College Football Betting Odds, Picks, Preview: The Pick to Make for Fresno State vs. UConn
David Becker/Getty Images. Pictured: Jake Haener.
UConn vs. Fresno State Odds
A Heisman-winning (fictitious) Alabama football player once said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
The man was clearly referring to the first weeks of a college football season, when games can get a little weird, particularly in the nonconference portion of the schedule. After all, teams are unfamiliar with one another based on the fluid nature of college rosters and the ever-rotating coaching carousel.
And if weird and wild is your cup of tea, UConn vs. Fresno State is the pinnacle of the Week 0 slate, as a Huskies team that hasn’t played a down of football in 637 days faces second-year coach Kalen DeBoer’s Bulldogs that only had a six-game sample size in 2020 to work in a new scheme on both sides of the ball.
With so many unknowns entering the game, is there any value to be had?
To say Randy Edsall’s second stint with the Huskies hasn’t gone to plan would be an understatement — although UConn did win a self-proclaimed national championship last year despite electing to sit out.
After leading the Huskies to five winning seasons in their first seven years in the Big East (including a Fiesta Bowl appearance) from 2004-10, Edsall’s second stint in Storrs has led to just five total wins since 2017.
The Huskies were slated to begin life as an independent in 2020 after leaving the American Athletic Conference, but the pandemic postponed that, leaving this season as UConn’s first on its own.
If there’s a bright spot on UConn’s offense, it’s found at the running back position in the form of Kevin Mensah. The junior running back rushed for more than 1,000 yards in both the 2018 and ’19 seasons and promises to be the workhorse of the offense, especially early on, as the Huskies are likely to play a game of musical chairs at the quarterback position.
Jack Zergiotis, Steven Krajewski and NC State transfer Micah Leon figure to split time at the position for the time being.
When they’re not handing the ball off, they may spend much of the game picking themselves off the turf. The Huskies allowed a 7.3% Sack Rate back in 2019, and only two of the starting offensive linemen from that unit return after the lengthy hiatus.
Pretty much every receiver who recorded a catch in 2019 — outside of second-leading wideout Ardell Brown — returns, including Cameron Ross, who posted a team-high 60 receptions two years ago.
Going into this season, it’s tough to find a worse defense than the one UConn is fielding.
There could be improvement since we last saw the Huskies, but UConn’s defensive SP+ ranks 127th, and in 2019, its defense allowed 3.5 points per defensive drive, which ranked 128th in FBS. The unit also gave up over 467 yards per game.
Diamond Harrell is one of the lone veteran players in the secondary at the safety spot, recording 38 tackles in 2019, but following the transfers of Robert King and Keyshawn Paul, the secondary is composed almost exclusively of freshmen and sophomores, which is even more concerning when their first real look on the field is against an offense as talented as Fresno State.
Fresno State held zero in-person team activities from mid-March through September 2020 in DeBoer’s first year on the job, yet still managed to scrap together a 3-3 season with wins over Colorado State, UNLV and Utah State.
With a full offseason now for the coaching staff to finish installation, along with returning 78 and 80% of production on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, respectively, the Bulldogs should be one of the more exciting teams to watch this year and are a solid selection as a dark horse to win the Mountain West (+1400 at DraftKings).
The Fresno State offense promises to be one of the more explosive units in the country, led by quarterback Jake Haener and stocked with an arsenal full of weapons.
Haener threw for 336.8 yards per game last season, the fourth-most nationally. The Washington transfer completed 64% of his passes in 2020 and heated up as he grew more comfortable in offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb’s offense, averaging 419 yards a game over the last three contests.
Even better for Haener and an offense that averaged 32.8 points per game is that all five of the quarterback’s top pass-catching options are back, including fifth-year running back Ronnie Rivers — who is on the verge of breaking several program rushing records and is as effective in the passing game as he is on the ground.
The only question of the offensive side of the ball is the line, which is tasked with replacing two starters. But the Bulldogs have enough firepower at the skill position to help minimize that area of concern.
Fresno State had one of the most effective pass rushes in college football last season, finishing third in the nation in sacks per game, while collecting an 11.2% Sack Rate. Defensive ends Kwami Jones and David Perales both return after combining for 15 sacks.
While the Bulldogs’ 4-2-5 defense excelled at getting to the quarterback, stopping the run was a significant issue, as it allowed north of 212 yards per game on the ground.
The poor run defense frequently bore its head on third down, as Fresno State’s defense struggled to get off the field, allowing a 47.7% third-down conversion rate when garbage time is filtered out — good for 110th in the FBS. The group also allowed an 86.7% Power Success Rate on short-yardage situations (117th).
The defense was transitioning from a three-man front during a pandemic-altered season, so hopefully another offseason to smooth the transition will help iron out some of those flaws.
UConn vs. Fresno State Betting Pick
Collin Wilson’s power ratings suggest that Fresno State should be favored in this game by somewhere in the neighborhood of 22 points, but power ratings are going to be the least accurate through the first three or four weeks of a season.
Suggesting that UConn has value with the 27.5-point spread is the definition of insanity.
Fresno State will more than likely cover, but with so much unknown about UConn and what kind of team it’s going to field after a year off, I want to minimize my risk and stay as far away as possible from any unknown upside the Huskies could have on offense against a Fresno State defense that still has to prove it’ll be better in 2021.
Keying in on the one sure thing we know about this game, Fresno State’s offense should punch through the UConn defense like it’s a wet paper bag. If this were an isolated game, it’s more likely than not the Bulldogs drop the first 50-burger of the college football season and clear their 45.5 point team total by a touchdown.
That’s not the case, however, as Fresno State has a date with Oregon looming next weekend. Will the Bulldogs really show all their cards against UConn? Probably not. And even more likely than not, most of their starters will probably be pulled in the fourth quarter to rest for the trip to Eugene.
As a result, I’m only going to target the first half when Fresno State will certainly have all of their key players on the field and not worry about sweating out the final 30 minutes when there’s no telling how much the Bulldogs take their foot off the accelerator.