With a couple of weeks of the college football season in the rearview mirror, we’re learning more and more about these teams as we continue to handicap all of the action. In this article, you can find our college football staff’s Week 3 college football best bets for the early Thursday and Friday slate. Check out our YouTube channel for further discussion of NFL and college football games. Let’s get to work.
Jacob Wayne’s Record: 5-8 (-2 units)
Kody Malstrom’s Record: 1-3 (-2.3 units)
Will Schwartz’s Record: 5-3 (+1.7 units)
Army Black Knights at UTSA Roadrunners
I’m worried about the UTSA offense. What was one of the most electric offenses in the Group of Five last season looks stuck in the mud so far this year. They rank just 109th in EPA per play on offense and have been held to just 14 and 20 points against Houston and Texas State, two defenses I don’t hold in particularly high regard.
The loss of leading receiver Zakhari Franklin was always going to be difficult to overcome, but De’Corian Clark has one catch this season as he’s recovering from an ACL tear. To make matters worse, an offensive line that ranks 120th in PFF pass-blocking is now set to be without right tackle Makai Clark for the next 6-8 weeks.
This all comes in combination with the loss of offensive coordinator Will Stein, who is now the offensive coordinator at Oregon. Frank Harris has predictably struggled as a result, and now he’s dealing with an injury of his own that has his status for this week’s game in question. He gutted out the second half last week, but his mobility was clearly compromised.
Army is implementing a new scheme this season with new offensive coordinator Drew Thatcher, and it looks great last week. While we can’t overreact to a game against Delaware State, 525 total yards and 9.1 yards per play are impressive numbers no matter the opponent. Bryson Daily appears to give the team some passing upside – he threw for 3 touchdowns last week.
While Army does have more of a passing element, they still have the feel of a service academy offense as they have run a play every 34 seconds so far, the third-slowest in the country. That slow pace has helped Jeff Monken establish an impressive 14-9-1 record ATS as an underdog of 7+ points.
With UTSA’s concerning start to the season on offense, it’s a bad time to be facing a service academy on a short week. The Roadrunners struggled to put away Army last season in an overtime thriller, and given their offensive concerns, I struggle to see how they win by double digits this time around, even at home.
Utah State Aggies at Air Force Falcons
So far, I’ve been impressed with Utah State, a team I was lower on heading into the season. Last week’s 78-28 win over Idaho State was great for the culture, especially when you consider that San Diego State struggled to put away that same team the week prior. However, it was the Aggies’ game against Iowa that opened my eyes the most.
Utah State shockingly owned the trenches against Iowa, stuffing them on a whopping 35.3% of their carries while getting stuffed on just 4.3% of their runs. The Aggies have been an excellent running team so far – three backs have over 100 yards already. They’ll make Air Force uncomfortable by pushing the pace in this game – they rank 20th with 22.8 seconds per play so far this year.
Air Force’s defensive metrics in the young season are very impressive, but they’ve played Robert Morris, a low level FCS team, and Sam Houston State, whose offense has looked absolutely anemic after making the jump from the FCS. Utah State’s offense should be much more equipped to score in this game.
I also have lingering questions about Air Force’s offense after they lost veteran quarterback Haaziq Daniels and last season’s leading rusher Brad Roberts, who finished with over 1,700 yards. Service academy schools typically reload very well, but those are two huge losses that could affect their ability to score in this game.
We have proof of concept here – Utah State beat Air Force as 11.5-point home underdogs last year in a game where quarterback Cooper Legas was amazing. Legas completed 18 of 23 passes for 215 yards and two scores while adding 76 yards and a touchdown on the ground. He completed 14 of 16 passes against Idaho State last week.
It’s also typically a good idea to fade service academy teams as big favorites. The service academies are 66-84-2 ATS (44%) as double-digit favorites since 2005, which makes perfect sense given how slow they are – Air Force is running a play every 35.5 seconds so far this year, the slowest rate in the country.
Best Bet: Utah State +10
Navy Midshipmen at Memphis Tigers
The Memphis Tigers are currently in the upside down world as they have traded years of success from their explosive offensive attack and have traded it for an elite defense. They currently lead the nation in Havoc, constantly generating pressure in the backfield and racking up tackles for a loss while their secondary bats every ball down in sight.
This spells disaster for a Navy offense who still runs their same old triple option rush attack. Even after speculation over the summer that we may see a heavier dose of the pass, they have refused to show any difference and they now need to find rush success against one of the better run stoppers in the nation.
The Memphis defense currently ranks 35th in Def Rush Success Rate, meaning they excel at limiting opposing gains off the run at less than half the distance to gain. A major issue for the Navy offense as the longer the distance the harder it is for them to convert in an offense that racks up small chunks of a time at best.
Explosiveness will also be practically non-existent as the Tigers rank 16th in Def RUsh Explosiveness. While a fluke gain can happen at a moments notice, the Tigers ability to crash the backfield will disrupt the timing of the triple option and potentially force turnovers in the process.
Should Navy throw in the pass attack that they said they would, they will be in a world of hurt against a Memphis secondary that excels at clogging the passing lanes. Pass breakups have come at an abundance and the rare pass attempts that we have seen early on from the Navy give me zero conviction that their receivers can create any sort of separation for a high quality look. Simply put, the Navy offense is in serious danger of sinking.
On the other end, Memphis should have no issue with moving the ball down the field against a Navy defense that ranks 121st in Def Success Rate and 114th in Def Havoc.
Expect the running back duo of Blake Watson and Sutton Smith to regress back towards the mean in rushing production after an anemic start to their season. Couple the newfound success on the ground with a major advantage in the air and the Tigers should have no issue with continuing their high rate of scoring when they cross the 40.
Best Bet: Memphis -14