The first week of the college football season is usually bittersweet for both fans and gamblers.
On one hand, it’s great to have the sport back in action, but on the other hand, the first weekend is usually filled with a ton of lopsided matchups with powerhouses vs. powder puffs, which means many huge point spreads.
We think we know a lot about the teams that are set to do battle on Saturday. But in reality, this will be a learning process for fans just as it is for the coaches and the players themselves.
We’ll see who’s for real (Hint: Alabama), and who’s not (Hint: BYU). Right now, though, there are still a lot of mysteries about every single team.
Las Vegas has set odds for 30 games on Saturday. Here’s a look at predictions for every against-the-spread and over/under pick.
Note: All lines courtesy of Covers.com
UMass at Wisconsin
Spread: Wisconsin (-44.5)
Wisconsin’s powerful running back tandem of James White and Melvin Gordon should have fun toying with a Minutemen defense that ranked 117th nationally in rush defense last year.
Picks: Wisconsin (-44.5), Over
Prediction: Wisconsin 56, UMass 10
Buffalo at Ohio State
Spread: Ohio State (-34.5)
Ohio State loves eating cupcakes on Week 1, as evidenced by their last three opening weekend wins over “powerhouses” such as Miami (Ohio), Akron and Marshall. They’ll get another easy win over a decent but overmatched Buffalo team this time around. But this is a Bulls team—led by hard-nosed players like LB Khalil Mack, WR Alex Neutz, DE Colby Way and RB Branden Oliver—that has pride.
Don’t be surprised if Buffalo manages to keep this one within at least 30 points.
Picks: Buffalo (+34.5), Over
Prediction: Ohio State 45, Buffalo 17
Purdue at Cincinnati
Spread: Cincinnati (-10.5)
Tommy Tuberville wasn’t exactly the model of consistency at Texas Tech (He’s a coach who's 2011 Aggie team once followed up a win over No. 3-ranked Oklahoma with a 41-7 loss to Iowa state the next week). Still, Tuberville is a quality fit for a school like Cincinnati, which has a team that was stocked with plenty of talent by previous coach Butch Jones.
The Bearcats—led by underrated QB Brendon Kay and AAC Defensive Player of the Year candidate LB Greg Blair—should start the Tuberville era in strong fashion with a big showing against Purdue at home.
Picks: Cincinnati (-10.5), Over
Prediction: Cincinnati 38, Purdue 17
Toledo at Florida
Spread: Florida (-23.5)
Florida has had plenty of letdown performances at home against lesser opponents. With the added distraction of the reported suspensions the night before the game, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Gators have another so-so effort in the Swamp against a pretty good Toledo team.
The Gators have some new faces in the defensive front-seven who will have the tough task of stopping David Oku, one of the most underrated running backs in the country.
Picks: Toledo (+23.5), Under
Prediction: Florida 26, Toledo 21
FIU at Maryland
Spread: Maryland (-21)
Randy Edsall knows he has to get to a bowl this year in order to save his job, so he won’t tolerate any sub-par performances this season. Edsall should have the Terps, led by super sophomore playmaker Stefon Diggs, ready to handle FIU at home.
Picks: Maryland (-21), Under
Prediction: Maryland 33, FIU 10
Rice at Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel is obviously the only story everyone cares about when it comes to this game.
But Rice is no slouch. Even with Manziel returning in the second half, 27 points is too much to give to an Owls team that brings back 19 starters, including QB Taylor McHargue, who threw for over 2,200 yards, ran for 667 yards and totaled 23 touchdowns in 2012. The Aggies will win, but they’ll also get tested, especially in the first half without Johnny Football.
Picks: Rice (+27), Over
Prediction: Texas A&M 48, Rice 28
Central Michigan at Michigan
Spread: Michigan (-31.5)
I expect improved accuracy from Michigan’s new full-time starting QB Devin Gardner, who possesses dynamic dual-threat playmaking ability but also inconsistent passing prowess.
