Behind the box score: CFB betting lessons from Week 8

By Adam Burke  ( 


This college football season has been one of the strangest in recent memory. Each week there are several teams that simply do not play well after quality showings the week before. We also see a lot of teams that looked really bad one week look extremely good the following week.

No team in college football seems to be very trustworthy this season. Trying to find any angle we can to project a team’s upcoming performance is more important than ever and the box scores can shed some light on how to proceed.

There were definitely some that stood out for Week 8 and hopefully they can be predictive of what will happen in Week 9.

Illinois 20, Penn State 18 (9 OT)

In college football’s first nine-overtime game, the Illinois Fighting Illini came away with a 20-18 victory. The new overtime rules stipulate that teams must go to alternating two-point conversions after the second overtime. Getting three yards proved to be a real challenge for these offenses, as it took 10 tries for points to be scored on the two-point conversion attempts. Both teams scored in the eighth overtime, but Illinois was the only team to score in the ninth.

Illinois was a 23.5-point underdog in the game, which stands out in and of itself. What also stands out is that Illinois managed only 10 points in regulation and had 370 yards. The Illini had 26 first downs to 14 for Penn State, but also committed the game’s only three turnovers.

Penn State was outgained 395-227 and managed just 3.6 yards per play against an Illinois defense that ranked 104th in the nation with 6.12 yards per play allowed going into this game.

Fade the Penn State offense – It is clear that Sean Clifford is not healthy. He was knocked out of the Iowa game and looked quite bad in this one. You can bet Team Total Unders with the Nittany Lions or simply bet against them, which could make sense this week against a highly-potent Ohio State offense. There is one really interesting angle this week that offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich was the passing game coordinator and QB coach at Ohio State in 2019, so he should know how to attack this defense, but I don’t believe he has the personnel for it.


Rice 30, UAB 24

The UAB Blazers suffered their first home conference loss since 2014 at the hands of the Rice Owls on Saturday. The Blazers didn’t play in 2015 or 2016, but this loss still came as a bit of a shock, as UAB was a 24-point favorite.

The Blazers had 10 penalties for 108 yards, while Rice had just two penalties for 30 yards. UAB outgained Rice by 99 yards and had 8.24 yards per play in the game. Rice ran 70 plays to UAB’s 54 and only mustered 4.94 YPP. Rice was 5-for-5 in the game on fourth down and all five conversions came on touchdown drives. UAB turned the ball over on downs twice, including a 4th-and-6 at the Rice 20 early in the fourth quarter.

Play on UAB – UAB badly outgained Rice, especially from a yards-per-play standpoint, but couldn’t get a big stop on fourth down. The record will show that UAB lost as a 24-point favorite, but won’t point out the huge discrepancy in yardage and yards per play. The Blazers really should have won with an advantage of 3.5 yards per play, but didn’t. That could create some value in upcoming weeks against the better teams in the conference.


Toledo 34, Western Michigan 15

Continuing with the theme of inconsistency in college football, Western Michigan went from scoring 64 points against Kent State in Week 7 to scoring just 15 points against Toledo in Week 8. The Broncos had the game’s only two turnovers and also turned it over on downs three times in the game. Toledo only managed 330 yards and only threw eight completed passes, but came away with the 19-point victory.

WMU had 5.77 yards per play, so it was a decent offensive showing, but the Broncos scored all 15 points in the second quarter. Toledo had just 4.93 yards per play, so this game should have gone differently, especially relative to the final score.

In a weird twist of fate from last week, when the Broncos had a huge third quarter to put away Kent State, this third quarter featured a Rockets offensive touchdown, a strip-six and a turnover on downs followed by another short touchdown drive that turned a 15-13 Western Michigan lead into a 34-15 deficit in 9:40 of game time.

Don’t bet the MAC – At this point, I’d just stay away from the MAC in general, especially the West Division. Northern Illinois is 4-0 in conference play with a + 18 point differential. The other five teams are all 2-2 through four games.

MACtion returns in two weeks. I know it will be tempting to place bets on those Tuesday and Wednesday games, but this conference is extremely volatile this season and it feels like a guessing game with all of these Jekyll-and-Hyde performances.


Liberty 35, North Texas 26

The Liberty Flames grabbed some headlines last week for being the biggest favorite to lose outright this season after going down to Louisiana-Monroe as a 34-point favorite. Liberty flirted with disaster again this week, trailing North Texas 20-14 at halftime as a 21-point favorite.

The Mean Green deserved a better fate in this game, as they held the ball for nearly 36 minutes and ran 95 plays to just 65 for Liberty. North Texas held an edge of 104 yards, though Liberty did hold a 5.38 to 4.78 edge in yards per play.

It was a game of missed opportunities for North Texas. In the first half alone, the Mean Green threw an interception at the goal line, turned it over on downs at the seven-yard line and kicked two field goals on red zone trips. UNT also gave up a 72-yard punt return touchdown and missed a field goal, so special teams hurt the upset bid.

Fade Liberty – I don’t know what is up with the Liberty Flames, but they should be able to right the ship this week against UMass, but they’ll be in a huge favorite role and I’d be scared laying that number. After that, Liberty faces Ole Miss, Louisiana and Army to round out the season. Malik Willis left the UNT game with an injury, but did come back to lead the win. Willis has not been as explosive on the ground this season and has already taken 28 sacks compared to 19 last season in three fewer games.


Louisville 28, Boston College 14

This was a pretty ugly game for those that had the over. There were seven combined turnovers and Boston College got stopped on downs at the Louisville 35. The Cardinals fumbled at the Boston College 27-yard line and the teams traded turnovers twice. The teams also combined to go 7-of-24 on third down. Louisville ran for 331 yards and managed only 28 points.

Boston College managed just 3.9 yards per play against a Louisville defense that ranked 95th in yards per carry allowed and still ranks 95th in the nation in yards per play allowed, even after holding the Eagles to such a low number. It seemed like a good spot for the BC offense after facing two top-30 rush defenses in Clemson and NC State, but it was not.

Fade Boston College - Louisville left points on the field, which has long been the story for this team. This game should have been worse than 28-14 and this was a middle-of-the-road, pretty similar team to the Eagles. The fact that BC looked so bad in this game is concerning to me, even with the lack of good teams in the ACC. I’ll be looking to play against them going forward.

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