The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (1-4) will search for their first conference win of the season on Wednesday night when they play host to the Jacksonville State Gamecocks (4-1) in a big C-USA matchup at Johnny “Red” Floyd Stadium in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
A tough 31-10 defeat to Western Kentucky marked the fourth slip-up in the opening five games of the season for the Blue Raiders. The sportsbooks see them as 3.5-point favorites to shift their fortunes around and get the much-needed win on Wednesday night.
It will, however, be easier said than done, considering the opposition comes into this in much higher spirits with a run of four wins in the inaugural five affairs.
We bring you a preview of the game, including the best odds at US sportsbooks and our top betting selections based on everything we have seen from the two outfits so far in 2023.
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Jacksonville State is a Top-20 Defense in FBS
Jacksonville State got off to a dream start to their maiden FBS season. They’ve spent the last two decades in the ASUN and the Ohio Valley Conference, respectively, and many experts doubted their potential to stay competitive on the big stage.
The Gamecocks responded with impressive wins over longtime conference member UTEP on the opening day (17-14) and fellow Conference USA newcomer Sam Houston in Week 5 (35-28). They’ve stormed past lower-tier East Tennessee State and Central Michigan 70-3 combined in between these outings, while the lone defeat came at Coastal Carolina’s hands in Week 3 (16-30).
The stern defensive line has been the major catalyst to the team’s early C-USA success. Jacksonville State allows only 14.8 points and 310 yards per game this season. They keep rivals to a 27% third-down conversion and are among the very best teams in the nation in both takeaways (11) and sacks (14).
The offense is not currently matching such an output, as the Gamecocks are only 77th in the nation in points per game. The Gamecocks started the season with Zion Webb under the center, but Logan Smothers quickly took over and has earned a majority of the quarterback action since.
Smothers is yet to throw an interception, collecting 474 passing yards since. He is also the team’s second-leading rusher, with 253 yards on the ground and five touchdowns along the way. In general, rushing is the stronger part of this offense. Running back Malik Jackson has rushed for 100+ yards in three of the previous four outings.
The Blue Raiders are Not Pulling up Any Trees This Year
The Blue Raiders have only beaten an FCS outfit, Murray State, in 2023. They’ve covered the spread just once in five weeks, and they’ll go into this tie off the back of a painful 10-31 loss as 6.5-point underdogs against Western Kentucky.
Quarterback Nicholas Vattiato has thrown for 250 or more yards in three consecutive affairs, but he also already has five interceptions to his name, in contrast to seven passing scores. That said, the Middle Tennessee has been limited to fewer than 20 points in three of five outings so far in the season. This is not promising for their fans, considering they go face-to-face with a top-20 FBS defense on Wednesday.
The Blue Raiders are below 100th place in the nation in pass defense, which will be the music to the ears of Logan Smothers. However, we must take their poor defensive numbers with a pinch of salt, knowing that Alabama handled 431 yards on the opening day. Middle Tennessee has not allowed 400 or more yards in either of the last two games despite falling to Colorado State and Western Kentucky in the process. Do not forget that Jacksonville State is not quite an elite offense, either.
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Best Pick — Under 51.5 Points (-110) with DraftKings
Everything points towards a low-scoring affair on Wednesday. Despite it becoming a public bet, we can hardly argue against it. Both teams just look much better defensively. All but one of five Jacksonville State’s games have gone to Unders this year, while the Blue Raiders are 2-3 in favor of the Under as well. We’d not be surprised to see the line go down by a point or two by the start of the game and we’ll take the Under 51.5 points at the -110 odds as the main betting option in these circumstances.
Alternative Pick — Jacksonville State Moneyline (+150) with BetMGM
We initially thought to skip the moneyline or spread predictions for this one, but the +150 odds offered for the in-form Gamecocks are too good to ignore. The hosts are nowhere near their best form these days. Most individual matchups favor Jacksonville State as well. After all, the lone Blue Raiders’ win of the season has come against FCS Murray State, which says enough in our opinion.
Best Sportsbooks for NCAAF Betting
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