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The Athletic’s college football projection model: Predictions and odds for every Week 1 game including… – The Athletic

The Athletic’s college football projection model: Predictions and odds for every Week 1 game including several under picks
Austin Mock’s projection model is derived from play-by-play data, adjusted for opponent, home/away, rest and then produces a projected points for (xPF) and points against (xPA) for each team at the FBS level. From there, the model then produces a projected spread and total based on all the inputs from the model for each game. For the past two seasons, this model has performed better than the sports betting market. For more on the model see Austin’s introductory article on his model.
This is the first full week of games. There are some big ones on the schedule, but, for the most part, this week’s picks go away from the marquee matchups.
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All bets are to win one unit unless otherwise noted. Odds locked when pick was made. 
Temple/Rutgers under 52.5 (-110)
Betting college football unders are tough to stomach but it helps when both offenses in the game aren’t exactly ones that scare you. When it comes to offensive efficiency, my model projects both Temple and Rutgers to have bottom 40 offenses this season. Temple does play faster than Rutgers but my model projects Rutgers defense to have a significant advantage (top 60 unit in defensive efficiency) which should mitigate the pace of the Owls. Rutgers is a 14-point favorite in this game so expect them to get out to a lead and really try to milk the clock as Temple should have a difficult time coming from behind in this one.
Charlotte +6.5 (-105) vs. Duke
Duke was one of the more disappointing teams in 2020 as David Cutcliffe’s squad stumbled to 2-9 with wins over Syracuse and Charlotte. Yes, they did beat Charlotte 53-19 so why would anyone want to bet the 49ers? Because the model says so. Charlotte returns a good chunk of their offensive production from 2020 which is where the model expects Charlotte to have some success. Charlotte’s defense projects as one of the worst according to my model, but Duke isn’t exactly a team to get excited about when they have the ball. Gunnar Holmberg gets the nod under center and he couldn’t get snaps last year. Duke’s starting quarterback threw five more interceptions than touchdown’s last season. It very well could get ugly like last season but give me Charlotte plus 6.5 points at home.
Michigan State/Northwestern under 45 (-110)
The reigning Big Ten West champions have a lot of shoes to fill coming into the 2021 season. Northwestern ranks dead last in returning production. For a team that doesn’t recruit a ton of blue chip talent, my model expects some regression, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Before losing the quarterback battle last season, Hunter Johnson hadn’t looked like a Power 5 quarterback in his limited time at Northwestern in 2019. My model projects Northwestern as a bottom 30 offense and a top 20 defense. It’s not much different for Michigan State. Mel Tucker went to the transfer portal this offseason to boost the talent on the roster, but there is no reason to expect an offensive juggernaut as Michigan State should be a team to lean on defense, too. Add in the fact that both of these teams are expected to play at a below average pace and it’s easy to see why the model shows value on the under.
Georgia/Clemson under 51.5 (-115)
In what could very well be a future playoff matchup, my model doesn’t expect many fireworks. Both defenses are exceptional and both units have less question marks than the offenses. Admittedly, Georgia’s offense could be underrated according to my model with how well J.T. Daniels played at the end of last season as he threw for 10 touchdowns to only two interceptions while completing over 67% of his pass attempts in four games. However, outside of Cincinnati, it’s hard to say he faced even a top 40 defense. Clemson will be a more difficult task as the model expects some regression from J.T. Daniels and the Georgia offense. As for Clemson’s offense, it was mostly fine when D.J. Uiagalelei stepped in for Trevor Lawrence last season, but the loss of explosive first-round draft pick Travis Etienne is a concern. The Tigers really struggled run blocking last year and Etienne’s explosiveness kind of masked the inefficiency. Without a proven running back or a drastic improvement, Georgia’s defensive front should be able to limit Clemson’s ability to run the ball and make Clemson’s offense very predictable. Both offenses being at a disadvantage paired with Georgia’s willingness to play slow, look for this one to stay in the 40s.
More on sports betting: Understanding sports betting odds and how to read them
New Mexico State/San Diego State under 50.5 (-105)
Who doesn’t love betting unders?! I’ll start this one off by saying San Diego State didn’t play a single game in 2020 that had 48 total points scored. With that being said, it’s not shocking to see my model liking a San Diego State under. San Diego State has consistently ranked near the bottom in offensive efficiency while ranking pretty well for a non-Power 5 in defensive efficiency. They also play at an extremely slow pace. They will have an advantage on the offensive side of the ball in this one as New Mexico State is possibly the worst team in college football, but I don’t expect San Diego State to run this one up. The Aztecs have Arizona on deck and with this game most likely in hand around halftime, I don’t think they will put anything on tape worthwhile and look forward to moving on to next week.
Northern Illinois/Georgia Tech under 58 (-110)
If you want to watch a game where both teams run the ball 40 times, this might be it. Northern Illinois has two very talented backs in Harrison Waylee and Erin Collins. They’re not going to rely on Michigan State transfer Rocky Lombardi to make a ton of throws. The matchup against Georgia Tech’s defense could cause some concern because of the discrepancy in talent as the Yellow Jackets did get better down the stretch in ACC play. If you didn’t watch many Georgia Tech games last year, their quarterback and running back are two of the most exciting players in college football. Jeff Sims and Jahmyr Gibbs are candidates for some explosive plays but Georgia Tech will be looking to run the ball a ton as well. Big plays or turnovers could doom us. Sims turned the ball over way too often as a true freshman in 2020, but with both teams wanting to run the ball, the clock should be constantly moving for this under to get to the window. 
Ohio ML +100 vs Syracuse
Legendary coach Frank Solich retired this summer which may cause some concern for an Ohio program that has consistently been one of the best teams in the MAC over the past decade. Tim Albin, Solich’s replacement, has been on staff since 2005 so it seems like the transition should go smoothly. Ohio only played three games in 2020 so it is hard to take too much from their results but Syracuse was one of the worst teams during 2020. While they certainly had more talent, it’s safe to say Syracuse is a middle of the road MAC team at this point. Tommy DeVito has been named the starter so that means Syracuse will look to pass quite frequently. Unfortunately, they were one of the worst passing teams in America last year completing just over 51% of their attempts. With how Syracuse performed last season and the combination of the overall trend of the program since the 10 win season in 2018, I’m not quite sure how they’re favored on the road in this one. The model makes Ohio a short favorite here so we are betting the Bobcats to win outright since it seems unlikely the spread gets to 3 before kickoff.
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(Photo of J.T. Daniels: Todd Kirkland / Getty Images; The Athletic may receive an affiliate commission if you open an account with BetMGM through links contained in the above article.)

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