College football’s week zero is now less than two days away, and fall camps for the Mountain West teams who will compete in the August 27 slate of games are wrapped up. While the depth charts will continue to shake out over the next few weeks, it is a great time to dive into the betting opportunities that exist for these games.
Betting on the first games of the season can be seen as a double-edged sword: On one hand, there can be a lot of shakeup through player attrition or coaching changes (hello Nevada and Hawaii), which makes it difficult to use any type of historical data to factor into your wagers.
On the other hand – the fog of uncertainty that the general public sees can be a huge advantage to bettors with close knowledge of the team. Those close to Utah State last year, for example, were keen to bet the over 3.5 on the season win total based on observations from fall camp and the clear impact transfers would have on the field.
So here at Mountain West Connection, each week this season I will dive into the betting trends and data around each Mountain West matchup, and help identify whether there are ripe opportunities for the Mountain West fan to make some money. With odds and trends provided by DraftKings, I will share my perspective, call out the week’s best bets, and keep track of the success of my recommendations over the course of the season.
Before we dive in, though, it is important to note that this analysis is for informational purposes only and only you are responsible for any wagers you ultimately place. All odds current as of the evening of 8/22 and subject to change.
Please note: DraftKings does not provide betting lines for games against FCS teams (for example, UNLV vs. Idaho State)
Nevada (-9 / -330) @ New Mexico State (+9 / +275), o/u 50.5
As I mentioned, first games can be hard to predict when new coaches are helming a program, and this game gives us two new head coaches, with Ken Wilson leading the Wolf Pack and Jerry Kill taking over a New Mexico State program that has had almost everything going against it for seemingly two decades now.
But things are looking up in Las Cruces, and Jerry Kill is a terrific coach, and will look to implement a strong running offense that will get a good opportunity to test itself against a Nevada defense that lost a lot of talent.
Both programs were respectable against the point spread last season (8-5 for Nevada, 7-5 for NMSU), but this is one of those areas where it is hard to put a lot of faith in recent history given the personnel turnover.
What I love, though, is the Over 50.5. And when I say this let me disclose that I originally wrote this column two weeks ago when the o/u was at 55, and I loved it then. The game total has steadily dropped so if it remains in the 50.5-52.5 area, I would recommend pouncing on it. I think a lot of points will be scored in this game.
For what it is worth, these two teams met in Reno last season with Nevada winning 55-28. New Mexico State covered the 28.5 spread and the game total sailed over the line of 65.
I mentioned I originally wrote this two weeks ago and have updated with the latest odds. The game line has moved in Nevada’s favor over the last 14 days, dropping from Nevada -11 to -9. My recommendation is the stay off the line at this point. I liked NMSU +11 as a casual play, but at +9, it is best to be avoided by any except the most aggressive player.
THE PICK: Over 50.5 - 2 units
UConn (+27 / +1400) @ Utah State (-27 / -3500) o/u 60
UConn has been a beyond awful program for a decade now, and the hope in Storrs is that hiring Jim Mora Jr. as head coach will defibrillate the program whose sole win last season was a six-point victory over Yale.
Utah State, meanwhile, enters the 2022 season with extremely high expectations for themselves after a magical 11-3 season, which included its first-ever Mountain West Championship, a bowl win over Oregon State, and another long-overdue road win against a Power 5 team in the season opener at Washington State.
In addition to finding a lot of success on the field last season, the Aggies provided those who bet on them a high return, going 10-4 ATS. Utah State may see such favorable spreads from bookmakers this season though given last year’s impressive performance, and the first evidence we see of that is the 28-points they’ll be asked to cover on what should be a brutally hot Saturday afternoon in Logan.
There hasn’t been much line movement in this contest with the total only dropping from 60.5 to 60 and the line moving from 28 to 27.
It’s a virtual guarantee that Utah State will win this game but last season’s lack of dominance at home last season (3-3 record, with losses to BYU, Boise State and Wyoming, a two-point squeaker over Colorado State and 20- and 24-point wins over Hawaii and North Dakota respectively) gives me pause about recommending touching the Aggies -27.
