Getting off to a fast start is important. Don't believe me? Just ask Scott Frost.
Yes, that was rough. As someone who attended the Nebraska-Illinois football game (and also bet on Nebraska), it's hard to put into words just how bad that was for the head coach of the Cornhuskers in Week 0.
The good news on my end is that Nebraska was the only blemish on an otherwise clean card.
A 3-1 start is a fine way to begin, but there is much to accomplish. This is a marathon, not a sprint. There is plenty of money to potentially be made or picks to mangle.
Before I get to my Week 1 selections, let's revisit what went right and what went wrong in Week 0.
The Good: Hawai'i-UCLA (Under 68): This under was not trending well. In fact, 27 first-quarter points had me quite concerned. The UCLA defense, however, played an outstanding game. And 0 fourth-quarter points certainly helped. What a gorgeous final quarter.
The Bad: Nebraska (-7): By the middle of the third quarter, I was already listening to Nebraska fans outlining who they should hire as their next coach. Just a woeful performance and pick.
With that, we're on to Week 1. Let's keep the good start in motion.
All point spreads courtesy of DraftKings.
Virginia Tech (+5.5) vs. North Carolina
Yes, Friday night football returns, which means you will be served college football for five consecutive days. And while many Friday games are normally quite meh, that is not the case in this instance.
This is a fascinating game on a variety of fronts. For starters, North Carolina enters the season with plenty of buzz—a bit too much perhaps. I certainly respect quarterback Sam Howell's ability along with the job Mack Brown has done, but I wonder how the Tar Heels will replace their top two running backs (who were outstanding in 2020) along with their top two wideouts.
Virginia Tech, of course, is not without its questions either. Running back Khalil Herbert, who was fabulous last season, is in the NFL. But the primary targets on offense are largely back for QB Braxton Burmeister, who seems like a solid candidate for a breakout year.
Last year's contest was a 56-45 thriller at North Carolina. I don't expect that kind of output, although there will likely be plenty of scoring. Only this time Virginia Tech closes the deficit even more.
In fact, an upset would not surprise.
Georgia (+3) vs. Clemson
It's the game of the week. It's also, at least at the moment, the game of the year. The field will be filled with many future NFL players. A potential championship run, for both teams, will begin here no matter the victor.
The only negative—and I am being picky—is that the game will be played in Charlotte rather than on one of these two wonderful campuses.
That said, I like Georgia. If you have been reading our preseason Locks of the Week coverage, you know this by now. I believe the Bulldogs, even with injuries and absences, are the most talented football team in America.
Clemson is good as well. Exceptionally good. D.J. Uiagalelei is as advertised, and the Tigers are loaded.
But I love JT Daniels, and the Bulldogs have elite talent at just about every place on the field. I picked them to win the SEC and the national championship. As such, I think Georgia will win the opener.
It'll be close. In fact, it has a chance to be epic. But Georgia wins a matchup that somehow eclipses the hype that has been building for months.
Texas vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (Over 58)
I'm staying away from the spread (Texas is an eight-point favorite), although I love the over. In fact, I think this has a chance to offer up some scoreboard destruction on both sides.
Everything I have heard about Texas QB Hudson Card, who has been named the starter, has been overwhelmingly positive. Match him with running back Bijan Robinson, and I am expecting the Longhorns to score plenty this week and beyond.
Where the over comes into play is on the other side of the ball. Texas had the No. 61-ranked scoring defense in 2020, and Steve Sarkisian will not be able to cure these issues overnight.
Louisiana had a top-30 scoring offense in 2020, and many of those pieces will be back this year. While I'm uncertain whether the Ragin' Cajuns can keep up, I am ready to watch them try.
This is a good team with a lot of experience. Not only that, but it played in a handful of crucial games last year. I'm avoiding the spread and instead pouring myself a giant tub of popcorn and embracing the fireworks.
Bring me points.
Arizona (+12.5) vs. BYU
BYU had a fabulous 2020. Zach Wilson was incredible. As a Jets fan, I certainly hope his performance translates to the pros. If the preseason was any indication, it looks like it might.
Wilson, of course, is gone from a team that was outstanding last year. As is much of an offensive line that provided ridiculous throwing windows along the way. And the defense? Gutted. The majority of the difference-makers are no longer there, which was a critical ingredient to BYU's success.
This is my way of saying I expect some regression. That is not a hot take. It's a matter of the meaningful snaps lost.
Enter Arizona, which was bad in 2020. In fact, the Wildcats have now lost 12 games in a row. It is worth highlighting that many of the losses last year were close-ish. This doesn't include the 70-7 defeat to Arizona State, which is one of the worst football games ever played.
Where am I going with all this? Jedd Fisch has his hands full. The new head coach at Arizona will need years to rebuild the program. But with BYU replacing so many pieces, I think the Wildcats keep this game close enough.
Not a win; just a cover. And that's all we need.
Cal (-3) vs. Nevada
It is a Pac-12-heavy edition of Locks of the Week—what could possibly go wrong?—and next I have my sights set on Cal.
I really liked this team heading into 2020, and it responded by losing its first three games. Two of those outcomes were close, and the Golden Bears closed out their abbreviated season with a win over Oregon.
Chase Garbers is back at QB, the O-line remains largely intact and the offense should be better than it was. If it is, this team could be a legitimate sleeper in the conference. A defense that was third in the Pac-12 last year returns a ton of production.
Nevada is a fine team. The Wolf Pack were 7-2 last season, and they also return plenty of key parts. That includes QB Carson Strong, who is becoming an intriguing prospect in NFL circles.
To me, however, I still side with the talent and potential of Cal. And I think the close calls from a season ago could morph into something much more.
Other Plays on the Card
Alabama vs. Miami (Under 61)
This is the perfect storm for an under. Alabama is breaking in a new offense along with a new offensive coordinator. Miami is going up against an active defense with a QB, D'Eriq King, coming off an ACL tear. It just feels like a game that might take a bit to get churning.
LSU at UCLA (Under 65)
I promise that I am not normally this under-heavy. However, this is another ideal spot. UCLA's defense looked great in its Week 0 game against Hawai'i. At the same time, the Bruins offense looked out of sync in moments. I am wildly intrigued by the game, although it should stay well below 65.
Kansas State (-3) vs. Stanford
It is a loaded week of football, although don't sleep on this matchup. In this neutral-site game at AT&T Stadium, I like K-State. Also, if you have not seen the Deuce Vaughn experience yet, make a point to do so. The Kansas State back is 5'6" and absolutely superb. Watch him run wild here.
Oregon State (+7) vs. Purdue
The Beavers, despite a 2-5 record in 2020, were a delightful team to watch. Three of those five losses were by six points or fewer, and the offense seemed to turn a corner. While this matchup might not be the sexiest on paper, I think it delivers. Oregon State covers in a lovely back-and-forth.
Odds accurate as of Wednesday.
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