Week 1 College Football Watch Guide, Picks Against the Spread


Each week during the season we’ll give you a college football viewing guide highlighting the top five games of the upcoming weekend. We’ll pick these five games against the spread and highlight some other matchups that caught our eye from a betting standpoint.

After a wild, news-filled offseason, Week 1 is finally here. And it has the goods.

We already had our first taste of the action through Week 0 (it didn’t go well for Scott Frost and Nebraska), but now it’s time to dive headfirst into the college football season.

And before we get to an action-packed Saturday, we’ll enjoy the return of the Backyard Brawl between West Virginia and Pittsburgh on Thursday night. That night also features an intriguing Big Ten matchup between Penn State and Purdue before a handful of under-the-radar games on Friday.

Beyond Saturday’s top games, Week 1 extends into Sunday with an entertaining one in New Orleans before No. 4 Clemson and Georgia Tech close things out in Atlanta on Monday night.

(Note: All times ET, odds from BetMGM)

An Ohio State offense that led the nation with 561 yards and nearly 46 points per game returns quarterback CJ Stroud, leading receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, 1,200-yard rusher TreVeyon Henderson and an experienced offensive line. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)

No. 11 Oregon vs. No. 3 Georgia

Time: 15:30 | TV: ABC | Line: UGA -17.5 | Total: 52.5

Georgia begins its national title defense against a familiar face. Dan Lanning, the defensive coordinator for the Bulldogs’ first national title winning team since 1980, is now at Oregon and will make his coaching debut in a marquee game in Week 1 at Atlanta.

Oregon has a stellar offensive line and should have one of the best defenses in the Pac-12, but will the Ducks have enough offensive firepower to put up points against Georgia? The Ducks now have Bo Nix with Auburn at quarterback, and he has plenty of experience dealing with SEC defenses.

Georgia, meanwhile, returns Stetson Bennett at quarterback and has a remarkable group of tight ends. The Bulldogs must replace 15 players lost in the NFL draft, including five champions from their storied defense. How will UGA’s next batch of blue chip recruits fare now that they are taking on more prominent roles on the team?

Nick Bromberg: Oregon +17.5, Sam Cooper: Oregon +17.5

No. 23 Cincinnati at No. 19 Arkansas

Time: 15:30 | Television: ESPN | Line: Arkansas -6 | Total: 52.5

Cincinnati made history by becoming the first team from a Group of Five conference to reach the College Football Playoff. But with stars like Sauce Gardner, Desmond Ridder, Alec Pierce, Coby Bryant and Jerome Ford now in the NFL, the 2022 Bearcats will look a little different as they begin the season in SEC country. Last year, the Bearcats beat Notre Dame, providing a major early season boost. Can they do it again in Fayetteville?

Either senior Ben Bryant or sophomore Evan Prater will replace Reeder at quarterback for UC. Whoever wins the job will enter a tumultuous environment as Arkansas begins its third season under Sam Pittman. The Razorbacks went 9-4 in 2021 for their best season in a decade. With KJ Jefferson back at QB, expectations are high for 2022, even though the team will rely heavily on transfers on defense.

Nikos: Arkansas -6, Sam: Arkansas -6

No. 7 Utah at Florida

Time: 7 p.m. | Television: ESPN | Line: Utah -3 | Total: 50.5

Utah finally broke through and won the Pac-12 title last year. It also came after a slow start. The Utes were 1-2 to open the year, but flipped a switch when Cam Rising was moved into the starting QB role. Utah would then go on to win nine of 10 with two resounding wins over Oregon, including a 38-10 victory in the Pac-12 title game.

A significant piece of this team returns in 2022, and many project the Utes as a team capable of making a run at the CFP. That run begins with a big challenge in Gainesville against Florida. UF will play its first game under Billy Napier since things went sour under Dan Mullen last fall. Having Anthony Richardson, one of the country’s most electric playmakers, at quarterback will definitely be a plus for Napier.

It would be a huge statement for the Gators to start 2022 with a win over such a strong team. On the other hand, it would be a tough show for the Pac-12 if the defending champion lost to a team considered a mid-tier SEC team.

