Saturday College Football Betting Picks for Arkansas State vs. Memphis, Texas State vs. SMU, More (Sept. 5)
John Bunch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Arkansas State wide receiver Kirk Merritt.
- Collin Wilson breaks down his favorite bets for Saturday's Week 1 college football action, including plays on a short underdog and the under in a high-total contest.
- He's particularly concerned about Army's pass defense against Middle Tennessee, and he's also excited at the opportunity to Live-bet on Memphis.
- Read on for his full betting guide, including odds, picks and predictions for Saturday's college football slate.
It may not feel like a college football Saturday, but this is what we’ve got. There are six games on the slate, including three between FBS schools. Here’s how I’m betting each.
Middle Tennessee at Army
|Middle Tennessee Odds||+4 [BET NOW]|
|Army Odds||-4 [BET NOW]|
|Over/Under||54.5 [BET NOW]|
|Time||1 p.m. ET|
|TV||CBS Sports Network|
Check out our free NCAAF odds page, which automatically surfaces the best line for every game.
College football is about to heat up across the country, with several games taking place in Week 1 action. We are going to start things off with an interesting showdown between Army and Middle Tennessee.
With a projection of Army -1.5, there was an understandable rush to get money down on an opening line of +5.5 on the Blue Raiders. At the same time, there are plenty of questions surrounding these teams coming into this game.
How will the Army triple-option function amidst quarterback and offensive line turnover? How are teams that base an offense around physical trench play handling the COVID-19 situation? How quickly can Middle Tennessee prepare for a triple-option after late scheduling of this game?
— Middle Tennessee FB (@MT_FB) August 26, 2020
Middle Tennessee head coach Rick Stock was quick to point out that he hasn’t faced a triple-option team since 2013. That isn’t to say his team won’t be up to the task. There are losses on the defensive front-seven for Middle Tennessee, but linebacker DQ Thomas returns after having the second-most tackles on the 2019 defense. Defensive tackle Rakavian Poydras also returns and was a viable run-stopper last season, missing just one tackle the entire campaign.
However, more questions arise on the Army side. A new quarterback will be in place after Kelvin Hopkins Jr.’s fantastic career came to a close. Army returns only two starting offensive linemen from 2019 — at center and right tackle. Meanwhile, there is a plethora of offensive linemen on the roster without significant game experience. Offensive line continuity is the single most important aspect to the triple-option, and per Jeff Monken, that might not be were the Black Knights are at this point.
Hear from @CoachJeffMonken as well as Jabari Moore and captain Sandon McCoy on Saturday's scrimmage.
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) August 30, 2020
The biggest discrepancy in this game might be via the Middle Tennessee passing attack. Asher O’Hara ran for 1,000 yards and passed for another 2,500 last season, making him one of the better dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. Army returns just 44% of a defense that will miss two of its top tacklers in Elijah Riley and Cole Christiansen. Defensive back Malkeim Morrison had coverage issues in 2019, allowing quarterbacks to complete 67% of throws targeting him.
Army ranked 120th in defensive havoc and 101st in defensive passing expected points last season. That said, the Black Knights secondary is vulnerable, and O’Hara returns nearly all of his offensive weapons for Middle Tennessee. Of all the deep threats for the Blue Raiders, Jarrin Pierce may be the most important. Pierce accounted for 21% of Middle Tennessee’s third-down targets, which was more than any other player on the roster.
— Conference USA (@ConferenceUSA) November 23, 2019
Middle Tennessee’s biggest weakness is sacking the quarterback. But luckily for the Blue Raiders, that won’t be of concern against an Army team that runs the ball at the highest clip in FBS play. Army’s defense wasn’t much better at getting to the passer, ranking 117th in sack rate last year. Look for O’Hara to make the plays needed against a rebuilding Army defense.
The Bet: Middle Tennessee +3
SMU at Texas State
|SMU Odds||-22 [BET NOW]|
|Texas State Odds||+22 [BET NOW]|
|Over/Under||70 [BET NOW]|
|Time||4:30 p.m. ET|
SMU won this game last year in an offensive blitz against the Texas State secondary. The Mustangs generated a 30-point win in a game where they also committed three turnovers. SMU returns 75% of that offensive attack and faces a depleted Bobcats defense returning just 32% of its 2019 production.
Is there a case worth making for Texas State to cover the spread this time around? The Action Network Power Ratings have SMU as a 22-point favorite, not giving much value to the side.
The Mustangs defense does lose its top three defenders in the sacks department. SMU will certainly miss Patrick Nelson, Delontae Scott and Demerick Gary, who combined for 28 sacks and 44 hurries last season.
Texas State will go with Memphis transfer Brady McBride at quarterback. The former three-star prospect is back in familiar territory on Texas soil after being the state’s 61st-ranked pro-style quarterback in 2017.
Although the point spread may not present opportunity, the total is much higher than projections in the 60s. It will also be a hot evening with cross wind orientation in the double digits at Bobcat Stadium.
It’s possible that scoring may dry up in the middle of this game as SMU looks ahead to its matchup against TCU in Fort Worth, Texas next Friday night. If the Mustangs secure a four-touchdown lead, SMU could opt to pull its starters in preparation for the Horned Frogs.
The biggest handicap in Week 1 will be how these teams respond after coaches have taken different approaches in preparing their teams during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Will conditioning be a factor in the Texas heat? My inclination is yes. I’m leaning towards a full-game under bet, with Texas State still searching for an identity and SMU likely taking its foot off the gas pedal in the second half.
The Bet: Under 70.5
Arkansas State at Memphis
|Arkansas State Odds||+19 [BET NOW]|
|Memphis Odds||-19 [BET NOW]|
|Over/Under||74 [BET NOW]|
|Time||8 p.m. ET|
This game total has steamed from 70 up to 74, and that dramatic movement might be completely justified. Arkansas State, led by quarterback Layne Hatcher, ranked 22nd in seconds per play during the 2019 season. The Red Wolves’ top-15 ranking in offensive expected points passing speaks to Arkansas State’s explosiveness through the air.
Memphis quarterback Brady White will lead an experienced offense against a Red Wolves defense that was 121st in defensive finishing drives. However, the Tigers will be without their best offensive weapon after Kenneth Gainwell Jr. opted out of the season. Gainwell accounted for 38 targets on third down, which was more than any other player on the Memphis roster.
The Tigers offense is not particularly high-tempo, but it is highly explosive. Memphis ranked 74th in seconds per play and 47th in plays per game in 2019. On the opposite side of the ball, Memphis returns 77% of a defense that ranked 38th in success rate. That will ultimately be the difference in the game once the pace slows down.
Points will certainly be scored, as Arkansas State was no slouch in finishing drives on offense, ranking 35th in the country last year.
An underestimated part of the game is on special teams. Pete Lembo is one of the best special-teams coaches in the nation and led Memphis to a top-10 ranking in field goal, kickoff and kickoff-return efficiency. Lembo’s particular expertise should help Memphis attain excellent field position for the Tigers’ explosive offense.
The Action Network projection has Memphis as a 19-point favorite, which is squarely where the market has been most of the week. Considering Arkansas State will push the pace of play, it might be an excellent live betting game for trade-targeting Memphis at -14 and Arkansas State at +28.
Expect Arkansas State to come out in a blitz, making a great live betting opportunity on Memphis.
The Bet: Pass. Look for Memphis under two touchdowns Live.