It's been close to nine months since our last full weekend of college football... but it's finally time to say it: The season has arrived!
Even better, after the debacle of last season, we have our first, full opening weekend of college football since 2019.
And with that, it's time to get to the College Football Picks.
That's right, I've been doing college football gambling picks in some way, shape or form for like damn near a decade now, with the picks now permanently here at Aaron Torres Online. I'm fired up, and especially proud of the results last year, as I managed to eek out a winning season despite the absurdity of Covid. I know a "winning season" doesn't sound great... at least until you remember that rosters were literally in flux every single day and players were sometimes pulled just hours - or minutes - before kick-off. Trust me, I can't tell you the number of times I'd get a bet in on a Saturday, only to see a tweet four minutes later that read something like "Eight starters are out with Covid" tweet. Seriously, it was annoying as all you-know-what.
Well this year, we're back and college football is back with full fans in the stands and hopefully no major hiccups.
Before we get to the picks, one major announcement: Remember that in addition to the picks, I'm also doing a bi-weekly college football gambling podcast. It will be a quick, action-packed preview of the weekend, with everything you need to know on the teams, injuries, weather, to make you the smartest and most prepared college football gambler out there.
I'll try to keep it in the 15-20 minute range, to make it a quick listen, that you can consume sometime between Thursday afternoon and Saturday morning before you make your bets. Oh, and we'll be announcing a major gambling partner with the podcast soon.
Here is the debut episode:
But for now, let's get to the picks. All the point spreads are courtesy of the DraftKings Sportsbook:
No. 4 Ohio State at Minnesota (+14): Thursday, 8:00 p.m. ET, FOX
The original version of this article did not have me betting this game, but come on, it's the first big game of the season... LET'S ROW THE BOAT, BABY!!!
In all seriousness, this was a game I have had circled since sometime in the middle of the summer as a potential trap spot for the Buckeyes. I loved Minnesota in this spot for months, then waffled and wavered... now, I'm finally back in!
First, there is the Ohio State angle of all this. And I do think it's real. Asking a brand new quarterback, to go on the road, in Week 1 is especially tough. Even if PJ Fleck believes he might have the best wide receiver room in the history of college football. Yes, that is a real quote. And I don't think Fleck is crazy for saying it.
At the same time though, it's not just the Ohio State angle of this, but the Minnesota angle too.
One, Ohio State's defense does enter the season with some legit question marks. They were especially bad against the pass last year (in their defense, they played just eight games total, and two were against Clemson and Alabama, not to mention Indiana as well), and Minnesota has the most experienced quarterback in the league in Tanner Morgan. He struggled last year, but also threw 34 touchdown passes two years ago when the Gophers went 11-2 on the season.
So yes, I believe Morgan can make plays, especially behind a massive offensive line that brings four starters back. Secondly, there is the Gophers defense. Statistically, if you just look at the stats last year, they were awful. But after struggling early, the team had a three-week Covid pause late, and gave up just 17 and 20 points in their final two games.
So yeah, let's do it. Let's ROW THE FREAKIN' BOAT in Week 1.
Ohio State wins. Minnesota covers the two touchdowns.
No. 19 Penn State at No. 12 Wisconsin (-5.5, UNDER 50): Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, FOX
So it was a weird year last year, and an especially weird year for both these teams. And each can spin an optimistic front going forward.
At Wisconsin, the Badgers dominated in their opener, only to immediately have their starting quarterback Graham Mertz and head coach Paul Chryst test positive for Covid. The Badgers then had their next two games cancelled, and lost three of four after that. Penn State meanwhile started 0-5, but did manage to win their last four to head into the off-season on a high note.
But while again, each can spin last season's disappointment in a positive way, I'm only buying it from one team going into this season: Wisconsin's.
Look, when it comes to Penn State, I hate to say it, but they just kind of are, who they are at this point. At their best, they're a really, really good program, that isn't quite great. And I don't think they're at their best right now, especially with Sean Clifford back for a third year at quarterback. He completed just 59 percent of his passes in 2019 and 60 percent in 2020. Oh, and that four game win streak to end the year? It came against Michigan, Rutgers, Michigan State and Illinois. Those teams finished with a combined 9-21 record, with several of those wins coming against each other (Michigan over Rutgers, Rutgers over Michigan State).
Wisconsin meanwhile wasn't all that dynamic on offense last year, but their defense remained elite. They finished in the Top 10 nationally in both scoring defense and total defense for a second straight year.
In the end, that Wisconsin defense will be the best unit on the field, and the true home field advantage will give the Badgers the edge. I like them to cover, and for the under to hit in a low scoring, 28-14 type game.
