Following a thrilling Week 1, we now head into Week 2 of the 2021 college football season with plenty of variables to consider. Although it was fun to finally get a sense of what these teams will look like on the field this year, it is important to remember to tread lightly when making conclusions off such early results. It can be tempting, but these were just one-game sample sizes.
I've incorporated the Week 1 data into my preseason priors, although results do not tip the scales extremely significantly in my model, so these projections still rely quite heavily on preseason priors. The model is sitting at a 13.95 mean absolute error on all spread projections after Week 1. That number would ideally get below 13 by the end of the season, but the early results have been good for the most part.
With that in mind, these are my biggest edges for spread picks in Week 2.
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Troy Trojans (+6) vs. Liberty Flames
Projection: Troy +1.9
Troy will be a tough test for a Liberty team that ranked dead last in strength of schedule in 2020, per my ratings. There aren’t a ton of takeaways for either team after Week 1, considering they both handled FCS opponents with ease, but Troy has what it takes to keep this one close with efficient units on both sides of the ball.
The Trojans' defense ranked 15th in PFF team grade, fielding a ninth-ranked pass-rushing unit, as well. Troy returns almost everyone from last year’s unit, as well, including all players who generated more than one sack and 86% of the team’s total sacks from 2020. Liberty did not play a single top-50 pass-rushing unit by PFF grade last year until the bowl game versus Coastal Carolina, where it allowed 13 pressures on 41 dropbacks. Flames quarterback Malik Willis has the mobility to evade pressure, but Troy could have him under duress here.
On the other side, Troy should be able to find some success against a Liberty defense that was largely untested last season. The Trojans weren’t an explosive team in 2020, but they ranked in the top 50 in terms of play success rate and drive success rate. Quarterback Gunnar Watson played well for the most part last season but was beat out by Missouri transfer Taylor Powell this offseason. Liberty’s run defense was a noticeable weakness last year, and although Troy’s run game did not light the world on fire, it will be interesting to see if the Trojans can consistently find chunk plays on the ground.
PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.
Army Black Knights (-4.5) vs. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Projection: Army -9.8
Army put together one of the more impressive performances in Week 1, notching a 43-10 win against what looked like a solid Georgia State team. In terms of expected points added (EPA) per play, the Black Knights thoroughly dominated the Panthers (.330 to -.389). The defense allowed just 48 yards on 28 carries and held Georgia State quarterback Cornelius Brown to a 12-of-20 performance for 129 yards and an interception. Army gets its first home game of the season in Week 2, with Western Kentucky’s brand new offense coming to town.
The Hilltoppers made headlines after scoring 59 points on UT-Martin in quarterback Bailey Zappe’s first game with the team, as he averaged 12.1 yards per attempt with seven touchdowns. Both teams are riding high, but Army could have an edge if Western Kentucky continues to rely on explosive plays. Despite the 59-point performance, the Hilltoppers’ offense had a success rate of just 43%, which was actually lower than their opponent's mark.
Those explosive shots likely won’t be as frequent against an Army defense that is coming off a dominant performance. The Black Knights' triple-option offense should also have a good day against a run defense that ranked 81st in the nation last year in PFF grade.
Ball State Cardinals (+22.5) @ Penn State Nittany Lions
Projection: Ball State +16.7
Penn State squeaked out a win over Wisconsin in Week 1 despite a 28% offensive success rate, which was one of the worst marks of the weekend. Turnovers played a major role in the win, with the Nittany Lions coming out on top in that aspect, 3-0. Penn State also capitalized on a few explosive plays.