College Football Week 1 Predictions: Picking All Top 25 Games Against the Spread
The most important thing, above all others, is that college football has returned.
This is an actual game week featuring actual football that will be played in actual stadiums packed with actual fans. And to remind you that this is all entirely real and you won’t be waking up anytime soon, these games have actual point spreads.
Here’s where it gets complicated, though. Although we welcome football’s homecoming with the most intense (but lovable) bear hug we can muster, the matchups are not quite in midseason form just yet.
Of the 22 games featuring AP Top 25 teams, 15 have a spread of three touchdowns or higher. And yes, two games even feature spreads of 50 points or higher. This actually made the prospects of finding available point spreads rather taxing.
Could the games be better? Absolutely. Should that stop you from being overly enthusiastic, to the point of scaring strangers? Of course not.
There's plenty to be excited about, and to prove it to you, we’re picking each Top 25 against the spread.
If the exercise looks familiar, that’s because it is. We posted the same picks last season, and apparently the selections were acceptable enough to get picked up by programming for another year. You will not hear any complaining.
Let’s get to it.
All spreads are courtesy of Oddshark.com unless noted otherwise.
No. 25 Washington at Hawaii
The Line: Washington (-17)
To start, let’s have fun with one of the best one-win teams in recent history. I promise that oddity makes sense, especially when you gaze over Hawaii's 2013 results. Six of the Warriors’ losses in 2013 came by 10 points or fewer before their first win of the year came on November 30. They also pushed Fresno State, Utah State and San Jose State—three quality teams—to the brink.
Washington, on the other hand, was mighty productive in a tough conference last year. The Huskies will debut Chris Petersen, this offseason’s prized acquisition, and they will do so with some uncertainty at the skill positions. On the bright side, Petersen will showcase one of the country’s premier defenses and offensive lines.
Is it enough to get the cover on a longer Week 1 road trip? At the very least, this is a coach you feel comfortable backing, given the scenario.
The Pick: Washington (-17)
No. 24 Missouri vs. South Dakota State
The Line: Missouri (-29)
The losses this offseason were significant. And yet, under quarterback Maty Mauk, the Tigers have been tagged as a 29-point favorite on the online sportsbook 5Dimes against a team that won nine games one season ago.
Yes, South Dakota State did its work in the Missouri Valley. It also stepped up to play Nebraska as a 21-point underdog and gave up 59 points. (No, the Jackrabbits did not cover.)
So what do we make of a team that will look mighty different coming off an enormous season versus a group that isn’t exactly featured often? We take the best player on the field, Maty Mauk, and a coach that should be able to scheme to those glaring offensive and defensive losses accordingly.
The Pick: Missouri (-29)
No. 23 UNC vs. Liberty
The Line: North Carolina (-29)
Outside of Auburn, few teams closed stronger against the spread than the Tar Heels last season. After not covering in four of the first five games, UNC won and covered in seven of the final eight games.
Offensively, despite some uncertainty still hovering around the quarterback, this team should be deadly. That won’t be the case on defense, although for most games it should be more than enough.
On 5Dimes, Liberty has been tagged as a 29-point underdog. Although you don’t immediately think college football powerhouse, this team hung with Kent State team as a 20-point underdog during Week 1 last year. They also finished 8-4.
The Flames can score, which is why they will keep this one just within reach…of the spread.
The Pick: Liberty (+29)
No. 22 Nebraska vs. FAU
The Line: Nebraska (-22)
This would have been a lovely little matchup had Carl Pelini still been coaching at FAU. He’s not, however, so the game loses some luster. To try to add some, talks of revenge surfaced this week when Pelini was asked about the topic. He quickly cooled those. Bummer.
After struggling mightily at the start of the season, Florida Atlantic finished strong. The Owls covered six of their final eight games and won their final four outright. Jaquez Johnson, the team’s sparkplug under center, should be able make some plays in this game against a very athletic front seven.
But it won't be enough. Not with Ameer Abdullah likely running wild and a Nebraska offense that will be better than many realize.
The Pick: Nebraska (-22)
No. 20 Kansas State vs. Stephen F. Austin
The Line: Kansas State (-37)
After this game, Stephen F. Austin will take on Incarnate Word. That’s a real school, and it also gives you an idea of what kind of matchup we’re trying to handicap.
