College Football Odds, Best Bets: Our Top 5 Picks for Saturday Afternoon’s Kickoffs, Including Iowa vs. Indiana & Marshall vs. Navy (Sept. 4)
Justin Casterline/Getty Images. Pictured: Michael Penix Jr.
- The 2021 college football season is in full swing as we move from the noon kickoffs deeper into the afternoon slate of games on Saturday, Sept. 4.
- Saturday afternoon's college football card is full of compelling matchups on which to bet, including Iowa vs. Indiana, Marshall vs. Navy, West Virginia vs. Maryland, and plenty more.
- Below, our college football betting staff highlights the top-5 bets they're making on this afternoon's games.
We've enjoyed every second of college football's return so far, but it's not over yet. In fact, it's barely just begun.
We have plenty of chances to make some more money ahead, and it kicks off with Saturday's afternoon games. Our staff is all over this kickoff window, handicapping everything from the top-25 Iowa vs. Indiana matchup to Marshall vs. Navy.
Throw in Cincinnati vs. Miami (OH), and West Virginia vs. Maryland, and we're in for a treat this afternoon.
But that's not all. We'll have more later tonight, so be sure to check out our writers' favorite bets for the evening and late-night set.
For now, check out all five of our best afternoon bets below, and don't forget to check out our top picks for the noon and evening sets in the table below.
|«« Noon Best Bets (12:00 p.m. ET)||Evening Best Bets (7:30 p.m. ET) »»|
2021 Week 1 College Football Best Bets
The set of college football team logos below reflects each of our college football staff's Week 1 best bets. Click any logo to navigate to a specific pick discussed in this article.
Listed odds have been updated as of Friday afternoon. 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.
3:30 p.m. ET
Cincinnati football coach Luke Fickell said earlier this week the first game of each season feels like Christmas morning. That comes as no surprise when the first game is against a team he's won 14 straight games against.
For the first time since 2019, Cincinnati will face the Miami RedHawks after the 2020 matchup was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It marked the first pause in the nation’s oldest nonconference rivalry that dates back to 1888 since World War II.
For the RedHawks, 2019 MAC Freshman of the Year quarterback Brett Gabbert and tight end Andrew Homer lead the way on offense. Wide receiver Jack Sorenson, who scored four touchdowns from Gabbert in the 2019 MAC Championship, is also back for Miami.
The RedHawks defense ranked first in the nation in sacks per game at 4.3 last season, but it only played three games. That may be misleading, but there’s nothing misleading about Kameron Butler, who had 2.5 sacks last season after recording 5.5 in 2019.
Desmond Ridder begins his Heisman Trophy campaign by losing his leading rusher and No. 1 pass catcher, but I don't expect a Bearcats offense that averaged 37.5 points and 451 yards of total offense per game last season to miss a beat.
The Cincinnati defense returns seven starters from a group last year that led all FBS teams in Defensive Passing Success Rate and Defensive Finishing Drives.
The Bearcats are rolling behind their quarterback and a strong defense is going to shut down the RedHawks’ passing attack. That will allow them to dominate early and cover this large spread.
Cincinnati is 6-2 against the spread in their last eight meetings between these teams at home. I’ll take the Bearcats -22.5 and play to -23.5 (-115), and I also recommend a small play on the Bearcats’ first-half spread at -13.5. I’d play that to -14.
3:30 p.m. ET
Big Ten Network
It’s hard to script a more exciting early Big Ten battle than this one.
The Hoosiers enter the year with a ton of buzz after their most successful season in the last decade, while the Hawkeyes ended their COVID-shortened 2020 season with six consecutive victories.
Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. missed all of spring ball while recovering from the ACL injury he suffered late last season against Maryland. What was he doing before that? Well, in the Horseshoe against No. 3 Ohio State, Penix went for 491 yards and five touchdowns while leading IU to within one possession of a shocking upset.
Penix’s most trusted and explosive target returns in Ty Fryfogle, as do Miles Marshall and Peyton Hendershot. Penix should be 100% medically cleared for the opener, and I expect him to be very ready to get out there and back to what he was doing before his injury.
Meanwhile, for the Hawkeyes, Spencer Petras showed significant signs of improvement in his final four games under center last season. After throwing three early interceptions against Northwestern, Petras began to take better care of the ball and played a significant part in the Hawkeyes’ long winning streak.
All signs point to Petras making another jump this season, but he will need to continue to make the right decisions in the pocket.
Indiana had one of the stoutest defenses in the nation in 2020 and returns nine defensive starters. Linebacker Micah McFadden is as good as any at the position in the Big Ten, and he will be poised to quarterback this defensive unit once again.
