Week 1 College Football Thursday Best Bets: Big 10 Clash & More
Week 1 of the college football season kicks off with an exciting slate of games on Thursday night, and I have you covered with my best bets. Check back for more content on the massive slate of games over the weekend. For now, check out my favorite bets for Thursday’s games.
West Virginia Mountaineers at Pittsburgh Panthers Best Bet
Game Info: 7:00 PM EST, 9/1/22, Coverage: ESPN
The Backyard Brawl returns this year for the first time since 2011, and it kicks off an excellent slate of college football in Week 1. Pittsburgh is favored by a touchdown, and I’m laying the points with Pat Narduzzi’s team.
Pittsburgh returns 69% of production and has a +5.5 net rating in Action Network’s Transfers and Returning Production (TARP) metric while West Virginia returns just 44% of production, ranked fifth-lowest in the FBS, and is tied for the 11th-lowest TARP at -6.5.
Pitt is projected to have one of the best defensive lines in the country with Habakkuk Baldonado and Calijah Kancey among the team’s six returning All-ACC selections on defense. The defense ranked 39th in yards and 42nd in points allowed last year.
The most notable Mountaineers loss is running back Leddie Brown who led the team with 1,282 yards from scrimmage. The offensive line should be stout with all five starters returning, but the leading skill position talent is unclear among pass-catchers and rushers. JT Daniels takes over at quarterback, but the surrounding talent isn’t well built to help him.
Pittsburgh’s passing offense should remain solid with Kedon Slovis replacing Kenny Pickett and Konata Mumpfield replacing Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison. However, it’s Pitt’s run game that should be drawing the most discussion.
The Panthers have a strong trio of veteran running backs in Israel Abanikanda, Vincent Davis, and Rodney Hammond combining for over 2,100 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns rushing behind an elite offensive line that returned all five starters.
Pittsburgh will want to establish the run game here – Narduzzi said as much with his offseason criticism of former offensive coordinator Mark Whipple’s pass-heavy tendencies. Narduzzi’s teams had a much slower pace of play prior to Whipple’s arrival in 2019, and they should get back to that grind-it-out mentality.
With Pittsburgh limiting West Virginia’s offensive possessions and holding an advantage with its returning defensive talent, I’m taking the under here as well. There has already been some movement, but I locked it in at 51.5 and I would bet it down to 50.
Best Bets: Pittsburgh -7.5 (bet to -9.5); under 51.5 (bet to 50)
Penn State Nittany Lions at Purdue Boilermakers Best Bet
Game Info: 8:00 PM EST, 9/1/22, Coverage: FOX
Penn State lost a fair amount of talent this offseason, but the vibes are good in University Park. The Nittany Lions are ranked 16th in FPI and they are eager to prove that last season’s 7-6 finish was fluky rather than the norm.
Sean Clifford may have lost leading receiver Jahan Dotson, but Parker Washington is a significant breakout candidate and Mitchell Tinsley transferred from Western Kentucky after a 1,400-yard season. Clifford also has continuity in offensive play-calling for the first time in his career with Mike Yurcich returning for another season.
The bigger project for Penn State will be the run game as they didn’t have a single 100-yard rusher last year, but sophomore Keyvone Lee and freshman Nick Singleton provide plenty of upside in the backfield.
Meanwhile, Purdue is ranked 41st in FPI, and lost arguably their two best players from last season. David Bell was drafted in the NFL after his 93 catches for 1,286 yards and six touchdowns, and the expected internal replacement Milton Wright was deemed academically ineligible after his 732 yards and seven touchdowns in 2021.
Aidan O’Conell is coming off a career year with 3,712 yards and 28 touchdowns, but his weakened receiving corps puts him in a tough spot against an elite Penn State secondary featuring Joey Porter Jr. and Ji’Ayir Brown.
The Boilermakers also lost defensive end George Karlaftis, a top-rated NFL draft pick, and their 34th-ranked scoring defense could struggle out of the gates. I’m impressed by what Jeff Brohm put together in a breakthrough season for Purdue, but I don’t believe this program is in a place where it can lose arguably its best two players and not take a hit.
Purdue hasn’t beaten Penn State since 2004, and I don’t believe that’s changing on Thursday. I believe the Nittany Lions should be closer to a touchdown favorite against the Boilermakers, and I’ll happily bet this with a field goal spread.
Best Bet: Penn State -3.5
Central Michigan Chippewas at Oklahoma State Cowboys Best Bet9
Game Info: 7:00 PM EST, 9/1/22, Coverage: FS1
Oklahoma State was likely a five-point loss against Baylor in the Big 12 championship away from making it to the College Football Playoff, and Spencer Sanders will wish he had every one of those four interceptions back from that game. However, there are high hopes for the Cowboys this season.
The Cowboys enter the season ranked 12th in the AP Top 25 and 14th in ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). However, the Cowboys lost significant pieces from their linebacking corps, including six of their top eight tacklers from last season.
That puts them in a precarious position against Lew Nichols II, an All-American candidate at running back who registered over 2,100 yards from scrimmage and 18 total touchdowns. Nichols led the FBS in rushing in 2021.
The last time these programs met, the Chippewas upset an 11th-ranked Oklahoma State in a game Cowboys fans would like to forget. While I’m not suggesting that Central Michigan will upset Oklahoma State, I would lean towards the Chippewas to cover the 21-point spread.
However, my best bet from this game would be Lew Nichols over 82.5 rushing yards, which is currently available on DraftKings Sportsbook. In three games against Power Five competition last year, Nichols averaged 97 rushing yards per game. You can also use Lew Nichols over 97.5 rushing + receiving yards as a parlay piece on Underdog’s Pick’em game.
The number is deflated due to Oklahoma State having the best run defense in the country by EPA last year, but the personnel isn’t the same. I like Nichols to take advantage of their transitioning linebacking corps.
Best Bet: Lew Nichols II over 82.5 rushing yards, lean Central Michigan +21