As Week 1 of the college football season kicks off, the Lineups crew has you covered with tons of written and video content for the slate of games. In this article, you can find odds, prediction, and relevant analysis for this Week 1 matchup between Ball State and Kentucky.
Kentucky is poised for a ton of offensive improvement this season with the addition of quarterback Devin Leary. Meanwhile, Ball State is coming off a disappointing 5-7 season that resulted in them missing out on a bowl game after making one in 2021 and 2022. With a wide gap in quality between these teams, what’s the best betting approach? Keep reading to find out.
Ball State Cardinals Vs. Kentucky Wildcats Prediction & Pick
When Ball State comes to town on Saturday, Kentucky will have an outstanding opportunity for a tune-up game for its new look offense. Lots went wrong with the offense in 2022, from Will Levis’s injuries to subpar receiving play, but the biggest issue was the dropoff at offensive coordinator when Liam Coen left for the NFL.
Now, Coen is back as the OC at Kentucky, and that should help this offense get back on track. New starting passer Devin Leary appears to be a strong fit for this offense, and with his excellent track record, he’ll be able to produce with Kentucky’s ascending skill position group that features big-play potential.
Kentucky’s defense should remain excellent after ranking top 25 in EPA and success rate last season. Brad White is entering his fifth season as this team’s defensive coordinator, and his results speak for themselves. Ball State lost three fifth-year senior wide receivers, making things difficult on their offense in this game.
I’m not typically a proponent of laying points with big favorites in college football, but I believe this line doesn’t properly account for the improvements I’m anticipating from the Kentucky offense. Ball State doesn’t stand much of a chance here, and I’ll lay the points with the favorite up to -27.5 in this game.
Ball State Cardinals Vs. Kentucky Wildcats Odds
Kentucky can currently be found as a 26-point favorite in this game, a hefty spread that’s well deserved given the gap in quality between these teams. The Moneyline is just as stark, with the Wildcats priced as -3600 favorites on DraftKings. With an over/under of 49.5 points, the expectation is that Kentucky will do most of the scoring in this game.
Ball State Cardinals Vs. Kentucky Wildcats Key Matchups
Devin Leary vs. Ball State’s secondary
One of the quarterback transfers I’m most excited about this season is Devin Leary to Kentucky. The former NC State passer suffered a midseason injury last year, but threw for 35 touchdowns to just 5 interceptions in his last fully healthy season in 2021. Leary takes great care of the ball and has a lethal deep ball.
Leary should be a great fit for offensive coordinator Liam Coen’s offense. Coen’s impact on the team was felt as the Wildcats went from 32.3 points per game (36th) in 2021 to 20.4 (112th) in 2022. After spending a year in the NFL with Sean McVay and the Rams, Coen is back in Lexington to lead what should be a highly successful offense.
DEVIN LEARY TO DEVIN CARTER, TOUCHDOWN WOLFPACK!!! NC STATE TAKES THE LEAD OVER CLEMSON. pic.twitter.com/25NtOMBpn7
— Zak (@CaramelPhd) September 25, 2021
Ball State had a decent defensive season last year, ranking 67th in EPA/play allowed. However, the Cardinals lost six of their top eight defensive players in snaps from the secondary last season. Three former starters are now at NFL camps. That drop-off in the secondary puts them in a dangerous spot against this Kentucky passing attack.
The Wildcats bring back their top three receivers from last season – Barion Brown, Tayvion Robinson, and Dane Key – and all three will have matchup advantages against Ball State’s secondary. Brown and Key combined for over 1,100 receiving yards as freshmen last year despite the difficult circumstances with the offense.
While I’m not putting Leary in the Heisman conversation – at least not yet – he should work his way into NFL draft discussions this fall, and this game provides a great launch pad for what should be an excellent season. Look for him to have plenty of success passing the ball in this game.
Marquez Cooper vs. Kentucky’s run defense
Ball State’s offense wasn’t very good to begin with, and they lost their starting quarterback, running back, and top three receivers from last season. While quarterback Layne Hatcher transfers in from Texas State, he’s supported by just two receivers who have even caught passes at the FBS level before.
That likely means the offensive burden will be squarely on the shoulders of Marquez Cooper in this game. The Kent State transfer is coming off a First Team All MAC season with 1,331 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, but this matchup provides a ton of challenges for him.
The Wildcats boast a run defense that ranked 15th in success rate last season. Brad White’s group also ranked 12th in tackling per PFF. Defensive line anchor Justin Rogers transferred to Auburn, but redshirt sophomore transfer Keeshawn Silver (North Carolina) enters the fold as a high-upside player.
Overall, the Wildcats bring back five of their top seven players in terms of snaps in the front seven. Standout linebackers D’Eryk Jackson, J.J. Weaver, and Trevin Wallace lead that group. With the ability to stack the box in this game and not worry about a hapless passing attack, Cooper’s productivity will likely take a hit.