The opening weekend of college football can present several money-making opportunities due to the sportsbooks, sometimes, not having enough data on what each team will look like for the 2019 season to properly set an accurate line.
Each week in this space, I will pick five games that I like against the spread (ATS). But in Week 1, I’m simply looking for lines that appear either too high or too low. Without up-to-date data on these teams, a lot of linemakers are working off last year’s numbers. At this point, it’s more of an educated guess and that presents an opportunity for us gamblers.
No. 8 Florida vs. Miami
I don’t like betting lines where I have missed the best number. I think that Florida wins this game, but the opening number was -3.5. With it now being at 7, I am going to pass on a side here, but I do think this game presents a betting opportunity.
Florida is all about power. They want to run the ball down your throat and smack you in the face on defense. The Gators averaged 5.3 yards per rush last season, top 20 in the country. They also rushed for over 215 yards per game, and in the brutal heat of Orlando in August, shortening this game is going to be a welcome event.
The Gator defense last year ranked in the top 25 for scoring and gave up just 5.1 yards per play on average.
Miami made the surprise decision to start redshirt freshman QB Jarren Williams in this game, not five-star Ohio State transfer Tate Martell. Williams has a big arm, but does he know where it is going? The Florida secondary will be hunting the ball all game long. I expect the Gators to win the turnover battle.
Expect a war between these two teams, and that means a low scoring game. I don’t think either team gets into the 30s.
No. 10 Texas vs. Louisiana Tech
I’m a very big fan of Tom Herman, and I think Texas is going to have a big year. Still, I got burned the last two years in the openers for Texas against Maryland, as the Longhorns lost both contests outright. This year, No. 6 LSU is waiting in the wings in Week 2, which might be the biggest game in Coach Herman’s tenure at Texas. Can Texas fire out of the starting blocks and blowout an opponent early in the season?
Skip Holtz and La Tech are coming off a nine-win season and a massive bowl victory over Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl. You might remember me being on the wrong side of that game, too. Tech was down by only three points at LSU last year in the fourth quarter. In 2017, the Bulldogs nearly won at South Carolina, losing by one that year. This a live dog, folks.
Tech brings an offensive that is led by QB J’Mar Smith and wideout Adrian Hardy. Their offensive line returns six players who started games last season. While Tech scored only 22.2 points per game last season, they threw the ball 53% of the time. That was 18th in the country. Texas gave up over 262 yards per game passing last year.
The weakness of the Bulldogs will be their defense and the fact that they have to try to replace the all-time sack leader in NCAA history. Jaylon Ferguson had 17 sacks last year and left college for the NFL with 45 in his career. He was the anchor of a defense that ranked in the top 25 in the country last year. However, this year’s team does have outstanding corner Amik Robertson Jr. to lean on.
For Texas, it’s time for QB Sam Ehlinger to become one of the best signal-callers in the nation. The Longhorns scored 31.1 points per game last year, and Ehlinger threw for nearly 3,300 yards. He accounted for 41 touchdowns and will have a superstar backfield with him this season in sophomore Keaontay Ingram and freshman Jordan Whittington. UT has the firepower on offense to carry this team.
The issue for Texas is their defense, which has to replace nine starters. The secondary is good, but young, and there are some real questions at linebacker. There isn’t much time to get on the same page with LSU sitting there in Game 2. I like UT a lot this year, but I don’t think they blow out La Tech in the opener.
No. 20 Michigan State vs. Tulsa
Michigan State is playing in a division in the Big 10 that is full of quality teams. Games like this against Tulsa must be used to sharpen the Spartans before they get into conference play.
The Spartans defense will once again be the star of this team as they will attempt to follow up last year’s dominance. MSU gave up 21 points or fewer 10 times last year and led the nation in rushing yards allowed per game given up (77.9 ypg). It was the top scoring defense in the Big 10 and it returns eight starters. It will not be fun to play against these guys this season.
Just like last year, the question for head coach Mark Dantonio is all about the offense. QB Brian Lewerke threw for 8 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. His backup, Rocky Lombardi, wasn’t any better. Michigan State simply cannot go anywhere this year unless their quarterback play improves dramatically. The Spartans also have to find ways to get talented wideout Cody White Jr. the ball a ton.
The problem for Tulsa in this game is that they are a run-first offense. The Golden Hurricanes ran the ball for over 193 yards per game last season and against Michigan State, that is simply not going to happen. Tulsa only averaged 24 points per game in 2018 and it’s hard to see either QB Seth Boomer or Baylor transfer Zach Smith having much success through the air in this game.
Tulsa’s defense gave up a 233 yards rushing per game last season and even though nine starters are returning, they will have their hands full with Michigan State on the road.
I see a blow here to start the year and I’m not sure Tulsa gets into double-figures.
No. 21 Washington State vs. New Mexico State
On paper, this game looks like a high-scoring affair.
Washington State was No. 2 in the country last year in passing yards per game, and they return a ton of talent from last year’s 11-win season. However, replacing QB Gardner Minshew will not be easy as he set the single-season Pac-12 passing record and nearly put WSU into the Pac-12 title game. Expect both fifth-year senior Anthony Gordon and sixth-year grad transfer Gage Gubrud to play in this game.
Sixty-four-and-a-half points is a lot to cover in the opener, and it’s a line that leads one to believe that the books think that New Mexico State can score. I’m not sure of that. Washington State led the Pac-12 in sacks last season and NMSU QB Josh Adkins might be running for his life all game with an offensive line that gave up 3.4 sacks per game last year (125th in the country).
The Aggies scored 22.8 per game last year. Washington State averaged over 35, but I don’t think those numbers matter here. I think Wazzu scores and uses this game as a chance to see both of their quarterbacks, and I don’t see the Aggies doing much as they are bracing for their game at Alabama in Week 2.
No. 17 Wisconsin at South Florida
Home teams getting nearly two touchdowns will always get a look from me, but this is one home dog I don’t like.
South Florida is a team that gave up over 252 yards per game last season, and they are facing one of the premier rushing programs in the country. Wisconsin ran for over 273 yards per game last year, that was good enough for fifth-best in the country. The offensive line for the Badgers is solid and they are blocking for Jonathan Taylor, a running back who carried the ball for 2,194 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns last year.
While South Florida returns nine starters on offense including quarterback Blake Barnett, I just can’t see them having enough talent to hang with Wisconsin for four quarters.