September 18, 2020 - 12:21 pm
The 2020 college football season always was going to be different. As handicappers, it’s up to us to figure out how it’s different and to what extent.
The two most widespread impacts of the COVID-19-related disruptions early this season seem to be on special teams, which are more volatile than usual, and offensive lines, which are not as good as usual.
The Syracuse offensive line is a prime example. Phil Steele ranked it last in the Atlantic Coast Conference in his preseason magazine.
That was before an injury to right guard Dakota Davis Jr. and before the NCAA denied the eligibility waiver for Florida transfer Chris Bleich.
Now Syracuse has a converted fullback/tight end as a starter on an offensive line that gave up seven sacks in a 31-6 loss to North Carolina. The Orange rushed for only 38 yards on 19 carries.
Enter Pittsburgh, which features the SP+ No. 2 defense and Phil Steele’s No. 2 defensive line. I liked the Panthers ATS at less than three touchdowns, but that number is gone and they’re now favored by 21½ points. Take Pitt-Syracuse Under 50 instead.
It’s helpful that Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi likes kicking field goals from the 1-yard line and squeezing the clock with a considerable lead.
Four more plays (home team in CAPS):
Southern Methodist-NORTH TEXAS O69: The Mean Green allowed Houston Baptist quarterback Bailey Zappe to throw for 480 yards and three touchdowns Sept. 5 in a 57-31 win. Good luck stopping SMU QB Shane Buechele, who has thrown for more than 300 yards in six of his past 12 games. SMU’s defense did not look great against Texas State in a 31-24 victory, and North Texas coach Seth Littrell always gets production from his passing game.
Appalachian State-MARSHALL O59½: All eyes will be on Marshall QB Grant Wells, a redshirt freshman who looked excellent in his starting debut against Eastern Kentucky in a 59-0 win. Appalachian State features a veteran quarterback, a good running back and a good offensive line. Charlotte had no problem moving the ball on the Mountaineers in last week’s 35-20 loss.
Navy (+7) over TULANE: Brigham Young embarrassed Navy in a 55-3 blowout less than two weeks ago. Midshipmen coach Ken Niumatalolo admitted that his team had not tackled in practice, and it showed. Tulane was fortunate to beat South Alabama, and I’m expecting Navy to bounce back. I think this number is a market overreaction, and it certainly wouldn’t have been here before the season. With a total of 48, give me the triple-option team potentially with a new quarterback to create a toss-up game.
Troy (-3) over MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE: MTSU is another team with significant offensive line issues. Starting center Jordan Palmer (knee) went down on the second play of the season-opening 42-0 loss to Army, and QB Asher O’Hara was running for his life. Starting middle linebacker Johnathan Butler is also out this week, along with two other starters. Troy linebacker Carlton Martial is one of the best Group of Five defensive players, and the Trojans have nice talent at running back. I also think the market might be overcorrecting toward teams that are playing their second game against opponents who have not played.
Last week: 3-2
Christopher Smith of AL.com and BetOnline is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Follow @cfblocksmith on Twitter.