Expert College Football Best Bets: Picks and predictions for Week 1

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Week 1 college football best bets and predictions

The college football season is officially under way and VSiN is pumping out more content for it than ever. All of our college football stories and resources are available on this one page, where you’ll also get best bets from all of my incredibly talented colleagues. But you’ll have to keep reading this one to get my college football best bets every week. I didn’t write anything up for Week 0, as I was traveling a bit late last week. However, I did go 3-0 for +3.05 units on picks I posted on the Pro Picks page and I’m looking to stay hot heading into the real opening week. That said, keep reading for the six (yes, six) plays I couldn’t resist on the Week 1 slate. 

 

MORE: Check out our Pro Picks page for college football best bets from all of our analysts

Nebraska Cornhuskers at Minnesota Golden Gophers (-7, 43.5) – Thursday

I was a little surprised when I saw Minnesota was laying a touchdown against Nebraska. Minnesota no longer has longtime starting quarterback Tanner Morgan under center, and star running back Mohamed Ibrahim is also gone. Morgan wasn’t exactly a game-changer at the quarterback position, but he knew how to execute the offense and had big-game experience. Meanwhile, Ibrahim rushed for 1,665 yards and 20 touchdowns last season. He had been one of the best running backs in the Big Ten for years, and I feel like the Golden Gophers could suffer something of an offensive identity crisis without those two.

Minnesota also lost a lot of talent from a defense that gave up only 13.3 points per game (fourth-best in NCAA) last season, and that was a group that benefitted from playing a lot of bad offenses in the Big Ten West. With that in mind, I think P.J. Fleck’s team is due for some slippage on that side of the ball.

As for Nebraska, you know what you can expect from a Matt Rhule team. This is going to be a well-coached group that plays hard every week and focuses on the little things. There will be no more of that cute Scott Frost stuff. And defensively, I think the Cornhuskers can be very good this year. They return eight players that started last year, and highly respected defensive coordinator Tony White should get the most out of them. With that said, I think the Gophers could struggle a bit to move the ball in this game.

I also think Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Sims is going to be hard for this Minnesota defense to cover. Not only do the Huskers have an improved offensive line, but Sims will force the Golden Gophers’ defensive backs to guard longer than usual because of his ability to extend plays with his legs. And this Minnesota secondary lost two players to the NFL, so that might be even harder than it sounds.

Overall, I think this is a game that Nebraska could very well steal outright. But I’d still take the points, as nothing comes easy in the Big Ten.

Bet: Nebraska +7 (-110) 

Stanford Cardinal at Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (+4, 58) – Friday

Hawaii lost its season opener against Vanderbilt, and the Rainbow Warriors’ defense left a lot to be desired in that game. They allowed the Commodores to score 35 points and made quarterback AJ Swann look a lot better than he actually is. But Hawaii’s defense shouldn’t have as much trouble with Stanford, which is in as bad of shape as any team in the Power Five entering this season. The Cardinal only returned three starters on each side of the ball from last year, and new head coach Troy Taylor is going to need a few years to build this program back up.

As long as the Rainbow Warriors can keep Cardinal running back E.J. Smith from picking up chunks of yards every time he touches the ball, I don’t see much preventing Hawaii from getting in the win column. Head coach Timmy Chang, one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in program history, had his passing game humming against Vanderbilt in Week 0. Brayden Schager threw for 351 yards with three touchdowns in that game, and I can see him having another good game against Stanford.

The reality with this matchup is that Stanford should have a huge edge in the talent department, as this is a meeting between a Power Five program and a Group of Five program. But the Cardinal don’t have the players to stack up with most other Power Five schools — and they have a very low stability score, a metric from our Steve Makinen that you’ll want to look at before the season. That might not change soon with the Pac-12 going away. So, this is a game that is suddenly looking like it should go the way of the Rainbow Warriors. I think Hawaii will win this one outright, but you might as well grab the points.

Bet: Hawaii +4 (-113) 

Boise State Broncos at Washington Huskies (-14.5, 58.5) 

I wrote this game up as one of my games of the week and a lot of that had to do with the fact that I expect the Broncos to be competitive here. A lot of people believe the Huskies are going to be in the mix at the top of the Pac-12, but I’m not quite as bullish on Washington. I understand the offense was impossible to stop last year, but the defense gave up at least 33 points on five different occasions. The Huskies do return a lot of talent on that side of the ball, but I’m not sure they’ll make some giant leap there. And that’s where Boise will have an opening in this game.

This year, the Broncos bring back nine starters from an offense that averaged 29.5 points per game, and star quarterback Taylen Green will be unleashed from the jump. It took some time for Green to truly get comfortable under center last season, but he’s one of the most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation. At 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds, he’s just a lot to handle when he takes off and runs, and I think he’ll move the ball at will against this Huskies defense.

If Boise State does get a big game from Green, it’s hard to see how this will be anything but a close game. Last year, the Broncos allowed only 19.5 points per game and they should be very good on that side of the ball again. Boise State lost a lot of talent from last year’s team, but there are trustworthy replacements ready to take over. And Andy Avalos is a defensive-minded coach that seems to press all the right buttons.  

There’s no such thing as actually shutting down Washington. The Huskies are going to score points. But when you’re getting more than two touchdowns, you just need to come away with a few timely stops in order to cover. And I think Boise State’s defense is good enough to do that.

I also think that Avalos loves the underdog role, as Boise State is 3-2 SU and 4-1 ATS as an underdog since he took over. Meanwhile, Washington was 1-2 when favored by 10.5 to 21 points last year, so the Huskies didn’t exactly thrive when expected to win big.

