After enjoying a Week 0 appetizer, college football fans — and betting enthusiasts — have a full slate of games coming this weekend.
There will be plenty of opportunities for upsets, with 10 Group of Five programs set to square off against ranked Power Five opponents. The college football odds for some of these games don’t seem to give much of a chance to the underdog, with Alabama (-41.5 vs. Utah State), Michigan (-30.5 vs. Colorado State), and USC (-32.5 vs. Rice) all being favored by more than four touchdowns. However, there are several contests that are shaping up to be competitive matchups.
Here’s a look at the Group of Five Underdog of the Week, plus a few honorable mentions:
No. 23 Cincinnati (spread: +6.5, money line: +190) at No. 19 Arkansas
Cincinnati’s showdown with Arkansas marks one of only three top 25 matchups in Week 1, and there are plenty of storylines to follow on both sides.
The Bearcats have to replace a handful of key contributors from last season’s historic run to the College Football Playoff, including four-year starter and two-time AAC Offensive Player of the Year Desmond Ridder — whose 44 wins are the third-most by a quarterback in FBS history — and 2021 consensus All-American and AAC Defensive Player of the Year Sauce Gardner. The Razorbacks, meanwhile, will be looking to prove that their six-win improvement in Year 2 under Sam Pittman wasn’t a fluke.
Cincinnati returns its entire offensive line — which includes three first-team all-conference picks — as well as a pair of preseason Butkus Award watch list honorees in brothers Deshawn Pace and Ivan Pace Jr. The secondary has a few question marks, but the defensive front should be solid, and this group’s play will be pivotal against an Arkansas offensive line that ranked fifth in PFF’s preseason rankings.
Bearcats coach Luke Fickell declined to name a starting quarterback this week, but either sophomore Evan Prater or senior Ben Bryant will take the first snaps. Bryant is the more seasoned of the two, throwing for 3,121 yards, 14 touchdowns, and seven interceptions while completing 68.4% of his passes last year at Eastern Michigan. However, Prater is a former Ohio Mr. Football recipient who became one of the highest-touted Group of Five signees in recent memory when he made his commitment official in December 2019.
Boise State (spread: +2.5, money line: +120) at Oregon State
Depending on where the money comes in, this one has the potential to be close to a pick ‘em by kickoff. The Broncos currently hold the No. 4 spot in our Group of Five Power Poll and have a chance to climb even higher with a win over an Oregon State team that hasn’t finished better than 7-6 since 2012. Boise State has a wealth of returners on both sides of the ball and is 11 spots higher than the Beavers at No. 47 in ESPN’s Football Power Index.
Hawaii (spread: +16.5, money line: +450) at Western Kentucky
While it’s tough to feel confident in the Rainbow Warriors cashing a money line ticket, given last week’s 63-10 blowout loss at the hands of Vanderbilt, Western Kentucky didn’t exactly inspire optimism in its first test of 2022. A 31.5-point favorite at kickoff, the Hilltoppers struggled to beat an Austin Peay team that received just one vote in the preseason FCS coaches poll. A pick-six late in the first half gave WKU the cushion it needed to remain ahead the rest of the way, but it still required a field goal with 3:18 remaining to seal a 38-27 victory.
Memphis (spread: +15.5, money line: +450) at Mississippi State
The Tigers are another underdog that might be a stretch to win outright but is worth consideration on the spread. In addition to having ample firepower on the offensive side of the ball, Memphis defeated the Bulldogs 31-29 when the two teams met last fall. Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach also has a track record of struggling in early-season games against Group of Five and FCS opponents, beating a Louisiana Tech team that finished 3-9 by just one point in last year’s opener and losing to Boise State, Nevada, Portland State, and Eastern Washington during his time at Washington State.