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March 25, 2019

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College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of Week 1


Rick Bowmer / Associated Press

Washington quarterback Jake Browning (3) carries the ball as he looks downfield Saturday.

Months worth of anticipation and preparation have concluded.

College football is here in full. Let's run through the glorious Week 1 slate in Talking Points' series picking every widely-lined game — meaning any between Football Bowl Subdivision opponents — against the spread.

Find picks and brief analysis for all of the games from Saturday to Monday below. Friday's picks are available here. Picks are separated by conference with the home team taking precedence in non-conference matchups, listed in rough order of confidence and labeled in three different confidence categories — plays, leans and guesses. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side.


Massachusetts plus-18 at Boston College, over/under: 63.5. Minutemen have problems up front on defense, which are the last kinds of problems a team wants to have going up against Boston College's speedy duo of quarterback Anthony Brown and running back A.J. Dillon. Guess: Boston College minus-18.

Virginia Tech plus-7.5 at Florida State, over/under: 55.5. Both teams have so many unknowns, yet so much potential, that the best bet for Monday night's game will probably be to avoid gambling and just enjoy watching. Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente has been a money-making underdog, however, with a career record of 16-8 against the spread when taking points. Guess: Virginia Tech plus-7.5.

Big Ten

Northern Illinois plus-10 at Iowa, over/under: 48.5. Action on the underdog has pushed this spread down as much as 3.5 points, putting the value on the other side. The Hawkeyes shouldn't endure as harsh of an offensive learning curve as usual with quarterback Nate Stanley back after an impressive end to his sophomore season. Lean: Iowa minus-10.

Akron plus-25 at Nebraska, over/under: 54.5. No venue in the nation will be louder than Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. Neb. Saturday night when Scott Frost makes his coaching debut at his alma mater. It's going to make for the type of environment that could easily overwhelm an Akron team without much going for it in the first place. Lean: Nebraska minus-25.

Kent State plus-16.5 at Illinois, over/under: 55.5. This game between two of the worst teams in the nation should really test the axiom that bettors will gamble on anything at the beginning of the season. Neither the Illini nor the Zips should lay more than two touchdowns against any team. Lean: Kent State plus-16.5

Texas minus-13 at Maryland, over/under: 53.5. Texas has been dogged for an entire year over losing to Maryland in coach Tom Herman's debut last season, so a spirited effort is guaranteed. And with a devastating defense and seemingly-improved offense, buy signs are on Texas going into the season. Guess: Texas minus-13.

Oregon State plus-39 at Ohio State, over/under: 64. Fiery new Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith will have his team motivated for a trip into the Horseshoe, likely enough to slip within this gargantuan spread. Smith is seemingly more prepared for the moment than thrust-into-action interim Ohio State coach Ryan Day, which might not be a negligible advantage with this many points. Guess: Oregon State plus-39.

Appalachian State minus-24 at Penn State, over/under: 54.5. The Nittany Lions haven't shown much mercy for outmatched opponents lately, going 7-4 against the spread when favored by more than two touchdowns over the last two seasons. Guess: Penn State minus-24.

Texas State plus-17 at Rutgers, over/under: 47. The Bobcats come into the season power-rated as one of the five worst teams in FBS. The Scarlet Knights haven't beaten an FBS opponent by more than 17 points since 2012. There's truly no right side in this game. Guess: Texas State plus-17.

Big 12

Ole Miss plus-3 vs. Texas Tech in Houston, over/under: 67.5. Ole Miss quarterback Jordan Ta'amu comes into the season as one of the nation's most underrated players after throwing for nearly 10 yards per attempt in five starts last season. Partially by extension, his team comes into the season looking similarly undervalued. Play: Ole Miss plus-3.

