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September 16, 2019

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College football by the odds: Vegas picks for every Week 1 game


Tony Avelar / AP

Oregon running back CJ Verdell breaks a tackle by Michigan State’s Khari Willis during the Redbox Bowl game Monday, Dec. 31, 2018, in Santa Clara, Calif.

There’s no such thing as a bad week of football for bettors who have waited impatiently for the games to start all summer. This year’s week 1 slate comes pretty close though.

In recent years, the college football scheduling gods have usually blessed fans with a few out-of-conference matchups between contenders to start the season. This year, there’s one — and that’s being generous.

All eyes will be on a neutral-site showdown between Auburn and Oregon at 4:30 p.m. today in Arlington, Texas. The Tigers and Ducks are two of the 15 teams listed at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook at odds of 15-to-1 or less to reach the College Football Playoff.

Oregon is 10-to-1; Auburn is 12-to-1. Odds on one of the two teams will diminish while the other will rise.

It’s just too bad it’s the only game with those surefire implications. Expect Auburn vs. Oregon to draw the most betting slips and Talking Points is here to help get into the action.

I have a play on the marquee contest to go with five others today in the first (nearly) full edition of college football by the odds.

Read below to find my picks on every Saturday game, separated by conference — with the home team taking precedence for non-conference games — and labeled with three separate confidence categories — plays, leans and guesses. I’m 10-6 through the first three days of the year including 2-2 on plays, 1-1 on leans and 7-3 on guesses. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side.


Ole Miss plus-5 at Memphis, over/under: 66. I’m as bullish on Memphis as any team in the nation this season, but sometimes patience is required before putting positions like that into action. This is a rivalry game and the Rebels have more than enough firepower to test the Tigers’ unproven defense so I’ll wait for a better spot to unleash on the home team. Guess: Memphis minus-5.


East Carolina plus-17 at NC State, over/under: 53.5. The Pirates made one of the most underrated coaching hires of the offseason in bringing in James Madison’s Mike Houston, who’s capable of orchestrating an immediate turnaround. NC State is short on returning production, ranking 110th in the nation per SP+, and may need a couple weeks to get on track. Play: East Carolina plus-17.

South Carolina minus-10.5 vs. North Carolina in Charlotte, over/under: 63. North Carolina is overhauling everything with new-old coach Mack Brown while South Carolina is set in place in coach Will Muschamp’s fourth season. Muschamp will field an experienced defensive front and secondary to make the debut of North Carolina freshman quarterback Sam Howell tough. Play: South Carolina minus-10.5.

Virginia Tech minus-4.5 at Boston College, over/under: 58. The Eagles beat the Hokies 31-21 as 2-point road favorites last season. They also posted a better season-long point differential by nearly 100 points. Program perception in Virginia Tech’s favor is playing too prominently in this line. Lean: Boston College plus-4.5.

Boise State plus-6.5 at Florida State, over/under: 52.5. The under might be worth a look as both teams seem to be above average at worst on defense with more pressing offensive concerns. Points become more valuable in low-scoring games. Lean: Boise State plus-6.5.

Virginia minus-2.5 at Pittsburgh, over/under: 46.5. Few coaches in the nation are more lethal with time to prepare than Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall. It might be a big enough advantage to offset taking a bad number, as Pittsburgh opened at minus-1 but is now a 3-point underdog at most shops. Guess: Virginia minus-2.5.

Notre Dame minus-18 at Louisville, over/under: 54.5. Action on Louisville causing this number to drop as much as two points underscores just how dire its situation was last year when it got outscored by nearly 300 points on the year. Even if new coach Scott Satterfield is the next Nick Saban, this is going to be more than a one-year rebuilding process. Guess: Notre Dame minus-18.

Big Ten

Florida Atlantic plus-28 at Ohio State, over/under: 64. A year ago, Florida Atlantic opened the season at a similarly powerful Oklahoma team and got as low as a 14-point underdog. That illustrates the major shift in perception on the Owls despite them remaining more talented than most Group of Five conference teams. Lean: Florida Atlantic plus-28.

South Alabama plus-37 at Nebraska, over/under: 66.5. Excitement on the Cornhuskers has spiraled out of control, as they’re as low as an illogical 25-to-1 to win the national championship. Their point spreads have become similarly bloated as this line opened as low as minus-32. Guess: South Alabama plus-37.

Miami (Ohio) plus-21.5 at Iowa, over/under: 47. Despite the RedHawks’ annual troubles against major conference opponents — they’ve lost 14 straight against the Big Ten — this number looks a little high. Iowa won’t play at a fast pace and needs time to develop new targets for senior quarterback Nate Stanley. Guess: Miami (Ohio) plus-21.5

Middle Tennessee State plus-34.5 at Michigan, over/under: 54.5. Middle Tennessee State is 122nd in the nation in returning production; Michigan is 68th. That makes what would already be a bleak outlook for the Blue Raiders look even bleaker. Guess: Michigan minus-34.5.

Ball State plus-17 at Indiana, over/under: 60. Both teams might be undervalued — Indiana because its skill players are better than anyone expects and Ball State because its had terrible injury luck the last two years — but only one has the talent to possibly overwhelm the other. Guess: Indiana minus-17.