Gardner won’t be asked to make too many huge plays in what is shaping up to be an easy effort against a crappy-looking Chippewa team. Still, 31 points is a lot to give up in Week 1 against a team that at least has a running back like Zurlon Tipton, who can move the chains and keep the clock running.
Picks: Central Michigan (+31.5), Under
Prediction: Michigan 35, Central Michigan 13
Temple at Notre Dame
Spread: Notre Dame (-29.5)
Notre Dame may have some questions at quarterback, but the Irish are still filled with future NFL draft picks such as DT Louis Nix, DE Stephon Tuitt, WR TJ Jones, OT Zack Martin, LB Prince Shembo, CB Bennett Jackson and RB George Atkinson III.
Temple, on the other hand, lacks a true standout player. The Irish should be hungry after getting embarrassed by Alabama in last year’s title game. They’ll take take out their frustrations on a Temple team that is arguably the worst BCS team in college football.
Picks: Notre Dame (-29.5), Under
Prediction: Notre Dame 41, Temple 6
Penn State vs. Syracuse
Spread: Penn State (-8.5)
Looking for an under-the-radar game that could turn out to be a lot of fun? Look no further than Penn State vs. Syracuse at Metlife Stadium in New Jersey. The Nittany Lions and the Orange both have new starting quarterbacks and they both have solid playmakers on defense, so we could easily end up seeing a low-scoring, physical and hard-fought battle. Ultimately, new quarterback Christian Hackenberg should be able to get the job done for Penn State but Syracuse should be able to keep this one close.
Picks: Syracuse (+8.5), Under
Prediction: Penn State 24, Syracuse 20
Mississippi State vs. Oklahoma State
Spread: Oklahoma State (-12)
Oklahoma State’s offense is loaded with reliable playmakers such as RB Jeremy Smith, receivers Josh Stewart and Tracy Moore and TE Blake Jackson. However, Mississippi State’s got some offensive skill-position talent of its own with RB LaDarius Perkins and WR Robert Johnson.
We could see a shootout at Reliant Stadium, but ultimately, it will be a more-talented Cowboys team that prevails.
Picks: Mississippi State (+12), Over
Prediction: Oklahoma State 38, Mississippi State 31
BYU at Virginia
Spread: BYU (-1)
BYU has an extremely talented edge-rusher in LB Kyle Van Noy. Unfortunately for the Cougars, Virginia has one of the most athletic left tackles in the country, Morgan Moses, who should be able to neutralize Van Noy—their one big defensive threat.
Look for Cavs TE Jake McGee to cause fits for BYU’s defense. He, along with WR Darius Jennings, will pose plenty of matchup problems for the Cougars’ secondary.
Picks: Virginia (+1), Under
Prediction: Virginia 24, BYU 20
Northern Illinois at Iowa
Spread: Iowa (-3)
Both of these teams are looking for big bounce-back efforts to start the 2013 season. Northern Illinois is trying to bounce back after a poor performance against Florida State in the Orange Bowl, while Iowa is trying to rebound from a terrible 4-8 campaign. The Hawkeyes have a new starting quarterback. But they also have a defense—led by DT Carl Davis and linebackers James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey—that should be able to contain Huskies QB Jordan Lynch.
Picks: Iowa (-3), Under
Prediction: Iowa 27, Northern Illinois 17
Louisiana-Lafayette at Arkansas
Spread: Arkansas (-10)
There may not be a more underrated team in the entire country than Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin Cajuns are the premier team in the Sun Belt, and they’re even better than the Louisiana-Monroe team that beat Arkansas last year. QB Terrance Broadway is an electric playmaker, who has what it takes to lead the Ragin Cajuns to a big upset, and make up for the close miss against Florida last year.
Picks: Louisiana-Lafayette (+10), Over
Prediction: Louisiana-Lafayette 34, Arkansas 33
Alabama Vs. Virginia Tech
Spread: Alabama (-20.5)
The question isn’t whether or not the Hokies will keep this game close (they won't); The real question is: How long will it take Virginia Tech’s offense to actually cross midfield?
