NCAA Football Predictions: Week 1 Opening Line Report and Picks
Feels like just yesterday that Alabama freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa became an instant legend by throwing the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime to beat SEC rival Georgia in the College Football Playoff national championship game. It was truly one of the great NCAA football games ever played and the first walk-off championship TD in college football history.
Barring sickness, hurricane or the like, we'll be here at the beginning of each week with an Opening Line Report. Quick recap of any big results/news from the previous week and a look at the marquee or interesting matchups of the coming one. Doc's, of course, will have you covered with some individual game previews as well.
Frankly, college football is getting a bit boring to me because Alabama is so clearly on a tier above everyone else. The Tide are the +210 favorites at Bovada to win yet another national title for Nick Saban. If they don't make the playoff, it's a huge upset. Barring major injury, they'll be favored in every game because they always are. The schedule is actually pretty weak with the two likely toughest challengers, Mississippi State and Auburn, coming to Tuscaloosa. Yes, Bama goes to LSU, but the Tigers are slipping. Maybe this Saturday's game in Orlando vs. Louisville would be interesting if the Cardinals still had Lamar Jackson, but the Tide are -25.5.
I don't believe we will see two teams from the SEC - or any conference - reach the playoff again as happened in 2017. Still have yet to see a two-loss team do it, and probably only Alabama has a chance. It's not losing twice. The Big Ten could get left out of the playoff again only because the four East Division powers (Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State) could beat up on each other, and then the East champ beats a possibly unbeaten Wisconsin (and the Badgers likely will be with their schedule) in the conference title game just like in 2017.
The Big 12 and Pac-12 realistically only have one chance each at a playoff spot: Oklahoma and Washington. Notre Dame could screw everything up with a big season but has a monster schedule. My playoff picks are: Alabama (SEC), Clemson (ACC), Penn State (Big Ten) and Washington (Pac-12). Clemson wins its second national title in three years behind one of the most talent-laden defensive lines in NCAA history.
Here are a few Week 1 opening lines that caught my eye. Games Saturday unless noted. Picks are ATS.
No. 21 Central Florida at UConn (+23), Thursday: The opening week kicks off with the other national champions putting their FBS-high 13-game winning streak on the line. I thought it was great how the UCF administration claimed a national title of its own (parade, rings, banners) last year as the Knights were the country's only unbeaten team and beat the team (Auburn) that beat the champs (Alabama). Would UCF have had a shot to beat the Tide? Obviously not, but it deserved to be in the playoff and that's why it should be expanded to six - all five Power 5 champions (or Notre Dame) and the top Group of 5 school. The Knights lost rising superstar coach Scott Frost to Nebraska but bring back Heisman Trophy candidate QB McKenzie Milton. I don't think UCF runs the table again this year as it travels to North Carolina, Memphis and USF. It beat UConn 49-24 in 2017. The pick: UConn.
Oregon State at No. 5 Ohio State (-37): This is the biggest spread on the board between FBS programs in Week 1. What makes this game only remotely interesting is how the Buckeyes players deal with the Urban Meyer fallout and three-game suspension. Did you really think the school was going to suspend him more than four games? I say that because Ohio State visits Penn State in Week 5. I would have bet my life on the "under" five games for a suspension. Meyer's reputation is in tatters right now, and I frankly think he should have been fired - Todd Gurley got four games in college for signing autographs! - but whatever. Perhaps the only Power 5 programs worse than Oregon State are Kansas and Rutgers. Oregon State has lost its past 19 road games by nearly 25 points per. The pick: Ohio State.
No. 6 Washington at No. 3 Auburn (-3): This is the game of the week from Atlanta, which basically makes it a home affair for the Tigers. The last time they played at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, their playoff hopes went up in smoke in a 28-7 loss to Georgia in the SEC title game. Had Auburn won that, it would have been the first two-loss team in the CFP. I believe the loser here is in big trouble for the playoff. Washington can probably survive it better because I don't believe it will lose again. Auburn, though, has to visit Mississippi State (much better than you think), Georgia and Alabama. No shot the Tigers win all three. The pick: Washington (shop for or buy up to +3.5).
No. 14 Michigan at No. 12 Notre Dame (+1.5): This will get the best TV ratings and surely draw the most action at the sportsbooks of any game in Week 1 on Saturday (maybe Virginia Tech-FSU does better on Monday simply because it stands alone). It's better for college football that the Wolverines and Irish play every year; they haven't since 2014 when Michigan was spanked 31-0 in South Bend. That snapped UM's NCAA-record streak of games without being shut out at 365. Notre Dame had broken the series to accommodate its new scheduling arrangement with the ACC. The losing coach here - Jim Harbaugh, Brian Kelly -- goes right on the hot seat, and I see no way the loser makes the playoff because these schools have two of the toughest schedules in the country. The pick: Notre Dame.
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