College Football Betting Guide: Saturday 9/4/21

The college football season opens in earnest this Saturday with five matchups between ranked teams. Georgia and Clemson clash in what should be the best game of the week and a potential playoff preview. Big Ten fans get two consecutive ranked matchups that will answer many questions about the conference’s hierarchy (behind Ohio State) this season. After a shortened season last year due to COVID-19 with no meaningful non-conference games, this weekend totally makes up for it.

numberFire has built comprehensive algorithms to pinpoint the bets with the highest probability of returning money, whether you are betting on the total, the spread, or the moneyline. For those new to numberFire, we use a five-star system to show which bets you should be targeting for any given game. Stars represent how much you should risk on a wager relative to what you would normally bet.

For example, if you would normally bet $110 to win $100 on a -110-spread wager, if we give a 3-star ranking, we suggest risking three times that amount: $330 to win $300. Here are the best bets for this weekend with guidance from our model.

Please note that lines are subject to change throughout the day after this article is published. Please check here to make sure you are seeing the most updated information.

Georgia Bulldogs vs. Clemson Tigers

Over 50.5 (-112): 3-Star Rating out of 5

Georgia and Clemson have arguably the two best front seven groups in the country. The Bulldogs allowed 2.4 yards per carry to opponents last season behind 340-pound nose tackle Jordan Davis, who was named to the all-SEC preseason first team. In a weaker conference, Clemson’s defensive line has three all-ACC preseason first teamers: Myles Murphy, Bryan Bresee, and Tyler Davis. It’s clear why the total for this game is as low as it is -- these defenses dominate up front.

However, both teams employ prolific offenses, too, starting at quarterback. J.T. Daniels played in Georgia’s final four games last year and threw for 1,231 yards while completing 67.2% of his passes. The Bulldogs won all four games he started, including a win over Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl. D.J. Uiagalelei started two games for Clemson while Trevor Lawrence was out due to COVID-19 protocols; the Tigers went 1-1, which included an overtime loss to Notre Dame, but he threw for 439 yards against the Irish.

Each quarterback has dangerous weapons around him, as well -- specifically running back Zamir White for Georgia and wide receiver Justyn Ross for Clemson. White rushed for 5.4 yards per carry and had 11 touchdowns last season. He was named to the all-SEC preseason second team in a conference stacked with some of the best running backs in the country. On the other hand, Ross missed all of 2020 due to injury, but he was still named to the all-ACC preseason first team. The junior receiver has 1,865 yards and 17 touchdowns during his two seasons in which he was healthy.

Both teams also have robust offensive lines to protect Daniels and Uiagalelei. Georgia’s line is better at run blocking as they finished 11th in line yards per carry last season, per Football Outsiders, while Clemson’s line is more proficient in pass protection as they finished 11th in sack rate last year.

This game will be about offense as much as defense since both teams are so well-rounded. Each offense has many potential contributors to scoring success, which is reflected in our model. We have this game projected for a total of 56.28, and our model gives the over a 66.5% chance to hit.

Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Miami Hurricanes

Over 61.5 (-110): 1-Star Rating out of 5

This matchup features just one of the best defenses in the country as opposed to the Georgia-Clemson game. Alabama is stacked at every position, every year, and it hasn’t changed this season.

Brian Robinson Jr. and John Metchie III each had important roles as the second option behind Najee Harris and DeVonta Smith, respectively, and they’ll be ready to take the spotlight starting with the opener against Miami. The Tide’s offensive line will likely be the most valuable unit on the offensive side of the football; tackle Evan Neal is one of the top NFL prospects at his position and guard Emil Ekiyor Jr. joins him amongst the Alabama linemen that were selected to the all-SEC preseason teams.

The Tide’s weakest point on offense is probably their quarterback, Bryce Young, who is a five-star prospect starting in his second season after backing up Mac Jones last year. Alabama fans should expect Young to have a great season, so that’s not a knock on him to say he’s the weakest part of the offense; it’s more of a testament to how loaded Saban’s squad is.

