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NCAA football odds: Takeaways from Week 1 point spreads, including Alabama as a big favorite again

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Believe it or not, we are less than 100 days away from the start of the 2021 college football season.

Things will be a lot more normal next season. All FBS teams will start their seasons generally in the same timeframe. No more conference-only schedules. No more Notre Dame in the ACC. Fans in the stands. Normalcy.

And like in years past, the season technically kicks off with Week Zero on Aug. 28 with four FBS vs. FBS matchups, including Nebraska at Illinois and Hawaii at UCLA. Things get a lot more interesting the following week as most of the country begins play.

There are several marquee matchups that weekend, extending all the way through Monday night. BetMGM has posted opening point spreads for many of them, as well as some of the top games throughout the rest of the season.

Let’s look at some of the point spreads that caught our eye in Week 1.

Games on Saturday, Sept. 4 unless otherwise noted. All odds from BetMGM.

North Carolina (-6.5) at Virginia Tech (Friday, Sept. 3)

North Carolina has one of the nation’s best quarterbacks in Sam Howell and opens as nearly a touchdown-favorite over Virginia Tech. It should be a raucous environment at Lane Stadium and an early test for the Tar Heels, who have been ascending under Mack Brown and are looking to become legitimate ACC contenders.

Virginia Tech, meanwhile, has had a losing record in two of the last three seasons, putting Justin Fuente in hot seat discussions. The Hokies are just 2-5 against the spread as a home underdog under Fuente, including 0-4 when an underdog of more than six points. UNC is 3-4 ATS as a road favorite since Brown returned to Chapel Hill.

Georgia vs. Clemson (-3)

Week 1 is headlined by this showdown in Charlotte in what should be a matchup of two top five teams. Georgia’s streak of three straight SEC East titles came to an end last year, but the Bulldogs really seemed to find their stride offensively once USC transfer JT Daniels was inserted into the lineup at quarterback.

Speaking of quarterbacks, Clemson will no longer have Trevor Lawrence and will likely turn to DJ Uiagalelei as the starter in 2021. Uiagalelei performed admirably when Lawrence was sidelined last season, but will now have the chance to lead the offense in a game that could have College Football Playoff implications.

This will be an interesting point spread to monitor as the season inches closer. Clemson hasn’t been a favorite of three points or fewer since it faced Ohio State in the 2019 CFP semifinals.

Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei (5) warms up for the team's NCAA college football game against Notre Dame on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in South Bend, Ind. (Matt Cashore/Pool Photo via AP)
Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei (5) warms up for the team's NCAA college football game against Notre Dame on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in South Bend, Ind. (Matt Cashore/Pool Photo via AP)

Penn State at Wisconsin (-4)

The 2020 season was difficult for both Penn State and Wisconsin. PSU was ranked in the top 10 when it began play but surprisingly lost its first five games. The Nittany Lions won their final four to finish at a more respectable 4-5, but James Franklin’s program is looking to put 2020 in the rearview mirror and return to being a Big Ten contender in 2021.

Wisconsin dealt with a COVID-19 outbreak early in the year and ended up having three of its games canceled. Eventually, the Badgers finished 4-3 as promising young QB Graham Mertz gained some valuable experience. A Week 1 visit from PSU creates an extremely intriguing Big Ten showdown.

Penn State is just 1-8 straight-up as a road underdog under Franklin, but is 4-5 ATS during that span.

Alabama (-17.5) vs. Miami

Under Nick Saban, Alabama has consistently opened its seasons with neutral site games against Power Five opponents. Things have not gone well for those opponents. Alabama is 10-0 in those games with a 9-1 mark against the spread. The only time Alabama did not cover the spread in a neutral site opener was in 2014 when it beat West Virginia by 10 points as a 22-point favorite.

This time around, the Tide open up as 17.5-point favorites against Miami. Despite losing their last two games, the Hurricanes still had a nice season in 2020, finishing 8-3. QB D’Eriq King suffered a serious knee injury in the team’s bowl loss to Oklahoma State. He is expected to be back for the season, but will he be 100 percent?

LSU (-2) at UCLA

LSU went from the undefeated national champion in 2019 to a .500 team in 2020. Even with such a steep drop-off, it’s surprising to see LSU as only a two-point favorite to open the 2021 season on the road against UCLA.

UCLA has a 10-21 record in three seasons under Chip Kelly, though the Bruins have shown flashes of improvement over the past two seasons. UCLA went 3-4 last year with its four losses coming by a combined 15 points.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson is a really exciting player at quarterback for UCLA, but LSU should have a significant talent advantage. It might be a wise decision to jump on this one when LSU is only a two-point favorite.

LSU interim head coach Ed Orgeron greets his players as they enter Tiger Stadium before an NCAA college football game against Missouri in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)
LSU interim head coach Ed Orgeron greets his players as they enter Tiger Stadium before an NCAA college football game against Missouri in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

Indiana at Iowa (-3.5)

If Penn State vs. Wisconsin wasn’t enough, here’s another likely Top 25 Week 1 Big Ten game.

The ascendance of Indiana was one of the bigger stories of the 2020 season. The Hoosiers enter the 2021 season with some legitimate expectations. It’s an unfamiliar position, but they are still underdogs on the road in Iowa City, one of the tougher environments in the conference. The Hawkeyes opened the 2020 season with two losses before winning their last six.

Since Tom Allen became head coach in 2017, Indiana is 7-3 ATS as a road underdog. If you’re confident in the Hoosiers, keep an eye on the injury status of IU QB Michael Penix Jr. If he’s ready to roll when the season begins, snagging IU at +3.5 could prove to be good value.

Notre Dame (-10) at Florida State (Sunday, Sept. 5)

With Ian Book off to the NFL, Notre Dame will have a new quarterback as it opens the 2021 season on the road against Florida State. By most accounts, the two contenders for the role are Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan and sophomore Drew Pyne. Whoever gets the job will go into a difficult environment in Tallahassee.

FSU is itching to get back to its winning ways and the vibes around the program entering Year 2 under Mike Norvell seem positive. Still, there is plenty of work to be done in the rebuilding process and Notre Dame is a team that is especially deep in the trenches. Over the past two seasons, the Irish 3-2 ATS as a double-digit road favorite.

Ole Miss (-7.5) vs. Louisville (Monday, Sept. 6)

Ole Miss is getting a lot of love here from the oddsmakers entering its second season under Lane Kiffin. The Rebels went 5-5 last year, but put up eye-popping numbers on offense.

Louisville, meanwhile, is coming off a 4-7 season and some offseason controversy stemming from coach Scott Satterfield interviewing with South Carolina after saying it was a job he had no interest in. That’s not the easiest thing to bounce back from, and a spread of 7.5 feels appropriate given what Satterfield inherited from Bobby Petrino at Louisville just two years ago.

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