Fresno State (+20.5) at No. 11 Oregon: Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
Promise this isn't simply an overreaction to Fresno State steamrolling UConn last Saturday. Just about everyone in the FBS, as well as several FCS, Division II, NAIA and Pop Warner teams around the country would do the same to the Huskies.
No, this is instead about two things: One, this is a really good Fresno team. Two, I also believe they're catching Oregon at the right time.
First on the "Fresno is really good" thing, well its worth noting that last year they finished No. 1 in the Mountain West in total offense, and No. 1 in passing as well. They started 3-1, before Covid shut them down for a month, and they never really recovered. So even in dominating last week against UConn, it wasn't like it was a fluke. Or surprising.
Part of this is also about Oregon though. At this point I'm basically the only one paying attention to Pac-12 football, but if you watched the Pac-12 at all last year, you know that Oregon's season was a bit misleading. By technicality they were the Pac-12 "champs" but only got into the title game because Washington got knocked out with Covid, and they weren't all that good down the stretch, scoring just 17, 31 and 17 points in their final three games. The game where they scored 31 points they actually had just 243 yards of offense against USC, but took advantage of three Trojan turnovers.
It's also worth noting the timing here: This game is an 11 am kick-off and takes place one week before the Ducks travel to Ohio State to take on the Buckeyes in one of the biggest games in recent program history.
I'll take Fresno and the nearly three touchdowns here.
No. 14 Miami vs. No. 1 Alabama (-18.5): Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC (Mercedes-Benz Stadium)
I know what you're all thinking: Bama, giving nearly three touchdowns, breaking in basically an entirely new starting offense, with an entirely new offensive coaching staff against a solid Miami team? Gotta give the edge to D'Eriq King and Miami to keep things close, right?
Sorry, I just don't see it.
Yes, Alabama's offense is revamped, but also going up against a Miami defense that wasn't all that good last season. They ranked 67th in total defense, and gave up 34+ points in five of their 11 games. That included 62 to North Carolina in the regular season finale and 37 in the bowl game. Yes, Bryce Young is new. But this isn't the best defense he'll face this season.
More importantly though, this is about Alabama's defense. For all the excitement the offense has created the last few years, this should be the best defense the Crimson Tide have had in a while. They return eight starters off a team that actually ended up as the No. 1 scoring defense in the SEC. Now they're going against an admittedly special player in King, but also one that is coming off injury.
I like Miami and think they're properly ranked around No. 15. But styles make fights, and the style edge goes to Bama here.
Also, you betting against Nick Saban with a whole off-season to prepare?
No. 23 Louisiana (+8) at No. 21 Texas: Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX
Yes, I already know. I legitimately got the worst possible number I could on this game (it opened somewhere around 16 points). And this is everyone's cliché, upset special of the weekend. But you know what, I am rolling with the Rajun Cajuns anyway.
First off, I think most everyone knows, but Louisiana is unquestionably a program on the rise, one that has won 21 games the last two seasons. That includes a 10-1 season last year, where their only loss was by a field goal to Coastal Carolina (a team which ended the regular season undefeated).
Really though it's not just about Louisiana being a feel good story, but I think they actually match up legitimately well with Texas under Steve Sarkisian. We know that Sark wants to air the ball out, but here's the thing: Louisiana has one of the best pass defenses in college football. They ranked No. 6 nationally in pass defense last year and held seven opponents last year under 200 yards passing. Did I mention - and this is a pretty wild stat - they have eight different defensive backs that have started at least three college games?
Now, that secondary is going against a redshirt freshman making his first career start?
Oh, and one other thing that isn't totally related, but kind of is: Over the summer I was in Vegas, and was hungover in the elevator one morning, when a truly huge human walked in with someone I assume to be his girlfriend. He was carrying a bag that said "Louisiana football" on it, and quickly, it registered in my hungover brain "Oh, this dude must play football for Louisiana" and so I said to him "You ready for Texas?"
Without missing a beat, he looked up at me and said "Oh, we're winning" and then went back to talking to his girlfriend.
No hesitation. No small talk. No real even acknowledgment of me as a human being.
Just a flat "Oh, we're winning" as if I asked him if it was hot outside or something.
I mean, if you can't trust a random Louisiana player you meet in an elevator in Vegas while you're hungover, who can you trust?
We're all Cajuns this weekend, baybe.
No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 3 Clemson (Clemson -3, UNDER 51.5): Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC (Charlotte, NC)
So I already know what you're thinking, "Dude, Torres, what's going on? I thought you were the idiot that looooooooves Georgia going into this season? Now you're picking them to lose in Week 1 and Clemson to cover. You're an IDIOT, bro!"
First off, name calling isn't necessary. Two, I don't think losing this game necessarily puts Georgia out of the national title race.
