UTEP vs. Jacksonville State Odds, Picks, Predictions | The Bet to Make for Week 0
Tyler Ingham/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: UTEP’s Gavin Hardison.
UTEP vs. Jacksonville State Odds
The focus of college football throughout the calendar year resides in conference realignment. As the Power Five conferences feast on the depleted Pac-12, two other teams will rise from the FCS to take a position in the new-look Conference USA.
Jacksonville State not only plays its first game as a member of the FBS, but a conference showdown against UTEP looms in Week 0.
After a 9-2 season in the Ohio Valley last year, head coach Rich Rodriguez will make his return to the FBS stage after previous stops at West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona.
After reaching a bowl for the first time in seven years, head coach Dana Dimel failed to get UTEP to the postseason last year with a 5-7 record. One of those victories included a road trip to Charlotte after the Miners had failed in 27 previous attempts in program history to win in the Eastern Time Zone.
Thankfully for UTEP, Burgess-Snow Field sits in the Central Time Zone to set the scene for two experienced quarterbacks in the season opener.
There are numerous bright spots for UTEP from a transfer portal and returning production standpoint. Twenty-three new scholarship players have graced this roster, filling position needs on both offense and defense.
Fifth-year quarterback Gavin Hardison had his best season in 2022 from a big-time throw to turnover-worthy play perspective. Hardison generated one of the highest grades in deep ball throws, generating a 20:3 ratio in big-time throws to turnover-worthy plays.
— Conference USA (@ConferenceUSA) October 1, 2022
Wide receiver Tyrin Smith received 122 targets a season ago, posting an explosive 2.6 yards per route run while almost exclusively lining up in the slot. Because his credits wouldn't transfer to Texas A&M, the third-year player gives UTEP the most dangerous option in the conference.
The UTEP offense had no issues in getting down the field, ranking top-25 in Line Yards, pass blocking and pass explosives. The biggest issue for the slow-paced Miners was Offensive Finishing Drives, ranking bottom-10 in FBS a season ago.
Scotty Ohara has been on a staff with Dimel for 17 years, now taking a promotion to offensive coordinator. He's tasked with fixing UTEP's issues in the red zone.
The defense also saw shuffling on the coaching staff, as Josh Brown re-enters Dimel's staff as a secondary coach. The Miners finished a lowly 121st in coverage grading and 125th in tackling. Too many teams broke off explosives on the Miners, who finished 129th in allowing big plays through the air.
The nickel scheme produced a high ranking in Havoc, but the numbers may not be sustainable. UTEP generated one of the worst numbers in passes defensed but ended up top-20 in fumbles recovered.
Expect edge Praise Amaewhule to lead a defensive front that will create pressure, but it's up to the secondary to limit the amount of explosives against each opponent this season.
Rodriguez may have one of the fastest offenses in the nation after averaging 23.1 seconds per game last season. The Gamecocks finished near dead last in FCS in time of possession.
The uptempo nature is led by seventh-year quarterback Zion Webb. The super senior produced 11 explosive runs last season, accumulating 583 yards on the ground from designed plays.
The one-two RPO punch was complemented by Anwar Lewis, but his absence from camp and the Week 0 depth chart is concerning for the offense.
Malik Jackson's transfer from ULM will help replace Lewis and his astounding 4.3 yards after contact.
— Jax State Football (@JaxStateFB) November 19, 2022
Expect the Gamecocks to bust explosive plays, as wide receivers Sterling Galban and PJ Wells return after both averaged at least 2.4 yards per route run.
Rodriguez has always known how to call the offense, as evidenced by his 40 red-zone scores in 45 attempts last season.
The defense will look to fill large experience holes at the linebacker and cornerback positions. Cornerback Yul Gowdy saw his college clock expire, leaving Jeremiah Harris as the best returning coverage defender.
The secondary will have new faces at cornerback, safety and linebacker. The weakness for the Gamecocks defense will come against the deep ball after falling outside the top 50 in passing yards allowed in 2022 FCS play.
UTEP vs. Jacksonville State
Betting Pick & Prediction
There may be no bigger contrast in Week 0 when it comes to tempo. Dimel comes from the Kansas State coaching tree of Bill Snyder, adopting a slower-paced offense at 28.8 seconds per play last season, while Rodriguez's crew likes to play with pace.
UTEP consistently found itself behind the chains last season, racking up one of the highest numbers of attempts at third-and-10 or longer. However, that has helped Hardison develop his best feature as a quarterback: downfield passing.
Considering the Jacksonville State secondary has fresh faces littered throughout the back seven, expect Hardison to connect with Smith in the slot to create plenty of chunk plays. UTEP fell from a rank of 83rd in Offensive Finishing Drives in 2021 to 121st last season, so any improvement will bump the Miners' total points.
Rodriguez loves to play fast, averaging 23.1 seconds per play in his first season with Jacksonville State in 2022. While UTEP wants to create explosives through the air, the Gamecocks' ground attack will give plenty of Conference USA teams trouble.
The Miners' defensive front seven is loaded with junior college transfers after falling to 55th in Stuff Rate a season ago. The biggest issue with the UTEP defense is early downs, as it fell to 117th in allowing standard downs explosives.
Jacksonville State finished FCS play as a top-10 scoring offense. UTEP may not be equipped for the RPO game of Webb, Jackson and running back Ron Wiggins.
The Gamecocks averaged 36.2 points per game last season, which could be an issue for a UTEP defense that continues to fall in most defensive metrics.
On the other side, Jacksonville State may have no answer for UTEP's Hardison-to-Smith connection. Nickelback Kolbi Fuqua and Maine transfer safety Austin Ambush will get the start in the secondary for Jacksonville State, drawing the inevitable task of stopping the Miners on third-and-long.
The Action Network projects a total of 55, squarely on the biggest key number in college football totals.
The market took a shift down on the total when Jacksonville State's Lewis wasn't listed on the depth chart release early in the week.
The expertise of both offenses — Jacksonville State's ground game and UTEP's air attack — can exploit the weaknesses of each opposing defenses. With a median day in Finishing Drives, this game should go over the total.
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