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  • Good news: There will be multiple college football best bets articles this week. The first batch of best bets contains all games featuring Pac-12 teams.
By Max Meyer
September 03, 2019

After going 3-2 in Week 1, SI Gambling's college football best bets are now 4-2 on the season. Now, I am splitting up Week 2's best bets into multiple articles. If you follow me on Twitter or have read my work, you probably know that I follow the Pac-12 by far the most of any conference. Yes, I am that poor soul who watches the Pac-12 routinely disappoint in both college football and college basketball. But I didn't want best bets to be too long, and I wrote more than 2,000 words on just three games involving Pac-12 teams, who I decided to split up the best bets articles this week. There also could be more Pac-12 best bets coming—I'm eyeing injury situations in the USC-Stanford and UCLA-San Diego State games. Like we've done the first two weeks of the season, SI Gambling will be using current odds (as of midnight EST on Wednesday, or for the West Coast readers, 9 p.m. PST on Tuesday) from New Jersey sportsbooks (FanDuel, DraftKings, William Hill, PointsBet) for best bets every week.

Cal at No. 14 Washington: Cal +14 (-110) at PointsBet

Jacob Eason’s monster Washington debut was one of college football’s biggest Week 1 storylines, and now it seems bettors are rushing to jump onto the Huskies bandwagon. Washington opened as an 11.5-point favorite hosting Cal, and that line has already moved to -14. But is this a potential Week 1 overreaction that bettors should be taking advantage of?

Both Washington and Cal opened the season by facing top-10 ranked FCS schools, playing Eastern Washington and UC Davis respectively. At first glance, Washington’s 47-14 win over EWU looks much more impressive than Cal beating UC Davis 27-13. Let’s dive deeper, though.

EWU lost 25 seniors and 13 starters from a team that lost in the championship game to North Dakota State in 2018. While dynamic quarterback Eric Barriere is still under center, there were a lot of new faces for the Eagles as they kicked off their 2019 campaign.

Washington lost a lot too from last year’s team, most notably quarterback Jake Browning, tailback Myles Gaskin and nine starters from one of the most stingy defenses in the country. The secondary was the most feared, as it was the only one in college football to not allow a single 40-yard-plus pass, but it had to replace nearly every impact player there, most notably corner Byron Murphy and safety Taylor Rapp.

Sure enough, Washington gave up a 40-yard-plus pass against EWU—a 64-yard TD from Barriere to Andrew Boston. More concerning: The Eagles converted nine of their 17 third downs (47%). The Huskies have a lot of talent on that side of the ball, but the best time to face that defense is early in the season, when all their new pieces are still gelling together.

While the aerial attack led by the gunslinger Eason looked incredible (having wideout Chico McClatcher and tight end Hunter Bryant healthy was big too), going from facing EWU’s defense to Cal’s is an enormous step up. The Golden Bears could very well have the best secondary in college football along with a monster at linebacker in Evan Weaver. Cal’s defense ranked second in CFB last season with 21 interceptions, and the four starters from that secondary combined for 20 of them, and all of them are back this season.

Cal’s defense gave up an opening-drive TD to UC Davis after the Golden Bears fumbled the opening kickoff, but they allowed just six points the rest of the way after that. While 27 points against an FCS team isn’t anything to write home about, quarterback Chase Garbers did average 8.5 yards per throw while tailback Christopher Brown Jr. ran for 197 yards on 36 carries (5.5 YPC). Cal’s offense will struggle a decent amount this season, but again, the best time to face a Washington defense with several new starters is early in the year.

Obviously this is a much different offense with Eason than Browning, but I’d just like to note one thing from Cal’s 12-10 win over Washington last season. Gaskin was out for that game, and Salvon Ahmed, Washington’s current starter at tailback, ran eight times and mustered negative-two yards.

Ahmed only generated 2.9 YPC against EWU, and it’ll be interesting to see if Washington can get its run game going—though freshman Richard Newton looked strong with 91 yards on 12 carries in Week 1. If Washington is forced to be a one-dimensional offense because it can’t run the ball, that’s where this Cal secondary can really shine, especially since none of Washington’s wide receivers are true game-changers.