Let's start with this game, where a few things keep sticking out to me: One, this wasn't a good fall for Georgia in terms of injuries and players leaving the team. Tight end Darnell Washington is out, wide receiver Arik Gilbert is away from the team (insert your own commentary here) and George Pickens is obviously out with an ACL tear from the spring. Cornerback Tykee Smith also isn't expected to play either.
Washington and Smith aren't expected to be out all season, but also aren't expected back for this game. Even if they do come back, it's clear they won't be at 100 percent.
So that's part of it, but here is the other part: For all the focus on the loss of Trevor Lawrence, this Clemson defense returns 10 starters and might be the best in the country. They also will be unquestionably the best defense that JT Daniels has seen all year. And as bad as they looked in the College Football Playoff against Ohio State, the Dawgs simply don't have the personnel to stretch them deep the way Ohio State did.
So add it all up, and I just see Georgia having trouble moving the ball in this one. It's also worth noting that DJ Uiagalelei should have a little bit more to work with in the passing game last year than Lawrence did, with the return of Justyn Ross from injury.
Ultimately I still like Georgia, and think the schedule lines up nicely (no Alabama, LSU, A&M or Ole Miss in the regular season) for them to get to the SEC title game at 11-1 and play for their playoff lives from there.
But I just think this is a bad spot, and they're too banged up.
I'm rolling with Clemson in something like a 28-17 type win.
Finally, last year I decided that when it came to some of the bigger games on the schedule that I didn't feel comfortable with, I'd simply stay away and give a quick explanation why.
Boise State at UCF (-4.5): Thursday, 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN: Two of the best Power 5 programs will square off to start the season (a future preview of their Big 12 rivalry, anyone?!) and I can't lie I'm fired up to watch this one. But with Brian Harsin now at Auburn and Josh Heupel now at UCF and replaced by two guys completely new to their programs, I have absolutely no idea what to expect from either team. I'll watch. I'll enjoy. I will not be wagering though.
No. 10 North Carolina (-5.5) at Virginia Tech: Friday, 6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN: I'm not a fan of Virginia Tech, and actually believe its more likely this season ends with Justin Fuente being fired, than some incredible turnaround. But as good as Sam Howell is, asking him to go on the road on Week 1, with essentially an entirely new set of skill position players, seems like a tall order to ask for. This game, location and line all scream "stay away."
No. 17 Indiana at No. 18 Iowa (-3.5): Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network - If you followed the picks last year, you know that I went roughly 0-11 in Indiana games, which is kind of amazing since they only played like eight games total. And really, that's why I'm staying away. Michael Penix is coming off injury, and Indiana forced an insane amount of turnovers last year (they averaged over two interceptions per game) and that simply doesn't seem sustainable. So my gut tells me Iowa, but my wallet is pleading with me not to play this one at all.
No. 16 LSU (-3) at UCLA: Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET, FOX: So all off-season long, I have been the conductor of the UCLA hype train. They played well late last year, and I spent all off-season saying how good I thought they'd be. But I can't lie, there's been a littttttttttttle too much "You know, UCLA can pull the upset here" buzz for me of late, which has me nervous for the Bruins. On the other side, LSU was historically bad on defense last year. Like, historically, so I don't really trust them. And while I'd love to bet the over, the fact that LSU spent all week on the road in Houston has me nervous they'll get off to a slow start too. In other words: Stay..... away.
BYU (-12.5) vs. Arizona, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: I just don't know how anyone can comfortably handicap this game. Besides the fact that BYU lost a Top 2 pick at quarterback, they also had their top wide receiver and left tackle get drafted off last year's team, and lost most of their defense as well. And that's off a squad that didn't play a single Power 5 conference team last year. On the other side, the last time we saw Arizona they gave up 70 points to Arizona State, and hired a first-time head coach this off-season. Again, I just don't know how anyone can comfortably bet this one.
No. 7 Notre Dame (-7.5) at Florida State, Sunday, 7:30 ET, ABC: Every year people try to convince themselves that this is the year Florida State turns things around because of recruiting, the athletes in Florida or whatever. Well I'm sorry, this team still stinks. My only concern is, I really don't trust Notre Dame. They basically are breaking in an entirely new starting defense, as well as offensive line and quarterback. I'll pass on playing them in a road game in Week 1.
Louisville vs. Ole Miss (-10), Monday, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN: Say it with me now: I will not chase losses by betting Lane Kiffin on Labor Night, I will not chase losses by betting Lane Kiffin on Monday night, I will not chase losses by betting Lane Kiffin on Monday night.
Make sure to subscribe to the College Football Betting Podcast on Apple or Spotify. Also you can listen to Episode No. 1 below!