College Football Week 1 Upset Alert: Maybe Not So Golden Cal Bears
The California Golden Bears open up their season in a peculiar spot – on the road at the North Texas Mean Green. Cal is a road favorite at the best college football betting sites, a number that’s shrank considerably over the preseason. According to TheLines.com college football writer Kelley Ford’s KFord Ratings, Cal has a 64% chance to win the game outright. Our aggregated power ratings favor the Golden Bears by 7.7 points on the road. But a few factors point to this being a potential trap spot for the visiting team; could North Texas pull off an upset in Week 1 of the college football season?
Favorites between -7.5 and -8 historically win 73-74% of their games outright. Four games have spreads near that number, so using historical data, we can reasonably expect one of these teams to pull off the upset. Let’s dive into why Cal is the team on upset alert this week.
Cal at North Texas Odds
A Perfect Storm For A College Football Upset?
Temperatures in Denton, Texas, are forecast to soar over 100 degrees. The ongoing heatwave in the Central U.S. puts a dozen games under the gun for impressive (and dangerous) heat. North Texas is perfectly suited to play in the sweltering temperatures, having practiced in it all offseason long, but Cal is not. Temperatures in the Bay Area this time of year usually peak around 75 degrees. The game kicks at 3:00 p.m. CT – the hottest point of the day.
Justin Wilcox brought in Jake Spavital to run the Cal offense this offseason. As OC at West Virginia (2017-18), Spavital ran one of the fastest offenses in the FBS. Wilcox likely brought him in to run the same with the Golden Bears. But without being fully adjusted to the North Texas summer heat, that fast tempo may backfire.
On top of the heat, Cal is dealing with a handful of injuries to their backfield. Leading rusher Jaydn Ott is available, but backups King Doerue and Justin Williams-Thomas are not, and reserve Byron Cardwell is done for the year. For new QB Sam Jackson, not being able to lean fully into his backfield – especially as the midday temperature requires substitutions – may be an issue.
Finally, program direction weighs heavily on performance on-field. While professional franchises can wade through choppy waters, college programs are vastly more affected by off-field noise. In this instance, Cal’s future is in a nebulous void. The Golden Bears have been in talks with the ACC and reportedly the Mountain West, but the viability of football in Berkeley is in question.
Both North Texas and the under have taken considerable money this offseason. The total opened at 58 while North Texas opened as a +10 underdog.
Don’t Look (Ahead) Now …
Last week, I put Louisiana Tech on upset alert. Although their postgame win expectancy was 99% – and every factor pointed to a LA Tech win – FIU nearly pulled the upset off. One of the reasons I had was that the Bulldogs were in a potential lookahead spot, in that their next opponent vastly overshadowed their current one. Lookahead spots are critical in finding potential upset alerts weekly.
In Week 2, the Mean Green hit the road to play FIU. The Panthers are no longer a conference foe and rank 132nd in my aggregate power ratings after Week 0.
On the other hand, Cal returns home to face the Auburn Tigers. The Golden Bears last hosted an SEC team in 2017, where they upended Ole Miss 27-16. Apogee Stadium (30,850 capacity) is one of the quieter atmospheres in college football – a trait that may aid in their opponents coming out flat. In their last two visits to Group of Five schools (2015 vs. San Diego State, 2010 vs. Nevada), Cal has gone 0-2 and never traveled outside of their own time zone.
As difficult raucous environments are to play in, quiet and sleepy atmospheres provide a trappy spot.
Cal at North Texas: A Week 1 College Football Upset?
So far, the market tends to agree that Cal was overvalued in this game. The spread moved through two key figures: 10 and 7. The total also moved off a key figure (58) and through the biggest key number (55) en route to its current position.
Sportsbooks line North Texas at on the moneyline, a number I do believe to be fair value. Kelley Ford’s number shows even more value on North Texas (a 36% expected win rate translates to about +170). For those looking to back a plus-odds underdog, North Texas is almost certainly your team this weekend.
Watch! TheLines College Football Podcast: Week 1 Weeknight Slate
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