In what figures to be a low-scoring game (the current total is 43), 14 points is a lot. And I just don’t think Washington is that much better than Cal. Take advantage of the Week 1 overreaction, and take Cal and that defense and the points on an inflated line. For what it's worth, this is the play I'm most confident in this week. 

Oregon State at Hawaii: Oregon State +7 (-110) at DraftKings

Ah, a game with a midnight EST kickoff where bettors who are down on the day try to get it all back. It’s never fun putting money on one of the worst teams in college football, and you always have to worry about weirdness occurring on games taking place on the island. But this is another game where I think the line movement has gotten out of control and the underdog now has strong value.

Oregon State’s defense was historically bad last season. It was cruel that the Beavers’ first game of the season came against high-powered Oklahoma State in Corvallis. The Pokes gained 555 yards of offense (7.3 yards per play), including a combined 330 rushing yards on 39 carries (8.5 YPC) from tailback Chuba Hubbard and redshirt freshman quarterback Spencer Sanders in his debut. Sanders also completed 79.2% of his throws along with passing for 203 yards (8.5 YPA) and three touchdowns. Sanders, Hubbard and star wideout Tylan Wallace could potentially form one of the best QB-RB-WR trios in all of college football this season, so it wasn’t a big surprise that those three torched the Beavers.

Hawaii’s run-and-shoot offense gained 595 yards of offense (7.6 YPP) in a 45-38 upset over Arizona in Week 0, led by wideout Cedric Byrd’s 14-224-4 line. A bizarre lack of blitzes and pressure generated was due to an inexcusable game plan from overmatched Arizona defensive coordinator Marcel Yates. The score could have been a lot worse too—Arizona had a +4 turnover differential.

But this Hawaii offense is still a few classes below Oklahoma State’s. While the Pokes can burn you on the ground and by throwing it, Hawaii is obviously pass-heavy. And while the Rainbow Warriors are damn good at moving it through the air, not having to worry about an impactful ground game and mostly focusing on defending the pass could help out the Beavers.

Arizona’s offense recorded quite a few big plays against Hawaii’s defense—the Wildcats had at least 10 plays that went for 20 or more yards (which is tied for second in college football, only behind Oklahoma’s 11).

The one area where Arizona really struggled was third downs, as the offense converted just three of its 11 third-down attempts. Why was that? Because the Wildcats frequently had third-and-longs because of a failure to gain yards on first down. Arizona ran 36 plays on first down vs. Hawaii. A whopping 19 of them gained three yards or less (52.8%), while 14 of them gained one yard or less (38.9%).

While Arizona didn’t run the ball all too often with dynamic tailback J.J. Taylor (14 carries and 4.8 YPC) against Hawaii, that won’t be the case for Oregon State, even if the Beavers fall behind by multiple scores early like Arizona did. Oregon State trailed by double digits for more than 37 minutes vs. Oklahoma State, yet dynamic tailback tandem Jermar Jefferson and Artavis Pierce still carried the ball a combined 24 times for 140 yards (5.8 YPC). If the Beavers rely on their tailbacks early and often, they likely won’t be facing nearly as many third-and-longs as Arizona did because of the advantage they have over Hawaii’s run defense.

Hawaii’s defense was terrible in nearly every aspect in 2018, and preventing big runs was no exception. The Rainbow Warriors allowed 28 runs for at least 20 yards, which was tied for 117th in college football. Oregon State also has a competent QB in Jake Luton, an NFL-caliber wideout in Isaiah Hodgins and an offensive line that legitimately looked solid against Oklahoma State (which might not be saying much).

Oregon State also has an advantage with its coaches: The Beavers have two members of their staff that coached under current Hawaii head coach Nick Rolovich. Receivers coach Kefense Hynson and defensive line coach Legi Suiaunoa both were at Hawaii for two years before joining Jonathan Smith’s staff in Corvallis following the 2017 season.

