College Football officially kicked off earlier this week. However, everything leading up to this weekend has just been an appetizer. With one of the greatest Week 1 slates in recent memory, Saturday offers up the main course.
There are so many great games to wager on this weekend, but I wanted to specifically break down a few of the ranked marquee matchups. So without further adieu, here we go!
#19 Penn State at #12 Wisconsin
- Spread: Wisconsin -5.5
- Over/Under: 50.5
- Game Info: 11:00 am CST (FOX)
The Badgers and Nittany Lions are both looking for bounce-back seasons after what each would consider disappointing showings in 2020. Both schools entered 2020 pre-ranked in the top 25 but ended their seasons on the outside looking in.
With the world of college football in a more normal state, these two teams are ready for a reset. The polls agree, as both teams enter the 2021 season ranked once again.
Wisconsin is returning nine starters on offense including sophomore QB Graham Mertz. Senior TE Jake Ferguson, who hauled in the most touchdowns by a Big Ten tight end, is back as well.
However, Wisconsin's two-headed backfield from a year ago is now cut in half after losing Garrett Groshek to the NFL. The Badgers will be comfortable leaning on their young workhorse, freshman Jalen Berger, who more than matched Groshek's ground production last season. However, the loss of Groshek's receptions out of the backfield may be felt by a team that was second to last in the Big Ten in passing yards per game a year ago.
On the defensive side of the ball, Wisconsin also lost their top two safeties in Colin Wilder and Eric Burrell. But they are bringing back a very talented front four and linebacker core that held opposing offenses to a Big Ten-best 96.1 rushing yards per game a year ago.
Penn State will be looking to build on a strong 4-0 finish to close out 2020 and should be in a great position to do so.
Dual-threat senior QB Sean Clifford was second only to Justin Fields in 2020 in terms of passing yards and his chemistry with WR Jahan Dotson is guaranteed to be on full display again this year.
With a semi-full season under his belt and wildcat QB Will Levis now at Kentucky, second-year RB Keyvone Lee will be carrying the load in the rush game in an attempt to take some of the pressure off Clifford's legs.
Penn State took a huge hit on defense, losing their top three 2020 sack producers, led by Shaka Toney. Toney, along with DE Jayson Oweh, departed for the NFL, while DT Antonio Shelton and DE Shane Simmons moved on to other things. The Lions will need to dig deep to replace this level of production by the big boys up front.
This is a brutal first game to try to pick in a loaded Saturday slate. I do view this game as a toss-up, and the public agrees. At the time of writing, the tickets are being placed 54% to 46% in favor of the Badgers. The money is even tighter with a 51% to 49% split. But in early-season games, I tend to lean offense, and in this case that scale is tipped in Penn State's favor. The Badgers will need to be fully dialed in to stop the Big Ten's most prolific passing offense. Penn State will be picking on the inexperienced Wisconsin secondary all day, and I see them breaking off some big plays.
Pick: Penn State +5.5
#1 Alabama at #14 Miami
- Spread: Alabama -19
- Over/Under: 61.5
- Game Info: 2:30 pm CST (ABC)
The defending champion Crimson Tide are returning just 11 starters from their 2020 roster, and only three of those are on offense. Only five teams in the entire FBS are returning fewer starters. Yet at +300, Alabama is again the favorite to win the National Championship.
This team's ability to reload year after year is simply astonishing and something we may never see again in sports. But, winning begets winning, and if there's one thing Nick Saban knows, it's winning. You would think losing a player as prolific as Mac Jones, who threw for 4,500 yards with a 77% completion rate, would hurt. But here we are in Week 1, and Alabama's next man up, sophomore Bryce Young, is getting the second-best Heisman odds in the country (+900). This is a player who has taken just 22 snaps in his college career. That's how good Alabama's program is right now.
How do you lose the production of DaVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, and Najee Harris and still succeed? You simply pass the baton to John Metchie, Slade Bolden, and Brian Robinson Jr. It's that simple... right?
That, by the way, is just the offense. Alabama should also have one of the best defenses in the country again this season.
Alabama will again be the team to beat this year. There's no question about it. But their road to another championship starts with a formidable foe.
Unlike their opponent, the Hurricanes had very little restocking to do leading into this season. Miami is returning 19 of 22 starters from 2020, a year in which they went 8-2 in the regular season with their only losses coming against No. 1 Clemson and No. 20 North Carolina.
The Hurricanes were top-five in the ACC in passing touchdowns per game, and senior QB D'Eriq King was fourth in the conference with 2,686 yards on the season. All of that took place while battling through the third most difficult schedule in the conference.
D'Eriq King took his free year of eligibility and is returning for a second run with the 'Canes since transferring from Houston after the 2019 season. King, who rushed for over 500 yards himself last year, will again be joined by a plethora of solid running backs in Cam'ron Harris, Donald Chaney Jr., and Jaylan Knighton. Each of these backs saw a healthy split of the carries in 2020 and a very even distribution of pass targets out of the backfield. Add in Miami's deep receiving core and it's safe to say that third-year coach Manny Diaz should be able to put points on the board however he likes this season.
It is important to note that D'Eriq King has been nursing a slight knee injury, but it is not projected to impact his status for Saturday.
This game is a matter of head over heart. The heart aspect of me is struggling to grasp how a team with just 50% of their starters returning, and quarterback at the helm who has just 22 snaps worth of experience, are 19-point favorites over this talented and experienced Miami team. It's a lot of points to be laying this early in the season.