Welcome back everyone – it is a joy and honor to be back for the 2020 College Football season, no matter the capacity we get it in. We likely will have some non-traditional slates and some smaller ones at that, but nevertheless, we still get football and I think that is all that really matters to us. If you are reading this, you likely can note that it is completely free. All written content on FantasyCruncher is free – the only time you will be charged is if you want access to the optimizer and access to my projections. In that case, you can follow this link to sign up – with weekly/monthly/annual options across three different tiers that should be able to fit every level of DFS player. I will be providing written content for any slate of three games or more, though projections and optimizer access will be available for all normal and showdown slates. That being said, we have an interesting four-game slate on FanDuel and a six-game slate on DraftKings to kick off our CFB DFS season. For slates of four or fewer games, I will offer game by game breakdowns. For larger slates, I will focus more on my overall favorite plays.
Eastern Kentucky at Marshall (-24/52.5)
We kick off the year with an FCS vs D1 matchup that really should be pretty one-sided in the end. Marshall is returning their Conference USA 2019 MVP in running back Brenden Knox and he will run behind one of the most experienced offensive lines in CUSA. The QB position here will be new this year as redshirt freshman Grant Wells has been tabbed the starter. Isaiah Green ran the helm in 2019 but entered the transfer portal at the end of the year. That didn’t go as planned for Green as he found no takers and returned back to Marshall – who then pretty much removed him from the depth chart. Wells himself is a three-star prospect who is going to be more of a pocket passer rather than someone who is going to grab us a ton of groundwork. As always, any college quarterback can run a little, but with Knox here I don’t see Marshall wanting to force their QB out of the pocket. Even Isaiah Green last season only ran for 300 total yards. Wells has every chance to make this Marshall passing game better than in the past as Green struggled with interceptions and has a completion percentage of 56%. For wideouts, the Herd has named Broc Thompson, Willie Johnson, Talik Keaton, and Xavier Gaines (TE) as the starters. Thompson for me is the most intriguing prospect here as he averaged 17.6 yards per reception last season. In that same breath, Willie Johnson averaged 26.8 yards per reception (13 for 349). I personally was hoping to see Corey Gammage grab a starting spot, but he is currently listed behind Broc Thompson at the X. This team’s leading receiver in 2019 was actually TE Armani Levias, but with a new quarterback, I doubt the TE is relied on as heavily. So, in the end, what we have is an inexperienced quarterback where the book is still out on him and a wide receiving corp with blazing fast big-play potential. Isaiah Green didn’t have a big arm, but often found receivers for big gains on quick crossing patterns. Wells should have a bigger arm downfield and an FCS opponent is the best kind to start taking shots downfield against. Despite the matchup, this game should be used as a training ground for the young quarterback. I am usually leary for star running backs in games that should be a blowout, but Brenden Knox is going to get his run. However, if this game follows game theory then I don’t think Knox gets an overwhelming workload. This is going to be the struggles of this season as Marshall has had some games canceled so it is going to be a bit harder to predict how the workloads will shake out. Knox is still the RB1 on this slate as it stands now, but don’t doubt that Sheldon Evans won’t get his fair share of work here either. I don’t have any real interest in any Eastern Kentucky players. Even in playing from behind situation, I do not believe there is a value when two other games on this slate have a projected total of 70 points or higher.
