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College Football Picks: Week 1

Full slate of games through Labor Day

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic - Clemson v Notre Dame Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

College football Week 1 is here and hopefully your Labor Day plans include plenty of time in front of the TV because there are some great matchups all weekend long.

The slate really got started on Thursday night, but I told you last week with my Week 0 picks that I’d be dropping the article on Friday afternoon each week so I wanted to stick to that. And while we’re on the topic how about those Week 0 bets?! A 5-0 record is a great start to the season, but it’s just a start. Lots of games still to go.

All lines come from

Remember if you want to join in on the fun, jump in the comments and make your picks. If picking the games isn’t your thing, let’s watch some football together too.

So without further ado, let’s get to the games.

  • No. 10 North Carolina (-6) at Virginia Tech (6:00 p.m. Friday, ESPN)

The North Carolina Tar Heels are among the favorites in the ACC this season mostly because they have one of the best, if not the best, QB in the country with Sam Howell. Mack Brown is still out here doing it at an elite level in 2021. The Tar Heels don’t have an easy opener though, going into Blacksburg. The Virginia Tech Hokies ended the 2020 season losing four of their final five games. Their meeting last year was a 56-45 shootout that went to North Carolina and I don’t see any reason for this one to be any different.

Prediction: North Carolina -6

The second game of ESPN’s Friday night doubleheader features a late start in the Big Ten and I’m expecting this one to look like a classic Big Ten rock fight. The Northwestern Wildcats had an elite defense in 2020 and what I heard from many NFL Draft analysts this offseason was it had much more to do with the guys being in the right spots on every play than having a robust amount of talent. Not that their untalented but that the scheme played exceptionally well. The only problem is they did lose a high-scoring game to the Michigan State Spartans last year. But I think the homefield advantage is enough to make this one different.

Prediction: Northwestern -3

  • No. 19 Penn State (+5.5) at No. 12 Wisconsin (12:00 p.m. Saturday, FOX)

Another Big Ten rock fight will get us started on Saturday (I wanted to say morning here. I guess I’m still adjusting to the east coast noon kickoffs). The Wisconsin Badgers have become a staple as one of the nation’s best teams with a simple formula — defense and running the football. They struggled to do the latter last year and had a hard time mustering any offense at all. They’ll again have another strong defense and a solid quarterback in Graham Mertz so I’ll expect them to play well again. As for the Penn State Nittany Lions, they’ve got a strong QB of their own in Sean Clifford and a solid defense themselves. Under James Franklin, they’ve frequently found themselves in the top ten, but ended last year at just 4-5 overall. This is a huge game for both programs to start this year better than 2020 and it feels like a coin toss to me. In the end, I’ll take the home team to get the job done.

Prediction: Wisconsin -5.5

  • No. 1 Alabama (-19) vs. No. 14 Miami (FL) in Atlanta (3:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC)

I can’t believe I’m going to put this in writing after seeing this program be so dominant for so long, but are the Alabama Crimson Tide vulnerable this weekend? They’ve been the premier college football team for the better part of a decade, making their losses the only time the school is noteworthy because perfection is the only expectation. But they have a lot to replace from last year’s title team. Though no one in the country is better at replacing talent with somehow even better players than Bama. If the Miami Hurricanes plan to win this one, it’ll be on the shoulders of quarterback D’Eriq King. He’s one of the most dynamic and experienced QBs in the country but is also coming off a season-ending knee injury. Any limitations and this Bama defense will pounce. Bottomline: Never doubt Nick Saban.

Prediction: Alabama -19

  • No. 17 Indiana (+3.5) at No. 18 Iowa (3:30 p.m. Saturday, Big Ten Network)

The Big Ten is loaded with teams ranked in the preseason poll so they give us another ranked matchup on Saturday afternoon. The Iowa Hawkeyes are seemingly the ideal Big Ten team every year — powerful upfront with strong run game and solid defense. The expectation is that they’ll be back in that same team again this year which makes them tough to pick against. But I’m buying whatever it is Tom Allen is selling with his Indiana Hoosiers. They were a surprise team in 2020 and I’m here for it again in 2021.

