The greatest betting Saturday of every year is the first full week of college football. With 130 FBS teams and great roster turnover, the limited data we have makes this the best time of the year for finding CFB betting value.
The other aspect of the Week 1 NCAAF schedule that gets me excited is that most contests are non-conference games. It is difficult for sharps and bookmakers to determine what the line should be in these matchups. This is because not only have these teams not played yet this season, but because they are playing a different class of opponent than usual.
For example, Alabama as an SEC Team in Week 1 is a 39-point favorite against 2021 Mountain West Conference champion Utah State.
Below, read about my best CFB picks for Week 1 and some info about how I pick NCAAF games.
CFB Week 1 Best Bet: Arizona vs San Diego State
San Diego State -5.5 (-110) at FanDuel Sportsbook
WAGER: 1 Unit
Arizona is the worst team in the Pac-12 and San Diego State is one of the best teams in the Mountain West. Even though the Pac-12 is a better conference, San Diego State at home or even on the road is the better team.
Night owls are aware of SDSU’s dominance over the years in their games, which are frequently played at 10 p.m. ET. They are a frequent visitor to the back end of the AP Top 25 poll and the top of the Mountain West standings, and they have won 10 or more games in five of their last seven seasons.
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On the other hand, Arizona is a basketball school with a football problem. They are 1-16 since the 2020 season. Last year they had the worst turnover margin (-17) in the country. They also scored the seventh-fewest points per game.
The Wildcats return almost all their offensive line from last season, but they should struggle against a tough Aztecs defense. SDSU returns seven of 11 starters from a defense that allowed only 19.8 points and 80.4 rushing yards per game.
It shouldn’t be a blowout since San Diego State is a conservative offensive team, but their defense should suffocate Arizona well enough to cover a modest six-point spread. I would bet SDSU up to -6.5 (-115) in this spot.
CFB Week 1 Best Bet: No. 23 Cincinnati vs No. 19 Arkansas
Cincinnati Moneyline (+210) at BetRivers
Cincinnati +6.5 (-105) at DraftKings Sportsbook
WAGER: .5 Units Each
There are three matchups in Week 1 that feature two ranked teams. The game between Cincinnati and Arkansas is the only matchup of this group where a team is favored by a touchdown or less.
Both teams are going to be strong this season, but having Arkansas as a 6.5-point favorite even at home is an overreaction to the gap between the AAC and SEC.
The consensus is that the AAC is the best Group of 5 conference and the SEC is the best FBS conference. Based on my numbers, the average SEC team should beat the average AAC team by 12 points this season, but Cincinnati is not your average AAC team.
The Bearcats are the best team in their conference, and they should only be about a 3.5-point underdog.
Qualitatively, Cincy has a lot going for them. Last year, the Bearcats went undefeated in the regular season and had one of the best defenses in the country. Even though Cincinnati returns only four defensive starters from last year, coach Luke Fickell has a strong track record defensively against Power 5 programs.
Last season, the Bearcats held Alabama to only 27 points, Notre Dame to 13, and SMU to 14. Arkansas has a strong running game, but Cincinnati should keep the game close and potentially win.
I would bet Cincy ATS up to +5.5 and the moneyline up to (+190).
CFB Week 1 Best Bet: Middle Tennessee State vs James Madison
Middle Tennessee State Moneyline (+190) at BetMGM Sportsbook
WAGER: 1 Unit
It is hard to figure out who will win the Middle Tennessee State vs James Madison game. This is JMU’s first year in the FBS after not playing any FBS opponents last year. Meanwhile, MTSU finished the 2021 season with a winning record, but returns just two starters on offense.
This game is a huge wild card, as James Madison could be up to the challenge in their first year in the FBS, or they could be outclassed by Middle Tennessee.
Even though MTSU returns only two offensive starters, they should improve upon their 29.8 points per game average from last season. The Blue Raiders are moving from a spread offense to an air raid scheme, and coach Rick Stockstill has a proven record of developing offensive talent.
MTSU’s quarterback Chase Cunningham missed most of last year with an ACL injury. In what little action Cunningham saw, he threw for 16 passing touchdowns and only three interceptions. This was noticeably better than his replacement, who threw for seven touchdowns and six interceptions.
James Madison has a strong passing defense, but they could easily be outclassed in this game. Making them six-point favorites, even at home, seems off. I would bet MTSU’s moneyline up to (+175).