Akron plus-18 at Illinois, over/under: 61. Betting on bad teams laying huge numbers — like Illinois — may make you go broke. Betting teams among the worst in the nation — like Akron — may make you go broke. Getting involved in a game like this may make you go broke. Guess: Illinois minus-18.

Big 12

Louisiana Tech plus-20.5 at Texas, over/under: 55.5. Everyone from Texas’ dominant defense of last season is gone; everyone from Louisiana Tech’s young-but-promising offense of last season is back. This could be a tricky spot for a Longhorns team that’s metrics don’t support the hype they’ve gotten in the first place. Play: Louisiana Tech plus-20.5.

Houston plus-23.5 at Oklahoma, over/under: 80. Dana Holgorsen may not have worked out at West Virginia, but he’s a serviceable coach and a likely upgrade from Major Applewhite at Houston. And he immediately inherits a high-powered offense, starring quarterback D’Eriq King and running back Patrick Carr, explosive enough to keep up with Oklahoma. Play: Houston plus-23.5.


Syracuse plus-18.5 at Liberty, over/under: 68.5. This might be the Flames’ biggest game in program history as the school is expecting a record crowd at Williams Stadium. New coach Hugh Freeze pulled off immediate turnarounds at both Arkansas State and Ole Miss and has brought the same structure to Liberty. Play: Liberty plus-18.5.

Mountain West

Missouri minus-18 at Wyoming, over/under: 55.5. Any initial value on Missouri, which opened at minus-14, is now long gone after continuous action saw this line climb as much as any in week 1. I would rather take Wyoming and its home field advantage at War Memorial Stadium, which sports college football’s highest elevation, at the higher asking price. Guess: Wyoming plus-18.


Northwestern plus-6 at Stanford, over/under: 47. I’m buying low on Stanford, which hasn’t slipped as far as perception indicates, while I can. This is a highly favorable spot to start the year with Northwestern needing replace most of its key players and traveling West. Lean: Stanford minus-6.

Fresno State plus-13.5 at USC, over/under: 53. You can either take the far more talented and experienced team in USC, or the far more reliable and proven coach in Fresno State’s Jeff Tedford. Or make the shrewdest move and sit this one out altogether. Guess: Fresno State plus-13.5.

New Mexico State plus-32 at Washington State, over/under: 64.5. New Mexico State crashed hard last season but this is still virtually the same team — at least on offense — that won a bowl game two years ago. They’re too experienced to roll over to a slightly-average-at-best Washington State squad. Guess: New Mexico State plus-32.


Oregon plus-3.5 vs. Auburn in Arlington, Texas, over/under: 57.5. Auburn will have — quite literally — a massive advantage up front and is due for a boost offensively with coach Gus Malzahn taking over play-calling duties. This game was worth pouncing on at minus-3 earlier in the week, but still carries some value on the Tigers across the key number. Play: Auburn minus-3.5.

Louisiana plus-20 at Mississippi State, over/under: 60. Take caution before betting Mississippi State this week as it’s facing suspensions stemming from its recent NCAA violations that coach Joe Moorhead won’t announce until kickoff. Not to mention Louisiana’s Billy Napier has stockpiled talent over the last two years and might soon be regarded as one of the hottest rising coaches. Lean: Louisiana plus-20.

Georgia minus-23 at Vanderbilt, over/under: 58.5. This number has swelled as much as four points, taking what was a fair price and turning into one that’s excessive. The Commodores will not be as bad most presume this season, not with running back Ke’Shaw Vaughn flashing star potential at the end of last year. Lean: Vanderbilt plus-23.

Duke plus-33 vs. Alabama in Atlanta, over/under: 56.5. Unlike some teams who need a week or two to get going, Alabama has always showed up on form right away under coach Nick Saban, who’s 12-0 straight-up, 11-11 against the spread in week 1 with the Crimson Tide. Duke’s young and likely anemic offense is in for a long afternoon. Lean: Alabama minus-33.

Georgia Southern plus-27.5 at LSU, over/under: 52. LSU is unveiling a more dynamic offense that will make it tough for a team with fewer athletes like Georgia Southern to keep up. Georgia Southern’s triple option, meanwhile, shouldn’t fool a team with an experienced and skilled defensive front like LSU’s. Guess: LSU minus-27.5.

Georgia State plus-26 at Tennessee, over/under: 58. The Volunteers are experienced at every spot on the field and undervalued after years of underachieving. Take value with them while it’s available. Guess: Tennessee minus-26.

Toledo plus-11.5 at Kentucky, over/under: 61.5. This is a high-variance game considering both teams in are in the nation’s bottom 20 in returning production, per SP+, and therefore carry plenty of unknowns. Be wary of trendy underdogs, though, and Toledo has taken 83 percent of the money at William Hill sports books. Guess: Kentucky minus-11.5.

Sun Belt

Eastern Michigan minus-6 at Coastal Carolina, over/under: 54. With all of the offseason to prepare for week 1, it’s easier to trust proven Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton than Costal Carolina’s first-year, full-time head coach Jamey Chadwell. Lean: Eastern Michigan minus-6.

SMU plus-2.5 at Arkansas State, over/under: 56. SMU outperformed its statistical profile last season, meanwhile Arkansas State underperformed its efficiency level. That creates a perfect storm that washes a couple due points off this spread. Guess: Arkansas State minus-2.5.

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

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