Arizona at Hawaii

Editor's Note: Don't miss out on College Football Winners on from Matt Blunt. Click to win!

College Football Saturday Betting Preview
Arizona at Hawaii (CBSSN, 10:30 p.m. ET)

We've finally got meaningful college football games to talk about, as the 2019 season gets started on Saturday with a double-header of games. The first being Miami vs Florida will be one that generates plenty of action on Saturday, but it's the nightcap out west between Arizona and Hawaii that I'm looking to focus on today.

The Arizona Wildcats are looking to improve upon a tough 2018 season where it was a year where health issues arguably held both programs back from reaching the peaks of their potential. That was definitely true for Arizona QB Khalil Tate who battled injuries while trying to become a predominantly pocket passer in HC Kevin Sumlin's first year with the program and none of it really worked out.

Tate was the talk of college football for about a month in 2017 when he was using his big arm along with his legs to make big play after big play for Arizona on a weekly basis. Reverting back to that form in 2019 will help Arizona's prospects tremendously, and it's something to look out for from Arizona early in the year.

So will Tate and Arizona come out of the gates hot and cover as a double-digit road favorite, or will the trend of backing Hawaii as an underdog pay off once again like it did early in the 2018 season?

College Football Odds: Arizona (-11); Total set at 72.5

This Hawaii program was making waves in the betting market at this time a year ago, as they opened up the 2018 season with a 43-34 win @ Colorado State as a +17 underdog, and followed that up a week later with a 59-41 win at home catching 13.5 points against Navy. Those two SU and ATS wins were great victories for bettors that were savvy enough to back the Rainbow Warriors, as it was a scenario that became well known in betting markets.

Well, a full year later, it seems like those early season wins by Hawaii last year are at the forefront of everyone's memories again, as the Rainbow Warriors have taken a slight majority of the support (55%+) to put them in the conversation for potentially being a 'public underdog.' There are plenty of football reasons – either for Hawaii or in terms of fading Arizona – behind the Hawaii backing as well, but when the common refrain in previewing this game is that “it looks like it's too many points to give Hawaii” - chances are that line of thought is too heavily influenced by what Hawaii did in late August-early September a year ago.

Now don't get me wrong, this could very well be too many points to give Hawaii, as this team does have eight starters returning on offense from last year's 8-6 SU team. QB Cole McDonald was the catalyst behind those early season upset victories a year ago, and he should be an entertaining player to watch again this year. Hawaii's best path to winning games is through the play of McDonald and the offense putting up 30+ points a game, as the Rainbow Warriors were 7-0 SU last year when they scored 30 or more, and 1-6 SU when they didn't.

So Hawaii should be able to move the ball fairly well against an Arizona defense that still needs plenty of improvement in 2019. This Arizona team should take strides in reaching a sustained level of improvement on defense this year, as they'll need to be better to compete in the Pac-12. The Pac-12 may be full of parity again this year that keeps it from being recognized on the national stage, but in general, every school in the conference has better talent from top to bottom then what Mountain West (Colorado State) or Armed Forces (Navy) schools have on the football field.

That makes it highly dangerous to compare Hawaii's early season upsets against those teams to this year's game with Arizona under the statement that it looks like Hawaii is getting too many points. Yes, on the surface, Hawaii catching 11 at home in Game 1 of a new season with everyone healthy looks like a lot considering they were catching 17 and 13.5 respectively to start last year and won both outright by at least 9 points, but context and competition level matters, and that's always lost from varying perspectives when market previews get discussed at length for these stand-alone type games. That's not a ringing endorsement of backing Arizona at -11, but oddsmakers remember what Hawaii did 12 months ago too, and still don't fear hanging another double-digit spread on the Rainbow Warriors. That says quite an significant message too.

Instead, if you do believe Hawaii will play well enough to at worst hang around in this game, the better betting look has to be on the 'over'. This total saw a quick spike from 70 to 74 before some buy back on the 'under' came, but unless early season rust plagues both offenses, this game does set up for a lot of points to be scored.

Hawaii was undefeated last year when they scored 30+, so you know that's a mark that they'll want to get to and have discussed internally leading up to this game. Arizona allowed 32.6 points per game a year ago, and even with the Wildcats goal of significant improvement on that side of the ball this year, it won't all show up in Week 1. So 30+ from Hawaii on offenseis more then a realistic expectation for this game, and even getting to 40+ isn't out of the question.

From there, if you are to assume that the point spread is relatively sharp for an opening game, that puts Khalil Tate and this Arizona offense scoring 40+ in this contest. That scenario alone is likely behind some of that early 'over' money at the initial number of 70, but now that it's back closer to that initial number, I'm fine with taking a bit of a bad number at 72.5. If these two teams go back and forth as expected (Hawaii allowed 35.1 points per game in 2018) I'm not sure a point or two will really matter. Either these guys end up with 75+ points, or they don't pass the 70 opener number when it's all said and done.

I'm betting the former though, as Tate's self-evaluation of needing to get back to the dual-threat QB he was two years ago is more beneficial to the bottom line of Arizona's football team this year. Combined with a sharper throwing arm simply from practicing to be a pocket-style QB for the past 12 months, makes him a much more polished threat on offense then even the one who was scoring 40+ for the entire month of October (four straight games) back in 2017.

So give me the high side of this total, as Hawaii is 12-4 O/U in their last 16 non-conference games as a program, and Arizona has a 3-1 O/U run going the past four years in their first road game of the year.

Best Bet: Over 72.5 points