College Football Odds, Picks, Previews: Our Top 2 Bets for Thursday’s CFB Games
Ryan Collinsworth/Action Network.
Thursday nights are for football.
Along with an NFL matchup between the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals, we have two college football games on deck this Thursday — one in the ACC and one in the Sun Belt.
Read on for our top picks for Thursday night's college football games — and be sure to check back tomorrow for our Friday night college football betting coverage that features three more games.
Thursday 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.|
Virginia vs Georgia Tech
By Cody Goggin
Both Virginia and Georgia Tech have struggled this season, though for different reasons.
Virginia has a first-year head coach in Tony Elliott and is looking to gain its footing.
Georgia Tech sits on the opposite end of the spectrum, having just fired head coach Geoff Collins a couple of weeks ago. However, since the coaching change, Georgia Tech has looked like a different team and won two games in a row.
The Yellow Jackets have an opportunity to keep the streak going against another lower-level conference opponent but will have to overcome their deficiencies.
Virginia's strengths line up well against Georgia Tech's weaknesses, which may lead to some potential value on the underdog.
The Virginia offense ranks 88th in Success Rate but has been great on the ground this year. This team ranks 33rd in Rushing Success Rate and may be able to take advantage of a bad Georgia Tech rushing defense.
Quarterback Brennan Armstrong has struggled as a passer this season, averaging -0.22 EPA per dropback. He's also thrown more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (5).
However, he's found success on the ground, averaging 6.9 yards per rush to go along with three rushing touchdowns on the year. The other part of this two-headed rushing attack is Perris Jones, who has 319 rushing yards while averaging 0.06 EPA per rush.
I expect both Armstrong and Jones to impress on the ground against this Georgia Tech defense.
Virginia’s defense has been the best unit in this game this season. It ranks 37th in Defensive Success Rate and 21st in Rushing Success Rate. The passing defense ranks just 74th in Success Rate, so if there's a great way to attack this defense, it would be through the air.
This defense comes in at just 71st in SP+, so it’s likely an easy strength of schedule that has helped the unit perform as well as it has. Things won't get more difficult on Thursday night, though, as Georgia Tech has struggled offensively for much of the year.
Virginia ranks 12th in the nation in PFF coverage grade and second in PFF tackling grade. The Cavaliers also rank sixth in Explosiveness on defense and have been great at limiting big plays.
I believe this defense should be strong enough to keep a weak Georgia Tech offense in check for most of the night.
Yellow Jackets Offense
Things have looked bleak for the Georgia Tech offense all season, but the team has had a bit of a revival since the firing of Collins. The Yellow Jackets come into this game having won two in a row and will have a chance to extend the streak against an opponent that is on a similar level.
The season-long numbers for Georgia Tech are not flattering. The Yellow Jackets rank 107th in Offensive Success Rate, 116th in Passing Success Rate and 72nd in Rushing Success Rate.
Unfortunately for the Yellow Jackets, this may not be the best matchup for them. Virginia has a very good rushing defense, but a below-average pass defense, so the strengths of Georgia Tech do not align well here.
Jeff Sims hasn’t been able to get this offense moving this year. He's averaging -0.18 EPA per dropback and owns just a 35% Success Rate when passing.
Like Armstrong, Sims' best attribute is his legs. Sims is the leading rusher for this Georgia Tech team and is averaging 0.13 EPA per rush.
Hassan Hall and Dontae Smith have been effective as well, both averaging over five yards per carry.
Wide receiver Nate McCollum has been the bright spot for this team. He has caught 29 of his 30 targets for 283 yards. McCollum is averaging an astonishing 0.80 EPA per play this season.
The Georgia Tech offense has shown improvements lately, but I believe Virginia’s rushing defense may pose a mismatch the Yellow Jackets are not able to overcome.
Yellow Jackets Defense
Georgia Tech’s defense has been a problem, ranking 110th in Success Rate and 127th in Rushing Success Rate. The one bright spot would be the pass defense, which is 58th in Success Rate.
This passing defense is exceptionally good at preventing explosive plays. The Yellow Jackets rank 11th in the country in Defensive Explosiveness, both overall and in pass defense. Because of this, the pass defense ranks 25th in PPA despite its Success Rate being much lower.
I still think Virginia’s rushing game can cause issues for this defense, but the Yellow Jackets are coming off of a game where they stymied a Duke offense that has been great when running the ball this year.
