NCAA Football Predictions: Week 1 Opening Line Report and Picks
Welcome to my first Opening Line Report of the new college football season! Yes, I'm aware that the season technically kicked off this past Saturday, but there were only five games and all pretty lame matchups, so we'll just call that Week 0. Barring something unforeseen - If I win the Powerball or something, I'm on a tropical island by the next morning -- I'll be here every Monday to look ahead to the coming week's matchups.
The focus generally will be on Power 5 teams because they draw the most betting action, but if there is injury news (that I can find as there are 129 teams so it can be a challenge) or interesting opening spreads I'll include those as well.
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Before we get to what might be the best Week 1 ever, here let's check out some futures odds from 5Dimes. Everyone likes to bet on the Heisman winner, and Southern Cal quarterback Sam Darnold, an early leader to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, is the +525 favorite. Thus I don't like him because the preseason favorites almost never win. Oddsmakers love Darnold because of the performance he put on against Penn State in the Rose Bowl. To win the Heisman, you generally have to be a quarterback on a marquee program that's a contender for the national title. Darnold checks all those boxes. I'm not biting.
My pick: Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph at a cool +3250. Rudolph threw for 4,091 yards, 28 TDs and just four picks last year. He opted to return for his senior season, as did James Washington, one of the nation's best receivers. He caught 71 passes for 1,380 yards and 10 scores in 2016. I believe the Pokes go no worse than 11-1 and play in the Big 12 Championship Game - yep, that's back.
The Cowboys are my pick to win the Big 12 (+390) and make the playoff. They will be joined by Florida State of the ACC (+115), Alabama of the SEC (-155) and Ohio State of the Big Ten (+125). Not much new there other than Oklahoma State. The Pac-12 is the Power 5 league left out. If there is one non-Power 5 school that has a shot at making the playoff, it's AAC favorite South Florida (+3000 to make playoff), who didn't look great in winning at San Jose State on Saturday in Charlie Strong's debut.
Here are a few Week 1 opening lines that caught my eye. Rankings from the Associated Press. Games Saturday unless noted. I'll look at Bama-FSU on Friday in my news update.
No. 2 Ohio State at Indiana (+21): This game was moved to Thursday so ESPN could show it prime time. The Buckeyes are the first ranked team to play in Week 1 (not counting USF). OSU's new offensive coordinator is Kevin Wilson, who was forced out as Indiana's coach late last season for reported mistreatment of his players over the past few years. Indiana replaced Wilson by promoting defensive coordinator Tom Allen. IU's defense was vastly improved last year from 2015 and Allen was named a finalist for the Broyles Award, given to the nation's top assistant in college football. Ohio State, which opens against a Big Ten foe for the first time in 41 years, has won 22 straight games vs. Indiana. It will be 23, but those Hoosiers kids are really going to be fired up here to beat their former dictator head coach. The Pick: Indiana.
Kent State at No. 5 Clemson (-40): This game won't be competitive in the least as the national champion Tigers open their defense against a Mid-American Conference school (and KSU's head coach is taking a couple-week leave of absence due to health). Coach Dabo Swinney has recruited too well for Clemson to fall off too much, but this looks like a mini-rebuilding season after losing almost everyone of substance offensively, led by the best player in school history and one of the best in ACC annals in quarterback Deshaun Watson, the two-time Heisman finalist. Swinney, to no surprise, named Kelly Bryant as the Week 1 starter. He backed up Watson the past two seasons and in 12 career games has completed 13 of 18 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown, with 35 rushes for 178 yards and three scores. The guy with the highest upside on the team is true freshman Hunter Johnson. Don't be surprised if he starts playing soon if Bryant struggles. Watson wasn't the starter out of the gate his freshman year, either, but took over quickly before getting injured. The Pick: Kent State.
Maryland at No. 23 Texas (-18): The only reason Texas is ranked is because it's Texas. The Longhorns were 5-7, 5-7 and 6-7 in Strong's three seasons. This is the debut of Tom Herman, the former University of Houston coach. Herman took over so late that his 2017 recruiting class wasn't great, but next year's is loaded so UT is going to be back quickly. Herman, who will get Texas at least to a bowl game this year (something like 8-4), had an open QB competition despite a very solid freshman season from Shane Buechele, and he has kept the job for now. Herman still hasn't shut the door on freshman Sam Ehlinger playing, though. He was named offensive MVP of the team's second August scrimmage. Whomever is QB won't have starting tight end Andrew Beck, who is done for the year due to a fractured foot. Beck was by far the experienced player at the position on the roster with 37 games and 16 starts. He wasn't a big threat in the passing game (two TD catches in 2016) but a good blocker. The Pick: Texas.
No. 11 Michigan vs. No. 17 Florida (+3.5): From AT&T Stadium in Arlington. I'll just flat out tell you I think Michigan is hugely overrated this year and will take a step back with the fewest starters remaining in the country. By step back, this should still be a 9-3 team. And the Wolverines have a better shot of winning this game since UF coach Jim McElwain has suspended seven players for it. That includes the team's most dangerous offensive player in receiver Antonio Callaway. Last year, he led the team with 54 receptions for 721 yards and three touchdowns and was an excellent kick returner.In the last meeting between the two schools, a 41-7 Michigan win in the 2016 Citrus Bowl, Callaway caught five passes for 75 yards. McElwain still hasn't named his starting QB. He says he might play junior Luke Del Rio, redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks and graduate transfer Malik Zaire. McElwain might be playing games because Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh loves to do so. Harbaugh hasn't named his starter, either, but it will be a huge upset if it's not incumbent Wilton Speight. The Pick: Florida.
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