It's hard to believe, but America, say it with me.... WEEK 1 OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL IS HERE!!!!
And with it, it's time to do what we do every fall, make some college football picks!
That's right, the picks are back for another season, and ready to start things off with a bang. We stayed away from Week 0 for obvious reasons (no good games, big spreads) but are ready to get things rolling with several Week 1 bets, including a bunch on Thursday night.
Before we get started, a reminder: If you want the betting preview in podcast form - make sure you're subscribed and downloading the "College Football Betting" podcast, which is available on both Apple and YouTube.
Now, to the Week 1 bets!!!!
NC State at UConn (+14.5): Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network
It only feels right that my first bet of 2023 be on my alma mater, my UConn Huskies to keep things competitive - if not win outright - against NC State.
Look, the bottom line is that UConn is coming around one of the most impressive turnarounds in modern college football history, going from 1-11 in 2021 to a 6-7 season and bowl appearance a year ago. That included, ironically, winning five of six, after a trip to Raleigh a year ago.
Well, a year later the Huskies are deeper and more experienced, and will have a significant home field advantage.
People forget that at its best, Rentschler Field was a tough place to win, with Robert Griffin III once famously saying that it was actually the loudest stadium he played in during his time at Baylor. On Thursday UConn is expecting its biggest crowd in years, and the Rent will be its loudest in years.
Bottom line, I'm not quite sure that NC State knows what it's walking into Thursday night. They also have a big Week 2 home opener against Notre Dame next week, so there is zero doubt in my mind they're already looking ahead.
UConn covers, and could potentially pull off the upset outright.
Florida at No. 14 Utah (-4): Thursday, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Ah yes, it's the first big game of the season, with the first ranked team kicking off its season in Week 1.
And with the line dropping from around 10 points when the initial spread came out to just 4, it means everyone's terrified to bet Utah because we don't know the status of Cam Rising.
Well, not everyone... TORRES IS BACKING THE UTES.
The bottom line is that even without Rising, I don't know that all that much changes from Utah's game-plan perspective. They need to run the football and play great defense, two things they did incredibly well last year. This year should be no different, with Kyle Whittingham bragging that the Utes have the deepest o-line they've had in his tenure there, and with a defense that had five guys make the All-Pac-12 first and second preseason teams.
As for Florida, they weren't good last year, I'm not sure their talent level has improved all that much, and I don't trust Graham Mertz in a hostile road environment. The fact that Florida had to leave campus early to avoid a potential hurricane, and the fact that this game is at altitude for a team that doesn't have much depth certainly doesn't help.
The Utes are 12-0 at home the last two seasons, with only one game decided by a single possession (USC last year). They roll to start 1-0 this season.
Nebraska at Minnesota (UNDER 43.5): Thursday, 8:00 p.m. ET, FOX
It will be a night new beginnings in Minneapolis on Thursday. Matt Rhule makes his head coaching debut for the Cornhuskers. And for the first time since early 2018, someone other than Tanner Morgan will start for Minnesota.
But even with a new quarterback and new offensive coordinator, I expect it to look like most all other games of the PJ Fleck era: Low-scoring and ugly.
Listen, you can criticize Fleck, but he has three 9+ win seasons since 2019, by playing pure, old-school, cold weather football. Last year the Gophers had a Top 20 run game, Top 10 defense and also, how about this, ranked third nationally in time of possession.
That's right only Navy and Air Force held the ball more than the Gophers did.
They have found the perfect blueprint to win games at their specific school, with the specific players they're capable of recruiting. And bluntly, I see no reason why things change here, and the new clock rules will definitely be in our favor in this one.
How about this for a crazy stat: Of Minnesota nine Big Ten games last year, eight went under this 43.5 total.
Expect another to hit here as well.
Big Ten West football is BACK baby!
BEST BET: Colorado (+20.5) at No. 17 TCU: Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET, FOX
So, I touted Colorado plus-three touchdowns as my Week 1 best bet back when early odds came out in the summer, and a few months later, I'm standing by it.
One, let's have an adult, big boy conversation about TCU. Yes, last season was incredible. I don't want to take anything away from it. But they also won five games by a touchdown or less. They lost a ton of talent off that team, with eight players drafted into the NFL. That includes a Heisman finalist at quarterback (Max Duggan), a first round pick at receiver (Quentin Johnston) and their leading rusher Kendre Miller.
Oh, and their defense was abysmal as well. They finished tied for 89th in scoring defense, and also 96th in pass defense.
So, take out basically all your best offensive players, from a team that had a bad defense last year, and you can forgive me for selling the Frogs this year.
Meanwhile at Colorado, for as polarizing as Deion Sanders has been since he got to Boulder, this offense should be able to score points this season. Shedeur Sanders is a quarterback so talented he was initially offered by Alabama out of high school, and the skill positions are filled with big-time transfers (Jimmy Horn) and high-level recruits (Dylan Edwards, Omarion Miller).
