The 2014 college football season kicks off this week. Foundations will be set by the Top 25 teams in the nation as they embark on the pursuit of the inaugural NCAA playoffs.
Several ranked matchups are on tap, but the first of those already occurred Thursday. No. 21 Texas A&M upset ninth-ranked South Carolina 52-28 in the Aggies' debut without Heisman Trophy quarterback Johnny Manziel.
A pair of marquee games highlight Saturday's slate, along with several other contests to keep an eye on at the dawn of what should be a sensational year. Some other ranked teams are expected to walk over far inferior opponents, to the point where odds aren't even listed.
Here is a look at the odds and spread predictions available for the games featuring Top 25 teams in Week 1, along with breakdowns of the top games.
Note: Statistics are courtesy of NCAA.com.
|Saturday, August 30||Odds||Spread Prediction|
|No. 1 Florida State vs. Oklahoma State||Florida State -105, Oklahoma State -115||Seminoles (-18)|
|No. 2 Alabama vs. West Virginia||Alabama -110, West Virginia -110||Crimson Tide (-26)|
|Louisana Tech at No. 4 Oklahoma||Louisiana Tech -110, Oklahoma -110||Sooners (-38)|
|No. 5 Ohio State at Navy||Ohio State -110, Navy -110||Buckeyes (-16.5)|
|Arkansas at No. 6 Auburn||Arkansas -110, Auburn -110||Tigers (-19)|
|No. 7 UCLA at Virginia||UCLA -115, Virginia -105||UCLA (-21)|
|No. 16 Clemson at No. 12 Georgia||Clemson -110, Georgia -110||Tigers (+7.5)|
|No. 13 LSU vs. No. 14 Wisconsin||LSU -115, Wisconsin -105||Badgers (+5)|
|Fresno State at No. 15 USC||Fresno State -110, USC -110||Bulldogs (+22)|
|Rice at No. 17 Notre Dame||Rice -110, Notre Dame -110||Fighting Irish (-21)|
|Florida Atlantic at No. 22 Nebraska||Florida Atlantic -110, Nebraska -110||Cornhuskers (-21.5)|
|No. 25 Washington at Hawaii||Washington -110, Hawaii -110||Huskies (-17)|
|Sunday, August 31||Odds||Spread Prediction|
|SMU at No. 10 Baylor||SMU -110, Baylor -110||Bears (-33)|
Predictions for Top Week 1 Games
No. 1 Florida State vs. Oklahoma State
Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston will commence his quest for a second consecutive Heisman Trophy and national title, leading the defending champions against Oklahoma State at AT&T Stadium.
The home of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys ought to be well-attended by the Cowboys from Stillwater, Oklahoma, but it likely won't make much of an impact on Saturday's outcome. Despite losing several key contributors to the pros, Florida State is still stacked and has the super sophomore Winston on its side.
As if the hype surrounding Winston isn't enough entering this grand stage, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. anointed Winston No. 1 on his first 2015 NFL draft big board, per SportsCenter:
Junior J.W. Walsh will start at QB for Oklahoma State after being benched in favor of Clint Chelf last season. ESPN College Football offered a graphic outlining what to perhaps expect from Walsh as he attempts to keep the Cowboys competitive:
Since Oklahoma State returns only four defensive starters and the Seminoles have four seniors on the offensive line, the favorites ought to control time of possession.
Winston will continue operating coach Jimbo Fisher's complex passing game with efficiency, while powerful ball-carrier Karlos Williams will set the tone with punishing runs. That will be enough for Florida State to secure a comfortable victory and a healthy shot of momentum to begin its Coaches' Trophy defense.
Prediction: Florida State 42, Oklahoma State 20
No. 13 LSU vs. No. 14 Wisconsin
Which Saturday game will be the most entertaining?
Melvin Gordon spearheads Wisconsin's ground game. No longer sharing time with departed star James White, it's Gordon's show, so it will be interesting to see if his explosiveness keeps pace with an increased workload.
The redshirt junior doesn't lack any ambition, and he shouldn't, as he's averaged 8.1 yards on 288 career carries without a single fumble.
"You hear a lot of things about running backs not being as important anymore," said Gordon, per ESPN The Magazine's Chris Low. "Some people in the NFL may think they don't need backs early in the draft. I want to change that."
