College football season is back. After a successful 2022 college football season in this column, I’ve decided to bring in my friends and esteemed colleagues Will Schwartz and Kody Malstrom to offer their insight. I’ll be tracking our individual best bets record for this column throughout the season.
Week 0 might not offer rivalry games, ranked matchups, or high profile conference games, but I’d watch every second of South Florida vs UMass at this point. In this article, we’ll offer up our best bets for the seven-game Saturday slate including Navy vs. Notre Dame, UTEP vs. Jacksonville State, Ohio vs. San Diego State, and San Jose State vs. USC. Let’s get to work.
Navy Midshipmen at Notre Dame Fighting Irish Prediction + Best Bet
Author: Jacob Wayne
Last November, we watched Notre Dame pull out a 3-point win on the road against a feisty Navy team. Nine months later, we’ll watch them face off again, and while this time it’s taking place in Ireland, I’m backing Navy to cover like I did last season.
The Midshipmen needed a change. With the new cut blocking rules, option offenses have had to pivot on the fly. Navy brought in new offensive coordinator Grant Chesnut who led Kennesaw State to a top three rushing offense in the FCS in six of the past seven years.
Chestnut will maintain triple option elements for the Mids, but expect Chesnut to throw some different looks at a Notre Dame defense that already struggled to defend this team last year. The Irish bring back five of their seven defensive linemen with 120+ snaps, but it’s a light unit – only one tops 300 lbs.
I love Daba Fofana’s Anytime Touchdown Scorer prop, as well, if you’re in a market that offers college player props. Fofana scored against the Irish last year and Navy returns four of five starting offensive linemen to block for him. He shouldn’t be priced over 2-1 here.
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) October 8, 2022
On the other side, Notre Dame is also going through an identity shift with Wake Forest transfer Sam Hartman hoping to be the program’s best passer in years. The Irish were 115th in pass play rate last year and only five FBS teams completed fewer passes of 40+ yards – that’s about to change.
This matchup should be good on paper for Hartman – the Mids were dead last in passing explosiveness allowed last year. However, new defensive passing game coordinator Eric Lewis has a strong track record and should bring improvement.
However, I’m not sure that the Notre Dame passing game will be firing on all cylinders right out of the gates. Sam Hartman was a master of the slow mesh offense in Winston-Salem, and his new offensive coordinator Gerad Parker is unproven as he’s replacing Tommy Rees, who’s off to Alabama.
Even if Hartman finds some explosive passes, we’re banking on the Irish not winning by three touchdowns here. Given the unique international travel situation, this game could start slow, and the total has been driven down in the market. Give me the service academy team to cover the big spread in the first game of the season.
Best Bet: Navy +20.5 (play to +20) and Daba Fofana Anytime Touchdown Scorer (0.5u, +200 or better)
UTEP Miners at Jacksonville State Gamecocks Prediction + Best Bet
Author: Jacob Wayne
Welcome to the big time, Gamecocks. On Saturday, Jacksonville State makes its FBS debut and hosts its new conference mate, the University of Texas at El Paso. The Miners are 1-7 in their last eight road openers, but I’m betting on that changing this week.
Jacksonville State played one game against an FBS opponent last year, and they lost 54-17 to Tulsa. The Gamecocks’ pass defense was torched in that game as Tulsa’s Davis Brin threw for 424 yards and four touchdowns. I’m afraid a similar outcome could be in store with UTEP’s Gavin Hardison coming to town.
Hardison isn’t a future NFL starter by any means, but he was very efficient in 2022, especially on deep throws – he had 20 big-time throws to just three turnover-worthy plays on 20+ yard passes per PFF. That spells trouble against a Jacksonville State secondary that lacks proven experience and struggled at the FCS level.
UTEP QB Gavin Hardison is a gamer! pic.twitter.com/QbvyL4l5Bn
— Robert Cardona (@CARDONAFAM29) July 4, 2023
The Gamecocks counter with a dynamic pass rush featuring Chris Hardie and Jaylen “J-Rock” Swain, who combined for 10.5 sacks, but UTEP has an elite offensive line that returns four of five starters. The Miners also bring back wide receiver Tyrin Smith, who had over 1,000 yards last season.
