This handicapper has held for years that Friday Night Lights pigskin is becoming more and more like post-Y2K college football all the time. For instance, in my hometown large-schools conference in 2021, a healthy team lost to another healthy team by a “mercy clock” margin that could have ended 75-0 if it wasn’t for a running clock. Months later, the losing team returned to take revenge against the same lineup with a blow-out win of its own. That happens in Conference-USA sometimes. It’s not supposed to happen on Fridays, except that prep teams are beginning to develop roster numbers, training, and moxie that rivals those qualities in fast-rising (and falling) FBS brands.
WagerBop isn’t sure if we can make the same Friday = Saturday claim anymore, not because High School pigskin is regressing, but because college football is turning into some kind of unfamiliar animal. The busier-than-2020 transfer portal has resulted in a whole lot of deck chairs getting rearranged on many FBS rosters, but it still made intuitive sense that with the same basic batch of student-athletes available, the best teams would remain invulnerable, the have-nots with continue not having, and the FCS would be known as a scrappy division of blue-collar performers and nothing more.
Instead, the FCS (and the MAC, and the Sun Belt) have walked into big-time stadiums in big-time leagues, hosted by national top-10 powerhouses, and threatened to permanently change the NCAAF landscape with a series of shock-outcomes. Even watching Georgia and Arkansas barely escape threats from Kent State and Missouri State respectively is a real trip, to say nothing of App State knocking off the class of the SEC and then losing to its own “thrash for cash” FCS opponent in Week 4.
Maybe it’s the NFL that college football is mimicking. We can say that the Baltimore Ravens will beat the New York Jets 9 times out of 10, but nobody really thinks a Jets victory isn’t possible. As Paul Brown used to say of the NFL, “they’re all professionals.”
Student-athletes may only be just now turning pro – sort of – but the high ceilings and low floors of premier teams and Cinderellas alike is creating a chaotic landscape for prediction-making and speculation on the FBS in 2022.
We’ve got a couple of underdog picks in mind for Week 5…but when readers see which team is the moneyline pick to win straight-up, they’ll know exactly what year it is.
San Diego State at Boise State Broncos (Friday, September 30)
It can be rather insipid to read a college football preview that says, “Which team will show up this week/year/season?” When a program shows inconsistency, “I wonder what’s next?” is the most indolent and least-helpful thing a prognosticator can say.
But actually, the “who will show up” motto could apply to 2022’s Mountain West clash between Boise State and visiting San Diego State on Friday. So far this season neither team has looked much like itself. Technically, BSU is 1-0 in the MWC having conquered New Mexico, but just about everything else has gone completely off-kilter for the Boise Blue, who were humbled by Oregon State and again last weekend by meek UTEP. In the meantime, RB Rashaad Penny may be scampering for the Seattle Seahawks, but his alma-mater SDSU did not have a 40-yard rusher in Week 3’s loss to Utah 35-7.
FanDuel’s favorite is Boise State at (-255) odds to win and (-6.5) on the spread. WagerBop is curious as to whether the infatuation of the shiny blue field (and the tradition of Boise State winning Friday night games) is not potentially leading Las Vegas to overvalue the Broncos’ Mountain West prospects in the face of the obvious roster and coaching issues at BSU. San Diego State uses an unpretentious, run-heavy game plan that might be overwhelmed at Albertsons Stadium by the hosts in a year of remarkable offensive production. But it’s not that kind of year in Boise, and furthermore, SDSU’s defense just did a low number on QB DeQuan Finn.
WagerBop’s Pick: San Diego State ATS (+6.5)
Washington Huskies at UCLA Bruins (Friday, September 30)
Change can be a great thing for west-coast pigskin, but we are beginning to believe the Kellys like to find a nice college and set up camp for a while. Chip Kelly seems to be finally turning a corner with the UCLA Bruins after a 4-0 start that includes last week’s conference win over Colorado and a triumph over Herd-tamers BGSU in Week 1.
