SabreBetrics: Week 1 Betting Guide – Let’s Get Started

After a turbulent and newsworthy offseason, college football is finally back. As a sports fan, this is one of my favorite weekends of the year. Nothing beats attending Virginia’s season opener and following it up with another seven hours of watching football on the couch.

Betting can often be tricky in the early weeks of the season as it is difficult to know which teams are deserving of their preseason hype (see Nebraska). An additional complicating factor is the widespread use of the transfer portal, which allows teams to quickly restock the depth chart but is troublesome for predictive models that make assumptions based on returning production.

For those who might be new to gambling, I recommend moderation at the season’s outset. Focus your attention on a few games that you feel most confident about rather than putting your entire account at risk out of the gate. Once we have meaningful data points gathered over the next few weeks, it will be easier to project how the conference schedule will play out.

However, if you are in the market for betting advice for Week 1, allow me to make a few recommendations.

Virginia Week 1 Forecast

Richmond +24.5 at Virginia. Over 57.

The Tony Elliott era at Virginia begins with a familiar in-state foe. In 2016, the Richmond Spiders started Bronco Mendenhall’s tenure with an unceremonious home loss. Though Elliott is inheriting a considerably better program than his predecessor, the Spiders have enough talent on both sides of the ball to make this a competitive game.

UR coach Russ Huesman has a solid track record of creating formidable defenses. In 2021, the Spiders held six of 11 opponents to 20 points or fewer. The Spiders were undone by offensive inconsistency, particularly at the quarterback position. This year’s team should be significantly improved with VMI and Maryland transfer Reece Udinski under center. Udinski started 27 games at VMI and owns school records for career passing yards and completions within a season. His biggest asset though is his ability to avoid mistakes; in 2019, he set an FCS record by opening the season with 368 passes without an interception. Richmond’s decision to hire offensive coordinator and “air raid” specialist Billy Cosh from VMI should play to Udinski’s strengths.

For me, this game ultimately comes down to the progression of the Virginia secondary and rebuilt defensive line. In 2021, the Cavaliers ranked 88th in the FBS with passing yards allowed per game and 114th in sack rate. Virginia cannot let Udinski stand comfortably in the pocket and pick apart the secondary. I expect UVA to make strides on defense this season, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Richmond sustain multiple scoring drives. Fortunately, Virginia’s offense should be able to overpower an undermatched secondary.

My prediction is a 38-20 win for the Hoos at home.

Week 1 Best Selections

Penn State -3 at Purdue (Thursday): The entire complexion of the 2021 season changed for Penn State in Week 6 at Iowa. The Nittany Lions were 5-0 and leading the No. 3 Hawkeyes by 10 points when quarterback Sean Clifford was knocked out of the game with a rib injury. Iowa rallied for a 23-20 victory, and with Clifford playing through pain the remainder of the season, Penn State lost six of its last eight games. In fairness to James Franklin’s team, two of those losses were narrow defeats against top 10 opponents (Michigan and Michigan State).

With Clifford healthy and leading a group of seven returning offensive starters, the Nittany Lions have the pieces to contend in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers are always a scrappy opponent at home, but it might take a while to find suitable replacements for defensive end George Karlaftis and wide receiver David Bell who are now in the NFL.

Pittsburgh -7 vs. West Virginia (Thursday): It’s been 11 years since the last installment of the “Backyard Brawl”, one of my favorite rivalries from the now defunct Big East conference. Despite losing quarterback Kenny Pickett to the NFL, wide receiver Jordan Addison to USC, and coordinator Mark Whipple to Nebraska, Pittsburgh should still be a formidable offensive team. The entire starting offensive line returns, as well as three different running backs with over 500 rushing yards a season ago. Meanwhile, West Virginia is replacing a lot of talent on defense; only four defensive starters return, and the Mountaineers will be fielding a completely new set of cornerbacks. Expect a heavy dose of play-action from Kedon Slovis to test the inexperience of the secondary.

Illinois +3.5 at Indiana: Virginia’s Week 2 opponent had no trouble dispatching Wyoming last weekend. In scouting the game, I was most impressed with the Illini’s balanced approach on offense. In addition to accruing 269 rushing yards, 12 different receivers caught passes on 40 attempts. It was a picture perfect game for Bret Bielema’s coaching style, and playing in Week 0 should prepare Illinois for a road trip to Bloomington. In contrast, this will be Indiana’s first attempt at replacing 11 starters with new offensive and defensive coordinators. I think Illinois will win this game outright, but I’ll take the extra points.

