College Football Saturdays are back! If you’re a College Football nerd like me and love nothing more than sitting on the couch all Saturday long and watching every single game unfold (preferably with a few ice cold adult beverages), then you appreciate the unique matchups that occur every week. Here’s a look at three matchups on tap for this weekend that I’m most intrigued by.
The Sam Howell Show
Syracuse @ UNC (-22) – 12:00 PM ET
Does this line seem a little out of control to you? Well, there’s a reason for that. UNC has some incredible hype heading into this season. Time will tell whether or not that hype is warranted, but there certainly are some encouraging signs going into this season. Many have this team either second or third in the ACC this season led by coach Mack Brown. It all starts with the offensive weapons and Heisman hopeful QB Sam Howell. The bus doesn’t stop there, however, as UNC was only a few yards away from pulling off the extremely rare feat of having two 1,000 yard rushers and two 1,000 yard receivers last year. Almost all of that talent is back this year and they are ready for more.
They get a showcase opportunity here against Syracuse, who has one of the weaker defenses that you’ll see in the Power 5 this year. The Orange are installing a new 3-3-5 defensive system this year under new DC Tony White which will likely take some time to gel. They won’t catch any breaks in their first game as this UNC team could look to pounce early and often. The Orange are very weak up front (#108 Rush D in 2019) and UNC’s strong rushing attack (#38 Rush O) should be able to feast. They’ll score on the ground and through the air. Howell was the only QB in the country to throw multiple TDs in every game last year–and yes, that’s in the same universe in which Joe Burrow existed.
Syracuse’s OL should be much improved this year, and the offense won’t be bad. They put up 27, 49, 35, and 39 points over their final four games of the year. UNC is solid defensively but not elite, so both teams should be able to put up some points. QB Tommy DeVito should have some success through the air (especially to WR Taj Harris), but the offense may prove to shut down when they’re needed most. Only Georgia Tech was worse in passing situations in ACC play, and now they’re losing three of their top four WRs from a year ago. The depth chart was left up in the air in recent weeks, and the assumed top two rushers are not even listed.
The over is worth a look, but it’s hard to have much faith when this will be both team’s first games (the under was 4-1 in Week 1 games). Plus, do you ever trust Syracuse to pull through? It’s also hard to trust UNC to cover three TDs as they’re only one year removed from playing in nine one-score games.
Prediction: North Carolina 45, Syracuse 24
Cyclones on Upset Alert
Louisiana @ Iowa State (-11.5) – 12:00 PM ET
Spoiler alert: we’ve reached the underdog pick of the week. ULL has a case to make for being the best Group of 5 team in College Football, and it’d be foolish to count them out from any game. They’re a year removed from a record breaking season on offense in which they managed 37.9 PPG and 494.1 yards of Total Offense. They were led by a potent rushing attack featuring two NFL RBs (Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas) which ranked #10 in Total Offense and #6 in Rushing Offense.
Iowa State is no slouch either, as they enter 2020 as a dark horse Big 12 contender. This match-up against ULL is a very interesting one, and I fully intend to watch every second of this game to see how it plays out. The Ragin’ Cajuns like to run the ball and work with a lead, but it’s unsure whether or not they’ll be able to do that against a decent Cyclones defense (#42 Rush D, #72 Pass D) that returns nine starters.
The Cyclones should find success on offense. Last year they boasted only the #102 Rush O, but ULL wasn’t much better at defending it (#82 Rush D, allowed 4.5 YPC). RB Breece Hall should have a decent game, but it’s worth noting that the Cyclones lost 146 career starts on the OL and are breaking in some new pass catchers. I expect there to be some bumps early-on in the season just like last year, when they barely escaped from a Northern Iowa upset bid and lost to Iowa the following week. They’re in for a world of trouble if they come out that flat again to start the season.
I like the Ragin’ Cajuns chances at an upset here. Head Coach Billy Napier is a bonafide gem, and his teams at ULL are 18-10 ATS. Last year, they were 4-2 ATS away and 2-0 ATS as an away dog in 2019. They scored at least 27 points in every game except for one. They improved from 34.2 PPG allowed in 2018 to 19.7 PPG allowed in 2019. They return most of their key players defensively, and especially so in the secondary, which is their strength on that side of the ball. I fully recognize that this pick is a longshot, so let me preface this by saying that if ULL doesn’t win, I expect them to give Iowa State a serious run for their money. Give me the Ragin’ Cajuns to pull off the upset.
Prediction: Louisiana 31, Iowa State 30
Another Curious P5 vs G5 Matchup
Arkansas State @ Kansas State (-10.5) – 12:00 PM ET
Arkansas State looked decent in their first game, falling 37-24 to a very good Memphis team but managing to keep the game within the spread. They’ll get another crack at an upset in Week 2, but they’re facing an uphill battle. Offensively, the Red Wolves have one of the best passing attacks in all of College Football. They will be facing a tough matchup against a strong Wildcats defense boasting a talented secondary (#34 Pass D last year) and a front seven that is historically a strength of the team.
The Red Wolves will need to decide between Logan Bonner and Layne Hatcher at QB (my vote is with Hatcher, for what it’s worth) for this offense to take off in 2020. They split reps last week and the team never found their comfort zone. Oklahoma transfer WR Dahu Green may have emerged as a go-to WR for this offense that is sorely missing Omar Bayless’s 1,653 receiving yards from a year ago. They won’t be able to run the ball well here.
The biggest question for Kansas State is how the new-look OL will hold up. This will be the first time in 31 years that they don’t return a single start from the previous year at OL, which…yikes! They do return experience elsewhere and especially in dual-threat QB Skylar Thompson (11 Rushing TDs a year ago). This should be a good warm-up game for them offensively, as the Red Wolves were #117 in Rush D and allowed 5.0 YPC a year ago. They allowed 227 rushing yards last week against Memphis, so that still appears to be an area of concern for a team that was #93 in returning defensive production.
All signs point to this being a tough matchup for the Red Wolves, but do you trust this Wildcat offense to put up points consistently? It’s more likely that they control the clock and are able to keep the chains moving, but this potent Arkansas State passing offense should keep this game somewhat close.
Prediction: Kansas State 34, Arkansas State 28
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