College Football Odds, Picks: Our 4 Top Bets for Friday, Including Wake Forest vs. Virginia, Fresno State vs. UNLV, More (Sept. 24)
Will Navarro/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Erik Brooks.
- Friday night college football is finally upon us.
- After what has been a long week since last Saturday, four college football games grace our betting cards for Friday night, including Wake Forest vs. Virginia.
- Check out all four of our picks for each game below.
Friday Night Lights.
We’ll take as much football as we can get here at The Action Network, whether that comes on a Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday. So, we’re more than happy with college football under the lights on a beautiful Friday night.
The action opens with Middle Tennessee vs. Charlotte at 6:30 p.m. ET, which should be interesting from a betting perspective. After that matchup, we’ll be lucky enough to see Wake Forest vs. Virginia and Liberty vs. Syracuse grace our television screens.
Finally, after a huge upset win over UCLA last week, Fresno State takes on UNLV at 10 p.m. ET, which will have bettors across the country salivating as they prepare for the final appetizer before a full Saturday slate.
So, buckle up and get ready for all the college football you can handle. We’ll prepare right beside you.
Week 4 College Football Picks for Friday, Sept. 24
Click the team logos for one of the matchups below to navigate to a specific betting preview for Friday evening’s Week 4 college football slate.
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.
6:30 p.m. ET
CBS Sports Network
Plug your nose and grab your puke bucket. This is going to be an ugly one.
With bigger named teams like Wake Forest and Virginia attracting eyeballs to an ACC matchup, mine will be firmly planted on Charlotte and Middle Tennessee.
With both teams coming off a loss, both MTSU and Charlotte look to get back on track in an inner conference battle to open up Friday night. With a spread of a field goal, this one is predicted to come down to the wire.
Not only is this a conference showdown, but it’s a division matchup no less. Charlotte currently sits at 2-1 and tied for second in the division as MTSU is at the bottom with a 1-2 record.
Alfred in “The Dark Knight” coined one of my favorite movie quotes. When talking about the Joker, he said, “Some people just want to watch the world burn.”
In this case, some people will just want to watch a boring, scoreless game. That’s me.
This MTSU offense is horrible. That’s as nice as I can put it without going over the top.
Ranking 130th in Rush Success and 105th in Line Yards, I’m not even sure it could run the ball against your local high school team. Luckily for the Blue Raiders, Charlotte doesn’t boast the best numbers in stuffing the run.
As of writing, only one MTSU running back has cracked over 80 yards total in three games. Not a single rusher had over 23 yards in their last game, a loss to UTSA. Not good.
While the running game is horrible, the passing game is at least… also horrible. Currently ranked 114th in Pass Success, 94th in Pass Block and 122nd in Off. Havoc, the MTSU offense is a corpse.
The offense may look different going into this game as quarterback Bailey Hockman is stepping away from the team. He finishes his season throwing for 41 yards and one interception in his last outing. Chase Cunningham will be filling in the role moving forward.
It’s hard to be much worse than the MTSU offense. Luckily, its defense has shown more success.
Currently ranking 60th in Def. Rush Success, its rush defense will need to be ready as Charlotte comes in with one of the heavier rush rates in the nation.
It’s worth noting that the MTSU defense has been fantastic at limiting the Big Play and not letting teams advance past the 40. The Blue Raiders rank 16th in Big Play and 15 in Def. Finishing Drives — a great recipe for the under.
They have been forcing offenses into three-and-outs, with no help from Havoc. If they could cause some disruptions and get to the quarterback, the defense may be able to do enough to make up for the lack of offense and win this game.
You would think for a team that has an above average Rush Rate, it would do a better job at it. With a Rush Rate of 60.1%, this has only resulted in a Rush Success mark of 95th and a Line Yards number of 103rd. If it’s broke, fix it.
The 49ers do like to split the carries among a trio of running backs who are all over 100 yards so far, with Calvin Camp leading the charge at 160 yards. Their quarterback, Chris Reynolds, also likes to get in on the fun, rushing for 111 yards and two touchdowns.
