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CFB Week 9 market watch: Openers to bet and lines to monitor

Greg Schiano

Nebraska +7.5

In this column two weeks ago, I advocated for Nebraska +14 at Purdue when it appeared the embattled Huskers still had ample motivation in a muddled Big Ten West division. The same remains true this week as a Husker win would create a three-way tie atop the standings with Purdue (3-2) idle. The Ilini’s clock-churning, run-heavy formula is ideal as an underdog but less so in the role of the favorite as the shortened game is conducive to a lesser team hanging around. The current 7.5 line suggests that if this game was played in Champaign, the Huskers would be (at least) 14-point underdogs – the same number as the Ilini’s season-opener against lowly Wyoming. As impressive as the Ilini defense has been thus far, their numbers are severely inflated by a horrific slate of passing offenses (opponent passing offense EPA ranks: 123, 117, 107, 100, 96, 77). Nebraska isn’t particularly efficient, but the Huskers are explosive downfield and should hit enough big plays to compete for 40 minutes. I made this line Illinois -2.5 and was stunned to see it above a touchdown. 

BYU -3

Surely, very few people are clamoring to bet BYU following its sixth consecutive non-cover in a grizzly blowout loss at Liberty. I normally attempt to evade falling knives, but the situational spot this week heavily tilts in favor of the Cougars, who catch East Carolina on a short prep week with a long trip into altitude. Based on some of the post-game quotes, ECU treated the UCF game as the most important on its schedule – understandable given UCF’s recent dominance (six straight wins in the series). The Cougs have been physically abused by superior offensive lines at the line of scrimmage, but ECU is a pass-heavy offense (24th in pass rate) and has allowed the fourth-highest percentage nationally of runs “stuffed” at the line of scrimmage. This is also an obvious bounce-back opportunity for BYU quarterback Jaren Hall against an ECU defense near the bottom nationally in passing success rate (118th). Whereas noodle-armed John Rhys Plumlee was unable to attack ECU downfield, Hall and his receiving group are capable of exploiting the leaky Pirates’ secondary. There’s always innate risk in backing a team that appears to be in freefall, but this is an empty-the-clip game for BYU against an opponent that just played its best game of the season. I’m comfortable with the Cougs up to -4.

Rutgers +14.5

There is a particular situational spot in which Greg Schiano thrives. He’s 16-6 ATS as a conference road underdog, covering by an average of 8.4 points per game. When the total in these games is 45 or lower, he’s 6-1 ATS with an average cover margin of 18 points. Intuitively, his (relative) success in these games is not surprising. Rutgers is always a run-heavy offense that operates at a glacial pace (105th this season is plays per minute) with a conservative gameplan conducive to keeping games tight. Minnesota is even slower (128th in plays per minute) and could again be without steady redshirt senior quarterback Tanner Morgan. Following a promising start, the Gophers’ offense has tanked ever since Chris Autman-Bell went out with a season-ending injury. Per PFF, “CAB” was leading all B1G wide receivers by a substantial margin yards per route run at 4.65 per snap. Absent its only viable downfield threat, Minnesota is constantly running into stacked boxes. Per PFF, Rutgers is fourth nationally in tackling grade – a necessary pre-requisite in attempting to contain tackle-breaking savant Mo Ibrahim. There’s also substantial familiarity here among the coaching staffs as first-year Rutgers defensive coordinator Joe Harasmiyak held the same role for the past three seasons in Minneapolis. Given the expected brutal pace and likely game script, anything above two touchdowns is a worthwhile play. If Morgan is out, this line will plummet down to the -9/-10 range.

