I certainly hope that you are enjoying the write-ups because the gambling gods are not amused. The Best Bet columns are off to an 0-3 start, which turns “Best Bet” into an oxymoron, unless the best bet is to fade them. If that’s the case, congratulations on the 3-0 start! The work is still being done weekly and we’ll get things turned around here quickly. We’ve tried underdogs in all three weeks so far, so it’s time to bust out the sidewalk chalk and draw up a winner.
Idaho vs. UNLV College Football Preview
Date/Time: Saturday September 23, 9:00 p.m. ET
TV: Local TV? Mountain West TV?
College Football Betting Odds from 5Dimes
College Football Betting Favorite: UNLV -15
Early bettors got a real gift on this number when it was below two touchdowns, but it now sits in that dead zone between 14 and 17. Even though the sun probably shines 50 days a year in Moscow, Idaho, the Vandals are a member of the Sun Belt Conference. They open up conference play at the Kibbie Dome next week, but they have to make a trip to Sin City first. The Vandals are 1-2 this season, but they’ve given up 115 points to the two FBS teams that they have played, so they are 0-3 against the spread. UNLV started out the season 2-0 ATS, but a trip to Mount Pleasant, Michigan proved anything but pleasant, as they failed to cover getting +12. They are 2-1 and four wins away from maybe just their second bowl game since 2000.
For the third straight week, Idaho will play away from home. None of the three roadies have been tough trips, but Las Vegas isn’t always a business trip. There are plenty of distractions, especially for a football team that has no bowl prospects and has won six games over the last five-plus seasons. Matt Linehan has only completed 54.8 percent of his passes and the Vandals are barely averaging 10 yards per catch. Last year’s top target, Dezmon Epps, is gone, but senior Deon Watson has 10 catches for 170 yards. The running game behind Aaron Duckworth has looked okay, but the Vandals have scored 13.3 points per game and have gained just 310.7 yards per game. Things went a lot better for Paul Petrino’s team last season, but the top skill players at RB and WR both left.
Defensively, Idaho has never been very good. They have only allowed less than 30 points per game once in the last seven seasons. The Vandals returned six starters from last year’s defense that allowed an obscene 42.1 points per game and 485 yards per game. So far, the song remains the same, as the Vandals have allowed 44 points and 430.3 yards per game. They’ve given up seven yards per play to FBS offenses. UNLV’s offense clearly isn’t the same as Washington or Washington State, but this is still a defense with some major holes and they are exploited week after week.
Credit the Rebels for thinking outside the box to hire Bishop Gorman High School head coach Tony Sanchez prior to last season. UNLV only improved by one game, but they improved by a touchdown per game on offense and nearly five points per game on defense. After having some quarterback questions throughout the 2015 season, the picture cleared up quite a bit with Johnny Stanton’s transfer from Nebraska. So far, Stanton hasn’t been all that impressive, with a 44.4 percent completion percentage and a 5/4 TD/INT ratio, but the Rebels played at UCLA and also at Central Michigan. Stanton has to develop a rapport with his wide receivers, including Devonte Boyd, one of the top Group of 5 WRs in the country. The running game is in good hands with true sophomore Lexington Thomas and his 6.2 yards per carry. Stanton is a dual-threat guy and he has 22 carries for 100 yards. Of the five rushers for UNLV, four have touchdowns and all five have averaged 4.5 yards per carry or better.
Kent Baer was a good hire as defensive coordinator because he’s an experienced guy and it’s clear the impact that he has had on this defense so far. Even though the Rebels have struggled in the road games, they improved drastically last season after allowing 513 yards per game in 2014. Eight starters came back for Baer’s second year, so there should be a much better understanding of the scheme. Cooper Rush and Josh Rosen are pretty good quarterbacks, so their performances shouldn’t bother UNLV backers all that much. Matt Linehan isn’t like them, nor does he have the same weapons.
Burke’s Week 4 Best Bet: UNLV -15
We’ve tried chalk. We’ve tried situation. We’ve tried trend. Let’s just try taking the much better team in a game that it can win and win big. For UNLV, games like this don’t come around often, particularly against FBS competition, as fringy as Idaho is in terms of being FBS. UNLV won’t even have to throw a pass if they don’t want to here, as Stanton, Thomas, and the stable of backs can run wild on the Vandals. With that, we’ll lay it and play it in the desert.