During the college football season, Stadium’s staff will provide weekly betting picks and advice throughout the year. Here are our thoughts on the Week 1 slate:
1. What is your favorite pick against the spread?
Alex Symonds, Stadium Senior Producer: FIU (+2) over Tulane. When it comes to Week 1 games, I’m already invested in Auburn (-2.5) against Oregon in Arlington, but that line has moved to Tigers (-3.5), which is why I’m looking elsewhere. My favorite number currently on the board is FIU against Tulane on Thursday night. Butch Davis is entering his third season with the Panthers and has been recruiting at an elite level since returning to Miami. I have faith in FIU’s defense to slow down the Tulane offense, which will be running a different system this season under new OC Will Hall. FIU (+105) on the money line is worth a look here, too.
Dan Vasta, Stadium “Stats Guru”: Florida State (-4.5) over Boise State. If you were smart, you would have jumped on this back when it started at just a field goal — and it might even increase before kickoff because the ‘Noles have to start the year off with a statement win as they try to make the football world forget about last year’s embarrassing season. As for the on-field matchup, the difference in speed and perimeter play should show early and often in this one. The Broncos are young in the backfield and will have some issues scoring on FSU’s athletic defense. Plus, James Blackman is due for a huge night with the amount of weapons he has at his disposal.
Andy Wittry, Stadium College Sports Writer: Ohio State (-27.5) over Florida Atlantic. Ohio State Head Coach Ryan Day is a first-time, full-time head coach, but he’s not a first-time head coach. He has three games under his belt from last season when he served as head coach during Urban Meyer’s suspension. In those three games, Ohio State beat Oregon State 77-31, Rutgers 52-3 and TCU 40-28. While Florida Atlantic actually ranked considerably higher (No. 81) in the final 2018 S&P+ ratings than Oregon State (No. 111) and Rutgers (No. 108), the Owls should be closer to a low-level Power Five team than the level of competition that TCU posed last season. This could be Day’s chance to get starting quarterback Justin Fields as many live game reps as possible before the Buckeyes host a strong Cincinnati team in Week 2 and open Big Ten play at Indiana in Week 3.
Nate Jacobson, Stadium Sports Betting Analyst: Virginia (-2.5) over Pittsburgh. I’m going to take Virginia as a short road favorite against Pittsburgh because it’s a revenge game for Virginia, who lost to Pitt as seven-point home favorites last year. The loss was a blow to the Cavaliers’ bid to win the ACC Coastal, so they’ll be fully motivated for this season opener. Dual-threat quarterback Bryce Perkins should have success against a Pittsburgh team that is expected to take a step back this season.
2. What is your favorite total (over/under)?
AS: Under 48.5 in Rice-Army. Disclaimer: you won’t want to watch this game, but I think it’s worth a wager. Rice-Army on Friday night is going to be ugly, and I’m going to be rooting for the under. Rice is projected to be a bottom-five FBS team in 2019 by both SP+ (126th) and ESPN FPI (last) after a dreadful 2018 campaign. With Michigan on deck in Week 2, Army will be content to get out of this one healthy and with Jeff Monken’s best offensive wrinkles still under wraps. If you do watch, there’s a chance Army doesn’t throw a pass and the game is over (while staying under 48.5) in 2.5 hours.
DV: Under 55.5 in Oregon-Auburn. This is a classic neutral site game that will be entertaining despite the lack of offensive fireworks. There may not be a better d-line than Auburn’s and they’ll be going up against the most experienced offensive line in the nation. While the Ducks have a future top pick in QB Justin Herbert, they’ll have a tough time putting together long drives and scores against the most physical team that they’ll see in the regular season. This game is about field position and turnovers, with the finish coming down to the wire.
AW: Under 48 in Tulsa-Michigan State. The Spartans could have the best defense in the country this season, and Tulsa was atrocious offensively (No. 109 in Football Outsiders’ S&P+ ratings) last year. In Michigan State’s last seven games last season, including the Redbox Bowl, the combined point totals were 13, 24, 15, 32, 27, 36 and 28. But even if the Spartans’ offense improves from the depths it fell to last season (No. 102 in S&P+) thanks to a healthy Brian Lewerke at quarterback, this feels like a low-scoring affair.
