It's that time of year again. Clear your schedule on Saturdays for the next four months because there is going to be a lot of college football to watch.
Here we'll take a look at what we see as the five best bets—either point spreads or over/unders—for the first week of the college football season. Week 1 is always tough, especially in college, because no one really knows how good any of these teams will be. Early in the season, it makes sense to stick to betting on the highly-ranked teams, because with all the media attention they get, it's hard not to know them pretty well.
We'll start with what is surely the biggest game of the first weekend: the Oregon Ducks against the LSU Tigers.
Technically this is a neutral-site game, as it takes place at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX. However, it's likely that we'll see more fan support for LSU here—it's quite a drive from Eugene, Oregon.
Despite this, we like Oregon here. Both teams have dealt with highly publicized suspensions. The Ducks will be playing without Cliff Harris, their most talented defensive player and also a great kick returner. LSU has lost two big offensive players, QB Jordan Jefferson and do-everything WR Russell Sheppard. This takes away a lot of their options on offense, as they'll now be forced to start Jarrett Lee at quarterback, who is purely a pocket passer (and not a very good one). We think this will make it easier for Oregon's D, who will probably still be a bit overmatched, to contain the Tigers offense.
On offense, we expect the Ducks to run wild with running backs LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner. QB Darron Thomas will surely get in on the action as well, and he has developed into quite a poised passer — 30 TDs to 9 INT, and 8 YPA last year.
We think the Ducks are the better team, and 3.5 points aren't enough to entice us into betting on LSU.
The Pick: Oregon -3.5 over LSU
When you hear this matchup, you probably instantly think of a high-scoring game. Well, so do we. This is an ideal setup for an over pick. We have an elite team in Oklahoma facing off against a Tulsa team with a bad defense, but a good offense.
Everyone knows what Oklahoma brings to the table on offense: two early Heisman candidates in QB Landry Jones and WR Ryan Broyles. But that's not all they have going for them. They also boast a strong stable of running backs, and sophomore WR Kenny Stills, who last year broke the freshman records that Broyle set just a few years ago. This team will put up points.
So will Tulsa. This team put up 41.4 PPG last year—sixth in the nation—and their quarterback, G.J. Kinne, is returning for his senior season. Their top receiver, Damaris Johnson, has been suspended indefinitely, but we think this is more of a system offense than anything else and losing one receiver won't break down that system.
We expect Oklahoma to win big, but Tulsa, who will be playing from behind for most of the game, should break out and score at least two or three TDs.
The Pick: Tulsa @ Oklahoma OVR 64.5
This is another game that is technically at a "neutral site," but in reality, it's a home game for the Dawgs, as it is being played in Atlanta. This could end up being a make-or-break game for both teams; if the Broncos lose, their chances at the BCS Championship game are all but gone, and a loss for Georgia would be a big setback in what needs to be an impressive season if Mark Richt wants to keep his job.
At this point, everyone is familiar with Boise State QB Kellen Moore and what he brings to the table; he is one of the nation's most efficient passers. While he piles up big numbers against a schedule composed mostly of week teams, he has still performed admirably in the last two season openers against Va Tech and Oregon (a 134 QB rating in each). Unfortunately, he lost his top two receivers from last year and may take a while to become familiar with his new main targets. Luckily, RB Doug Martin and his 6.3 YPC returns for his senior season.
Aaron Murray, Georgia's sophomore QB, may not be a household name yet, but many think he soon will be. KC Joyner, "The Football Scientist," has gone so far as to say that Murray is already Kellen Moore's equal in terms of ability. Some have even tabbed him as a potential dark horse in the Heisman race. He's joined in the backfield by Isaiah Crowell, considered the country's top freshman running back.
We expect this to be a high-scoring game, and the OVR 51 points is also a good bet here. Ultimately, we're predicting a close game in which the Bulldogs have a good chance at coming out on top. If they get off to a quick start, the crowd could easily prove to be a deciding factor. Boise State is ranked No. 5 in the nation, but that is mostly due to past performance. Their defense isn't what it has been in years past, and neither is their offense.
The Pick: Georgia +4 over Boise State
Our thinking here is rather simple. This is one of Alabama's cupcake games for this season. Let's take a look at what they did in their three beat-up games last year:
Alabama def. San Jose State 48-3
Alabama def. Duke 62-13
Alabama def. Georgia State 63-7
This much is clear: Alabama blows teams out. While they lost a lot of pieces on offense—QB Greg McIlroy, RB Mark Ingram, and WR Julio Jones—they still have running back Trent Richardson, arguably the most talented of the bunch and an early Heisman candidate. Also, we think the fact that they'll be breaking in a new quarterback will just give Nick Saban and the Tide even more reason to keep pushing once the game is out of reach.
The Pick: Kent State @ Alabama OVR 46.5
This line has steadily been moving in Baylor's direction, as it opened as high as -10 in some places and has now dropped to nearly a field goal advantage for TCU.
Frankly, we don't see why. TCU's defense was the best in the country last year, and while they did lose half of their starters, reigning Mountain West defensive POY Tank Carder returns, and with Gary Patterson at the helm, we don't foresee too much of a regression here.
Their bigger concern will likely be on offense, as this is the first time since 2006 that Andy Dalton won't be quarterbacking the team. Still, their leading rushers return along with their top receiver and a four-star freshman wideout.
Everyone loves Baylor's Robert Griffin III, but he can't do it all—although most Bears fans would probably argue he could. Their offense should be pretty good, but their defense is subpar at best. We don't see them putting up much of a fight against the Horned Frogs.
The Pick: TCU -3.5 over Baylor