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Thursday Night Betting Preview: BYU at Central Florida

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While the loss of BYU starting quarterback Tayson Hill is certainly significant (Hill suffered a season-ending leg fracture against Utah State), the betting market has completely overreacted to Hill’s absence. My math model favors BYU by two points despite the loss of Hill, which is not surprising in light of the fact that Central Florida has lost the statistics in all three games against FBS opponents this season. And, if there is one coach in college football who can motivate a team after a disappointing loss, it’s Bronco Mendenhall, who boasts an 86-35 record with the Cougars since arriving in Provo nearly ten years ago. Indeed, the Cougars are 8-1 ATS following a loss over the last three seasons.

BYU has seventeen wins against Power 5 schools, which ranks second among non-Power 5 schools behind Navy. The Cougars have knocked off a Power 5 opponent in nine consecutive seasons, and they will not be intimidated by a Central Florida squad that is averaging an anemic 281 total yards of offense per game this season. I have also liked what has been coming out of BYU’s locker room this week. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall: “There is urgency with the players. There is urgency with the coach. And they’re motivated, which is difficult to teach without someone who wants to be taught. From what I saw today, they want to be taught, which is good.”

Meanwhile, BYU senior quarterback Christian Stewart has acknowledged the mistakes he made in the second half of last week’s loss at Utah State. “I looked at the film and what came to my mind was the best quarterbacks take what the defense gives them,” said Stewart. “I was trying to force things. Being a little bit inexperienced going in there, I was trying to force the ball downfield instead of taking the underneath routes, take what they were giving me. I learned a lot about things that I can do going forward just with what the defense is giving me and looking at my keys, making the throws I need to make.”

The BYU players have also embraced Stewart as their new leader. “Coach Mendenhall expressed that to the team today in front of everybody that I am the guy,” Stewart said. “I’m the leader of this offense now and everybody has faith in me. It builds my confidence even more, knowing that everyone surrounding me has that confidence. And I’m excited to see what we do.” Stewart should take comfort in the fact that the Cougars are 12-1 ATS as underdogs over the 4+ seasons and 4-0 ATS in weekday road games, whereas Central Florida is 1-5 ATS in its last six games as a favorite.

With Hill on the sidelines, BYU will turn to its ground attack that is 1.4 yards per play better than average this season (4.7 yards per rush play against teams that would combine to allow 3.3 yards per rush play). The Cougars should have success moving the ball on the ground against a Central Florida front seven that is yielding 3.1 yards per rush play to teams that would combine to average 3.5 yards per rush play). Overall, BYU possesses a significant 1.0 yards per rush attempt advantage offensively over the Knights’ stop unit.

Casual sports bettors will react to the fact that Central Florida upset Houston last week as 2.5-point road underdogs, but that result is not indicative of what transpired in the game. In fact, the Knights were outgained 331 to 228 and was -10 in first downs (20-10). Let’s also not lose site of the fact that Central Florida sophomore quarterback Justin Holman has only started three games in his collegiate career and lines up behind an extremely young offensive line with only 45 career starts. The loss of 1st Team AAC left guard Jordan McCray, 1st Team AAC right guard Justin McCray and 2nd Team AAC right tackle Chris Martin left a significant void for the Knights along the line of scrimmage. In fact, Central Florida is only averaging 17 points per game against FBS opposition this season.

With the math, fundamental and technical analysis all favoring the underdog, grab the generous points with the Cougars and invest with confidence.