College Football Picks: 4 Big Small School Plays
When preseason odds are released plenty of attention is paid to the big names and conferences in college football. That means a great deal of value can fly under the radar from some of the non-Power 5 conferences. Here are four teams from various ‘lower tier’ conferences that offer value playing their over/under season win totals, straight up or parlayed.
A schedule that ranks 127th of 130 in terms of difficulty greets a Red Wolves squad that will be in the thick of the Sun Belt title hunt all season long. They play just three teams that ended last year with a winning record and, short of a trip to Alabama in early September, they will be presumptively favored by double-digits in ten of their twelve regular season games. The Red Wolves also avoid Troy from the Sun Belt’s East division and get their most difficult conference opponent, Appalachian State, at home.
Senior quarterback Justice Hansen is back to lead the offense after throwing for 3,967 yards and 37 touchdowns a season ago. That earned Hansen Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year honors and a variety of weapons returns around him including running back Warren Wand and wide receivers Omar Batless, Kendrick Edwards along with transfers Dahu Green and Kirk Merritt.
Defensively the strength is up front with Ronheen Bingham leading a front line that was a major factor why the team finished second in the conference in rushing yards allowed in 2017. Safeties Justin Clifton and BJ Edmonds are the top returning tacklers on the team and along with linebacker Trent Ellis-Brewer will be the core strength of the defensive back seven.
All around they have arguably the most well rounded lineup in the conference and with that joke of a schedule sans Alabama, are my favorite pick of all to clear their win total. They are a lock to win the Sun Belt’s West division and are also worthy of a possible play to win the conference once odds are released.
The Bobcats appear on this list for the same reasons as Arkansas State above; a bottom of the barrel schedule combined with playing in the weaker side of their conference while also being led by an experienced quarterback.
Their schedule is rated as the 3rd easiest in the country and they will benefit greatly from playing against two teams in total that finished above .500 last year, which is the least of anyone in the MAC. A trip to Northern Illinois in mid-October is the only game they have a chance of being underdogs in. They benefit from avoiding Toledo from the conferences’ West division.
Nathan Rourke is back after throwing for 2,203 yards and 17 touchdowns last season while also rushing for 912 yards and 21 rushing scores, a mark that was 3rd overall amongst all NCAA players. He will be joined in the backfield by AJ Oullette, who returns after clearing the century mark last year and scoring eight touchdowns. Both Rourke and Ouellette will benefit from superior blocking up front on a line led by senior Joes Anderson and Lowery.
Ohio choked away a chance at what would have been their first conference championship in 50 years last season when they lost their final two games of the year despite being favored by a touchdown in each. They will be plenty motivated this season under head coach Frank Solich, and should have little to no difficulty clearing their easily attainable win total line of 8.5.
Another team with a very manageable schedule, the Memphis Tigers are set up well again to continue to their winning ways after having posted a 37-15 record over the last four seasons. In conference they avoid both Temple and South Florida from the AAC East division and also draw UCF and Houston at home. They will be double-digit favorites in eight of their 12 games and if they can go 2-2 total versus Navy, UCF, Missouri and Houston they are guaranteed to hit their win mark, even with a built in mulligan in place.
Offensively they will turn to a strong backfield to offset the loss of quarterback Riley Ferguson. Darrell Henderson is back after rushing for 1,154 yards, nine touchdowns and an impressive 8.9 yards per carry last season, all of which earned him 1st Team AAC honors. He will be joined by fellow junior Patrick Taylor, who despite backing up Henderson still posted 866 yards of his own while scoring fourteen times overall. Arizona State transfer Brady White is expected to take over at quarterback and will have plenty of talent around him with WR/KR Tony Pollard and tight end Joey Magnifico additional targets to go along with their well rounded backfield.
Eight starters are back for a defense that has talent throughout. Senior Jackson Dillon leads the front line while Curtis Akins, Tim Hart and Austin Hall are a solid starting trio of linebackers. The backend is rounded out by cornerbacks TJ Carter and Tito Windham, with Carter having earned 2nd Team AAC honors after putting up five interceptions and 11 pass breakups in 2017.
The schedule is easy, especially early on as Navy is the only challenge they will face until UCF in week 7. This should give Brady White plenty of time to get acclimated to his new surrounding at Memphis. The Tigers are another team that I expect to have little issue beating their preseason win mark, while also having a great chance of challenging for a conference title.
Head coach Bryan Harsin has led the Broncos to a 42-12 record since arriving in Boise four years ago, and will have one of his best teams yet to start the 2018 season.
Quarterback Brett Rypien is back for his senior year and will be looking to continue his momentum from last season when he led his team to a 9-1 record over their final ten games. Running back Alexander Mattison returns after rushing for 1,086 yards and scoring 13 touchdowns while catching 28 passes. Joining Mattison in the offensive weapons department will be receiver AJ Richardson, who along with sophomore wideouts Cartrell Thomas and Octavius Evans will hope to continue the Broncos throwing success that saw them finish in the top 40 in both scoring and passing yards per game a season ago.
Defensively they are in even better shape with ten returning starters back for a squad that finished 21st in the country in yards allowed per game and 17th against the rush. The front line includes three players who earned All Mountain West Honors last season and is highlighted by senior Curtis Weaver, whose 11 sacks led the conference in 2017. The defensive backs were well decorated as well with cornerback Tyler Horton earning 1st team All Conference honors, junior safety Kekoa Wawahine 2nd team and speedy cornerback Avery Williams 1st team as the Mountain West’s top kick returner. All that experience should help the Broncos maintain their turnover dominance after ranking 9th in the country with a margin of +13. College games can turn on a single play, and to have the ability to continuously win the turnover battle will help the Broncos immensely in attempting to get the necessary wins to hit the over.
The schedule lines up well for Boise, with Oklahoma State the only team on their schedule to have ended last season ranked, and the Broncos benefit by getting them early when they will still be attempting to replace the mass production of now NFL quarterback Mason Rudolph and wide receiver James Washington (NFL ROTY Odds +5500). Their remaining non-conference matchups should pose little difficulty in Troy and Uconn, and they will certainly benefit from drawing their two toughest MWC opponents, San Diego State and Fresno State, at home as well. An undefeated run is not out of the question for the Broncos, and I would confidently take them to clear their over in wins at 10. Barring catastrophic injury there is no chance this team loses three games on the season, so you are essentially guaranteed at least a push if backing Boise to beat their 10 win over-under line.