It’s never too early to start picking games.
Las Vegas posted the Week 1 lines a couple weeks now, but I still think they’ll move quite a bit between now and the last weekend of August. So if you’re a short trip from Nevada, choose to risk the online books or have a local on the street corner (not that we recommend gambling—ever!), here’s some games I think I want to take now before the lines get stale. (See the end of this article for a complete list.)
Mississippi -3 @ Vanderbilt (August 29)
Fairly fresh in the minds of Mississippi is a November 10 defeat in which the Commodores drove 79 yards and scored the winning TD with 52 seconds left. Second-year coach Hugh Freeze will use that to fuel his 19 returning starters. Giving up points on a road opener is tough, but I like that it’s only a field goal. No way would I lay 3.5.
Fresno State -10 vs. Rutgers (August 29)
Rutgers travels west for a 7 p.m. Vegas Time start. That’s worth a field goal more than home field right there. Toss in Fresno’s 16 returning starters, including third-year senior QB Derek Carr (below) and 1,300-yard sophomore receiver Davante Adams. Add a crowd that has nothing better to do in Fresno but drink all day to prepare for the game, and 10 points is a gift. ESPN U has the game, and it’s worth staying up late. Beware, Rutgers junior QB Gary Nova is on the other side of the field and no slouch himself. It’s going to be a long night with a ton of scoring. Don’t be shocked if you see a total near 80. Anything under 72? Grab it!
USC -22 @ Hawaii (August 29)
I don’t recommend betting this game, but list it here for one reason. There is nothing better than watching a degenerate gambler on a losing streak trying to get everything back on the final game of the night. CBS Sports has the coverage.
NC State -14 vs. Louisiana Tech (August 31)
Two first-year coaches with minimal returning starters (NC State has 10; La Tech has seven), but the Wolfpack have the advantage of bowl practices under their current coach. Dave Doeren prepared for 2013 during the run up to a 38-24 Music City Bowl loss to Vanderbilt. La Tech, meanwhile, turned down a Liberty Bowl berth, wound up without a dance partner, and then Sonny Dykes skipped town. This is another where the number is at a peak, and I wouldn’t lay half a point more.
Virginia +3.5 vs. BYU (August 31)
Before each season, I go through every teams schedule and predict wins and losses for every game. When I did that about three weeks ago, I made Virginia the winner of this matchup. I’m rather surprised I’m getting points, especially the hook, at home. The Cavaliers have 16 starters returning, including four on the offensive line. To steal data from Phil Steele, last year they were -14 in turnovers and suffered two net close losses, which means their 4-8 record is partially due to circumstances that rarely repeat. BYU will be a strong team, but sophomore QB Taysom Hill is less than a year removed from a torn ACL and the defense returns just four starters. BYU will be the better team at the end of the year, but at this point, the Cavaliers can grab this win.
Washington State +15.5 vs. Auburn (August 31)
The Cougars are in their second year with Mike Leach. The system is more refined, the offense clicks better, and Leach has his own players. I’m taking the chance that redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca (Leach’s guy) will be the starting QB over Conner Halliday, who was less than impressive in 2012 when Jeff Tuel was hurt. Gus Malzahn returning to Auburn scares me, but 15.5 points and Mike Leach screams backdoor cover.
Northwestern -5.5 @ California (August 31)
Poor Sonny Dykes was left with a bare cupboard. Redshirt freshman (and not DYKES’ redshirt freshman, like Leach, above) Zach Kline will probably start at QB, and there’s only 11 starters returning from a team that went 3-9 and allowed 49, 21, 59 and 62 points in their last four games. Northwestern has 15 returning starters and needs to rack up wins early to be bowl eligible. The need to be 4-0 before they hit Ohio State and Wisconsin on back-to-back weeks. Don’t be surprised if this is -7.5 once money starts moving.
Ohio State +625, Texas +3500 to win National Title
Mikey, the marketing guy of our tandem, is probably going to scream at me for giving this out before the conference preview shows. But I’ll put a unit on Ohio State and half a unit on Texas to win the national title. As I said on this week’s show, I don’t know when Alabama will slip up—and I have a hard time seeing it—but I think at least one of these teams finishes the season unbeaten. If the voters and the computers don’t give them a chance to play for the title, so be it.
If somehow you missed the Sixth Year Seniors season-opener, click here.
Here’s the complete set of lines for the first week of games, and the National Title odds for teams 100-1 and less. (Note: Texas A&M is not listed due to Johnny Manziel's eligibility questions.)