It is already Week 6 of the college football season. There are only 13 regular season weeks, a conference championship week, and then Week 15 is set aside for the Army/Navy game. With that in mind, we’ll be nearly halfway through the regular season in about nine days.
What that means is that we have a pretty good idea of what we have to work with on a team-by-team basis and so do the oddsmakers. We should, in theory, see smaller-scale line moves from the openers because the market should be increasing in efficiency with each passing week. That’s not to say that openers won’t move, but we shouldn’t see too many of them go through key numbers or move several points.
Oddsmakers will never get it 100 percent right and risk managers will still have to be on their toes as we move forward through the season, so there will always be some sort of notable opening line action to discuss. That is the function of this weekly Opening Line Report.
Here are some of the noteworthy movers for Week 6:
Tulsa at Houston (-18) – It is always interesting to look at the weeknight games, whether there are significant line moves or not. With less time to take positions, these early moves can sometimes be a truer indication of how the market will split than the Saturday games. It looks like Houston is the preferred side here, as the line opened 16.5 at Bookmaker and has been bet to 18. There aren’t exactly key numbers in double digits, so crossing through 17 isn’t that big of a deal, but it does appear that early bettors expected this line to move up and wanted to grab it first.
Georgia State at Troy (-15.5) – We’re at that point of the year when we get weekday Fun Belt action. MACtion is coming soon, too. Here, we saw Troy take the initial hits to go from 16.5 to 17.5, but Georgia State money hit like a tidal wave around lunchtime to drop this number to as low at 15.5 in the marketplace. You can usually tell the nature of a line move by which team is taking money. Georgia State doesn’t get recreational money.
Middle Tennessee at Marshall (-6.5) – How will the Blue Raiders follow up their upset win over Florida Atlantic? Early bettors are tentatively expecting a solid encore performance, as a lot of the 7s in the market are gone. With a clunker of an ACC game and Utah State vs. BYU on the card for Friday, this game could get some interesting action.
Utah State at BYU (-2.5) – Speaking of Utah State vs. BYU, this isn’t the Holy War, per se, but it’s still a big rivalry game, especially for the Aggies. Utah State is looking for consecutive wins in this rivalry for the first time since 1973-74, so you can bet that they’re going to be plenty fired up for this game. This line opened 3 and has been bet to 2.5, so Utah State is the preferred side early, but we’ll see how things hold out as we get closer to kickoff in Provo.
East Carolina at Temple (-11.5) – East Carolina failed to cover against Old Dominion in what was a really bad spot for the Monarchs off of the win over Virginia Tech. The final score doesn’t say it all. East Carolina outgained Old Dominion 492-271. The Monarchs had 0.6 yards per carry on 35 attempts. When we see misleading box scores like that, lines often open too high and early bettors run out to grab numbers. That’s the case with this game, as East Carolina opened +13.5 and is now +11.5. No key numbers have been crossed, so this isn’t the most notable of moves, but ECU has garnered some favor from the sharper segments of the market with their recent efforts and it continues this week.
Syracuse (-5) at Pitt – While writing this week’s OLR, money started to light up the board and it found game 323/324. Pitt is the preferred professional side at the outset this week. Syracuse had that close call against Clemson last weekend and will be right back on the road again. Pitt was destroyed by UCF, but maybe a second straight week against tempo will help their beleaguered defense. That seems to be the market perception, as we’ve gone down from -6 or -6.5 to -5 market-wide.
Boston College at NC State (-4) – Some line moves aren’t as easy to decipher. NC State opened a 3.5-point favorite in this one against Boston College. Is that an early sharp position or is that a line grab to get out in front of potential bad news regarding BC running back AJ Dillon. Dillon left last week’s win over Temple with an ankle injury. NC State quietly has one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country in Ryan Finley, but doesn’t seem to get a lot of love. Are they actually going to be an underappreciated favorite against a trendy public dog here? Is that what this line is telling us? Or, is it simply a case of the market looking to get ahead of an injury? Sometimes we don’t have the answers on Mondays, but it is a question to keep in mind throughout the week.
LSU (-2) at Florida – Our first road favorite game is a cross-division SEC matchup. LSU opened a 2.5-point favorite and we saw an instant move up to -3. Now, we’re seeing Florida buy back, as the most prominent offshore markets are sitting on -2. It would take a lot of sharp money to push this number to PK or even flip the favorite and that seems highly unlikely, but LSU may look like a false favorite to some. While LSU is off to a great start, they don’t have a very dominant statistical profile and Florida has a much better set of numbers.
Eastern Michigan at Western Michigan (-3.5) – Directional Michigan rivalry games are a big deal for these MAC schools and we’ve got one here that has been rather one-sided. Western Michigan has won four straight, but the margin of victory has gone down with each successive win. Last year’s game was a field goal affair. That’s what this line opened, but the market is siding with the home team in Kalamazoo this week. The Broncos have been one of the most popular sharp sides on the board each of the last two weeks. We’ll see if they remain one this week, but early bets have hit the board on them.
