Week 1 College Football Group of 5 Parlay: 3 Picks, Including Colorado State, SMU & More (Sept. 2)
AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images. Pictured: Colorado State quarterback Clay Millen.
Week 0’s seven-game tasting menu whetted the nation’s appetite for college football. And now, the Week 1 buffet, spanning from Thursday to Monday, is primed to overload the senses.
Mike Calabrese and Mike Ianniello have pored over the slate — which contains nearly 90 games — and pulled out three that appear to be mispriced.
We’ll start in Norman, Oklahoma, checking out Brent Venables’ Sooner rebuild, then we’ll fly down I-35 toward Dallas for a high-scoring affair between Louisiana Tech and SMU, before wrapping things up out west in Fort Collins for a rare nonconference game being hosted by a G5 program.
It’s fitting that Butch Jones often dresses in black on the Red Wolves’ sidelines because this season is a funeral march for his regime in Jonesboro. Arkansas State is a lowly 5-19 straight up under Jones but a competitive 13-11 at the window.
Last season, it kept things interesting with a decent passing attack spearheaded by James Blackman, who completed 64.3% of his passes and threw for 14 touchdowns with three interceptions. His steady play helped offset a horrific defense that gave up big play after big play through the air. The Red Wolves finished 124th nationally in pass plays surrendered over 30-plus yards.
Entering this year, ASU opted to keep Rob Harley at defensive coordinator in spite of his defense’s downward trajectory. Offensively, it must replace Blackman.
J.T. Shrout appears to be the leader in that quarterback derby despite very modest production at Colorado, where he put up a 23.2 QBR to rank 121st. He’ll be facing off against a retooled Sooner defense that will look noticeably different from the porous unit that finished last season.
As a result, Venables and his staff went to the portal and plucked defensive lineman Rondell Bothroyd (Wake Forest), linebacker Dasan McCullough (Indiana) and safety Reggie Pearson (Texas Tech), among others. Add in five-star edge rusher Adepoju Adebawore, and the talent upgrade should be noticeable against this Sun Belt cellar-dweller.
The main reason I’m enamored with this play is Jeff Lebby. The Sooners’ OC has been a great play in spots like this dating back to his time running the UCF and Ole Miss offenses. As a double-digit favorite, Lebby’s offenses have averaged 47 points per game while posting an 11-5 record against the spread.
Dillon Gabriel, who enters the season fully healthy, was a perfect triggerman in this offense last season. He had seven starts in which he accounted for three or more touchdowns and five starts in which he finished with a QBR north of 80.
The offensive line lost some talented tackles but still returns three seniors and a fourth-year junior on the line. With time to work, he’s going to carve up a listless ASU secondary.
And while Brent Venables doesn’t appear on the surface to be a man who cares about style points, it’s clear that a resounding blowout win could help him with the local media and fanbase after an offseason that screamed “the honeymoon is over.”
Play: Oklahoma -35 (Play to -37.5)
The SMU offense is going to be an absolute rocketship this season. Rhett Lashlee’s spread attack plays at a breakneck pace (fourth in plays per game) and is consistently hitting big plays down the field (third in 30-plus yard plays per game).
Pepper in the G5’s top-rated transfer portal class that ranked 13th nationally, and it’s easy to see the Ponies building on Lashlee’s 7-6 debut on the Hilltop.
But it takes two to tango on an over, and Louisiana Tech has the aerial attack to keep pace in this game. Hank Bachmeier, the Boise State transfer, took a while to get cooking against Florida International in Week 0 but was locked in during the fourth quarter. He led a comeback and went 9-for-10 for 80 yards in the fourth quarter.
Smoke Harris, the Bulldogs’ dynamic slot receiver, finished with 11 receptions for 155 yards and a score. Southern Methodist struggled against the pass last year (73rd) and got cooked by a few slot receivers. Tank Dell went off for 13 receptions, 180 yards and two scores last fall when SMU hosted Houston. UCF’s Ryan O’Keefe found similar success, torching the SMU secondary for six receptions, 117 yards and two scores. Needless to say, Harris is primed for a big game.
The final piece of the puzzle is that La Tech is coming off a game in which it faced a team completely incapable of utilizing the forward pass. FIU threw for four yards on 14 attempts. That's obscuring the fact that the Bulldogs finished 128th in scoring defense last season and didn’t do much in the portal to address a wretched defense.
They’ll be exposed here and give up north of 40 to one of the best offenses in the Group of Five.
Play: Over 65.5 (Play to 67.5)
The Colorado State offense hasn’t cracked 20 points in 13 straight games. That streak is going to end on Saturday night at Canvas Stadium.
The Rams have a fantastic collection of offensive skill talent this season and the nation’s most accurate returning passer. Clay Millen set an NCAA record for accuracy last season, becoming the first freshman to complete more than 72% of his attempts.
This fall, he’s surrounded by a pair of All-MWC caliber wideouts in Tory Horton and Justus Ross-Simmons, a dynamic tight end out of the portal in Dallin Holker (BYU) and one of the best FCS running backs in Kobe Johnson (North Dakota State). If Millen gets time to operate, this offense will sing.
In 2022, the CSU offensive line was a train wreck. Undersized with zero chemistry and players playing out of position, this unit allowed an FBS-worst 59 sacks.
Jay Norvell and his staff hit the portal and brought in much bigger players with experience at the FCS and D-II levels. The result is 66 more career starts along the line and a front five averaging 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds. If they can make the jump from an "F" graded offensive line to merely a "C," this could be the best aerial attack in the conference.
Defensively, Colorado State became the best pass defense in the Mountain West by season’s end. A unit that finished 23rd in YPA and 19th in pass defense returns four of its five primary defenders in the secondary. It also got a huge “commit” when Mohamed Kamara decided to return after putting up 8.5 sacks in 2022.
If it can scheme up a bit more pressure, this could be a strong defense by MWC standards this season.
As for Wazzu, I have questions beyond its frame of mind coming off of the Pac-12’s implosion and the university’s precarious position in 2023 and beyond.
The Cougars have a new defensive coordinator tasked with remaking their pass rush. This was already a team that couldn’t generate much pressure last season (73rd in sack rate) and lost its most disruptive player, linebacker Daiyan Henley, who recorded 12 tackles for loss last year.
Francisco Mauigoa, another key player in the middle, transferred to Miami (FL).
Yes, Washington State brought in a slew of interesting transfers on defense, but if I wanted to catch them, ideally it would be early and at home.
We have both conditions here in Fort Collins, which is why I’m taking the points and sprinkling on the moneyline.
Play: Colorado State +12.5 (Play to +10.5)
- Oklahoma -35
- Louisiana Tech vs. SMU Over 65.5
- Colorado State +11.5