Arizona football failed to win a single game last year, and now they’ve failed to name a starting quarterback. New head coach Jedd Fisch announced this week that both of his top quarterbacks will play a healthy number of snaps in the season-opener on Sept. 4 against BYU.
Fisch told reporters that Gunner Cruz, a transfer from Washington State, will get the Wildcats’ first offensive possession, but that Will Plummer will play plenty, at least in the first half.
Cruz played only a few snaps last year at Washington State, but he did throw for a touchdown against USC. Plummer has played significantly more snaps as a college football player than Cruz, though his numbers don’t reflect much success (43 of 80, 3 INTs).
BYU lost their star quarterback Zach Wilson to the NFL, but the team is still expected to win six or seven games and be bowl eligible, per the consensus odds. Arizona, on the other hand, has been issued a paltry (2.5) win total by FanDuel Sportsbook, and likely for good reason. The Wildcats have major holes all over the field, including the most important position. By all gut metrics, this game should be a bloodbath.
And that’s exactly why we’re taking Arizona. If you remember my inaugural gambling column, I shared with you the single best bit of sports betting advice I ever received. This game falls squarely under that umbrella.
Vegas is always trying to tell you something with their lines, if you’ll listen. Bookmakers aren’t trying to predict the final score when they set lines, but rather come up with a number that will entice equal action on both sides of the wager. FanDuel Sportsbook set this early BYU-Arizona line at BYU (-10.5), which seems low, right? Especially given the quarterback situation, and the fact that BYU won 11 games last season, most of which were ass-kickings?
Of course it seems low, but listening to gut instinct is only step one of analyzing a game. Knee-jerk reactions are a fantastic place for square bettors to start, but should never be how we finish. Use that gut instinct to your advantage, and then use your understanding of line-setting to see the bigger picture.
Vegas is expecting a tighter game, here, then average fans are expecting. BYU will be on the road, at night, against a team that has nothing to lose, and needing to prepare for two different quarterbacks, neither of which have much game tape. Backing the Mormons means you’ll need to win by two-plus scores, so field goals won’t really help you much in this spot. In other words, BYU will need to fire on all cylinders, score touchdowns, and blow this game open by 21 or more to feel comfortable, especially given the backdoor cover potential by a team where guys are still trying to earn playing time.
If you just can’t bring yourself to back a surely-sloppy and frustrating Arizona team at only (+10.5), then you may consider waiting for a live bet. If BYU comes out with a nice scripted drive for a field goal to open the game, the live line will jump a little. An opening touchdown or weird special teams score for BYU should shoot it up over 14 points. That’s when you hammer the Wildcats.
Remember, we only bet games where we either have a soft number or a read on a talented player or scheme that has gone unnoticed. Stick to your units and play the soft number here. It may win, and it may lose, but it’s the type of spot that will hit 55 percent over the course of a decent sample size.
Cover photo via Rebecca Sasnett, Arizona Daily Star