Prediction: Indiana +3.5

  • No. 23 Louisiana (+8.5) at No. 21 Texas (4:30 p.m. Saturday, FOX)

Well, well, well. If it isn’t my old friend, the artist formerly known as ULL making some headway on dropping Lafayette from their name. All joking aside, the Ragin Cajuns have built a really strong program. It’s impressive for the Sun Belt to have a team in the top 25 to open the year, though it could be just so this game looks better on paper. But I could say the same about the Texas Longhorns. The soon-to-be SEC team hasn’t been close to back since former quarterback Sam Ehlinger’s proclamation at the Sugar Bowl a few years ago. No matter how you slice it though, this is Texas. They will be incredibly talented and likely better coached with Steve Sarkisian now at the helm. Texas feels like the easy pick here, but UL has a fifth-year quarterback in Levi Lewis who I know from his days at Scotlandville High School in Baton Rouge as one of the best players in the state. I think they can score with the Horns so let’s ride with the points.

Prediction: Louisiana +8.5

  • No. 5 Georgia (+3) vs. No. 3 Clemson in Charlotte (7:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC)

This SEC vs. ACC matchup is the top of the line game in college football this weekend. College Gameday will be in attendance and rightfully so. These two programs have been some of the most consistent in college football recently. The Clemson Tigers have had an incredible run on the shoulders of Trevor Lawrence the last three years with an appearance in the playoff in each season. Now, they’ll have DJ Uiagalelei under center and he’s on that same tier of elite quarterbacks. He started two games for him in 2020 while Lawrence was out with COVID-19 and he threw for nearly 800 yards combined in those games including a 439 yard showing in a 2OT loss at Notre Dame. On the other side, the Georgia Bulldogs have JT Daniels running the offense. He also flashed in his playing time a year ago and, like most SEC teams, the Dawgs will have a loaded defensive front. ESPN says this line opened at 4-points but the smart money on UGA dropped it to 3. I’ve gone back and forth on this game myself this week and have finally decided I’ve got to just pick one.

Prediction: Georgia +3

  • No. 16 LSU (-2.5) at UCLA (8:30 p.m. Saturday, FOX)

I am shocked by the line on this game. The UCLA Bruins absolutely dominated Hawaii last week at home. Chip Kelly looked back to his old tricks creating an overwhelming rushing attack that simply overwhelmed the Rainbow Warriors. QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson didn’t even play well and it didn’t matter much at all. But he’ll have to play much better if they plan to beat the LSU Tigers. Ed Orgeron’s team will be much better upfront than Hawaii and have two of the best cornerbacks in the country in Derek Stingley Jr. and Eli Ricks. The offense will also go back to the 2019 version after Orgeron hired former coordinator Joe Brady’s assistants back to run that side of the ball. I know UCLA won’t be a push over, but 2.5 feels insulting. Nonetheless, we never waver.

Prediction: LSU -2.5

  • No. 9 Notre Dame (-7.5) at Florida State (7:30 p.m. Sunday, ABC)

I’m sure for many of you this is the first or maybe only pick you’ll read so welcome to the show! You probably don’t need me to handicap it for you. You know the storylines so let’s get to it. For me, the Florida State Seminoles are on the rise. Mike Norvell is a coach that I’d love to play for — though I’m maybe 160 pounds so he’d never even give me a workout. The talent is there across the field but depth is the question. The good thing about this being the opener is you don’t have to worry about lingering injuries. The Notre Dame Fightin’ Irish are coming off a playoff performance in 2020, but I have a hard time believing in this program sustaining that level of success having to replace leaders on both sides of the ball. I can’t believe I’m going to land on this side of the fence and maybe it’s being around you guys too long. Either way, I’m taking the Noles to cover. I can’t get myself to say they’ll win, but that’s not what we’re doing on this here program.

Prediction: Florida State +7.5

  • Louisville (+10.5) vs. Ole Miss in Atlanta (8:00 p.m. Monday, ESPN)

The closer to the endless weekend of football comes on Monday night in Atlanta and I’m realizing this article is plenty long enough already that you don’t need me to drag it out. I’m riding the Lane Train with the Ole Miss Rebels. He’ll make sure this is a track meet and the Louisville Cardinals aren’t keeping up.

Prediction: Ole Miss -10.5

Again, make your own predictions in the comments if you want to play along or you can just use these picks as a viewing guide for the season. I’ll pop in throughout it to join you guys and talk football though it might be sparingly with some relatives in town. Good luck and happy betting.