College football is back! It feels like we’ve waited a long time for action on the gridiron, but this weekend we have action once again. Even better, you don’t have to wait for the weekend. Thursday night it all gets underway. Let’s take a look at one of the first games for Thursday and I’ll offer a free pick at the end of this article.
FIU Golden Panthers vs. UCF Knights
Date/Time: Thursday, September 3, 6:00 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
College Football Betting Odds from myBookie.ag (110% Bonus Available!)
College Football Betting Favorite: UCF -14
The season kicks off with two games at 6 pm eastern on Thursday, and this is one of them. UCF has gotten some publicity in recent years, but FIU almost never gets a chance to play in a primetime spot like this one. Both of these teams will be jacked up for this contest!
Ron Turner was the head coach at Illinois from 1997 to 2004. He then spent eight years in the NFL before returning to the college ranks to coach this FIU team. He didn’t have much talent to work with, and the Golden Panthers went 1-11 in his first season. They averaged just 9.8 points per game and allowed 37.0 points per game that year. Last year’s team made a significant jump. They were 4-8 on the season. FIU scored 23 points per game and gave up 24.8 points per game last year.
FIU should be all about the running game this year. Anthon Samuel and Alex Gardner each had 582 yards rushing last year. Samuel was a very good back at Bowling Green a few years ago. Gardner was a true freshman last year. Look for Gardner to get the bulk of the carries, as the coaching staff believes he has the higher upside. Alex McGough only completed 50.4 percent of his passes last year, but he has a freshman. I’m not expecting big things from this passing game, but they are at least better than last year. The Golden Panthers defense returns eight starters from a year ago, and they will be counted on to slow down a UCF team that put up 38 points on them two years ago.
George O’Leary’s UCF Knights went 12-1 and upset Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl two years ago. Last year, they were 9-4 and lost to NC State in the St. Petersburg Bowl. The offense took a big step back without Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson. Justin Holman completed 56.9 percent of his passes last year. Holman does a nice job keeping plays alive, but he has to minimize the turnovers better than he did last season. UCF lost their top four receivers from last year, so they are definitely lacking playmakers on the outside. William Stanback returns as the team’s top rusher, but they need more production from the running game. UCF only averaged 128 yards per game on the ground last year.
There’s no doubt that UCF’s strongest unit is their defensive front. The Knight only allowed 3.2 yards per carry last year. They also sacked the opposing quarterback 36 times. I think Central Florida’s defensive front will once again be the best in the AAC. The secondary is a question mark for UCF with a bunch of freshman and sophomores stepping into bigger roles this year. This group isn’t likely to be tested all that much in this game, but they will be later in the season when they play against some good passing attacks inside the American Athletic Conference.
FIU vs. UCF Free Pick: UCF -14
A very small play on UCF at -14 for me here. The Knights have a lot more strength in the trenches, and I think that should prove to be the difference. Note- I have a premium play on the total in this one. It is my CFB Opening Night KNOCKOUT selection! Great way to start the season out!
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