Austin Peay vs. Western Kentucky Odds & Picks: How to Bet Saturday’s College Football Opener
Ronald Cortes/Getty Images. Pictured: Western Kentucky head coach Tyson Helton
- The Austin Peay Governors take on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers to open up the 2022 college football season on Saturday.
- Despite losing their star quarterback, wide receiver and offensive coordinator, the Hilltoppers enter as big favorites at home.
- Check out Keg's best bet for Austin Peay vs. Western Kentucky below.
Austin Peay vs. Western Kentucky Odds
|Austin Peay Odds|
-108o / -113u
|Western Kentucky Odds|
-108o / -113u
It’s been 229 long days, but finally, we are back on Saturday at noon ET. And what better way to kick off the season than with one of last year’s most exciting teams: the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.
The Tops kick off the season at home against Austin Peay, a team that current Hilltoppers might not be familiar with but longtime WKU supporters know very well. Their history dates back to 1940, when they squared off for the first time. However, it has been one-sided almost the entire way; WKU leads the all-time series 35-6-1.
But their history isn’t the only thing that ties these schools together; both currently find themselves right in the middle of the whirlwind of conference realignment.
WKU is one of just five schools in Conference USA that do not currently have a plan to depart from the conference. This year, meanwhile, marks the first season since 1962 in which Austin Peay is on no level affiliated with the Ohio Valley Conference.
Last year, Western Kentucky ranked second in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 44.2 points per game. But this is a new year, and these teams’ schedules aren’t the only thing that has seen dramatic changes over the summer.
Can WKU’s offense remain a powerhouse amid significant departures from the program?
Austin Peay faces the same issue, but there’s much more room for improvement following a 6-5 season. The question is, just how much improvement?
Austin Peay was a top-five FCS team in 2019, and while the team may not be at that level anymore, few believe that head coach Scotty Walden is to blame.
With Austin Peay’s postponed season, a one-off spring season and the constant revolving door that is the transfer portal, 10-7 would be an admirable record for any coach in his position. His reward for the unprecedented challenges he’s faced since taking over in November 2020? More unprecedented challenges!
Austin Peay now transitions to the ASUN, which is considerably better than the OVC. Walden is also tasked with replacing former OVC Offensive Player of the Year Draylen Ellis at quarterback, as well as his top two running backs in carries, yards and touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Austin Peay returns just one of its top four receivers and not a single starting offensive lineman from last season.
On the defensive side of the ball, Walden loses the top three leaders in both sacks and tackles, while just two of the seven players who recorded interceptions last season are back for the Governors.
As of writing, the Governors have still yet to announce a starting QB, which isn’t a big surprise seeing that they have five different players competing for the job. The frontrunner is second-year Governor Sheldon Layman, who previously transferred from Memphis. Layman started two games last year, splitting the results but completing 34 of 57 attempts.
If he does win the starting job, I still wouldn’t be surprised to see multiple QBs take snaps for the Governors for this game and the length of the season. Walden has spoken highly of all QBs, from true freshman Skyler Locklear to MTSU grad transfer Mike DiLello, who also spent time at Florida Tech.
One of the most significant factors in choosing a QB will depend on who can be the most productive with Austin Peay’s best player on either side of the ball, Drae McCray.
Last year as a true freshman, McCray recorded 882 yards, eight touchdowns and a punt return touchdown en route to being named first-team All-OVC, Freshman All-American by Hero Sports and OVC Newcomer of the Year.
Outside of skill positions, Walden has emphasized two major points on both the offensive and defensive line: size and depth.
Sixteen offensive linemen on scholarship make up the largest OL unit he has had in his career (in both group size and weight). Last year the unit’s average weight was 274 pounds, which has ballooned up to 300 this year. Defensively the trend continues with 14 linemen on scholarship, again the most in his career.
Austin Peay has a lot of questions to answer on both sides of the ball, and we don’t yet know who the answer to those questions will be.
What we do know is that head coach Walden has options — lots and lots of options. And I fully expect him to exhaust as many of them as possible.
