Week 0 of college football kicks off on Saturday, August 28th. Like a restaurant’s soft opening, Week 0 contains a small slate of four games, none of which are expected to be particularly close. The highlight of the Week 0 slate is a Big Ten conference matchup between the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Illinois Fighting Illini.
For Week 1, we have a full slate of college football games. Typically in Week 1, I make more bets than any other week as the odds are not as accurate due to each team going through radical changes over the offseason. This year, however, despite the addition of “super seniors” and last year’s unusual season, the oddsmakers have gotten more right than usual with the Week 1 odds.
Regardless, there is still value to be found, as there are two games I like in Week 0 and four games I like in Week 1.
CFB Week 0 Predictions
UTEP vs New Mexico State Matchup
From a football standpoint, the Week 0 matchup between the UTEP Miners and New Mexico State Aggies is going to be ugly to watch, as UTEP is 5-39 over their last four seasons. However, they showed signs of improvement in head coach Dana Dimel’s third season, going 3-5 last year.
New Mexico State opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 and went 5-19 from 2018-2019. During the spring, they played two FCS programs and went 1-1. Their one loss came against Tarleton State when they lost 43-17.
UTEP is easily the better team in comparison to New Mexico State. The question for their Week 0 matchup is if they can cover as 9.5 point favorites.
Prediction: UTEP 45, New Mexico State 13
Best Bet: UTEP -9.5 (-105) at DraftKings
Wager: 1 Unit
It takes guts to back any team as bad as UTEP to cover as 9.5-point favorites, but they shouldn’t have any issues against New Mexico State. The Aggies are arguably the worst FBS team this season and the Miners have shown signs of improvement. With NMSU losing to an FCS school this spring by 26 points, they could very easily lose by that large of a margin to UTEP.
Nebraska at Illinois Matchup
Last year as a 16.5-point underdog, Illinois beat Nebraska in Lincoln, 41-23. This time around, the Fighting Illini host the Cornhuskers, who are favored by only 7.5 points.
Nebraska head coach Scott Frost is in the hot seat in his fourth season, as the Huskers finished last year with a 3-5 record and are only 12-20 during his tenure. Illinois has not fared much better recently, as their last winning season was in 2011. However, new head coach Bret Bielema is hoping to change their trajectory after experiencing past success with Wisconsin and Arkansas.
The question for Bielema and Illinois is if they can implement his power running offense well enough to win against a decent Nebraska run defense. I think they can and will.
Prediction: Illinois 27, Nebraska 21
Best Bet: Illinois Moneyline (+230) at BetMGM
Wager: 1 Unit
Illinois should beat Nebraska, but they should not be 7.5-point favorites. Both teams rank towards the bottom of the Big Ten, but the Fighting Illini are not as bad as they look. They have a new head coach whose power running game could easily tire out Nebraska’s defense. At +230 their moneyline is worth a shot, and I would bet it up to +190.
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CFB Week 1 Predictions
Army at Georgia State Matchup
Army’s football formula has been clear over the years. As a military academy, Army has a tough time recruiting. As a result, they must do things differently.
Under head coach Jeff Monken, the Black Knights have won eight or more games in four of the last five seasons. This is because Army does not belong to any football conference, so their schedule consists primarily of weak teams.
The other key ingredient to Army’s success is in their sound execution of a run-based triple-option offense. Last season Army averaged 4.4 yards per carry, while their 264.7 rushing yards per game was the fifth-most out of 127 FBS teams.
For Week 1’s game, Army faces a Georgia State Panthers defense which allowed only 3.9 yards per carry last year. While the Panthers return most of their defensive line, their linebacking core has undergone almost a complete makeover, which makes them vulnerable to Army’s dynamic triple-option attack on the road in West Point.
Prediction: Army 24, Georgia State 20
Best Bet: Army Moneyline (+120) at DraftKings
Wager: 1 Unit
Despite Army being only a three-point home underdog, I believe that they win this game outright. It will be a close contest, but against an inexperienced Panthers defense they should win.
While College Football prognosticator Phil Steele rates Georgia State’s defensive line highly, he rates their linebackers as one of the Sun Belt Conference’s worst position groups. Additionally, Georgia State lost to a Georgia Southern team last year that runs a similar offense to Army.
Louisiana at Texas Matchup
Outside of Georgia vs. Clemson, the most exciting Week 1 matchup in my opinion is between the Texas Longhorns and Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns. Louisiana opened last year as 11-point underdogs on the road against the Iowa State Hawkeyes and won, 31-14. This year they open as 9.5-point underdogs on the road against another Big 12 team in Texas.
