Week 1 College Football Group of 5 Parlay: Our Best Bet, Including Cincinnati vs. Arkansas & Florida Atlantic vs. Ohio

Week 1 College Football Group of 5 Parlay: Our Best Bet, Including Cincinnati vs. Arkansas & Florida Atlantic vs. Ohio article feature image

Mark Brown/Getty Images. Pictured: The Florida Atlantic Owls.

Each week, to coincide with the release of the “Group of Five Deep Dive” under the Big Bets On Campus podcast banner, I’ll be sharing my Group of Five Parlay of the week.

Last week, Mike Ianniello and I cruised to a 4-0 start, thanks in large part to the North Texas-UTEP game playing out exactly how we predicted.

This week, it was a taller task whittling down a massive slate to just three games that we both felt strongly about, but we’re presenting a three-leg parlay that is banking on a few Group of Five teams getting “dump trucked,” as Ianniello likes to say.

So, without further ado, we head to Rocky Top, then down to Fayetteville before a long trek on I-70 takes us to Athens, Ohio.

Reported odds and 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.

Ball State vs. Tennessee

Thursday, Sept. 1
7 p.m. ET
SEC Network
Tennessee -35

The buzz has been building in Knoxville because the Vols are positioned to field a top-five offense this season.

Hendon Hooker spent the back half of his 2021 campaign playing at an All-American level. His 17:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the final six games included three games against ranked opponents.

His rise coincided with that of wide receiver Cedric Tillman, who went from a forgettable perimeter weapon to an All-SEC level threat in the final seven games of the season with 48 receptions, 871 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Sprinkle in a veteran offensive line that returns four starters, and there isn’t even anything to nitpick on this side of the ball.

But when you’re laying a huge number like this, it takes two to tango. Can Ball State put up a fight defensively? In short, no.

The Ball State defense came crashing back to earth after a solid 2020. That unit was stout against the run and helped the Cardinals finish ninth nationally in turnover margin during their 7-1 season.

Last season, they couldn’t generate any pressure to speak of (80th in TFLs, 90th in sacks) and struggled against the pass (94th in passes defended, 85th-ranked passing defense).

And the news gets worse on the eve of their 2022 campaign. In terms of returning production on the defensive side of the ball, the Fightin’ David Lettermans rank 127th.

Seven of their top eight tacklers were seniors last season, and they’re breaking in three new starters in the secondary. This includes the heart and soul of their secondary, Bryce Cosby, who coined Ball State’s 2020 mantra, “Detroit or bust.”

Hendon Hooker and company are going to have a field day against a super green MAC secondary.

Offensively, career backup John Paddock is getting his shot to lead the Cards. The undersized senior should be under constant duress in this game. The Tennessee defense had a lot of flaws last year, but it was very disruptive.

The Vols finished second in the SEC and eighth nationally in TFLs. Defensive end Byron Young and linebacker Jeremy Bank teamed up for 23 TFLs last year, and they’re both back. Paddock is going to feel their impact from his very first dropback.

This number has bubbled up from 32.5, but I would play it all the way to 37.5.

Pick: Tennessee -35 (Play to -37.5)

Cincinnati vs. Arkansas

Saturday, Sept. 3
3:30 p.m. ET
Arkansas -6

Many people in the college football community questioned the Sam Pittman hire. There was a belief that he would never be able to assemble the kind of talent to compete in the SEC West.

In Year 3, it’s clear that Arkansas has the horses to field a top-15 team.

K.J. Jefferson, a big-bodied dual-threat quarterback, has a bevy of playmakers at his disposal this season. Jadon Haselwood, Warren Thompson, Ketron Jackson Jr., Matt Landers and Trey Knox comprise his receiving corps. That group averaged a four-star rating from 247Sports.

Toss in Rocket Sanders running behind an offensive line on the Joe Moore Award watch and ranked fifth by PFF, and it’s easy to see the Hogs bullying a Cincinnati defense that's breaking in eight new starters.

Cincinnati ranks 115th in returning defensive production and will likely struggle with Arkansas’ tall perimeter weapons.

The loss of Coby Bryant and Sauce Gardner cannot be overstated. They formed a generational corner tandem. And for all of UC’s success in the past two seasons, they haven’t dealt with many dual-threat quarterbacks — certainly no one on Jefferson’s level.

When you pepper in the dreaded “OR” designation at their QB1 position (Ben Bryant & Evan Prater potentially sharing snaps), I foresee the Bearcats falling behind early and not being able to get off the mat in front of a raucous Razorback crowd.

Pick: Arkansas -6

Florida Atlantic vs. Ohio

Saturday, Sept. 3
4 p.m. ET
Florida Atlantic -4

We’re back to our G5 roots with this game. Throughout the preseason, we previewed every single Group of Five programs and in the case of the Bobcats, I’m sure they wished we spent less time on them.

Ohio seems to be in freefall in the post-Frank Solich era, coming off of a disappointing 3-9 campaign. That was Ohio’s first losing season since 2008.

The Bobs do return 75% of their defensive production (36th), but their eight returning starters contributed to a defense that finished 104th in total defense and 106th against the run.

Offensively, Kurtis Rourke was very limited as a passer, and he’ll welcome all new skill position players this season — not a recipe for a quick turnaround.

Florida Atlantic, meanwhile, had some positive momentum entering Willie Taggart’s third season in Boca Raton. Any optimism its fans had entering the season was handsomely rewarded with a 43-13 beatdown of Charlotte in Week 0.

Without Johnny Ford, who sat for personal reasons, the Owls featured a balanced attack that scored 33 points in the first 35 minutes of their opener. After that, Taggart dialed everything back and saved his starters for this game in Athens.

With Ford probable as the Owls’ starting running back, I’m bullish we could see another offensive outburst. N’Kosi Perry and LaJohntay Wester were a dynamic connection last season, and they look primed to tear up a mediocre Bobcat secondary on Saturday.

You’re going to want to grab this quick because sharps are all over the Owls, driving the number from -1 at the open to -4.5 at the time of writing.

Pick: Florida Atlantic -4

College Football Week 1 Group of Five Parlay (+600)

Tennessee -35

Arkansas -6

Florida Atlantic -4

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