Is Arkansas for Real?

Plus, interesting betting notes on Bama/Ole Miss, and UC/ND

#8 ARKANSAS (4-0) @ #2 GEORGIA (4-0), NOON ET

Line: UGA -16.5, Total: 48.5

ONE THING THAT EVERY FAN NEEDS TO KNOW

  • Jefferson The Best Dual-Threat QB in SEC?

Arkansas redshirt sophomore quarterback KJ Jefferson did not come into this season with much national fanfare. But with each passing game and each unexpected Razorback victory, Jefferson continues to demonstrate that he is perhaps the top dual-threat quarterback in the SEC this season.

In terms of completion percentage, Jefferson only ranks 11th in the SEC at 59.0%. In passing yards, he ranks just 7th in the conference (844 yards). However, he is the only SEC quarterback with 800-plus passing yards and 200-plus rushing yards. He ranks 15th in FBS passing efficiency with a 170.12 rating that includes an NCAA-best 18.3 yards per completion, while averaging 7.19 yards per carry, which is 2nd in FBS among quarterbacks who have at least 30 carries (Army’s Christian Anderson averages 7.4).

TRENDS THAT EVERY SPORTS BETTOR NEEDS TO KNOW

  • Georgia Can Handle Big Numbers

While the line is unusually high (-16.5) for a Top-10 matchup, the Bulldogs have proven lately that they can cover a big number. Georgia is 4-1 against the spread in its last five games when it is favored by 15 or more points. The one “blemish” came a couple of weeks ago on the road against South Carolina, when the Bulldogs were favored by 31 points, but won just 40-13.

Arkansas, meanwhile, is hoping to turn around a disappointing trend against the other division. The Razorbacks have lost 10 of their last 11 games against teams from the SEC East, with the only win during this stretch coming last season over Tennessee. Despite that outright trend, however, the Razorbacks have actually covered in four of their last five against the East.

  • Bettors Causing Massive Line Shifts

This matchup opened with Georgia as an 18.5-point favorite but has since moved down two points. According to Action Network, a whopping 81% of the bets and 71% of the money are backing Arkansas, an explanation for why this line continues trending downward. Despite quarterback Jefferson (knee) and wide receiver Treylon Burks (foot) leaving last week’s big win over Texas A&M with injuries, both are expected to play.

  • Public Going Over in Matchup

Despite the fact this is a matchup between two of the top three defenses in the SEC, there is some sneaky money coming in on the over. It seems the public is aware that this is “supposed to be” a defensive struggle, with 58% of the bets on the under, but 63% of the total money is actually backing the over. Both of these teams have seen three of four games go over the total so far, although Arkansas’ 20-10 win over Texas A&M last Saturday was well under the total of 47.

ANALYTICAL ANALYSIS THAT EVERY SPORTS NERD NEEDS TO KNOW

  • Arkansas Defense is Elite as Well

Georgia has the No. 1 defense in the entire FBS so far, holding opponents to only 185.3 total yards per game. In fact, the Bulldogs are the only team in the nation that is allowing fewer than 200 yards this season.

But once again last Saturday, Arkansas showed that it, too, has an elite defense. Although 12th overall in the FBS in total defense (267.3 YPG allowed), the Razorbacks made life miserable for Texas A&M quarterback Zach Calzada, holding him to just 151 yards passing. But there was more to it than just the passing yards that was impressive about the Razorbacks’ pass defense.

Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom’s 3-2-6 defensive scheme allows the Razorbacks to drop eight defenders into coverage, which makes passing lanes difficult for quarterbacks to find. According to Pro Football Focus, while Calzada had time to throw (average of 3.56 seconds), there just wasn’t anyone open. His average depth of target was just 5.8 yards, and Calzada completed just two passes of 10 or more yards.

This could be interesting on Saturday when Arkansas faces Georgia QB J.T. Daniels, especially on 3rd downs. Daniels, who is second nationally in completion percentage at 76.1%, has been nearly perfect passing on 3rd downs, completing 16 of 18 pass attempts (88.9%).


#14 MICHIGAN (4-0) @ WISCONSIN (1-2), NOON ET

Line: Wisconsin -2, Total: 43.5

ONE THING THAT EVERY FAN NEEDS TO KNOW

  • Establish the Run

Despite being 1-2 and with an offense that has produced just 23 points in two games against Power 5 opponents, one area where Wisconsin has excelled has been in run defense. The Badgers not only lead the nation in rush defense, allowing only 23 rushing yards per game, but they are allowing just 1.01 yards per carry and have allowed just one run of 10 or more yards.

