Stuckey’s Service Academy Betting Guide, Plus Week 1 Angles for Middle Tennessee vs. Army and BYU vs. Navy
Benjamin Solomon and Dustin Satloff/Getty Images. Pictured (L-R): Elijah Riley (23) and Diego Fagot (54).
- The first (mostly) full weekend of college football kicks off on Saturday, including two matchups featuring our U.S. service academies.
- Stuckey’s here to help with historical trends and tips for betting the service academies, plus angles on each of this weekend's matchups for Army and Navy.
- Read on for his full betting guide, including picks and predictions for Middle Tennessee vs. Army on Saturday and BYU vs. Navy on Monday night.
College football is officially back. It’s a reduced Week 1 slate, but last I checked, five FBS matchups are better than zero.
With two of the five Week 1 games involving service academy teams, it’s a perfect time to update my service academy betting guide and share my thoughts on each game.
The Exception to the Rule
I generally don’t really pay any attention to trends when it comes to betting. I don’t care about the historical against-the-spread success rate of college football road teams with white jerseys playing in the eastern time zone on a week night.
If it can’t be explained with a tangible reason, I just don’t care. Correlation without causation is just noise.
Also, just because a trend profited in the past, that doesn’t mean it will continue to profit in the future. Oddsmakers and the market adjust over time, and value can quickly get siphoned from a once profitable situation. West coast NFL teams heading east for the early time slot comes to mind (although teams have also gotten better about handling travel over the years).
That said, I do have a very select few trends that I do keep tabs on. Two of the college football trends that have remained on my radar for years pertain to the three service academies: Army, Navy and Air Force.
They all run a triple-option offense, which enables them to compete at the FBS level with less “talented” rosters. Games involving that trio are a completely different animal as a result of their unique style.
You may ask, “Why hasn’t the market adjusted properly over time?”
It’s a fair question, and the market may adjust eventually, but I refer to these teams as “model-breakers.” Success rate, yards per play and a bevy of advanced metrics aren’t nearly as applicable in handicapping the service academy schools. Getting three yards on first down works when you know you’re going to run it two more times — and then again on fourth-and-short.
Service Academy Betting Trends
I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about betting unders (especially on the opening line) when two service academies meet. These have been uber-successful — Army and Navy have gone under the closing total for 14 straight years, and all unders in games between service academies have gone 35-9-1 against the closing total since 2005. That’s an astounding 79.5% clip.
It makes logical sense. The clock is almost always running with two option-heavy teams, and both defenses have a ton of familiarity with the option since they practice against it.
The other trend could be applicable every week — not just the handful of times a year when the service academies face each other:
Generally speaking, service academies are solid bets as underdogs and worthy fades as favorites. Not automatically, as it ultimately comes down to the number, but this has been a guideline of mine for quite some time.
It’s more of a general principle than anything; but again, it makes sense. The triple-option offense limits total possessions and keeps the clock moving at a rapid pace.
That makes it much more difficult to cover as a favorite, especially as spreads get larger. Check out the far right column below, detailing how poorly each of the service academies have fared as double-digit favorites since 2005:
Week 1 Thoughts
All odds below are as of Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. ET and via PointsBet, where you can get $250 FREE instantly after signing up AND your bets automatically sync to the Action app. Learn more about BetSync here.
Another factor I look for when capping service academy games is their opponent’s preparation time and familiarity with the option. If a team has seen a triple-option in the recent past, that will certainly help.
Having extra preparation time will also serve an opponent well to prepare for the unique offenses that Army, Navy and Air Force run. Maintaining assignments is paramount, which means the extra repetition for the defense is really beneficial.
That’s the situation the service academies find themselves in this week, since their opponents have had extra time to prepare for their season openers.
Middle Tennessee at Army
- Spread: Army -3.5
- Total: 56
- Details: Saturday, 1:30 p.m. ET on CBSSN
Middle Tennessee didn’t have as much time to prepare for the triple-option as it would’ve liked due to schedule changes. The Blue Raiders originally thought they would face Duke in Week 1 and installed a game plan accordingly. That game was then nixed, so MTSU began to prepare for Troy, which it thought they would face in the opener.
