One week under the belt and now, college football matters get interesting. A Pac-12 team going on the road to play an SEC team.
The renewal of one of the most venerable rivalries in college football, one dating to the 19th century and one separated by only 70 miles of highway. But a rivalry we haven’t seen since President Barack Obama’s first term.
And with two Big-10 opponents opening their seasons against each other in unfamiliar circumstances, forget conventional wisdom and remember why the concept of “trap games” exist. They are for games like this.
Here are three games where our betting friends, value and opportunity, meet.
Utah Should Navigate This Swamp
Rare is the instance where a Pac-12 team not located in Los Angeles or Eugene, OR goes into one of the SEC’s traditional powerhouses as a favorite.
According to ESPN’s Chris Fallica, the last time the Florida Gators were a home underdog to a non-conference opponent not the Florida State Seminoles came against the Miami Hurricanes in 1986.
But this is not your typical Utah Utes team and this is not your typical Florida team.
The Utes open their 2022 season as Pac-12 champions, one game removed from a wild 48-45 Rose Bowl Game loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes you simply couldn’t turn away from.
They return 66% of their offensive production, a stat centering around quarterback Cameron Rising, who threw for 2,493 yards and 20 touchdowns with a rating of 146.7. Rising was 9-2 after taking the reins. This – along with returning running back Tavion Thomas (1,108 yards, a Pac-12-leading 21 TDs) — explains why Utah opens the season ranked seventh in the country and +220 to defend its Pac-12 title.
Florida opens its 2022 season in flux. The Gators went 6-7 last year, getting coach Dan Mullen dismissed despite winning nearly 70 percent of his games over four seasons. Enter former LSU coordinator Billy Napier, Florida’s seventh coach since Urban Meyer departed in 2010. He inherits his own standout quarterback in Anthony Richardson, along with a defense that gave up nearly 30 points a game last year.
Florida hasn’t lost a home opener since 1989. That streak gets “Swamped” Saturday.
Prediction: Utah -2.5 at BetMGM.
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Return of The Backyard Brawl
The last time the Pitt Panthers and West Virginia Mountaineers met was 2011, or two years before the Big East Conference disappeared as a football conference. That ended one of the country’s oldest rivalries, one dating to 1895. The 1921 Backyard Brawl was the first college football game aired on radio, when KDKA chronicled Pitt’s 21-13 victory.
The 2022 version finds Pitt coming in off its best season in 40 years. The Panthers won the ACC and finished 13th in the final AP poll. It also finds Pitt replacing ACC Offensive Player of the Year Kenny Pickett, who was the only quarterback taken in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Former USC quarterback Kedon Slovis inherits a revamped playbook, since former offensive coordinator Mark Whipple went to Nebraska. Defensively, everything centers around do-everything linebacker SirVocea Dennis, who established himself as one of the best hybrids in the nation last year with 87 tackles, four sacks and an interception.
Slovis will see a familiar face across the sidelines: his former USC quarterback running mate JT Daniels, who put Slovis on the map when he injured his knee in the Trojans’ 2019 season opener against the Fresno State Bulldogs. That was three years and two schools ago for Daniels, who transferred to the Georgia Bulldogs in 2020 and went 15-2 as a starter, but lost his job to Stetson Bennett during the Bulldogs’ national championship run. He too, gets a new offensive coordinator in Graham Harrell.
Harrell and his offense play a larger role than Daniels’ arm here. The Mountaineers return four starters on their offensive line and running back Tony Mathis. West Virginia was 6-0 last year when surpassing 100 yards on the ground, and 0-7 when it didn’t.
The Mountaineers won seven of the last 10 Backyard Brawls, but haven’t cracked .500 since 2019 and have gaping holes on defense to fill. As a result, the line opened at Pitt -6.5, but sailed up a point with an influx of money on the Panthers. Be careful if this gets any higher.
Prediction: Pitt -7.5 at Caesars.
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Purdue lying in wait for Penn State
The Purdue Boilermakers are laying the perfect definition of “trap game” for the Penn State Nittany Lions. And after the Nittany Lions were a shaky mess coming down the stretch last year — losing six of their last eight games after a 5-0 start – there are easier ways to open a season.
This has dented the usual implacable confidence of head coach James Franklin, who welcomes back quarterback Sean Clifford, running back Keyvone Lee, a plethora of receivers and one of the best secondaries in the country. Those weapons are counterbalanced by an inexperienced offensive line and depleted linebacker corps.
Purdue, meanwhile, broke out with a 9-4 season last year and there’s a next step awaiting the Boilermakers. They’ll look to take it with returning quarterback Aidan O’Connell, who threw for 3,712 yards and 28 touchdowns on a 72% completion rate.
Purdue’s running game remains an oxymoron; it averaged 84 yards a game on the ground, and it has some defensive holes. But you don’t beat Iowa and a sizzling Michigan State team, then win your bowl, if you’re not doing something right.
Purdue is 5-1 against the spread in its last six games and 4-1 ATS against Big-10 opponents. Yes, Penn State is 9-0 against the Boilermakers in the last nine meetings. But some traps are hard to avoid and Purdue’s strong defensive line will spring this one against the weak Nittany Lions offensive front. The Boilermakers should win this one outright.
Prediction: Purdue +3.5 at Caesars.
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