Buffalo (-7.5) at Central Michigan – Do we see a Buffalo bounce back this week? Army won 42-13 over the Bulls last weekend in Western New York, but the Bulls played better than that lopsided final would indicate. They held Army to 4.4 yards per carry. Buffalo just couldn’t keep its offense on the field with a 2/11 performance on third down. This week, the Bulls have crossed through that key number of 7 after opening -6.5. We haven’t seen too much buy back yet, but it could be coming. As bad as Central Michigan’s offense is, and it ranks 128th in yards per play, the CMU defense is 26th in yards per play allowed. This is a big number with a defense like that.
Notre Dame (-5.5) at Virginia Tech – Did Virginia Tech’s bounce back effort say more about Duke or more about the Hokies? According to the market, it said more about Duke. Well, that and Ian Book looks like the real deal for the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame controls its own destiny for the College Football Playoff and has gone from -4.5 to -5.5 this week for the trip to Blacksburg.
Illinois (-4) at Rutgers – You would think that nobody would want to bet on these two teams, but we’re actually seeing movement on the Illinois side. In fact, it is significant movement. This is the biggest mover of the week, as Illinois has been pumped up to -4 after opening just -1.5. Betting money on Illinois as a road favorite is probably enough to have you committed to a mental institution, but it’s happening.
Arizona State at Colorado (-2.5) – Colorado is ranked in the top 25 for reasons unknown to this author. Colorado’s list of conquests this season includes powerhouses Colorado State, Nebraska, and UCLA. But, they’re taking a little bit of money this week against Arizona State for the big game in Boulder on Saturday afternoon. Arizona State is 0-2 on the road, with losses to San Diego State and Washington by a touchdown in each game. This feels like a little bit of a setup, as Colorado was not a sharp team coming into the season and really hasn’t done much to erase that narrative.
Liberty (-4) at New Mexico State – Liberty seems to have a potent offense, but it remains to be seen if it will fly back to New Mexico with the team. Liberty beat New Mexico last week and flew home to Lynchburg, Virginia to practice. They’ll fly back out to Las Cruces for this game, as they face their second straight opponent coming off of a bye. Despite that, the market has moved from -3 to -4 on the Liberty side. It’s a horrendous spot, but the market has spoken early.
California at Arizona (PK) – We’ve reached coin flip status for Cal and Arizona thanks to money on Daaaaaaaa Golden Bears. Cal opened +2.5 at Bookmaker and other shops across the offshore market, but some even have Cal as the favorite at this point in time. The consensus number is basically a pick ‘em scenario, but Cal is certainly the preferred side based on what we’ve seen so far. A hobbled Khalil Tate is also a factor in this line move.
Northwestern at Michigan State (-11.5) – As mentioned on a weekly basis, teams that cover or win with a misleading box score generally do not get the benefit of the doubt the following week. Enter the Northwestern Wildcats. Northwestern had 145 yards on its first three drives. Northwestern had 202 yards for the game. The Wildcats took a 17-7 lead into the intermission and lost 20-17. Michigan State hasn’t been impressive at any point this season, but is laying doubles here. The number opened 10.5 and has been bet to 11.5.
Kentucky at Texas A&M (-5.5) – There are a lot of Kentucky believers out there. After all, Kentucky, ranked in the top 25 for the first time since 2007, is all the way up to 13th. This is the team’s stiffest test to date, as Texas A&M hung right with and should have beaten Clemson and actually covered against Alabama. Kentucky does it by running the rock and playing defense, which is conducive to covering as a big dog. This number is down from the 6.5 range to the 5.5 range, which isn’t an overly significant move, but we have actually seen a 5 pop as well.
Iowa State at Oklahoma State (-11) – Misleading box scores are the flavor of the day it would seem. Iowa State covered against TCU in a 17-14 thriller, but only managed 198 total yards of offense to TCU’s 299. Iowa State had 79 passing yards on 14 completions and running back David Montgomery left hurt after running 21 times for 101 yards. Since Kyle Kempt went out, it hasn’t been pretty for the Cyclones on offense. This line jumped from 9 to 11 and it wouldn’t be a surprise if it kept going.
Navy (-3.5) at Air Force – The first matchup for the Commander-in-Chief Trophy is this one in Colorado Springs between Navy and Air Force. Navy is growing as a favorite with quarterback concerns for Air Force. Isaiah Sanders and Arion Worthman have both had reps at the position, but Sanders didn’t play last week and Worthman was hurt during the game. Navy’s miserable travel schedule was a big point of emphasis before the season, but this game comes after a bye week, so it isn’t a surprise to see this line climbing.
UConn at Memphis (-35) – UConn allowed 8.0 yards per play last week and their yards per play for the season went down from 9.22 to 8.96. Memphis has lost to two option teams in games with limited possessions. This line opened 31 and is up to 35 and it may go even higher.
Wyoming at Hawaii (-3.5) – Hawaii came to the mainland and won, but it wasn’t pretty and money came in hot and heavy on San Jose State just before kickoff. Now, we’ve seen a little bit of investment on Wyoming for the long trip from Laramie to Honolulu. Let’s put this into perspective: Wyoming, who almost lost to Wofford, is 116th in yards per play offensively. Hawaii is 14th. Wyoming’s defense is only 54th in yards per play allowed. Hawaii’s is 101st. With the long trip, the time change, the significant altitude change, and no semblance of an offense, Wyoming is taking money. It seems pretty self-explanatory what we have going on here.