San Diego State -6 vs. Arizona: Jedd Fisch’s first season as head coach of Arizona did not go as planned. The Wildcats finished at 1-11, including a 38-14 home loss against San Diego State. Now making the return trip for the inaugural game at Snapdragon Stadium, the Wildcats are still a couple recruiting classes away from serious bowl contention.

The Aztecs should be confident after a 12-2 season that resulted in a trip to the MWC title game and an AP Top 25 finish. Brady Hoke has engineered elite defensive units during his time at San Diego State, but his offense this year should also improve with the addition of transfer quarterback Braxton Burmeister (remember him?). If you are a believer in trends across seasons, Arizona is 0-4 against the spread in its last four games against Mountain West opponents.

Bowling Green +25 at UCLA: The Bruins have the better team here, but Bowling Green has the experience to keep this contest respectable. Overall, 18 starters return for the Falcons which boasted the best pass defense in the MAC last season. UCLA was forced to be active in the transfer portal with only two defensive starters returning; 10 of the top 15 tacklers from last year’s 8-4 season are no longer on the team. Bowling Green will have its hands full trying to contain running back Zach Charbonnet, but I think the offense will be able to score enough to keep the game within a three score margin.

Parlay/Teaser of the Week

Each week, I’ll propose a parlay that you can use to spice up your gambling portfolio. We will start the season off right with a specific kind of parlay known as a teaser. Teasers allow you to combine two or more bets together with the added benefit of getting extra points to your preferred side. The catch is that all bets within the teaser must cover or you lose your money. A standard two-team teaser for college football generally provides you between 6 and 7 points to use on each team. For this week’s bet, I’ve selected two ACC Atlantic favorites with point spreads that are a little too high for my liking.

  • Boston College (-7 –> -0.5) vs. Rutgers: Boston College managed to piece together a bowl-eligible season in 2021 despite a September injury to quarterback Phil Jerkovic. The former Notre Dame transfer was exceptional in 2020, passing for 2,558 yards and 24 touchdowns during his 10 starts. With a healthy Jerkovic and dynamic wideout Zay Flowers on offense, the Golden Eagles should be able to move the ball against a Rutgers defense that allowed an average of 409 yards of offense in 2021. The Scarlet Knights have one of the youngest teams in the Big Ten, with 28 of the 52 players on the depth chart being underclassmen. That might bode well for Greg Schiano’s squad in future seasons, but it likely will not help him on the road in Week 1.
  • Clemson (-22 –> -15.5) vs. Georgia Tech (Monday): After years of unprecedented program success, Clemson underachieved expectations in 2021. It’s worth noting that the Tigers’ “down year” still resulted in double-digit wins and the nation’s second ranked defense in points allowed per game. Clemson’s problem was on offense, where quarterback DJ Uiagalelei did not live up to his lofty preseason hype. Given Dabo Swinney’s history of recruiting and developing NFL-ready quarterbacks, I’m betting on significant improvement from Uiagalelei and the Tiger offense. The defense will still be elite, allowing Clemson to once again contend for a trip to the College Football Playoff. Even though the game is being played in Atlanta, you can expect a decidedly pro-Tigers crowd that is eager to move past a disappointing 2021.

Random Fact to Impress Your Fellow Tailgaters

If your preseason prediction is that either Alabama or Ohio State will win the National Championship, you’re not alone. According to ESPN’s David Purdum, 64% of BetMGM championship bets are on either the Crimson Tide or the Buckeyes. The amount of money bet on each of these teams is six times more than the next closest team.

While these teams have a high likelihood of contending at the end of the season, there have also been some notable public longshot bets with potential payouts over $1,000,000. Specifically, there have been several four-figure bets on Utah State at 1,000-to-1 odds. Strangely, through July, sportsbooks reported more championship bets on the Aggies than any other team outside of Alabama and Ohio State. Utah State will get a chance at a statement win this weekend in Tuscaloosa, but they will have to first overcome being 41.5-point underdogs.

SabreBetrics is a Virginia graduate and long-time fan of TheSabre. The opinions expressed in this article are not directly associated with TheSabre and are intended for recreational use only. Sports betting should be a fun activity, not a stressful one. Please do not bet more than you can reasonably afford to lose.