Florida Atlantic plus-21 at Oklahoma, over/under: 72.5. If Florida Atlantic gets off to a slow start like it did last season — going 1-3 straight-up and against the spread — then a blowout loss is possible. But if the Owls play more like they finished the season — winning 10 straight while going 8-2 against the spread — then there might be an upset alert come the fourth quarter. The latter scenario feels more likely, with almost everyone back on defense. Lean: Florida Atlantic plus-21.


North Carolina plus-7.5 at California, over/under: 59.5. This line leapt up a couple points after the Tar Heels announced the suspension of 13 players, but it's difficult to quantify their impact in the preseason. California over-achieved last season, which included eking out a 35-30 season-opening win at North Carolina that could have gone either way. Expect another closely-contested game this year. Play: North Carolina plus-7.5.

UTSA plus-19 at Arizona State, over/under: 53.5. The Roadrunners have been more than frisky under coach Frank Wilson in non-conference play, going 7-1 against the spread. Meanwhile, Herman Edwards' return to the sidelines as Arizona State's coach still feels like an risky experiment that could backfire. Lean: UTSA plus-19.

Cincinnati plus-14.5 at UCLA, over/under: 64. Coach Chip Kelly's arrival at UCLA is being conspicuously overlooked, as the consensus is he'll need more time to realize the program's potential. But Kelly has overachieved in arguably every college season he's coached, and has a great chance for a strong first impression against a vulnerable team traveling across three time zones. Lean: UCLA minus-14.5.

BYU plus-11.5 at Arizona, over/under: 60.5. With the avalanche of Heisman Trophy future bets on quarterback Khalil Tate as one indicator, Arizona appears to be coming into the season overvalued. But there will be better spots to take advantage of that knowledge than against a defense that may struggle to matchup with Tate athletically, and in a game where the Wildcats have a sharp coaching edge with Kevin Sumlin over the Cougars' embattled Kalani Sitake. Guess: Arizona minus-11.5

UNLV plus-26 at USC, over/under: 63.5. Despite the big number, this line is not over-inflated by either statistical or talent measurements. The green Trojans also seem unlikely to pull starters too early considering they'll want to get them as many reps as possible. Guess: USC minus-26.

Bowling Green plus-33 at Oregon, over/under: 72. This line has shot up as much as six points, with the excitement on the Ducks behind now-healthy junior quarterback Justin Herbert unceasing. The Falcons don't figure to have much of a chance, but there's no reason to pay this high of a premium. Guess: Bowling Green plus-33.


Miami minus-4 vs. LSU in Arlington, Texas, over/under: 47.5. LSU takes a lot of heat for having an anemic offense but it was actually more efficient than Miami last year with 5.9 yards per play against FBS opponents to the Hurricanes' 5.8 yards per play. Turnover margin is a notoriously fickle statistic, and Miami can't count on being in the top five for another year, especially against a team with a more talented roster like the Tigers . Play: LSU plus-4.

Louisville plus-25 vs. Alabama in Orlando, over/under: 62.5. Louisville coach Bobby Petrino runs an offense similar to a few that have given Alabama trouble recently— and that was with a proven set of players in the secondary. The Crimson Tide have widespread inexperience in the defensive backfield going into this season, which Cardinals quarterback Jawon Pass — a one-time Alabama recruiting target — could attack to keep the score respectable. Play: Louisville plus-25.

Washington plus-2 vs. Auburn in Atlanta, over/under: 49. There might only be four or five teams in the nation better than Auburn. Unfortunately for the Tigers, the Huskies look like one of them. The only minor pauses on this game are missing out on the best number — Washington was plus-3 for most of the offseason — and the not-so-neutral location that will draw far more Auburn fans. Play: Washington plus-2.

West Virginia minus-10 vs. Tennessee in Charlotte, over/under: 61.5. Stock couldn't possibly be any higher on West Virginia coming into the season, which is a surefire sign to sell. The Volunteers still have a fair amount of talent, albeit unproven, that new coach Jeremy Pruitt could channel better than former coach Butch Jones. Lean: Tennessee plus-10.

