College Football 2011: Setting the Early Betting Line on Every Major Week 1 Game
It might only be June, but that doesn't stop people from looking ahead to the first weekend in September.
After all, we've all been without football since five months now, and we're getting twitchy. Especially with the recent headlines in the college football universe, attention is being given to college football unlike any previous June.
As we approach the long dog-days of summer when we can expect little to no news from our favorite teams prior to fall camp, the only thing left for us to do is speculate. So, let's start at the very beginning: Week 1.
Who are the favorites? What's the early line? Let's find out.
Northwestern at Boston College
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September 3, 12:00 pm EDT
Favorite: Northwestern -9
Northwestern is one of those talented teams that no one seems to notice.
The Wildcats finished 7-6 and earned a trip to their third consecutive bowl game in 2010. Add in Dan Persa—one of the nation's top quarterbacks—back for his senior season with 15 other returning starters, then sprinkle a favorable Big Ten schedule on top, and Northwestern could easily find their way into the top 25 this season.
BC also finished 7-6 last season and is only a few seasons removed from their back-to-back ACC championship game appearnces in 2007 and 2008. While the Eagles have suffered quite a falloff since then, there's no indication that Boston College won't be a tough team in 2011.
But the Eagles don't have a player like Dan Persa, and as is so often the case for the Wildcats, he'll be the difference in this Big Ten-ACC showdown.
Miami (FL) at Maryland
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September 5, 8:00 pm EDT
Favorite: Miami (FL) -6.5
One of the rare instances these days where a conference game begins the season, these cross-divisional foes will meet in Week 1 to get the ACC season underway.
Miami has a lot of returning weapons, but they'll be in danger of not covering the spread—or even in danger of losing—if the Hurricanes cannot solve their quarterbacking issues.
Jacory Harris was supposed to be the next big thing at Miami. He's proven to be inconsistent, at best. Miami now has a bona fide quarterback competition underway, and even head coach Al Golden seems non-committal at this point.
Maryland is improving behind the strong play of the 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year, Danny O'Brien. While there was talk about a competition developing between O'Brien and redshirt freshman C.J. Brown, spring practice showed the nation that O'Brien is the starting quarterback at Maryland—and he is very, very good.
Maryland still has a ways to go, especially when looking at the defensive secondary. But after last year's 9-4 performance and Military Bowl victory, don't expect any more 2-10 seasons from the Terps.
It should be noted that if Miami can't figure out their quarterback situation by the fall, the favorite a line on this game could very easily be reversed.
Appalachian State at Virginia Tech
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September 3, 12:30 pm EDT
Favorite: Virginia Tech -16.5
Why is this game a “major Week 1 game?”
It's a combination of Virginia Tech's start from last year (0-2, including a loss to FCS James Madison) combined with FCS Appalachian State's ability to play tough games against FBS opponents.
While we're unlikely to see a repeat of the Mountaineer's improbable victory at Michigan Stadium in 2007, it is possible that we'll see a game much closer than many anticipate.
After all, you just can't simply replace a player like Tyrod Taylor.
Virginia Tech will be an early favorite in the ACC Coastal Division this season, but that could all come crashing down after a poor showing against Appalachian State—even if the Hokies end up winning.
Virginia Tech needs a massive and convincing effort against Appalachian State this season to prove that they are a legit BCS contender in 2011.
Tulsa at Oklahoma
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September 3, Time TBA
Favorite: Oklahoma -27
Why is Oklahoma-Tulsa a major Week 1 game?
Simple. Last season, Oklahoma struggled out of the gate and nearly dropped a few early contests to lesser teams than Tulsa.
A 31-24 victory over Utah State was pretty underwhelming, especially when that was followed up with a 27-24 escape against Air Force and a 31-29 nail-biter against Cincinnati.
Oklahoma should have won each of those games by at least two or three touchdowns. It's also important to note that none of those three teams finished the year ranked and Tulsa did (No. 24 in the final AP poll).
Again, Oklahoma should win this game handily, and probably will. But if they fail to cover a 27-point spread, there will again be questions about Oklahoma's ability to win out en route to a BCS championship game berth.
Tulsa also returns 19 starters from 2010, making them even more dangerous than they were a year ago when they finished 10-3.
Boise State at Georgia
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September 3, 8:00 pm EDT (Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA)
Favorite: Boise State -6
The first game in our “Big Two” of opening week pits two teams that didn't quite meet expectations in 2010, but for very different reasons.
First, Boise State. The Broncos began 2010 highly ranked, with hopes of finally breaking through to the BCS championship game. While Boise probably would have needed help in terms of there being only one undefeated team from all the BCS-AQ conferences, a late-season loss to Nevada wasn't in the plans and killed any shot Boise State had of playing in any BCS bowl, much less the championship game.
Georgia's season went all sorts of wrong right from the get go. Losing four of their first five games, the Bulldogs seemed to be out of the hunt early. Surprisingly, by Week 8, Georgia was still in the hunt for the SEC-East, but losses to Florida and Auburn ended any hopes of a miracle turn-around in 2010.
Boise State will come into this game as the favorite, and they certainly have one of the best weapons in the nation in senior quarterback Kellen Moore. If Moore can find some new go-to receivers, the Broncos could be a very dangerous team in 2011.
But Georgia isn't without their own brand of firepower. Young Aaron Murray proved that he has the potential to become the next big thing in SEC football. After an impressive freshman year in 2010, Murray will be joined by six other returning starters on offense. Don't expect Georgia to drop four games early in 2011.
This game at the Georgia Dome should be a dandy.
Oregon vs. LSU
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September 3, 8:00 pm EDT (Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, TX)
Favorite: Oregon -2.5
Our second game of the Week 1 “Big Two” is probably the marquee matchup that the entire nation will be watching.
It really doesn't get much better than this. Two teams sure to be ranked in the preseason top five meeting up in Week 1 on a truly neutral field.
Whoever came up with this game should get a Nobel Prize for magical college football scheduling. LSU and Oregon deserve a great deal of credit for agreeing to this game. Just imagine if everyone had the courage that LSU and Oregon had. How much fun would it be to see LSU and Oregon, Alabama and Ohio State, Florida State and Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Oklahoma, Michigan State and USC all play games against each other on neutral fields early in the season?
Take any of the top three or four teams from all of the BCS conferences, jumble them up and each year schedule four or five games like this—all of the sudden you have yourself one heckuva college football season.
There's probably a better chance of Arnold Schwarzenegger being elected UN Secretary General.
This game will undoubtedly go a long way to shaping the polls in the first half of the season. Both teams are absolutely loaded with talent, and both teams are squarely in the hunt for a BCS championship game berth this season. For every prediction that Oregon will win, there will be one that LSU wins.
The biggest issue in this game will probably be how well Oregon recovers from a heart-breaking BCS championship game loss versus how well LSU has prepared in the offseason to make a triumphant return to the BCS in their own right.
It's so close to call that we've put the early line at just two-and-a-half points favoring Oregon.
But that could change at any moment, and perhaps several times before we get to September 3.