Having blogged about High School pigskin for nearly the last 10 years in a row, I’ve been witness to the “NCAA-ification” of the prep ranks. That’s not necessarily a reference to the scourge of hand-picked teams and so-called Friday night “football” broadcasts that turn into scouting orgies for SEC aficionados, or even the “Bishop Sycamore” syndrome of independent barnstorming teams masquerading as schools. Those problems are separate cans of worms.
Rather, I’m talking about the wider and wider “variable” in any prep gridiron forecast. Once upon a time, Big Campus Prep would play Horse & Saddle High and if the winning margin for the larger school was 14 points off what alumni had predicted, everyone was surprised. These days, a High School team will lose its opener 44-0, come back with the same roster 2 months later, and beat the same opponent from Week 1 by 2 touchdowns.
We don’t flip out when a college team does it, figuring that any set of recruited athletes from afar can overcome a poor start and produce a winning formula by bowl season. The 2020s are teaching us that ANY team can get drastically better or worse, in a hurry and without warning.
Meanwhile, the FBS is NFL-ifying. Traditional intra-region scheduling has its place in the romance of college football – for instance it’s awesome to see Texas vs Rice in Week 3, because frankly, it just doesn’t genuinely feel like autumn until “Texas 52, Rice 6” appears on a live Saturday scoreboard. However, coaches and ADs are starting to notice that FBS fans grow tired of watching the same out-of-conference games every year.
Schools have made an effort to begin scheduling unique and colorful OOC match-ups, with more fun betting and cheering opportunities as a result. The FBS feels more like a pro league (circa 2021, that is, given that NFL schedules were once as predictable as a 6 o’ clock rain on the beach) with college football brands squaring-off who’ve rarely touched pads in the recent past, if at all.
That 60-point variable in outcomes is stretched to the limit in unfamiliar Power-5 vs mid-major scrums. No one would’ve blinked if the Florida State Seminoles had beaten Jacksonville State by 7 touchdowns instead of losing on a last-second bomb. FBS gamblers love to look for subtle weaknesses that an elite QB or pass rusher can exploit. But the lucky few who bought JSU’s betting odds were thinking along other lines.
FSU’s blown blocks and poor tackling aren’t vulnerabilities only bound to show-up against Clemson. That was painfully apparent while watching Jacksonville State find holes in the Seminoles that even Notre Dame didn’t attack.
When you’re laying money on Saturday gridirons, it’s best if the opposing-team weakness or historical trend that you’re counting on can flash on any old weekend.
NCAA Football Week 3 Lines, Previews, and Picks
Friday 9/17: UCF Knights at Louisville Cardinals
Of all the dramatic wins of the FBS in Week 1, the Central Florida Knights’ victory over visiting Boise State may have been the unlikeliest. QB Hank Bachmeier and the Boise Blue socked the Knights right in the belly-armor, taking a 14-0 lead in the 1st frame. UCF slowly and patiently worked its way back into the ballgame on the arm of Dillon Gabriel and the legs of Isaiah “Koopa King” Bowser. Bachmeier’s bid to answer the Knights’ go-ahead TD in the 4th quarter was clowned by Central Florida’s defense. Bowser went on to score 4 times in a thrash-for-cash romp over nearby Bethune-Cookman on September 12. UCF faces 0-1 Louisville (+7) looking to add another Power-5 scalp to its resume of big victories.
Louisville’s offense was shut down by Ole Miss’s rebuilt defense in the Cardinals’ opener, or perhaps the UL offense made Lane Kiffin’s new roster look good. Gabriel replaced a rehabbed McKenzie Milton at UCF for a reason, and he’s likely to carve-up a flawed ACC secondary on Friday while Bowser puts-away more than a TD triumph.
Pick: UCF (-7)
Saturday 9/18: Nebraska Cornhuskers at Oklahoma Sooners
Once upon a time, Oklahoma vs Nebraska would have been billed as a national Game of the Week. OU is still powerful enough on the gridiron to command such honors, but Nebraska isn’t what it used to be, as evidenced by NU’s loss to Illinois on August 28.
