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North Carolina State (-14.5) (-110) at Connecticut
Report: Connecticut was one of last year’s biggest surprises under first-year head coach Jim Mora, Jr., improving from 1-11 in 2021 to 6-7 and a bowl berth. At 1-4, the Huskies ended an 18-game FBS losing streak by upsetting Fresno State 19-14 as 23-point underdogs. Connecticut found itself in a classic flat spot following that improbable win but responded with a 33-12 road victory over Florida International. Two weeks later, the Huskies upset Boston College 13-3 as 7.5-point road underdogs and defeated No. 19 Liberty 36-33 as 14-point underdogs to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2015.
Connecticut’s offense returns nine starters from last year’s upstart squad and should be significantly better under second-year coordinator Nick Charlton. The improvement begins under center with transfer quarterback Joe Fagnano, who played for Charlton in Maine. Fagnano displayed a firm command of the offense during the spring and will be operating behind a veteran offensive line that returns 102 career starts.
Fagnano is further aided by a strong rushing attack and the Huskies should have success moving the ball against a North Carolina State defense that returns just five starters after consecutive seasons with double-digit returners on that side of the ball.
North Carolina State replaces multi-year starting quarterback Devin Leary with Virginia transfer Brennan Armstrong, who was 1.0 yards per pass play worse than average last season with a 7/12 TD/INT ratio. Armstrong reunites with former offensive coordinator Robert Anae in Raleigh, but I’m not convinced the scheme alone is enough to revitalize his level of play.
Since 2012, college football road favorites of +12 or greater are a money-burning 17-24-1 ATS (41.5%) in season openers, failing to cover the spread by an average margin of -1.02 points per game. This situation is 5-9-1 ATS (33.3%) since August 31, 2019. Group of Five teams are 27-15 ATS (64.3%) at home versus Power Five teams in Weeks 0/1 over the last decade. Interestingly, these Group of Five teams are 70-101 ATS (40.9%) on the road or in neutral site affairs in that time span.
Finally, since 2013, college football road favorites are just 38-54 ATS (41.3%) in Weeks 0/1 compared to 164-134 ATS (55%) at home in that span.
Nebraska at Minnesota (-7) (-110)
Report: A new era begins in Minnesota following the departure of veteran quarterback Tanner Morgan and star running back Mo Ibraham. Ibrahim rushed for 1,665 yards and 20 touchdowns in his final season for the Gophers, while backup running back Trey Potts transferred. Morgan is replaced by Athan Kaliakmanis, the “Greek Gunslinger” who completed just 54% of his passes last season with a negative TD/INT ratio (3/4).
Nebraska made an excellent coaching hire in Matt Rhule, who has a history of turning around struggling programs (see Temple & Baylor). Rhule inherited fifteen returning starters, including eight on the defensive side of the ball. The Cornhuskers’ stop unit will be improved under first-year coordinator Tony White, who served in the same role at Syracuse (2020-22) and has switched to a 3-3-5 defense.
Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Sims will be a significant upgrade under center for new offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield. Sims is especially dangerous with his legs as evidenced by the fact that he ran for 1,517 yards on 225 rush attempts (6.7 yards per rush play) during his tenure with the Yellow Jackets. Sims will be operating behind a veteran offensive line that returns 120 career starts.
Since 2008, college football road underdogs of +5.5 or greater in games with totals of 46 points or less are 413-314-22 ATS (56.8%) in games 1-12 of the regular season, covering the spread by an average margin of +1.78 points per game. This situation is 14-7 ATS (66.7%) since November 5, 2022. College football conference road underdogs of at least seven points are 425-293-13 ATS (59%) in regular season games with totals of 48 points or less, covering the spread by an average of +2.05 points per game. This situation has produced an annual return on investment of +15.0% in that span.
Finally, Rhule is 35-14 ATS (71.4%) as an underdog in his college coaching career and my math model favors Minnesota by less than a touchdown.
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