It’s the first week, so I’m not going to get too crazy here. All picks are just for a unit. My best advice I can give you is to not shoot your wad the first couple of weeks of the season.
UCONN (+24) over UCF
As much as anything, this is a bet on coaching. That’s not necessarily a slight against Josh Heupel, but his OC history suggests the Knights might start slow as do some other situations.
The big fear you have if you’re on the Huskies here is that they’re just going to get blown out of their own stadium because UCF is scoring every possession. However, Heupel was the OC the last two years at Mizzou and Utah State for one year before that. The Tigers lit it up last year in the opener, but that was against 3-8 FCS team Missouri State team that gave up 38 PPG. The next three games – all at home – Mizzou only managed 10 PPG. The year before they started with an 11-point outing. In his one year at USU, the Aggies started the first three games averaging 14 PPG, which included a 12-point effort against Southern Utah.
Of course Heupel has Mackenzie Milton at QB to help the situation this year, but it’s still a new offense to Milton and Heupel had Drew Lock to work with last year, too. Milton is also replacing two of his big playmakers at WR/TE.
There’s also the fact that we have no idea what Heupel can do as a HC. It was a bit of a curious hire and he’s replacing Scott Frost, who couldn’t possibly have done a better job. If you look at Group of 5 teams trying to replace big-time coaches last year, it was quite a drop-off.
- PJ Fleck went 13-1 in 2016 at WMU, who went 6-6 last year under Tim Lester
- Tom Herman went 22-5 in two years at Houston, who went 7-5 last year under Major Applewhite
- Jeff Brohm went 22-5 his last two years at WKU, who went 6-7 last year under Mike Sanford
So yeah, I’m betting against UCF being nearly as dominant as they were last year with the change in coaching and the loss of quite a bit of NFL talent. I also believe Randy Edsall is a really good coach and will field a more competitive UConn team this year. I think the line is a rollover from last year and less of a projection for this year.
New Mexico State (+21.5) over MINNESOTA
This line has predictably jumped after NMSU looked pretty miserable in Week 0 against Wyoming at home. Gotta be honest, doesn’t really bother me that much. For one, I really liked Wyoming heading into the season. Secondly, I think it’s an advantage for NMSU to have a game under their belt. Their flaws were exposed and now they have tangible things to work on this week. And finally, of the four teams that lost in Week 0 last year, three of them won the next game. I realize that’s kind of a meaningless stat without context, but those three teams that bounced back with a win were Oregon State, Rice, and San Jose State. Here’s context: THOSE THREE TEAMS COMBINED FOR A TOTAL OF FOUR WINS LAST YEAR AND THREE OF THEM WERE THE GAME AFTER WEEK ZERO.
So yeah, I think it’s an advantage for NMSU.
Also an advantage, Minnesota is starting a preferred walk-on at QB, who also happens to be a true freshman. And I realize that Zack Annexstad had scholarship offers to play at mediocre programs, but at the end of the day he’s still a two-star true freshman starting at QB for a Big Ten team. Not good. He’s going up against a veteran defense that can apply a lot of pressure.
NMSU might only need to score a single touchdown to cover this game.
Florida Atlantic (+21) over OKLAHOMA
Obviously I’m pretty high on the Owls this year. I won’t rehash everything again, but with 10 starters back you have to think the Owls will be ready to go against Kyler Murray in his first start in Norman.
On the other side of the ball, RB Devin Singletary (1,920 rushing yards, 32 rushing TDs) could be a big problem for a Sooner D that had a lot of holes last year. FAU has to start a new QB, but all their options have a ton of talent. Jason Driskel was decent last year, but he wasn’t asked to really do all that much.
UTSA (+19) over ARIZONA STATE
I would think this would be a pretty low-scoring game. Arizona State has the potential to be explosive, but UTSA was a Top 20 defense nationally last year. The Roadrunners have a lot to replace offensively, but they weren’t good to begin with. Last year they won at Baylor. The year before they nearly beat this Sun Devil team in the Alamodome. Since Frank Wilson took over in San Antonio, UTSA has only lost by more than two touchdowns on one occasion.
And, yes, I’m going to continue to bet against ASU until Herm proves he has any idea what he’s doing as a college HC.
Central Michigan (+17) over KENTUCKY
CMU always seems undervalued and matchup-wise I think RB Jonathan Ward versus an atrocious Wildcat run defense could be big for the Chips. Benny Snell is probably going to be the majority of the UK offense early on, but CMU returns six of their front seven and should be able to at least slow Snell down.
But the real reason for this play: Kentucky rarely blows anybody out, especially early in the season. Last year they beat Southern Miss by 7, EMU by 4, and EKU by 11. In 2016, they lost to Southern Miss. They did beat NMSU by 20, but it was a 7-point game headed to the 4th. In 2015, they beat ULL and EKU by 7 each.
Combine that trait with a Week 2 game looming in Gainesville against the Gators and there’s some upset potential here.
North Carolina A&T (+7.5) over EAST CAROLINA
I talked about this game a little bit in the ECU season preview, but I’ll rehash a bit here. NC A&T was 12-0 last year, including a win over FBS opponent Charlotte, who rated pretty similar to ECU in power rankings. ECU was 3-9 last year and that included a 20-point beating they suffered to James Madison in Week 1. They improved offensively as the season went on, but the Pirates lose both their QBs and three of their four top WRs. They were horrendous in every single facet of the game defensively. They have a new DC who may help, but he has a lot of holes that need patched up.
A&T also has the advantage of already playing a game. They opened the season last week with a neutral-site win over FCS #6 Jacksonville State (the Aggies opened at #14 themselves). A&T is returning their QB, RB, and quite a few playmakers on defense. They have a new HC in Sam Washington, but he’d been the DC here for six years.
Although the two play in different subdivisions, they rated about the same in the Sagarin ratings last year. ECU returns only 49% of their overall production this year and more than half of that is from a wretched defense. It doesn’t include key parts of the passing game, which the Pirates thrive on. I think the offense will be slow coming out of the gates and it’ll allow the Aggies to keep pace on Saturday.
WESTERN MICHIGAN (+6) over Syracuse
I really don’t think there’s a ton of separation between the two teams and it’s a tricky game for the Orange.
San Diego State (+14) over STANFORD
I mean, the Aztecs did beat them last year. I like the Cardinal this year, though.
Akron (+26) over NEBRASKA
Seems like so many points for a team that went 4-8 last year and is starting a true frosh at QB. I just can’t put my faith in an Akron team that will likely be down to start the year and going into what should be a wild environment in Lincoln.
Kent State (+16.5) over ILLINOIS
Illinois stinks and probably shouldn’t give this many points to anybody, but Kent has a lot to figure out.
FIU (+11) over Indiana
Dangerous game for IU, who has a lot of question marks at skill positions and needs to replace some defensive studs. However, FIU has to replace a ton on defense.
Maryland (+13.5) over Texas
If not for the black cloud around the program, I’d probably take it. After all, the Terps won in Austin last year before the QB position went to hell.
NORTH TEXAS (-4) over SMU
Should be a great game to watch if you wanna see points.
WYOMING (pick) over Washington State
It opened at +4, but is to the point now where the Cowboys are even favored in some places. No longer think there’s any value to the Wyoming side.
HAWAII (+10) over Navy
I liked it when it was 14. Once again, all value lost after a stellar Week 0 performance by Hawaii.
Miami FL (-3) over LSU
I think LSU is gonna suck, but something about Miami still scares me.