The first week of the new college football season is now in the record books after Virginia Tech’s dramatic 17-14 overtime win over Georgia Tech as a 7.5-point home favorite this past Monday night. We learned a few things along the way, but having been in the football handicapping business for over 40 years, I would caution you on reading too much into the Week 1 results. It always takes a few games to get a true handle on any team. Therefore, no matter how good or bad someone may have looked over the weekend, you need to keep that in mind when trying to predict any future results. A perfect example would be Michigan. It is safe to say that Alabama has been able to quickly reload from all the personnel losses from last season’s National Championship team, especially on defense. However, the Wolverines are a much better team than the 41-14 score might indicate.
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Another game that was a bit misleading was Michigan State’s tighter-than-expected 17-13 win over Boise State as an 8.5-point home favorite. I thought the Spartans would have easily covered this spread, and in reality they should have. Michigan State outgained the Broncos 461 to 206 in total yards, won the time of possession battle by an almost 2-to-1 margin, and took a knee twice in scoring position at the end of the game. The Spartans still have to prove that they can beat the better teams that lie ahead on the schedule with a young quarterback and some question marks on the offensive line, but this team remains one of my top picks to win the Big Ten this year.
Looking at this week’s slate, a trip to Oregon State stands out as a potential trap for Wisconsin. The Badgers did not look all that good in their 26-21 win over Northern Iowa as 32.5-point home favorites, and now they have to go on the road to face a Beavers’ team that has revenge on its mind after last season’s 35-0 pasting in Madison. Last season, Oregon State was coming off an ugly loss to Sacramento State as a prohibitive home favorite and were playing the Badgers with eight starters out of the lineup. That game was over before it ever began. I look for this year’s contest to be a completely different story with Oregon State posted as a 7.5-point underdog at home.
Another eye-opener could be Texas A&M and Missouri’s first game in the SEC. The Aggies will face Florida at home as 1.5-point favorites and the Tigers square off against Georgia as three-point home dogs. Both teams are in for a crash-course in handling SEC speed verses what they were used to before in the Big 12.
Including the Wisconsin vs. Oregon State game, there are three Big Ten/Pac-12 showdowns on the slate this week. Illinois goes on the road as a three-point underdog against Arizona State and Nebraska travels out west to face UCLA as a five-point favorite. The Big Ten went 10-2 straight up (5-7 against the spread) in Week 1, but I would not be surprised to see one of these teams get tagged with a SU loss on Saturday.
I am not concerned about Michigan State’s chances to beat Central Michigan this Saturday, but I would not jump on the Spartans to cover as 23.5-point road favorites. Last season, they cruised to a 45-7 romp as 21.5-point home favorites, but as they say, that was then and this is now. The Chippewas played that game at the tail end of a brutal three-game road trip and simply ran out of gas. This year, this is a much better ball club that is coming off a 38-27 victory over Southeast Missouri State last Thursday night, so look for them to be much more chipper this time around.
Turning quickly to the pros, I have some early-season concerns about the Green Bay Packers heading into their season opener against San Francisco. The Packers have been opened as generous five-point favorites at home. However, their defense has yet to convince me that it will be better than last year’s squad. And from what I have seen so far, the offense looks to be a bit out of sync. It may take a few weeks for these things to work themselves out, so for now I’ll remain in a wait-and-see mode with this team.