Core Plays: Brenden Knox (RB, MAR)
Secondary Plays: Willie Johnson (WR, MAR), Broc Thompson (WR, MAR), Talik Keaton (WR, MAR), Sheldon Evans (RB, MAR)
Middle Tennessee at Army (-5.5/54.5)
On this four-game slate, this one should be the most competitive as Army opens as a -5.5 favorite over Middle Tennessee. This game has a total of 54.5, but I can only assume it would be higher if both of these teams didn’t want to just run each other off the field every possession. Truthfully, that is my biggest concern anytime Army is on a slate is the fact that they are going to run 90% of their plays and that clock will tick tick tick away. But not to be outdone you have MTSU whose gameplan is all centered around quarterback Asher O’Hara. O’Hara last year ran the ball on average 19 times per game, never falling lower than 10 carries and having a game against WKU where he carried the ball 29 times and still managed to pass 33 times. O’Hara is as dual-threat as they come and averaged 27 fantasy points per game last year on FanDuel. MTSU saw struggles last season on third down and had a slew of injuries to their offensive line, which sets them up way better in 2020. But for me, MTSU will need to find more consistency. As much as O’Hara might want to do it all, he just can’t and will need to trust his running game more than relying on himself. MTSU did bring in outside help in the forms of Martell Pettway from West Virginia and Amir Rasual from Florida State – however, both players opted out of the season in the last week due to COVID concerns. Chaton Mobley seemed to be the guy who would get the starting RB nod, but he has actually shifted to an “official” WR role with Javy McDonald being listed as the starting tailback. MTSU will return a few receivers from last year’s squad, notably Jarrin Pierce and Jimmy Marshall. O’Hara managed to complete 64% of his passes in 2019 and I figure both Marshall and Pierce to be the guys he is most comfortable in this offense. The issue is when you get a dual-threat option who is best on the move, how many possible passing plays get taken away at the line. For that reason, the MTSU wideouts have to just be GPP fodder for us until we see this offense in action. Asher O’Hara is just $6,200 on DraftKings which may be a price that we just can’t pass up.
On the Army side, there really isn’t much to talk about. If you have ever watched an Army game before you know what they want to do – run run run and then run again. Army will rely on a triple-option style that will be led by quarterback Christian Anderson as he was named the starter on Tuesday. Aside from Anderson, Sandon McCoy, Artice Hobbs, and Cade Bernard figure to see the brunt of the work out of the backfield. Because there are so many hands here that will get carries, none really fit our ideal fantasy option and therefore I don’t think we can really focus any as a core play. Christian Anderson is moderately priced but definitely worth a look as he should see the highest number of rushing attempts in the offense and is the greatest threat to find the endzone. Middle Tennessee finished last in the CUSA in total defense in 2019, but some of those numbers were inflated due to some bad losses to P5 schools. The MTSU defense is going to look way different than last year, but that may not be a bad thing seeing as they struggled. MTSU also had the worst passing defense in CUSA – but that shouldn’t come into play here as Army will likely attempt less than eight passes (if even). With Army sticking to their normal looks and Asher O’Hara checking out of potential passing plays at the line, the clock has the be a factor in the back of our minds here as it should be running consistently. I would still grab some exposure to both sides, but I don’t think this is a stack worthy game.
Core Plays: Asher O’Hara (QB, MTSU), Christian Anderson (QB, ARMY)
Secondary Plays: Jimmy Marshall (WR, MTSU), Jarrin Pierce (WR, MTSU), Javy McDonald (RB, MTSU)
SMU (-21/70) at Texas State
This should actually be a way more interesting game than the -21 point spread for SMU indicates. If we go back a year we can remember all the times the SMU passing defense was just torn apart as they allowed 289 yards passing a game, ranking them 125th in the nation. The SMU offense however shouldn’t miss a ton of beats despite a few key departures. The leading rushers from this Mustangs offense in 2019 are gone in Xavier Jones and Ke’Mon Freeman. Also gone is leading receiver James Proche who had a wild 204 receptions in 2019. But the returning players on this team are deep enough to shift to the next man up. Shane Buechele is back as quarterback after throwing for 3,929 yards and 34 touchdowns in 2019. Reggie Roberson will be back to full health and shifts into an instant WR1 role, while Rashee Rice looks to step into a bigger role after a productive freshman season. Also returning is tight end Kylen Granson who hauled in nine touchdown catches on just 36 receptions last year. The running back situation for SMU is a bit murkier, as coaching staffs have hinted that they will be running a running back by committee situation and trying to feel out the hot hand. There are four guys who could all benefit from this theory, though TJ McDaniel should likely get the first shot at establishing the hot-hand. More importantly, SMU will return four starting offensive lineman which should help ease the pressure on Buechele. All-in-all, this isn’t an offense that should take too many steps backward. The rushing game may take a hit to start, but it should establish itself after a few games – and if it doesn’t establish itself then it is just a situation that will be easier to avoid for DFS players. To start the year, I don’t think there is a level of comfort at this point to over-expose to any one running back, especially with sites pricing up TJ McDaniel as if he was the sure-fire workhorse back – which is not the case right now. All that being said, on SMU’s first released depth chart, McDaniel is the guy so he is shaking out as a high upside, scary floor play here.