Picks: Alabama (-20.5), Under
Prediction: Alabama 35, Virginia Tech 7
UAB vs. Troy
Spread: Troy (-3.5)
With 16 returning starters, UAB enters the 2013 season as one of the most experienced teams in college football. The Blazers’ veteran leadership will prove to be the difference in a game that will likely feature plenty of offense. UAB RB Darrin Reaves is the player to keep a close eye on.
Picks: UAB (+3.5), Over
Prediction: UAB 44, Troy 34
Texas State at Southern Miss
Spread: Southern Miss (-8.5)
Southern Miss will be looking to put last year’s disastrous 12-loss season in the rear view mirror, when the Golden Eagles host a Texas State team that has won just three road games in the last two years. New coach Todd Monken will rely on a veteran defense—led by DT Khyri Thornton, CB Deron Wilson and LB Alan Howze—while he retools an offense that ranked 112th nationally in scoring offense last season.
Picks: Southern Miss (-8.5), Under
Prediction: Southern Miss 28, Texas State 14
Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky
Spread: Kentucky (-4)
Bobby Petrino was exiled from the SEC last season, when reports of his lurid personal life became public, leading to his dismissal from Arkansas. Petrino will have the chance to get revenge on the conference, when he takes on Kentucky with a capable Hilltoppers squad—led by senior standouts RB Antonio Andrews and LB Andrew Jackson.
It’s rare that a Sun Belt team has more talent than an SEC squad, but that's actually the case in this game.
Picks: Western Kentucky (+4), Under
Prediction: Western Kentucky 30, Kentucky 23
Miami (Ohio) at Marshall
Spread: Marshall (-19)
Marshall’s offense should once again be one of the most productive units in college football in 2013. QB Rakeem Cato, who had one of the best statistical seasons of any passer in the country last year, is back to lead a passing attack that was ranked No. 1 in the nation in 2012. Cato and crew will simply be too much for CB Dayonne Nunley and the Miami (Ohio) secondary to handle.
Picks: Marshall (-19), Under
Prediction: Marshall 41, Miami (Ohio) 17
Washington State at Auburn
Spread: Auburn (-15.5)
If Mike Leach hasn’t had second thoughts about taking the Washington State job just yet, he will after the Cougars get throttled by Auburn. The Tigers defense may play undisciplined at times, but they still have superior athletes to Leach’s offense, and that differential will be very clear.
Picks: Auburn (-15.5), Under
Prediction: Auburn 37, Washington State 14
UL-Monroe at Oklahoma
Spread: Oklahoma (-21)
Oklahoma decided to go with unproven redshirt freshman Trevor Knight at quarterback, which will likely turn out to be the right call down the line. For now, though, Knight is still learning the offense, which means the Sooners will likely keep things vanilla and conservative in the season opener against UL-Monroe. Considering how inexperienced the Oklahoma defense is, this looks like a great opportunity for the Warhawks to get the cover.
Picks: UL-Monroe (+21), Under
Prediction: Oklahoma 35, UL-Monroe 23
Idaho at North Texas
Spread: North Texas (-16)
Neither of these two teams want to remember what happened in 2012. However, at least North Texas has something to look forward to this season, considering the Mean Green welcome back 17 total starters, compared to just the 10 returning starters Idaho brings back.
That difference in experience, plus the fact that the game is in Denton will be two big reasons why North Texas wins this one rather easily.
Picks: North Texas (-16), Over
Prediction: North Texas 45, Idaho 16
Louisiana Tech at NC State
Spread: NC State (-13.5)
Dave Doeren had incredible success during his short stint at Northern Illinois.
Now, he will have the chance to prove himself on the BCS stage at NC State. His first game as coach should go rather smoothly as long as the Wolfpack can get consistent play from the quarterback position. Bryan Underwood, Quintin Payton and Asa Watson should be able to create plenty of big plays in the passing game and help carry NC State to a comfortable win.
