Thursday Night College Football Best Bets: Back the Mean Green, Falcons Rushing Attacks

Thanks to COVID-19, we don’t have a Thursday Night Football game from the NFL to watch and wager on, but we do have a pair of college football matchups that can whet the appetite somewhat.

Louisiana Tech and North Texas will do battle in Conference USA action, while Air Force and Utah State will face off in Mountain West Conference action to close out the night.

Who has the edge tonight and what bets should you be circling?  Let’s dive in.

Louisiana Tech at North Texas

Spread: Louisiana Tech +1
O/U 66.5
6:00 PM ET, CBS Sports Network

The first game of the day comes from Denton, Texas when Louisiana Tech (4-3, 3-2 CUSA) hits the road to visit North Texas (3-4, 2-3 CUSA).

Ever since the resumption of college football, Louisiana Tech has been one of the programs hit the hardest by the pandemic. 

Their season opener against Baylor was canceled after the team had 38 players test positive for COVID-19, and most recently for the Bulldogs, two games set for November (against Louisiana-Monroe and Florida International) were canceled with their dates against Rice, and this North Texas team, rescheduled.

That means the Bulldogs have not been in action for over a month now, with their last game being a 37-34 win over UAB on Halloween.

North Texas has also run into numerous issues with COVID-19 since its season began in September.  The Mean Green had a month layoff of their own thanks to postponements and a cancelation of their matchup with UAB, but the Mean Green have been able to play two straight games without any interruption, though they’re coming off of a 49-17 blowout at the hands of Texas-San Antonio last Saturday.

On paper, these two teams appear to be very evenly matched.  Louisiana Tech has been terribly inconsistent on offense, likely in large part due to the fact their season has been met with so many stoppages, and North Texas has been consistently terrible on defense.

It’s an old fashioned, “Something’s Gotta Give!” contest.

The Bulldogs enter today’s game with one of the worst rushing attacks in all of college football.  LA Tech only ranks above rushing powerhouses Mississippi State and UMass in yards per attempt (2.4) and rank 123rd in rushing offense with 92 yards per game. 

Sometimes such a stat can be an indicator a team just throws the ball a ton and is much more potent in that respect, but the stats don’t back that up for the Bulldogs either as they rank 53rd in passing.  While that’s far from the worst ranking in college football, it’s pretty pedestrian considering how paltry the rushing stats look by comparison.

Louisiana Tech probably couldn’t have asked for a better opponent to end a month-long break from playing, however, as North Texas has been nothing short of a disaster on the defensive side of the ball this season.

North Texas has the 121st ranked rushing defense in the country, surrendering 244 yards a game on the ground.  They also have the 118th ranked passing defense in the country, surrendering over 291 yards through the air per game. 

To account for their leaky defense, the Mean Green like to play keep away from their opponent as best as they can, and they feature the 16th best rushing attack in football (228 yards per game) while getting 5.5 yards per carry (15th overall in NCAA). 

Louisiana Tech-North Texas Prediction & Best Bet

As of this writing, betting sharps have already indicated they are leaning heavily on taking North Texas, as only about 25% of the tickets are on North Texas, but well over 81% of the money is backing the Mean Green. 

Considering Louisiana Tech’s long layoff and abysmal offense, I’m going to follow the money here and back North Texas to land a conference win in a back and forth affair.

Prediction:  North Texas 38, Louisiana Tech 34
Best Bet: North Texas ML (-108)

Air Force at Utah State

Spread: Air Force -11.5
Total: O/U 51
Time/TV: 9:30 PM ET, CBS Sports Network

Like Louisiana Tech and North Texas before them, Air Force (2-2, 1-2 MWC) has also had their schedule upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three of the Falcons’ last four games have been canceled or postponed due to the raging pandemic, but they should finally be able to get a game in this evening when they head to Logan, Utah to meet Utah State (1-4, 1-4 MWC).

When Air Force has got to play, they’ve been their usual self on the football field.  The famed Air Force triple-option attack is once again carving up the Falcons’ competition as Air Force leads all of college football with over 336 yards rushing per game.

That does not bode well for a Utah State team that has struggled mightily this season, particularly on the defensive side of the football where the Aggies boast the 120th overall defense in the country, including a rushing defense that’s giving up over 200 yards on the ground per contest.

If you’ve never watched Air Force’s offense in action, you’re in for a treat tonight.  Very few offenses run as crisp and error-free like the Falcons’ triple-option attack does.  They will seldom put the ball in the air, as evidenced by their 38 pass attempts in four games, but that’s because they really don’t need to.  Their rushing attack is that good.

On the other hand, Utah State’s offense has looked anything but crisp and error-free.  The Aggies do have a respectable ground attack, as they run for 4.4 yards per carry and gain a little more than 140 yards rushing per game as a team, but their passing attack has been nothing short of hideous in their quest to replace the departed Jordan Love.

The Aggies have the 118th ranked passing offense (138.4 yards per game) in the country, and those numbers were boosted following their 41-27 victory over New Mexico where sophomore signal-caller Andrew Peasley would throw for 239 yards and three touchdowns in the win.

Unfortunately for Utah State, Air Force played New Mexico as well, but Air Force shut them out 28-0 and ran for 356 yards in the process.

Air Force-Utah State Prediction & Best Bet

Where a team like Air Force can run into problems is if they fall behind by a couple of scores early, as the team is simply not built to erase a large deficit.  That issue will not rear its head tonight, as Utah State is one of the worst teams in college football this season.

Look for Air Force to roll.  The line at present writing is -11.5 and I think it could (and will) get higher than that as kickoff nears.