Speaking of Reynolds, he is off to a decent start. Throwing for 585 yards and five touchdowns, he can burn you through the air or with his legs.
He will continue to look to feed his two favorite targets, Grant DuBose and Victor Tucker. The receiver duo has combined for 386 yards and two touchdowns on 24 receptions.
Charlotte will look to mix it up against the MTSU defense, as it owns respectable ranks of 60th in Def. Rush Success and 56th in Def. Pass Success.
As previously mentioned, the Charlotte defense struggles to stop the run. Currently ranking 115th in Def. Rush Success and 110th in Line Yards, this is shaping up to be an interesting matchup on the ground.
Not all is lost, though, as the 49ers defense does a great job of defending the pass.
While lacking in its ability to get to the quarterback — owning a 122nd ranked Pass Rush — the secondary does a great job limiting the passing attack. Ranked 34th in Def. Pass Success, the 49ers secondary has nine pass breakups and one interception.
If Charlotte wants to win a tight one as the number implies, then it will need to do a better job at disrupting the backfield. Offensive lines have had their way, pushing the Niners front back and protecting their quarterbacks.
Charlotte averages 2.3 sacks per game.
Middle Tennessee vs. Charlotte Betting Pick
This is going to be an ugly one. Which is exactly what I’m hoping for.
Charlotte will look to run the ball with an above-average Rush Rate, which means more opportunities to bleed the clock. Even with a high Rush Rate, it doesn’t necessarily run it very well.
With both teams having very poor offensive metrics, I don’t expect points to be scored in bunches here — especially when both teams shockingly have great Def. Finishing Drives rates.
Given the relative weakness of each team’s defense, it is eye-popping to see they excel at keeping teams in check past the 40. That’s a big factor into my bet for this game.
We have this game projected at 50, well below the listed total of 56.5. I grabbed a piece at the open of 57 and would still play it at the current price.
Pick: Under 57 (-115)
7 p.m. ET
Wake Forest looks to stay perfect as it travels for its first Atlantic Coast Conference road game in Saturday’s matchup with the Virginia Cavaliers.
Wake Forest endured its first losing season under head coach Dave Clawson since 2015, finishing last year with a 4-5 record. Many of those struggles were attributed to opt-outs, early departures and the injury bug.
According to TARP, the Demon Deacons returned 86% of their offensive production and 75% of their defensive production. They’ve bounced back in a big way so far, starting the season 3-0, including a 35-14 win over Florida State last week.
Virginia its campaign with victories over William & Mary and Illinois, outscoring them by a combined 85-14 margin. In the third week of action, the Cavaliers held a 28-24 lead on the road against North Carolina before the wheels fell off in the second half.
Bronco Mendenhall’s defense allowed close to 700 yards of offense to Sam Howell’s Air Raid attack. Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong did everything he could to keep them in the game, throwing for more than 550 yards and four touchdowns.
Virginia’s defense will need to bounce back quickly to avoid two early ACC losses and keep them in contention for the division.
Demon Deacons Offense
The Deacons run the ball on 59% of their offensive snaps, but that’s only translated to 44% of their total yards. The bulk of the offensive production is reliant on the arm of Sam Hartman and legs of Christian Beal-Smith.
Hartman has thrown for six touchdowns to just one interception while averaging 7.9 yards per pass attempt. He’s led the offense to the 19th national ranking in Passing Success. Much of that is attributed to the offensive line that ranks 14th in Pass Blocking.
Although the run game has found paydirt eight times this season, it ranks 102nd in Rushing Success Rate. Wake Forest features a running-back-by-committee system that averages 4.2 yards per carry. Beal-Smith is the most efficient of the group, running for nearly six yards per carry. He also has four touchdowns so far this season.
The Deacons play at a fast pace that ranks 29th in the nation, but have lacked the ability to find explosive plays. They sit at 108th in Big Play rate.
