The 2016 NCAA football season is just around the corner. Week 1 is always the toughest to handicap, but here are five favorites on college football odds that I believe are a bit overrated in their opening games for various reasons.
Appalachian State Mountaineers vs Tennessee Volunteers
The Vols are currently -21 on Pinnacle college football odds -- they are -20.5 nearly everywhere else and that extra point could come in handy. I actually am hoping this line closes at 21.5 or higher after originally opening at 23.5. Let me preface this by saying that I'm on the Tennessee bandwagon this season and believe the Volunteers will win the SEC East Division and play in the SEC title game for the first time since 2007. UT will even end its long losing streak to rival Florida. But I'm taking the points here.
For one, App State is a pretty good team. The Mountaineers had long been a powerhouse in the FCS. Last year, their second in the FBS, Appalachian State finished 11-2 overall, capped by a win over Ohio University in the school's first-ever bowl game. App State is the preseason Sun Belt Conference favorite with 15 starters back, led by QB Taylor Lamb and top running back Marcus Cox. Tennessee, meanwhile, might be looking ahead a bit to a Sept. 10 game vs. Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway, which is expected to draw the largest crowd in NCAA history.
Indiana Hoosiers vs Florida International Golden Panthers
The Hoosiers are -8.5 for their trip to Miami. These teams met in Bloomington last year, with Indiana winning 36-22. But FIU was driving for a potential tying score with under four minutes left when IU's Jameel Cook Jr. picked off a pass and returned it 96 yards for a touchdown. Florida International had 406 yards of offense and perhaps wins that game if not for three turnovers. Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfield, one of the best in school history, threw for 234 yards and a score and tailback Jordan Howard rushed 27 times for 159 yards.
Both those guys are NFL rookies now. Meanwhile, the FIU offense returns nine starters, led by quarterback Alex McGough, who threw for 2,722 yards, 21 scores and just six picks last year. Also back is top receiver Thomas Owens, who caught nine balls for 166 yards and two scores vs. Indiana. An outright upset wouldn't shock me here.
Furman vs. Michigan State, Sept. 2
The Spartans are -41.5 on 5Dimes. Furman is an FCS school and, according to Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis, it will be the last FCS team that his school will ever schedule. More Big Ten teams are following this lead. Furman went 4-7 last season, losing its only game against a Power 5 opponent by a 42-3 score at Virginia Tech. Obviously, Sparty will win this game. But I don't believe it covers. Mark Dantonio's teams don't really run up the score and MSU is returning just 10 starters overall from last year's Big Ten championship and College Football Playoff team. The big question is at quarterback, with three-year starter Connor Cook in the NFL. Senior Tyler O'Connor is likely to be the starter this season. He has completed 34 of 54 passes (.630) for 374 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions in 14 career games. MSU will essentially treat this like a scrimmage, stay healthy and then focus on the next game at Notre Dame.
South Dakota State vs. TCU, Sept. 3
The Horned Frogs are -30.5. Here's another Power 5 team taking on an FCS school, but South Dakota State isn't just some pushover. Last year, the Jackrabbits were 8-4 overall and made their fourth consecutive appearance in the FCS playoffs. SDSU returns 15 starters and is ranked 14th in the preseason FCS Coaches Poll. SDSU has a terrific receiver in Jake Wieneke. He set a single-season Missouri Valley Conference record in 2015 with 1,472 receiving yards. He also had 72 receptions and 11 touchdowns en route to earning All-America honors for the second year in a row. Last year, SDSU opened at a Big 12 team as well and won at Kansas, 41-38. Now, the Jayhawks were horrendous last year in finishing 0-12 -- probably the worst Power 5 team in the nation. The reason I like the points here is that TCU returns a scant 10 starters. Star quarterback Trevone Boykin, All-American receiver Josh Docston and leading rusher Aaron Green are all gone. TCU also will be looking ahead to Week 2 against Arkansas.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs Texas Longhorns
The Irish are -5 on college football picks. This was moved to Sunday night so it could stand alone and be nationally televised on ABC. Last year, the Irish welcomed Texas in Week 1 and laid a 38-3 beatdown on the Longhorns. Malik Zaire was magnificent in completing 19-for-22 for 313 yards and three touchdowns. This week, however, Coach Brian Kelly said that both Zaire and DeShone Kizer would play against UT. Those two had been in a heated battle in camp. Kizer took over as the starter last year after Zaire suffered a season-ending injury in Notre Dame's second game. I don't happen to think rotating QBs works all that well. Plus the Irish lost a ton of talent off last year's squad.
This is almost a must-win game for embattled Texas coach Charlie Strong or the calls to fire him will start up again immediately. The Horns are expected to have a new up-tempo offense this season. Who will run it? Strong hasn't named his starting QB, but many expect it to be freshman Shane Buechele. The Texas defense should be very good. The Horns are going to play with a ton of urgency for their head coach and I like the points here.