College Football Week 1 Predictions: Picking Top 25 Games Against the Spread
College football is back, which means Bleacher Report will again be picking all games including Top 25 teams against the spread.
Why so specific instead of simply choosing winners?
In some cases, the favorite isn't just a field goal or touchdown ahead. Take 25th-ranked Florida, for example; the Gators' Week 1 opponent, UMass, is a 36-point underdog. Florida is a near-lock to win, but it's tougher to project whether the margin will be higher or lower.
While we'll track season performance against the spread, please remember these picks are for entertainment purposes only.
Appalachian State vs. No. 9 Tennessee
When: Thursday, Sept. 1, 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
The Line: Tennessee (-20)
One of the biggest "what if" teams of 2016 is Tennessee, which is the favorite to win the SEC East Division. Head coach Butch Jones' squad also holds a 20-point advantage over Appalachian State in the opener.
The Vols will attempt to establish the running game with a three-headed monster of Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara, but the Mountaineers shouldn't get steamrolled.
Last season, they sported the nation's No. 27 rush defense. The departure of Ronald Blair stings, but nearly every other key piece returns in the front seven. Plus, Taylor Lamb is a low-risk, efficient quarterback. He can keep App State competitive—or throw a late, bad-beat touchdown.
Not reaching a 20-point margin of victory shouldn't be considered a disappointment for Tennessee. Rather, it's a testament to the Mountaineers' formidable 2016 roster.
The Pick: Appalachian State (+20)
No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 15 Houston
When: Saturday, Sept. 3, noon ET (ABC)
The Line: Oklahoma (-11)
Houston didn't get much respect before the 2016 Peach Bowl against Florida State, yet head coach Tom Herman's team walked out 14-point victors. The Cougars open the season against No. 3 Oklahoma.
"It feels like the championship," linebacker Steven Taylor told Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer. "The environment is going to be epic. I just want to win."
Dual-threat quarterbacks gave the Sooners trouble last season, and Houston's Greg Ward Jr.'s is one of college football's best. He'll consistently test Oklahoma's inexperience at outside linebacker, and the Cougars' skill-position talent is solid.
Additionally, Herman—who will keep pushing for every point even in garbage time—certainly has some tricks. We like the Cougars to stay within a touchdown and a field goal.
The Pick: Houston (+11)
No. 16 UCLA vs. Texas A&M
When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
The Line: Texas A&M (-3.5)
Although UCLA is the nation's 16th-ranked team, Texas A&M holds a 3.5-point edge for the season opener in College Station.
Largely due to quarterback problems, the Aggies were just 2-4 against the spread at home last year. On Saturday, Texas A&M needs to worry about the Bruins stopping the spread offense of Noel Mazzone, who was UCLA's offensive coordinator from 2012-2015.
"He's a smart guy, so he's not going to call the same stuff that we've been seeing for four years in practice," Bruins defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes said, according to Thuc Nhi Nguyen of the Los Angeles Daily News. "He knows better than that."
Texas A&M's defensive line also has a distinct advantage over UCLA's offensive front. The Aggies are favored for good reason.
The Pick: Texas A&M (-3.5)
No. 5 LSU vs. Wisconsin
When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
The Line: LSU (-10)
Wisconsin hasn't lost a home game by more than a touchdown since 2009, but Saturday's outing is at Lambeau Field. The streak will live, but Badgers fans will be disappointed.
Now, it's going to be close for a long time. While the LSU offensive line is solid in front of Leonard Fournette, Wisconsin boasts an outstanding front seven.
The Tigers defense is stacked with talent, but coaching is the biggest difference. LSU added former Badgers defensive coordinator Dave Aranda during the offseason. His game plan will be a nightmare for Wisconsin's mediocre attack.
Fournette and Aranda power the Tigers to a 14-point victory.
The Pick: LSU (-10)
No. 18 Georgia vs. No. 22 North Carolina
When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The Line: Georgia (-2.5)
North Carolina's offense was dangerous with Marquise Williams, and the unit will thrive with Mitch Trubisky. That won't amount to a season-opening win over Georgia, though.
Per Seth Emerson of the Dawg Nation, Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said Nick Chubb is fully cleared and won't have limited touches against the Tar Heels. That's terrible news for UNC, which had the sixth-worst rush defense last year and lost its top two linebackers.
Georgia has significant losses on defense, too, but the secondary is terrific. If the Tar Heels do find success on the ground, great. But the results are the clock keeps running, and possessions are limited.
Though UNC stays close for 60 minutes, Georgia takes the game.
The Pick: Georgia (-2.5)
No. 20 USC vs. No. 1 Alabama
When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 8 p.m. ET (ABC)
The Line: Alabama (-11.5)
That visor is about to exact a touch of revenge.
Alabama will pound the football with Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris. USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast is excellent, but the unit itself is thin on depth and will be overmatched in Arlington, Texas.
More importantly, though, the Crimson Tide boast a ridiculous collection of talent on defense. Alabama's swarming front flusters first-time starter Max Browne, and JuJu Smith-Schuster can't carry the Trojans by himself.
The Pick: Alabama (-11.5)
No. 2 Clemson vs. Auburn
When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The Line: Clemson (-7.5)
Auburn's defense will probably be a pleasant surprise in 2016, but a 7.5-point spread against Clemson seems awfully generous—especially with Sean White as the starter behind center.
