This might be the best NCAA football opening-week schedule in many years. Here’s a look at some of those games with Sports Interaction NCAA football odds. Games Saturday unless noted.
NCAA Football Odds: Week 1
No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 15 Houston,
Point Spread: Sooners -10.5 Total: 68
NCAAF pick: Houston and over
Technically this is a neutral-site game at Houston’s NRG Stadium, the site of this season’s Super Bowl. No team from outside a Power 5 Conference has made the College Football Playoff in its two seasons of existence, but Houston has a legitimate shot of doing so if it can win this game and run the table. The star of Houston head coach Tom Herman is on the rise after the former Ohio State offensive coordinator led the Cougars to a 13-1 record last year, capped by a very impressive 38-24 win over No. 9 Florida State in the Peach Bowl. Houston brings back 11 starters from that team, led by dual-threat QB Greg Ward Jr. The Cougars’ lone loss in 2015 came in the one game Ward wasn’t able to start due to injury.
Last season, only two quarterbacks threw for more than 2,000 yards and rushed for more than 1,000 yards. Ward was one and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, the 2016 Heisman Trophy-second favourite at Sports Interaction, was the other. Oklahoma, which lost to Clemson in last year’s College Football Playoff semifinals, brings back a Heisman Trophy candidate of its own in QB Baker Mayfield. It’s the first meeting between Houston and OU since a 50-point Sooners win in 2004.
No. 5 LSU vs. Wisconsin,
3:30 p.m. ET
Point Spread: Tigers -10 Total: 44.5
NCAAF pick: LSU and under.
This is also a neutral-site game at Lambeau Field, home of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. The +402 favourite on this year’s Heisman odds is LSU junior running back Leonard Fournette. When LSU opened last year 7-0, Fournette was also the Heisman favorite but then the Tigers dropped three in a row and his candidacy fell off. He finished third in the nation in rushing with 1,953 yards while adding 22 touchdowns. Fournette did sprain his ankle in a scrimmage on Aug. 16 but is now fine.
If LSU were to lose this game, the pressure on Coach Les Miles will be ramped up. He was nearly fired last season. Miles’ new defensive coordinator is Dave Aranda, who was hired from Wisconsin. From 2013-15, Aranda’s Badgers defenses allowed an average of 289.4 yards per game, first in the nation over that span. LSU beat Wisconsin 28-24 in Houston to open the 2014 season. The Badgers led 24-7 in the third quarter. Fournette had only 18 yards on eight carries.
No. 20 USC vs. No. 1 Alabama
8 p.m. ET
Point Spread: Tide -11.5 Total: 54
NCAAF pick: Alabama and under
The Crimson Tide open as the +553 favourites on NCAA football national championship odds. Coach Nick Saban has to replace Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry and starting quarterback Jake Coker from that squad. The quarterback battle is ongoing between junior Cooper Bateman, Coker’s backup last year, and freshman Blake Barnett.
This is the third season in a row that Saban hasn’t named a starting quarterback the week of the opener. Meanwhile, USC coach Clay Helton has named redshirt junior Max Browne as his starting QB. He was the backup to Cody Kessler last year and has completed 11 of 19 passes for 143 yards in his career. Browne was a very highly touted recruit. Something has to give here, as USC has won its past 17 openers and Alabama its last 14. The storied programs haven’t played since 1985.
No. 10 Notre Dame at Texas
Sunday 7:30 p.m. ET
Point Spread: Irish -3 Total: 60
NCAAF pick: Notre Dame and under
This game was shifted to Sunday night to have the national spotlight all to itself. No coach is on a hotter seat entering the season than Texas’ Charlie Strong, so if the Horns are routed here at home, Strong might not even last the season. The Longhorns visited Notre Dame to open last season and were embarrassed 38-3, managing just 163 total yards and eight first downs. The Irish had 527 yards with quarterback Malik Zaire passing for 313 yards and three scores. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly plans to play both Zaire and fellow QB DeShone Kizer in this game. Kizer played very well in 2015 after Zaire suffered a season-ending injury in the second game.
Meanwhile, Strong says he won’t reveal his starting QB until said player runs onto the field Sunday night. It will either be senior Tyrone Swoopes, who has 14 career starts (6-8 record), or freshman Shane Buechele. If the spring game was any indication, it will be Buechele.
No. 11 Ole Miss vs. No. 4 Florida State
Monday, 8 p.m. ET
Point Spread: Seminoles -4.5 Total: 57
NCAAF pick: FSU and over
Week 1 closes with a terrific matchup from Orlando on the holiday Labor Day night in the USA. Don’t be surprised if the Seminoles reach this year’s College Football Playoff as they bring back 10 offensive starters, led by Heisman Trophy candidate Dalvin Cook, a junior running back.
Actually, FSU brings back all 11 offensive starters but quarterback Sean Maguire broke his foot earlier this month. It was thought he would miss at least this game, but he has returned to practice. It’s still not clear if he will play, but Deondre Francois, a redshirt freshman quarterback from Orlando, is going to start. FSU is 6-0 under Coach Jimbo Fisher in season openers. Ole Miss brings back arguably the SEC’s top quarterback in senior Chad Kelly. The Rebels and Seminoles have played once previously, back in 1961.