South Florida/Houston over 60

Clayton Tune promised a more pass-heavy approach prior to Houston’s win over Navy and his sentiments came to fruition as the Cougars tossed the ball all over the field against an overmatched secondary. Tune should have another field day this week against a South Florida defense ranked 114th in overall EPA. The Bulls are dead-last nationally in rush defense EPA, affording Houston ample opportunities to run the ball at-will and tee up Tune for easy downfield throws. Defensively, Houston continues to be a mess, particularly in the tackling department (124th, per PFF). For all of its warts, USF is a dynamic rushing offense, currently ranking 10th nationally in explosive run rate; the Bulls should break some big runs thanks to Houston’s porous tackling. Like most high totals, this will be decided by red zone success. Both offenses are productive in scoring opportunities (Houston 17th; USF 43rd). I make this total 64.5 and would play it up to the key number of 61. 


For more CFB betting content, join Brad Powers and Joey Knish as they react to Week 8 and break down the Week 9 slate, analyzing the biggest games and giving out their best bets:


Quick Hitters

  • VA Tech and NC State both desperately needed their bye weeks, albeit for very different reasons. Absent a consistent run game, NC State isn’t built to reimagine its offense in the post-Devin Leary era. The strength of the Hokies’ defense is against the pass (12th nationally in success rate), and I’m hard-pressed to imagine M.J. Morris and/or Jack Chambers being able to move the ball through the air. With a distinct lack of playmaking receivers on both sides and two well-coached defenses, I’m inclined to play the under if it reaches the ultra-important number of 41.
  • On paper, Florida heads to Jacksonville with the optimal formula for covering this massive number. The Gators’ methodical, run-heavy offense is designed to shorten games, and Georgia had some recent difficulty with another dual-threat quarterback, Kent State’s Collin Schlee. Billy Napier has thrived throughout his coaching career as an underdog, posting a 14-5 ATS mark with an 8.1 point cover margin. With crucial tilts against Tennessee and Mississippi State on-deck, it’s fair to wonder just how committed Georgia will be to blowing the Gators off of the field. I’d become much more interested in Florida if the number reaches +24. 
  • North Carolina is now the heavy favorite to win the ACC Coastal after books opened the ‘Heels +800 in the offseason. Back then, media groupthink told us that either Pittsburgh or Miami would win the division. I expected Pitt to regain its footing last week at Louisville, but instead the offense remained broken as Kedon Slovis and offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti demonstrated once again that they simply do not mesh. Pitt’s pass defense numbers are clearly elite (fourth in EPA) – in large measure due to a dominant pass rush – but UNC quarterback Drake Maye is one of the best in the country at beating pressure packages (9:1 TD/INT ratio when pressured, per PFF). Pat Narduzzi will never, ever deviate from his press man-to-man coverages on the outside, but if the pass rush isn’t getting to Maye, UNC will hit a slew of deep shots against Pitt’s “no-help” coverage. There are some situational edges for a desperate Pitt squad, but the on-field matchups mostly favor UNC. Anything -2.5 or better would likely draw me to a UNC bet. 
  • I’d love to buy Kansas State in a tremendous spot against Oklahoma State, but the Wildcats were hit with a deluge of injuries in the TCU game – most notably to quarterbacks Adrian Martinez and Will Howard. As of Monday, this situation is murky at-best and will likely remain so throughout the week. Despite the question marks, early money steamed KSU up to -2. At full-strength, I make the Wildcats a 5/5.5 point favorite.
  • In-season coach firing? You know the deal. Charlotte will be on my card if (when?) it hits 17. Coaching change aside, does Rice really warrant a spread north of two touchdowns?
  • Among all FBS quarterbacks, only Jayden Daniels (31) has forced more missed tackles than Miami Ohio’s Aveon Smith. He should have a field day on the ground against Akron’s cellar-dwelling run defense, which ranks bottom-10 nationally in PFF’s tackling metric. Smith isn’t all wiggle, either; he’s second to Cam Rising in yards after contact. Quietly, Akron’s offense is showing competency on a near-weekly basis. The issue here is Miami’s slogging pace; the Redhawks are 126th in plays per minute. Unfortunately, this number was bet up from 46 to 48 at the open. I’ll be watching for some under steam throughout the week with a target over in the 45 range.