Saturday, Dec. 29, 1:15 p.m. ET (CBSSN)
Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Arizona
Free NCAAF Picks: Red Wolves ATS and ‘Over’
Best Lines Offered: 5Dimes
Nevada needs to regroup after ending its season with a debilitating loss in which it surrendered a 23-0 lead against rival UNLV. Also, an alarming number of players are transferring, including its best wide receiver, McLane Mannix, and top defender, Nephi Sewell. For Arkansas State, senior quarterback Justice Hansen will look to finish his career on top.
How They Got Here
The Red Wolves took an easy path. They beat zero FBS winning teams, but lost to bowl teams Louisiana-Lafayette in a shootout and got blown out by App State. Nevada got rocked by Vanderbilt, Toledo and Fresno State, although its loss to Boise State was close. Nevada beat two FBS-winning teams, Hawaii and San Diego State.
Why Arkansas State Can Win/Cover
Hansen, a transfer from Oklahoma, is prolific. He completes 67 percent of his passes and has thrown for more than 3,000 yards and 27 touchdowns. Three of the six interceptions he threw came against App State’s top-ranked secondary. Nevada’s ranks 89th in opposing passer rating and 85th in opposing passing yards even though the Mountain West lost tremendous quarterback talent during the offseason. The Wolfpack’s secondary was a major reason why two-win Oregon State threw for 456 yards and nearly beat them. Hansen has a 12-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his past four games, overcoming the losses to his receiving crew during the offseason. The Red Wolves have covered their last four games, in all of which Hansen threw for more than 240 yards.
Why Nevada Can Win/Cover
Nevada thrives on big plays. It ranks 50th in IsoPPP+, which measures explosiveness. Ark State’s defense ranks 109th in allowing explosive plays. Nevada runs a pass-first offense where a number of different receivers thrive. Romeo Doubs is one speedster who averages 13.1 YPC. Elijah Cooks is another who averages 15.8 YPC and runs a 4.39 40-yard dash despite his size. Quarterback Ty Gangi is another reason Nevada can still score plenty without Mannix. He has thrown 290+ yards on six different occasions and Nevada has scored at least 40 points four times. Arkansas State faced eight schools that rank outside the top 90 in passing yards per game and a ninth ranks 88th. Despite being untested, they rank 73rd in opposing passer rating and will fail to limit Gangi. Nevada is 3-0 ATS when dogged by single digits.
Common Opponents/Series History
Arkansas State beat UNLV 27-20. Hansen threw for three touchdowns and running back Marcel Murray added 95 yards on only nine carries. When Nevada lost to UNLV, it racked upwards of 500 yards on offense, but imploded with turnovers and allowed UNLV quarterback Armani Rogers to enjoy a season-best in yardage.
Both offenses have solid pass attacks complemented by effective running games, although Arkansas State’s running backs are more accomplished in terms of week-to-week performance and consistently contribute more to its offense. Ark State enjoys tempo while Nevada generates big plays. Both teams will score plenty. Arkansas State will be the more focused team, whereas Nevada lost all the momentum of its season with that disaster against UNLV and is enduring a chaotic exodus of players who want to transfer. Besides having a more accomplished quarterback, the Red Wolves have their best receiver, Kirk Merritt, who leads the team with 75 receptions and 939 yards and who won’t have to face Nevada’s top defensive back Sewell.
Nevada had a three-game stretch late in the season from October 27 to November 17 when it allowed between 10 and 24 points. But its opponents ranked 99th or worst in scoring offense. Especially without Sewell, Nevada still looks like the same defense that gave up 35 to Oregon State, 41 to Vanderbilt, and 63 to Toledo earlier in the season. Although Arkansas State’s defense will also face a tougher test and a different kind of test than what it’s been used to, its offense has scored 30+ points in five straight games and will outpace Nevada’s.