At 5Dimes, K-State has been pegged as a 37-point favorite. For an offense that will bring back Tyler Lockett, one of the Big 12’s premier wideouts, along with quarterback Jake Waters, who showed plenty of promise while sharing reps last year, this seems somewhat low.
The Wildcats come into this game having covered seven of their last nine in 2013. Let’s take advantage of a number that seems somewhat favorable and hope that K-State makes it eight of 10.
Kansas State (-37)
No. 19 Arizona State vs. Weber State
The Line: Arizona State (-51)
The point spread, which was posted at 5Dimes, is rather robust. Considering the pieces Arizona State returns on offense—headlined by quarterback Taylor Kelly—this should come as no surprise.
As for Weber State, here’s some perspective on how this team handled large numbers in 2013. In Weeks 2 and 3, the Wildcats played Utah State as a 29.5-point underdog followed by Utah as a 40-point underdog. The combined score of those two games was Utah Teams 140, Weber State 13.
No, the Wildcats didn’t cover either matchup. Did you really need this clarification?
Yes, Arizona State loses plenty on defense, but it won’t be a problem here. History tells us to lay this absurd amount of points, so we will.
Arizona State (-51)
No. 18 Ole Miss vs. Boise State
The Line: Ole Miss (-10.5)
I’ve gone back and forth on this game, struggling to settle on a selection. Boise State will look to reboot without Chris Petersen, while Ole Miss is expecting its infusion of young freshmen talent to thrive as sophomores.
While the Broncos might not have a match for Ole Miss wideout Laquon Treadwell—one of the more gifted young players in the country—they do have Jay Ajayi, one of the nation’s most underrated players and a gifted running back. Both should find success.
Neither team was truly spectacular against the spread last season, although the circumstances are rather different given the coaching change. If Bo Wallace can avoid turnovers, the Rebels should be too much for the Broncos athletically.
That’s a big if, but we are gamblin’, after all.
The Pick: Ole Miss (-10.5)
No. 17 Notre Dame vs. Rice
The Line: Notre Dame (-21)
The story at Notre Dame, at least for the time being, is obvious. The Irish will be down three starters due to the recent academic issues, and thus will be without their top cornerback and No. 1 wideout.
These are significant losses, but Notre Dame is not without talent. The three-touchdown spread is a product of that, and quarterback Everett Golson could alleviate some concerns if his solid spring and fall practice showing carries over.
But Rice was a 10-win team in 2013. And although it will deal with losses at quarterback and running back, the Owls should still find some success moving the ball. This isn’t a play against Notre Dame; it’s a play for Rice with a lots of points on the table.
The Pick: Rice (+21)
No. 15 USC vs. Fresno State
The Line: USC (-21.5)
USC and Fresno State decided to shake hands after last season’s bowl game and call for a rematch. The difference is that the Trojans were only a four-and-a-half point favorite in a game they ended up winning by 25. This time the spread is north of three touchdowns.
The other main difference is that Derek Carr and Davante Adams are no longer around for Fresno State. Oh, and USC’s staff and scheme is entirely different with Steve Sarkisian taking over.
This is not at all the same.
Talent-wise, few teams match what the Trojans can provide with their front line. Although depth is certainly a concern—and the strangeness surrounding Josh Shaw’s injuries seems like a distraction from a distance—USC is poised for a fast start. Thus, they seem poised to cover this substantial number.
The Pick: USC (-21.5)
No. 13 LSU vs. No. 14 Wisconsin
The Line: LSU (-4.5)
It took until November 23 of last season for Wisconsin to lose a game against the spread. The Badgers then lost against the number the last three games, losing two of those matchups outright. LSU wasn’t much better to close out the year, at least from a point-spread standpoint. The Tigers covered only once after October 12.
Both teams enter with questions at quarterback and in their front sevens. Both should also have success running the ball with talented offensive lines and quality running backs. They are, in many ways, quite similar. At least it looks that way on paper.
Although LSU has the more talented roster and eventual stars all over the place, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon is the biggest star right now.
This feels like a field-goal game in either direction, which is why taking the points sounds like a fine idea.
The Pick: Wisconsin (+4.5)
No. 12 Georgia vs. No. 16 Clemson
The Line: Georgia (-7.5)
Coming off a season of injuries (along with a 3-9-1 mark against the spread), Georgia will look to rebound under quarterback Huston Mason. Running back Todd Gurley will obviously help matters immensely, as will an experienced offensive line. Those wideouts won’t hurt, either.
