Last Week – 1-0 ATS, 1-0 SU
(Lines from Caesars Sportsbook, via ESPN)
Weber State (+28.5) @ Utah
Weber State lost to Southern Illinois in the first round of the FCS players barely four months ago. Now, they travel to Salt Lake City. Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer won the Utah QB job, and it sounds like he did it with flying colors. He fills in a key gap in the offense with a loaded defense on the other side. Utah starts most seasons underrated and I expect them to win this one going away.
Utah 49 – Weber State 10
Southern Utah (+45) @ Arizona State
Not all FCS teams are alike. The Thunderbirds are a poor team, even by lower-division standards. They went 1-5 in the spring season and lost 45-14 to San Jose State in Week 0. The Sun Devils can beat them by 45 points, the only question is whether they care to do it. I’ll use last season’s 70-7 bludgeoning of Arizona as an indication that they are comfortable running up the score, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Herm calls off the dogs.
ASU 56 – SUU 6
Northern Colorado (+38) @ Colorado
Like Southern Utah, Northern Colorado will be an extremely low-risk tune-up for the Buffs. Colorado could use some good vibes after finishing the year on a low note, losing their starting QB to transfer, and losing their star RB to the NFL. That likely means that Colorado has more of an incentive to test itself rather than pull back on the throttle.
Colorado 52 – UNC 7
Stanford (+3) vs. Kansas State from Arlington, TX
K-State’s season went off the rails when they lost QB Skylar Thompson, but he is back to start in his fifth season. Stanford finished 2020 strong after a poor start. With Davis Mills and several key offensive pieces gone, that finish might not mean much this fall. Both teams want to run the ball and have question marks on defense. There isn’t an obvious advantage, so I’ll take the points on a neutral field.
Stanford 27 – KSU 24
Fresno State (+20.5) @ Oregon
The Ducks enter the season with lots of hype. After losing three of four to finish 2020, that means they have something to prove. Fresno has the UW-centric Haener-to-Jones connection and smacked UConn 45-0 last week. This line is in about the right place; it just comes down to whether Oregon’s defense can keep Fresno from scoring the extra TD to cover.
Oregon 41 – Fresno St. 23
San Jose State (+14) @ USC
The Spartans and the Trojans was historically a pretty even matchup. I’m not confident that these Spartans can hang with these Trojans. Agamemnon isn’t walking through that door. SJSU thrived in 2020 by doing just enough to win close games. USC’s pass attack will overwhelm their defense in this one.
USC 38 – SJSU 21
Oregon State (+7) @ Purdue
This sort of mid-conference Pac-B1G battle is what I hope we get more of under The Alliance. It’s not an eye-popping matchup, but at least Southern Utah isn’t involved. Neither team had trouble putting points on the board in 2020. While I think the Beavers can stay in the game, I worry that their defensive personnel won’t have enough firepower to keep up in the end.
Purdue 37 – Oregon State 29
LSU (-2.5) @ UCLA
The Bruins got the non-conference albatross off from around their necks by crushing Hawaii. Now they host the conference’s biggest game of the week and a chance to level up in reputation. The Tigers were one of the most unpredictable, inconsistent teams in the country in 2020. Until I see that they have righted that ship, I’m going with the home dog led by a hot, experienced QB.
UCLA 35 – LSU 33
Nevada (+3.5) @ California
The Wolf Pack will be a good early test for whether Cal has shaken off the offensive doldrums that plagued them in 2020. Both teams bring back a lot of stability, but the wildfires have meant Nevada has had no stability at all in the week leading up to the game. Those disruptions will make a difference.
Cal 30 – Nevada 20
BYU (-12.5) @ Arizona, from Las Vegas, NV
I’m not giving BYU too much credit for leveling up to Pac-12 scheduling since they’ll open against the worst team in the conference. Arizona is in the position UW was in 2009: there might be some “dead cat bounce” improvement, but it’s going to take a long time to get back to real competitiveness. Even breaking in new QB Jaren Hall, BYU should cruise.
BYU 37 – Arizona 20
Utah State (+17) @ Washington State
The Aggies were tremendous in 2018, but they’re more often in the middle of the MWC and struggled significantly last year. Their only win last year was against barely competitive New Mexico, which was also the only time they topped 16 points. That meager output won’t keep things close against Wazzu’s run-and-shoot.
WSU 41 – Utah State 15
Montana (+23.5) @ Washington
Early season games against FCS teams with huge betting lines are often hard to pick because they come down to whether the superior team’s coaching staff has an interest in running up the score or protecting a big lead at the end of the game. Although Montana is a top 10 FCS team, they are at a significant talent disadvantage heading into Montlake. Additionally, unlike much of the FCS, the Grizz did not complete a full spring season. They only played two games before wrapping for Covid-related issues.
Offensively, Montana is built around a high-completion, lower-risk passing game led by a fairly experienced QB in Issaquah native Cam Humphrey. UW has a defense that doesn’t give up big plays and Montana’s offense doesn’t hunt for them, so they’ll have to execute on longer drives to score points. A key factor when Montana has the ball is whether the ZTF-less front seven will get consistent pressure on Humphrey to disrupt their slow-but-steady offense. Cooper McDonald and Bralen Trice will be crucial in this area.
The general conservatism extends to Montana’s defense. With a 3-3-5 formation and no defensive linemen over 300 pounds, the Huskies will certainly try to establish a consistent running game behind their experienced offensive line. Montana has good and experienced linebackers, but if the line can win up front, that should be a recipe to stay ahead of schedule if Cam Davis and Richard Newton read their blocks correctly. If that run game clicks, it will force the defense to cheat up and give Dylan Morris more space to throw deep, out of play-action or otherwise. I would be surprised to see Morris attempt more than 25 passes in this game, but he should have a high yards/completion average if things go according to plan.
Altogether, it sounds like a recipe for fewer explosive plays, several longer drives, and not the point totals you might expect from a lower-division team. I still expect the Dawgs to cover the spread, but I think the number is in the right neighborhood.
Washington 42 – Montana 17