If Georgia Tech’s issues stopping the run have been solved, then it becomes much stronger on this side of the ball.
Virginia vs Georgia Tech Pick
These two teams are nearly even in skill, so this may simply come down to who has the coaching advantage between Elliott and Brent Key.
I think Virginia’s strengths are in just the right places to give it heavy advantages over Georgia Tech in the rushing game on both sides of the ball.
Sims is day-to-day with a leg injury that knocked him out of the Yellow Jackets' last game. It seems like he's expected to play, but that may change.
Virginia can be found at +3.5 at some books, which I would take down to +3. If you can find a 3.5, you'll want to take that with 3 being a key number in football.
Troy vs South Alabama
We might not have #MACtion yet, but we do have a Thursday night Sun Belt Showdown, as the top two teams in the West Division, South Alabama and Troy, square off.
The rivalry between the Jags and the Trojans is a heated one. However, Troy has consistently come out on top, leading the all-time series 7-3. The Jaguars have not emerged victorious in The Battle for the Belt since 2017.
But this year's South Alabama squad is off to its best start in program history, currently 5-1 on the season and 2-0 in conference play. The Jaguars' only loss of the season came against UCLA at the Rose Bowl, and the Bruins are still undefeated.
The Jaguars have also yet to lose a game at home, but can the Trojans give them their first loss in Mobile?
Troy is on a bit of a hot streak itself. The Trojans have two losses on the season, but their first came against Ole Miss in Week 1 — which is still undefeated — while their second came via a miraculous Hail Mary by App State as time expired.
Both teams enter on short rest having played on Saturday.
Which one can make the most out of a short week and get it done in a rivalry matchup?
Troy quarterback Gunnar Watson had to leave the game against Texas State on Saturday in the third quarter.
Trojans head coach Jon Sumrall said this week that Watson could've returned to the game if needed, and both quarterbacks — he and West Virginia transfer Jarret Doege — will be available for the matchup with South Alabama.
The Trojans are third-worst in the Sun Belt in scoring offense, but have been much better on the defensive side of the ball, holding opponents to just 19.2 points per game.
The Troy defense is led by linebacker Carlton Martial, a native of Mobile who is 4-0 against the Jaguars. He was not recruited by his hometown team and instead walked on at Troy.
He now leads the defense with 63 tackles on the season and is on pace to break the all-time FBS record with 505 so far in his tremendous five-year career.
South Alabama will challenge Troy both in the air and on the ground. The Jaguars rank 26th in Offensive Explosiveness and 24th in Pass Play Success Rate.
However, the Trojans should put up a fight, as it ranks 38th in Pass Play Success Rate Allowed, as well as fourth in Standard Down Explosiveness Allowed.
The Jaguars could very well be an outside contender for a New Year's Six Bowl, but to do so, they'll first have to get past the Trojans.
South Alabama ranks a stout 14th in Defensive Passing Down Success Rate, as well as 31st in Defensive Finishing Drives.
Finishing Drives is one of the areas in which the Jaguars will have one of the biggest advantages, as the Trojans rank outside the top 100 on offense. The Trojans also rank outside the top 100 in Standard Down Success Rate, which has consistently put them in difficult spots on third downs.
On the other hand, the South Alabama offense has been insane, as just last week it put up 600 yards against UL Monroe, with 420 of those yards coming through the air in a 41-point effort.
The Jaguars rank second in the conference in scoring offense in large part thanks to quarterback Carter Bradley. The Toledo transfer is third among Sun Belt quarterbacks with 282.3 passing yards per game.
Troy vs South Alabama Pick
Both teams matchup well and have had amazing starts to their seasons. However, I believe this is finally the year South Alabama claims The Belt and ends its losing streak in this rivalry.
South Alabama is the more talented team, it has more depth, and there are questions around who will be under center for Troy. The Jaguars can find success both through the air and on the ground, as they have been one of the most balanced offenses in the Sun Belt.
Not to mention South Alabama has a significant advantage on third downs, as the Jaguars rank seventh in the country in Third Down Conversion Rate (53.33%).
On the other hand, Troy's defense is outside the top 100 in Third Down Conversion Rate Allowed (46.81%).
Back the Jaguars as high as three-point favorites. I would not go past the key number of three in this rivalry game, and I would take the Jaguars at -3 down to -130.