Prediction: Air Force 37, Utah State 13
Best Bet: Air Force -11.5 (Take AFA all the way up to -13.5)
If You’re Feelin’ Frisky: Air Force -20 Alt Line (+200)

Saturday College Hoops Best Bets: Look at a Texas Two-Step

The 2020/21 college basketball season officially tipped off Wednesday night, and this is our first college hoops Saturday of the season! 

For those of you somewhat new to betting on college basketball, the Saturday slate is usually stacked with well over 100 games throughout the season, today’s slate is not quite at that size just yet (thanks COVID-19), but there are still a lot of juicy options to choose from.

I’ve pared the board down to three for you, including a bonus play if your book has odds on it.   Let’s dive right on in.

North Texas at Arkansas (-8/143)

Eric Musselman’s 2020/21 season debut couldn’t have gone much better, as the Razorbacks squeezed by with a 142-62 win over Mississippi Valley State on Wednesday.  They’ll get a much bigger test today when they face North Texas, who also happens to be coming off of a 116-62 beatdown of that same Mississippi Valley State team.

The Razorbacks could be one of the deeper sleepers in all of college basketball this season, as Eric Musselman has a roster loaded with fresh talent thanks to six impactful transfers joining the program and the 7th best-recruiting class in the country.

Arkansas is still going through the early stages of getting all the new faces to gel on the roster, but they are still deeply talented at every position.  However, their opponent today in the North Texas Mean Green are no slouches in their own right.

Considered to be one of the favorites in Conference USA this season, UNT returns a starting lineup that boasts four seniors including that of reigning conference player of the year Javion Hamlet.  The former JUCO product was a revelation last season for the Mean Green and he led the conference in free-throw shooting while hitting over 43-percent of his baskets from deep. 

If this matchup occurred a month from now when Arkansas would have had time to get more games under their belt with a practically entire new team, we’d be all over the Hogs here, but this is a spot that could favor the more experienced Mean Green who will have the best player on the floor.

I’ll side with the team that’s played together longer and take the points, though I’m torn here because Arkansas is one of my favorite teams this season.

Best Bet: North Texas +8

South Carolina vs. Liberty (+7.5/137.5)

Played on Neutral Court (Kansas City, MO)

One of the victims of college basketball’s 2019/20 season being abruptly canceled thanks to the pandemic was the Liberty Flames.  Liberty was in the middle of the best season in their program’s brief Division I history, going 30-4 on the season and winning the Atlantic Sun Tournament.

The bad news for Ritchie McKay’s Flames is that the bulk of that 30-win team has now moved on from the program.  The good news is he has added enough talent to this season’s roster to still be a very feisty opponent.  Liberty hit 19 threes, including seven from leading scorer Darius McGhee, in an 84-73 victory over Mississippi State on Thanksgiving Day.

That young talent will be put to the test immediately, however, against Frank Martin’s smothering 2-3 matchup zone.

South Carolina plays their first game of the season today, and it will be the first time we see prized transfer Seventh Woods in the lineup for the Gamecocks. He will be joined by the top scorers on the team from a season ago in A.J. Lawson and Jermaine Couisnard and considering Martin’s penchant for having his team play a quick tempo game, I can see this being a higher scoring game than what oddsmakers are calling for today.

Liberty plays at the second slowest pace in the country, trailing only that of the methodical Virginia Cavaliers, but Martin’s Gamecocks pushed the floor to the tune of the 11th quickest pace in the country. 

Look for South Carolina to force turnovers that lead to easy buckets for the Gamecocks, but also to give up a lot of open outside looks to Liberty’s bevy of perimeter jumpers and for the total to sail over the 137.5 mark.  I do also like Liberty to cover the 7.5-point number, and wouldn’t even rule out the idea of sprinkling a little bit on the moneyline, but for now, I’ll stick with the points.

Best Bet: OVER 137.5
If You’re Feeling Dangerous:  Liberty +7.5, Liberty ML (+275)

Louisiana at Baylor (-20.5/149.5)

Played on Neutral Court (Las Vegas, NV)

The Baylor Bears were well on their way to a 1-seed in the 2020 NCAA Tournament when everything came crashing down.  Today marks Baylor’s season debut and first crack at picking up where they left off a season ago.

The bulk of last season’s team is back for the Bears, including their top three scorers in Wooden Award candidate Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, and Davion Mitchell.  Baylor’s calling card a season ago was their imposing defense, and Scott Drew will also return Naismith Defensive Player of Year finalist Mark Vital to lock down the paint.

Today the Bears play a Louisiana side that is expected to finish towards the bottom of the Sun Belt after being a middle of the road team in the conference a season ago.  One thing to keep in mind with the Ragin’ Cajuns is they also like to play at a quick pace (32nd overall tempo per KenPom), but they’re downright awful in transition defense as they ranked 316th in that category a year ago.  They also got punished on the boards by most of their opponents, and no one in the country compares to how Baylor attacks the glass.

This has all the makings of a bad matchup for the young Cajuns.  Look for Baylor to get a comfortable blowout from Las Vegas.

Best Bet: Baylor -20.5

Bonus Play: Mississippi Valley State at Wyoming (-31.5/159.5)

Normally I would never consider laying 31.5-points with a team coming off of a 9-24 season, but as we already touched upon earlier in this article, Mississippi Valley State is a special kind of awful.  To date this season they have lost their first two contests by 80 and 54 respectively.  Mississippi Valley State is an auto-fade at this point until they give some reason not to be.   

Bonus Bet: Wyoming -31.5