Cincinnati and Indiana square up this Week 3 and the top sportsbooks have released the NCAAF odds for Saturday's game.
After a historically successful season last year, the Hoosiers were crushed in their season opener and hardly redeemed themselves by beating Idaho.
They'll look to prove that they are still worthy of the hype they cultivated after last year by upsetting Cincinnati, which has ambitions of its own as a playoff hopeful. For reasons that I will explain, you should play the spread for this game. Now, let's look for some value!
Cincinnati Bearcats vs. Indiana Hoosiers
Saturday, September 18, 2021 - 12:00 PM EDT at Memorial Stadium
Don't Overlook The Trenches
Because media talking heads find a negligible source of sensation in the trenches, the discussion tends to center around the other players.
But the trenches are important. In this game, in terms of predicting which team will cover the spread for our pick, I think that they will be decisive.
Indiana's Offensive Line
Pretty much any well-regarded Hoosier beat writer stated before the season that, heading into this season, the offensive line was Indiana's biggest question mark. It's not too hard to see why: a lot of game footage and statistics speak against the soundness of the Hoosier offensive linemen.
Right tackle Matthew Bedford, for example, ranked fourth-worst last year among qualifying tackles in Power 5 conferences in pass-blocking. In seven games, he was responsible for 35 quarterback pressures and 26 quarterback hurries.
Similarly, among FBS tackles, Caleb Jones was graded as the second-worst tackle. Overall, the Hoosiers ranked second-to-last out of 65, Power 5 teams, in pass-blocking according to PFF.
If the run-blocking is supposed to be better, the Hoosiers haven't shown it yet. In the season opener against Iowa, they generated 2.5 YPC on 31 attempts.
Against Idaho, they were determined to establish the ground game as their offensive play-calling was heavily tilted towards running the ball. Because Idaho is an FCS school, it's worrisome to see that Indiana could not even manage four YPC. They rushed for 3.6 YPC.
RB Stephen Carr #5 of the Hoosiers against Iowa on September 4, 2021. Indiana had a lackluster day rushing. Matthew Holst/Getty Images/AFP
Cincinnati's Defensive Line
Besides considerations of sheer quality, match-up considerations are also valuable with one's sports betting in mind. One specific element that bothered Indiana pass protection last year was speed rushers.
I like Cincinnati's defensive line especially because it boasts a star speed rusher in reigning All-AAC First-Teamer Myjai Sanders. Last year, in the shortened season, Sanders amassed 10.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
Sanders, though, is just one of multiple studs, all of whom are proven and most of whom are also very experienced. They grace every position of the defensive line, thus not allowing opposing blockers to center on one guy in particular.
Last week, Cincinnati came out looking ahead to this Hoosier game. They clearly appeared disinterested. But the Bearcat defense shut Murray State down in a 35-0 second half. Similar patches of disinterest were manifest in the Bearcat opener, which were expected in another blowout-type game.
Compared with last year, as the stats show, the Bearcat pressure is getting home. While the sack rate is not quite as high, this has to do less with disinterest but instead with the quick-hitting, short passes that opposing offenses were more interested in attempting.
Hoosier quarterback Michael Penix, though, likes to rely on his strong arm and enjoys throwing downfield. In doing so, he'll sometimes stand too long in the pocket. Even when he doesn't stand too long in the pocket, he'll be hunted down by Cincinnati's plethora of pass rushers.
Bearcat Offense vs. Hoosier Defense
Cincinnati's offense is led by 2020 Offensive Player of the Year Desmond Ridder at quarterback. Ridder is a well-established dual threat. He's dangerous both on the ground and in the air.
Unlike his Hoosier counterpart, who has looked lackluster and produced lackluster stats so far, Ridder flexes a 206.4 passer rating threw two games.
What I like about Ridder is not that he has dominated two soft opponents. But rather that he looks a lot better than Penix Jr did even against Idaho, his performances this season establish continuity with last season, and he's expanding himself as a passer.
What I mean by this last point is that his increase of 3.2 YPA shows that he is developing greater ease with his deep ball than ever before.
He'll look to feast against a Hoosier pass defense that allowed Idaho's passing game to produce some worrisome numbers after All-Big Team first-teamer safety Jamar Johnson departed from Indiana during the offseason. For the above reasons, expect a brutal Bearcat beatdown for your college football picks.
NCAAF Pick: (visit our Sportsbook Review)
*The pick reflects the line at the moment the writer made the play, the odds at the beginning of this article show the live line movement. Since the lines might vary, don’t forget to refer back to our live odds.