with Petrino and have projections to be a major contender in the FCS Playoffs.
Central Arkansas is set to play its fifth season under head coach Nathan Brown. Famous for playing on the purple and gray field, the Bears last made the FCS Playoffs in 2019 but have been a mediocre .500 team since the pandemic season of 2020.
Central Arkansas received 14 votes in the FCS Top 25 poll, giving the Purple Bears a chance to play home underdog to the fifth-ranked Petrino Bears.
Both of these teams will play a role against SEC teams, as Central Arkansas will follow against Ole Miss, and Petrino will be on the visitor’s sideline in Razorback Stadium on Sept. 17.
Petrino has hit the transfer portal full speed since taking over head coaching duties in Springfield. The current roster is a collection of more than 40 FBS players, ranging from Power Five to Group of Five schools.
None are more important than former Utah quarterback Jason Shelley. The Frisco native struggled with the Utes — and a season with Utah State — before making it onto Petrino’s offense last season.
Shelley finished 2021 with more than 3,300 yards, along with 22 touchdowns.
— MO STATE Football (@MOStateFootball) November 6, 2021
In pure Petrino fashion, Missouri State became an offensive juggernaut overnight by ascending to 12th in the FCS in scoring offense. Along with Central Michigan transfer receiver Tyrone Scott, the Bears are expected to be the most explosive offense on the FCS level this year.
There are questions about depth and execution on the offensive line carrying over from last season. Shelley recorded 208 pressures on 510 dropbacks, signifying one of the highest rates in any division of football.
Of the 14 players listed as offensive line personnel, only Sean Fitzgerald of Coastal Carolina comes in from an FBS school.
After four seasons and 64 touchdowns, Central Arkansas will be without the services of Breylin Smith at quarterback.
Brown commented on his excitement for the quarterbacks currently in-house, as Will McElvain and Clifton McDowell are two dual-threat QBs who will run a new RPO scheme.
Along with Smith, the two top wide receivers and tight ends from the roster last season depart, leaving Brown with a bevy of running backs as the strength of the 2022 offense.
The offense will pivot to a multiple personnel ground attack, but there are no expected changes to the defense.
The strength of the unit is defensive edge Logan Jessup, as he recorded 33 pressures in 2021. Jessup is just one of the All-Atlantic Sun players to return to a defense that can cause Havoc between the hash marks.
— ASUN Football🏈 (@ASUN_Football) September 12, 2021
Missouri State vs. Central Arkansas Betting Pick
The Central Arkansas defense could be overwhelmed early and often in this opener.
Petrino is expected to field the top offense in the country — one loaded with skill positions from FBS — while the Bears of purple have inexperienced options at the corner position. Returning starter Nathan Page was injured most of last season, while Laquez Embry was limited in playing time.
Missouri State will take to the air and attack a new set of corners and linebackers fielded by Central Arkansas.
Defense is a question mark for Missouri State on its run to the FCS Playoffs, but in this game, a one-dimensional ground attack from Central Arkansas will not be able to expose the Bears of Springfield.
Look for Petrino to run up the score with no limitations when Shelley and Scott target the outside part of the home defense.