College Football Odds, Picks: Our Best Bets for Week 3’s Noon Kickoffs, Including Cincinnati vs. Indiana (Saturday, Sept. 18)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images. Pictured: Cincinnati Bearcats football team.
- Week 3 of the college football season is finally upon us.
- To celebrate, our staff broke down their favorite bets for the noon kickoff window, including three picks for Cincinnati vs. Indiana.
- Check out all of our favorite picks with breakdowns below.
After a wild Week 1 that featured multiple surprises, Week 2 generated its fair share of headlines.
Oregon upset Ohio State on the road, two top-10 teams nearly lost to unranked opponents and Iowa completely shut down Brock Purdy & Co. to win the Cy-Hawk Trophy. Also, USC was throttled before firing its coach two days later, while Texas’ inconsistencies continued.
Now, we turn our attention — and our wallets — to the early kickoff window for Week 3.
A loaded slate is on deck featuring Desmond Ridder and No. 8 Cincinnati vs. Indiana, Spencer Rattler and No. 3 Oklahoma hosting Nebraska, No. 24 Miami welcoming Michigan State to South Florida and Pittsburgh facing a gritty Western Michigan squad.
Check out our Staff’s Best Bets for All 3 Saturday Kickoff Windows:
Saturday College Football Best Bets for Week 3
Picks for Today’s Noon ET Kickoffs
The set of college football team logos below reflects each of our college football staff’s best bets for games kicking off at noon ET. Click the team logos for one of the matchups below to navigate to a specific pick 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.
Photos via Getty Images.
Nebraska vs. No. 3 Oklahoma
By Alex Hinton
This year’s Nebraska-Oklahoma game will mark the 50th anniversary of the “Game of the Century,” when the rivals were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the country.
50 years later and the programs are going in opposite directions. Nebraska has struggled to find its footing in the Big Ten, while Oklahoma has dominated the Big 12 ahead of its move to the SEC.
Saturday’s game will reflect that.
Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez has stagnated as a passer and also has a problem fumbling. That’s a bad recipe against an Oklahoma defense that has eight sacks and eight forced fumbles in its first two games.
Martinez is a dual-threat himself, but he may not get much help from the traditional run game. Nebraska’s top two running backs Markese Stepp and Gabe Ervin Jr. are averaging just 4.17 YPC, while Oklahoma’s defense is allowing 2.6 YPC.
The Cornhuskers’ defense has allowed just 10 points in their last two games against Fordham and Buffalo. However, it was hard to watch Nebraska’s defense struggle to stop Illinois backup quarterback Artur Sitkowski.
Now, imagine the unit being able to slow down Spencer Rattler and the high-powered Oklahoma offense.
There are also trends to consider. Nebraska is 3-7-1 ATS in its last 11 road games. Oklahoma is 8-1 ATS against the spread in its last nine games and 5-1 ATS in its last six home games.
Additionally, Nebraska tried to back out of this game, which I’m sure will not be lost on Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley and his players. Expect Oklahoma to try to run it up on the Huskers if it gets the opportunity.
I would be surprised if Nebraska keeps this one within 30 points.
Pick: Oklahoma -22.5
Michigan State vs. No. 24 Miami
This would have sounded blasphemous in the early parts of the summer, but here we are.
Michigan State is 2-0 with dominant wins over Northwestern and Youngstown State. No, those aren’t the two best programs in the country, but the way the Spartans offense has performed has been impressive.
Normally a non-explosive team with virtually zero run game in the last three seasons, things have greatly improved.
The Spartans are averaging 16.5 plays of at least 10 yards per game, more than double their average from 2020. In both games this season, Michigan State has scored a 75-yard touchdown on its first play from scrimmage.
Last season, the Spartans gained just 2.7 yards per carry, but with Kenneth Walker III in the fold and a veteran offensive line, Sparty now averages 8.0 yards per carry and ranks first and fourth in Line Yards and Rush Success, respectively.
Additionally Payton Thorne has shown competency at quarterback, which is a major upgrade over Rocky Lombardi.
Miami will be without starting linebacker Keontra Smith, who leads all Miami linebackers in tackles. The Hurricanes already rank 127th in tackling, and now they are missing one of their best tacklers against a team that averages 299 yards rushing a game? Woof.
Miami’s offense has been tepid at best, scoring just 19 points per game, granted one of those games was against Alabama.
D’Eriq King isn’t nearly as mobile since his injury last season, and the Spartans have a decent defensive front seven that’s generated five sacks this year. The Hurricanes offense isn’t nearly as effective when King is forced to be a pocket passer, and Michigan State will likely be able to eliminate his running threat.
I’m going to keep riding this Michigan State gravy train that I’ve been on all season and in the win total market until the public catches on to the fact the Spartans are a much better team than they were in 2020.
I’ll confidently take the points here, as Michigan State has a real shot at an outright win.
Pick: Michigan State +6.5
Western Michigan vs. Pitt
This game is a perfect situation for The Pat Narduzzi Special. During his tenure at Pitt, the Panthers have been great at covering — or even pulling off upsets — as road underdogs.
However, they lay an egg as home favorites. The Panthers are just 9-14-2 against the spread as a home favorite under Narduzzi. They’re 5-12 ATS when laying at least a touchdown or more.
Western Michigan is catching 15 points at Heinz Field on Saturday, and I think the Broncos keep things close here.
