College Football Odds & Picks: Best Bets & Angles for Wisconsin vs. Illinois, 2 Other Friday Games
Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Graham Mertz
- Friday night football is back in earnest. Bettors rejoice! Below we break down how we're betting all three FBS games on the slate, including Wisconsin vs. Illinois, ULL vs. UAB and USF vs. Tulsa.
- Tulsa's defense is much better than you think, Louisiana has a key edge over UAB, and Illinois will keep it close early.
- Get all our bets for Friday night college football below.
Weeknight college football is back. And get used to it. There’s plenty more on the way over the next two months.
The Big Ten officially begins its 2020 season with Wisconsin vs. Illinois on Friday night, while we’ve got a pair of interesting Group of 5 games on tap, as well.
We’ve previewed each below; use the links to jump to each game.
Tulsa at USF Odds
|Tulsa Odds||-10.5 [BET NOW]|
|USF Odds||+10.5 [BET NOW]|
|Moneyline||-500/+310 [BET NOW]|
|Over/Under||51 [BET NOW]|
|Time||Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET|
Tulsa Golden Hurricane
The Cincinnati cancellation due to COVID-19 hitting the Bearcats’ roster took some wind out of Tulsa’s sails. The game was set to be on ESPN2 during a weekend in which an Oklahoma State or Oklahoma game wasn’t to be played. The Golden Hurricane returns to the state of Florida three weeks after a victory against UCF in Orlando.
Powering Tulsa’s upset over the Knights is one of the best defenses in the Group of Five. Ranking third in the latest Havoc ratings, the Golden Hurricane defense has come through with near-perfect execution. Only one player on the entire roster has two missed tackles through two games.
Linebacker Zaven Collins has been a one-man wrecking crew with three sacks, three hurries and a top-10 tackles for loss rank in just two games.
— Joe Broback (@joebroback) October 7, 2020
However, the Tulsa offense can be considered pedestrian at best. A rank in the bottom 10 in Success Rate with a Finishing Drives rank of 63rd would make any gambler curious of the final score of the Central Florida game.
Quarterback Zach Smith connected on 34- and 48-yard touchdown passes. Recovering two fumbles, recording a touchdown and connecting on two field goals assisted in the team racking up 34 points.
Head coach Jeff Scott has a 1-4 record through the first portion of the Bulls’ schedule. Scott, who previously served as Clemson’s co-offensive coordinator, took just four losses since 2016 in his time as the Tigers’ offensive mind. South Florida is -4 in turnovers during FBS play, including five against Cincinnati.
The Bulls rank almost dead last in Havoc allowed, with seven offensive fumbles and 49 tackles for loss.
The turnovers have negated a top-20 rank in rush explosiveness and Power Success Rate. Those numbers can be attributed to Johnny Ford, who saw increased action against Temple with 206 all-purpose yards as a receiver, rusher and kickoff return specialist.
— 𝗦𝗼𝗙𝗹𝗼𝗕𝘂𝗹𝗹𝘀 (@SoFloBulls_) October 3, 2020
The defense has been just as helpless in the Havoc department, ranking 71st along with a Sack Rate of 55th. The only positive news is the limiting of opponents’ explosive passing, ranking sixth in the nation. South Florida has given up just 11 passing plays over 20 yards through five games.
Betting Analysis & Pick
South Florida’s defensive strength is limiting the deep pass, an issue Central Florida had against Tulsa quarterback Zach Smith. If the Bulls can clamp down a Tulsa offense that has its limitations, there could be a shot for South Florida to compete.
The Action matchup chart shows there should be more Johnny Ford on offense for the Bulls, breaking chunk yards on the ground. Quarterback Jordan McCloud must have a clean sheet in fumbles and interceptions, which is a tough ask against this Tulsa defense.
With both defenses setting the ceiling low on opposing offenses, there may be a lack of scoring. Our Pace Report projects a total of 43 points, well below the current market. Totals are calculated taking in Pace and Finishing Drives.
South Florida may run a quick pace, but an Offensive Finishing Drives rank of 75th is at the bottom of FBS teams. Conversely, the Tulsa defense allows just three points per trip past the 40-yard line.