Picks: NC State (-13.5), Over
Prediction: NC State 47, Louisiana Tech 24
Wyoming at Nebraska
Spread: Nebraska (-30)
Nebraska appears to be the No. 1 contender to challenge Ohio State in the Big Ten this season. The Cornhuskers have some of the best offensive talent in the nation with playmakers such as QB Taylor Martinez, RB Ameer Abdullah and receivers Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa all returning. Bo Pelini’s squad will be looking to send an early statement to the rest of the conference by dismantling a weaker Wyoming squad.
Picks: Nebraska (-30), Over
Prediction: Nebraska 56, Wyoming 24
UTSA at New Mexico
Spread: New Mexico (-3)
The 12,000 New Mexico fans who show up to University Stadium for this game may not end up going home happy, as the Lobos will likely receive a stiff challenge from UTSA. The Roadrunners bring back 18 starters and they should be hungry to prove themselves in a winnable non-conference road game.
Picks: UTSA (+3), Under
Prediction: UTSA 30, New Mexico 20
Georgia at Clemson
Spread: Georgia (-2.5)
Two of the top senior quarterbacks in the 2014 NFL Draft class—Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd—will battle for supremacy in this much-hyped ACC-SEC showdown. When trying to search for an advantage in this matchup of two top-10 teams, it looks like the game will likely come down to how well the Bulldogs’ young and inexperienced defense handles the spotlight. If linebackers Amarlo Herrera and Jordan Jenkins, CB Damian Swann, DE Garrison Smith and the rest of the unit can control Clemson’s offense and keep the Tigers from running up and down the field at will, Georgia should be able to pull out a victory on the road.
Picks: Georgia (-2.5), Under
Prediction: Georgia 35, Clemson 31
New Mexico State at Texas
Spread: Texas (-42)
It’s likely that the Longhorns are looking ahead to their matchups with BYU and Ole Miss in the coming weeks.
Even though Texas probably won’t have its foot fully on the gas pedal against New Mexico State, there’s no reason the much more talented Longhorns shouldn’t be able to cover a six-touchdown spread against a poor, forgettable opponent like New Mexico State. Mack Brown knows he has to win and win big this year. There will be no mercy in Austin in 2013.
Picks: Texas (-42), Over
Prediction: Texas 63, New Mexico State 10
LSU vs. TCU
Spread: LSU (-4)
LSU’s defense lost a ton of key starters from last season. But the story of the game against TCU isn’t going to be the Tigers defense; it’s going to be their offense. Backs Kenny Hilliard, Alfred Blue and Jeremy Hill and receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry will push the Horned Frogs defense to the limit. Gary Patterson may be one of the best coaching minds in college football, but even his football IQ won’t be enough to make up for the talent gap between these two teams.
Picks: LSU (-4), Under
Prediction: LSU 29, TCU 17
Nevada at UCLA
Spread: UCLA (-21)
Brett Hundley and Cody Fajardo are two of the most talented and dangerous dual-threat signal-callers in college football. Fajardo is a hassle to try to tackle. But the Bruins defense—led by the spectacular linebacker trio of Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt—should be able to keep him contained, while Hundley and the Bruins offense light up the scoreboard.
Picks: UCLA (-21), Over
Prediction: UCLA 55, Nevada 28
Boise State at Washington
Spread: Washington (-4)
This will be a rematch of last year’s Las Vegas Bowl—a game which Boise State won 28-26. With 18 starters returning, Washington will have both a talent and experience edge for this game. When you combine that with the fact that the Huskies will be at home, you have to really like Washington’s chances to cover in this game, even without suspended TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the lineup.
Picks: Washington (-4), Over
Prediction: Washington 34, Boise State 24
Northwestern at Cal
Spread: Northwestern (-5.5)
Northwestern is in a tough spot, having to travel to the west coast for its season opener in Berkeley against Cal. Sure, the Golden Bears may be coming off a 3-9 season in 2012, but under new coach Sonny Dykes, they’ll have a passing attack that will test the Wildcats defense.
Ultimately, however, QB Kain Colter should make the plays needed to give Northwestern a big road win to kick off what could be a very successful 2013 campaign.
Picks: Cal (+5.5), Under
Prediction: Northwestern 27, Cal 23