Demon Deacons Defense
The Wake Forest defense has been solid against the rush but putrid against the pass through three games. The unit is allowing just 3.5 yards per carry and ranking 24th in the country in Rush Success.
However, when teams elect to air it out, the Deacons have struggled, ranking 116th in Defensive Pass Success. All five touchdowns the defense has let up have come through the air.
Keep in mind, this defense hasn’t really been tested yet facing the likes of Old Dominion, Norfolk State and Florida State, which has been on the decline. This week will be the first true challenge matching up against a quarterback who ranks No. 2 in total passing yards this season.
Armstrong is as important to the Virginia offense as Batman is to Gotham City.
Through three games, he ranks No. 2 in the nation in passing yards, averaging over 430 per game and 10.7 yards per attempt. He has 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions while completing 72% of his passes.
The offense has been dynamite, averaging 40.5 points per game and 565 yards of total offense that’s good for third in the nation. The Cavaliers average 7.3 yards per play and convert third downs more than 50% of the time.
The rushing attack has not been great, averaging 2.8 yards per carry and less than 80 yards per game. The Cavaliers see no need to run the ball when they have one of the most productive passing threats in the country, which is why they rank third in passing attempts per game at 48.5 this season.
The Virginia defense allowed just 310 passing yards, 210 rushing yards and two total touchdowns combined between Illinois and William & Mary.
In the third week, the Cavaliers conceded 307 passing yards, 392 rushing yards and eight total touchdowns. The flood gates opened and there was nothing their defense could do to slow down Sam Howell and North Carolina offense.
That loss to the Tar Heels has seriously skewed the Cavaliers’ defensive metrics. They’re allowing an average of 6.9 yards per carry, when through the first two weeks they were letting up just 3.2 in that same statistic. They now rank outside the top 100 in various categories such as Line Yards, defensive pass rush and Havoc.
Whether the defense that showed up against North Carolina is Virginia’s identity or a one-time blip remains to be seen.
Wake Forest vs. Virginia Betting Pick
This will be the first in conference road game for Wake Forest and it might want to play ball control to keep Virginia’s offense off the field. This game is anticipated to be a shootout, but I’m staying away from the total for that reason.
That said, I’m backing Armstrong and the Virginia offense to be able to continue lighting defenses up through the air. This game presents a huge mismatch between the Cavaliers’ fifth-ranked passing attack against Wake Forest and its 116th-ranked pass defense.
Virginia’s defense has been better than what we saw last week, and many are overreacting to the poor showing. I anticipate the Cavaliers to get enough stops and the offense to continue to roll.
Pick: Virginia -4 (Play to -4.5)
8 p.m. ET
Liberty travels up north on Friday night to Syracuse for its first of two games against Power 5 opponents this season.
The Flames thrashed Syracuse, 38-21, at the Carrier Dome last year and have started the 2021 season with three consecutive convincing wins.
The Flames’ offense is led by second-year starter and dual-threat quarterback Malik Willis, who gave the Orange’s defense lots of problems last season in their matchup.
Syracuse has already doubled its win total from the 2020 season — when it went 1-10 — with wins against Ohio and Albany.
The Orange have had a quarterback battle throughout much of the season, but it appears veteran Tommy DeVito is the frontrunner over newcomer and Mississippi State transfer Garrett Shrader.
The two have somewhat split time through the Orange’s first three games, but DeVito has outperformed Shrader and has seen most of the snaps.
When Liberty ran all over Syracuse and posted 38 points last season, the Flames faced a banged up Orange defense missing multiple key starters.
Syracuse’s front seven is improved and healthier this year, with better tackling and less big plays allowed through three weeks. The Orange haven’t seen a quarterback like Willis to this point, but Liberty only has the edge in a couple key statistical categories.
