20 Underdogs to Bet on in Week 1
The beauty of college football is that on any given week any team can win. Truly.
It’s what drives us all to tune in even when our team is favored by 21 points; you just never know for sure until that final second has ticked off the clock.
I’ve always been intrigued by the oddsmakers who set the point spreads months before fall camps even start. What criteria do they use to decide how much one team should be favored over another? How do they figure that Oregon, for example, is a 37-point favorite over Arkansas State in Week 1 when no one even knows yet who the Ducks’ starting quarterback will be?
How many points is home-field advantage worth? Does it vary from stadium to stadium and from tradition to tradition?
Do the oddsmakers take into consideration how many returning starters a team has? Do returning skill positions like running back and QB weigh more than an experienced safety or cornerback?
I have absolutely no idea how their formulas work. But I do know ridiculous point spreads when I see them, and I’m telling you here and now that there are some doozies in Week 1.
I’m not much of a betting woman—unless you happen to count the occasional hand of blackjack in Las Vegas—but even I am tempted to put down a buck or two on some of the Week 1 underdogs that follow.
I'm not your mother, but my caution is that betting real money on teenage boys playing games is likely a fool’s errand. And you’re not a fool, are you?
Still, it is tempting to give some love to these Las Vegas-decided underdogs.
South Carolina -10 at Vanderbilt
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The season kicks off on Thursday, August 30, with some highly intriguing games.
Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks travel to Vanderbilt to start their season in an ESPN televised game.
Yes, I know that South Carolina won last year, 21-3, but over the years, these games have often been tightly contested. I'm not necessarily saying that Vandy will win, but I'm also not saying it won't.
Before the kickoff at this first home game, all Vanderbilt freshmen get to run across the football field—isn't that cool? A group of revved up freshmen in the stands is certainly worth six points to the home team.
Once the actual game starts, if Vandy's two Jordans—junior WR Matthews and senior QB Rodgers—can hook up through the air, it could get interesting. South Carolina must replace both starting cornerbacks this year, so logic would tell you that good wide receivers could go to town against the Gamecocks.
I'm also not convinced that South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore is 100 percent healthy. If he is healthy by August, he should have a beast of a year, but I don't think he will be confident with his knee until he really tests it in this game.
And we know that Vandy's assistant coaches' wives are hot. Not sure what that's worth.
Take Vanderbilt and the points.
Washington State at Brigham Young -13.5
Following the South Carolina/Vanderbilt game on ESPN on opening night will be the best game of week one—Washington State at Brigham Young.
The Pac-12 Conference is excited about Mike Leach's return to college football as the new head coach at Washington State. And Cougar fans are completely jazzed about the potential of the Pirate of the Palouse to turn around their once-proud program.
While it will take longer than one season for Leach's impact to be fully felt, there is not a doubt in my mind that Wazzu will win this first game of the Mike Leach Era.
Coaches alone can't win games, of course. They need players. The Cougars are not without some talent in spite of their woeful record last year (4-8).
Senior QB Jeff Tuel, who has struggled with injuries, appears healthy and firing on all cylinders. His primary target will be junior WR Marquess Wilson, who enters the season as the No. 2 returning receiver nationally (82 passes for 1,388 yards in 2011.) Wilson is poised to have a breakout year in Leach's offense.
BYU has talent and finished 2011 strong, capped with a victory over Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl. They will have a tough defense again even though they lost a couple of key guys.
This game will be a barn-burner. If you listen to nothing else I say in this slideshow, take Washington State and the points.
Minnesota -14 at UNLV
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Staying with the first night’s action, this game appears to be a no-brainer: Big Ten’s Minnesota vs. the Mountain West’s UNLV.
Not so fast, my friends. This is a tough opener for the Minnesota Gophers. A trip to Las Vegas always means extra distractions for a team.
Plus, the Gophers are dealing with the loss of Gary Tinsley, who died on April 6 of an enlarged heart. The senior linebacker was the Gophers' top defensive player the past two seasons.
The Rebels aren't very good, but there is some optimism in Las Vegas for the coming season. Add to that the likelihood of sweltering Nevada heat, and it adds up to a difficult day for Minnesota.
The Gophers will win, but it might be a squeaker. Take the Rebels and the points.
UCLA -17 at Rice
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The last game on opening night that may ruin the oddsmakers’ dinner is Jim Mora’s head coaching debut at UCLA against the Rice Owls.
UCLA will have the worst record in the Pac-12 in 2012. Colorado fans rejoice!
I realize that this sentiment goes against all the buzz in Westwood that the hiring of Jim Mora is generating. But I just don't see it happening, at least not this season.
The Rice Owls aren't very good either, having gone 4-8 last year. If this game were being played at the Rose Bowl, I would go with the Bruins.