Though Clemson lost seven defenders to the NFL draft, Auburn's offense lacks balance. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables shouldn't have trouble containing an attack that doesn't offer the threat of quarterback runs.
Deshaun Watson headlines what should be a phenomenal offense for Clemson, and he'll put up plenty of points on Saturday. However, as long as Carl Lawson is healthy, Auburn should at least be competitive at home because of its defense.
Clemson doesn't run away, but it's a comfortable win.
The Pick: Clemson (-7.5)
No. 10 Notre Dame vs. Texas
When: Sunday, Sept. 4, 7:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
The Line: Notre Dame (-3.5)
Trends are not everything, but they're important. According to handicapper Brad Powers, during the last three seasons, Notre Dame is 0-8 straight up—not just against the spread—on the road when either favored by fewer than a touchdown or the underdog.
Well, that's not a good sign for the Irish.
Texas hosts the prime-time battle on Labor Day Sunday, and both offenses will use two quarterbacks. Typically, that disrupts a team's ability to establish a rhythm. The result should be a close finish.
Notre Dame continues the streak and falls short of its 3.5-point edge. However, the Longhorns narrowly miss on continuing the trend of sending the Irish home with a loss.
The Pick: Texas (+3.5)
No. 11 Ole Miss vs. No. 4 Florida State
When: Monday, Sept. 5, 8 p.m. ET (ABC)
The Line: Florida State (-4)
Capping Week 1 in style, Ole Miss and Florida State clash on Labor Day night in Orlando, Florida. The victor will record an all-important nonconference win for its College Football Playoff hopes.
Vegas says the Seminoles, and we won't disagree.
The matchup is a classic strength-versus-strength battle. Florida State's defense should be among the nation's best units, while quarterback Chad Kelly leads an explosive Rebels attack.
But between Dalvin Cook and an experienced offensive line, the 'Noles claim the other edge. Florida State protects redshirt freshman quarterback Deondre Francois en route to a one-touchdown win.
The Pick: Florida State (-4)
Other Top 25 Games
Charlotte vs. No. 19 Louisville (-39.5)
When: Thursday, Sept. 1, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
Kevin Olsen's college career could've started for Miami in 2014 on the road at Louisville. It's going to begin the same way, only two years later and with "Charlotte" across his chest. But the 49ers simply aren't equipped to handle the Cardinals' speed or defense. Lamar Jackson shreds Charlotte, which struggles to score against a unit led by Devonte Fields and Josh Harvey-Clemons.
The Pick: Louisville (-39.5)
Kansas State vs. No. 8 Stanford (-14.5)
When: Friday, Sept. 2, 9 p.m. ET (Fox Sports 1)
Christian McCaffrey's second act kicks off Friday night against Kansas State, which will probably be dreadful on offense this season. The Wildcats' saving grace is an experienced defense that should stop Stanford and new starting quarterback Ryan Burns from running away on the scoreboard. Still, McCaffrey helps the Cardinal edge the spread.
The Pick: Stanford (-14.5)
Bowling Green vs. No. 6 Ohio State (-27.5)
When: Saturday, Sept. 3, noon ET (Big Ten Network)
Last season, the Falcons would've had a fighting chance to beat the 27.5- point spread when head coach Dino Babers called the shots and Matt Johnson distributed the football. Both of them are gone, though, and so are Bowling Green's top three receivers. Ohio State is also undergoing massive transition, but J.T. Barrett remains behind center. The Buckeyes roll to a big win.
The Pick: Ohio State (-27.5)
Hawaii vs. No. 7 Michigan (-40)
When: Saturday, Sept. 3, noon ET (ESPN)
One of the most popular offseason teams, Michigan begins its championship pursuit at home against Hawaii. The Wolverines will encounter little resistance in a blowout, but they won't quite reach a 40-point margin despite a dominant defensive effort. Michigan's run-first offense methodically wears down the Rainbow Warriors and bleeds the clock.
The Pick: Hawaii (+40)
Rutgers vs. No. 14 Washington (-27)
When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 2 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)
Head coach Chris Ash might help Rutgers become a semi-competitive Big Ten program relatively quickly. But the Scarlet Knights severely lack weapons for the passing game, and that's a problem. Washington has three NFL-caliber defensive backs, as well as quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin. The Huskies open 2016 with a resounding win.
The Pick: Washington (-27)
Miami (Ohio) vs. No. 17 Iowa (-27.5)
When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
In 2015, Iowa stunned college football nation after compiling a 12-0 regular-season record, taking advantage of a relatively soft schedule but still accomplishing a rare feat. The Hawkeyes' road to national respect starts with a cupcake. Miami (Ohio) will improve after a 3-9 campaign, but this matchup won't be close. C.J. Beathard guides Iowa to a 30-point victory.
The Pick: Iowa (-27.5)
Massachusetts vs. No. 25 Florida (-36)
When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Tennessee's hype and Georgia's coaching change drew a majority of the SEC East Division attention during the offseason. Defending champion Florida has flown under the radar and opens the year against a potential doormat. Even with Blake Frohnapfel and Tajae Sharpe last year, the Minutemen failed to beat the spread at Colorado, Notre Dame and Bowling Green. It's going to get ugly in the Swamp.
The Pick: Florida (-36)
Note: No spreads listed for Nos. 12 Michigan State (Furman), 13 TCU (South Dakota State), 21 Oklahoma State (Southeastern Louisiana), 23 Baylor (Northwestern State) and 24 Oregon (UC Davis).