College football best bets: Week 1


Week 1 of the college football season is here, and it's a week of terrific matchups.

Our handicappers Adam Burke, Danny Burke, Tim Murray and Wes Reynolds are here to give you their best bets for eight games on the weekend's card.


Lines are courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook and can be found on our live odds page, as of Wednesday night.

Season record: 1-1-1 ATS



Oregon Ducks at Georgia Bulldogs (-17, 53)

3:30 p.m. ET

Danny Burke: We get a narrative angle right out of the gates with Oregon’s new coach, Dan Lanning, taking on his former team. 

At Georgia, Lanning served as coordinator of the best defense in the country. Now at Oregon, he has new challenges ahead of him. 

Should he have a solid defense again? Yes. Nowhere near as dominant as Georgia’s, but perhaps good enough to avoid a blowout by Kirby Smart’s squad. In fact, the Ducks should hold up on both sides of the trenches against the reigning national champs. 

The main concern for Oregon is their offense — and who will be running it. Will it be former Auburn QB Bo Nix or redshirt freshman Ty Thompson?

All indications point to Nix. We know he’s capable of creating magic from time to time, and while I’m not expecting him to power his team to victory, he can at least keep the Ducks within this large spread. 

So it’s Oregon, with a new coach who has a lot to prove against his former team, versus a Georgia squad that, yes, should be great but also has a lot of turnover to deal with after losing a plethora of stars to the NFL.

Pick: Oregon %plussign% 17

Florida Atlantic Owls (-4.5, 49.5) at Ohio Bobcats

6 p.m. ET

Adam Burke: FAU was right there with Illinois in terms of the most impressive teams in Week 0.

You don’t want to overreact to one data point, and the results show that a team that played in Week 0 is actually at a disadvantage in Week 1, going just 43.9% ATS since 2007 (per Ralph Michaels on Twitter). 

Despite that strong trend, this game looks like a mismatch to me. Last week, Charlotte (who I would favor over Ohio on a neutral field) gave up 6.5 yards per play to the new-look Owls offense. 

Owls OC Brent Dearmon has a lot to work with after coming over from Middle Tennessee. N’Kosi Perry was once a Miami Hurricane and a top-20 QB recruit. The Owls’ top two receivers from last season returned, along with a deep running back room and four starters on the offensive line. The Owls averaged 15.5 yards per catch in the win over Charlotte.

Ohio was one of the worst teams in the nation last season. The Bobcats went 3-9 and gave up more than 30 points per game and six yards per play. They ran the ball effectively (5.2 yards per carry), but their top two rushers are gone, including QB Armani Rogers. O’Shaan Allison, the best back on the roster, is out for the season.

My line here is FAU -6, so this is less of a power-ratings play and more of a move on matchups, where the Bobcats are outclassed at quarterback and are likely to lose the battle in the trenches. DraftKings was showing FAU -4.5 on Wednesday night, but -4 was available almost everywhere else, so try to find one of those.

Pick: FAU -4

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders at James Madison Dukes (-6, 58)

6 p.m. ET

Adam Burke: There are some questions as to how James Madison will fare coming over to FBS. The perennial FCS powerhouse has lost just 11 games over the last six seasons. 

As the Dukes make the leap, they’ll do so without star QB Cole Johnson, who posted a 41-4 TD-INT ratio last season and was also the team’s second-leading rusher. Colorado State transfer Todd Centeio takes over after posting just a 16-11 ratio with the Rams.

One of JMU’s two 1,000-yard receivers transferred to South Carolina, which means Kris Thornton will draw a ton of attention from opposing defenses. As outstanding as JMU was offensively, the Dukes still only ran for 4.2 yards per carry and have downgraded at QB and WR.

The defense should remain solid, but the top two cover corners from last season are gone along with some other playmakers in the front seven. Retooling in the CAA is one thing. Retooling with a leap to FBS is another.

Chase Cunningham and Nick Vattiato are two very competent quarterbacks for the Blue Raiders, who had to start four different players at the position last season. With the exception of the COVID season, Scott Shafer’s defenses have held teams to around 26 points per game. If MTSU can do that here — I fully expect them to against a depleted team stepping up in class — the Blue Raiders will cover this number. 

It’s hard to know exactly how JMU will do with the leap, but my line here is JMU -1.5, so 6 seems high.

Pick: Middle Tennessee %plussign% 6

Utah State Aggies at Alabama Crimson Tide (-42, 61.5)

7:30 p.m. ET

Wes Reynolds: Admittedly, going against Alabama in Week 1 of Nick Saban’s 2022 revenge tour is not for the faint of heart. Saban is 15-0 SU and 13-2 ATS in season openers at Alabama. Nevertheless, this is a big number against the defending Mountain West champs. 

The market correctly faded Utah State in its 31-20 victory over Connecticut last week (the Aggies opened as 27.5-point favorites and the line closed around 24). Utah State actually trailed 14-7 late in the second quarter but scored 17 points in the final 3:42 to take a 24-14 halftime lead. It was a choppy performance as the Aggies allowed 245 yards on the ground, but they gained 261 yards of their own on the ground and had 542 yards of total offense. 

Alabama is either No. 1 or No. 2 in everyone’s power ratings to begin the season. The Crimson Tide covered two spreads of at least 40 points last season against Southern Miss (63-14 win as 45.5-point favorites before the Ole Miss game) and New Mexico State (59-3 win as 51.5-point favorites sandwiched between games against LSU and Arkansas). However, Saban has not always been a bully as a big favorite. His teams are just 10-18 ATS as favorites of five touchdowns or more since 2011 (per Ralph Michaels on Twitter), although he has covered four of his last five. 

The last time Alabama hosted an opponent from the Mountain West was in 2017 versus Fresno State (a non-covering 41-10 win as 43.5-point favorites) and Colorado State (a non-covering 41-23 win as 28.5-point favorites). Mountain West teams are at least a small step up from the Tide’s usual nonconference home slate. 

Furthermore, Alabama will play its first true road game against a nonconference opponent since 2011 next week at Texas, led by former Saban pupil Steve Sarkisian. Alabama could send out its third- and fourth-stringers in the second half against Utah State in order to have all hands on deck for the showdown in Austin. If you don’t have the stomach to bet against the Crimson Tide, and who could blame you, waiting until the second half might prove beneficial.  

There are a couple of 42.5s in the market, including at Circa Sports, to go against Alabama if you dare, and I will take the dare.

Pick: Utah State %plussign% 42