Middle Tennessee plus-3 at Vanderbilt, over/under: 57. Vanderbilt has smashed Middle Tennessee by a combined 45 points the last two years but there's a key difference this season: The Blue Raiders will have the best player on the field. Senior quarterback Brent Stockstill, a four-year starter, is poised for a big season. Lean: Middle Tennessee plus-3.

Coastal Carolina plus-30 at South Carolina, over/under: 57. Coastal Carolina should be bolstered by the return of coach Joe Moglia, who missed last season due to health issues. South Carolina may mostly be concerned with getting out in one piece and not showing too much ahead of next week's game against Georgia. Guess: Coastal Carolina plus-30.

Central Michigan plus-17.5 at Kentucky, over/under: 49.5. It's difficult to lay a big number with Kentucky while it breaks in key new offensive pieces including quarterback Terry Wilson. Guess: Central Michigan plus-17.5.

Conference USA

SMU plus-4.5 at North Texas, over/under: 71.5. With suspect defenses on both sides, it's going to take a lot of points to win this game. It's never a bad idea to count on new SMU coach Sonny Dykes' ability to lead his teams to putting up big offensive production. Lean: SMU plus-4.5

Indiana minus-10 at Florida International, over/under: 56.5. The Panthers come into the season slightly overvalued after outperforming their statistical expectation to reach a bowl game last season. The Hoosiers are the exact opposite: They played at a higher level than implied by their 5-7 straight-up record in 2017. Lean: Indiana minus-10.

Houston minus-25.5 at Rice, over/under: 55.5. Rice hasn't covered against crosstown rival Houston in four straight tries, and looks as destitute as ever after only escaping Prairie View via last-second field goal as a 24-point favorite last week. Guess: Houston minus-25.5.


Michigan minus-1 at Notre Dame, over/under: 47. Any statistical model paints these teams as evenly-matched, if not having the Irish a hair ahead of the Wolverines to enter the season. There's no reason for any uncertainty over which team should be favored — it's whichever one is at home. Lean: Notre Dame plus-1.

Old Dominion minus-7 at Liberty, over/under: 58. It's hard to know exactly what to expect out of the Flames in their inaugural FBS season. It's not hard to know that the mediocre Monarchs don't merit giving a touchdown on the road. Guess: Liberty plus-7.


Marshall minus-2 at Miami (Ohio), over/under: 51. This could be the best group-of-five conference game of the day, between two teams where things are looking up with experienced rosters and particularly strong defenses. Unfortunately, the dead-accurate point spread reflects as much. Guess: Miami (Ohio) plus-2.

Mountain West

Navy minus-10 at Hawaii, over/under: 62. This line moved as much as seven points following Hawaii's 43-34 victory over Colorado State as 14-point underdogs last week. The Warriors are almost surely much better than expected, but a shift of a full touchdown against a consistently solid opponent like Navy screams over-reaction. Lean: Navy minus-10.

Washington State minus-1 at Wyoming, over/under: 45. Few coaches have produced more consistent offensive results and betting profitability than Washington State's Mike Leach, which provides some comfort despite massive roster turnover. Hype is a little too high on Wyoming, which dismantled New Mexico State 29-7 as 4.5-point favorites last week, as this line opened Washington State minus-3.5. Lean: Washington State minus-1.

Sun Belt

Boise State minus-10.5 at Troy, over/under: 48.5. Boise State has the ability to obliterate Troy, but this is a strange and difficult trip. The Trojans are also deliberate offensively and stingy on defense, a combination that should keep the scoring down. Guess: Troy plus-10.5.

Louisiana Tech minus-10 at South Alabama, over/under: 51. South Alabama may need some adjustment time under new coach Steve Campbell, while Louisiana Tech should be able to keep up its high-scoring, profitable-to-bet-on ways in coach Skip Holtz's sixth year. Guess: Louisiana Tech minus-10.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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