We’ve got ACC, Big 12 and SEC conference games on the board at BetMGM this weekend, friends.
While that is a very exciting development on the heels of an offseason where we weren’t sure whether college football would be played at all, it’s still a bit strange trying to size up these teams — SEC teams, especially — with no non-conference games to factor into the decision-making process.
At the same time, I’m hoping my offseason research can provide an advantage before the oddsmakers catch up. It has worked pretty well so far. After last week’s 2-2 mark, my record is 8-5 in this space through three weeks.
Here’s what I like this week.
(Note: All times ET, odds from BetMGM)
UAB at South Alabama
Time: 7:30 p.m. (Thursday) | TV: ESPN | Line: UAB -7.5 | Total: 47.5
There was no Thursday night game last week, so we might as well get things started early this week. I’ve mentioned it twice already this season, so why not a third time? South Alabama has been a covering machine, so I’m going to keep picking the Jaguars until it backfires.
USA has covered in eight of its last 10 games and is 9-4 ATS as an underdog since the beginning of the 2019 season. That includes a 5-1 mark as a home underdog during that span. USA won outright as a double-digit underdog in its opener against Southern Miss. Two weeks ago, USA closed as a 10.5-point underdog at home against Tulane. It blew a 21-6 lead and lost 27-24, but still comfortably covered the spread. It marked the fifth straight time the Jaguars covered as a double-digit underdog.
Are you sensing a pattern here? This week, the Jaguars are getting 7.5 points against a UAB team that just lost its starting quarterback to a serious shoulder injury. I like it at over a touchdown now, but watch to see if this line grows in the lead-up to kickoff. You could get even more value.
Pick: South Alabama +7.5
Georgia Tech at Syracuse
Time: Noon | TV: ESPN3 | Line: Georgia Tech -8.5 | Total: 52.5
Georgia Tech’s 49-21 loss to UCF last week was a much closer game than the final score may indicate. The Knights scored twice in the final 5:30 of regulation to turn a competitive game into a blowout. The Yellow Jackets won’t face anywhere near that kind of offensive firepower against Syracuse, a team that has given up almost as many sacks as points it has scored through two games.
Syracuse points scored through two weeks: 16
Syracuse sacks allowed through two weeks: 14
— Sam Cooper (@SamDCooper) September 19, 2020
The Syracuse offense has just been horrible, but the defense has shown some fight. Pitt mustered only 2.9 yards per rush against Syracuse last week, a 21-10 win for the Panthers. I don’t expect Syracuse to beat Georgia Tech on Saturday, and I also don’t expect a blowout, so the under is the play I like most here.
I’ve got several trends to support my line of thinking here. Since Dino Babers was hired in 2016, the under is 8-4 in games where Syracuse is a home underdog, 22-11-1 in games where Syracuse is an underdog, 21-12-1 in Syracuse’s ACC games, 15-9-1 at the Carrier Dome and 32-18-1 in Syracuse games overall.
Pick: Under 52.5
Iowa State at TCU
Time: 1:30 p.m. | TV: FS1 | Line: Iowa State -2.5 | Total: 47.5
I like Iowa State to bounce back from a season-opening home loss to Louisiana. ISU quarterback Brock Purdy played one of the worst games of his career and the Cyclones are 15-7 against the spread after a loss during the Matt Campbell era, dating to 2016. Iowa State has also been really strong against the spread in Big 12 play under Campbell with a record of 22-13-1.
During that same span (since 2016), TCU is 12-25 against the spread in Big 12 play and 5-20 against the spread at home. Additionally, the Horned Frogs are starting Matt Downing, a former walk-on at Georgia, at quarterback in place of Max Duggan. Duggan recently returned to practice, but missed almost all of preseason practice after a heart condition was detected during the program’s COVID-19 testing.
TCU was supposed to open its season against SMU on Sept. 11, but COVID-19 cases on the TCU team caused the game to be postponed. That’s just another factor against the Horned Frogs.
Pick: Iowa State -2.5
No. 22 Army at No. 14 Cincinnati
Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: Cincinnati -14 | Total: 47
Army has been dominant so far this season, outscoring Middle Tennessee and UL Monroe by a combined margin of 79-7 en route to a 2-0 start. A trip to Cincinnati to face one of the AAC’s top teams will be a much tougher test, but the two-touchdown spread here surprised me.
Army has been strong as an underdog under Jeff Monken, especially in the last five years. During that span, the Black Knights are 4-1 ATS vs. ranked opponents, 12-8 ATS as an underdog and 8-5 ATS as a road underdog.
The trends are even stronger for the under in Army games during Monken’s tenure: 8-0 vs. ranked opponents, 24-11 as an underdog, 13-6 as a road underdog and 9-4 after a bye week. Forty-seven is a fairly low number, but that’s my play for this one, though the +14 is tempting, too.
Pick: Under 47
No. 16 Tennessee at South Carolina
Time: 7:30 p.m. | TV: SECN | Line: Tennessee -3.5 | Total: 46
I’m a little leery about playing a game between two teams that have not played yet this season, but I think I have a good feel for this SEC East matchup.
South Carolina, coming off a 4-8 season in which it was 104th in scoring offense, has a new offensive coordinator and quarterback in place without much returning production at skill positions. Tennessee has a really good offensive line, but has its own questions to answer at the skill positions. Simply put, both teams are stronger on defense.
Tennessee is a road favorite for the first time in the Jeremy Pruitt era. The Vols have been strong against the spread under Pruitt (9-7 in SEC play, 6-2 on the road), except when favored. They are just 3-6 as favorites. I think the Vols are the better team, but I feel more comfortable with, you guessed it, the under. During the Pruitt era, the under is 7-1 in Tennessee road games, 6-3 in games where UT is the favorite and 10-6 in UT’s SEC games overall.
The under has also been a common theme of Will Muschamp’s time at South Carolina: 21-11 in SEC games, 16-13 when USC is the underdog and 9-7 when USC is facing a ranked opponent.
Pick: Under 46
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