Massey Ratings has this game pegged as a 35-17 win for Utah State, reinforcing my fear of the spread. There is likely some value in the under, with 60.5 being the highest game total of Week Zero. If you need to have money on this game to feel an interest, the under is the way to go. My original recommendation here was going to be a small parlay of UConn +28 and Over 60.5, but the uncertainty of the UConn QB situation (they will not name a starter until gametime), some drama with the Huskies’ defensive coordinator taking a leave of absence, and the general vibe out of Logan that the Aggies are locked in has me recommending to not bet against the Aggies.
If you must wager on this game, take the over and cheer for a rout.
THE PICK: Over 60 - 1 unit
Wyoming (+10 / +340) @ Illinois (-10 / -425) o/u 44
Most Mountain West fans know that Wyoming was hit hard by the Transfer Portal on both sides of the ball, so opening the 2022 campaign on the road as underdogs doesn’t give a lot of hope of things getting off to a happy start, but will there be an opportunity to emotionally hedge the game for Cowboy fans?
Let’s start with the game total, which at 44 is the lowest game total – by 6.5 points – of the seven bettable games on DraftKings’ board. Why is the total so low? First, Illinois’s offense is bad, coming off a 2021 season where they were 115th in the nation in total scoring and 112th in total offense. Wyoming, on the flip side, has lots of uncertainty with new personnel, having lost offensive weapons Isaiah Neyor and Xazavian Valladay to the Portal, and with former Utah State backup QB Andrew Peasley leading the charge.
This is Brett Bielema’s second year at the helm of Illinois and we can expect to see some improvement from his squad, so I have little doubt that Illinois will win this game, and am reasonably confident they will cover the spread of 10. If you see the spread drop below 10, I recommend taking a good look at Illinois. One thing to note is that even with last year’s disappointing season, Illinois was 8-4 ATS (versus Wyoming’s 5-7-1 record.)
As for the game total – I actually like under 44. I’ve always felt that this low game totals are thrown out to bettors like candy and the bookmakers want to tempt people to believe the total is so low, it only makes sense to bet the over. You will see two teams struggle to score in this game and if you’re brave enough to bet the under, you will be rewarded.
THE PICK: Under 44 - 1 unit
Vanderbilt (-8.5 / -315) @ Hawaii (+8.5 / +260) o/u 54
With Rainbow Warrior QB legend Timmy Chang taking over the Hawaii program, things can only be looking up for a team that has been gutted on the islands. Will Coach Change get things off to an exciting start by defeating an SEC team?
When that SEC team is Vanderbilt, there’s a chance, and a chance is all Hawaii needs.
If Hawaii is to win, it will be the offense that gets the job done as last year’s conference-worst defense will continue to have a lot of questions. Assuming Brayden Schager leads the Hawaii offense, he will have some good targets available to him and the passing game – which there will be a lot of – should be a highlight for Hawaii, assuming the offensive line gels and gives the QB time to let plays develop.
Vanderbilt … listen, this is just flat out a brutal bit of traveling for a team that went 2-10 last year (a two-point win over an awful UConn team and a three-point win as six-point underdogs at Colorado State).
I don’t quite understand how Hawaii is such a big underdog here other than the turmoil surrounding the program – turmoil that I think a lot of us who follow the Mountain West believe that Timmy Chang will expedite getting the program through.
With Hawaii, throw last year’s ATS stats out the window (they were 6-6) and get ready to have some fun. I think Hawaii will win this game outright, so if you’re looking to more than double your money before the season even gets going, you have the +260 moneyline available to you. But with that said, Hawaii +6.5 feels like a great wager, and I was delighted to see that the Ken Massey ratings agree, with Hawaii predicted as a 30-28 winner in the Massey system. There’s a lot of value here and I recommend going two units on the Rainbow Warriors. (Note: When I originally wrote the column, I loved Hawaii at +6.5, and the line moved between Tuesday and Thursday to +8.5. Hammer it.)
THE PICK: Hawaii +8.5 - 2 units
Part of the fun of this column this season will be tracking my success. If I fare poorly, you can rest assured I will retire from giving advice.
Here is this week’s betting slip: