The first full week of the college football season is in the books. So it's not easy turning my attention to Week 2 after processing so many mind-blowing results. First, flipping back and forth between Iowa's 7-3 rock fight and the 62-point fourth quarter in Appalachian State had me feeling like I was watching two different sports. Then, it felt surreal seeing the Seminoles spoil Brian Kelly's LSU debut with an improbable blocked extra point after an intense 99-yard Tigers touchdown drive. Finally, Clemson closed the weekend with a much-needed cover, but it's going to take a lot to get bettors back to the window to back them as big favorites again.
After all the madness, finding the balance between making proper adjustments without overreacting can be a real challenge. One of my approaches early in the season is to target teams I previously bet on in some capacity. Some edges might stick out earlier in the week based on your familiarity with the team. For me, that team is Illinois. Not only did I benefit from the Illini having two weeks of data from playing Week 0, but I previously bet them both weeks. I played the total against Wyoming and backed them as 3-point underdogs against Indiana. They ended up pushing in a three-point loss, but it was a game they had plenty of chances to win. Regardless of the result, I am confident I have a pretty good read on them. Here's how I plan on turning that advantage into a profit this weekend.
Virginia (+4.5) at Illinois
One of the intriguing developments of the offseason was Bret Bielema's desire to change Illinois' offensive identity. New coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. was brought in from UTSA to increase tempo and pace. There have been mixed results through two weeks. The offense looked impressive in scoring 38 points in the opener, but it was against a Wyoming defense that lost a significant amount of returning production. The following week at Indiana, QB Tommy DeVito struggled with accuracy as the offense continued to shoot itself in the foot. Losing the turnover battle 4-2 also played a critical role in the Illini's three-point loss. Illinois is running plays at the fourth-highest clip in the county (85.5 per game), but it needs more efficient play at quarterback if it's going to translate in the win column.
Virginia's secret to success isn't much of a secret at all. It has to outscore its opponent because its defense struggles at all three levels. The Cavaliers ranked 123rd at stopping the run and allowed 35 explosive plays of 30-plus yards (115th among FBS defenses). As poor as they are on defense, QB Brennan Armstrong makes up for it with this left arm. Armstrong is coming off a record-setting season where he threw for over 4,400 yards and 31 touchdowns. The offense started right where it left off in the opener against Richmond. After punting on the first drive, Virginia scored four straight touchdowns to build a 28-10 lead at halftime.
Armstrong is going to have his way with the Fighting Illini's secondary. This a big jump in the quality of quarterback they saw in the first two games. Indiana had eight games last season where they were held to 15 or fewer points, while Virginia had one of the most explosive passing games in the country. I see this as a back-and-forth battle where both offenses are marching down the field at will. If Illinois continues to play fast, it will only produce the type of game Virginia needs to stay competitive: a crazy shootout where Armstrong can thrive as the equalizer.
The more plays Illinois runs, the less confident I am it can protect the football. And turnovers against an explosive offense are a surefire way for favorites to lose games they are supposed to win. Illinois' last five possessions against Indiana included a turnover on downs, two fumbles and an interception. Armstong is the type of quarterback who will turn those mistakes into seven points every time. The over is worth a look if you are considering the total, but I am even more confident the Cavaliers have the firepower to keep this game close. I bet Virginia +4.5, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Cavs pull off the upset.
Stats provided by cfbstats.com.