Gordon very well may, but he'll have to navigate through a tough LSU defense and many other opponents aiming for him before making the leap to the pros. Tigers defensive coordinator John Chavis, one of the best in the business, believes his defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco are up to the task of stuffing Gordon and Wisconsin's massive offensive line, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Jeff Potrykus:
Those guys are mature and they're proven veterans. Both of them played well last year...It's always exciting when you've got guys on the edge that can play, that have already proven they can play on this level. And it has been said before ... I feel very strongly that we may have as good a pair of defensive ends as anybody in the country.
Freshman phenom Leonard Fournette figures to get a lot of work for the Tigers, along with Terrence Magee, a more seasoned back Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com thinks highly of:
4) With the hype around LSU FR Leonard Fournette, SR RB Terrence Magee is being underrated. Averaged 7.3 yds/carry behind J. Hill last year— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) August 28, 2014
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is plenty excited to turn Fournette loose, though, per ESPN.com's David Ching:
There's nothing that he's done that we hadn't seen on tape. He's like a lot of guys here and a lot of guys in the state of Louisiana: They don't get tired. Most 235-pound running backs get tired. This guy can run all day. ... I knew he was smart, and he's smart. I knew he was tough, and he's tough. I knew he loved football, and he loves football. But I didn't know that he could just run all day.
The superior speed and athleticism the SEC tends to breed more so than the Big Ten will likely show up in this one. However, a number of experts said that before the Badgers rolled over South Carolina for 293 yards on the ground in last year's Capital One Bowl.
But Chavis knows how to scheme against the very best, as evidenced by his shutdown of Manziel in 2013. Also, a tight game is bound to rest on a bold coaching decision, something LSU's Les Miles is known for and will likely parlay into a landmark win.
Prediction: LSU 31, Wisconsin 21
No. 12 Georgia vs. No. 16 Clemson
NFL teams have opted not to draft a running back in the first round over the past two years. That might change should junior Bulldogs star Todd Gurley declare following the season.
ESPN Stats & Info highlighted the prowess Gurley has flashed in his first two years in Athens—even with injuries slowing him down in 2013:
The key for Clemson at Sanford Stadium will be containing Gurley, but that's far easier said than done.
This is a rematch of last year's season opener, where Gurley amassed 154 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 carries against the hapless Tigers defense in Death Valley, though Georgia still lost 38-35.
Defensive end Vic Beasley will be leading the charge for Clemson's front four to thwart Gurley, and he isn't backing down from the challenge, per The State's Brandon Rink:
I see a good opportunity for our defense to really make a statement with a big opening game. It's going to be tough to shutdown Todd Gurley and that offensive line, but our plan is to do so. [...] I know a lot of teams will be scheming for me, but I feel like I have the ability to affect the opposing team's offense by helping my other defensive players get to the quarterback. Make plays in the backfield.
Clemson is trying to replace some serious offensive firepower in receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. Prolific passer Tajh Boyd was a dual-threat stud who accounted for all five of the Tigers' touchdowns in their last win over the Bulldogs.
In what should be a hotly competitive contest, revenge will be on Georgia's mind, and it will have the edge offensively with Hutson Mason under center. The following quotes from coach Mark Richt and Mason himself drive this point home, per Georgia Football and 247Sports' Gentry Estes, respectively:
Mason has experience filling in for his injured predecessor, Aaron Murray, last year, while the Tigers' Cole Stoudt has yet to prove himself in a starting capacity.
Injuries plagued the Bulldogs last season, so even with the departure of Murray, Mason will be eager to prove himself and should create the balance Georgia needs to contend in the SEC. The defense is still a bit of a question mark, but it ought to build on some confidence generated by a big early-season victory over Clemson.
This may not be Saturday's closest outcome, but it will be the only ranked matchup that doesn't take place on a neutral field. That should create the best atmosphere among all the exciting games, and the vengeance factor makes Clemson-Georgia all the more entertaining.
Although the Tigers will have a tough start, they will find a way to bounce back and rally around Stoudt, who will play better than expected on the road and help Clemson contend in the ACC.
Prediction: Georgia 27, Clemson 24