But Clemson, at least defensively, should be able to hold its own. Although we’ve grown accustomed to focusing on the offense with the Tigers, that won’t be the case early on.
Cole Stoudt will take over at quarterback, and he has experience with offensive coordinator Chad Morris. Although this side of the ball will feature plenty of new (but gifted) faces, Clemson’s front seven is good enough to keep this game close.
Georgia wins; Clemson covers.
The Pick: Clemson (+7.5)
No. 11 Stanford vs. UC Davis
The Line: Stanford (-35.5)
UC Davis scored 21 points or fewer in eight games last season. And although the Stanford defense will be revamping its front seven for Week 1, there’s still talent on this roster, and thus the Aggies will struggle to score points.
Let’s say, however, that UC Davis finds the end zone once. This would mean that Stanford—which was given a line of 35.5 points or more at 5Dimes—would have to score 40-plus with a revamped offensive line and a new featured stable of running backs. Touchdowns should still come for quarterback Kevin Hogan and the next batch of replacements, but perhaps not at the rate necessary to cover.
Plus, with USC on deck in Week 2, don’t expect the Cardinal to show much early on.
The Pick: UC Davis (+35.5)
No. 10 Baylor vs. SMU
The Line: Baylor (-32.5)
Baylor was at least a four-touchdown favorite seven times last season. In those games, the Bears went 7-0 against the spread. It’s worth noting, however, that Art Briles’ team went 1-3 in the team’s final four games against the number and lost two of those games as more than a touchdown favorite.
With Bryce Petty back at quarterback and a buffet of wideouts that will undoubtedly be running loose in the open field, SMU’s defense—which allowed more than 33 points per game last season—could be in for a long day. The Bears, of course, will be without key pieces of last year’s improved defense, but it may not matter.
This is a team that tends to start strong out of the gate. That should continue.
The Pick: Baylor (-32.5)
No. 9 South Carolina vs. No. 21 Texas A&M
The Line: South Carolina (-10.5)
Texas A&M will be without Johnny Manziel this season. You’ve heard this, yes? Well, include wideout Mike Evans in this discussion—and let’s not forget the defense, which lost pieces due to offseason attrition.
South Carolina has to account for major losses as well, specifically defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and quarterback Connor Shaw. Having Dylan Thompson—a quarterback with ample experience under Steve Spurrier—certainly is an added bonus. Playing at home doesn’t hurt, either. But there are losses to be wary of on both sides.
The Gamecocks enter having covered five of their last six games. While A&M should do its part on offense with fascinating options at skill positions, running back Mike Davis will be the difference. Early home field, which South Carolina has here, can go a long way.
The Pick: South Carolina (-11)
No. 8 Michigan State vs. Jacksonville State
The Line: Michigan State (-32.5)
The most important matchup in what should be a very lopsided game isn’t actually the matchup itself, which has been given a line of 32.5 points by 5Dimes. It’s actually next week, when Sparty will take its talents to Eugene, Oregon for the finest out-of-conference matchup of the year.
That’s what makes this non-interesting game so interesting. How much will Michigan State show on offense or defense? How much would you show with one of the nation’s toughest offenses and home-field advantages waiting on deck?
Jacksonville State, while not exactly the most terrifying Week 1 opponent, did win 11 games last season while scoring at least 30 points nine times. It won’t score 30 here, but 10 might just do it with Sparty saving itself.
Jacksonville State (+32.5)
No. 7 UCLA at Virginia
The Line: UCLA (-21)
It’s an intriguing road trip for UCLA to start the season. Clearly there’s a gap in talent between these two teams—and it's significant—but the Bruins would also rather happily do without the miles early on.
The Bruins covered nine times in 2013, and they will have the services of quarterback Brett Hundley, perhaps even an improved version, yet again. On the other side, Virginia will open 2014 having won just two games last season.
Typically, however, the Cavaliers have been tough in the opener. Last year, somehow, Virginia topped BYU, a result that remains a head-scratcher. The Cavaliers have covered in the opener in three of the past four years.
Is this a sleepy opener for the road team? Perhaps. Talent will prevail, so please don’t put UCLA on upset alert, but Virginia can take advantage of the timing and steal a cover.
