Tread lightly early in year

It’s great to be back at Gaming Today for another college football season writaing the Inside The Lines column every week.

This is a unique and challenging season unlike anything we’ve seen before because of COVID-19. Some conferences aren’t even playing football this month. Some are. Some teams have had outbreaks of the virus already among players. Some haven’t. It’s a lot to take in and your handicapping strategies have no choice but to be altered to a certain degree because of the times we are living in right now.

The biggest thing I’ve noticed in just one week of college football action with a limited number of games played was the fact the lack of a full camp and practice sessions really impaired these teams and it showed up a lot more on the offensive side of the football.

There were five FBS matchups taking place last week in college football and the under was 4-1 in those games with BYU-Navy being the only game to cash an Over ticket. The offenses struggled with chemistry and cohesion for extended stretches and you could tell the rhythm and timing on passing routes in particular between quarterbacks and wide receivers wasn’t there for much of the time. It’s one of the biggest takeaways I had from the action we saw last week.

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This upcoming week will once again feature plenty of teams playing their first game of the season, but also some teams playing their second game against teams that haven’t played yet. Will the teams that played last week have an edge over the teams playing their first game with those squads having a game already under their belt? That will be an interesting factor to monitor as we go into this week’s slate of college football games.

I’m treading cautiously early in the college football season with my personal wager amounts and I suggest to you doing the same.

Here are my picks for this week:

Saturday

Syracuse at North Carolina, Total 65: North Carolina’s offense should be dynamic and explosive this year with QB Sam Howell returning along with a slew of skill position weapons and a very experienced and strong offensive line.

Syracuse has four starters back on the offensive line which can’t play any worse than last season and Tommy DeVito is back for his second year as the starting QB. The defense has a solid secondary but a very suspect pass rush and that could be a problem against UNC. Combine that with Syracuse breakneck pace and tempo under head coach Dino Babers and we should see plenty of points in this game. OVER

Tulane -9 at South Alabama: South Alabama got their season started with a bang last week winning outright as 15-point underdogs by a score of 32-21 on the road against Southern Miss. The Jaguars are an improved team with dual threat QB Desmond Trotter leading a better offense and the defense was solid in last week’s win.

However, South Alabama was as high as +15 in that game and they are only single-digit underdogs here against a Tulane squad that to me is better than Southern Miss. The Green Wave don’t have Justin McMillan under center anymore but Keon Howard is a senior QB that’s ready to step in and has the same dual threat ability as his predecessor and the Tulane pass rush along the defensive line should be good again this year and wreak more havoc for South Alabama than Southern Miss did. TULANE

Western Kentucky at Louisville -11.5: Louisville took massive strides forward last season in the first year for head coach Scott Satterfield. The Cardinals were a dismal 2-10 SU, 1-11 ATS two seasons ago. Louisville went 8-5 SU and ATS including a bowl victory against Mississippi State. It was a fantastic turnaround and I think Louisville could be even better this season. They return much of their offense, including QB Micale Cunningham, RB Javian Hawkins and WR Chatarius Atwell.

Western Kentucky must replace their starting QB from last season. Their defense was strong a year ago but it took a few hits in terms of loss of production and shouldn’t be as good this season. Plus, this Louisville offense will be one of the best offenses they’ve faced in the past year. Louisville beat Western Kentucky 38-21 last season and I think they win and cover in this game as well. LOUISVILLE