Week 5 Thursday games feature MTSU vs. WKU, Temple vs. Tulsa, Jacksonville State vs. Sam Houston State
A Thursday three-pack will kick off Week 5, as we get two Conference USA clashes and an American Athletic Conference matchup. College football will actually start on Wednesday next week with CUSA action, so this is a good week to look at those teams in the spotlight. The conference, much like the MAC does in October and November, is playing Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday games over the next few weeks.
Newcomers Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State are also part of the schedule, along with more prominent programs like Middle Tennessee vs. Western Kentucky and Temple vs. Tulsa. That Gamecocks/Bearkats matchup is fascinating because those are the two newcomers to the FBS ranks this season, so we can call that one the Bragging Rights Bowl.
(Odds as of September 25, 8:30 p.m. PT)
Middle Tennessee comes into this game 0-3 against FBS foes, but Alabama, Missouri, and Colorado State are not an easy slate of opponents. Western Kentucky was humiliated by Ohio State two weeks ago, but then came up short in a close game against Troy last week to fall to 2-2 after wins over South Florida and Houston Christian.
Last week’s game was a disappointment for the Blue Raiders. They were catching the Rams in a horrible spot after the devastating loss to in-state rival Colorado and had to travel out to Murfreesboro, but the visitors were way better in the second half and that made all the difference. To this point, MTSU ranks 95th nationally with 5.3 yards per play, but WKU is only 73rd with 5.63, a stark contrast to last season’s 6.71 YPP. Maybe the ‘Tops can air it out now that conference play has arrived.
Austin Reed has mostly done his part with a 9/1 TD/INT ratio and he’s only taken two sacks in four games. His completion rate is down to 63.1% after sitting 64.6%, so that isn’t a tremendous drop-off either. It just appears that Malachi Corley needs a Robin to his Batman. Corley, who caught 101 balls for 1,293 yards last season, is missing the coverage distractions he got from Daewood Davis (63-872-7) and Jaylen Hall (68-869-6) last season. Davis is recovering from a concussion on the Miami Dolphins roster and Hall exhausted his eligibility.
The Blue Raiders have had trouble moving the ball in chunks. QB Nick Vattiato has completed over 70% of his tosses, but the team has averaged 8.9 yards per reception. Jaiden Credle has a 71-yard TD run to his name, but not much more has happened in the run game and Vattiato has the most carries with 42. He’s also been sacked 10 times.
I can see why this line would be moving down with WKU’s performance to date, but this is a much weaker opponent than the last two.
Pick: Western Kentucky -5.5
Other Thursday Games
Temple Owls at Tulsa Golden Hurricane (-3.5, 54.5): It wouldn’t be a Tulsa football season without QB injuries. Braylon Braxton was hurt in the opener against Arkansas Pine-Bluff, so freshman Cardell Williams and junior Roman Fuller have been thrust into action. Tulsa has 183 runs against 99 passes with the injury to Braxton, who has a chance at coming back this week.
Temple has been waxed by two Power Five opponents and beaten Akron and Norfolk State. Tulsa is an opponent who falls somewhere in between. Temple actually grades better in both yards per play on offense and on defense, but Tulsa has played the 18th-ranked schedule and Temple has played the 110th per Jeff Sagarin. My line is shorter than the market here at -1, but I don’t have a play.
Jacksonville State Gamecocks (-6.5, 36.5) at Sam Houston State Bearkats: The Bearkats may have an FBS-worthy defense, but they still have an FCS-level offense. Through three games, SHSU has averaged 2.97 yards per play. The next lowest is 4.12 from Northern Illinois. The Bearkats do rank in the top 50 on defense, though, so they’ve been as stout as they can be with no help from the offense.
Jacksonville State has a bit of a QB controversy as longtime starter Zion Webb was replaced by Logan Smothers last week. Smothers has passed for 277 yards and rushed for 218 more, as it appears he currently gives the team a better chance to win. Grant Gunnell started last week against Houston and threw for 100 yards on 22 attempts. Keegan Shoemaker had started the previous two games.
Thus far, SHSU’s leading rusher has 43 yards with a long rush of nine yards and the team has scored one offensive touchdown. The total of 36.5 might not be low enough here.
Go here for more VSiN College Football Best Bets.