The Pick: Virginia (+21)
No. 6 Auburn vs. Arkansas
The Line: Auburn (-21)
Did you bet on Auburn last season? Goodness I hope you bet on Auburn last season. If you did, you’ll enter the 2014 season having not lost against the spread in roughly one calendar year. Auburn enters Week 1 having covered the spread in 11 straight games.
As a product of this success, expect Las Vegas to adjust accordingly.
After an offseason run-in, Nick Marshall will start the game on the bench for the Tigers. He will play, however, although this remains a fascinating and mysterious aspect of this game, one head coach Gus Malzahn is keeping quiet.
Arkansas, which was 4-8 against the spread in 2014, will be tasked with stopping this rushing attack after suffering ample losses on defense. But with a solid rushing attack led by running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, the Hogs might—and that’s the key word here—be able to keep this close enough.
In Bielema we trust. (Stop laughing.)
The Pick: Arkansas (+21)
No. 5 Ohio State at Navy
The Line: Ohio State (-16)
This point spread has bounced around, and chances are it will continue to do so. After hitting 19, the injury to Braxton Miller forced oddsmakers to take this game off the board while the rumors were sorted out. When rumors were confirmed, the line opened up about six points fewer and has since been bet back up.
Playing on the road with a redshirt-freshman QB—enter J.T. Barrett—will not be easy. The good news, however, is that the Buckeyes will showcase the nation’s best defensive line. That will come in handy here against an option attack, as will the various playmakers on offense capable of taking pressure off an anticipated debut.
The Pick: Ohio State (-16)
No. 4 Oklahoma vs. Louisiana Tech
The Line: Oklahoma (-38)
The Sooners closed out last season as an underdog in their final three games, two of which featured double-digit point spreads. They won all three outright, and with that will enter 2014 with immense expectations.
Such expectations are on display with a massive opening-week line against a team that won nine games two seasons ago. Last year was a little different for Louisiana Tech, as the Bulldogs were victorious just four times. They also enter this game with a rebuilt offensive line, which does not bode well against this pass rush.
The Pick: Oklahoma (-38)
No. 3 Oregon vs. South Dakota
The Line: Oregon (-52.5)
Welcome to the biggest point spread of Week 1, according to the online sportsbook 5Dimes. This should come as no surprise, although it doesn’t make a number of this magnitude any easier to stomach, watch or wager on.
For Oregon, it’s incredibly familiar, though. The Ducks were double-digit favorites in every game last season. They were also favored by four touchdowns or more six times. Mark Helfrich’s team covered the spread in four of those six games.
How will Oregon’s backups play? How will the backups’ backups’ backups look? Those are the questions you have to ask yourself in this game. It’s never fun laying this many touchdowns—especially with Michigan State on the docket in Week 2—but this is a special kind of covering brute.
The Pick: Oregon (-52.5)
No. 2 Alabama vs. West Virginia
The Line: Alabama (-27)
In the past five openers, the Crimson Tide has covered the spread each time out. Last season’s debut against Virginia Tech wasn’t clean and didn’t look all that comfortable, but it was still a win (and a cover).
This year, there is still uncertainty at quarterback; Blake Sims and Jake Coker will both likely see time. The offensive line is still being tinkered with, and there are still questions hovering at cornerback.
Expect a conservative game plan from Nick Saban as he feels out some of the pieces on his roster. This could still result in a blowout victory given Alabama’s powerful running backs, although covering a spread of this magnitude might not be as easy as some believe it will be.
Alabama wins, comfortably, just not by four touchdowns.
The Pick: West Virginia (+27)
No. 1 Florida State vs. Oklahoma State
The Line: Florida State (-17.5)
Despite being dealt gargantuan point spreads all of last year, Florida State finished 11-2-1 against the spread. It will be even harder to find value in the team this season—despite losses at the skill positions and in the front seven—so get acclimated with these kinds of lines.
Oklahoma State, meanwhile, covered in nine of 13 games in ’13. With so many departures, however, it’s unreasonable to think the offense or defense will be up to speed by Week 1. Quarterback JW Walsh is capable, but how will he handle the best secondary in the nation?
The spread is large, and yet there still feels like a lot of value in laying the points on a neutral field.
The Pick: Florida State (-17.5)