LB looks at the NCAAF Week One fixtures and picks his best bets and upsets of the College Football opening weekend proper.
Week 0 was a mixed back although we are slightly up coming into Week 1. There are so many top tier games this week the difficulty is in narrowing the field down. This column will try to stay away from blindly following favorites. Alabama, OSU, Clemson and the rest hog most of the column inches and nobody needs another blog or podcast telling us why these juggernauts will win. Instead the focus here will be on smaller schools, upsets and underdogs. It’s more fun, there are better betting angles available and it’s what college ball is really about.
Utah State @ Alabama
This is a fairly straightforward “dog to cover” bet for me. The line opened at 31 a month or so ago and has just kept on climbing since. I thought it topped out at 38 last week but it is now a monstrous 42.5 points. Bama will undoubtedly be one of the best teams in the country this year, although not as good as most people think, but this line is just too high. If anyone can cover, Bama can – The Tide are more than capable of running up a big score on almost anyone – I just don’t think they will do it here. In any case, Utah State is one of the better G5 programs and I can see them scoring enough to keep this spread out of reach.
Notre Dame @ Ohio State
I cannot remember a better curtain raiser than this one. The Fighting Irish travel to The Horseshoe for a legit Top 5 showdown. This game looks really tough to call because there are a lot of unknowns. The Buckeyes are 17.5 point favorites and that just feels too high. ND have a reputation for getting blown out by the big boys but they have only one loss above 17 points in their last 30 games. Not even the Najee Harris/Devonta Smith inspired Crimson Tide covered that spread when they stuffed The Irish in the 2020 season Rose Bowl.
Notre Dame have a one of the best defenses around and it will be fascinating how it fares against the consensus #1 offense. Reverse the roles though and that’s where this game gets truly interesting. OSU does not have a good defense. They finished #60 for Total D last season, which considering the rest time that offense gave them, is pretty miserable. Jim Knowles has been brought in to fix it – a fantastic move – but can he get them right this early? I don’t think so. His schemes are infamously complex.
The other big question is can a new look ND coaching staff get more from a lackluster offense? Tyler Buchner was hardly explosive last year but he was used sparingly and tended to be brought in to run. It didn’t help he had no senior season in high school due to covid. Can he deliver? The sheer, relentless optimism around South Bend, not to mention an unimaginable improvement in recruiting in 2022, tells me there has to be something going on behind the scenes. With the gulf in defense I think Notre Dame only need a moderate improvement on offense to cover here.
Cincinnati @ Arkansas
This is the game I have bet the most on all summer. Arkansas is a legit Top 20 prospect having returned two thirds of their production from a Top 20 team last season. Cincinnati was frankly overrated by the public in 2021 and that has carried forward here too. They deserved their shot at the playoffs but the humbling at the hands of an out-of-sorts Bama showed their true level – The G5. Since then they have gone backwards at QB and lost the majority of their defense. I can see this being a brutal day for The Bearcats.
Arkansas can, and will, run the ball all day and they could just physically steamroll Cincy. Last season, the Alabama run game was the weakest it has been in the Saban era and they just flattened Cincinnati. To make matters worse, they have added a true deep threat to their receiving corps. The arrival of Haselwood from The Sooners will free up space for their elite runners and I do not see how Cincinnati stops them. The key guys that helped The Razorbacks beat a host of heavyweights last season (Texas, A&M, LSU and Penn St.) are back and look better than ever. Cincinnati will simply be no match.
Oregon @ Georgia
This is more of a gut-feel bet. Georgia were immense last year but the loss of talent was literally record breaking. Will they just reload? The truth is most programs outside of Tuscaloosa cannot pull it off. I’m not saying Georgia will be bad – but will they be three scores better than an Oregon side that beat OSU last year? Hardly.
Kirby Smart has kept faith in his main man Stetson Bennett but the Georgia QB was by no means what won the Dawgs their Natty. Only three defensive starters return, and the program has to integrate a new DC. The Ducks on the other hand return starters in almost all positions and have the mercurial, experienced Bo Nix under center. They also have former Georgia DC Dan Lanning heading up the coaching staff. The potential is there and I feel the mix is right for an opening weekend upset.
Georgia will probably finish the season as a program that is two scores better than Oregon. For me though, those scores will be between 6 and 10 points, not 17. Georgia have a tendency to take their foot off the gas when they get ahead, and their deep threat is considerably less than last year.
Clemson @ Georgia Tech
I made a ton of money for this column fading Clemson last season because I had absolutely zero faith in DJ Uiagalelei and The Tigers’ offense. I have seen nothing this offseason to make me change my mind. That being said, the Clemson defense is incredible and I think this looks like an under play. GT have plenty of problems themselves but a slow, low scoring game in Atlanta would surprise absolutely nobody.
Utah State @ Alabama – Utah State +42.5
Notre Dame @ Ohio State – Notre Dame +17.5
Cincinnati @ Arkansas – Arkansas -6.5 2U
Cincinnati @ Arkansas – Arkansas -14 @ 21/10
Oregon @ Georgia – Oregon +17 & Over 53 Points @ 2.65/1
Clemson @ Georgia Tech – Under 51
I will bet plenty of underdogs on the moneyline this season but it feels too early to make those calls here. I have my own money on Notre Dame (+600), Oregon (+575) and the two teams parlayed (+4625) but confidence is just too low to make it an official pick.
I also think the Western Kentucky line looks too low. If I hadn’t cost myself 2 units with a obvious-in-hindsight punt on Hawaii last week I would be all over The Hilltoppers here. The Warriors lost by 53 points to Vanderbilt and somehow are only expected to lose by 16 this week. If you are looking for a late bet this seems a live one but I will leave it out.
There are a few other massive Week One lines that I could yet take the dogs on. It is already full steam ahead for the usual hype trains and Texas (-37.5), Oklahoma (-30) and USC (-32.5) look particularly overrated this week. Not one of them had an ATS winning record in 2021 but all are favored here by at least five scores. No thanks.