News & Analysis

College Football Betting: Early look at Week 3 based on PFF's predictive models

We are officially into the full swing of the 2020 college football season, as Week 3 brings us 24 games between Friday and Saturday, with several Big 12 and ACC schools continuing their schedule.

One exercise that we have incorporated into our betting pieces is an understanding of slate-level uncertainty for each week. The approach utilized a measure called Shannon entropy or information theory. This theory is used to quantify information occurring in an event and a variable — entropy — that is calculated using probability. Taking this approach, we can quantify how predictable a particular game (or slate of games) is by taking the probability assigned by the betting markets through moneyline probabilities.

Week 3 has the highest entropy through the first three weeks, which means we finally have some quality, closely contested matchups. Our entropy number sits right along the third quartile when comparing it from 2014 to present, making this week reasonably uncertain as to who is going to win based on moneyline probabilities.

The college football written plays went 3-0 last week, bringing us to 4-1 for the 2020 season. Including last year's results, we are now 48-44-1 on written college football picks.

NCAA Greenline had a quality week in its own right last week, going 6-4 on plays with a closing-line edge greater than zero, but the winners included a moneyline bet that would have netted four units.

It is worthwhile to monitor  Greenline, as our projections are constantly updated with the changing numbers from the betting market. Ten bets had an edge on the opening line, but that disappeared for four of those 10 by the time kickoff occurred on Saturday. Getting the added value on line movement is beneficial to all sports bettors, as plays consistently come in and out of value according to PFF's predictive models. Let's dive into the best college football bets of Week 3, utilizing these models as a guide.

Editor's note: PFF's NFL & NCAA Betting Dashboards (PFF Greenline) offer PFF-exclusive insight on moneyline, against the spread and over/under picks for every NFL and FBS game in 2020. Subscribe to PFF ELITE to get access.

Nov 30, 2019; Stillwater, OK, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys running back Chuba Hubbard (30) runs the ball against the Oklahoma Sooners during the first quarter at Boone Pickens Stadium. Credit: Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Tulsa @ Oklahoma State

This spread opened at 22 but has bumped out a full point for the Cowboys.

Tulsa is in the middle of the pack among Group of Five schools, ranking 95th in the FBS in Elo rating while Oklahoma State sits 34th. And while both defenses are just barely in the top half of the FBS according to our opponent-adjusted grades, Tulsa actually as the edge on the defensive side of the ball.

Tulsa is poor offensively and ranks 99th in our opponent-adjusted grades, though they do have continuity on their side with Zach Smith returning for his senior season. Smith posted a 90.0 PFF passing grade on throws from a clean pocket last season but actually had more turnover-worthy plays than big-time throws in all dropback situations. His clean vs. pressure split is one of the most dramatic differences you will see, which isn't surprising given that he was put under pressure on 35% of his dropbacks in 2019.

The positive for Smith is that Oklahoma State struggled to apply pressure in 2019, posting a 30.2% pressure rate that ranked 74th in the FBS. How often they can make Smith feel uncomfortable will go a long way toward determining if they can cover the three-touchdown spread.

One of the better betting spots can be found on the total, which has held steady since the open. An influx of cash has hit the under despite a higher percentage of tickets being printed on the over. Sixty-five is the eighth-most-likely total number for an NCAA game to fall on, so this total should hold at the current price unless there is significant cash on the downside.

The setup plays well to the under, with both teams beginning their season with this matchup. Oklahoma State has a lot of offensive firepower returning but should have a run-heavy approach — they ran on 54% of offensive snaps last season and return one of the best running backs in the country in Chuba Hubbard.

Oklahoma State has the ability to run out the clock quickly with their dominant running game, so in a matchup where they could easily be in garbage time, this is a situation to buy into the under before it cuts through a key number and no longer offers value.

Pick: Under 65.5

UCF @ Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech shocked part of Florida last weekend by pulling off the road upset as 13-point dogs to Florida State. It was an ugly game that finished more than 20 points under the pregame total. Georgia Tech had a 51% run-to-pass split in 2019 but dropped that percentage to 44.5% in their first game of 2020.

This is UCF's first game of 2020, and our Elo rankings have them sitting at 29th in the country. The key here, though, is going to be Georgia Tech's 122nd-ranked offense going up against UCF's 31st-ranked defense.

If Georgia Tech avoids costly turnovers in their end of the field, then this total should have a tough time seeing the over. Georgia Tech was able to circumvent one of the best pass-rushers in the FBS last week and should look to slow the pace of play down as 7-point home dogs. This is no longer the triple-option team of years prior, but the ball-control mentality is lingering well past the change in the offensive scheme.

This is an inflated number due to UCF's high-octane offense, but if they need any time to shake off the rust, it should put this total perfectly on pace for the under as we look to continue taking advantage of slow starts to the 2020 season.

Pick: Under 61.5

Nov 21, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack quarterback Devin Leary (13) looks for an open receiver against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the first half at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Wake Forest @ North Carolina State

It was a better-than-expected start to the season for Wake Forest, who covered at home against the No. 1 team in the country.

They now travel to Raleigh as 2.5-point dogs to the 12th-best team in the ACC, according to our Elo ranking. Wake Forest actually sits two spots ahead of the Wolfpack in our ACC Elo standings and seem to have the attention of the betting market with the spread moving toward the Demon Deacons since the open. Getting off the +3 is a key number to move from, with 63% of the cash but a split-ticket percentage siding with Wake Forest. This is a line that no longer offers much value on the spread.

The total, by comparison, is a situation that our predictive models like. It has been on the move since the open, dropping a full point from the 56.5 initial print. It now sits at 55.5, with a move to 55 the highest value number for a total to land on.

As long as it stays above this threshold, it should be playable to the under from a Greenline perspective. Neither defense is a high-performing unit, with NC State the worst-ranked defense according to our opponent-adjusted grades while Wake Forest isn't far behind at 10th in the ACC.

This would typically make this play a lean toward the over, but both offenses appear better on paper than in reality — NC State generated the third-worst EPA per pass play in the ACC in 2019 while Wake Forest shouldn't come close to reaching the efficiency numbers they saw last season.

Pick: Under 55.5

Betting Featured Tools

  • PFF predictions and real time spread, moneyline and over/under lines for each NFL game.

    Available with

    Elite
  • PFF's Player Props Tool reveals betting opportunities within player prop markets.

    Available with

    Elite
  • PFFELO Ratings are PFF’s NFL power rankings based on weekly player grades in each facet of play. These power rankings are adjusted based on coach, quarterback and the market each season.

    Available with

    Edge
  • PFF predictions and real time spread, moneyline and over/under lines for each NCAA game.

    Available with

    Elite CFB Prem Stats+
Pro Subscriptions

Unlock NFL Player Grades, Fantasy & NFL Draft

$9.99 / mo
$39.99 / yr

Unlock Premium Stats, PFF Greenline & DFS

$34.99 / mo
$199.99 / yr
College Subscriptions

Unlock College Player Grades and Preview Magazine

$7.99 / mo
$27.99 / yr

Unlock NCAA Premium Stats & PFF Greenline NCAA

$29.99 / mo
$119.99 / yr