College Football Odds, Pick for Northern Iowa vs. Iowa State: Bet on a Blowout in Week 1 (Saturday, Sept. 4)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images. Pictured: Breece Hall (left) and Brock Purdy (right).
College Football Week 1 Odds
After a small appetizer last week, the college football season kicks off in earnest this Labor Day weekend. One of the less heralded but potentially intriguing matchups involves FCS power Northern Iowa making a return to Jack Trice Stadium to take on the preseason No. 7 Iowa State Cyclones.
When the Panthers last ventured cross-state to Ames, they nearly pulled off the upset of the season before falling 29-26 in 3 OTs. COVID-19 interrupted any rematch in 2020, but after a shortened FCS spring season, UNI gets another shot to take down a college football Goliath.
After a historic run to the FCS quarterfinals in 2019, the UNI Panthers endured a lost season in 2020. The Panthers finished 3-4 in the delayed and shortened spring session for FCS member teams. There is reason to believe that the team can return to the upper echelon in 2021. Northern Iowa returns all 22 starters from last year and enters the season ranked #21 in the junior circuit of Division 1.
Offensively, the Panthers return some elite skill position talent. Redshirt sophomore Will McElvaine returns under center. He set the UNI freshman passing record in 2019, throwing for 2,778 yards and 20 TDs. He only saw action in five games last season but showed that he can be a threat with both his arm and his feet.
McElvaine’s main target will once again be big-play threat Isaiah Weston. Weston has caught 72 passes for 1,585 yards in his career, and his 22 YPC is 7th all-time in school history.
Defensively the Panthers will count on a stout corps of linemen anchored by MVFC Defensive Player of the Year Jared Brinkman. Brinkman has 27 TFL in his career and will be counted on to slow down the Cyclone attack. The unit returns all eleven starters from 2020 including many who made the trip to Ames in 2019.
The Iowa State Cyclones have been knocking on the door of the penthouse of college football ever since Matt Campbell came to town. Every year seems to bring a big win over a program like Oklahoma or Texas but is then countered with a loss, such as their 31-14 loss to Louisiana last year. Slow starts have been a big part of the problem and the Cyclones will look to end that trend this season.
The Cyclones return 19 starters overall and are particularly experienced on offense. 16 players on their offensive unit have a combined 221 starts. Leading this group once again will be potential Heisman candidate Brock Purdy. Purdy will be entering his fourth year as the Cyclones triggerman.
In his previous three seasons the Gilbert, Arizona native has completed 701 passes for 8,982 yards and 62 TDs. He will leave with every record under the sun, but for the Cyclones to go where they want to, Purdy will have to add to his “Brocktober success” and get this offense going in Week 1.
Purdy is complimented by a veteran O-line and the talents of mercurial running back Breece Hall. Hall led the nation in rushing last year with 1,572 yards and 21 touchdowns. Stopping both Purdy and Hall will be a tall order for UNI.
All-American tight end Charlie Kolar and his 17 career receiving TDs complete this triumvirate of elite talent that will be too much for UNI to contain.
Defensively the Cyclones are stacked with veteran experience as well, bringing back 9 of 11 starters. The defense will be anchored once again by All-American linebacker Mike Rose. Rose was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, leading the conference with 96 tackles and collecting 10.5 tackles for loss. He is an elite and focused leader that drove the Cyclones to a national leading six-game streak of allowing 10 or fewer points in the 2nd half.
The Cyclones Defensive line features 1st team All-Big 12 edge rusher Will McDonald IV, who led the Big 12 with 10.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. He will be a monster for UNI to deal with.
Defensive excellence continues into a backline anchored by three-year safety Greg Ellsworth II. In short, the Cyclone defense has All-American candidates on all three levels that will present a monumental challenge for UNI.
Northern Iowa vs. Iowa State Betting Pick
In analyzing this game, the key component to me is where Iowa State and Matt Campbell are in their journey. The 2020 squad was arguably the most successful in school history, becoming the first to finish the year with a victory in a New Year’s Six bowl game. Most of all the major contributors are back and inspired to win the Big 12 Championship and potentially reach the College Football Playoff.
In 2019 neither the Cyclone fan base nor the team was expectant of a game from UNI. This year Jack Trice Stadium will be packed with a sellout crowd anticipating a historic season. You can bet that the Cyclone players will buy into the coaches messaging after 2019 and the 2020 stunner to Louisiana.
The game plan should be to soften up UNI with a heavy dose of Hall and then hit some big plays in the passing game.
Head Coach Mark Farley is the all-time leading winner in MVFC history, and he will bring a scrappy and inspired group into Ames, but his unit is simply too overmatched in the trenches and in skill. It will be extremely hard for UNI to run the ball, and I foresee 3rd-and-long situations that will provide opportunities for Will McDonald to make game-changing plays off the edge.
The 2021 Iowa State team is on a mission to reach the elite stage and this opener will be the first salvo towards a championship. This spread is big, but the Cyclones have too much veteran talent and they will learn from past lessons. The Cyclones also avoid letdowns on defense in the second half that could potentially derail the cover. I like the Big 12 squad in a blowout.