I think Hawaii snuck up on Arizona, but that won’t be the case with Oregon State, especially not with Hawaii being the favorite here. Since Rolovich took over in 2016, Hawaii is 2-10-1 against the spread as a favorite, covering 16.7% of the time. That is the lowest mark in all of college football among teams that have been favored at least 10 times since 2016. A 13-game sample size isn’t a great tool, but I think it somewhat speaks to my earlier point that Hawaii and that dangerous offense is better as an under-the-radar team that its opponent doesn’t take seriously.

This is an Oregon State team that I think will be better than last year’s squad in Smith’s first year as coach. The defense was ripped apart again in the first game, but Oklahoma State has the potential to be a top-10 offense this season. I don’t think that’s the case with Hawaii. I just think Oregon State being a touchdown underdog here is simply too many points, and the Beavers could certainly surprise on the island.

No. 25 Nebraska at Colorado: Nebraska -3.5 (-110) at PointsBet

After opening as a 7.5-point road favorite, Nebraska is all the way down to -3.5 at Colorado. Were the Cornhuskers overrated heading into the season? Probably. Did they disappoint in their season-opening 35-21 win to South Alabama? Yep. But I just think that Colorado’s 52-31 win over Colorado State was not nearly as impressive as the score would suggest, and that this is a nice opportunity to fade what I think is a much worse Buffaloes team than this current line would suggest.

Colorado hired Mel Tucker and his SEC pedigree to be its new head coach this offseason, and the defensive-minded Tucker figured to improve a defense that allowed at least 30 points in six of its final seven games (with 27 points to Washington being the exception). It’s only one game into his tenure, but it’s clear the Buffaloes have a long way to go in that department.

The Buffaloes allowed 6.5 yards per play and 505 total yards to a lowly Colorado State offense that made its rival look slow on defense. Collin Hill completed 66% of his 47 throws, and averaged 8.0 YPA. And if Colorado allowed Hill to have such a massive game, good luck handling Adrian Martinez.

Martinez is a different type of signal-caller than Hill. Hill is a pocket passer with some athleticism, while Martinez is a true dual-threat quarterback. Nebraska may not have as many 10-yard-plus gains through the air like Colorado State did—the Rams’ 17 completions for at least 10 yards is tied for the fifth-most in the country—but Martinez and his speed could spell trouble for Colorado’s defense. In fact, Martinez threw for 9.4 YPA while running for 117 yards on 15 carries in a 33-28 loss to Colorado last season.

Speaking of that loss, there’s definitely a revenge angle here. Colorado came back to spoil Scott Frost’s debut in Lincoln in front of his home crowd. This was a game where Nebraska averaged more yards per pass (8.1 to 7.0) and more yards per run (6.1 to 1.3), but had a negative-three turnover margin. Besides a new head coach in Tucker, there’s also another big change for the Buffaloes compared to last year’s game—Colorado is running the ball much more on offense.

It was hard to fathom why new offensive coordinator Jay Johnson wanted to become a run-first team despite having a solid quarterback in Steven Montez and one of the best wideouts in college football in Laviska Shenault. Shenault racked up 177 yards and a score on 10 catches against Nebraska last season, and the Cornhuskers still have a shaky secondary.

The Buffaloes, however, ran the ball 40 times in their season opener against Colorado State versus just passing the ball 20 times. Shenault only saw five targets and touched the ball six times (three catches, three carries). Granted, sophomore tailback Alex Fontenot looked great against CSU with a 19-125-3 stat line and maybe the lack of Shenault was because Colorado wanted to roll with a vanilla game plan before Nebraska, but this new offensive approach despite having great personnel for a pass-heavy attack could limit the ceiling of this Colorado offense.  

Colorado’s defense concerns me much more, though, and I think it will have major issues going up against Frost and Martinez. Maybe I’m falling for a trap rolling with the road favorite when the line has been trending toward the home underdog, but I just don’t see it here with the Buffaloes. Give me the Cornhuskers to get their revenge and cover easily.

Season record: 4-2

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