Through two weeks of a college football season that was clouded by uncertainty during the offseason, 29 FBS games have been played with very little-to-no issues thus far. This bizarre 2020 year continues with full steam ahead this weekend and we are the better for it. Here are the three best opportunities to find some value in Week Three’s slate:
Louisiana Tech vs. Southern Mississippi
Saturday, September 19, 2020 – 7:30 PM EDT at M.M. Roberts Stadium
After looking entirely unprepared during its loss to South Alabama in its first game of the season, Southern Mississippi parted ways with head coach Jay Hopson on Labor Day. Co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Scotty Walden was tabbed as the interim, making him the youngest Division I head coach in the country at 30 years old. He has had an extra week to prepare the Golden Eagles for their next game, an in-conference rivalry bout against the Bulldogs.
How is it looking in Hattiesburg?
Just two weeks before Southern Mississippi’s season opener, the team’s three best players chose not to play in 2020 and their absence was felt as the team failed to hold the moneyline. The Golden Eagles, who opened the game as 12.5 point favorites, went down early and were forced to throw the ball for the remainder of the game.
Despite quarterback Jack Abraham’s deceptive stat-line (22-of-32 for 314 yards and no interceptions), they seemed incapable of putting together a holistic offensive game plan and could not surpass the 100-yard rushing mark or mount a comeback.
Comparatively, a South Alabama offense that was still working through early-season kinks of its own totaled 526 yards and hung 32 points on the Southern Miss. defense. Unless Walden lit a fire in the locker room and made sweeping changes on both sides of the ball, there isn’t much to point to with overt positivity.
What’s the latest from Ruston?
Louisiana Tech has dealt with multiple stoppages throughout fall camp due to Hurricane Laura and COVID-19 protocols, but begin the new year with high hopes after finishing last season at 10-3 and 6-2 in Conference USA play. The Bulldogs have a new quarterback at the helm but running back Justin Henderson, who ran for 1,062 yards on 188 carries in 2019, returns for his senior season.
The first two weeks of the season have shown that teams hold a slight advantage when it comes to tackling and contact if they have already played a regular season game. As a result, a Louisiana Tech defense that will replace nine starters in 2020 may get beat on a few big plays throughout the game. That being said, if Henderson can continue to run the ball with confidence, the defensive pieces are there to make enough stops to win a close game in the Hub City.
South Florida Bulls vs. (No. 7) Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Saturday, September 19, 2020 – 2:30 PM EDT at Notre Dame Stadium
The Fighting Irish football program joined the Atlantic Coast Conference for 2020 after COVID-19 presented a unique set of conference-only schedules. Head coach Brian Kelly and a top-10 ranked Notre Dame opened the year by conceding a 21.5 point spread in an underwhelming win over Duke last weekend. He hopes to get his team back to dominance at home on Saturday.
Quarterback Ian Book struggled to find a rhythm early against Duke, but he found a groove as the game went on with help from running back Kyren Williams out of the backfield. The sophomore ball carrier caught two passes for 93 yards and gashed the Blue Devils defense for 112 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. On the contrary, an Irish defense that only brought back half of its production from 2019 allowed less than 100 rushing yards. This will make for an interesting matchup with a run-heavy offense from Tampa.
South Florida began their season with a win over a subpar Citadel team and scampered for 302 yards on 7.7 yards per carry in the game. The high-volume production will not continue against a fast Notre Dame team that will focus on the run, so quarterbacks Jordan McCloud and Noah Johnson must throw for more than the 102 yards from last weekend to have any chance of pulling the upset. If the two-quarterback rotation can complete enough passes to keep drives alive, the Bulls have enough weapons in the backfield to slow the game down with the option and cover.
Free NCAAF Pick: South Florida +26 at -110 with Bovada
Houston Cougars vs. Baylor Bears
Saturday, September 19, 2020 – 12:00 PM EDT at McLane Stadium
Houston is making its 2020 debut after its first two games against Memphis and Rice were postponed, and head coach Dana Holgorsen is chomping at the bit to get on the field in his second season. The Cougars return a lot of starters from a year ago and the offense is in great shape. Clayton Tune threw for 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns on a 59.2 percent completion clip in 2019 and will look for his go-to targets Marquez Stevenson and Jeremy Singleton to begin the year. The two-headed monster combined for nearly 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns last fall and hauled in more than 44 percent of the team’s receptions. Factor in the return of leading rusher Kyle Porter, and the air-raid offense looks great on paper.
Baylor also returns most of its offensive production and is coming off of a Sugar Bowl appearance. Head coach Matt Rhule took his staff to the Carolina Panthers and Dave Aranda will take over for his first season in Texas. Charlie Brewer will be under center again this year after throwing for 3,161 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2019. Tyquan Thornton and R.J. Sneed, his two favorite receivers, are back and leading rusher John Lovett will be a senior. Offensive coordinator Larry Fedora wants to go even faster in 2020 and has the pieces to call one of the most explosive offenses in the country.
Where the difference lies, however, is on defense. Houston added several defensive backs from the transfer portal in the offseason with hopes of capping the deep ball, while Baylor lost much of its starting 11. This game is going to be a back-and-forth shootout between two teams that haven’t played yet this fall and love to go deep. Whichever side can make a late stop will win.
For Houston to cover the 4.5 point spread and lose by a field goal is a realistic possibility, but moneyline value for a team that could very well win the American Athletic Conference is too great to pass up in this one.
Free NCAAF Pick: Houston moneyline at +165 with Bovada