Week 1 of the 2011 college football season is here, and while many experts and novices alike are looking for edges on the sides this week, we have taken a different route and are giving you seven totals, as that may be where the value lies early. Six plays go Saturday, but the seventh is in Sunday’s afternoon's contest between Marshall and West Virginia, televised on ESPN at 3:30pm ET.
The first week of the 2011 college football season has finally arrived, and while there have already been many articles written predicting sides for Week 1, we are looking at seven totals for this weekend.
Totals are often underappreciated this early in the season, and thus they can offer nice value for precisely that reason. Let’s hope that is the case with these college football picks, as we have six totals for Saturday, September 3, and then one more for Sunday, September 4 in the Marshall vs. West Virginia contest, which will be televised nationally on ESPN.
All totals and current odds presented are from Pinnacle Sports as of Tuesday morning, August 30, 2011.
Saturday, September 3
Miami Ohio vs. Missouri ‘over’ 47½ (-109): Yes, Missouri lost quarterback Blaine Gabbert to the NFL, but they do return nine starters on offense otherwise, which should take pressure off of new quarterback Ryan Franklin. He will have an experienced offensive line protecting him, a great receiving corps to throw to and a solid three-headed running game to support him. Besides, early indications are that Franklin is ready to become the next in line of great Tigers’ quarterbacks after Gabbert and Chase Daniel. The Tigers won this matchup 51-13 with Gabbert under center here in Columbia last year, so we see Missouri scoring at least 35 points in this matchup. Now we get that the Miami Ohio defense was the only reason why the Redhawks surprisingly won 10 games last season, but that defense was not as good when the club stepped up in competition, as evidenced by the poor performance vs. these Tigers. The offense wasn’t much, but the Redhawks do get starting quarterback Zac Dysert back here after he missed the last four games last year with a lacerated spleen, and Miami Ohio figures to do a lot of passing in this game, as they should be playing from behind and don’t figure to run well vs. the Missouri front seven anyway. If the Redhawks can score 14 points, that should be good enough to ensure an ‘over.
Kent State vs. Alabama ‘over’ 45½ (-107): The Crimson Tide have never been bashful about running up scores vs. outclassed non-conference opponents, and as a result, the ‘over’ is 7-1-1 against the odds in Alabama’s last nine non-conference affairs. The Tide had two of these mismatches last season, and they beat Duke 62-13 and Georgia State 63-7. Now Bama may be more one-dimensional offensively this year, with their quarterback of recent years Greg McElroy and All-World wide receiver Julio Jones both in the NFL, but the Crimson Tide could still get this total by themselves with running back Trent Richardson running up and down the field vs. an overwhelmed Golden Flashes defense. After seeing what Alabama did last season to its easy non-conference opponents, we actually do expect the Tide to achieve this total by themselves, or as the very least score 45 points, meaning that just one score by Kent of any kind would do the trick for the ‘over’.
BYU vs. Mississippi ‘under’ 55½ (-109): BYU has become an independent this season, and while signing a huge deal with ESPN to broadcast their games will line the Cougars’ pockets, they are also playing a more difficult schedule than they have in past years while in the Mountain West Conference. A case in point is this opening road game vs. an SEC opponent. Now, the Cougars offense looked unstoppable over the second half of last season, but although Mississippi has defensive issues, it is still one notch above the defenses that BYU was dominating last year. Still, the Rebels do not want to get into a shootout with BYU, and thankfully, the running game is the strongest past of the entire Mississippi team. Thus, look for heavy doses of Brandon Bolden and experienced back-ups Enrique Davis and Devin Thomas in Mississippi’s new offensive coordinator David Lee’s run happy offense, as the Rebels look to shorten this game by keeping the clock ticking with that running game. Whether or not that will allow Mississippi to win this contest is debatable, but it will certainly help the cause of the ‘under’, especially with this posted total set in the mid-50s.
