Week 4 College Football Group of 5 Parlay: 3 Picks for Colorado State vs MTSU, Liberty vs FIU & More (Sept. 23)
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images. Pictured: Colorado State’s Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi (left) and Tory Horton (right).
Last week, the Group of Five teams in my parlay did their part. Ohio upset Iowa State behind an inspired defensive effort, and Liberty boat-raced Buffalo, dropping 55 on the Bulls.
But the other Bulls in the mix, USF, were the fly in the ointment. Alabama was quite literally stuck in the mud down in Tampa and never got things going to even flirt with covering that big number.
So, we’re back to the drawing board this week, leaning fully into G5 teams with a heavy dose of underdogs on the card.
We’ll start with Colorado State coming off of its emotional overtime loss to in-state rival Colorado and then shift the spotlight to one of the most surprising college football stories in the Sunshine State before wrapping things up by fading a team coasting on 2022 returns.
Western Kentucky vs. Troy
Troy fielded a fierce defense last season. But two things changed after the Trojans' Sun Belt title run last fall.
- They lost a handful of key starters in their front seven.
- Defensive coordinator Shiel Wood left for Tulane.
A unit that finished top-20 in sacks, turnovers gained, total defense, scoring defense and Havoc was likely to regress a bit given the roster and coaching turnover. Well, the early results are in, and the Trojans have regressed a lot on that side of the ball.
Troy checks in at a respectable 49th in total defense through three weeks but a troubling 112th in Havoc. And when facing a pass-happy offense that protects its quarterback well (16th in sack rate allowed), this lack of pressure and playmaking could be a major problem.
Austin Reed has done an admirable job picking up where college football cult legend Bailey Zappe left off at WKU. In his 14 career starts at the FBS level, when facing a G5 or FCS opponent, he’s averaged 301 yards per game through the air with a spectacular 38:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
And critically, Reed has his top target back at full strength. Malachi Corley was injured in the opener but just stood up to the Ohio State secondary last week, hauling in eight passes for 88 yards and a touchdown.
These two teams met last season, and WKU scored 27 points on the Trojans — the second-most points Troy allowed for the entire season. Reed threw for 406 yards and three scores despite constant harassment in the pocket, as he was sacked five times.
Imagine what he can do with a clean pocket against a decidedly less disruptive Troy front.
This game is priced this way due to the venue and Western’s blowout loss to Ohio State last week. The latter has nothing to do with this game between G5 opponents, and the former is a tad bit overblown.
Troy hasn’t received any special boost in the win-loss column nor at the window when playing at home in the past five years. Its 21-11 SU home record ranks seventh out of 14 Sun Belt teams, and its 13-19 ATS record at home is third-worst in the conference.
Those two trends sealed this play for me and pushed me into the WKU ML camp.
Play: Western Kentucky ML +160 (Play to +135)
Liberty vs. FIU
Last week, I rode with the Flames, and it couldn’t have worked out any better. Liberty trounced Buffalo, and its offense looked completely unstoppable.
But that road victory is propping up a Liberty team that isn’t without warts.
The Flames really struggle to stop the run, ranking in the bottom 10% of FBS schools in terms of Rushing PPA and explosiveness allowed. Were it not for game flow working in their favor, their 92nd-rated run defense would be buried in the 120s.
Florida International arrives with an established running game (5.1 YPC, 30th) that has found success popping the big play on the ground (36th in explosiveness).
But the two reasons I’m on the Panthers stem from their quarterback and head coach.
Keyone Jenkins is proving to be a major upgrade at quarterback for FIU. Now 3-0 as a starter, the former Auburn commit and three-star recruit out of famed Miami Central has shown moxie and helped FIU pull out three single-possession wins in a row.
This was a quarterback who helped his high school win three straight state titles and finished his senior season as the Miami-Dade County Offensive Player of the Year.
He already has great chemistry with Kris Mitchell out wide, which is a relief after FIU lost Tyrese Chambers in the portal this spring. Since Jenkins took over, Mitchell has reeled in 18 receptions, for 368 yards and four scores.
The second element that has me on FIU here is Former Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Mike MacIntyre. He turned around San Jose State, helped Colorado win 10 games and a South Division title in the Pac-12, and is working his magic again in Miami.
In his time at SJSU and his year-and-a-half at FIU, he’s always been a reliable bet as a home dog. His 10-4 record is one of the very best nationally, and he and his Panthers have just beaten two straight bowl teams from last season.
This price is simply too good to pass up.
Play: FIU+10.5 (Play to +10)
Colorado State vs. Middle Tennessee
Middle Tennessee is listed as the favorite here because of the road trip of 1,200-plus miles and the narrative surrounding an emotional letdown for the Rams following their double-overtime setback against Colorado.
But I have some stats to punch back with.
Murfreesboro and the ancient Johnny “Red” Floyd Stadium have never offered anything more than a traditional home-field advantage. Rick Stockstill has covered 54.6% of his games at home since 2006, which is slightly above average by CUSA standards.
As for the travel, this is the first true road trip for the Rams from a logistical standpoint after opening the season at home and then making the hour-long drive from Fort Collins to Boulder last week.
But the real reason I’m not shying away from the Rams is that Jay Norvell has proven time and again that he can properly coach and motivate his teams after a loss. Dating back to his time at Nevada, Norvell is 22-12-1 (64.7%) ATS following a loss.
Those are trends that I believe carry over year over year.
What we saw from the Rams on Saturday night was an offense brimming with playmakers and a remade offensive line that is actually pretty decent. Last season, they gave up more sacks than any team in the country, but now Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi has time to operate in the pocket.
That's bad news for defenses hoping to slow down Tory Horton and Dallin Holker. Holker, the BYU tight end transfer looked like a beast on Saturday night and presents a major mismatch for an MTSU secondary that already ranks 95th in Passing Success Rate Allowed.
This offense outgained Colorado by 80 yards, went 10-for-20 on third downs and found ways to hit explosive plays. If the Rams can clean up the penalties (17 for 182 yards), they could make a major statement with a blowout road win.
One element to keep an eye on will be the absence of Mohamed Kamara in the first half. He’ll be serving a first-half suspension after being slapped with a targeting call in the last game. He's a difference-maker off the edge, so CSU will need to get creative to generate pressure in the first 30 minutes.
Play: Colorado State ML +130 (Play to +100)
Calabrese's Week 4 Group of Five Parlay (+1040)
- Western Kentucky ML +160
- FIU +10.5
- Colorado State ML +130