But it's being played in Houston. In August. Makes me sweat just thinking about it. I fear that this opener for UCLA will have the regents questioning the decision to hire Mora. The hot seat so soon? Bummer.
Take Rice and the points.
Boise State at Michigan State -7
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When, oh when, are you people going to learn to not EVER make Boise State the underdog? Have you not been paying attention for the past few years? Are you slow on the uptake?
Not only will Boise State win this game, it won't be close. Yes, Kellen Moore is finally gone, after what seems like a 10-year career on that ridiculous blue turf, but the Broncos will do what they do every year—simply reload and take the field.
I know all the pundits love Michigan State this year, but folks, they return only four offensive starters. It will take them one quarter to figure out who and where all the news guys are. By that time, Boise State will be ahead 10-0.
The Spartans will have a strong defensive team this year, and I suppose that's why they are ranked preposterously high in the preseason rankings I've seen. But Chris Petersen is a better coach than Mark Dantonio, and this is an upset waiting to happen.
Take Boise State and the points, and thank me when it's over.
Notre Dame -13.5 vs. Navy at Dublin, Ireland
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I understand that last year's boring 8-5 Notre Dame record included a 56-14 stomping of Navy in South Bend. This year's game in Ireland—what fun!—will be different.
First, I don't see anything to love about the Irish and can't imagine why anyone would rank them in the Top 20. The quarterback situation is a mess, and Brian Kelly's disciplinary actions leave a lot to be desired. Plus, last year's sure-thing wide receiver, Michael Floyd, is NFL-bound.
While Notre Dame should have a decent defense, it is very young and inexperienced in the secondary.
And, on the light side, it should be noted that in a recent poll, there aren't as many people in Ireland self-idenitfying as Catholics as there used to be. Scratch the virtual home-field advantage.
With the news that Navy will join the Big East conference in 2015 after over 100 years of independence, I would think the Midshipmen would have more to prove this season. Wonder if they are flying to Dublin or sailing?
Notre Dame will probably win this game, but I would take Navy and the points.
Let the haters begin.
Northwestern -3 at Syracuse
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The only reason this probable snooze of a game is on the list is because I don't like teams who ended the previous season on a losing streak being the favorite in their opener on the road.
Northwestern barely qualified (6-7) for the Meineke Car Care Bowl in 2011, which it lost, 33-22, to Texas A&M. This was on the heels of a regular season loss to Michigan State, 31-17. Add to that, the Wildcats just said goodbye to their winningest senior class in school history.
Confidence will likely be a factor in this one, and I think you have to give the advantage to the home team. The Orange are no great shakes either, going 5-7 in 2011. But each Orange football student-athlete is receiving a state-of-the-art iPad to use during their time at Syracuse to help enhance their experience in the classroom.
So they should have more time to practice, right?
Take Syracuse and the points.
Miami (OH) at Ohio State -27
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I realize that Urban Meyer is the second coming.
However, Ohio State had a crappy team—particularly on offense—in 2011 (6-7, including the 24-17 loss to Florida in the Gator Bowl). Meyer will, like Mike Leach at Washington State, have a positive impact quickly, but the Buckeyes have a loooong way to go.
With all eyes on Meyer and Ohio State, the Buckeyes will have a lot to prove in 2012. That motivation to show the world that they belong in the postseason is powerful. But while desire and good coaching can take a team far, you still have to score TDs.
Please tell me how the Buckeyes are going to do that.
Conversely, I know how Miami (OH) will do that. Quarterback Zac Dysert, who enters 2012 with a higher pass-completion percentage than both Matt Barkley and Geno Smith, will throw the ball to wide receiver Nick Harwell. Harwell was the nation's second leading receiver in 2011 and is the No. 1 returning WR.
Do I think Ohio State can lose this game? No. But I do see it being closer than the 27 point spread.
Take the points and go to church on Sunday to pray for Saint Urban.
Ohio at Penn State -13
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This game almost didn't make this list, because who out there doesn't want poor Penn State to win its first game BIG and change the subject?
But I suspect it's not going to be easy—in this opener, or all season. The Nittany Lions are starting over, and that is never an easy proposition.
They will win their opener, but it will be by one TD, probably a score late in the fourth quarter once they realize they could actually lose.
Ohio is not chopped liver. It finished 2011 with a 10-4 record, including the Mid-American Conference Championship Game and an exciting victory (24-23) over Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The Bobcats know how to play the game.
Bill O'Brien and the Blue and White will have their hands full, with only 10 returning players from last year's 9-4 team. Quarterback Matt McGloin was statistically one of the worst QBs in the conference the past two seasons, WR Devon Smith has left the team, and I don't know who they will start on the O-line after losing three starters.