Well, as it actually turned out, the Blue Raiders will start the season with a trip to Michie Stadium to take on Army. Even with the schedule in flux throughout the summer, head coach Rick Stockstill and his staff still have multiple weeks to prepare for the unique triple-option offense.
Last year, Middle Tennessee had a very disappointing season, but the Blue Raiders return some key pieces on both sides of the ball, including dual-threat quarterback Asher O’Hara and star safety Reed Blankenship, who went down with an injury midway through last season. The lackluster rushing attack could also get a boost from a pair of Power 5 running back transfers. And the offensive line, which had some unfortunate injury luck last year, also returns a good chunk of experience.
The defense struggled mighty in 2019, but its biggest areas of weakness – pass rush (130th in Adjusted Sack Rate) and coverage – won’t really be tested against Army. They do have to replace some pieces along the defensive line, but the extra preparation should really benefit them for this type of offense.
In regards to Army, the Black Knights have to replace many of their primary starters on both sides of the ball. It doesn’t appear that Jabari Laws will be healthy enough to go this weekend, which means Christian Anderson will get the nod at quarterback with Kelvin Hopkins no longer around. The offensive line also has to deal with plenty of turnover, which could become an issue early in the season after a condensed camp.
The defense has to replace two of its best players in cornerback Elijah Riley and linebacker Cole Christiansen. The Black Knights also will likely struggle to generate natural edge pressure on passing downs again this year. As a result, Army’s pass defense may be vulnerable in this matchup.
I think this game is closer to a coin flip, so I’d grab Middle Tennessee at a field goal or better. The limited reports out of Army’s camp have not been glowing either, although you can never put too much weight into those.
In general, Army has been an atrocious favorite. In fact, the Black Knights are the least profitable favorite to bet on out of 151 teams in our Bet Labs database. As a favorite of a field goal or more, Army is just 18-33-2 (35.3%) since 2005, failing to cover by just under three points per game on average. That’s an abysmal negative 31% ROI.
When it comes to season openers, Army is just 4-11 ATS (26.6%) over that span, failing to cover by just under four points per game on average.
Bet: Middle Tennessee at +3 or better
BYU at Navy
- Spread: Navy -2
- Total: 52.5
- Details: Monday, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
This game is also basically a coin flip, as the line has jumped from Navy as a small favorite to BYU as a small favorite. For what it’s worth, there will be no fans in attendance.
BYU will get back a presumably healthy Zach Wilson at quarterback in front of an offensive line that returns a decent amount of experience. The big blow came this week in practice when tight end Matt Bushman went down with a potentially season-ending injury. The Cougars were going to feature the star tight end, who projects to play at the next level, so losing him will really hurt an offense that already lost its top receivers from last season, especially early on.
On the other side of the ball, BYU will transition to a four-man front, which the Cougars hope will lead to better results than they got last year. BYU’s defense ranked 107th in Stuff Rate in 2019 — an alarming statistic if you’re going up against Navy.
For Navy, it’s all about finding a replacement for star quarterback Malcolm Perry. All he did last year was set the single-season FBS record for rushing yards by a quarterback, eclipsing the 2,000 yard mark in the process. It appears that Dalen Morris will get the first crack at QB, usurping the more experienced Perry Olsen. Reports out of camp indicate Navy may throw more with the pro-style Morris at the helm. It’ll be interesting to see the Midshipmen’s run-pass mix when Morris makes his first collegiate start against BYU.
Navy also must replace some key pieces along the offense line — most notably, center Ford Higgins. This unit could experience some growing pains early on after not having a spring or summer camp to build continuity. And, while Navy is set at the all-important fullback position with Jamale Carothers, the slot back position has been depleted with injuries and COVID-19 opt-outs from the first two players on the depth chart.
The Navy defense returns a star in linebacker Diego Fagot, but the Midshipmen were hurt by the transfer portal at other positions — especially at striker. The defense should still be Navy’s strength, but there are questions on the edge, at nose tackle, and corner.
I want to be cautious early this season when it comes to totals but I pulled the trigger on this under 52.5. I think the Navy offense will struggle early, and BYU will really miss Bushman. Admittedly, I was a bit hesitant to pull the trigger with the though of Navy potentially passing more — especially in third-down situations where it would normally run and keep the clock moving.