We're still more than a month away from the start of the college football season. I don't know about you, but I am really getting excited. It's too early to get really serious about handicapping the first week of games - teams haven't even started practicing yet. BetOnline has odds set for many of the Week 1 games, though, so it doesn't hurt to take a look at what stands out - and what might change once the public jumps on board.
At first glance, there were six games that stood out as the most interesting for bettors:
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Michigan (-41) vs. Hawaii, September 3: We always see plenty of massive lines like this one early in the season as nonconference play leads to severe mismatches. This one is more interesting than most, though, because of the public attention that Michigan is getting. The hype is extreme in the second year under Jim Harbaugh - they have had more money bet on them to win the national title in Vegas than any other team. As I write this in late July, though, they also haven't named a starting quarterback. They should be very good on both sides of the ball, but can they be good enough right away to cover a spread this inflated? Or is the public going to inflate lines aggressively enough to make it very tough for them to cover?
LSU (-9.5) vs. Wisconsin, September 3: On the field this one likely isn't too interesting - LSU is just plain better, and it's not even close. There are two compelling factors about this game, though. First, it's being played at Lambeau Field. How cool is that?! Second, stud defensive coordinator Dave Aranda left the Badgers this offseason to take over for the Tigers for much, much more money. That should motivate the Badgers, but Aranda also has plenty of knowledge about the team he is facing.
Oklahoma (-9.5) at Houston, September 3: This one is technically a neutral-site game, though it's at the home of the Houston Texans, so one team has an obvious geographical edge. What makes it so compelling, though, is just how high the stakes are here. Both teams have playoff aspirations, but they will end, or at least be severely dented, for one team just 60 minutes into the season? This is the biggest game that Houston has played in a long time - perhaps ever. Oklahoma has more experience, but they can't rely on that to get them through here. Does Houston have enough to at least keep this one close? This is a tough, intriguing line.
Alabama (-10.5) vs. USC, September 3: Again, Alabama plays early against a big opponent in the home of the Dallas Cowboys. USC should be solid, but they aren't the same caliber of the Tide. However, will the Tide be at the caliber of the Tide yet? It's assumed that they are the best team in the country - because they always are. They face some changes, though, so will it take them time to find their stride? That at least makes this line somewhat compelling. There is the Lane Kiffin factor, too - the Alabama offensive coordinator will be highly motivated to embarrass the team that embarrassed him by firing him at the airport mid-season.
Notre Dame (-4) at Texas, September 4: We have heard a lot this offseason about how Charlie Strong has turned a corner in Texas and could finally have this team back on track after some really dark years. Well, we don't have to wait long to get a real test of where they are. Notre Dame isn't a team that is universally lovable this year - I am not a huge believer in them as a viable national contender - but it's hard to argue that they aren't legitimately a Top-10 type of team heading into the season. A big showing from the Irish would make it easier to believe in them. A big showing from the Longhorns would really be promising. My first reaction to this line was that it was a surprisingly low number. We'll see how it actually plays out.
Florida State (-6) vs. Ole Miss, September 5: This big game finishes off the week, and it's played in Orlando. It doesn't take a genius to figure out the storyline here. Both teams are Top-10 squads. Both want to play a bonus game in January. Neither can really afford to lose this game - it wouldn't be fatal to their chances, but it would be a highly-damaging blow. The Seminoles will have a new quarterback, the incredibly explosive Jalen Ramsey is gone, and the best kicker in college football is no longer on their bench to be a sure thing. Ole Miss lost three first-rounders and has the distraction of an NCAA investigation hanging over them. Which team can adapt and prepare quicker and be more ready for such a massive game out of the gate?
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