Pitt is coming off a road win against an SEC opponent and now faces one of the best quarterbacks in the Group of 5 in Kaleb Eleby.
Eleby finished last season with the third-best QB rating in the country behind only Mac Jones and Zach Wilson.
The loss of D’Wayne Eskridge was big, but Western Michigan still has plenty of weapons with Skyy Moore and Jaylen Hall returning, plus the addition of Bryce Nunnelly from Chattanooga.
The Broncos have two really good running backs in La’Darius Jefferson and Sean Tyler, who are both averaging over five yards per carry. Western Michigan ranks 35th in the country in Rushing Success Rate this season.
Defensively, Western Michigan did a great job of getting pressure last year, leading the MAC and finishing fifth in the nation in tackles for loss. The secondary was a question coming into the year, but it’s looked good so far by recording a 20th-ranked Passing Success Rate. Safety Bricen Garner was first-team All-MAC last year and is a star in the secondary.
Pitt has looked strong through the first two games of the season, but that’s typically where it lays an egg. Given Narduzzi’s history in this spot, I will play the Broncos getting more than two touchdowns.
Pick: Western Michigan +15
No. 8 Cincinnati vs. Indiana
Indiana’s offensive line looks like an Achilles heel this year, and Cincinnati has the tools to take advantage of it.
The Hoosiers allowed a whopping 18 pressures against Iowa in Week 1 after coming off the fifth-worst pass blocking grade in 2020, per PFF.
Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. really struggled behind that line in Week 1, with a 35.7 passing grade, four interceptable throws and a completion percentage in the low 40’s.
Cincinnati’s pass rush is better than Iowa’s, and it has an elite cornerback duo — Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant — to boot.
This was PFF’s sixth-rated pass rush in 2020. In 2021, it returns one of the best pass rushers in college football in Myjai Sanders, who was top 10 in the nation in quarterback hurries last year.
We’ll see how Cincinnati’s offense does against better competition, but 9.9 yards per play and a ridiculous 66% success rate was very eye-opening against Miami (OH) in the season opener.
Quarterback Desmond Ridder took a big step forward last season, and that has continued early on in 2021.
Indiana’s defense was very opportunistic in terms of turnovers in 2020, but wasn’t great on a per-play basis against the pass or run.
Cincinnati’s defense could generate a ton of havoc against Indiana’s offensive line, and the Bearcats’ offense should be able to move the ball against an unspectacular defense.
Pick: Cincinnati -3.5
By Doug Ziefel
This game is the first big step for the Bearcats if they want to make the College Football Playoff. This matchup weighs heavily because it’s their opportunity to prove they belong with Power Five programs.
Cincinnati is well-armed heading into Bloomington. They possess one of the nation’s best defenses, which includes arguably the best secondary in the country. Then, running the offense is Heisman-caliber quarterback Desmond Ridder.
While the Bearcats are great and have elite talent, what makes this a great bet is the true mismatch they present based on what we’ve seen from the Hoosiers.
The Indiana offense runs through quarterback Michael Penix Jr. Penix entered the season just months removed from a torn ACL and hasn’t returned to his pre-injury form.
The counting stats are not pretty, but what’s most glaring is his inability to throw the ball down the field. Indiana trounced Idaho this past week 56-14, but Penix only threw for 68 yards on 11 completions.
The Hoosiers’ offensive line hasn’t helped with their own subpar play. It’s impacted the entire offense as the unit has only managed 3.2 yards per carry when rushing this season.
The line play has also put Penix under fire as he’s been sacked five times through two games, two of which came against Idaho.
This Bearcats team is on a different level than the Hoosiers right now. This number has been fluctuating between 3 and 4 all week. I’m more than comfortable with either number as the Bearcats could win this game by double digits.
Pick: Cincinnati -3.5
Indiana was a paper tiger last year, plain and simple. The Hoosiers defeated one team with a winning record (Wisconsin 4-3) and when they faced two legitimate offenses (Ohio State, Ole Miss), they surrendered 550 yards per game.
This season, it’s clear that their offense has fallen off of a cliff with a quarterback that was rushed back too quickly from reconstructive knee surgery.
Michael Penix Jr. averaged 7.5 yards per attempt last season, finishing his 2020 campaign with a QBR of 67.7. This season, those totals have cratered to 4.7 and 32.3, respectively. This includes a tune-up game against Idaho, in which Indiana used both Penix Jr. and Jack Tuttle to little effect through the air.
Cincinnati is no Idaho.
Through two games the Bearcats are allowing just 3.7 yards per play, while generating 6.5 TFLs per game.
Their secondary is headlined by two future NFL cornerbacks, “Sauce” Gardner and Coby Bryant. They’re made even better by the future first-round pick Myjai Sanders pressuring quarterbacks off the edge.
The Bearcats’ defense has held their opponent to 14 points or fewer points in eight of their last 12 games.
And then there’s the importance factor. This is a showcase game for Cincy against a Power Five opponent. It was talked about all offseason.
With the Notre Dame game two weeks away, there isn’t even a lookahead factor to be scared off by in this spot. Cincinnati needs a dominant win and quarterback Desmond Ridder is positioned (17th in QBR) to deliver it.
Look for a huge day from the Bearcats’ backfield and a shutdown performance from their elite defense.