Does Colorado have enough bodies on defense to pull off the upset?
I'm not sure.
But they will move the ball.
I'll take TCU to win in a 42-34 type shoot out.
West Virginia at No. 7 Penn State (-20): Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC
It's the debut of the "Big Ten on NBC,"... can ya feel the excitement?!??!
(In all seriousness, shout out to Kevin Warren: We can criticize him for folding like origami during Covid. But convincing NBC to pay hundreds of millions a year for the Big Ten's third best game of the week is one of the great marketing cons of the 21st century. It's unreal, honestly)
Anyway, back to the game, where I think Penn State rolls.
First off, Penn State is really good this year (like some others, I've picked them to make the playoff). Their defense is especially good, with difference makers at all three levels and they'll be going up against a West Virginia team that is a mess, with a coach on the hot seat and its fourth offensive coordinator in four years. Their quarterback got limited snaps last year, completing just 55 percent of his passes.
So really, do I need to go any further.
Dominant defense. Inexperienced starter for West Virginia. At night. In Happy Valley.
You really think West Virginia is keeping things close in... this?
North Carolina vs. South Carolina (ML): Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Through the years I've been a little anti-Shane Beamer and I've definitely been anti-Spencer Rattler. But this line, admittedly, feels absurd to me.
The Gamecocks finished strong last year with wins over Tennessee and Clemson in the final two weeks, and to Rattler's credit, he was really good down the stretch. In his final five games he threw 13 touchdowns and three interceptions, all while his defense stepped up as well. The Gamecocks led the SEC with 14 interceptions, all while forcing an SEC-best 23 turnovers as well.
Now, they'll be going up against a North Carolina team that admittedly has Drake Maye... but what else? The Tar Heels have a new offensive coordinator, their best wide receiver hasn't (as I write this article) been cleared by the NCAA and their defense ranked 115th nationally last year.
Again, maybe I'm missing something here, but it feels like the wrong team is favored.
South Carolina starts the season 1-0.
No. 5 LSU vs. No. 8 Florida State (ML): Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC
It's the game of Week 1, and I'd argue one of the single most important games of the year. It's a Top 10 matchup between LSU and Florida State to open the season, a game where one team will have a signature win all before we get to Labor Day. And one team will have its back against the wall all season long.
In the final year before the College Football Playoff becomes a 12-team, everyone-gets-in proposition, this is the last major Week 1 game in college football history that will have season-long ramifications.
And bluntly, I like Florida State. As a matter of fact, one of my bold Week 1 predictions, is that this one might not even be close.
To be clear, that's not an anti-Brian Kelly thing (I love the guy). But at the same time, don't we think LSU is getting a littttle too overhyped, based on beating Alabama by one point, at home, in overtime, on the final play of the game? In other words, if Jayden Daniels' pass isn't complete to Mason Taylor, are we thinking about LSU the same way?
I'm not totally sure. And what I am sure of is, this isn't a good matchup for them.
One, the single biggest question coming into the season for the Tigers is the secondary, where they are replacing virtually everyone. Well, Florida State has maybe the single biggest wide receiver room in the country, with Michigan State transfer Keon Coleman standing 6'4, freshman star Hykeem Williams standing 6'3 and leading returning receiver coming in at... 6'7. Yikes.
Still, as good as Florida State's pass game is, the run game was the strength. They led the ACC in rushing yardage a season ago. That's bad news for an LSU defense which gave up 274 yards rushing in a season-ending loss to Texas A&M and 255 yards to Georgia in the SEC title game. It certainly doesn't help that star defensive lineman Maason Smith will - unfairly - be forced to sit out this Week 1 game because of an NCAA suspension.
In the end, styles make fights, and to me the style simply favors Florida State here. They win in the neighborhood of 35-21 and make a statement to open the 2023 college football season.
Virginia vs. No. 12 Tennessee (-28) - Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN: Joe Milton might be the single most fascinating player heading into the year. If he clicks - like he did in the Orange Bowl - Tennessee is a 10-win team again. If he doesn't, who knows. But that last part is key - "Who knows." I have no interest in betting this game.
No. 3 Ohio State (-28.5) at Indiana - Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS: It's the debut of the Big Ten on CBS, and admit it, it's gonna be weird hearing that music, with Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson calling Indiana and Iowa games going forward. As for this one, I think Ohio State covers, but in Week 1, with a new quarterback, on the road, you just never know. This is stay away city to me.
No. 9 Clemson (-12.5) at Duke - Monday, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN: In what is quickly becoming a Labor Day tradition, Clemson opens the season, on the road, on the first Monday night of the season. Last year they took care of business against Georgia Tech and I expect them to do the same here. Still, Mike Elko has had an off-season to prepare for this team and Duke is quietly coming off a nine-win season. The wild part? They lost three games by a field goal, meaning they *easily* could've finished with another win or two. I'm not touching this one, and instead will just enjoy it from the couch.
For full Week 1 point spreads - visit Betfred Sportsbook