College football picks, predictions vs the first week spread of the top 25 games

The first five showdown between #2 Ohio State and #5 Notre Dame is the most anticipated game on the first week schedule.

The match between the Buckeyes and the Irish is part of a five-day packed weekend that begins with the Backyard Brawl revamp between No. 17 Pittsburgh and West Virginia on Thursday and ends with the ACC opener between No. 4 Clemson and Georgia Tech on Monday. There are also matches ranked between No. 3 Georgia, No. 11 Oregon, No. 19 Arkansas and No. 23 Cincinnati.

Of those 17 matches that FBS teams have had in the top 25, four have single-digit differences. Each week, Sporting News selects each AP game from the top 25 games by difference. In Week 0, we went 5-2 S/U and 5-2 ATS. A look at this week’s picks:

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Thursday 1 September

West Virginia at House 17 (7 p.m., ESPN)

Caesar: house -7

Mathematical interaction: house -7

It’s the first Backyard Brawl game since 2011, and sentiment should be running high on the Acrisure Arena. Kidon Sloves and JT Daniels will be at the heart of the quarter, but the chess match between new offensive coordinators Frank Sainty Jr and Graham Harrell is even better. Who let him lose in the opening? Four of the past five meetings were decided by four points or less.

picking Pete won 29-23 but failed to cover the spread.

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Central Michigan at No. 12 Oklahoma State (7 p.m., FS1)

Caesar: Oklahoma -21

Mathematical interaction: Oklahoma -21

Remember what happened last time? Chippewas beat Peace be upon you, Mary In the movie 30-27 in 2016. No less Cooper Rush’s voice is too loud. Oklahoma State’s 12-man class is still asleep, and they should pull out in the second half if they can contain the second team SN All-American Lew Nichols, who led the FBS with 1,848 yards and 16 TDS last season. Chippewas was 4-1 ATS as the dog last season, and that streak earned three points from its opening.

Pick: Oklahoma State wins 34-16 and fails to cover the spread.

Friday 2 September

Western Michigan at No. 15 Michigan State (7 p.m., ESPN)

Caesar: Michigan State -20

Mathematical interaction: Michigan State -20

This is another line that is 3.5 pips above its opening spread. The Spartans have a new backyard field with Jarek Broussard and Jalen Berger, and veteran quarterback Peyton Thorne returns to Mel Tucker. La’Darius Jefferson and Sean Tyler are a capable tandem of running back for the Broncos, but new quarterback Jack Salopek threw only five assists last season.

picking Michigan State won 35-17 and failed to cover the spread.

Saturday 3 September

Colorado State at No. 8 Michigan (12 p.m., ABC)

Caesar: Michigan -27.5

Mathematical interaction: Michigan -27.5

Opinions differ on Michigan this season, but offense should remain a dynamic no matter how Cade McNamara and JJ McCarthy split the first-team reps. The Wolverines were 5-1 ATS when they were a 14-point favorite last season. There are better days against the Rams under Guy Norville, but that’s a lot to ask for in the opener.

picking Michigan wins 48-13 and covers the spread.

No. 13 North Carolina in East Carolina (12 p.m. EST)

Caesar: NC State -10

Mathematical interaction: NC State -10

There are high hopes in Raleigh, NC, about the loaded NC State team that includes veteran quarterback Devin Leary, but Wolfpack lost their last two trips to East Carolina. The Pirates were 3-1 ATS as a double-digit underdog last season, but this loss was a blast against Cincinnati.

picking NC State wins 34-20 and covers the spread.

UTEP at No. 9, Oklahoma (3:30 p.m., FOX)

Caesar: Oklahoma -31.5

Mathematical interaction: Oklahoma -31.5

The Sooners are starting a new chapter with Brent Venables, but this will be where new offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby shows off a big attack around Dillon Gabriel and a talented support crew. UTEP has a Game Week 0 under its belt, but that wouldn’t be pretty in the second half.

picking Oklahoma wins 51-14 and covers the spread.

No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 11 Oregon (3:30 p.m., ABC)

Caesar: Georgia -17.5

Mathematical interaction: Georgia -17.5

This is a huge line of Chick-fil-A Kickoff. Georgia was a 7-3 ATS when it was a double-digit favorite last season, but the Bulldogs lost 15 players to the NFL Draft. The roster is still fun, but it’s well known by Oregon coach Dan Lanning, who was Georgia’s defensive coordinator. The former Auburn quarterback, the Bo Knics, also has some familiarity with the Bulldog, and the Ducks are more talented than they are given here.

picking Georgia won 32-20 but failed to cover the spread.

23 Cincinnati at No. 19 Arkansas (3:30 p.m., ESPN)


Caesar: Arkansas -6.5

Mathematical interaction: Arkansas -6.5

The Bearcats are back, and they won’t hold back on the challenge of playing a real sleeper at SEC in Arkansas, led by double-threat quarterback KJ Jefferson (above). Ben Bryant and Evan Prater are vying for the start in the quarterback, and this is a tough road job. The Razorbacks pulled away in the fourth quarter.

picking Arkansas wins 31-21 and covers the spread.