The Texas State side of the ball is where things are going to be very interesting for DFS and maybe the one edge we will have going into Saturday. Texas State named Memphis transfer Brady McBride the starting quarterback over Tyler Vitt. In fact, Vitt has called off of the depth chart completely and is currently in quarantine for potential COVID concerns. The receiving corp for Texas State is young but has at least a season under their belts now – plus they brought in a trio of transfers in Drue Jackson from Washington State, Waydale Jones from Wake Forest, and Tory Spears from Iowa State. On the updated Texas State depth chart from today, they list Jeremiah Haydel, Marcell Barbee, and Drue Jackson as starters. The latter of the two coming in at near bottom barrel pricing on DraftKings. Honestly, Javen Banks was a guy I was pretty excited for on this slate and the same goes for Trevis Graham, but both are listed at backups. Both sites priced each of these players up a little higher so it is possible that they see some unnecessary ownership if people aren’t paying enough attention. Texas State has also named Brock Sturges as the starting running back – a position that struggled a season ago averaging less than three yards per carry.
All-in-all, here is the deal with this game. SMU is going to win it – the offensive talent will be too much for the Texas State defense to handle, but Texas State shouldn’t be written off completely here as they also have weapons in their offense. Mix that with the fact that they SMU secondary was one of the worst in all of college football and is returning their starters and we should still be able to take advantage of it. The key here is Texas State shouldn’t have issues moving the ball, but can they do it consistently enough and pay it off with touchdowns. Once you start settling for field goals against SMU you are already falling behind. In order for Texas State to keep this game close, they will need to dial into a passing game which makes Brady McBride, Jeremiah Haydel, and Drue Jackson as high upside options who should at least see enough targets to hold value. Of course, there is risk in taking a 21 point underdog, but they are still going to be playing offensive snaps against one of the worst defenses in college football.
Core Plays: Shane Buechele (QB, SMU), Brady McBride (QB, TXST), Reggie Roberson (WR, SMU), Rashee Rice (WR, SMU), Drue Jackson (WR, TXST)
Secondary Plays: Kylen Granson (WR/TE, SMU), Jeremiah Haydel (WR, TXST), TJ McDaniel (RB, SMU)
Arkansas State at Memphis (-19/74)
This game certainly has a similar feel to the SMU/TXST game. These are two offenses who can both score in bunches and two defenses who are going to be pushed to their limits in the opening game of the season. Arkansas State currently has a bit of a quarterback controversy as Logan Bonner and Layne Hatcher are both worthy options at the helm, though Bonner has been named the starting quarterback, the coaching staff has already mentioned that Hatcher would still be playing in this game. Obviously these are not the words we want to hear has DFS players and it may be the safer route to just avoid the ARKST QB situation altogether since we have plenty of other options on the board for this slate. The Arkansas State offense was a force in 2019, averaging 439 yards per game and 34 points per game. Hatcher held down the quarterback position as a freshman, but Logan Bonner will be returning from his thumb injury and slots back in as the starter. The Red Wolves leading receiver in Omar Bayless is gone after a remarkable 93 reception, 17 touchdown season and also gone is Kirk Merritt who had 70 receptions himself. Jonathan Adams Jr. plays the next man up and should instantly fill into the WR1 role on this team. Behind Adams, Brandon Bowling and Dahu Green will round out the starters here with Marcel Murray and Jamal Jones leading the rushing attack. The offensive line will return five starters, though those five starters struggled a bit last season – but hey, experience, right? Marcel Murray is currently banged up with a leg injury and is tabbed day-to-day, so if he sits, Jamal Jones could have value-based around volume.