Both teams finished the 2020 season ranked in the AP Top 25. Texas had a 7-3 record with their only three losses coming at a touchdown or less. Louisiana, which plays in the much weaker Sun Belt Conference, had a 10-1 record with their only loss coming against the 11-1 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers.
The Longhorns have had a busy offseason, as they have recently announced that are bolting from the Big 12 to join the SEC in a few years. In the run-up to a tough Big 12 conference schedule, Texas should be able to overpower Lousiana here. The question is not whether the Longhorns will win, but by how much?
Prediction: Texas 42, Louisiana 24
Best Bet: Texas -9.5 (-110) at WynnBet
Wager: 1 Unit
Outside of last year’s fluky season, the Sun Belt conference outside of the Appalachian State Mountaineers has always fared poorly in non-conference games. They are 6-43 against the ACC, 3-33 against the Big Ten, 0-28 against the PAC-12, 11-154 against the SEC, and 9-70 against the Big 12. In fact, the only conference in which the Sun Belt has a winning record against is the MAC.
After a strong 2020 season, the Ragin’ Cajuns are due for negative regression, particularly against a Longhorns team that got unlucky in three close losses. In 2020, Texas held opposing running backs to 3.7 yards per carry, which was the 27th-best in the NCAA. Accordingly, Texas should win as Louisiana is punching above their weight class.
Syracuse at Ohio Matchup
The closest spread of any Week 1 game is between the Syracuse Orange and Ohio Bobcats. Syracuse has opened as only a one-point favorite in a game that appears hard to analyze.
The Orange finished 1-10 in 2020, losing only two games by one touchdown or less. Ohio only played three games in 2020 and finished with a 2-1 record.
Even though the Bobcats finished with more wins than the Orange despite playing only three games, you cannot easily conclude that they were a better team last year. Ohio’s only two wins came against the Akron Zips and Bowling Green Falcons, arguably two of the worst teams in the FBS. The Orange, meanwhile, play in the more competitive ACC.
Last month, Ohio head coach Frank Solich announced his retirement after 16 years there. As the third-longest tenured FBS coach, Solich’s absence will be felt. The question is if the Bobcats should have remained one-point favorites after Solich’s retirement?
Prediction: Syracuse 24, Ohio 14
Best Bet: Syracuse -1 (-110) at DraftKings
Wager: 1 Unit
Someone could finish last in their class at medical school and still be a doctor. Syracuse plays in the ACC, which is a Power Five conference. According to my model, they should be underdogs in all eight of their conference games this season, only three of which are by a touchdown or less.
Ohio plays in the MAC, however, which is arguably the weakest FBS conference. In non-conference games, the MAC has a losing record against every single conference, including 14-84 all-time against ACC competition.
With former Mississippi State quarterback Garrett Shrader coming in as a graduate transfer and 19 returning starters, Syracuse should play better this season. As a one-point favorite, I like the Orange and would bet them up to -2.5 (-120).
Utah State at Washington State Matchup
To cap off a long Saturday of college football, the Washington State Cougars host the Utah State Aggies in an 11 p.m. EST matchup. Washington State is heavily favored at home, but little is known about what to expect from both teams.
The Cougars played only four games last year and finished with a 1-3 record under first-year head coach Nick Rolovich. The Aggies finished with a 1-5 record and hired a new head coach in Blake Anderson.
Anderson is coming to the Aggies from Arkansas State, where his team was perennial contenders in the Sun Belt Conference. With explosive offenses, Anderson is looking to implement his system at Utah State.
Anderson has had a busy offseason as Utah State has 14 transfers coming in. This includes last year’s Arkansas State starting quarterback Logan Bonner as well as eight Power Five conference transfers. In addition to a promising transfer class, the Aggies have 19 returning starters.
Utah State looks like an up-and-coming program under Anderson, but the question is if they can build enough chemistry to be competitive in Week 1 against Washington State.
Prediction: Washington State 38, Utah State 35
Best Bet: Utah State +17 (-110) at DraftKings
Wager: 1 Unit
If Washington State under Rolovich had an impressive track record, I would be hesitant to back Utah State. However, the Cougars were underwhelming in 2020 and should have a hard time running up the score on the Aggies.
The spread is a smart wager with an explosive offensive under Anderson, as they could easily get a backdoor cover in the fourth quarter if the game isn’t close. Additionally, Utah State has a plausible path to victory if all of their promising transfers and returning starters can deliver right away.
Bet To Consider: Utah State Moneyline If +650 Or Better
Wager: 0.5 Units
Currently, Utah State’s moneyline is at +575, which is not as enticing as I would like. If the Aggies drop to +650 or better, I will take a stab at them winning outright, as it’s plausible that they could pull off the upset.