Buffalo vs. Pittsburgh ‘under’ 52 (-105): The problem with this total is that one team will be doing most of the scoring, and that team is a team transitioning its offensive style. Translation: Look for a rather safe ‘under’ as Pittsburgh scores its share of points but not as much as it will later in the year when it becomes more comfortable with new coach Todd Graham’s no-huddle offense, while Buffalo figures to do close to nothing vs. the Panthers’ defense. Pitt has constantly underachieved in recent years, and last season’s 7-5 record was that straw that finally got Dave Wannstedt’s back fired. Wannstedt was ultra-conservative, which is the polar opposite of Graham, who coached a Tulsa team that put up some enormous point totals in recent years. The major problem initially here is that Wannstedt recruited players to play his “three yards and a cloud of dust” style, and while some players like quarterback Tino Sunseri should shine in the no-huddle, others probably need more time to adjust to the pace. That may be moot in this game though as Buffalo should not mount much of a challenge. Yes, the Bulls return nine offensive starters, but that may actually be a bad thing considering this team ranked dead last among all FBS schools in scoring offense last year at just 14.2 points per game, and most of that was vs. worse defenses than this Pittsburgh unit.
Indiana vs. Ball State ‘under’ 55½ (-109): While we are not looking for a defensive struggle here by nay means, this posted total in the mid-50s does seem a tad inflated, as we see this game topping out at 50 points at the absolute most. New Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson has a fine offensive mind, as he demonstrated while serving on the Oklahoma coaching staff most recently, but the Hoosiers are very young offensively, so this looks like a transition year in Bloomington. The offense lost underrated quarterback Ben Chappell, who single-handedly kept the Hoosiers competitive at times last year. They got almost nothing out of the running game, and the projected starting running back right now, Darius Willis, rushed for only 278 yards last season. The reason the running was so bad was the offensive line was a mess, as we see no improvement this year. The only saving grace here is facing a MAC defense, but the Hoosiers should be far from overpowering. As for the Cardinals, they return 10 offensive starters, but before beginning to jump for joy, consider that Ball State ranked 109th in the country in passing offense last season.
Florida Atlantic vs. Florida ‘over’ 46 (-105): The Gators were a major disappointment last year at 7-5 during the regular season, as quarterback John Brantley looked like a bust as the replacement for Tim Tebow. Hope is not lost this year though under a new regime, as Will Muschamp is the new head coach and just as significantly, Charlie Weis has been bought in as the new offensive coordinator after serving one year with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs in that capacity. Weis brings a pro-style offense with him, which should serve Brantley’s skill set much better than former coach Urban Meyer’s spread offense. As disappointing as 2010 was in Gainesville, the Gators still scored 34 points vs. Miami Ohio, 38 points vs. South Florida and 48 points vs. Appalachian State in three non-conference games, and with Weis now calling the plays, Florida should approach 40 points here. Now Florida Atlantic may not be much, but the Owls did average 17.3 points in four non-conference games vs. stiff opponents last season, and given the probable improvement of the Gators’ offense this year, just 10 points from the Owls in this contest may be enough for the ‘over’.
Sunday, September 4
Marshall vs. West Virginia ‘under’ 52½ (-105): Marshall Head Coach Doc Holliday was part of the West Virginia coaching staff before taking the job with the Thundering Herd last season, and his knowledge of the Mountaineers’ players was evident when these clubs met last year, as Marshall had a surprising 21-6 fourth quarter lead before falling apart and losing 24-21 in overtime. That was the third straight ‘under’ in this annual series and we are looking for more of the same this season, especially with Marshall returning nine starters on defense, led by First Team All-Conference USA defensive end Vinny Curry. Yes, West Virginia is ranked 24th in the country and it is the favorite to win the Big East this year, but remember that the Mountaineers were ranked 23rd in the nation prior to last year’s meeting, and they still had difficulty solving the defensive schemes of their former assistant coach. Look for another game effort from the Herd here, and while they probably will not win, look for the defense to again keep this contest ‘under’.