NJ: Under 57.5 in Duke-Alabama. The total here opened at 60.5 and has gone down to 57.5, but I still like the under. The last time we saw Alabama play, their defense was embarrassed by Clemson’s offense in the national title game. You have to believe that the defensive effort from Alabama will be much stronger after a nightmare performance eight months ago. Duke would’ve likely had trouble scoring anyways with new starting quarterback Quentin Harris replacing sixth overall pick Daniel Jones. I can see a situation where Alabama gets out to an early lead and then chews clock with the running game late.
3. Which underdog of a touchdown or more has the best chance of an outright upset?
AS: Toledo (+11.5) over Kentucky. Kentucky is coming off of one of the best seasons in program history (first 10-win season since 1977), so let’s fade the Wildcats in Week 1 against Toledo (+340). UK also lost a couple of program-changing players in RB Benny Snell and pass rusher Josh Allen and returns just 10 total starters coming into the opener. Toledo, meanwhile, was the 12th-most efficient rushing offense last year per SP+ and has a bye week in Week 2 after this step up in competition. If Rockets Head Coach Jason Candle hopes to stay on the Matt Campbell track (leave after the fourth season in Toldeo for a better job), he needs a signature win and this could be it.
DV: Toledo (+11.5) over Kentucky. While Nevada getting points at home against an overrated Purdue squad is a matchup that caught my eye, please give me the Rockets. Toledo happens to be my favorite to win the MAC West, and I love their odds against an SEC team that will struggle to make a bowl this season. After last year’s historic 10-win season in Lexington, I think that the new-look Wildcats will come back down to earth.
AW: James Madison (+7) over West Virginia. The Mountaineers had a ton of turnover in the offseason, with former Head Coach Dana Holgorsen leaving for Houston and QB Will Grier moving on to the NFL, along with wide receivers David Sills V and Gary Jennings Jr. So while West Virginia was a Big 12 contender last season, that’s not who the team is this season under new coach Neal Brown, who spent the last four years at Troy. James Madison recently won the FCS national championship in the 2016 season and also played NC State tough on the road last year.
NJ: East Carolina (+16.5) over NC State. This is a tough question this week due to a lot of high point spreads, so I’m going to take a stab with East Carolina at a huge moneyline against NC State. At the skill positions, the Wolfpack have to replace a three-year starting quarterback in Ryan Finley, and two 1,000-yard receivers in Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers. They also lost center Garrett Bradbury, who was picked 18th overall in the NFL Draft, and leading tackler Germaine Pratt. I can see NC State starting the season slow, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they slipped up on Saturday.
4. What is one bet you are tempted to make this week, but know you probably shouldn’t?
AS: Utah (-6.5) over BYU. I’m very high on Utah this year and think the Utes have a real shot to run the table in the Pac-12 and qualify for the Playoff. That being said, I’m doing my best to stay far away from betting on Utah in the Holy War. The Utes have the advantage at the skill positions and perhaps the best defensive line in football (19th last season in havoc rate and second in stuff rate), but BYU is a veteran team (17 returning starters) and strong in the trenches. I’m staying away completely from this rivalry game.
DV: Utah (-6.5) over BYU. I am tempted to roll with the public (which I despise) and take Utah here. Everybody is starting to fall in love with the Utes, but this rivalry game has come down to the wire in the last eight meetings. Utah enters this matchup ranked the highest that they’ve ever been entering a season, which is why this one smells like a trap game that could go either way, so for that, I’m going to stay away.
AW: Duke (+35) over Alabama. The last time we saw the Crimson Tide, they suffered the worst loss of the Nick Saban era, and not long before that, Tua Tagovailoa was spurned by the Heisman Trophy voters. Regardless of the external factors that could inspire some extra motivation for Saban’s group this season, No. 2 Alabama was always going to be dominant, but 35 points is a lot to cover. Sure, Bama will likely jump out to a quick 14-0 or 21-0 lead in the first quarter — and it wouldn’t surprise me if they lead by more than 35 points at some point in the game — but I could see a backdoor cover by the Blue Devils.
NJ: Louisiana Tech (+20.5) over Texas. I believe that Texas is a team that has been overvalued in the betting market this summer, so it would be logical to fade UT against the spread early in the season. However, their Week 1 game against Louisiana Tech has gone down from 21 to 20.5. A half-point move doesn’t seem significant, but I would hate for Texas to win by three touchdowns and then lose my bet because I got a bad number. I guess I’ll have to wait for Week 2 when Texas hosts LSU to start fading the Longhorns against the spread.