I really hope I'm wrong, but take Ohio and the points.
Wyoming at Texas -31
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One of the cardinal rules of writing—unless you are Ernest Hemingway, which I’m not—is to never write when you’re drinking. I’m writing this at a café in Washington, D.C. halfway through a Tanqueray martini, which, because I’m small and don’t eat a lot of carbs, has gone straight to my brain.
So, here’s my buzzy, honest assessment of this game: Texas can’t score 31 points on my mother.
You have to love Mack Brown; he is an American treasure. But will the ‘Horns improve on their mediocre 8-5 record of last season? Texas will be respectable in 2012, but I don't see it returning to a BCS bowl, where it hasn't been since 2009.
The Texas O-line and backfield should be better, but the QB situation is unsettled between Case McCoy and David Ash. The team's best deep threat, Marquise Goodwin, will barely be back from the Olympics in time for fall camp. Texas lost several key defensive players, and while it talks a good game on this side of the ball, I'm not convinced.
I haven’t a clue where Wyoming is, but the Cowboys were 8-5 last year, and three of those losses were to Nebraska, TCU and at Boise State, where everyone loses. Wyoming fans expect their team to build on their 2011 bowl appearance this season.
Wyoming won’t win this game, but I figure it will only have to score 10 points to beat the point spread.
Take Wyoming and the points.
Western Michigan at Illinois -10
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Illinois finished 2011 as the 81st-overall offense in the FBS and the seventh-ranked defense. That tells me that this will probably be a low-scoring game, which I think favors the underdog.
The Fighting Illini were 7-6 last year, 2-6 in the Big Ten. Nothing I've read seems to indicate that they will be any better in 2012.
Western Michigan, however, is loaded with optimism after a darn good season in 2011. The Broncos ended the year at 7-6 with a close loss to Purdue (37-32) in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl. They did lose to Illinois last year in Champaign, but only 23—20, and Illinois was ranked No. 24 at the time.
I don't get why the Broncos are playing Illinois again in Champaign, but, neve rmind, I like their chances to not only beat the spread, but possibly win this game.
Take Western Michigan and the points.
Arkansas State at Oregon -37
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The first thing you need to know is that I bleed green and yellow. I always think the Rose Bowl Champion Ducks will win; these days, they usually do, unlike when I was a student at Oregon.
Having said that, 37 points is a lot. Especially against a brand-new head coach, Gus Malzahn, who, as an assistant coach at Auburn, tore the Ducks apart in the BCS National Championship Game. Malzahn coached a QB you may remember: Cam Newton. Duck fans certainly remember Newton.
Chip Kelly has a killer instinct—so refreshing after nice guy Mike Bellotti—and he will step on the pedal in Week 1. But Malzahn will have some tricks up his sleeve, and he won’t want to be embarrassed in his head coaching debut.
Even with a new starting QB and RB, the Ducks have far too much talent to lose this game. Oregon is much stronger defensively this year, which is important because the Ducks’ defense is on the field a lot due to the speed at which its offense scores.
Too bad for Malzahn that he draws the Ducks at Autzen Stadium for his opener. Ducks win, but I've changed my mind over earlier predictions about this point spread.
Take the Red Wolves and the points, and don’t hate me, Duck fans.
Oklahoma -28.5 at UTEP
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When is America going to figure out that while football runs in their blood, the Stoops brothers are not particularly good coaches?
Mike Stoops, fired midseason by Arizona in 2011, has been rescued by his bro to resurrect the Sooners defense that, in a word, stunk last year. As much as I am not a fan of Mike Stoops, he will probably improve Oklahoma's defense. Just be prepared to be yelled at, kids!
The UTEP Miners under Mike Price have been mediocre in recent years (5-7 in 2011), but they do have a strong offense. I see them being able to put some points on the board against the Sooners' porous defense.
Basically, this will be a high-scoring game with no defense to be found anywhere in El Paso on September 1. Oklahoma will win with a score something like 42-24.
Take the Miners and the points and wave to the Stoops brothers.
William & Mary at Maryland -31
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Could there be a seat any hotter in college football than Randy Edsall's at Maryland this season?
You probably already know all this, but Edsall went 2-10 in 2011 after inheriting a team who went 9-4 the previous season. Worse, a bazillion players—well, 24—have left the Terrapins since Edsall arrived. Coaches have bailed too. It's ugly, folks.
So, there's nowhere to go but up, I figure. Since everyone else has left, the guys who stayed must want to be at Maryland and, I assume, put on a good show in 2012.
And, just so we're square, William & Mary is probably a good team to open with when you are scraping the bottom of the barrel. The Tribe was 5-6 in 2011, and the ACC foe is not going to be better in 2012. But they did have Tim Tebow at their summer camp this year, so I'm going to assume the Tribe will score points.
