The most interesting angle of 2021’s college football kickoff is the prospect of Group-of-5 teams finally taking revenge on the sport’s aristocrats. The NCAA’s general COVID-19 waiver for last year’s seniors has allowed G5 schools to return 95% of a roster in some scenarios, while the Top 25 has been ransacked as usual by NFL teams and transfer decisions.
It hasn’t shown up in College Football Playoff odds, and there’s precious little time for sharks to wager on “preseason” CFP odds with Week Zero already in the books and Week 1 fast approaching, so it’s probably not because no one has yet considered the disadvantage faced by Power-5 teams. Incredibly, the touchstone betting site Bovada Sportsbook has only a single Group of 5 program (the Cincinnati Bearcats) available for a CFP futures championship wager.
Cincy is a great AAC representative, but you’d like to think some other G5 teams would be considered at shallower than 200/1 national title odds, especially given the seasons BYU and Coastal Carolina had in 2020, and the Central Florida Knights’ campaigns immediately before that. Maybe some of those schools have been left out of Bovada’s betting markets for a more mindful, analytical reason than we think.
Still, almost no one is buying FanDuel Sportsbook’s CFP odds like BYU or Boise State (+25000) or UCF at (+50000). It’s almost as if college football’s preseason high-rollers are making a tacit admission that yes, it’s well-known in the pundit community that Power-5 leagues have a political advantage as well as a recruiting edge. For a Group of 5 team to reach the current 4-team playoff bracket means going without a scratch all season and getting a little lucky.
Sportsbooks’ only nod to 2021-22’s unique NCAAF scenario is that the 5 teams with sub-10/1 odds to win the College Football Playoff – Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia, and Oklahoma – have scheduled fairly easy Group of 5 opponents to compensate for the grueling league battles of SEC, ACC, and (perhaps to a lesser extent) Big Ten and Big-12 conference play in addition to marquee Power-5 showcases in late summer. Clemson will meet UConn and SC State in laughable OOC match-ups, while Alabama is scheduled to destroy Mercer in Week 2 and New Mexico State in November. Ohio State plays Tulsa and Akron from the Group of 5, though Georgia does have a potential trap game vs UAB following the Bulldogs’ clash with the Clemson Tigers this Saturday.
It’s hard to overstate what impact the returning “super seniors” of not only G5 schools, but Power-5 teams that didn’t have a bunch of NFL Draft prospects on-board in 2020 and as such will be loaded with upperclass numbers, will have on the season at large. Returning seniors are a factor that we typically take for granted, just like practice and preparation. All teams have seniors, all teams prepare, and there’s only subtle differences from 1 to the next. But the 2020 season taught us that those angles are never automatic – prep and college teams displayed form way above and below their waterlines last year due to COVID-19’s impact on rosters and rehearsal time. We shouldn’t assume that the loaded rosters of mid-major teams won’t become another “Kraken” (and not from Seattle this time) that usurps how prognosticators expect the 2021-22 CFB season will go.
The “Super-Seniors” angle does appear to be factored into some of this week’s moneylines and point spreads. But that’s not the only narrative to watch for in the odds. Last night’s UAB vs Jacksonville State game betrayed oddsmakers’ overly optimistic view of offense headed into September. Almost any random G5 defense you can point to is experienced and dealing with minimal roster turnover. When P5 offenses are challenged by small-conference opponents, defenses tend to step up and rescue their teams from Week 1 chagrin.
Week 1 College Football: Selected FBS Game Odds, Lines, and Recommended Bets
WagerBop‘s FBS picks this week carry all the way through Monday, but we’ll begin with live-betting recommendations on tonight’s SEC action as a treat for readers who’ve clicked on the Week 1 blog page early after publish.
Thursday 9/2: Bowling Green Falcons at Tennessee Volunteers
So with South Florida an unknown commodity against NC State, and bookmakers wary of a suggested (+300) moneyline on Eastern Washington vs UNLV, is there a large-vs-small conference meeting on Thursday worth a plus-points wager?
Not exactly – but that doesn’t mean a lopsided battle isn’t easier to predict than a marquee match-up like Boise State and UCF. Tennessee (-35.5) received 0 votes in the preseason AP poll but has been impacted by the NFL Draft nonetheless. Still, if the ’21 Vols don’t look like experts in crushing G5 teams, UT will be anxious to finish with style points this week even if BGSU manages some fight early on.