There will be some new faces in the interior of the defensive line for Iowa, but Zach VanValkenburg and his 30 tackles and 3.5 sacks return for the Hawkeyes. Noah Shannon should also be ready to slide into a full-time role.
Ultimately, I project this game to be tight and come down to the final few possessions, so I will gladly take the points here and roll with the Hoosiers.
Tom Allen has taken this program to new heights over the past couple seasons, and there is every reason to believe that with 17 returning starters this group can continue to build off of that. Look for Fryfogle to make a play late that will prove to be the difference in this one.
3:30 p.m. ET
CBS Sports Network
I can’t tell if I love Marshall or dislike Navy more in this spot. Either way, I’m laying the chalk on an extremely cheap number.
The Thundering Herd clocked out of 2020 with a respectable 7-3 clip, but it could have been even better.
Stacking up win percentage against expected win percentage, Marshall was projected for 8.7 victories. Among teams that played at least nine games last season, the Herd’s -17% differential between both metrics was the second-largest negative discrepancy in the country, behind only Louisville. I strongly feel Marshall’s public perception would be different had it gone 8-2 or 9-1.
Beating Navy requires a defensive line that can stop the triple-option. Marshall will have exactly that.
The Thundering Herd’s defense boasts eight returning starters on a unit that last season ranked No. 3 in opponent yards per rush (2.8) and No. 4 in opportunity rate (38.1%), which factors in the number of carries that go for at least four yards. Overall, nobody allowed fewer points per game than the Herd (14.4).
Meanwhile, Navy is in rough shape if it can’t execute its bread and butter.
The Midshipmen ranked No. 96 nationally in yards per carry (3.7), and in turn, were held to single-digit point totals in half their games. Navy isn’t automatically going to blossom, considering it must replace three starters along the offensive line.
Navy’s slotted No. 112 in TAN’s Power Ratings, 57 spots worse than Marshall. I can’t find a single reason to lay off the favorite, especially at this number.
3:30 p.m. ET
CBS Sports Network
Marshall made one of the best offseason hires this cycle bringing in head coach Charles Huff to take over for Doc Holliday. Huff spent the last two seasons as the running backs coach at Alabama, following stints coaching the backs at Mississippi State and Penn State.
The Thundering Herd return a bunch on both sides of the ball, including Conference USA Freshman of the Year Grant Wells, who will also have his leading receiver in Corey Gammage and All-Conference tight end Xavier Gaines back.
Playing a triple-option team is always a challenge, but Marshall was dominant against the run last year. The Herd ranked fourth in the country allowing just 95 rush yards per game and ranked 13th in Defensive Success Rate the run, allowing just 2.8 yards per carry.
Defensive tackle Jamare Edwards is a beast in the middle and graduate transfer Shane Simmons started games for Penn State last year at defensive end.
For a team that exclusively runs the ball, Navy really struggled at it last year. The Midshipmen ranked 109th in the country in Rushing Success Rate. They rotated three quarterbacks through the season, and none of them executed the offense well.
Now, the Navy offensive line has lost three starters, and the Midshipmen lose their top-two leading rushers. In 10 games last year, Navy ran for 200 yards or more just four times, going 3-1 in those games. When it failed to reach that rushing plateau, it went 0-6.
Marshall started last season in fantastic fashion, going 7-0 before dropping its final three games, including the conference championship to UAB.
Look for the Thundering Herd to want to come out and make a statement in their first game after how they finished last year.
3:30 p.m. ET
By CJ Vogel
I am a big, big fan of Neal Brown and what he has done at West Virginia during his tenure. While he hasn’t necessarily put up a gorgeous record, Brown definitely has had WVU moving in the right direction ever since he stepped on campus in Morgantown.
Starting on the defensive line, Dante Stills is an All-Big 12-caliber player who will clog running lanes and create pressure in the passing game from the interior.
The Mountaineers were right on the cusp of a top-20 defense in the country in 2020, allowing just 20.50 points per game.
Offensively, I am buying enough of the hype around quarterback Jarret Doege to believe the Mountaineers will cover Week 1. It helps to have a 1,000-yard rusher by his side in Leddie Brown and a top-notch, go-to wide receiver in Winston Wright.
The Mountaineers also ranked 35th in the red zone last year, while Maryland ranked 118th. Should the Terps be common visitors inside WVU’s 20-yard line, I expect more of those struggles to continue against a stout defense.
I am expecting the Mountaineers to come out swinging in this one and would not be surprised if they won by double digits.