Spread Options: College football Week 1 picks against the spread

·7 min read

College football is here and the Week 1 schedule is loaded from Thursday night all the way through Monday.

With so many games to sort through, I narrowed things down to my nine favorite plays. I went 1-1 in the two picks I gave out in Week 0 and I'm hoping to get off to a good start in the first full betting column of the season.

Will I regret giving out so many games? Probably, but all of my offseason research has to pay off in some way, right?

(Note: All times ET, odds from BetMGM)

Central Michigan at No. 12 Oklahoma State

Time: 7 p.m. (Thurs.) | TV: FS1 | Line: OSU -21.5 | Total: 59.5

Oklahoma State’s defense was excellent last year but coordinator Jim Knowles left for Ohio State and many of the team’s top defenders — particularly at linebacker and in the secondary — have moved on. On top of that, 1,200-yard rusher Jaylen Warren and receiver Tay Martin, who was QB Spencer Sanders’ top target by far, are both in the NFL.

That’s an awful lot of production to fill. Sanders is back, but he’s been way too inconsistent in his career and the Cowboys have some questions on the offensive line. With all of those issues to work out, I think it will be tough to cover a three-TD spread in Week 1.

Central Michigan is 21-12 against the spread under Jim McElwain and returns the nation’s leading rusher Lew Nichols III, two-year starting QB Daniel Richardson and All-MAC receiver Dallas Dixon. CMU won’t win the game, but there’s enough firepower to cover the spread.

Pick: Central Michigan +21.5

Louisiana Tech at Missouri

Time: 8 p.m. (Thurs.) | TV: ESPNU | Line: Mizzou -20.5 | Total: 61.5

Missouri pursued multiple transfer quarterbacks during the offseason, but didn’t land any of its top targets. That doesn’t show a whole lot of confidence in Brady Cook, who started last year’s bowl game and will open 2022 as the team’s starter. Missouri is also on its third defensive coordinator in three years. The new hire is Blake Baker. Baker spent many years coaching under Manny Diaz, who is known for being a very aggressive defensive play-caller.

That aggressive approach may not serve Mizzou all that well against Louisiana Tech, which is playing its first game under new coach Sonny Cumbie. Cumbie comes from the Mike Leach tree and is going to employ a pass-heavy offense with TCU transfer Matthew Downing at QB.

Missouri is just 3-7 ATS as a favorite under Eli Drinkwitz and I think La Tech will score enough to cover this number.

Pick: Louisiana Tech +20.5

North Carolina at Appalachian State

Time: Noon | TV: ESPNU | Line: UNC -1 | Total: 55.5

North Carolina did not impress in its Week 0 win over a depleted Florida A&M squad, especially on defense. FAMU moved the ball pretty easily in the first half and that does not bode well for the Tar Heels’ defense against Appalachian State.

App State returns veteran QB Chase Brice, four seniors on the line and two stud running backs. The Mountaineers can beat you on the ground or through the air, but North Carolina can too. I’m expecting both teams to score in the 30s here, which makes this a pretty easy over play.

Pick: Over 55.5

Bowling Green at UCLA

Time: 2:30 p.m. | TV: P12 | Line: UCLA -23.5 | Total: 57.5

This spread has moved in Bowling Green’s favor over the course of the offseason. BGSU is a very experienced team, so I understand why. At the same time, the Falcons project to be a mid-tier MAC team at best. Will they really be able to avoid a blowout against Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Zach Charbonnet and the rest of the UCLA offense? I don’t think so.

While USC has been getting all of the hype, UCLA is an under the radar Pac-12 title contender. Lay the points.

Pick: UCLA -23.5

No. 11 Oregon vs. No. 3 Georgia

Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: ABC | Line: UGA -17.5 | Total: 53

New Oregon head coach Dan Lanning was on Georgia’s staff for the past four years, including three as defensive coordinator. He knows UGA’s personnel, so that will definitely help Oregon’s cause. I don’t think the Ducks can make enough plays in the passing game to pull off an upset, but they are really good on defense and have a veteran offensive line.

With that said, I’m expecting a low-scoring game. Over the last three seasons, the under is 14-4 when Georgia faces a ranked opponent. I worry a bit about a late defensive TD from the Bulldogs pushing this over the total, but I’ll stick with the under.

Pick: Under 53

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) throws a pass against Kentucky during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021 in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) throws a pass against Kentucky during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021 in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Georgia State at South Carolina

Time: 7:30 p.m. | TV: SECN | Line: USC -12.5 | Total: 56.5

South Carolina should be much better on offense but this total feels high.

The Gamecocks were hampered by poor QB play last year but the addition of Spencer Rattler should solidify things. They have a veteran line and are solid at the skill positions, but will get tested in Week 1 by a steadily improving Georgia State team.

The Panthers are a veteran team that could be poised for a breakthrough in the Sun Belt. They ran the ball 65% of the time last year. The strength of South Carolina’s defense is up front, so they might have a hard time sustaining drives. At the same time, I think GSU can contain a USC offense with so many new pieces, resulting in a lower-scoring game.

Pick: Under 56.5

SMU at North Texas

Time: 7:30 p.m. | TV: CBSSN | Line: SMU -10.5 | Total: 68.5

North Texas beat UTEP 31-13 on the road last week, but that score is pretty misleading. UTEP actually outgained the Mean Green but failed to score on six of its nine trips into North Texas territory. The Miners missed a field goal, fumbled and turned it over on downs four times.

SMU’s offense won’t make those sorts of mistakes. The Mustangs, in their first game under Rhett Lashlee, should be able to put up some big numbers in this game with the QB-WR combo of Tanner Mordecai and Rashee Rice back.

Pick: SMU -10.5

Louisville at Syracuse

Time: 8 p.m. | TV: ACCN | Line: UL -4.5 | Total: 57.5

I’m pretty high on Louisville going into this season. Malik Cunningham is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country and he’s got a slew of weapons at running back and receiver to work with. Opening with a conference road game is never easy, but UL has really had Syracuse’s number in recent years.

The Orange brought in Robert Anae from Virginia to run the offense. He’s one of the more creative play-callers in the country. The Orange have an excellent running back, Sean Tucker, but QB Garrett Shrader is pretty one-dimensional. Shrader struggles as a passer so things get tough for the Orange if they fall behind.

And with Syracuse’s deficiencies on the defensive line, I expect the Cardinals to jump out to a first half lead and run away to a fairly comfortable victory.

Pick: Louisville -4.5

No. 4 Clemson vs. Georgia Tech

Time: 8 p.m. (Monday) | TV: ESPN | Line: Clemson -21.5 | Total: 50.5

Clemson was terrible on offense last year, especially in the early going. I’m not expecting a significant leap forward from DJ Uiagalelei at quarterback, but the combination of the Tigers’ rushing game with Will Shipley and dominant defense gives me enough confidence to lay the big number against Georgia Tech.

Clemson’s defense should force a few turnovers to give the offense a short field. Heck, the defense may even score a touchdown or two of its own. I’d also be surprised if the Yellow Jackets scored 14 points.

Pick: Clemson -21.5

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, center, watches the action during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Georgia Tech Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in Clemson, S.C. Clemson won 52-14. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, center, watches the action during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Georgia Tech Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in Clemson, S.C. Clemson won 52-14. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)