An O/U total of (61) appears set too high for the Vols’ opener, even though offense will typically flourish in warm weather before injuries can set in. Bowling Green’s offense is bad in the MAC. It won’t score significant points against an SEC defense, not after BGSU was hit with transfers that negate any cohesion advantage in September. Tennessee is more likely to win 44-3 than 54-17, because the visitors would need luck and “Volunteer assistance” to get that 17.
Live bettors can look to select “Under” a total in the 50s or 60s as UT’s 1st string romps in the 2nd quarter. However, don’t overlook BGSU-to-cover any live lines at (+40) ATS or wider, since Tennessee’s defense will probably steal the show and pitch something close to a shut-out, compelling the Vols to take less chances and feel satisfied with field goals and prodigious TOP as the 2nd half winds down.
Live Betting Alerts: Under (late 1st half), BGSU (+40)
Friday 9/3: North Carolina Tar Heels at Virginia Tech Hokies
“Virginia is a cream puff college,” said Colin Cowherd a dozen years ago. “Virginia Tech, that’s a real football school. I’ll talk about VT but not Virginia.”
Fast forward to 2021, and it’s not at all certain which university will win the Commonwealth Cup, let alone whether Cowherd’s “football school” will have a big season. Bookies aren’t even sure whether the Hokies will put up a fight against Mack Brown’s visiting North Carolina Tar Heels on Friday, with FanDuel marking UNC a (-5.5) ATS favorite.
Pick: North Carolina ATS
Saturday 9/4: Georgia Bulldogs at Clemson Tigers
Everyone in the FBS world wants to know what Clemson will look like without #1 Trevor Lawrence behind center. Thankfully, college pigskin ‘cappers got a glimpse of what the Tigers could do with a new QB last season, as D.J. Uiagalelei filled in for an injured Lawrence in a memorable OT battle with Notre Dame.
Georgia’s own roster turnover at key positions marks the Bulldogs a (+2.5) ‘dog in a game with a (50.5) O/U line. However, the Tigers were hit as hard by the NFL Draft as any school in the FBS, and UGA’s slightly superior depth plus a year of additional QB scouting could tell the tale.
Saturday 9/4: Army Black Knights at Georgia State Panthers
Service academy teams won’t enjoy the “automatic” advantage of returning every upperclassman, given the special circumstances at West Point, Annapolis, and Colorado Springs. Military service makes things more complicated for 21-23 y/o kids than the simple choice of taking an extra year to play football and date the water polo team. GSU will be loaded up with experience after going 6-4 in 2020.
Still, though, the Army Academy deserves better than FanDuel’s (+2.5) spread and (+110) moneyline when facing a modest Sun Belt program, given the past outstanding performances of Jeff Monken’s team against far superior brands in late summer.
Pick: Army (+110)
Saturday 9/4: BYU Cougars at Arizona Wildcats
The first of our 3 Pithy Quick Picks (TM) this week. BYU isn’t the prototypical “overlooked” Group of 5 team thanks to the constant hype surrounding the Cougars. And, in fact, the team does lose some pieces to the NFL going into 2021. But a (-12.5) point spread is too cautious considering that Brigham Young knows how to waylay inferior brands in summer.
Pick: BYU (-12.5)
Saturday 9/4: LSU Tigers at UCLA Bruins
Chip Kelly’s high-tempo concepts have the Over/Under for this contest at an inflated (65.5) point total, which overlooks a simple fact of logic. If Ed Orgeron’s team succeeds, it will stifle the UCLA attack and slow the game down. If it fails, it will be because the LSU offense lets everyone down and can’t answer when the Bruins do score a TD. In either case, I’ll take the bet that is likely to work out whether LSU wins or loses.
Sunday 9/5: Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Florida State Seminoles
FSU’s TD-plus spread of (+7.5) has “Notre Dame fever” written all over it, a common affliction in Midwestern football culture every July and August.
Pick: Florida State ATS (+7.5)
Monday 9/6: Ole Miss Rebels at Louisville Cardinals
The NCAA will take advantage of the NFL’s early-September absence to feature a prime-time SEC vs ACC kickoff on Monday night. Perhaps FBS brass made sure not to schedule a couple of pedestrian offenses, either. Louisville (+285) and Ole Miss have inspired a sky-high O/U line of (75.5) expected total points, which might not be too optimistic with Ole Miss’s hurry-up offense under HC Lane Kiffin paired against Louisville’s own tradition of high-octane scoring. Kiffin’s upstart roster would be fortunate to only give up 28 points or less, but should be able to pull away in a track meet.
Pick: Ole Miss (-10.5)
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.