The Week 1 edition of college football picks against the spread features some predictions from what should be a great five-day stretch of games, including the intriguing Colorado-Colorado State game Friday night, the Michigan-Florida battle in Arlington, Texas, and Penn State’s opener against Akron. Here are 10 predictions for games against the spread:
Colorado (-5.5) over Colorado State (Friday)
Colorado State was the big winner in Week 0, rolling past Oregon State 58–27 thanks to a dominating second half. The big difference in the game was the turnovers; the Beavers committed five (including a game-changing pick-6 in the third quarter), Colorado State only two. Now, it’s on to Colorado for a short turnaround on Friday night in Denver. Last year, the Buffaloes outgained CSU 578-to-225 en route to a surprisingly easy 44–7 win in Week 1. Colorado suffered significant losses on defense — most notably in the secondary and with the departure of coordinator Jim Leavitt to Oregon — but the offense should be potent. This could be a shootout.
Colorado 47, Colorado State 40
Eastern Michigan (-14) over Charlotte (Friday)
It went largely unnoticed, but last season Chris Creighton guided Eastern Michigan to a bowl game for the first time since 1987. The Eagles, on the strength of potent passing attack, went 7–6 overall and 4–4 in the MAC. Among those seven wins was a stress-free 37–19 win at Charlotte — the Eagles’ Week 1 opponent in 2017. And this time, the game will be played at the Factory (for those who have been living in cave, EMU’s Rynearson Stadium is “better” known as the Factory). It’s a bit risky to give 14 points — especially since only one of Eastern Michigan’s six wins over an FBS opponent last year (vs. Charlotte) came by more than seven points — but the Eagle are the better team and should complete the two-game sweep over the 49ers.
Eastern Michigan 34, Charlotte 17
Texas (-17) over Maryland
I’m on board the Tom Herman train — we picked the Longhorns to finish second in the Big 12 — but this pick is as much about Maryland as it is about Texas. DJ Durkin did a fine job getting the Terps to a bowl game in his first season, but they were uncompetitive far too often against quality opponents. Maryland’s six regular-season losses came by an average of 31.2 points, and only two of their seven overall losses came by fewer than 21 points — by six to both Indiana and Boston College (bowl game). This feels like a blowout.
Texas 34, Maryland 13
NC State (-6) over South Carolina (Charlotte)
The college football Twitterverse was apoplectic late last week when Cole Cubelic, an analyst with the SEC Network, predicted NC State would make the College Football Playoff. I’m not quite as optimistic about the Pack’s chances as Cole, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if this team is ranked in the top 25 for the majority of the season. NC State is strong on the line of scrimmage (both sides) and boasts one of the game’s most versatile offensive weapons in senior tight end/running back/wide receiver Jaylen Samuels. South Carolina will counter with an underrated set of skill position players but a defense that has issues on all three levels.
NC State 30, South Carolina 23
Purdue (+26) over Louisville (Indianapolis)
Purdue made arguably the best hire of the offseason, luring Jeff Brohm from Western Kentucky to West Lafayette to restore order with the Boilermakers. It’s going to take time, but the ride back to respectability should be entertaining — if you like offense. Each of Brohm’s three teams at WKU ranked in the top six in the nation in scoring offense, including in 2014 when the Hilltoppers went 4–4 in Conference USA (proving that his teams don’t need to be especially good to score a ton of points). Brohm will face his alma mater — coached by his former boss, Bobby Petrino — in his first game at Purdue. Louisville is superior in all phases of the game, but the Boilers should be able to score enough points to keep this relatively close.
Louisville 48, Purdue 28
Georgia (-13.5) over Appalachian State
Appalachian State had mixed results in its two games against Power 5 opponents last season (though both ended in defeat). The Mountaineers lost 20–13 in overtime in Week 1 at Tennessee in a game that was as close statistically as it was on the scoreboard. Two weeks later, however, App State was crushed by Miami (Fla.) at home — both on the scoreboard (45–10) and the stat sheet (outgained by nearly 300 yards). The common thread in those two games was the Mountaineers’ struggles on offense, and it’s difficult to envision them having much success against a Georgia defense that should be better than both Miami’s and Tennessee’s from last season.
Georgia 21, Appalachian State 7
Troy (+11) over Boise State
This is by far the best game of the opening weekend that involves two Group of 5 teams. Troy was one of the most improved teams in the country in 2016, improving from 4–8 to 10–3 in Neal Brown’s second season. The most impressive game of the Trojans’ season, however, came in defeat when they took eventual national champion Clemson to the wire last year in Week 2 before losing 30–24. And with 15 starters back (nine on offense), expectations are very high in 2017. Boise State went 10–3 in 2016 and beat both Washington State and Oregon State in the regular season. The Broncos return plenty of firepower from an offense that led the Mountain West with 472.8 yards per game. This should be fun.
Boise State 38, Troy 30
Michigan (-3.5) over Florida
Florida’s Jim McElwain blinked first, naming redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks as his starting quarterback for the opener. We’ll have to wait until the first snap to find out Michigan’s QB, but it would be a surprise if it’s not Wilton Speight, who threw for 2,538 yards and 18 TDs as a sophomore in 2016. Still, expect defense to dominate this game. Michigan is loaded with star power up front — which is quite a statement considering the Wolverines technically do not return any starters on their defensive line. Florida’s offense took a hit with the loss of wide receiver Antonio Calloway and running back Jordan Scarlett due to a suspension. Expect to see heavy doses of the Gators’ other tailbacks running behind a veteran offensive line.
Michigan 24, Florida 17
Notre Dame (-17.5) over Temple
Temple, in the long run, should continue to be relevant in the AAC as it transitions from Matt Rhule to Geoff Collins, but this is a tough spot for the Owls. New quarterback + revamped front seven on defense + first-time head coach = trouble in Week 1 in South Bend. Notre Dame is eager to bounce back after last season’s four-win debacle. A loss is a loss — and nobody wants to hear excuses from Notre Dame — but it’s worth noting that seven of the eight defeats in 2016 came by eight points or fewer. The defense is perceived to be a question mark, but the arrival of Mike Elko from Wake Forest as the new coordinator could turn this unit into a strength.
Notre Dame 34, Temple 16
Penn State (-30.5) over Akron
Few teams were as potent offensively in the latter half of the 2016 season as Penn State. The Nittany Lions averaged 490.1 yards and 45.6 points over the last seven games (including the Rose Bowl), highlighted by a breathtakingly efficient 41–14 win over Iowa in which they rushed for 359, passed for 240 and averaged 8.6 yards on 70 offensive snaps. And with the majority of the offensive personnel back, plus the return of coordinator Joe Moorhead, we can expect to see more of the same in 2017. Akron figures to struggle on both sides of the ball in this game. The Zips ranked 114th nationally in total defense last year and were torched for 586 yards by Wisconsin in their only game against a Power 5 opponent. On offense, they have scored a total of 20 points in their last three games against Power 5 foes.
Penn State 48, Akron 10