Despite Wisconsin’s prowess at stopping the run, expect Michigan to try and impose its offensive will through the ground game. Nearly 75% of Michigan’s offensive plays this season have been running plays. It has paid off to this point, as the Wolverines lead the Big Ten in rushing yards (290.8 YPG), rushing touchdowns (17) and runs of 10 or more yards (30).

TRENDS THAT EVERY SPORTS BETTOR NEEDS TO KNOW

  • House of Horrors

One thing the Wolverines have going for them is that Wisconsin has fallen out of the Top 25; this removes the potential of Jim Harbaugh adding to his 2-8 record vs. AP ranked opponents since becoming Michigan’s head coach in 2015.

But a major issue that is still staring the Wolverines in the face is their inability to win in Madison. Michigan has not won at Wisconsin since 2001, losing the last five matchups. And over the last four meetings at Camp Randall, the Badgers have won each by double digits with an average margin of 18 PPG. Two of the wins in this streak (2005 and 2007) featured a ranked Michigan team losing to an unranked Wisconsin squad, which will be the same situation on Saturday. In fact, Michigan has only covered the spread once while playing in Madison since 1997 – and that was over 20 years ago (1999). Since then, the Badgers have won six straight over the Wolverines ATS when at home.

  • Bettors Putting Their Money on Wisconsin and the Over

This matchup has basically remained steady since it opened with Wisconsin as a 1.5-point favorite; the line has moved up just a half-point. In terms of how the public is betting, 52% of the bets are going toward Michigan, but 56% of the money favors Wisconsin. As far as the total, the public is hammering the over; 88% of the money is on the over, which is a little unusual when you consider three of Michigan’s four games have gone under the total. Wisconsin, meanwhile, has seen two of its first three games go under the total, with the only over occurring last week against Notre Dame. And that game only went over because in the last 2½ minutes of the game, Notre Dame returned not one, but two interceptions for touchdowns.

ANALYTICAL ANALYSIS THAT EVERY SPORTS NERD NEEDS TO KNOW

  • Mertz Struggles Against the Best

Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz’s performance last Saturday against Notre Dame (4 INT, 2 returned for touchdowns) has raised a lot of concerns as to whether he is the answer for the Badgers. Wisconsin’s loss last week dropped Mertz to 0-5 in his career versus AP-ranked opponents, including 0-2 this season.

There are many areas to examine when trying to break down Mertz’s issues, but his inability to throw the ball downfield is a problem. The overall numbers for Mertz against ranked opponents – 53.9% completion percentage, 2 TD passes, 11 interceptions – are obviously poor. But when you examine how little he throws the ball downfield, his numbers look even worse.

Mertz is averaging just 5.4 yards per pass attempt in his career against ranked opponents. Of his 103 completions in these matchups, only nine (8.7%) have been 20 or more yards. To put that in perspective, this season in the Big Ten, there are three quarterbacks that have more than nine completions of 25 yards overall – Adrian Martinez, Sean Clifford and Taulia Tagovailoa.


#7 CINCINNATI (3-0) @ #9 NOTRE DAME (4-0), 2:30 ET

Line: Cincinnati -2, Total: 50

ONE THING THAT EVERY FAN NEEDS TO KNOW

  • Will Desmond Ridder Become a Household Name?

Cincinnati junior quarterback Desmond Ridder is not exactly an unknown in the college football world; he is the reigning AAC Offensive Player of the Year after all. But for Ridder to go from a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate to a serious contender, and for the Bearcats to make a strong argument for entry into the College Football Playoff, Ridder will need to be at his best Saturday.

Ridder does have some numbers that are in his favor heading into this matchup in South Bend. Last season, in four games against ranked opponents, Ridder threw just one interception in 120 pass attempts (with 6 TD passes). So far this season, the fourth quarter has been his best quarter; he’s completing nearly 70% of his passes (68.8%) with 3 TD and no interceptions in the fourth.

TRENDS THAT EVERY SPORTS BETTOR NEEDS TO KNOW

  • Notre Dame Relishes the Underdog Role

This could very well be one of those rare matchups in which Notre Dame is a betting underdog in South Bend. How rare? Eight times under Brian Kelly, the Fighting Irish have entered a game as a home underdog. The good news for Irish fans: They are 6-2 against the spread in these games, including covering the spread in each of the last five occasions they entered as a home dog. Plus, there’s some extra motivation for Brian Kelly, who will be facing his former team; a team who coached to a 12-0 regular season record in 2009 before leaving to take the Notre Dame job.

