A post gaining traction in SBR's College Football handicapping Forum this week is whether teams generally score more or less than what their season average will end up being in their first game. Well, let's try to answer that with the NCAA season just over two weeks off.
Do College Football Teams Tend to Score More or Less in Week 1?
If were talking about baseball picks, it would have an easy answer. Pitchers are generally ahead of hitters early in an MLB season. Plus cold weather in northern cities can help keep scoring down in those early April games. Obviously cold weather won't be an issue anywhere when the 2015 college football season begins on Thursday, Sept. 3.
I would argue there are a few factors to determine whether teams are generally better offensively or worse in Week 1. Obviously the opponent is the biggest. Most powerhouses schedule a cupcake for their opener as a glorified scrimmage, although that might be changing a bit with the College Football Playoff committee emphasizing strength of schedule so much. That emphasis is what cost Baylor and TCU a spot in last year's national semifinals.
Baylor clearly hasn't learned anything as it opens with SMU, probably the worst FBS team in the country last year, followed by the Bears playing Lamar and Rice. That's a joke. TCU is at least visiting a decent Minnesota team in Week 1.
Have to give credit to USA Today preseason No. 3 Alabama, which opens on Sept. 5 against No. 18 Wisconsin.
No. 7 Auburn is facing a good Louisville team in Atlanta.
No. 16 Arizona State is playing Texas A&M in Houston.
No. 10 Notre Dame hosts Texas.
And in the final game of Week 1 on Labor Day night, top-ranked Ohio State gets a chance to pay back its only loss from last season as it visits Virginia Tech, and the Buckeyes will be without four suspended players, including perhaps the nation's top defender in All-American end Joey Bosa.
Easy Wins for National Title Contenders
On the flip side, you have some national title contenders looking at easy wins and a chance to work out the kinks against opponents that have no chance:
No. 22 Arizona is hosting Texas San Antonio.
No. 5 Oregon hosts FCS school Eastern Washington.
No. 6 Michigan State is at MAC school Western Michigan.
I mentioned No. 4 Baylor.
No. 7 Florida State faces some school called Texas State.
No. 15 Ole Miss hosts Tennessee-Martin.
No. 12 Clemson gets to pound on little Wofford.
No. 20 Arkansas will do the same to UTEP.
No. 19 Oklahoma will destroy Akron.
Ditto No. 13 LSU against McNeese State.
Clearly those ranked teams in the paragraph above can do whatever they want in those games and could probably score at will. But it's important to keep two things in mind before locking in your college football picks. First off, it's more likely the coaches get their starters out of there early and call off the dogs. Second, make sure to check what the teams' Week 2 games are.
For example, Oregon probably will be somewhat vanilla in its opener against Eastern Washington because the Ducks have to visit Michigan State in Week 2. in addition, Oregon will be breaking in a new starting QB, either former Eastern Washington star Vernon Adams or ex-Marcus Mariota backup Jeff Lockie. Oklahoma might also keep things simple and probably already is game planning for its Week 2 matchup at Tennessee.
Certainly teams breaking in new quarterbacks, coaches and/or schemes are more likely to struggle a bit in Week 1. Alabama doesn't know who its quarterback will be yet. Ditto Georgia, LSU, Florida State, UCLA and Oklahoma to name a few. Clemson star QB Deshaun Watson is returning from a serious injury so I highly doubt he plays too long against Wofford. Big-name schools such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska and Florida all have new head coaches.
Lastly, obviously make sure you check the number of returning starters for each team before betting on Week 1 -- which is easily the toughest week of the season to handicap. Notre Dame, UCLA and Tennessee are among the nation's leaders in returning starters, although the Bruins lost star QB Brett Hundley. Louisville, Florida and Alabama are among the Power 5 schools that bring back the fewest starters.
College Football Betting Verdict:
To summarize, there really isn't any concrete answer as to whether a school will score more than usual in Week 1. One must take into account all the above factors. If curious, the highest Week 1 total is Baylor-SMU, with it posted at 74.5 on BetOnline college football odds.