It is with a heavy heart I report that, in the 6th week of the 2018 season, I finally missed a weeknight bet. Troy covered -16 and everything was going to script. But over 70 1⁄2 was not to be, as Houston’s offense didn’t quite show up until late (67).
I say this because last night’s games were good basically just for gambling. Tonight, however, is a different critter. There are three games and all of them have the potential to be very competitive — it would not even be a surprise to see all three underdogs pull upsets. From Appalachia to the Great Salt Lake, there are some objectively interesting contests tonight.
All times Central
Georgia Tech at Louisville + 4, 57 (6:00 ESPN) — Two 2-3 teams trending all over the map. And, if we’re honest, two teams that could have entirely new coaching staffs by next labor day. Bobby Petrino has simply never found his quarterback, or stuck with one and taken his lumps in season everyone would know would be a rebuilding one. The result is that he has done everything to wreck the confidence of both Malik Cunningham and Juwon Pass.
Just when it seemed the Cardinals had mailed it in for the season, they faced a pedestrian FSU team last week, and the Petrino of old was on full display — creative, aggressive, driving the field — and they still lost. And they lost largely because of Petrino’s coaching calls. The Jackets have such a pedestrian secondary, one that is really feast-or-famine. So there is potential for the Cards to carry some momentum in this one. But, there are questions if the UL front seven can handle the flexbone — they’re allowing over YPC and 168 YPG on the ground. Who honestly knows what to expect? My head tells me the Yellow Jackets win a low-scoring ugly one — something like 27-21. But, don’t look to the past for a barometer. These two programs have never met, not even in ACC play.
MTSU (2-3) at Marshall (3-1) -4, 49 1⁄2 (6:30 CBSSN) — What happens when two teams with proud offensive identities can’t quite move the ball? You look for where there are differences and where the better talent lies. Marshall can’t stop the pass (95th) and MTSU can - somewhat (51st). But, MTSU can’t stop the run (105th) and Marshall can (16th.) So, with two mortal offenses, two defenses with different weaknesses, we look to who can force opponent mistakes. The Thundering Herd, in just 4 games, have forced 9 (+2) — the Blue Raiders are -3 on the season and have only forced four. In Huntingdon, that may be enough for the garish green team to pull out a home win.
This will be an interesting one, but I suspect Marshall pulls away late for a 7-10 point win. It won’t get anyone fired though: Doc Holliday has much better job security than Rick Stockstill. Like Petrino, the long-time MTSU head man seems to be going through the motions, but he’s probably still safe even if the Raiders crater. You can’t even say stop playing your kid at QB, Rick — he’s honestly been one of the few bright spots on a meh 2018 campaign. He’s definitely decent enough to pull off a road upset if Marshall’s secondary doesn’t tighten up.
Utah State (3-1) at BYU (3-2) -2 1⁄2 , 55 1⁄2 (8:00 ESPN2) — If you’re only going to watch one game tonight, I’d make it this game. One of the Mormon round-robin firing squad games that Utah hosts every year, it’s also a contrast of styles. The Cougars are no longer the high flying fruit from the Lavell Edwards tree. They’re a power running team that wins with defense first and foremost. And, if you’re not tough up front, you will be badgered into an ugly, mistake-filled loss. It’s not exciting — it’s Jim McElwain football, to be honest. But it is effective. The USU Aggies, meanwhile, are the Intermountain version of the 90s Southern Miss teams: there’s a lot of non-qualifying and second-chance talent here. And, the offense is as explosive as it is dynamic. Don’t let the helmet confuse you: Utah State can play along the lines as well.
The spread on this one is about right: the only nod you give to either team is the home field advantage to the Cougars in Provo. Both teams can stop the run; both teams have excellent secondaries; the difference here is the Ags’ passing game — and that may be enough for a win, even in an emotional road rivalry. Don’t undersell the nastiness of Mormon beef either — it can be pretty grim.