Jacksonville State’s rushing offense was elite at the FCS level, ranking fifth with 251 yards per game on the ground. However, they’re running into a buzzsaw of a UTEP front seven that returns five of eight players with 200+ snaps last season. The Miners ranked 27th in rushing EPA allowed and allowed 200+ rushing yards just once all season.
The Gamecocks could also be without Anwar Lewis, their leading rusher who had 818 yards on 7.1 YPC last season. That would put more of an onus on Zion Webb, a seventh-year starter, who is a fun dual threat but an inconsistent downfield passer.
The recent results of FCS teams making the jump to the FBS are all over the map, so it’s difficult to glean much meaningful insight. However, this appears to be a poor matchup for Jacksonville State, and I’ll fade them in their most meaningful game in program history.
Best Bet: UTEP ML (-120 or better)
Ohio Bobcats at San Diego State Aztecs Prediction + Best Bet
Author: Will Schwartz
Anyone who’s watched or bet college football alongside me knows I love some MACtion, and while this isn’t technically the real thing, it’s pretty close, as one of the best teams from the Mid American Conference kicks off their season all the way out on the West Coast.
Like I would for a real MACtion game, I’m backing an over here. OU scored a bunch of points a year ago, in a season that ended with a fun bowl victory over Wyoming and a 10-4 record. They averaged 32.2 points per game, and return a lot of the guys responsible for that.
Despite the great year, they were able to retain their head coach and offensive coordinator, and QB Kurtis Rourke is back too after an awesome season, in which he tossed 25 touchdowns against just four interceptions. He’ll be joined by most of his offensive skill weapons from last year, with thousand-yard rusher Sieh Bangura still in the fold, as well as top receiving duo Sam Wiglusz and Jacoby Jones.
Kurtis Rourke LAUNCHES and connects with Sam Wiglusz for a 71-yard, go-ahead touchdown 🔥🔥🔥pic.twitter.com/gcEaJRT9Jj
— The Transfer Portal CFB (@TPortalCFB) October 1, 2022
They’ll be attacking an Aztecs defense that has lost six of the seven starters from last year’s front seven, and it will definitely take more than a week to adjust and incorporate their new pieces. The SDSU offense will be led by returning QB Jalen Mayden, who didn’t have sparkling traditional statistics a year ago but was 35th in PFF’s positional rankings out of QBs with at least 120 dropbacks.
Ohio’s defensive TARP rating is -5, the worst it can be, as they were hit pretty hard by the transfer portal. The Aztecs’ offense doesn’t have the firepower of their opponent’s unit, but with so many new pieces in the lineup, and a much bigger road trip than they’re used to, the Ohio defense could be in for an adjustment period in Week 0.
Best Bet: Over 48.5 Points (-115 FanDuel, play to 50.5)
San Jose State Spartans at USC Trojans Prediction + Best Bet
Author: Kody Malstrom
It’s never ideal to go through a whole roster haul on one end of the field and that is exactly what San Jose State is going through by only returning one third of their defensive production. A defense that draws the daunting task of trying to slow down the high powered USC offense.
Heisman winner Caleb Williams returns under center as one of the most electric quarterbacks in the nation. He possesses an elite dual threat ability that can give any opposing defense fits when he rushes out of the pocket.
This run by Caleb Williams was WILD 🤯
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 27, 2022
As for who he will throw to, Williams is surrounded by familiar faces as they return a majority of their receiving core. Gone is star receiver Jordan Addison, but Tahj Washington, Mario Williams, and Brenden Rice all return as they finished as the next three leading receivers behind Addison in their 2022 campaign.
That continuity gets to go against a San Jose State who was average at best in defending the pass, finishing last year 60th in Def Pass Success Rate and 63rd in Def Pass Explosiveness. Those numbers are expected to take a nosedive as they deal with an identity crisis early in the season.
The tackling metrics were also not ideal as the Spartans were well below average at open field tackling. They now need to find answers in that department against an offense that excels in getting their playmakers into the open field.
Speaking of defense, that was a major weakness on USC’s end last year and they have made an effort to beef up that area going into this season. They snagged Oklahoma State’s linebacker Mason Cobb to help their second level, giving them a blend of pressure and coverage across the middle.
With an improved defense and continuity on offense, USC should have no issue in turning this into a blowout.
Best Bet: USC -30 (play to -30.5)