CFB Week 1 Best Bet: Georgia State vs South Carolina
Georgia State Moneyline (+400) at FanDuel
Georgia State +12.5 (-110) at Caesars Sportsbook
WAGER: 1 Unit Each
Since publishing NCAAF pick articles in 2020, I have always recommended double-digit underdogs to win outright in the first week of the college football season. These underdogs characteristically are Group of Five programs playing Power 5 programs on the road.
In 2020, 11.5-point underdog Louisiana defeated Iowa State 31-14. In 2021, Utah State, as a 17-point underdog, defeated Washington State 26-23.
For this season’s opening weekend, Georgia State against South Carolina is my favorite double-digit dog.
South Carolina is one of the worst teams in the SEC, the strongest FBS conference, and GSU is an above-average team in the Sun Belt Conference — one of the weakest FBS conferences. It makes sense that South Carolina is a heavy favorite, but 13.5 points is too large a cushion to give them.
This is a prime matchup for Georgia State: South Carolina has an awful run defense, and all Georgia State does is pound the ball.
In 2021, 63.7% of the Panthers’ offensive plays were rushing plays, which was the seventh-highest in the country. Additionally, GSU rushed for the eighth-most rushing yards per game in the whole country.
With eight of 11 offensive starters returning this season for Georgia State, they could beat South Carolina or at least keep the score close. Run-heavy teams tend to burn time off the clock, giving the Gamecocks fewer possessions to cover a 12.5-point spread.
I would bet the Panthers spread up to +10.5 and their moneyline up to (+300).
CFB Week 1 Best Bet: Western Kentucky vs Hawaii
Over 67.5 Total Points (-110) at BetMGM
WAGER: 0.5 Units
In CFB Week 0 against Vanderbilt, I am recommended a bet on the Over in the Hawaii game and it easily cashed. The Total was set at 54.5 points, and the 73 combined points were scored.
For Week 1 against Western Kentucky, I am backing the over again. Unfortunately the total rose from 60.5 before Week 0 to 67.5 in the lead up to Saturday night’s game.
Last year, the average Hawaii game had 60.2 combined points scored. This season, they have a new head coach in Timmy Chang who is implementing an up-tempo offense. Additionally, the Rainbow Warriors have only one returning defensive starter.
How anyone could set a point total at only 7.3 points higher than last year’s average Hawaii game is beyond me, let alone against an offensive powerhouse like Western Kentucky. If Vanderbilt can put 63 points up against Hawaii, imagine what WKU can do.
Last year’s Hilltoppers team implemented an air raid offense that averaged 44.2 points per game. Even though QB Bailey Zappe has moved on to the NFL, his replacement, Austin Reed — a Division 2 transfer — seems more than capable of carrying the load.
Reed put up big numbers at West Florida and I am confident he will do the same at Western Kentucky in their offensive system. Reed struggled in the first half against Austin Peay last week, but got his act together in the 4th quarter.
Zappe was a transfer last season, and he threw for an FBS record 62 passing touchdowns.
Even at 67.5 points, the over should catch
CFB Week 1 Betting Tips
Research new head coaches
Looking at a team’s previous year’s performance is important for early-season college football handicapping, but looking at which teams have new head coaches (and what these coaches are like) is key.
Some coaches bring more of the same, while others offer a more radical departure from the previous season’s team. One year, Georgia Tech switched from a triple-option offense to a pro-style offense. At the beginning of that season, Georgia Tech struggled to score, and I made a pretty penny either betting on them or betting on their Overs.
How to Find College Football Best Bets
Figure out a team’s offensive tendencies
With 131 FBS teams, each team has a different style of offensive play. Some are up-tempo and others run down the clock. Additionally, many offenses pass more than they run, and vice versa.
Look at lopsided matchups
These aren’t the most entertaining games, but lopsided matchups are a gold mine for college football betting. Sometimes the better team will run up the score, and other times they will play conservatively with a big lead.
Specialize in a Group of 5 Conference
Games with well-known Power 5 teams have lines that are efficiently set. On the other side of the coin, Group of 5 conferences get much less attention. As a football handicapper, it is easier to win as a specialist of a conference like the MAC or Mountain West, than in trying to pick the spread of the Texas A&M/Alabama game.