There are several points in the offseason that signify movement, a reminder that a new season is on the horizon.
Spring football, which has concluded for just about everyone, is one of those markers. Conference media days—which have become a sound bite-packed summer tradition right before camps—are another.
An additional strange but celebrated milestone comes courtesy of the oddsmakers. When the brightest, faceless college football minds begin to release point spreads for the season ahead, you can sense the season isn’t far away. That moment, which has arrived earlier each year with the increasing presence of online sportsbooks, is upon us yet again.
Actual point spreads have been posted, four months in advance of the 2013 college football season. This is not a drill and those are indeed sirens you can hear going off in the distance.
Online book 5Dimes is the first to post its Week 1 lines. Not all are available and some have changed slightly, but most of the weekend’s biggest matchups can be found at Kegs ‘N Eggs.
Yes, injuries, roster moves and other offseason happenings could shift these before kickoff, but the analysis for the opening weekend’s most intriguing games starts now.
Alabama Picks Up Right Where It Left Off
The defending national champions will open as a 22.5-point favorite in the opener. It’s not a surprise to see a big spread in the opener, although Alabama isn’t playing [insert random FCS opponent here] like so many others.
Nope, Alabama gets Virginia Tech, and the experts don’t see this as much of a game. As more than a three-touchdown favorite, Nick Saban will get the Hokies on an early Saturday night in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta.
Although Alabama has garnered more respect from linemakers in recent years, it could reach new extremes this season. This will mark the 42nd consecutive game in which Alabama has been favored.
More amazing is that this incredible streak will likely stay alive all season.
As for this particular game, much of it depends on your faith in Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas. Can he be better than he was a season ago? Truthfully, it can’t get much worse, can it? Will the VT offense move the football?
Over the final six games of the 2012 season, Virginia Tech reached 20 points or more only twice. Alabama’s defense will have to replace a few key pieces, but it’ll still be its usual dominant self.
This is a tough draw for Frank Beamer. While 22.5 points is a big number, it may not be big enough.
Opening Weekend’s Main Event Figures to Be Close
Of all the Week 1 matchups, Georgia-Clemson has the most “must-see” feel to it. The oddsmakers agree, as Clemson, playing at home under the lights, is a slight two-point favorite over UGA.
Given the typical three-point assignment for home-field advantage—which can vary in college depending on the environment—the experts view these teams as more or less equal.
In terms of the setting, it doesn’t get much better than a night game in Death Valley. Well, unless you’re Georgia, of course, which will then come home to take on South Carolina in Week 2. Yikes.
From a handicapping standpoint, the small spread will likely entice plenty of action on both sides. Both teams will come into the opener with question marks and depth chart concerns.
Clemson has to replace a handful of key offensive weapons and the defense isn’t exactly dominant. Georgia’s defense remains a bit of an unknown, with some key losses and new starters scattered throughout.
I’d lean ever so slightly toward Georgia and the points, although it’s not a confident lean. With so many questions on defense, it would be prudent to see how this group is progressing in fall practice.
The bigger questions: What do you possibly make the over/under in a game with such high-powered offenses and will the scoreboard explode at some point during the game?
The SEC Gets an Early Out-of-Conference Test
While Georgia and Clemson will do their best to keep the scoreboard operators active, the busy bees at the LSU-TCU game can sit back and relax.
The game will be played at Cowboys Stadium, and LSU is listed as a 7.5-point favorite. Les Miles’ group was initially favored by six points and was quickly bet up to more than a touchdown favorite.
It’s not a surprise to see the Tigers get action early, because LSU will attract attention simply for being LSU. It is, however, a little surprising to see this public backing given the incredible roster overhaul.
In fact, you couldn’t pick two more different teams to be playing in Week 1. TCU played more freshmen than anyone last season, highlighted by eight Freshmen All-Americans and very few seniors. LSU must replace 11 underclassmen who declared for the draft early.
The key will be the status of TCU quarterback Casey Pachall. If he is named the starter (many believe he will be), his talent and experience could prove to be the difference in the game. It’s something to keep an eye on as we trudge through summer.
In a game that figures to be low-scoring, I’d always side with taking points and never looking back. LSU will be the more backed team—those “S-E-C” chants won’t start themselves, you know—but I think this will be closer than many believe.
Other Games (and Spreads) of Note
Oklahoma State (-11.5) vs. Mississippi State (in Houston)
Does this point spread seem a little odd? The oddsmakers must really love this OK State team regardless of who is taking snaps. It’s a testament to the job Mike Gundy has done, and perhaps we should keep a closer eye on this group if this confidence translates to an easy cover.
South Carolina (-14.5) vs. North Carolina
This is a surprisingly large number for two teams that are more or less opposites of one another. Larry Fedora's Tar Heels are going to be about offense, tempo and yardage. Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks are going to be about stopping these things from happening and picking up a few touchdowns along the way.
Texas A&M (-28.5) vs. Rice
This is only the first of a handful of big point spreads for Texas A&M this season, and the Aggies could blow past the number in this game. Rice actually had a nice end to the 2012 season, winning its final five games. With that said, TA&M is going to win by as many points as it feels necessary.
Notre Dame (-21) vs. Temple
Ah, the joys of Notre Dame point spreads on display once again. The team that is most publicly bet on in the country opens as a three-touchdown favorite against a Temple team that struggled at the end of last season. Which Irish team you will get is the question—The one capable of beating just about anyone or the one that struggled against lesser opponents?