The Flames have an edge in Rushing and Passing Success Rate, meaning they should be able to keep drives moving and pick up some first downs. However, the Orange are solid defensively at Finishing Drives, don’t allow big plays and Liberty will need to overcome the edges in Havoc Allowed and pass blocking that SU maintains.
Liberty will score in this game, but it’s going to take a while for the Flames to move the ball down the field and convert touchdowns.
The Orange had their best offensive line yards game of the season against the Flames last year, but only managed to score 21 points.
The Flames will need to find an answer to stop running back Sean Tucker, a major reason the Orange are 30th in Rushing Success Rate despite a below average offensive line.
The Flames’ run defense will be tested as the Orange rank 33rd in the nation in rush rate. Dino Babers has mostly ditched the super-fast, up-tempo offense, but the Orange could go to tempo if they get a drive sustained with a few first downs.
The Flames defense is 55th in preventing big plays and 15th in creating Havoc, both key statistics to potentially shutting down the Orange’s offense.
The Orange’s offense will lean on Tucker, who had 253 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns last Saturday against Albany. Tucker posted a 100-yard game at Notre Dame last season too and is the main focal point of an otherwise bad SU offense.
The Orange’s offensive line issues have defined the last few seasons of the Babers era, as the unit ranks 126th in offensive line yards this season and 87th in pass blocking.
Babers made a switch along the line, with his right tackle and center swapping spots in hopes of improvements. Those improvements are unlikely to come against a Liberty defense that is better statistically along the defensive line.
The Flames have the edge in havoc on defense, they’re 29th in pass rush and 86th in Line Yards. All three numbers are better than the SU offense in those respective categories.
Syracuse’s offense was heavily reliant on the big play to generate any type of offense last season, with wide receiver Taj Harris as the main deep threat. The Orange may break one or two off, but when they get down inside the 40, they have issues turning drives into touchdowns.
Veteran kicker Andre Szmyt is a former Lou Groza winner and Babers leans on his kicking ability in lieu of aggressive fourth-down decision making inside the opponent’s territory.
The offensive line issues condense the field and are a major reason Syracuse is 71st in Finishing Drives and ranked poorly in that category in 2020, as well.
The defense has carried an anemic offense for more than a year now, as the Orange were in the bottom three in FBS in offensive efficiency in 2020 and have struggled outside of a game against Albany this year.
On the other hand, the Syracuse defense held Ohio to nine points on six drives past its 40. It shut out Rutgers for an entire half in Week 2, and dating back to last season, the defense has been an underrated unit.
Syracuse’s entire defensive line returned this year and is very experienced. The group is in the top-10 in Defensive Line Yards, ninth in Havoc created and 40th in Rushing Success Rate. All of that is critical against Willis and his dual-threat ability.
The Orange rank second in explosive plays allowed, which was a major issue against Liberty in their loss last season.
PFF grades out the SU defense as top 16 in both tackling and coverage, a credit to second-year defensive coordinator Tony White.
Liberty vs. Syracuse Betting Pick
Given that both defenses have the edge over the opposing offenses and both teams want to play at a slower pace than years past, the under is the play here.
One positive with DeVito at quarterback for Syracuse is that he doesn’t usually throw a lot of interceptions. The Orange will be punting quite a bit in this game if they cannot extend drives.
Punts will pin Liberty back in the field position battle, and while the Flames will surely have some success moving the ball, they play at a very slow pace and the SU defense has been excellent this year at avoiding big plays.
Both teams rank in the top 35 nationally in rushing rate, so with the ball on the ground and big plays hard to break open, the game will likely feature long drives.
Expect this duel to be played in the 20s, where points are at a premium for an SU offense that has had red zone issues for years. Also, Syracuse’s defense has excelled inside its own 40-yard line since Tony White took over as defensive coordinator last fall.
Pick: Under 54 (-110 or better)
10 p.m. ET
CBS Sports Network
Late Friday night will see a matchup between two teams headed in very different directions.
