College Football Week 3 Picks: Houston vs. Baylor Predictions & More
Last week, I went 10-4 picking college football games (and 5-0 in the NFL, but that’s another story.) I don’t expect to keep up that clip of success for the entire 2020 season, but I do think this weird pandemic season will present a lot of opportunities to find value if you know where to look for inefficiencies. Of course, there’s also a chance that value will get blown up by a team announcing it has 30-some players sidelined right before kickoff. In those cases, there’s not much to do but concede the world has much bigger problems than our value and move on.
We’re still a week out from this season getting into the full swing – or relatively full swing – of conference play, but I see more opportunities to take a few dollars off sportsbooks this week. Here are some of the plays I recommend most strongly for Week 3.
Some lines have moved slightly since I put down my picks, but I’ll share my broad thoughts about each, and you can use Oddschecker’s tools to find odds and prices that suit you.
*All bets are for 1 unit unless otherwise noted
BET: Baylor -4.5 @ -110
I freely acknowledge that Houston will be better than it was last year and Baylor will be worse. I am just skeptical the gap has closed so much in one offseason that Baylor shouldn’t be at least a touchdown favorite against a UH team that was quite bad in 2019.
Baylor lost a lot from last year’s Big 12 and Sugar Bowl runner-up, but they return a lot of experience at quarterback and running back, and new head coach Dave Aranda used to be the best defensive coordinator in the country. I think the Bears can do enough triage to stick as one of the better teams in their conference. Meanwhile, Houston was a mess last year, and QB Clayton Tune was fine but not inspiring after replacing D’Eriq King.
ESPN’s Football Power Index projects 2019 Baylor would’ve beaten 2019 Houston by 17 on a neutral field. It projects a mere 2.3-point difference this year, but that’s before spotting Baylor three or so points for playing at home (a valuation that’s admittedly hard to peg with crowd restrictions). Most importantly, I’m not sure how much Houston improved in an offseason in which workouts weren’t normal. I just need to see more before not liking Baylor here.
BET: Under 57 @-110
To some extent, I’m going with God on this one. I took the Camels as 34-point underdogs at Georgia Southern last year, and they almost beat the Eagles after a third of Southern’s roster had to sit out for COVID reasons. That makes evaluating Campbell difficult.
But the Campbell defense was pretty effective against a triple-option-ish offense that’s supposed to be difficult to stop no matter who’s playing. Coastal Carolina beat Kansas and played well, but the Chanticleers averaged just 5.3 yards per play against a terrible Jayhawk defense. I think a slog is likely, and Coastal should win a high-40s or low-50s game.
BET: Pitt -20.5 @-110
BET: Under 50 @ -110
One of my few losses last week was Syracuse +23 at North Carolina. I reasoned that at anything more than three touchdowns, I’d be prepared to take any ACC team that wasn’t playing Clemson or Notre Dame. There’s just too much parity in this league after the Tigers and longtime conference rival Irish. And for most of the afternoon in Chapel Hill, the Orange validated me, appearing at points like they’d win outright.
But Syracuse’s offense never got into second gear. The offensive line was overwhelmed, and the defense gave out as the offense forced it onto the field again and again. This week, the Orange are playing what I believe will be a top-five defense in Pat Narduzzi’s Panthers. I do not see Cuse being able to move the ball at all, either on the ground or through the air. Orange QB Tommy DeVito is not going to have a fun afternoon.
The under is the most enticing item to me here. At less than three touchdowns’ worth of spread, I’m also comfortable laying the points with Pitt. I wouldn’t take it at 21 or more, though, so make sure you’re getting the best odds for yourself. Pitt -20.5 is a bit of a hedge against my under bet, because if this game gets into the 50s, it should mean the Panthers are scoring a ton.
BET: North Texas +14.5 @ -110
SMU looked just OK two weeks ago at Texas State, winning by just a touchdown against a team that went on to lose to UTSA the following week. Granted, SMU would’ve won by more if not for a goal-line fumble, and it might not be wise to devalue beating Texas State, which wouldn’t have lost to UTSA if any of 15 things had gone differently. But the Mustangs don’t look like the same dangerous team they were in 2019, even with a lot of key returners.
On that basis, maybe it’s silly to ride with North Texas, which is playing its first game since 2016 without program cornerstone QB Mason Fine, who graduated. But SP+ and FPI both see SMU as around eight points better than North Texas on a neutral field, and this game’s in Denton, a short drive away from SMU’s campus in Highland Park. I have enough good feelings about UNT that I’ll take the Mean Green at anything north of a two-touchdown spread.
BET: Troy -3.5 @ -115
This line’s existence confuses me. Here we have two Group of 5 teams that had been reliably good for several years leading up to 2019, when both broke down.
But there are two differences: 1) Middle Tennessee was a good bit worse than Troy last year, not just going 4-8 instead of Troy’s 5-7 but grading out a touchdown worse per game according to SP+. And 2) MTSU has already put one ugly data point on the board this year by getting utterly thrashed at Army two weeks ago, while the Trojans have yet to take the field.
In short: Middle Tennessee was really bad in 2019 and appears not to have gotten better. Troy was a bit better last year and carries the prospect of improving somewhat in 2020.
Troy also goes into its second year under a well regarded offensive coach in Chip Lindsey. QB Kaleb Barker is gone, but his top eight receivers are all back, and Troy has a lot of good running backs in the fold too. I’d take Troy at -6.5 and feel excellent about -3.
Alex Kirshner covers college football for the Moon Crew newsletter. He is a co-author of The Sinful Seven: Sci-Fi Western Legends of the NCAA, and he lives in Washington, D.C.