For Memphis, we focus on a key opt-out here and that is running back Kenneth Gainwell. To fill the void left by Gainwell, we will likely see a combination of Kylan Watkins, Rodrigues Clark, and Asa Martin. Clark right now looks to be the starter, though Watkins has a ton of upside in this offense as well. We will need a little more clarity towards game time on how the backfield will shake out as it really will be a key to this slate. As of now, I will likely split exposure between Clark and Watkins, with a few shares of Martin – though I don’t think he factors enough to ruin a slate. Brady White returns as the quarterback here along with leading receiver Damonte Coxie. White passed for over 4,000 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2019, so it may come as a complete surprise to you when I say that White only broke 30 fantasy points two times the entire season. Coxie for me is the crown jewel of this offense for DFS purposes, catching 76 passes for 1,276 yards and nine touchdowns. Calvin Austin and Tahj Washington round out our receiving options as Pop Williams is still away from this Memphis team. Don’t be fooled by his existing in the player pool – he will not be active for Saturday’s game. This Memphis offense shouldn’t have any issues feasting on an Arkansas State defense that finished 124th in the nation last year and lost six of their top nine tacklers. Based on that alone, there is a lot of value to the Memphis running game, therefore as mentioned, Clark and Watkins prove to hold a lot of keys to the slate moving forward. Coxie is the top wide receiver on this entire slate, but Calvin Austin and lesser-known Tahj Washington should still factor a lot here. It will be interesting to see if the coaching staff adjusts to keep the ball in Brady White’s hands more.
For what I said about SMU/TXST rings true here. Memphis should win here. Arkansas State has a higher-powered offense that is good enough to keep this close, but in the end, Memphis is still the better team. Damonte Coxie is a sure-fire option at wide receiver and we can get value out of the AKST wide receiving corp here to ease the burden of pricing. Jonathan Adams is a great run-back option and someone who should see plenty of targets, while Dahu Green is a super senior who is finally getting his shot as a starter and comes in at great value. I don’t think the Arkansas State rushing attack will be able to do anything to get it going on the ground and if they fall into an early deficit then it should be an air-game the rest of the way out.
Core Plays: Rodrigues Clark (RB, MEM), Damonte Coxie (WR, MEM), Jonathan Adams (WR, ARKST)
Secondary Plays: Brady White (QB, MEM), Kylen Watkins (RB, MEM), Calvin Austin (WR, MEM), Dahu Green (WR, ARKST), Jamal Jones (RB, ARKST – If Murray is Out)
DraftKings Only games
Houston Baptist at North Texas (-24/68)
I have to be honest, I didn’t think DraftKings would add this game to the slate but here we are. Houston Baptist will only play three games this season as their conference schedule was canceled, however, they will still face their non-conference opponents in North Texas, Texas Tech, and Louisiana Tech. HBU finished with a 5-7 record last season but didn’t shy away from having some big offensive games. Quarterback Bailey Zappe threw for 3,811 yards and 35 touchdowns, while wide receiver Ben Ratzlaff caught 87 passes for 1,137 yards and 12 touchdowns. Not to be outdone, Jerreth Sterns caught 105 balls for 833 yards and 11 touchdowns. Dreshawn Minnieweather controlled the ground game, averaging 90 yards per game and 10 touchdowns on the season. Even with their losses, HBU managed to average 35.5 points per game. The issue with this team is not their offense, but a defense that allowed over 40 points per game. North Texas had a struggling defense in 2019, ranking 11th in CUSA – in return they hired Clint Bowen from Kansas as their new defensive coordinator. The Mean Green secondary is replacing three players and generated just four interceptions in 2019.
For North Texas, we are going to see a new quarterback leading this team as Austin Aune and Jason Bean have both been named co-starters. This is obviously a situation we can likely avoid as we have little clarity on who the primary one will be, despite the great matchup. Jason Bean would offer us more rushing upside, but being listed second is always worrisome for me. The running back situation is also backed up with an “or” designation between Tre Siggers and DeAndre Torrey. Siggers was the better runner last season, as he averaged 85 yards per game and six touchdowns. Nic Smith and Oscar Adaway should also factor into this mix as I can see North Texas emptying the book trying to get players experience in a game they should have no issues handling. Jaelon Darden is the top receiver returning and will be accompanied by Deonte Simpson and Jyaire Shorter as starters. Nico Bussey, the leading receiver in 2018 who was injured in 2019, has transferred to Hawaii. A worry for me here is North Texas had a struggling offensive line in 2019 and will be replacing them. So that could be a double-edged sword – out with the bad and experienced – in with the inexperienced and unknown.