Washington, a narrow (-3.5) favorite on Friday night despite a top-15 ranking, has taken a definite step forward behind Kalen DeBoer, the new head coach, an upgrade over the former HC Jimmy Lake following the latter’s “Bruce Arians” lambaste at a player.
The toughest team Washington has faced is UCLA under the former Fresno State skipper. UW’s highest-profile victory so far is debatably Week 3’s 11-point triumph over floundering Michigan State. However, the Huskies were unyielding against a possible opening-week spoiler in Kent State and now lead in total offense in the Pac-12.
A weak schedule lies behind California-Los Angeles’ perfect record so far, and it is odd that each Power-5 opponent’s most-menacing date with an underdog in late summer might have come against the humble MAC. However, another critical factor keeping Friday’s point-spread number tight is UCLA’s home-field advantage, and yet the Bruins’ all-or-nothing style can make a subtlety like crowd noise into a moot point at times.
UCLA”s chances are of the sink-or-swim type and should not lead to circumstances which logically result in a 1-to-3 point margin, or in a possible back-door cover.
WagerBop’s Pick: Washington ATS (-3.5)
Purdue Boilermakers at Minnesota Golden Gophers (Saturday, October 1)
The movie “Rudy” really tries hard to get its football knowledge straight, but there are still a few moments where the Hollywood actors clearly have no idea about Midwestern college sports. For instance, actor Sean Astin, playing the title character on a South Bend practice field, grabs a lineman by the scruff to accuse him of going too easy on Rudy’s scrawny scout-team defense. “Hey, man!” Rudy yells at the flummoxed 300-pound starter. “I’m out here playin’ defensive end for THE PURDUE!”
“The Purdue” – not to be confused with “The Citadel” – isn’t handicapped as optimistically as some might have assumed following the team’s hard-luck loss and rebound. In Week 3 Purdue lost to Syracuse in a distressing outcome on rival turf, but was able to bounce back with a 28-26 triumph over FAU.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers (-490) are still hefty favorites to beat Purdue this weekend, and are giving (-12.5) points to the Boilermakers, a daring handicap that warrants closer analysis. Minnesota is ranked 21st in the AP poll after 4 conquests to begin the season, with proud Michigan State the latest victim in a 34-7 thrashing.
QB Tanner Morgan of the Golden Gophers is threatening to lead the Big Ten in effectiveness after throwing less than 10 incomplete passes in 4-0 Minnesota’s last pair of nearly-flawless outings on offense. But the Boilermakers have played a harsher schedule, and would not be the 13-point underdog if 1-2 plays in the Syracuse game had gone in a different direction. Perdue has already shown that they can cover an easy spread against a top-rated Big Ten team by punching with Penn State for 4 quarters.
Our key to a pick on Purdue this weekend centers on starting QB Aiden O’Connell’s health, a mystery going into the Minnesota game. Minnesota has a repetition-based talent for generating big rushing plays when leading in the 2nd half under coach P.J. Fleck. When combined with Morgan’s accuracy, and a wounded Purdue offense if O’Connell cannot suit up on the road, Minnesota could have a marked edge. Simply put, the Purdue QB scenario will make-or-break the Boilermakers as a pick to cover. Once the die is cast on Friday, betting pressure could make the line shift swiftly.
WagerBop’s Pick: Purdue or Minnesota ATS (Pending Injury Report)
Michigan Wolverines at Iowa Hawkeyes (Saturday, October 1)
Yet another midday Big Ten kickoff pits the #4 ranked Michigan Wolverines (-10.5) against host Iowa in a game with a theoretically overbaked (42.5) Over/Under line.
Though users will be tempted to pick Iowa against the spread due to the double-digit margin given at the sportsbook, taking the unstable and offense-impaired Hawkeyes to cover against a top-5 ranked opponent is indeed a risky pick.
