The opening week of the college football season is six weeks away, but lines are up right now, so there are nice opportunities to lock in nice numbers and beat some line moves. We like mostly favorites in Week 1, but there are some notable exceptions, as we look for Boise State to get knocked off by Georgia and we are not convinced Maryland should be a dog vs. Miami-FL.
The 2011 college football season kicks off on September 1, and although that is still six weeks away, it is never too early to start handicapping those games in an attempt to get the best numbers by anticipating line moves.
Some lines for Week 1 are already up at 5 Dimes, and here are our early predictions for six games on opening weekend.
Saturday, September 3
Oklahoma Sooners (-23) over Tulsa Golden Hurricane: The Sooners are hosting this contest at Memorial Stadium in Norman, OK at 8:00 ET. Now while we normally try to avoid heavy favorites, as we mentioned in our College Football Betting Guide last week, the notable exception is in the first three weeks of the season when the deeper, better conditioned teams have the advantage in the heat. The Sooners should be able to name the score here, as their offense could potentially be one of the best in the country this season with nine returning starters. Quarterback Landry Jones returns after passing for over 4700 yards last year to rank second in the country, and possibly the best receiver in Oklahoma history, Ryan Broyles, also surprised many by coming back for another year. The Sooners are set up front with four returning offensive linemen, so we simply do not see how a Conference USA defense can contain these guys. Granted, Tulsa returns eight starters on defense, but is that really a good thing for a team that allowed 440.8 yards per games last season, ranking 108th in the country out of 120 FBS teams? This game should get ugly in a hurry, especially in Norman.
LSU Tigers (-3½) over Oregon Ducks: This contest is at a neutral site at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX at 8:00 ET and will be televised nationally on ABC. We feel that LSU gives the SEC its best chance for a sixth straight BCS Championship, and this marquee opening week matchup vs. what we feel is an overrated Oregon team should go a long way toward achieving that goal. Remember that the Tigers went 10-2 straight up last season while getting absolutely nothing out of the quarterback position, and that poor play from the signal callers was the primary reason they went just 5-7 against the college football odds. All that LSU needs is adequate quarterback play this year to contend for the national championship, either from incumbent Jordan Jefferson or from highly touted transfer Zach Mettenberger. This team is stacked everywhere else, and the defense can potentially be one of the best in the country. Now Oregon led the world in offense last season en route to the BCS Championship Game, but everyone saw what happens to a smallish, gimmicky offense when it runs into an SEC defense in that title game. Well, the Auburn defense wasn’t even that great, so LSU should have no problem slowing the Ducks down here.
Georgia Bulldogs (+2½) over Boise State Broncos: This contest is technically on a neutral field at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA, but the Bulldogs will obviously have the overwhelming support in a game televised nationally on ESPN at 8:00 ET. Boise State had its national title hopes dashed in its 11th game last year by losing at Nevada after a 10-0 start. Well, the Broncos will not have to wait that long to lose a game this year, as we expect them to get upset here in Week 1. Boise did finish 9-4 against the college football betting lines, but then again, the Broncos did not have an SEC team on their schedule either. The Broncos are 0-4 lifetime vs. SEC schools, and the last time they faced one, they lost to these Bulldogs 48-13 back in 2005. Now Georgia had a disappointing year last season, culminating with a Liberty Bowl loss to Central Florida. However, they just may have the best returning quarterback in the SEC in Aaron Murray, and the offensive line should be excellent after its youngsters gained valuable experience last year. The Georgia offense should be able to dominate an undersized Boise defense here. Yes, the Broncos has great defensive stats last year, but a lot of that had to do with facing weak WAC teams (a benefit Boise loses with the move to the Mountain West), and the Broncos lost a couple of key defenders in Ryan Winterswyk and Winston Venable.
Missouri Tigers (-20½) over Miami Ohio RedHawks: The Tigers will be home for this contest at Memorial Stadium in Columbia, MO at 12:00 Noon ET. Missouri has a chance to win the Big 12 North Division this year with Nebraska now out of the way and nine returning starters on offense. Of course, one of the two offensive losses was stud quarterback Blaine Gabbert, but his replacement James Franklin has looked good in the spring and seems poised to be the next great Mizzou quarterback in line. He should feel comfortable with all the talent around him, as in addition to all the wide receivers returning, Michael Egnew is a great receiving tight end. The Tigers get to pick on a MAC defense in their opener, and while the RedHawks won 10 games last year while being carried by their defense, they did not stop any offenses of Missouri’s caliber. If the Tigers are as successful as we expect offensively here, Miami O simply lacks the offense to keep pace. The RedHawks only averaged 20.5 points and 361.2 yards per game last season, and they are still searching for their starting quarterback this season even as we are typing this. Debuting against a Missouri defense that features one of the best defensive line combinations in the country in Jacquies Smith and Brad Madison is not an ideal situation for whoever wins the Miami quarterback job.
Sunday, September 4
Texas A&M Aggies (-14) over SMU Mustangs: This game will be played on the home field of the Aggies at Kyle Field in College Station, TX at 7:30 ET. We think that both of these teams will go bowling in the post-season this year, as Texas A&M seems like the biggest threat to Oklahoma in the Big 12 and we are looking for SMU to make a return trip to the Conference USA Championship Game. That said however, while it seems tempting to take two touchdowns with the Mustangs, the difference between the two conferences is so vast that we do not see SMU slowing down the Aggies’ offense in College Station. Texas A&M took off last season after Ryan Tannehill took over at quarterback following a 3-3 start, and he led A&M to a 6-0 finish in the regular season while impressively guiding the offense to 33.0 points per game while also going a perfect 6-0 against the spread. Tannehill is now the starter from the get-go in 2011, and while SMU probably has the second best defense in Conference USA, it is a distant second behind UCF and the defense is not as good or as big as most of the Big 12 defenses that the Aggies normally face. The Mustangs will be fine once the conference portion of their schedule starts, but they simply seem outclassed in this spot in hostile territory.
Monday, September 5
Maryland Terrapins (+4½) over Miami Florida Hurricanes: The Terrapins will be hosting this Labor Day contest at Byrd Stadium in College Park, MD at 8:00 ET in a game televised nationally on ESPN. We feel that this is a case of an underrated team taking on an overrated team, as we are honestly not convinced that Maryland should even be a home underdog in this spot, not to mention catching 4½ points. The Terrapins went a surprising 9-4 last season, and we do not see a drop off this season under new coach Randy Edsall, who put Connecticut football on the map. Edsall loves running the football and the Terps have a talent collection of running backs led by Davin Meggett. Also, the Maryland offense should be more versatile than Edsall’s offenses at Connecticut were since the Terrapins have a legitimate passing quarterback in Danny O’Brien. The Terps also return good, experienced talent on defense. Miami may have talent, but they have constantly underperformed since joining the ACC and quarterback Jacory Harris has become notorious for his dumb, on-field decisions holding back the entire offense. The Canes’ defensive front seven seems fine, but O’Brien can exploit a Miami secondary that returns just two nondescript starters. Forget about the spread here and shop for the best Maryland money line you can find.