The UNLV Rebels come into the game ranked 125th out of 130 teams in Collin Wilson’s power ratings. Meanwhile, Fresno State is coming off an upset of UCLA as an 11-point underdog and is now ranked 22nd in the country.
Since 2009, Fresno State has gone 25-1 when playing as a 20+-point favorite. However, that single loss came against the Rebels when they fell, 26-16, as a 22.5-point favorite in 2017. Fresno State has also covered the spread in 12 of those 26 games.
Fresno also leads the conference series, 5-3, and boasts a 5-3 record ATS in that series. Can the Bulldogs steamroll this struggling UNLV team, or will they get caught still celebrating their big upset?
Being a head coach in college football is hard for everyone, but I don’t know If it’s been more difficult for anyone than Marcus Arroyo. He was announced as the head coach in December 2019 and still hasn’t gotten his first win.
After an 0-6 season last year an 0-3 start this year, these Rebels are struggling to get anything going. They rank in the bottom 10 of SP+ and offensively are outside the top 100 in third-down efficiency, sacks allowed, passing yards, and first downs.
There is one positive for this Rebels offense. On Monday, it was announced that quarterback Doug Brumfield, who was the team’s most efficient QB, has returned to practice from an undisclosed upper-body injury. Arroyo’s hopeful he will be able to play Friday night.
UNLV has seen four quarterbacks see the field through only three games. And while it’s reassuring it may get its starting quarterback back Friday, it will take a miracle performance from the entire offense that has averaged just 0.76 points per drive outside of garbage time to keep up with the Bulldogs.
The Rebels haven’t found much success on the defensive side of the ball either, ranking 125th in Havoc while allowing 6.2 yards per play and 35 points per game.
However, there is a weak point they can take advantage of against the Bulldogs this week. Fresno State QB Jake Haener took some hard hits against UCLA last week, and more blitzing might be one of the few paths to success for this Rebels team.
I can’t see sitting back against a Bulldog offense that has gotten better every week being a real option for UNLV.
And with a team that hasn’t accounted for a single quarterback hurry so far, I expect Arroyo to try anything that could be the first step forward for this team.
If you haven’t heard about this Fresno State team, I can only assume you crawled out from under a rock and started reading this article. With future NFL talent Jake Haener at the helm, PFF gives it an overall offensive grade of 88.5, and it’s currently ranked 25th in the AP Poll.
I know it’s only Week 4, but this Fresno State team looks like the real deal after its upset of UCLA.
It currently ranks fourth in passing yards while averaging seven yards per play, and while Haener may be limited due to the beating he took last week against UCLA, I have complete confidence in backup Jaylen Henderson.
Henderson, who has already seen live-action against UConn, and Cal Poly could be a starter in many other programs.
He can take advantage of a Rebels pass defense that ranks 129th out of 130 teams in percentage of available yards allowed per drive should his number be called.
The Fresno State defense may be more important to this team than the offense, but it isn’t getting the credit it deserves.
The Bulldogs limited UCLA, which averages 190 rushing YPG, to only 119. They currently allow an average of only 19.5 points per game and 283.5 yards.
This may not seem incredibly low, but this team has played Oregon and UCLA — two programs that are lightyears ahead of what they will see from UNLV.
I expect this Fresno State defense to shut down the Rebels run game. And given their current situation at quarterback, that may be all they need to do to shut this team down completely.
UNLV vs. Fresno State Betting Pick
I can see how some people think this will be a letdown spot with Fresno coming off an upset win last week or think this spread is too high, and this may be a trap.
But this Fresno State team excels in every facet of the game that UNLV struggles. It should have no problem against this UNLV pass defense, and the Rebels will have difficulty getting anything going in the run game, which is likely this team’s only path to victory against anyone this season.
I have no problem laying the points here with the Bulldogs.
Fresno State opened as a 30.5-point favorite and is currently widely available between 30.5 and 31.5. I would bet the Bulldogs up to -34.5 (-105).
Pick: Fresno State -31 (Play to -34.5)
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