Honestly, I'm not sure that the Terps can score 31 points, so take the Tribe and the points.
Miami (FL) -1 at Boston College
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Boy, talk about your strong statements, oddsmakers.
When you have a point spread of one, you know the oddsmakers are on the fence. In this case, they fell on the wrong side of that fence.
Boston College was stinky last year, with a 4-8 record, but guess who it beat in the last game of the season?
That would be Miami (FL), by a score of 24-17 at Miami.
The Eagles dismissed their running back, Montel Harris, but other than that, there is not much that is new at Boston College. They return more starters than any team in the ACC.
Meanwhile, it's business as usual with the Hurricanes: scandal, suspended players, etc. etc. etc. The only thing that's different with Miami is that it suffered through a very poor (by its standards) year and finished 6-6 in 2011.
Oddsmaker dudes, when it's a close game, go with the home team. Boston College will beat Miami at home this year, but as the thin point spread indicates, be very careful; this might be a game where neither team wins.
Clemson -3 vs. Auburn at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta
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I like Auburn in this game. Not that I could ever really "like" Auburn, but you know what I mean.
Because Clemson laid such a big stinkeroo in the Discover Orange Bowl vs. West Virginia, losing, 70-33 (and it wasn't that close), and because its defense is still suspect, the Tigers will overcome their 8-5 2011 record and put the hurt on Clemson.
Auburn is also more used to a big stage than Clemson, and that will serve it well in this high-profile opener. And if Georgia Dome officials let that damn eagle do its thing before kickoff, Clemson will be behind before the game starts.
War Eagle makes me puke, but Auburn wins this one.
Michigan vs. Alabama -13 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX
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This very well may be Michigan's year. The Wolverines have almost everyone back from their exciting Sugar Bowl winning team (23-20 in OT.)
We will know almost right away, as Michigan and national champion Alabama face off in the 2012 College Football Kick-off Event at Jerry's World in Texas. This will be the first time the two powerhouses have ever played in the regular season.
Michigan lost only two games in 2011: at No. 23 Michigan State and, inexplicably, at Iowa. Because it doesn't play Wisconsin in the regular season, and because Ohio State is going nowhere except to its favorite recliner; if the Wolverines can get past Alabama somehow, it should be smooth sailing into the postseason.
That's good motivation. Do it, Michigan, for everyone not in the SEC across this great nation.
Take the Wolverines and the points.
Colorado State vs. Colorado -7 at Denver
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These are two teams who have fallen on hard times in recent years. My heart just goes out to both of them.
But it doesn't make this game any more interesting, unless you happen to be a resident of the great state of Colorado.
The Colorado State Rams were 3-9 last year, while the Buffaloes were 3-10 in Colorado's first year in the Pac-12. The Buffaloes won the matchup last year, 28-14.
So, what makes me think the underdog Rams have a chance to beat the point spread this year?
I just think it's their turn.
Take State and the points.
SMU at Baylor -10.5
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Earth to Baylor: It's over. Yes, you had a magical year across the board, but I'm afraid it's back to reality.
You-know-who is gone, and it's extremely unlikely that the Baylor Bears will go 10-3 in 2012. Nearly all of their wins in 2011 came in shootouts where RG3 simply scored more points than the opponents. There is no reason to believe that Baylor will be any stronger defensively this year.
The SMU Mustangs, on the other hand, can score but they also play defense respectably. They ended the year on a positive note, smashing Pittsburgh convincingly (28-6 in the BBVA Compass Bowl) for their third straight bowl appearance.
June Jones is a very opportunistic coach, and he will jump at the chance to start the season against a highly visible opponent like Baylor.
Take SMU and the points.
Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech -9
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The last time we saw Virginia Tech, it was ending its season with that heartbreaking loss to Michigan in the Sugar Bowl. After dominating the Wolverines for most of the game, Michigan pulled it out, 23-20, in OT. It just felt wrong, didn't it?
Virginia Tech opens its 2012 season Labor Day Night on ESPN against Georgia Tech, a game that will put the close on week one's action. Both teams play in the Coastal Division of the ACC, so this game is important in deciding who will play in the Dr. Pepper ACC Championship Game on December 1.
Georgia Tech will need some key players to really step up in 2012 if it wants to compete for the ACC crown, but it is a solid team that will not do worse than its 8-4 record in 2011.
Virginia Tech didn't lose much talent, and it will be a fine football team again in 2012. Some pre-season polls have them starting out ranked in the Top 25.
However, Georgia Tech is a good road underdog type of team. This one will be close, but I would go with the Ramblin' Wreck and the points.