Bet: Boise State +14.5 (-110) 

Buffalo Bulls at Wisconsin Badgers (-27.5, 54.5) 

For the sake of being transparent, all my readers (the millions and millions) should know that I went to the University of Wisconsin and am a big Badgers fan. However, since I’m not picking a side in this game, I don’t think there’s any bias in this pick. In fact, I think the extent to which I follow the program should actually be helpful when deciding how to play this game. And I genuinely would be very surprised if this game doesn’t go Under the total.

I know a lot is being made of former North Carolina offensive coordinator Phil Longo bringing the Air Raid offense to Madison, but I don’t see the Badgers ditching the running game. They’re just trying to get with the times and make the offense less predictable. But when a team has a good offensive line and a running back duo of Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi, you better believe the ground attack will be the bread and butter. That alone makes it hard to believe this game will turn into a high-scoring affair.

Wisconsin also happens to be facing a Buffalo team that has a much-improved defensive line, as well as a very good group of linebackers. So, while I do think the Badgers will find some success on the ground, I’m not certain they’ll just run all over the Bulls. That should help keep this game somewhat lower in scoring.

Defensively, I don’t see Wisconsin allowing Buffalo to do much of anything. The Badgers had the 27th-ranked scoring defense in the nation last season, and they bring back eight defensive starters. Losing Jim Leonhard as defensive coordinator might scare some, but Luke Fickell’s teams always have good defenses. And new defensive coordinator Mike Tressel was named the American Football Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year in 2022. So, he should have a good idea of how to do damage with this talented roster.

As long as the Bulls don’t score a lot more than expected, I don’t see the case for an Over here. And it should be noted that the Under is 4-5 in the nine nonconference games Buffalo has played under head coach Maurice Linguist.  

Bet: Under 54.5 (-110) 

UTSA Roadrunners (-1, 60) at Houston Cougars

Nine of our 18 VSiN analysts picked UTSA to win the AAC in our 2023 VSiN College Football Betting Guide. So, this is a very good football team that will be going into Houston on Saturday, and the Cougars were 0-6 against the spread in home games last year. They’re also just 6-14 ATS when playing at home under Dana Holgorsen, in general. On top of that, UTSA is 8-1 straight-up and 6-3 ATS as a road favorite under Jeff Traylor. So, the better team should win this match, regardless of location.

Last year, Houston edged out UTSA in a 37-35 triple overtime win, so people might see that and look to back the Cougars. But UTSA brings back 16 starters from last year’s team, with one of them being star quarterback Frank Harris. Last season, Harris threw for 4,059 yards with 32 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and he also added another 600 yards and nine scores on the ground. Behind a very deep and talented offensive line, Harris should once again lead a potent offense — one that should match last year’s 36.8 points per game. That’s bad news for a Houston team that no longer has quarterback Clayton Tune, who is now on the Arizona Cardinals. The Cougars also have just five starters returning from last year’s offense. And losing running back Alton McCaskill and his 961 yards and 16 touchdowns to Colorado won’t make things any easier.

Houston should ultimately figure things out on the offensive side of the ball. After all, this is a Holgorsen-coached team. But this team lacks the continuity it had heading into last season, so I don’t see how the Cougars will stick with the Roadrunners in a shootout. This feels like a transitional year for Houston, as the team needs to figure out where it fits in the Big 12. Meanwhile, UTSA jumped up to the AAC and feels like the best team in the conference because of all the returning talent it has in place.

Bet: UTSA -1 (-110) 

Coastal Carolina Chanticleers at UCLA Bruins (-14.5, 65.5) 

This is another game that I highlighted as one of my games of the week, and I’m really excited to see how this one plays out. UCLA has nine starters returning on defense, so the Bruins should be a lot better on that side of the ball. And it isn’t exactly a high bar to clear after giving up 29.0 points per game in 2022. But I question how UCLA will look with Ethan Garbers as the team’s starting quarterback. Amidst all the buzz surrounding Caleb Williams and other tremendous college quarterbacks, I think the play of Dorian Thompson-Robinson was underappreciated. He had the ability to take over football games, and he’ll be missed dearly in close games. 

Of course, the Bruins are going to find ways to score. They have averaged at least 35.4 points per game in each of the last three seasons. But this meeting with Coastal Carolina will be one in which the defenses will have a hard time getting off the field. And I just can’t see the UCLA offense being that much tougher to stop than a team with Grayson McCall at quarterback. McCall has thrown for 77 touchdowns and only eight interceptions over the last three seasons, and he’s also a threat to tuck it and run. So, he should show out in a night game in the Rose Bowl, which is one of the greatest venues in sports.

People seem to think the Chanticleers will fall off a cliff with Jamey Chadwell leaving for Liberty after last season. But Tim Beck is a bright offensive mind in his own right, and he got back a very experienced roster — at least on offense. I think Coastal Carolina can go blow for blow with UCLA on offense, and not having to deal with a quarterback of Thompson-Robinson’s caliber should give the defense a puncher’s chance of getting a few key stops. With the Chants getting 14.5 here, that should be enough.

It’s also a little hard to ignore that the Bruins are just 5-8 SU and 4-9 ATS in nonconference games under Kelly. They’re also 7-10 ATS when playing at home in that span.

Bet: Coastal Carolina +14.5 (-110) 

Added Best Bets

South Carolina ML (+125) vs. North Carolina

Florida State ML (+105) vs. LSU

Duke +13 (-110) vs. Clemson

More College Football 

CFB Games of the Week, Heisman Trophy Watch and College Football Playoff Picture

College Football Odds

College Football Betting Splits

Steve Makinen’s College Football Team Power Ratings

VSiN College Football Betting Podcast