There is no value in the side with an Action Network projection of Tulsa -9, but tough defenses and a stiff double-digit wind into an end zone call for a play on the total. Assuming no fumble recoveries occur in the end zone and no pick-sixes, this game has under the total written all over it.
Pick: Under 50.5 or better
Illinois at Wisconsin Odds
|Illinois Odds||+19.5 [BET NOW]|
|Wisconsin Odds||-19.5 [BET NOW]|
|Moneyline||+700/-1112 [BET NOW]|
|Over/Under||51.5 [BET NOW]|
|Time||Friday, 8 p.m. ET|
|TV||Big Ten Network|
The Wisconsin Badgers will be expected to get their 2020 season underway with a win in Friday night’s Big Ten opener. The Badgers, who come into the curtain-raiser ranked as the No. 14 team in the country, are three-score favorites over Illinois under the lights at Camp Randall Stadium on Friday night and sport a huge -1112 moneyline.
Is the betting market too high on Wisky? Should you bank on some rust as these two teams get their season started? Let’s dive in.
Illinois Fighting Illini
For the first time in the Lovie Smith era, there’s some optimism surrounding the Fighting Illini before the season. The Illini are coming off a 6-7 performance in 2019, the best in Smith’s three-year tenure. Their 35-20 loss to Cal in the Redbox Bowl wrapped up a season that was full of exasperating losses and shocking wins.
The story remained the same each time the Illini stepped on the field. If they could create Havoc and protect quarterback Brandon Peters, they could scratch out results. The good news is that the Illini are returning four starters on their offensive line, including the unit’s anchor in Doug Kramer at center. Kramer missed the Redbox Bowl with injury, and it was no coincidence that Cal dominated Illinois in the trenches with two sacks, three hurries and four tackles for loss (TFLs).
Even though they finished 112th in Overall Success Rate, the Illini offense finished eighth in Power Success Rate and 38th in pass explosiveness. While the offense looks to stabilize with a seasoned offensive line and talent at the skill positions, the defense will need to replace top tackler Dele Harding and top pass-rusher Oluwole Betiku.
If there is an immediate weakness to look out for on Opening Night, it’s the losses along a defensive front that ranked 24th in Stuff Rate and 38th in Line Yards last season.
The Badgers will need to navigate an injury at the most important position before the season kicks off. Quarterback Jack Coan is dealing with a right foot injury, which will sideline the Long Island native indefinitely. Coan’s replacement will be four-star redshirt freshman Graham Mertz.
Everyone knows the Badgers’ signature is the rushing attack, which might struggle in the absence of Jonathan Taylor. Wisconsin finished inside the top 15 in Line Yards, Stuff Rate and Rushing Success Rate, and the offensive line returns four players with at least 11 starts. But replicating Taylor’s success is a copious task.
Defensively, the Badgers project to be top-notch. Wisconsin returns 81% of a unit that ranked sixth in Success Rate and second in Havoc in 2019. Over 22 defensive players featured in at least 100 snaps last season, though the Badgers will need to find a way to replace linebacker Zack Baun.
Betting Analysis & Pick
For investors that missed that window, our Action Network projections made this line Wisconsin -22.5. That’s a large number to cover for an offense that will be led by a redshirt freshman and will need to replace a lot of production at running back and wide receiver. Illinois’ front-seven may have taken a hit, but the Illini should at least be able to keep the explosiveness to a minimum.
From its veteran quarterback to the future NFL lineman at center, there is plenty to like about the Illini’s offense.
Wisconsin finished 128th in seconds per play last season, and that trend should continue into 2020. The first-half under is worth a play as the Badgers try to get in rhythm. That should also bode well for the Illini to keep this game respectable in the first 30 minutes.
Illinois should give this new-look Badgers team a scare.
