College football is back! Hope you tailed along for our 2-0 ATS start. Tomorrow in this space, I'll drop my favorite win totals in the SEC, ACC and Big 12. Later this week, look for my top-10 favorite Week 1 bets and my adjusted lines for every game on the card.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Returning starters: 16 (9/7)
Phil Steele SOS: No. 21
PointsBet win total: 9 wins
The Nittany Lions took it on the chin last year, falling to 4-5. The defense was strong, but the offense, which lost RB Journey Brown to a shocking medical retirement and had a starting QB in Sean Clifford that struggled to throw the ball 20 yards downfield, struggled.
So Penn State HC James Franklin brought in his third offensive coordinator in three years, former Texas OC Mike Yurcich. Yurcich has experience forming top-20 offenses around noodle-armed quarterbacks. His Sam Ehlinger-led units were always good, never elite.
The defense should be stingy once again, but will the Nits have the firepower to win road games at Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio State if the offense isn’t notably more explosive? PSU will likely be dogs in all three games.
If they lose all three, PSU's margin for error is already exhausted. And there are still tough home games against Auburn, Indiana and Michigan to get through.
VERDICT: UNDER 9 (8-4)
Returning starters: 17 (8/9)
Phil Steele SOS: No. 39
PointsBet win total: 7.5 wins
The Hoosiers broke through with a 6-2 campaign last year. Almost all of the gang returns, most importantly QB Michael Penix Jr. After Penix was lost to injury last year against Maryland, Indiana averaged 17 ppg in its last two games.
The Hoosiers are 10-2 in games Penix starts. As long as he's healthy, the offense is going to run smoothly. And the defense should be very strong. Phil Steele pegs it a top-five overall defense in the entire country.
Indiana should be favored by six or more points in at least six games. The rest of their schedule features six toss-up matchups (@Iowa, vs. Cincy, @PSU, vs. Ohio State, @Michigan, vs. Minnesota). Assuming Indiana takes care of business against weaker opponents, it could go 2-4 in the coinflip games and still cash the over.
I think there’s a strong chance of that happening. For whatever it’s worth, Steele agrees with me, writing in his magazine: “...all 9 sets of my power ratings call for at least a 9-win season for the first time since 1967.”
Verdict: OVER 7.5 (9-3)
Returning starters: 14 (7/7)
Phil Steele SOS: No. 18
PointsBet win total: 8.5 wins
Iowa was one of the most underrated teams in the nation last year. The Hawkeyes fell off the radar after starting 0-2, dropping games at Purdue and at home to Northwestern by a combined five points.
Iowa quietly ripped off six-straight wins to close the season, five of them by 14-or-more points (and four of them 20 or more: against Michigan State, Minnesota, Penn State and Wisconsin). Iowa outgained eight Big 10 opponents by an average of 55 yards per game.
The run game will be strong. RB Tyler Goodson is back behind a line that returns C Tyler Linderbaum, the best interior offensive linemen in college football. Iowa’s defense is going to be nasty again -- top-15 last year and arguably more talented this year.
Crucially, Iowa avoids Ohio State. Road games at Wisko and Iowa State are the two-toughest on the schedule. Outside of that, Iowa could be favored in its other 10 games.
Verdict: OVER 8.5 (9-3)
...check out all of my Big 10 win total bets with our 20-minute conference betting primer!
Returning starters: 18 (10/8)
Phil Steele SOS: No. 58
PointsBet win total: 8.5
Ranked preseason No. 11 SP+, Washington is getting no respect from the public at the window this offseason. Don’t let the low PointsBet total fool you. SP+ projects this team for 9.3 wins, while Kenny White says 10.3.
Washington’s efficient offense of 2020 can’t help but be more explosive this fall considering all the talent returning. The defense that’s been ranked top-20 SP+ in four out of the last five years is going to be just as good if not better in 2021. Thanks to the schedule, it’s only going to get tested in approximately half of UW’s 12 regular season games.
The Huskies have 68% or above SP+ win expectancy in 9 of 12 games (and 77% or above in eight). The other three games: vs. Arizona State, at Michigan, vs. Oregon. That game in the Big House is the only road matchup UW has scheduled this year against a preseason top-50 team.
Verdict: OVER 8.5 (11-1)
Washington State Cougars
Returning starters: 18 (8/10)
Phil Steele SOS: No. 45
PointsBet win total: 6
Toss out Nick Rolovich’s first season. Wazzu played only four games, the last two of which were brutal road matchups (USC and Utah) following COVID cancellations. The Cougars finished 1-3.
Rolo’s offense is going to look much more like his Hawaii offenses this fall. Eight starters return on offense, including QB Jayden de Laura, RB Max Borghi and a really good offensive line fronted by all-conference OTs Abraham Lucas and Liam Ryan.
Last year’s Wazzu D ranked an abysmal No. 108 SP+. But that was better than any of Rolo’s defenses at Hawaii, and there’s plenty of room for quick gains at all three levels.
With six home games on the schedule where Wazzu will play favorites (Portland State, Utah State, Arizona, Stanford, Oregon State and BYU), we’re free-rolling if the Cougs simply take care of business in Pullman. The road tilt at Cal provides a nice opportunity for a seventh win. And it’s certainly not beyond the pale that Wazzu could upset USC in Pullman (they did it when Sam Darnold was the quarterback) or at Arizona State or Utah.
Verdict: OVER 6 (7-5)
Returning starters: 14
Phil Steele SOS: 8
PointsBet win total: 4
Four feels low, right? Especially since Stanford went 4-2 last year. David Shaw is 86-34. He’s won nine or more in seven of his 10 seasons, and eight or more in eight of 10. But cracks are definitely showing. Last year, Stanford went 4-1 in games decided by five points or less. If two of those last-second wins had gone the other way, the Cardinal would have finished 2-4, right in line with the school’s 4-8 record in 2019.
Despite the good fortune in close games, Stanford is 8-10 the last two years, and now they’ve lost offensive stalwarts QB Davis Mills, WR Simi Fehoko, iOL Drew Dalman and OT Walker Little (who, granted, played very little football during his Stanford career).
Stanford’s new-look offense figures to be worse than the ho-hum units its fielded the past two years. And that’s going to lead to disaster if there isn’t a serious rebound on defense. Stanford has finished SP+ No. 87 and 90, respectively, on defense the past two campaigns.
The schedule is brutal. The only likely win isn’t a guarantee -- the game at Vandy. The next-three easiest games on the schedule are against Kansas State, Cal and Oregon State. At this point, Stanford may be the least talented of those four teams.
The other eight games are a gauntlet, including an OOC game against Notre Dame and about as bad a draw as you can get in Pac-12 scheduling (at Wazzu, vs UCLA, vs Utah, vs Washington, at Arizona State, at USC, vs Oregon). In all, seven of 12 opponents are top-25 caliber. It feels far more likely to me that Stanford finishes 3-9 than it does 5-7. And if they end in the middle, you get your money back.
Verdict: UNDER 4 (3-9)
...check out all of my Pac-12 win total bets with our 20-minute conference betting primer!