On paper it is easy to write off Houston Baptist, but it’s not like North Texas has had a great defense and they definitely have an exploitable secondary. Houston Baptist will throw throw and then throw some more. Zappe is a guy who attempted over 35 passing attempts in ten games last season with six games over 50 attempts. At just $5,000 I have absolutely no problem throwing a GPP dart Zappe’s way as he has experienced wide receivers he is comfortable with. Also, with HBU only playing a three-game season, we don’t need to worry as much about any restrictions. The only worry is in HBU has any freshman they want to get extensive work to. North Texas should win this game, but with questions around the quarterback position, I think they win it on the ground. Siggers and Torrey should be able to control the ground game and give plenty of opportunities for the passing game to succeed. Just with limited data on both Aune and Bean, it will be a waiting game to see who grabs the reigns.
Core Plays: Tre Siggers (RB, UNT), Jaelon Darden (WR, UNT)
Secondary Plays: Bailey Zappe (QB, HBU), Ben Ratzlaff (WR, HBU), Jerreth Sterns (WR, HBU)
Stephen F. Austin at UTEP (-7.5/54)
This is an interesting matchup of two pretty bad programs in recent history. Stephen F. Austin is coming off of a 3-9 season and UTEP is coming off of a 1-11 season. The UTEP defense was the worst in the nation in 2019 allowing nearly 40 points per game. In fact, UTEP’s one victory in 2019? Houston Baptist by the final score of 38-36. UTEP just named Sophomore Gavin Hardison as the starter and in two appearances last season he struggled with just a 44% completion percentage. This is not a UTEP offense that is going to do a ton – no flashy numbers – no standout players – they just are going to be a matchup dependant flyer if they make it on a DFS slate – which DraftKings decided to do. Quardraiz Wadley has been named the starting running back and Justin Garrett, Jacob Cowing, and Walter Dawn as the starting receivers. Wadley is an interesting case at running back as he had a decent 2018 season with 627 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 5.1 yards per game but Wadley missed the entire 2019 season with a toe injury. With an unestablished quarterback, I can see Wadley being a key to this UTEP offense. The price of $6,500 is a little high for me on DraftKings, but I think there is definitely an argument to grab exposure to him. As a bonus Wadley was named to the Doak Walker Award watchlist for the nation’s top running back. As for the passing game, I really don’t trust it. I think a flier on Justin Garrett is fine, but I don’t see anyone from this offense blowing the slate wide open. To Hardison’s credit, he does have a big arm and did throw for 5,000 yards in high school. But when accuracy is key, it is something that I need to see improved on before I will just risk it.
The Stephen F. Austin depth chart is still waiting to be released, but the team will be led again by Junior quarterback Trae Self. Self had a modest 2019, throwing for 2,550 yards with 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Remember, this was an offense that averaged 35 points per game and they are facing a defense that allowed more than that. Texas Tech transfer Da’Leon Ward should split the backfield with Josh McGowen for the Lumberjacks after both had over 100 carries and around 450 yards last season. Ward was injured mid-season, which handed the reigns over to McGowen to close out the season. With both healthy, they should get an equal shot at earning the backfield. Xavier Gipson is the only receiver returning that had more than 20 receptions last season. Gipson actually had some big numbers, catching 52 passes for 934 yards and seven touchdowns. We are still awaiting a depth chart here – so make sure to verify that before making any final decisions.
This game is by far the weirdest on the slate. I feel even the Houston Baptist game had a better path to making sense. This game features two very bad defenses and two pretty bad teams. I view UTEP as a high variance offense under a quarterback who struggled in a very small data set last season but appears to still be struggling with accuracy in scrimmages and practices. A Stephen F Austin depth chart would help push us in the right direction, but for now, Gipson appears to be the only guy we should consider.
Core Plays: Quardraiz Wadley (RB, UTEP)
Secondary Plays: Xavier Gipson (WR, SFA), Justin Garrett (WR, UTEP)