Yes, Virginia, there is a win in September. And yes, Virginia Tech, there is a second win in September.
That may not be as catchy as the most famous newspaper editorial line in history — “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” — but Christmas may come early for the state of Virginia this weekend. Both the Cavaliers and the Hokies are short underdogs in conference matchups, and they should both win this weekend.
Betting on both is a bold move, but bold moves exist in college football odds handicapping as certainly as situational spots and backdoor covers and hooks exist, and you know that they abound and give your bets their lowest misery and highest joy.
Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no short upsets in conference matchups! It would be as dreary as if there were no student sections. There would be no home-field advantage then, no Coastal Chaos, no pitchy-pitchy woo-woos, no romance to make tolerable this gambling. We should have no enjoyment, except in tailgate beers and hot dogs. The eternal light with which college football fills the sports world would be extinguished.
Not believe in short underdogs? You might as well be an NFL fan.
Let’s bet on two short underdogs this weekend and one Group of Five upstart as the Triple Option offers Covers’ best free college football picks and predictions for Week 5.
College football Week 5 picks
Picks made on September 29. Click each pick to read full analysis.
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College football Week 5 odds, picks, and predictions
Virginia vs Boston College prediction: Virginia moneyline +146
Senior quarterback Tony Muskett is expected to return to the Cavaliers lineup, coming off an injury to his non-throwing shoulder. He should bring some maturity to Virginia’s passing offense, something gleefully lacking while freshman Anthony Colandrea started the last three games.
Colandrea is a joy. Make no mistake, he’s a delight to watch. But the reasons Colandrea amplifies every snap's entertainment value are the same reasons turning back to Muskett should raise the Cavaliers’ floor. Colandrea threw six interceptions across the last three weeks, one every 15.8 pass attempts. That was utterly unsustainable.
Let’s trust Muskett not to be as turnover-prone. Counting his years at FCS-level Monmouth, Muskett has made 24 career starts, throwing 51 touchdowns compared to just 16 interceptions. And comparing him directly to Colandrea’s greatest flaw of recent weeks, Muksett has thrown an interception every 46 career pass attempts.
But some of Colandrea’s influence could carry forward. His carefree risk-taking sparked Virginia’s offense, 63- and 75-yard touchdown passes against James Madison standing out. The Cavaliers created a feasible passing offense, albeit one they do not use terribly often and one that doesn’t succeed consistently. It adds 0.153 expected points per dropback, No. 34 in the country, even as it succeeds on only 30.6% of its dropbacks, No. 117 in the country. That discrepancy ties to explosive plays.
If some of Colandrea’s recklessness rubbed off on the offensive play calling and Muskett, while Muskett adds a bit more consistency, that passing attack could become potent, just in time to face the No. 126 passing defense in the country in terms of expected points added per dropback against.
Virginia is a 3.5-point underdog. A cautious approach would simply bet on the Cavaliers to lose by no more than a field goal. But that would give Boston College too much credit. The Eagles defense is, in the interest of not turning this column into a 2,500-word opus, bad. And it is most vulnerable to big-play touchdowns, like the ones Colandrea proved can fit into Virginia’s offense.
Against Louisville last week, Boston College gave up passing touchdowns of 42, 55 and 75 yards. If Muskett hits one or two of those, that will be enough to outpace the Eagles’ paltry offense, heavily dependent on an inconsistent rushing attack. That will be enough to more than cover the +3.5 spread. It will be enough to get the Cavaliers their first win of the season.
PICK: Virginia moneyline (+146 at FanDuel)
Pittsburgh vs Virginia Tech prediction: Virginia Tech moneyline +115
Now the Hokies. Again, a veteran quarterback looks primed to return to the lineup, Grant Wells coming off an ankle injury that cost him the last two games. Again, experience steps in, with Wells’s 36 career starts being 34 more than Baylor transfer Kyron Drones can claim, his only two coming in the last two weeks.
Unlike his Cavaliers counterpart, Wells cannot claim to be safe with the ball, having thrown 29 interceptions in his last 29 games, but he pushes the ball downfield more than Drones does, which is to say, at all. The Hokies need that, because they hardly run the ball, and they will run even less against a decent Pittsburgh rush defense.
Virginia Tech’s only hopes of success this season come through the air, and Wells gives a better chance of that success.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, may be without sixth-year quarterback Phil Jurkovec after a targeting hit at the end of last week’s first half cost him the rest of that loss to North Carolina. There has been no update on his health this week.
Jurkovec has not played well this season, but the Panthers need him. Sophomore quarterback Christian Veilleux had as many completions against the Tar Heels as he has vowels in his name, throwing two interceptions in just one half for good measure.
Pittsburgh’s rushing attack is non-existent. The offense relies on Jurkovec behind center. This spread being within a field goal suggests rather aggressively that sharps and sportsbooks expect Jurkovec to be sidelined. Logic would have projected this spread to approach six points, not hang out at -2.5 in the Panthers’ favor.
Pittsburgh has picked off just one pass this season, so Wells’s greatest weakness should be inapplicable Saturday, about as inapplicable as the Panthers’ entire offense without Jurkovec. Such distinct edges ahead of expectation on both sides of the ball create enough incentive to boldly take the Hokies to win.
PICK: Virginia Tech moneyline (+115 at Caesar’s)
Georgia State vs Troy prediction: Georgia State -1
Troy’s suffocating defense from a year ago is no longer. The unfortunate reality is that simple. Giving up 30 points in the season opener to FCS-level Stephen F. Austin could initially be chalked up as a casual approach to an overmatched opponent in Week 1, but giving up 27.3 points per game in the three weeks since then portends a season-long defensive struggle approaching.
Last year, the Trojans gave up 17.1 points per game. Through four games, they had allowed 21 points per game, dialing up the defensive effectiveness in conference play.
Conference play begins this week against Georgia State, and any Troy hope of a defensive revival may be about to be dashed. The greatest change has come on early downs. Four games into the 2022 season, Trojan opponents lost 0.09 expected points per first- and second-down offensive snap. Right now, they’re gaining 0.019 expected points on those snaps.
The Panthers run the ball more than most teams in the country when factoring in game state (down, distance, time, score, field position), doing so nearly 5% more often than would be expected. When are they most likely to run the ball? On those early downs, chipping away at Troy’s weakened defense.
That alone should give Georgia State control of the game.
The Panthers have exceeded expectations this year. Recognizing that before Sun Belt play gains steam creates a slight edge, as does doubting Troy when it is 0-4 ATS this season, falling short of bookmakers’ expectation by 6.9 points per game.
PICK: Georgia State -1 (-105 at DraftKings)
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