The O/U line’s against-the-grain forecast is another story. Rain or shine, Iowa is just about the best team in Division 1 at producing the kind of game that it wants when at home. The Wolverines may be fantasizing of winning by 44 points on Saturday, but Iowa is conspiring to win 12 to 6 if needed, and UM coach Jim Harbaugh has won enough low-scoring tilts that he’ll stick to a measured offense of his own.
WagerBop’s Pick: Under (42.5)
Iowa State Cyclones at Kansas Jayhawks (Saturday, October 1)
It is possible there could be media bias at work behind Kansas’ (+140) moneyline to trounce the more steadfast Iowa State Cyclones later on Saturday afternoon. While it is true that KU doesn’t have much of a solid, consistent home-field advantage, as the dizzy Lawrence crowds act like beginners who just learned how to cheer their team on at a home game. But the Kansas Jayhawks’ energetic new rushing game is no joke, and ISU’s offense is too flighty to control time-of-possession and avert an unbeaten host from grabbing the energy.
WagerBop’s Pick: Kansas (+140)
NC State Wolfpack at Clemson Tigers (Saturday, October 1)
There are several examples of “hype” rankings early in 2022-23, where a middle-tier team from a Power-5 league was boosted into the Top 25 by force of wishful thinking. For example, Arkansas was an enormously shallow “national top 10” bid as of early September, prior to the Razorbacks nearly crumbling against Missouri State, before falling in Week 4 in circus-fashion to Texas A&M.
The Wolfpack of NC State, offered as a (+7) underdog at Clemson this weekend, could be another example of a Power-5 program that is rousing more hope than solid analysis. North Carolina State holds a single quality win so far, a 27-14 victory over Big 12 Texas Tech. Week 4’s wimpy opponent UConn is still getting its feet wet on the gridiron, and thus far the Wolfpack’s only road game (against ECU) ended in nail-biting style.
There is nothing “shallow” about Clemson’s top-10 ranking. Dabo Swinney’s team never really lost its mojo on defense, but in Death Valley, the offense and special teams came alive. In Week 4, Clemson scored TDs in 5 out of 6 frames to beat the dynamic Wake Forest Demon Deacons 51-45, and one wonders why the Over/Under on Clemson-NCSU is holding at around 43 total points at sportsbooks, when NC State’s defense in 2022 has not significantly proven to be less porous than Wake’s.
Handicappers cannot have it both ways, either the ACC’s middle tier has weakened, or it has not. The Tigers’ roar to begin the season shows that the top level of the old conference is doing extremely well.
WagerBop’s Pick: Clemson ATS (-7)
Stanford Cardinal at Oregon Ducks (Saturday, October 1)
The final game of an FBS week is often hosted by Hawaii, and bail-out speculators have become used to Sunday morning blow-outs as UH’s transfer-decimated defense labors to stop every guest. Stanford is not known as such a late-night lackey, however, the Cardinal stands at a grim 0-2 against college football’s top level after a Southern Cal and Washington defeat by convincing scores. The defense of Stanford used to be known as a blue-collar unit with a fistful of superior playmakers and edge-rushers. Now, it is simply known as blue-collar. Simply put, Pac-12 teams no longer Fear the Tree.
Stanford is correctly handicapped as a (+15.5) point spread underdog pick against ranked Oregon on the road. But even if the Oregon offense against the Stanford defense is a skirmish fated to be a mismatch. That is really not a good excuse for FanDuel Sportsbook setting a lavish (62.5) Over/Under line on the kickoff.
The visitors must try to run, siphon the game clock, and limit Oregon’s possessions. If the strategy works, even a spot-on Ducks offense will not find much time to answer following long, drawn-out drives, meaning the likely Oregon conquest will have to be earned after halftime in slow and methodical fashion. But 2 challenging road trips coming up for the Ducks within 3 weeks, even if the Stanford offense washes-out in the early going, there won’t be much of a motive for Oregon to attempt to “spice up” a scoreboard that is already headed for a margin like 44-7 in the 4th frame.
WagerBop’s Pick: Under (62.5)
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.