College. Football. Is. BACK! This year just feels different. We had football in 2020, but this year feels like a resurgence of energy. That energy will be amplified on Saturday with dozens of games on deck.
Looking to the favorites like Alabama, Oklahoma, and Clemson — that’s fun, but I like underdogs. Not just because of the plus-money value, but there are so many underrated teams that get overlooked.
Here are four teams in Week 1 that are being undervalued.
West Virginia -3 at Maryland
There are teams that are good at home and that just can’t figure out how to play on the road. The Mountaineers were that team last year.
Quarterback Jarret Doege's splits are telling. At home, Doege completed 67 percent of his passes for 7.4 yards per completion and 11 touchdowns, and was sacked just seven times.
On the road, Doege completed 61 percent of his passes for 6.5 yards per completion and three touchdowns, and was sacked 13 times.
The result: West Virginia went 0-4 straight up and 1-3 ATS on the road.
The result could be the same in Week 1 at Maryland. West Virginia’s offensive line was ranked 75th in quarterback protection last year and lost its center, right guard, and right tackle. Maryland last year was 26th best in quarterback pressure with 14 sacks in five games.
The Terrapins return the entire defensive line. Doege may not be able to dodge out of this one.
Best bet: Maryland +3, +115 ML
San Jose State at USC -14
USC went 5-1 last year but could have easily gone 2-4. Against Arizona State, when the Trojans were down 27-14, they scored a touchdown with under three minutes to go. Then, USC recovered the onside kick, fumbled It, recovered It again, and scored a late touchdown to win 28-27.
Against Arizona, USC was down three points with a minute and a half to go and scored with just 25 seconds left to win 34-30.
Against UCLA, USC was down 28-17 in the third quarter and then down two points with just 52 seconds left. The Trojans had a 56-yard punt return followed by quarterback Kedon Slovis throwing a 35-yard pass to score a touchdown with just 16 seconds left. USC won 43-38.
I like San Jose State not because USC was lucky last year, but because Slovis was sacked 17 times in five games. This Spartans produced 27 sacks.
Aside from a killer pass rush, the Spartans have a top-10 offensive line and were 18th in passing yards. USC played four teams ranked 70th or worse in passing last season.
Plus, San Jose State played in Week 0. This team is ready to tarnish USC’s 7-2 home record since 2019.
Best bet: San Jose State +14, +450
UTSA at Illinois -5
Illinois came through with the +230 underdog win last week, but I’m fading it as home favorites this week.
The Fighting Illini were 117th in opponent rushing yards last year and last week didn’t show much improvement. They won because Nebraska didn’t have a running back unit. Cornhuskers quarterback Adrian Martinez was the team’s best rusher last year and was the only decent rusher last week with 111 yards.
This week, the Illini face an actual running back. UTSA is my underrated team out of Conference USA. The Roadrunners went 5-2 ATS last year as underdogs, winning three games outright. Their main weapon: RB Sincere McCormick, UTSA’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2015. He rushed for nearly 1,500 yards and accounted for 11 of the team's 24 total rushing touchdowns last season. All five starters are back on the offensive line. McCormick is about to go off.
Best bet: UTSA +5, +170 ML
Nevada at Cal -3.5
Cal ended the 2020 season ranked 22nd in passing defense. Sounds good, except it played four games total, three against teams ranked 46th or worst in passing offense. You can’t just look at stats, you have to look at the details and context.
Nevada quarterback Carson Strong has a fitting name. He threw for nearly 2,900 yards last season, completed 70 percent of his passes, and threw 27 touchdowns and four interceptions. He’ll likely end up in the NFL. Nevada ranked 13th in passing yards last year and returns every wide receiver, including Romeo Doobs, who led the team in receptions, receiving yards, yards per reception and receiving touchdowns.
Cal quarterback Chase Garbers was sacked 15 times last year ... in four games. The Wolf Pack produced 23 total sacks and returned its top two pass rushers.
Best bet: Nevada +3.5, +130 ML
A $12.50 four-team underdog ATS parlay would yield a $159 return (+1175). A $12.50 four-team underdog moneyline parlay would yield a $917 return (+7243). Parlays are risky business. I don’t recommend betting only parlays, doing multiple parlays, or risking a lot on parlays. Remember, it’s about cashing tickets. A parlay should only be about a quarter of a regular-sized bet.
The same goes with moneyline bets. If you are taking an underdog spread, let that be a one-unit bet. If you are taking an underdog moneyline, adjust the size based on the odds. The longer the odds (San Jose State for example), the smaller the risk should be.
Bet smart and good luck.