Miller: 5 College Football Picks on Under-the-Radar Games for Week 8

Miller: 5 College Football Picks on Under-the-Radar Games for Week 8 article feature image
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Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: South Florida Bulls quarterback Jordan McCloud (12).

Everyone will have their eyes on Oregon-Washington, Michigan-Penn State, and Arizona State-Utah this weekend, but don’t forget that there’s plenty of value in some less heralded games.

The lines often aren’t as sharp and there aren’t as many eyes on the games. If you know personnel mismatches, coaching staffs and advanced stats for Group of Five teams, you can position yourself well to make some money.

Every Saturday, I’ll be putting out a few of my favorite bets in some under-the-radar games.

This week I’ve got five, so let’s get to it.

Week 8 College Football Picks

Marshall at FAU

  • Odds: FAU -5.5
  • Total: 58
  • Time: Friday, 6:30p.m. ET
  • TV: CBS Sports Network

I find this weeknight Conference USA game extremely fascinating and it starts with the coaching matching up. The steady Doc Holliday is in his tenth year at Marshall while the volatile and flamboyant Lane Kiffin is in his third year in charge of FAU. While Kiffin is better recognized by the public, I prefer Holliday’s track record of consistency.

Both teams have faced a common opponent within the last few weeks and it’s skewing the line in this game. Two weeks ago, Marshall lost to Middle Tennessee 24-13. Last week, FAU beat MTSU 28-13. On the surface it looks like FAU is the much better team, but that’s not the case upon further review. Marshall’s road loss to the Blue Raiders came despite a 578-404 advantage in total yardage. FAU, meanwhile, was out-gained in its win over MTSU.

These two games were a microcosm of both team’s seasons thus far. Marshall has gotten unlucky from a yards-per-play to points-per-play perspective while FAU has been very fortunate. In fact, FAU ranks 96th in the country in YPP on offense and defense while Marshall is 44th and 68th respectively.

FAU is best defense their defensive line that ranks 20th in line score dominates the line of scrimmage. Marshall will be able to combat that big, experienced offensive line that ranks 19th in offensive line score.

My power number on this game makes FAU just under a one-point favorite so I’ll be the Thundering Herd in this one. The number is currently sitting at 5.5 right where it opened so I’m holding out hope for a six or 6.5. I’ll back the Herd all the way down to four.

The Pick: Marshall +5.5 or better

USF at Navy

  • Odds: Navy -15
  • Total: 51
  • Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
  • TV: CBS Sports Network

Charlie Strong’s time in Tampa might end after the 2019 season, but he is coming off back-to-back wins against UConn and BYU. Freshman quarterback Jordan McCloud, an undersized, under-recruited signal caller, has taken over for the injured Blake Barnett with mixed results.

McCloud himself is banged up coming into this game but he’s expected to play. Despite his slight frame, he’s added a new dimension to the Bulls’ offense. No matter how the offense plays, South Florida will need their defense to stop the run against Navy’s triple option.

Navy’s offense is notoriously difficult to prepare for and stop. Your defensive line has to be able to get in the backfield to disrupt mesh points and avoid being fooled by misdirection. Another key aspect of stopping the option is stuff rate. South Florida’s defensive line ranks 18th in the nation in stuff rate so they should have the ability to slow down Navy.

I make Navy just a six-point favorite in this game so I’m happy to take the points. I put in a play on The Action Network App at USF +14.5 and I would play it at +14 as well.

The Pick: USF +14.5

Tulsa at Cincinnati

  • Odds: Cincinnati -17
  • Total: 59.5
  • Time: 7 p.m. ET
  • TV: ESPNU

Tulsa is a much better team than their 2-4 record. They were up by three touchdowns in the fourth quarter in their triple-overtime loss to SMU. Before that, they had respectable showings against Michigan State and Oklahoma State. Their two wins came against 4-2 Wyoming and an improved San Jose State team.

Tulsa has been unlucky on defense this year as they rank 98th in points-per-play allowed but just 62nd in yards-per-play. Look for that to start to even itself out as we go through the second half of the season.

Cincinnati is coming off what appeared to be a convincing 38-23 win on the road at Houston. Upon further review, the Bearcats were lucky to get out of there with a win. They were out gained but Houston gifted them 5 turnovers, leading to a 17-point Cincinnati fourth quarter.

I’m a big fan of Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell fan and defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman fan, but I can’t lay this big of a number with Cincinnati’s offense. I make this line Cincinnati -14 so I see some value in the road team catching 17-points or better.

The Pick: Tulsa +17

Southern Miss at Louisiana Tech

  • Odds: Southern Miss -3
  • Total: 58
  • Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
  • TV: NFL Network

I’m a little confused by this spread and the way that it’s moved since it opened. That’s normally not a great sign of my initial read, but a look into the advanced stats has bolstered my confidence.

First, let’s lay out the level of competition these two teams have faced thus far in 2019. Outside of Louisiana Tech’s opening game against Texas, the highest ranked team they’ve played according to SP+ is FIU (91st) where they needed a miracle returned onside kick to cover. Their other opponents were Grambling (FCS), Bowling Green (127th), Rice (122nd), and UMass (130th).

Southern Miss, on the other hand, played threes straight road games against Mississippi State, Troy, and Alabama as well as beating North Texas handily.

With the schedules in mind, allow me to point out that Southern Miss ranks 14th in yards-per-play (not adjusted for opponent) on offense while Louisiana Tech is 25th. The Louisiana Tech defense has been much saltier from a YPP and PPP perspective than Southern Miss’ but using SP+ defensive efficiency ratings that are adjusted for opponent, they rank very similarly.

The spread opened at Southern Miss -1.5 only to cross zero and make La Tech the favorite for a few hours. Now it’s settled back around the opening number but I have Southern Missed favored at 4.5 points. Give me Jack Abraham, Quez Watkins, and the explosive Southern Miss offense in this game.

The Pick: Southern Miss -1

Army at Georgia St

  • Odds: Army -5
  • Total: 56
  • Time: 7 p.m. ET
  • TV: ESPN+

These two teams are coming off of very different performances. Army was completely shut down by Western Kentucky on the road while Georgia State went on the road and knocked off Coastal Carolina. Neither of these games was a fluke as both WKU and Georgia State controlled the games in their wins.

Let’s first examine how Western Kentucky stopped Army’s triple option offense last week. The Hilltoppers have a defensive line that ranks 37th in the nation in line yards, 32nd in standard down line yards, and 23rd in stuff rate. They were able to get Army behind the chains by stopping them on first and second downs. Georgia State’s defensive line ranks 115th, 107th, and 100th respectively in those categories indicating that they won’t be able to control the line of scrimmage against Army.

Once Army gets ahead of the chains, they become on of the toughest offenses in the nation to stop, going for it on nearly every fourth-and-short they encounter. They’re going to find running against this Georgia State defense much easier than last week.

Georgia State compiled a strong offensive performance against Coastal Carolina, but Army’s defense is much, much better than the Chanticleers’ unit. Coastal Carolina is 95th in defensive efficiency while Army ranks 53rd. The big breakthrough by the Panther offense will be short lived.

Both my power ratings and SP+ have this spread in the double digit range so I love Army giving a TD or less.

The Pick: Army -5