Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 10:30 AM EST. Odds subject to change.
Miami +135 over Texas A&M
Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, FL
3:30 PM EST. Two schools coming off big wins against inferior opponents in Week 1 face off in their first "litmus-test" battle after extremely mediocre campaigns in 2022.
In Mario Cristobal's first season as Miami's head-man, the Hurricanes couldn't avoid their own mistakes. In seven losses, the Canes turned it over 23 times; eight of those 23 turnovers came in a mid-season loss against Duke, a team that's only defeated Miami on three other occasions since their yearly ACC rivalry began in 2005. It was Miami's first losing season since 2007, a year destined for growth and development despite the preseason hype in South Florida. But there are reasons to believe Cristobal and the Canes could see better results in 2023.
Cristobal and new offensive coordinator Shannah Dawson approached Week 1 conservatively, running the ball 36 times for 250 yards and dominating Miami of Ohio in the trenches en-route to a 38-3 win. Against Texas A&M it's unlikely they can run the ball as effectively. The Aggies finished 123rd in rushing defense last season, but injuries to their defensive line set them back, forcing blue-chip recruits into uncomfortable early roles. Texas A&M returns two starters and the unit has more collective experience coming into this year. Regardless, it's the Aggies' pass-defense that might be particularly vulnerable Saturday. Texas A&M lost their best cornerback and safety to the NFL draft, along with three top100 prospects of their secondary to the transfer portal.
The Hurricanes, on the other hand, used the offseason to focus on fixing issues in their passing game. Returning starting QB Tyler Van Dyke, who averaged an ACC best 9 yards per pass and received ACC Newcomer of the Year honors in his 2021 rookie season, was stunted last year by injuries and a scheme unfit for his talent. Dawson brings an "air-raid" approach from his previous stints at West Virginia and Houston, and his last 11 lead-receivers averaged over 1,000 receiving yards. Miami's breadth of talent at the receiver position will help, too. Miami brings back game-breaker Xavier Restrepo, who returns to slot-receiver after a 2022 campaign plagued by injury, and Colbie Young is still in town after bursting on the scene last season, leading all receivers with 5 scores. Miami also snagged another top transfer in the lightning-fast wide-receiver Tyler Harrell from Alabama. With a revamped O-line and a pair of tight ends that can both block and stretch the field, this is an offense that should improve and maximize Van Dyke's arm prowess. It'll certainly do better than its 23.6 ppg last season (97th overall).
The U's 2023 defense gives the underdog value, too. Lance Guidry assumes the new coordinator role since Kevin Steele moved on to Alabama, and that's a welcome change for a Miami defense that ranked 104th nationally in yards per play (5.9) and 122nd in yards per attempt (8.3) allowed last season. At Marshall, Guidry's defense finished top-10 in most major defensive categories, a metric that should indicate improvement considering Miami returns the majority of their starters this season. Their defensive line is their strength and they'll need it against an explosive Texas A&M offense. Miami also added two 5-star corners in the transfer portal and brought back two dynamic safeties, James Williams and Kamren Kinchens. The latter led the Power 5 in interceptions (6) in 2022. This won't be a cake-walk for the Aggies' offense.
Sophomore Conner Weigman, who Jimbo Fisher loves, has been deemed A&M's starting QB. He's certainly shown flashes of talent, but the 20 year old is still very green. He's only had 91 completions in five starts, and although he's avoided throwing interceptions, he owned a dismal 55.3% completion percentage and an underwhelming 6.8 yards per pass in a bigger role last season. Pardon me if I don't believe he'll waltz into Hard Rock Stadium and light the Miami defense on fire.
Mario Cristobal and his staff captured the 7th best transfer class according to college football experts, they're at home and should be accompanied by a raucous crowd, Van Dyke is in a better position to shine in a pass-happy offense, and the defense should make life difficult for the Aggies' air attack. The Canes are in a great position to win in front of their home crowd, officially christening the change South Florida's desired from the Cristobal era.
Miami +135 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 2.70)