2021 College Football Odds & Betting Picks: The Pick to Make for San Jose State vs. Southern Utah (Aug. 28)
Dustin Satloff/Getty Images. Pictured: Rico Tolefree.
San Jose State vs. Southern Utah Odds
San Jose State stunned the country in the COVID-filled 2020 season when it went undefeated in conference play and defeated Boise State to win the Mountain West title.
Head coach Brent Brennan had a combined record of 7-29 in his first three seasons before running the table in his fourth year.
The Spartans return 10 defensive starters from a top-20 unit last year in terms of points per game. They’re also bringing back nine offensive starters, which includes quarterback Nick Starkel and his whole offensive line that allowed only eight sacks last season.
San Jose State still has a chip on its shoulder as it attempts to prove that last season’s Mountain West Championship run was no fluke.
But, there’s reason to believe that SJSU may overlook its Week 10 opponent as a matchup with USC looms in Week 1.
Southern Utah enters its final season in the Big Sky before departing to the Western Athletic Conference for next season. The Thunderbirds have been trending downward since 2018, boasting a record of just 5-24 in that span.
Although both the coaches and media polls project the program to finish 11th in the 13-team conference, there’s still reason for optimism for the upcoming season.
The Thunderbirds lost all five of their games in the spring season by a combined 15 points with three of those losses coming in the final seconds. With some of the top players in the Big Sky returning this year, coach Demario Warren is looking to leave this conference on a high note.
But moving the ball against this San Jose State defense is going to be a tall task for the Thunderbirds.
Former Texas A&M and Arkansas quarterback Nick Starkel returns to San Jose State for his second season with the Spartans with high expectations after a Mountain West Championship.
After throwing for 2,174 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2020, he will need to gel with some new receivers after losing his top two pass-catchers. Tre Walker and Bailey Gaither combined for 1,352 receiving yards and eight touchdowns last year but have since departed for the NFL.
The receiving corps is a major concern for the Spartans entering this season, and the run game was mediocre at best in 2020.
They return all five offensive linemen — a unit that allowed just eight sacks last season — but they will need to improve on running the ball. San Jose State failed to eclipse the 100-yard rushing mark in four games last season and averaged just 134.1 yards per game, ranking 90th in the country.
The defense was the main reason for the Spartans’ success last season, allowing just 19.9 points per game, the 16th-best in the country. No opponent scored more than 24 points against this defense, excluding the bowl game versus Ball State, when a COVID-19 outbreak depleted the roster.
The 3-4 scheme proved to be the bread-and-butter for this defense with one of the top defensive lines in the Mountain West. Defensive end Cade Hall contributed 10 sacks and 12 tackles for loss, while Viliami Fehoko posted 12.5 tackles for loss and six sacks on the other side. They were dominant against the run, allowing just 3.2 yards per rush and 120.3 rush yards per game.
San Jose State averaged just 65.6 offensive plays per game last year, which ranks it 111th in the nation. Playing at such a slow pace led to seven of its eight games going under the total last year. Look for that trend to continue this season with the Spartans’ slow-paced offense and dominant defense returning in full form.
After dropping so many close games last year, Southern Utah knows it has an opportunity at being competitive in the Big Sky.
The Thunderbirds averaged 26.5 points per game last season and found success moving the ball through the air behind quarterback Justin Miller. He averaged 285.5 passing yards per game and contributed 15 touchdowns with just four interceptions in his six games.
Miller loses his top receiving threat in Landen Measom, and his lack of weapons is a concern for this offense.
Running the ball wasn’t much of a strength for the Thunderbirds last year, and it’s hard to imagine they would find much success in this game against the front seven of SJSU. Still, left tackle Braxton Jones is one of the top offensive linemen in the Big Sky and is a serious prospect for the 2022 NFL Draft.
Linebacker La’akea Kaho’ohanohano-Davis emerged as one of the top FCS defensive players with his 57 tackles and seven sacks in just six games last season. He started as a defensive back and was converted to a linebacker who knows how to cover the field in passing situations. He leads an experienced group that knows how to get after the quarterback and cause pressure in the backfield.
San Jose State vs. Southern Utah Betting Pick
San Jose State should take care of business against Southern Utah early in Week 0. As a three-touchdown favorite, Brennan will look to use this game as a tune-up for the real season opener next week against USC.
Southern Utah is going to struggle to move the chains consistently against the San Jose State defense. Without a strong run game or Miller’s go-to receiver, it could be a long day for the Thunderbird offense.
The Spartans, who already play at one of the slowest paces in the nation, will look establish the run after capturing the lead early. Historically, we’ve seen them stay well-balanced offensively and take their foot off the gas pedal when a game is in control.
It may not be the most exciting game of Week 0, but it’s a good game to make some money on. I’m playing the under at 56.5.
Pick: Under 56.5 (Play to 54.5).