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Group of Five Week 1 Best Bets: Ride Points for So. Alabama, Toledo and UTSA

The long wait is finally over. Week 1 of college football is here. As most of us know, plenty of change is ahead of college athletics. With BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF joining the Big 12, the top dogs of the Group of Five are shifting.

Week 1 will give fans their first look at teams who could contend for New Year’s Six bowl games – the ultimate goal for Group of Five teams.

Group of Five Week 1 Best Bets: Ride Points for So. Alabama, Toledo & UTSA
Jerjuan Newton #19 of the Toledo Rockets | Michael Hickey/Getty Images/AFP

This week features plenty of intriguing season-opening contests for notable squads. What could be the best college football picks in Week 1’s Group of Five action?

South Alabama Rides the Run Game

South Alabama and Tulane meet in a heavyweight Group of Five matchup. According to college football odds, South Alabama is the favorite to win the Sun Belt (+290) while Tulane is favored to win the American Athletic Conference (+210).

The Jaguars come off their first double-digit win season in Division 1. The Green Wave represented the Group of Five in a New Year’s Six bowl game last season, defeating USC 46-45 in the Cotton Bowl. This is about as good as it gets for a Group of Five clash.

What looks like the most promising betting angle? South Alabama finished sixth in allowed rushing yards per game last season. The Jaguars are returning most of their defense, including their linebacker tandem of Trey Kiser and James Miller. Both were in the top three for tackles on the team.

Tulane heavily relied on its run game in 2022. The Green Wave ranked 15th in rushing yards per game, compared to 72nd in passing yards per game. However, this strategy could change with star running back Tyjae Spears now backing up Derrick Henry on the Tennessee Titans in 2023.

Tulane had a mediocre defense last season, finishing 50th in allowed passing yards per game and 71st in allowed rushing yards per game. The Jaguars also return running back La’Damian Webb, who was First Team Sun Belt last season. South Alabama could dominate the ground game, leading to a point spread cover.


The sportsbook also has the Jags at +210 on the moneyline. This pick is calling my name, but I’ll play it safe by taking the points.

Pick: South Alabama +6½ (-110) vs Tulane

Toledo Takes Advantage of Inexperience

The Mid-American Conference (MAC) has its contenders squaring off with the Power Five in Week 1. Ohio, which is +280 to win the conference, gets a cupcake this week in LIU. Toledo, Buffalo and Miami (OH) cannot say the same.

Toledo, the betting favorite to win the MAC (+170), draws Illinois. Buffalo is a major 28-point underdog against Wisconsin. The RedHawks, who are the fourth choice to win the MAC (+800), are participating in the battle of Miami as they head south to face the Hurricanes.

The Rockets could have the best chance to start the season with a W. Taking the points in Toledo-Illinois is a sound college football prediction. The Rockets are returning key contributors, like quarterback DeQuan Finn and leading receiver Jerjuan Newton. This is a talented offense with the chance to put up impressive numbers.

The Fighting Illini are replacing a lot of experience on defense, such as NFL draft picks in cornerback Devon Witherspoon and Sydney Brown. Don’t overlook returning defensive lineman Jer’Zhan Newton; he has NFL first-round upside. The departure of star running back Chase Brown also leaves a big hole.

Illinois’ identity is to play great defense, win the run game and control time of possession. There could be some growing pains with the Illini replacing key contributors. Toledo is a sneaky upset pick in Week 1.

Pick: Toledo +9½ (-110) vs Illinois

Roadrunners on the Rise

UTSA-Houston has an intriguing storyline. After dominating in Conference USA as back-to-back champions, the Roadrunners have joined the American Athletic Conference (AAC). Houston opened up a spot in the AAC by relocating to the Big 12.

While the Cougars have the more recognizable program, hard-core fans know UTSA should not be overlooked. The Roadrunners were ranked within the College Football Playoff rankings in the last two seasons. They have a 23-5 record since 2021.

UTSA has the better program, without a doubt. That’s reflected in the Las Vegas college football odds, as the Roadrunners are favored by 2½ points. Give me the points for this matchup.

Houston has a projected win total of 4½ while UTSA is the third choice to win the AAC (+400). The Roadrunners averaged 35.6 points (16th) last season and return star quarterback Frank Harris. Somehow, the veteran QB has managed to milk seven seasons in the NCAA and is entering his fourth as the starter.


The Cougars finished 108th in allowed points per game in 2022. The defense’s struggles will likely continue. It could get even worse as the unit replaces several seniors. UTSA could roll in this matchup.

Pick: UTSA -2½ (-110) vs Houston

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