Our long national nightmare is over. College football is back. That’s the good news. As for the quality of the seven games involving FBS teams, that’s a whole nother story. The conventional wisdom when approaching Weeks 0-1 is that it’s a good time to take chances on long-shot outcomes because the lines are theoretically the least informed they’ll be all year, so wide misses should be more likely. Alternate spreads are one way of doing it, but they come with a caution if you’re betting more than one hundred dollars, or so, per game. The legalized sportsbooks have algorithms that are very suspicious of players who win on alternate spreads. My direct experience is that they’ll let you win big once, but a second time and you’re “limited,” which practically means kicked off because your max bet is now $5. So if you want to take Notre Dame at -28.5 with +210 odds, instead of -20.5 at -118, don’t expect to win frequently without bouncing from book to book. The practical way of playing for wide errors is through moneyline underdogs. It works because the books allow it, and since these aren’t the most compelling matchups, risking less is a welcome strategy. On to the first three bets of the 2023 season!
Bet 1: Florida Int’l +340 moneyline at Louisiana Tech (8:00pm CT Sat 8/26, CBSSN; all odds via FanDuel)
As promised, a moneyline underdog to start. The spread is LT -10.5, but this Conference USA matchup was won 42-34 by FIU last year, so it shouldn’t be seen as that unlikely. FIU went 4-8 in 2022, LT went 3-9. Each is entering the second year under their current head coach, LT led by Sonny Cumbie, FIU by Mike MacIntyre of 2016 Colorado fame. Pete Fiutak of College Football News has this as FIU’s biggest game of the year, but not so for LT. All of the remaining teams in Conference USA are feeling bullish about their chances now that five of the league’s strongest teams (UAB, UTSA, Charlotte, North Texas and Rice) left for the American Athletic Conference. It’s worth a +340 shot that LT falls flat in the unfamiliar role of heavy favorite.
Bet 2: Hawaii +17.5 (-115) at Vanderbilt (6:30pm CT Sat 8/26, SECN)
As Stanford Steve and Bear Falica would say, this line stinks! Vandy crushed the Rainbow Warriors 63-10 out on Oahu in Week 0 last year, and now they’re only laying 17.5 at home when Clark Lea is supposed to be building this thing? Hawaii is being led by program legend Timmy Chang as he enters year two of trying to rebuild the Todd Graham laid mess, and the line reflects that 63-10 was Hawaii at rock bottom. With Mike Wright out at QB for Vandy (and on to Miss St), and Chang getting his squad back to their run-&-shoot roots, this has all the makings of a much tougher test than the Commodores faced a year ago.
Bet 3: New Mexico St -7 (-110) vs UMass (6:00pm CT Sat 8/26, ESPN; no Best Bet 2 unit press until next week)
Doubt Jerry Kill at your own peril. Throw in bulldog Diego Pavia returning at QB, and I’m questioning my conservative Week 0 strategy and why I’m not betting the farm on this home favorite. NMSU won in 23-13 last year as the visitor in a matchup of two independents, but now they’re in CUSA and while UMass remains without a conference. The Minutemen should definitely be better than the team 1-11 team they were in year one of former Michigan DC Don Brown’s second head coaching stint at his home state school. Ex-Clemson turned Georgia Tech QB Taisun Phommachanh should be the starter, but he’s no match for Pavia. Jerry Kill has his program on much better footing in a conference for the first time since 2017, let’s see them get off to a strong start Saturday night.