Nikos: Utah -3, Sam: Utah -3

No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Ohio State

Time: 19:30 | TV: ABC | Line: OSU -17 | Total: 59.5

The Marcus Freeman era at Notre Dame begins with a huge challenge. The Irish have been firmly in the national championship picture for the past few years, but haven’t been able to get over the hump. With Freeman at the helm, recruiting has been better than ever, but it will likely take a few years for those efforts to materialize on the field. Freeman’s 2022 team should still be pretty good, especially on defense. On offense, Tyler Buchner takes over as the new starting quarterback, but receiver is a major question mark.

The receiver is a major asset for Notre Dame’s Week 1 opponent, Ohio State. The Buckeyes won 11 games last year but lost to Michigan for the first time since 2011 and didn’t win the Big Ten for the first time since 2016. OSU’s offense was one of the best in the country and QB CJ Stroud, WR Jaxon Smith -Njigba and RB TreVeyon Henderson are all back in 2022. The defense, however, is desperate for improvement. To get things back on track, Ryan Day hired Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State to overhaul the unit. The defense gets a nice test in Week 1 with the Irish visiting the Horseshoe.

Nikos: ND +17, Sam: OSU-17

Florida State vs. LSU

Time: 7:30 p.m. (Sunday) | TV: ABC | Line: LSU -3 | Total: 51.5

Florida State is in the midst of four straight losing seasons for the first time since 1973-76. Will this streak end in 2022? Last year, FSU got off to a disastrous 0-4 start, but managed to win five of its last eight to garner at least some level of optimism entering this season. Mike Norvell, who is 9-13 in two seasons, has steadily raised the talent level throughout the roster, but will have to overcome a tough schedule to get FSU back to a bowl game. That slate begins with LSU in New Orleans on Sunday night.

For LSU, it’s a new era. The Tigers passed on Ed Orgeron and nabbed Brian Kelly from Notre Dame in a high-profile move. How will Kelly assimilate in Baton Rouge? He has a quarterback decision to make between Jayden Daniels and Garrett Nussmeier, but this roster is still loaded with talent. The Tigers are especially strong at receiver (Kayshon Boutte is back from injury) and on the defensive line. Will Kelly and the Tigers get off to a good start by handling the Seminoles?

Nikos: LSU-3, Sam: LSU -3

LSU head coach Brian Kelly directs the NCAA college football practice in Baton Rouge, La., Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

LSU head coach Brian Kelly directs the NCAA college football practice in Baton Rouge, La., Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The best bets of week 1

Nick Bromberg

New Mexico State at Minnesota (-36.5): The Gophers haven’t been blowing out non-conference opponents in recent years. The last time Minnesota beat a non-conference team by a larger margin than Thursday night was a 48-10 win over the Aggies in 2018. Yes, Nevada is rebuilding, but NMSU hung tough with the Wolf Pack on Week 0 to make me confident they can keep it within five touchdowns. Pick: NMSU +36.5

North Carolina (-1) at Appalachian State: The Mountaineers are loaded with experienced seniors on both offense and defense, and the home crowd will be especially raucous with the biggest school in the state headed to Boone. I think App State pulls off the “overturn” to open their season. Option: Application Status +1

Notre Dame at Ohio State (-17): I also want to take Notre Dame to get 17 points because that spread is too big for a matchup of top-10 teams. Instead, I will say that Notre Dame’s defense can slow down Ohio State’s offense enough to keep the game under 60 points. I’m not sure the Irish will be able to keep up with OSU offensively, but I also don’t expect a repeat of the Buckeyes’ Rose Bowl offensive outburst. Option: Under 59.5

Sam Cooper

Bowling Green at UCLA (-23.5): BGSU is a very experienced team, but projects to be a mid-tier MAC team at best. Don’t I think the Falcons have enough firepower to avoid a blowout against Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Zach Charbonnet and the rest of UCLA’s offense? Pick: UCLA -23.5

Georgia State at South Carolina (-12.5): With Spencer Rattler at QB, South Carolina should be much better on offense. However, the total here seems high. Georgia State ran the ball 65 percent of the time last year and could limit the number of possessions, while the defense contains a South Carolina offense with so many new pieces. Option: Below 56.5

No. 4 Clemson (-21.5) vs. Georgia Tech: I don’t expect a major leap forward from Clemson QB DJ Uiagalelei, but the combination of Clemson’s running game and dominant defense gives me enough confidence to put up the big number against an overmatched Georgia Tech team. Pick: Clemson -21.5

For more Week 1 picks from Sam Cooper, Click here.

For Week 1 picks from Dan Wetzel, Pat Forde and Ross Dellenger, subscribe to the College Football Enquirer.

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