The college football season is here. Let’s look at the various Group of Five games across the country that should be of interest to most diehard fans.
Air Force Falcons at Navy Midshipmen
Odds: Air Force -6
This is a fascinating game. It’s a service academy rivalry game, which is why the line is so small. There is clearly a belief that Navy will play great defense in this game and keep it close. Yet, objectively, Air Force should probably be a much bigger favorite given what happened in Week 1. The Falcons played an ordinary game in a comfortable but not spectacular win over FCS opponent Lafayette.
That was unremarkable. What was noteworthy about Week 1 is that Navy once again got crushed at home in a season opener.
Navy lost 55-3 at home to BYU in the 2020 season opener, but that game was different in that Navy spent the pandemic offseason not playing in pads during practices. Coach Ken Niumatalolo did not want full-contact practices in 2020 because he was unsure if that would cause a COVID-19 outbreak among his players.
Navy did not withhold full-contact padded practices this year and it was a much more normal lead-up to the season opener in terms of game preparation and giving players a chance to prove themselves on the practice field. Navy had a terrible offensive line in 2020, but many people chalked that up to the lack of proper practice and conditioning in the offseason. There was an expectation Navy would be a lot better in its 2021 season opener.
It was not.
The Midshipmen were once again blasted at home in Week 1, losing 49-7 to Marshall. Navy looked weak, slow and inept and the problems which dogged the team throughout 2020 were clearly not fixed. Niumatalolo is one of the best coaches in Navy history. Whenever he has had a bad season, he has usually managed to bounce back the next year, but this might be an exception to that larger pattern.
Navy simply can’t lose to Marshall by 42 points – a game it would normally win if the program was healthy – and expect to keep it close against Air Force on Saturday. Rivalry game energy might make this competitive for a half, but over the course of 60 minutes, Navy’s offensive line does not appear to be anywhere close to ready. The Midshipmen are not where they need to be and that’s why Air Force is such an attractive choice for your college football picks in this game.
Houston Cougars at Rice Owls
Odds: Houston -7½
The Houston Cougars did not play well in Week 1 against the Texas Tech Red Raiders, staying relatively close for the better part of three quarters before fading in the fourth and losing decisively 38-21. The Cougars need to regroup in the city of Houston’s famous rivalry game against Rice.
The two teams used to be rivals in the old Southwest Conference. Now they are reunited in a game Houstonians care about a lot.
Rice, similar to Houston, was competitive for three quarters but then got whacked in the fourth quarter, giving up 31 unanswered points in a 38-21 setback. Rice lost to Arkansas and was simply not able to generate much of any offense in the second half after taking a 17-7 lead.
If one team gets the lead in this game, will it be able to make it stand up? If the game is remotely close heading into the fourth quarter, which team will handle the situation better after playing poorly in the fourth quarter in Week 1? If you bet online, it’s hard to know, but those are the big questions surrounding this game.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Army Black Knights
Odds: Army -7
Army looked very impressive in Week 1 against Georgia State, delivering a convincing performance that should re-establish the Black Knights as the favorite to win the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy against its service academy brethren, Air Force and Navy.
Western Kentucky beat FCS opponent Tennessee-Martin by 38 points in Week 1, which is exactly what the Hilltoppers figured to do. Army is clearly the better team and is likely to prove as much in this game. The Black Knights don’t seem to be getting quite as much respect from the sportsbooks as they should be receiving.
Wyoming Cowboys at Northern Illinois Huskies
Odds: Wyoming -7
Northern Illinois beat Georgia Tech of the ACC in Week 1. Does that mean Northern Illinois is good or is Georgia Tech bad? That’s a classic Week 1 question: Does an early result reflect more on the winner or the loser? We don’t really know yet and that’s why it can often be very tough to pick games in Week 2 of any season.
Wyoming, however, barely beat FCS opponent Montana State in Week 1, so it’s not as though the Cowboys distinguished themselves or separated themselves from the pack. Northern Illinois can probably keep this game close, though it might not win.
Georgia Southern Eagles at Florida Atlantic Owls: Georgia Southern did not look very good at all in Week 1, barely beating FCS opponent Gardner-Webb 30-25. Florida Atlantic lost in Week 1, but the Owls played solid defense for three quarters in a 35-14 loss to Florida.
Temple Owls at Akron Zips: The Temple Owls were crushed by Rutgers, allowing more than 60 points to the Scarlet Knights in a humiliating 61-14 defeat. Akron also allowed 60 points in an expected 60-10 defeat against Auburn.
Liberty Flames at Troy Trojans: The Liberty Flames (48-7 over Campbell) and Troy Trojans (55-3 over Southern) both won blowouts in Week 1 against greatly inferior opposition. Liberty, with Malik Willis at quarterback, has the best player on the field in this game.