#24 Houston at UTSA (3:30 p.m., CBSSN)

Caesar: Houston -5.5

Mathematical interaction: Houston -5.5

The Cougars have inherited the Five Buster naming, and Clayton Tone quarterback leads the talent roster. This is a dangerous rivalry within the state. The Cougars have handled these matches in recent seasons as well. However, UTSA is bringing back quarterback Frank Harris, and Trillon Smith’s move to Arkansas could have an impact.

picking Houston wins 34-30 but fails to cover the spread.

Troy at No. 21 Ole Miss (4 p.m., SEC Network)

Caesar: Ole Miss -22

Mathematical interaction: Ole Miss -22

Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin worked the gate for new quarterback Jaxson Dart and returning Zachary Evans, and those stars will be featured in the opening game against the Trojans. The Rebels are only 7-6-1 as candidates under Kevin, so this is a tough spread to follow. It can be tight on the lid.

picking Ole Miss wins 38-14 and covers the difference.

No. 25 BYU in South Florida (4 p.m., ESPNU)

Caesar: BYU -12

Mathematical interaction: BYU -12

BYU has a tough schedule this season, but the Cougars are equipped to handle it around quarterback Garen Hall. BYU 3-7 ATS was only as a favorite last season. They start this season on the other end of the trend.

picking BYU wins 39-22 and covers the spread.

Rice at No. 14 USC (6 p.m., Pac-12 Network)

Caesar: USC -34.5

Mathematical interaction: USC -34.5

Who’s willing to over-react to Lincoln Riley’s L.A. experience? The Trojans must have had an explosive attack around Caleb Williams, Travis Day, Jordan Addison, and Rice on the way here. Look for Trojans to make a credible opening statement against a very big opponent. There is still a huge streak to contend with.

picking USC wins 52-10 and covers the spread.

No. 7 Utah in Florida (7 p.m., ESPN)

Caesar: Utah -2.5

Mathematical interaction: Utah -2.5

Utes are favourites, talented enough to travel and win on the road around quarterback Cam Rising and a solid running game with Tavion Thomas. The X Factor here is new Florida coach Billy Napier and quarterback Anthony Richardson. Is there room for turbulence in the first week? Pac-12’s upcoming strikes continue to “disturb” in The Swamp. The Gators have not lost a home opener since 1989.

picking Florida wins 27-26 in a surprise.

Miami, Ohio at No. 20 Kentucky (7 p.m., ESPN+)

Caesar: Kentucky -18

Mathematical interaction: Kentucky -17.5

There is real excitement about the Wildcats this season, and quarterback Will Levis is driving what must be one of the best offenses in the SEC this season. The RedHawks held onto a 31-26 loss in Minnesota last season and are a good pick to win the MAC title. That won’t be enough in Lexington.

picking Kentucky wins 40-20 and covers the spread.

Utah at #1 Alabama (-39) (7:30 p.m., SEC Network)

Caesar: Alabama -39

Mathematical interaction: Alabama -39

Alabama games are going to spread like this, and it’s hard to measure forever. Yes, Crimson Tide should be able to pick his score in the second half, and Bryce Young should feel comfortable with a new core set of receivers. The Aggies have a Week 0 match under their belt, but that’s not enough against a Will Anderson-led defense. The Crimson Tide covered their two favorites with over 30 points last season.

picking Alabama wins 5-10 and covers the spread.

No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Ohio State (7:30 p.m., ABC)

Caesar: Ohio State -17.5

Mathematical interaction: Ohio State -17.5

The streak continues to increase in favor of the Buckeyes, and few give the Irish a chance to win straight into the boot. It’s going to be tough to stop Ohio State’s offense around CJ Stroud and a loaded set of receivers, and there’s pressure on Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner on his first massive start. The Buckeyes have won the last four meetings of this shortened series at an average of 16 points per game. Can new Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman change direction against an elite opponent on the road? What does Ohio State’s new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles bring to this side of the ball? The Irish snuck into the tailgate cover late.

picking Ohio State won 42-27 and failed to cover the spread

Bender: The Big Ten should stop scheduling Notre Dame

Monday 5 September

No. 4 Clemson vs Georgia Tech (8 p.m., ABC)

Caesar: Clemson-21

Mathematical interaction: Clemson-21

Clemson beat Georgia Tech 73-7 in 2019, but netted an outright 14-8 win with the goal line last season. So, what will the Mercedes-Benz stadium be like? The Tigers must be vicious in defense, and this sounds like the first of many ACC “kickback” games. We will trust the return of the big plays for the Tigers.

picking Clemson wins 38-13 and covers the spread.

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