I know, I know. I shouldn’t be grousing at all about the quality of the first week slate of games — that they are being played should be enough, right?
Wrong. Not only will I complain, but I must actively search for a reason to watch these. Fortunately, gambling provides that much-needed impetus to turn on the dust tellie.
The season kicks off on Thursday, September 3rd (and we did our Midweek pick of that one here.) But, now we tackle the rest of a light opening week for the 2020 season.
Army -3 vs. Middle Tennessee -
This is (or, rather should be,) the best Black Knights squad we’ve seen since the 2018 team that nearly unseated Michigan and Oklahoma. After a significant bump in the road last year, Army returns again with a bevy of starters on both sides of the ball and strong coaching continuity. That likely spells bad news for the MTSU Blue Raiders. Like Army, Mitzu returns quite a few starters of their own, but they’re mainly on offense. It’s a thin defense in Murfreesboro this year — and it was a team already fairly bad at defending the run (MTSU allowed 30 PPG and 5 YPC last season, and only had 2 games where they gave up less than 200 yards rushing. Yuck.) While the Raiders should have a bit better luck hitting the endzone, a young defense opening up on the road against a disciplined veteran triple-option team is too much of an ask. Army is the play. I don’t expect much of a shootout, if you want to play the totals. Service academies chew up too much clock under the best of circumstances, and MTSU isn’t very well-equipped to light up scoreboards. Under 55 1⁄2 is a strong play too — I’m thinking this one finishes in the neighborhood of 31-20 Army.
SMU -22 at Texas State (o/u 70 1⁄2 ) —
Good lord, man. Texas State is just awful. They’ve not won more than 3 games in half a decade and enter 2020 with non-factor Jake Spavital in his second year at San Marcos. Some teams have poor records that are illusory — they may be better than they look on paper (such as the 2-9 USA Jaguars). But, there’s little reason for optimism at TSU this year, aside from returning 9 starters on offense. Unfortunately, one of those positions is not quarterback. Throw in a ton of turnovers, a gooey-soft defense that only returns 4 starters, and opening against a high-flying SMU team, and you’ve got a recipe for a beatdown.
Their opponent, the Mustangs, can score on practically anyone. When they’re dialed in, it’s as dangerous an offense as you’ll find in the G5. The problem is that getting them all on the same page from week-to-week is no guarantee. The other problem is that like Sonny Dykes just doesn’t care about defense; SMU can equally be scored upon at will...for teams other than Texas State, I mean. The ‘Stangs return Shane Buechele, the AAC’s deepest WR corps this side of Memphis, and 60% of their offensive line. Business as usual in Dallas, in other words. Expect a beatdown, as SMU covers. And I like the under here too (70 1⁄2). If this were a competent opponent, over 70 1⁄2 would be a gimme. But, I don’t think Spavital coaching a RS Freshman QB is recipe to keep up on the scoreboard. The Mustangs do their part, TSU does not... call it 49-20 SMU.
Arkansas State +19 at Memphis (73 1/2 ) —
This ain’t your daddy’s Memphis team, or even Mike Norvell’s. Gone on to much bigger pastures in Tallahassee is Norvell..and half the coaching staff. Gone also is all-everything RB Kenneth Gainwell (‘Rona opt-out), his backup Patrick Taylor, the Tigers’ best WR (Antonio Gibson), their starting TE, and with Norvell’s departure, Memphis also loses their offensive coordinator. Those 40 PPG outputs simply aren’t going to happen often in 2020, no matter how good Brady White (QB) and Damonte Coxie (WR) are. Ryan Silverfield got the call to lead the program, and he acquitted himself well in the Cotton Bowl against Penn State. He also hired a competent DC (Mike Macintyre) to help him learn the ropes. But the offense is going to be a mystery and he simply has no experience as a head coach. One thing UM does have, however, is an outstanding defense and an even better special teams group — once again probably the best in the country.
Their opponent are the Arkansas State Red Wolves just down the road in Jonesboro. This one always means a lot more to the Wolves than it does to the Tigers, and unlike UM, they return about 80% of their starting roster and their entire coaching staff. Like you, I’m looking forward to seeing what Layne Hatcher does at ASU with another year under his belt. He was pretty danged good last year on a struggling team. But, against this defense on the road, an upset is probably too much of an ask. The Red Wolves’ defense is also healthy again, so 2019’s lapses won’t likely be as apparent. Still, while so many intangibles point to ASU, the Tigers enjoy a significant talent advantage. Is it worth 19 points at home against a one-sided rival, with a lot of experience? Probably not. UM just suffered too many losses and there are too many questions in the Bluff City to take an almost-three touchdown spread against a fairly quality G5 opponent. If you must pick, I like Arkansas State getting +19. That said, your best play here, given a new QB in Jonesboro and all the losses in the 901, is to take the under. This game probably won’t get anywhere near 73 1⁄2, and I’m thinking 34-24 Memphis sounds right.
Your Mortal Lock of The Week
BYU -1 1⁄2 at Navy (52 1⁄2 ) —
This may be the iffiest Mortal Lock I think I’ve ever done. Betting against a service academy always feels wrong. Betting on BYU feels even more alien. The fightin’ Mormons seem to always play games within a touchdown. And, for that matter, option teams are designed to play and win exactly those types of contests. But, this isn’t the Navy team of 2019 that won 11 games and vied for the Cotton Bowl...it’s much closer to the 2018 version that won 3 games. Outside of the line, it is inexperienced on offense, and especially where it counts the most. You don’t lose a guy like Perry Olsen at QB and get better. Worse, his likely replacement is a 5’10”, 190-pound converted wideout who was going to be playing the position for the first time. So, the first time he pulled the trigger in practice on running a triple option was three weeks ago. That’s not a good combination for success against a team as physical as BYU.
Their opponent, the BYU Cougars, have no such issues. They return 15 starters on their two-deep, have the best offense in Kilane Sitake’s Provo tenure, and their lines are built to maul — last year’s imposition of will on USC, Boise State, and Tennessee wasn’t a fluke; it was a harbinger. If the Cougs don’t underperform, this is a sleeper team for 2020. They’ll play it close to the vest. That’s just what they do, but they’ll win a lot more than they lose. And that is especially true here. I just don’t see where Navy is going to get the points, nor do I see how the Midshipmen are going to be able to do much damage against BYU’s deep offensive line. BYU laying 1 1⁄2 is the call, and is your mortal lock of the week. And, honestly, I think it’s decided by double digits. Plus, with the new QB in Annapolis facing his first start against this Cougar defense with no Spring under his belt, I love under 52 1⁄2 too. BYU 31 — Navy 16.