The Bets: Illinois +10.5 (1H); Under 27.5 (1H)
ULL at UAB
|Louisiana-Lafayette Odds||-2.5 [ADD TO APP]|
|UAB Odds||+2.5 [ADD TO APP]|
|Moneyline||-134/+110 [ADD TO APP]|
|Over/Under||50 [ADD TO APP]|
|Time||Friday, 8 p.m. ET|
|TV||CBS Sports Network|
At the risk of stating the obvious, the Ragin’ Cajuns and Blazers are two of the best Group of Five programs you’ll see play this season.
Dating back to the start of the 2019 season, Louisiana is 14-4 straight up (SU), while UAB checks in at 13-6 SU. The Blazers do it with defense, evidenced by the fact that they rank top-five nationally in a handful of meaningful metrics (third-down conversion rate, opponent points per play, defensive Havoc, to name a few).
The Cajuns get it done on the ground, balancing efficiency and explosiveness. Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas were impossible to take down with a single defender last year, and they’re back to their old tricks this season.
The backfield tandem has combined for 469 yards on the ground, along with seven touchdowns through four games. And it doesn’t hurt that Ragas can move the pile like this:
Both teams’ only losses this season came against an opponent currently sitting in the AP Top 25, so why are sharps gravitating towards Louisiana? The answer lies in the trenches.
Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns
Louisiana’s bread and butter is its bruising rushing attack. The Cajuns are rushing for 185 yards per game on the ground at a 5.75-yards per carry clip. That high average is fueled by their explosive running plays.
The Cajuns rank 16th in rushes of 20 or more yards, 11th in rushes of 30 or more yards, and sixth in rushes of 40 or more yards. They’re doing all of this with zero lost fumbles. “Explosive,” “efficient” and “error-free” makes for quite the triple-threat. This running game should feast against a UAB front that was gouged for 337 rushing yards against Miami in early September.
Defensively, Louisiana is the picture-perfect definition of bend, but don’t break. It ranks second-to-last in the country in defensive Havoc, which means that it doesn’t force many negative plays; such as tackles for loss, forced fumbles and interceptions.
The Cajuns rely upon their unwillingness to surrender the big play. Through four games, they’ve allowed just four plays of 30 or more yards, which is the third best per-game allowance in the country. This means that opponents must string together plays and convert third downs in order to beat them.
UAB is right in the middle of the pack when it comes to third-down conversions. So, if you remove the Blazers’ 45-point, 459-yard outburst against an FCS school in their opener, it’s hard to picture them hitting a handful of big plays in this one.
The Blazers opened as three-point favorites against the Cajuns. However, that opening spread that has more to do with Bill Clark’s against the spread (ATS) performance as a favorite (21-11-1, 65.6%) than anything else. Clark’s ATS win percentage is the second-highest in the country since 2014.
What negates Clark’s mastery against the number has been Billy Napier’s work as an underdog. The former Saban assistant is 8-4 as an underdog with four outright upsets, including a win over Iowa State to start this season.
This year’s UAB team may be carrying the banner for a 21-game home winning streak at Legion Field, but its offense isn’t up to recent standards. Freshman Bryson Lucero has completed just 56.9% of his passes, which means that Louisiana can stack the box on early downs.
Once it’s clear the Blazers need to put the ball in the air, they’ll be facing off against a savvy Louisiana secondary that has allowed a passer rating of 120.9 (14th in FBS). If UAB falls behind and has to abandon the run, I foresee a potential runaway situation for the Cajuns.
Betting Analysis & Pick
The Blazers’ defensive prowess is hard to argue against, but its competition has been downright lousy; save for the Hurricanes, who beat them soundly.
The UAB schedule has featured teams rated 105th, 113th, 136th, and 166th (FCS) by the Sagarin Ratings. By comparison, Louisiana’s slate has featured the 35th, 55th, 79th, and 119th ranked teams. You usually see competition imbalances like these in college basketball non-conference games.
To see such a stark difference in competition, paired with Louisiana’s win at Iowa State, I’m going to be on the Cajuns here despite the major line movement.
After opening at UAB -3, the current number is ULL -2.5 and we could see more money on the Ragin’ Cajuns pour in, pushing that number to -3. I would play this up to Louisiana -4 in this spot.
Pick: Louisiana-Lafayette -2.5. (Play up to -4).