Miami’s strengths lie at the quarterback and receiver positions. Houston transfer D’Eriq King is primed for a great campaign after recovering from a knee injury this offseason. The Hurricanes’ receiving corps lost only tight end Brevin Jordan to the NFL and adds Oklahoma transfer Charleston Rambo. Miami’s passing attack was fifth in the conference in yards per game, and due to the personnel that they return from last season, the Hurricanes can expect to improve. Obviously, Alabama is loaded on defense, too, but the Hurricanes project to have one of the better passing offenses in the country.

This total opened at 64.5, according to oddsFire, and has since moved down, which probably means a lot of money is coming in on the under. But our model takes a contrarian view on this game. According to our projections, there is a 54.3% probability that the over hits.

Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Wisconsin Badgers

Penn State +5.5 (-108): 2-Star Rating out of 5

Penn State finished with a disappointing 4-5 record last season and returns 16 starters from that team. Quarterback Sean Clifford has had his ups and downs in Happy Valley throughout his career, but his experience combined with the skill position players around him should make for a potent offense.

Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington were the top two receivers in yards for the Lions last season, and both return alongside running back Noah Cain, who averaged 5.3 yards per carry in 2019 before missing the majority of 2020 with an injury. Penn State also adds transfer running back John Lovett from Baylor and returns their leading rusher from last season, Keyvone Lee. Although the offensive line isn’t particularly deep and will feature two new starters, it will be anchored by tackle Rasheed Walker, who is amongst the top NFL offensive line prospects.

Traveling to Madison is a tough task for any team, though, especially when playing against a Wisconsin team that’s returning 17 starters. The Badgers boast a great offensive line. as usual, led by guard Logan Bruss, who is one of the best interior linemen in the conference. They’ll have a robust defense, too, spearheaded by linebacker Jack Sanborn, who was voted as one of the 10 all-Big Ten preseason team members this year.

The Lions and Badgers are both talented teams that could potentially beat out Ohio State for the Big Ten title if they earn the chance, but Penn State has the more well-rounded roster. The Nittany Lions simply have better backs and receivers than the Badgers do, and if Clifford clicks with these weapons, Penn State could potentially pull the upset.

The game is being played on Wisconsin’s turf, so it would be prudent to avoid a moneyline bet on Penn State. Instead, our model projects the Lions to cover the spread 60.2% of the time.

Indiana Hoosiers vs. Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa -3.5 (-105): 3-Star Rating out of 5

Iowa and Indiana are vastly different teams from one another, especially in how they can expect to put points on the board this season.

The Hawkeyes have one of the best running backs in the conference, Tyler Goodson, who will carry the ball behind one of the better offensive lines in the Big Ten. Goodson finished 2020 third in the Big Ten in rushing yards. The Hoosiers have the conference’s best quarterback in Michael Penix Jr., who will be throwing to one of the conference’s best receivers in Ty Fryfogle. Both Penix and Fryfogle were voted to all-Big Ten teams in 2020, and they’re hoping to help Indiana build on their 6-2 record from last season.

Linebacker Micah McFadden was a consensus all-Big Ten first teamer last season, and he’ll lead the Hoosiers' defense in their charge to contain Goodson when Iowa runs the ball. However, Indiana’s defensive line, which returns two starters and adds transfer Ryder Anderson from Mississippi, was one of the worst units in line yards per carry, according to Football Outsiders.

If Iowa can push the Hoosiers around at the line of scrimmage in the run game, McFadden’s defensive talent might not be enough to keep the Hawkeyes' offense off the field. Iowa also finished second on defense in yards allowed per game in the Big Ten last year and returns their entire secondary, which could force Penix to rely on options other than Fryfogle.

This game comes down to matchups -- Iowa has the personnel to slow down the game with their rushing attack and limit Indiana’s best offensive weapon. This is evident in our model’s projection as we give the Hawkeyes a 62.8% chance to cover.