However, the Cornhuskers have acquitted themselves well since then, especially in a 28-3 win over Buffalo. There’s enough juice left in the rivalry – and enough talented players in red and white – for NU to cover a massive point spread in Week 3.
Pick: Nebraska (+22.5)
Saturday 9/18: Coastal Carolina Chanticleers at Buffalo Bulls
Bookmakers seem to have become garden-variety “fans” prior to handicapping the O/U line on Buffalo vs Coastal Carolina. Yes, it’s true that each program’s offense represents the class of its conference. Buffalo is so prolific scoring TDs against MAC opponents that “Buffalo-ing” has become a verb, and CCU has gone toe-to-toe with teams like Appalachian State and BYU on the scoreboard.
But the Myrtle Beach upstarts are built around solid defense first and foremost, and unlikely to score 40+ points on a fellow G5 stalwart. Meanwhile, the Bulls might be forced to slow down or fall prey to deadly mistakes on offense Saturday as the Chanticleer D represents another A+ test.
Buffalo QB Kyle Vantrease threw 22 incompletions and a pick in last weekend’s loss to NU.
Pick: Under (58)
Saturday 9/18: Tulsa Golden Hurricane at Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State typically roars through its non-conference schedule, wins a big conference game or 2, then falls unexpectedly to a mid-tier Big Ten opponent in midseason. 2021 has gotten off to a rather unfamiliar start as OSU was upset by Oregon of the Pac-12 after whipping Minnesota in the season opener, falling to #9 in the Associated Press rankings.
Tulsa threatened to upset Oklahoma State for 4 quarters on Saturday before falling 28-23. But the Cowboys tend to slip on offense at least once prior to the Big 12 slate. The week prior, Golden Hurricane possessions were twice as sloppy as any blunder OSU made in Week 2, as Tulsa lost to UC Davis 19-17 in a blow to the AAC’s pride.
Ohio State is an unpopular (-24.5) point spread pick as of Wednesday afternoon, but a likely bounce-back blowout for the Buckeyes gives gamblers a chance to fade the public on the favorites.
Pick: Ohio State (-24.5)
Saturday 9/18: Oklahoma State Cowboys at Boise State Broncos
Oklahoma State’s close call with Tulsa is also affecting the odds for OSU vs Boise State on Saturday night. The Las Vegas point total (57.7) looks a tad conservative and it is, but bookmakers feel that if Tulsa can contain the Cowboy offense for 3 quarters, maybe the Boise Blue defense can keep the score tight all night. Oklahoma State’s recent trends point to a potential easy win on the low-side of 57 and a half points.
Boise scored 31 points on a top-20 defense in UCF, a countervailing fact mirrored by Oklahoma State’s rediscovery of its patented hurry-up attack late in Week 2’s comeback win. Hank Bachmeier could easily stake the Broncos to another 10+ point lead and force the already-fast-paced Cowboys into overdrive with the ball by the 3rd quarter.
An expected heart-rending outcome (Boise State is a (-3.5) favorite ATS) only sweetens the deal for Over Total Points bets via the potential fail-safe of a furious finish to the game.
Saturday 9/18: Central Michigan Chippewas at LSU Tigers
Saturday evening’s SEC ledger features the improving MAC against a team that couldn’t corral Chip Kelly’s UCLA Bruins in its debut. CMU played well in its opener, a 34-24 loss to Missouri, then scored a blow-out over Robert Morris in Week 2. The Chippewas must deal with an even more physical Southeastern defense this weekend, though the LSU defense’s penchant for feast-or-famine performances has underdog bettors loading-up on Central Michigan (+19) ATS in addition to Over Total Points on a rising (61.5) line.
The betting public imagines LSU blowing a coverage to give up a TD, scoring a quick TD to tie the score, then intercepting a pass to set up a flash 21-7 lead. But instead, a scenario much like UAB-Jacksonville State could take place, in which CMU is just efficient enough against a formative LSU defense that the Chippewas consistently drive to midfield, followed by LSU stuffing enough run plays to set CMU behind the sticks and force a punt. With the resulting long fields, the Tigers are likely to mount a 2-to-1 TOP advantage and stay in control throughout a 38-10 type of victory, only executing enough big plays to produce a 2-TD lead so that LSU can run the ball even more following halftime.
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.