The other good news for Notre Dame fans is how it has fared when a ranked team has come to town. Since losing to Georgia in 2017, the Fighting Irish have faced seven ranked opponents at home and they have beaten all of them. Not only that, but they’ve also covered the spread in each of those seven contests.

  • Late Money Coming in on Cincinnati

This matchup opened with Cincinnati as a three-point favorite, and since then the line has dropped slightly, with the Bearcats currently -2. Notre Dame is receiving 62% of the bets from the public, but 54% of the money is on UC. Interestingly, earlier in the week, 53% of the money was on the Irish, so there is some late action coming in on Cincinnati. Keep an eye out to see if this line shifts – if money keeps coming in on the Bearcats, we could see it stretch further in their favor.

ANALYTICAL ANALYSIS THAT EVERY SPORTS NERD NEEDS TO KNOW

  • Coan’s Downfield Throwing Issues

Despite getting the win last Saturday over Wisconsin, Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan’s performance was hardly impressive.

Coan’s completion percentage was barely over 50% (15-for-29) and he averaged a season-low 5.4 yards per attempt. And although he has a 9-to-2 TD-to-INT ratio, he’s completed just 10 passes for 25 or more yards, including just one such completion against the Badgers. In fact, of his 10 completions of 25 or more yards, half of them came in Notre Dame’s season opener against Florida State.

And according to Pro Football Focus, Coan posted a 48.9 PFF passing grade on passes thrown 10 or more yards downfield and didn’t complete a single pass across his 11 pressured dropbacks. And now Coan will be facing arguably the best pass defense in the nation, as the Bearcats are holding opponents to just 44.3% completion percentage, the lowest in the country.


#12 OLE MISS (3-0) @ #1 ALABAMA (4-0), 3:30 ET

Line: Alabama -14.5, Total: 79.5

ONE THING THAT EVERY FAN NEEDS TO KNOW

  • Corral Trying to Follow Johnny Manziel’s Heisman Path

Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral has been climbing up the Heisman Trophy ladder since the start of the season. And on Saturday, on the road against the No. 1 team in the nation, Corral has a chance to cement himself as the top contender for college football’s premiere award.

That formula worked well for another quarterback out of the SEC nearly 10 years ago. Back in 2012, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel’s march to the Heisman Trophy was elevated when he and the Aggies went into Tuscaloosa in November and defeated No. 1 Alabama, the previously undefeated defending national champions.

Corral has certainly put together Heisman-worthy numbers so far. In three games, he has nine touchdown passes, five rushing touchdowns and no interceptions in 96 attempts. And no one should forget last season’s performance against the Crimson Tide, when Corral threw for 365 yards and two touchdowns as the Rebels put up 48 points against Alabama (unfortunately for Corral, his defense was a sieve and the Rebels lost 63-48).

TRENDS THAT EVERY SPORTS BETTOR NEEDS TO KNOW

  • Alabama Used to Big Spreads

This will be the 38th time in Alabama’s last 41 regular-season games it has entered as a double-digit favorite, including all five games this season.

The Crimson Tide have been enjoying life at home lately, covering the spread in each of their last six home games against FBS opponents. And the average spread in the last six home games vs FBS opponents is 25.8 points.

  • Finding the Middle Ground

After Alabama opened as a 17.5-point favorite, the line quickly moved down to -14.5, but you can once again find some books that have the Rebels at +17.5. While the public and the money initially backed the Rebels and pushed this line down, the massive shift has caused the reverse to occur. 61% of the bets remain on Ole Miss, but 63% of the money is now on Alabama. This is a classic “middle” game – bettors who were able to get Ole Miss at +17.5 likely jumped all over Alabama at -14.5 to give themselves a three-point spread with which they can hit both bets. Side note: As a head coach, former Alabama assistant Lane Kiffin (now Ole Miss’ head coach) is 2-0 against the spread vs. his old boss, Nick Saban.

ANALYTICAL ANALYSIS THAT EVERY SPORTS NERD NEEDS TO KNOW

  • Young a Perfect Passer?

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young is coming off the best game of his career. He completed over 90% of his passes (20-for-22, 90.9%) for 313 yards (14.2 yards per attempt) with 5 TD passes. He did throw an interception, but, as Pro Football Focus was quick to mention, the ball was perfectly thrown and dropped by his wide receiver.

His effort earned him Offensive Player of the Week by PFF, which pointed out Young’s 94.0 passing grade was not only the second-highest for any quarterback in the nation this season, but it was also the highest grade ever handed out by PFF for an Alabama quarterback dating back to 2014.

And according to PFF, only one of Young’s two incompletions last week was a quarterback-fault pass, which turned out to be a deep throw on a wheel route.