Slowing down the WKU offense will likely be quite the challenge. But keeping up may be an even more demanding task, so don’t be surprised if you see multiple different looks from the Governors on Saturday.
Tyson Helton will make history at WKU before even kickoff on Saturday: He is the first coach since David Elson in 2003-09 to spend more than three seasons at WKU. With a seven-win season, he would tie Elson’s school record for most wins in his first four years at 30.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The Tops need to win one before they can win seven. And doing it this year will look very different than it did on The Hill last year.
Offensive coordinator Zach Kittley, quarterback Bailey Zappe, and wide receivers Jerreth Sterns and Mitchell Tinsley are all gone. Some believe their absence will send the Hilltoppers offense into a free fall.
Replacing Zach Kittley and Co. will not be an easy task. So, how will the Tops do it?
For starters, Helton was Kittley before Kittley. People seem to forget he set most of WKU’s offensive records back in 2014 before Kittley broke them last year.
Co-OC Josh Crawford, who was part of the team last year as the wide receivers coach, will also be at his side. Before, he had multiple offensive coaching positions at high schools in Georgia. His teams competed for state championships and were among the top offenses in the state at nearly all of his stops.
Ben Arbuckle, also a co-OC, came to WKU with Kittley from Houston Baptist. He mainly worked with quarterbacks last season, playing a crucial part in the development of Bailey Zappe.
Stuck behind one of the most challenging acts to follow in college football history will be grad transfer Austin Reed, who has been tapped as the starter for the Hilltoppers.
He might not be Zappe (yet), but he has the talent and has proven his ability to lead a high-power offense. Reed racked up 2,975 yards and 37 touchdowns as a senior in high school before being named Florida 6A Player of the Year. Then at Western Florida, he led the Argos to a Division II national championship in 2019, throwing for 4,089 yards and 40 touchdowns while rushing for another six.
Akron transfer Michael Mathieson joins returning lead receivers Daewood Davis and Malachi Corey. All of whom, I believe, have immediate WR1 potential and were unfortunately just behind record-setting receivers on their respective depth charts last year.
On the defensive side of the ball, WKU ranks 24th nationally in return production. However, last year’s team allowed 29.4 points and 268.1 passing yards per game.
And while it might’ve been second in forced turnovers, opposing teams converted 46.5% of third-down attempts. The Tops are an experienced group; improving in the secondary and stopping third downs could make them an elite group.
Austin Peay vs. Western Kentucky Betting Pick
Both schools had to replace multiple critical pieces of their teams in the offseason. I believe WKU did a better job of it and is better prepared heading into this game.
Do I think it will score 59 points and pass for 424 yards like the first game of last season? No.
Austin Peay is still trying to figure out who its starters are, and there’s a decent chance the team will still be doing the same at halftime.
WKU won’t be as explosive, but I think the team will do a much better job managing the clock and not finding itself in 49-32 games against FCS teams.
One thing to keep an eye on, especially with a new QB and new receivers who are still adjusting for WKU: Austin Peay led FCS in interceptions last year with 19. Shamari Simmons alone had four to go along with 10 passes broken up.
The Governors have the potential to keep it close early, but I see Western pulling away in the second half. I was about to get WKU -21 (-115) when it opened but would back it as high as a 24-point favorite.
Pick: Western Kentucky -24 or better
Author’s Note: I submitted this article and got my bet down early Thursday morning. Between noon and 12:30 ET, the line was taken down and posted back at -27 (-110) before the article was published.
Congratulations on your CLV if you just happened to be on the same side as me and got the opener. I will look to middle for a half-unit if the line gets to +28.5 or better.
If you couldn’t get WKU at -24 or better, I think there will be opportunities to live bet the Hilltoppers in the first half, but I maintain that I would not back them at anything past -24. Both Action Network and SP+ project Western as a 26-point favorite.
However, if you absolutely must have a pre-game wager on the first college football game of the year (which, to be fair, I understand completely), I think over 66 or a play on WKU’s team total over are both worthwhile bets.
I firmly believe the Tops will put points on the board. And with their struggles in the secondary last year, there’s reason to believe Austin Peay can at least find some level of success.
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