Conference USA Best Bets Week 9: New Mexico State Vs. Louisiana Tech, Liberty Vs. WKU, & JXST Vs. FIU
Liberty faces Western Kentucky on Tuesday (10/24/23) in a highly anticipated matchup between the top two teams in the C-USA. In this article, find the latest betting odds for this matchup and a full preview where our best bet is Liberty -3.5.
College Football Week 9 Conference USA Best Bets
We’re onto Week 9 after a very strong midweek section of Week 8, where we went 5-0 overall, and I’m stoked to be bringing you guys more coverage of midweek college football. Here, we have an inviting matchup between Liberty and Western Kentucky in a game with huge conference championship implications. Let’s see if we can pick a winner in this game.
New Mexico State at Louisiana Tech
Last week, we bet on New Mexico State against UTEP, and I came away very impressed with quarterback Diego Pavia. He threw for 170 yards and a score while adding another 107 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. The dual threat gunslinger presents matchup problems for this Louisiana Tech defense.
The Bulldogs have struggled with limiting explosive plays this season, ranking 115th in explosiveness allowed and 128th against the pass. Overall, their run defense has been a problem as they rank 104th in EPA against the run. That puts them in a bad spot against Pavia and a talented backfield. Look for Monte Watkins, who had 109 yards on 10 carries last week, to make a big impact.
Louisiana Tech’s offense has seen some inconsistency, but the expected return of Hank Bachmeier will be huge for them. Bachmeier, a transfer from Boise State, has a career 47 touchdowns to 21 interceptions and is a significant upgrade over redshirt sophomore Jack Turner, who has struggled in relief. Bachmeier entered the game in the second half for Louisiana Tech in Week 7 and should be healthy coming off the bye week.
New Mexico State’s defensive metrics are decent across the board, but they’ve faced some very easy matchups as of late. UTEP and FIU were on their backup quarterbacks while Sam Houston State is 0-7 with one of the least efficient offenses in the country.
Louisiana Tech’s offense features dynamic receivers Smoke Harris and Cyrus Allen, both of whom average over 2 yards per route run this year. Keep an eye on the injury report as lead running back Tyre Shelton, who leads the team with 475 rushing yards and five touchdowns, is listed as questionable.
I lean towards New Mexico State catching the 2.5 points on the road here, but the uncertainty with Louisiana Tech’s quarterback situation is enough for me to stay away. I like the over even if Turner remains the starter, but I suspect we’ll see Bachmeier back out there, and that’s a big boost for their offense.
If you want to wait on the injury reports for this game, I don’t blame you – the status of Bachmeier and Shelton is huge. Still, I like this game to feature some scoring on both sides, and I’ll be on the over here.
Best Bet: Over 52 Points
Liberty Flames at Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Liberty and Western Kentucky are the top two teams in the C-USA this season and are currently the two odds-on favorites to win the conference. The Flames hired head coach Jamey Chadwell before the season, and he has led them to a 7-0 record. Chadwell now has a 38-6 record over his last four seasons as a head coach.
Meanwhile, Western Kentucky is coming off a disappointing loss to Jacksonville State in which they were 7-point favorites. The Hilltoppers lost offensive coordinator Ben Arbuckle and their top two offensive linemen, and their offensive efficiency has taken a hit as a result. This team has been on the decline in terms of offensive production since the historic 2021 season with Bailey Zappe.
Austin Reed replaced Zappe as the starter for Western Kentucky, but his production has taken a hit. His metrics are down across the board and the Toppers have fallen from the 12th-ranked passing offense by success rate to 77th. They’re still capable of generating big plays, though, and Malachi Corley leads the team with 585 receiving
Meanwhile, Liberty counters with a very good pass defense. The Flames rank 16th in PFF’s coverage grades while finding themselves inside the top 60 defenses in passing EPA allowed. Sophomore safety Brylan Green leads the way with four pass breakups, five interceptions, and the best PFF coverage grade of any safety in the country.
Jacksonville State laid the blueprint of how to handle the Western Kentucky offense last week. They keyed in on leading wideout Malachi Corley, holding him to a season low six catches for 47 yards, and forced the team’s other receivers to beat them. That same approach should work well for Liberty here.
The Flames’ offense is predicated on the run as they rush the ball 45 times per game – that’s fourth in the country. Quinton Cooley, a transfer from Wake Forest, leads the way with 726 rushing yards and six touchdowns on a 6.0 YPC clip. He’ll torch a Western Kentucky run defense that ranks 118th in EPA per rush allowed and 132nd in PFF tackling grades.
Quarterback Kaidon Salter is very capable on the ground, as well, and he’s coming off a season-high 16 carries for 156 yards. Salter is an electric downfield passer, taking advantage of defenses loading the box with 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions on throws 20+ yards downfield. Wide receivers CJ Daniels, Treon Sibley, and Elijah Smoot all average over 20 yards per reception.
Western Kentucky plays this game at home, but that’s about where their advantage over Liberty ends in my eyes. The Flames can slow down a declining Western Kentucky passing attack while taking advantage of their poor run defense. When the Hilltoppers inevitably load the box, look for Salter to beat them over the top. Put your money on Jamey Chadwell, one of the best coaches in the Group of Five, to get this done.
Best Bet: Liberty -3.5 (play to -6.5)
Jacksonville State Gamecocks at Florida International Panthers
This game isn’t nearly as exciting as the matchup between Liberty and Western Kentucky, so I’ll keep this shorter, but I frankly have no idea how FIU scores points in this game. Their offense has been horrendous all year, ranking 121st in EPA/play overall and 117th in success rate. Now, they face a Jacksonville State defense ranked top 20 in both metrics.
FIU scored 33 points last week in what wound up being their best offensive showing of the season, but the underlying metrics weren’t very impressive. FIU finished with 4.28 yards per play (12th percentile) and -0.13 EPA/play (26th percentile). Their offense still had all of the same issues that have plagued them this season.
The offensive line is the biggest problem. FIU already struggled with blocking last year, and then they lost both starting offensive tackles heading into this season. They also lost offensive line coach Greg Austin, who is now the offensive quality control coach for the nearby Jacksonville Jaguars.
Predictably, FIU’s blocking has nosedived as they rank 129th in PFF pass blocking grade and 109th in run blocking. FIU quarterbacks have been sacked 4.3 times per game, which ranks 126th in the country. Jacksonville State’s Jaylen Swain and Chris Hardie, who have combined for 33 pressures per PFF, should live in the backfield in this game.
Prior to last week, FIU had finished with 17 points or less in every conference game this season, averaging 13.5 points per game in those four losses. I’ll bet on regression to the mean here against Jacksonville State, who held a much better Western Kentucky offense to just 17 points last week.
Best Bet: FIU Team Total Under 17.5 Points