Every week throughout the season we’ll give you a college football viewing guide by highlighting the five best games of the coming weekend. We will pick those five games against the spread and highlight some other matchups that caught our eye from a betting perspective.
After a wild, news-filled offseason, Week 1 is finally here. And it’s got the goods.
We’ve already had our first taste of the action via Week 0 (it didn’t go well for Scott Frost and Nebraska), but now it’s time to dive head-first into the college football season.
And before we get to an action-packed Saturday, we’ll be treated to the return of the Backyard Brawl between West Virginia and Pittsburgh on Thursday night. That night also features an intriguing Big Ten matchup between Penn State and Purdue before a handful of under-the-radar games on Friday.
Beyond Saturday’s top matchups, Week 1 extends to Sunday with a fun one in New Orleans before No. 4 Clemson and Georgia Tech cap things off in Atlanta on Monday night.
(Note: All times ET, odds from BetMGM)
No. 11 Oregon vs. No. 3 Georgia
Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: ABC | Line: UGA -17.5 | Total: 52.5
Georgia begins its national title defense against a familiar face. Dan Lanning, the defensive coordinator for the first Bulldogs team to win the national title since 1980, is now at Oregon and will make his head-coaching debut in a marquee Week 1 matchup in Atlanta.
Oregon has a stellar offensive line and should have one of the best defenses in the Pac-12, but will the Ducks have enough offensive firepower to put up points against Georgia? The Ducks now have Auburn transfer Bo Nix at quarterback and he’s got plenty of experience facing off against SEC defenses.
Georgia, meanwhile, returns Stetson Bennett at quarterback and has a remarkable group of tight ends. The Bulldogs have to replace 15 players lost to the NFL draft, including five first-rounders from their historic defense. How will UGA’s next group of blue chip recruits fare now they’re stepping into more prominent roles on the team?
Nick Bromberg: Oregon +17.5, Sam Cooper: Oregon +17.5
No. 23 Cincinnati at No. 19 Arkansas
Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: Arkansas -6 | Total: 52.5
Cincinnati made history by becoming the first team from a Group of Five conference to reach the College Football Playoff. But with stars like Sauce Gardner, Desmond Ridder, Alec Pierce, Coby Bryant and Jerome Ford now in the NFL, the 2022 Bearcats will look a little different as they begin the season in SEC country. Last year, the Bearcats picked up a marquee road win over Notre Dame, providing a significant early season resume boost. Can they do it again in Fayetteville?
Either senior Ben Bryant or redshirt sophomore Evan Prater will replace Ridder at quarterback for UC. Whoever wins the job will walk into a raucous environment as Arkansas begins its third season under Sam Pittman. The Razorbacks went 9-4 in 2021 for their best season in a decade. With K.J. Jefferson back at QB, expectations are high entering 2022 even though the team will rely heavily on transfers on defense.
Nick: Arkansas -6, Sam: Arkansas -6
No. 7 Utah at Florida
Time: 7 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: Utah -3 | Total: 50.5
Utah finally broke through and won the Pac-12 title last year. It came after a slow start, too. The Utes were 1-2 to open the year but flipped a switch when Cam Rising was moved into the starting QB role. Utah would then win nine of 10 with two resounding wins over Oregon, including a 38-10 beatdown in the Pac-12 title game.
A significant chunk of that squad is back in 2022 and many are projecting the Utes as a team capable of making a run to the CFP. That run begins with a big challenge in Gainesville against Florida. UF will be playing its first game under Billy Napier after things deteriorated under Dan Mullen last fall. Having Anthony Richardson, one of the most electric playmakers in the country, at quarterback will certainly be a plus for Napier.
It would be a massive statement for the Gators to start 2022 with a win over such a strong team. On the other side, it would be a tough look for the Pac-12 if its defending champion lost to what’s considered a mid-tier SEC team.
Nick: Utah -3, Sam: Utah -3
No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Ohio State
Time: 7:30 p.m. | TV: ABC | Line: OSU -17 | Total: 59.5
The Marcus Freeman era at Notre Dame begins with a massive challenge. The Irish have consistently been in the national championship picture in recent years but haven’t been able to get over the hump. With Freeman in charge, recruiting has been better than ever but it will likely take a few years for those efforts to materialize on the field. Freeman’s 2022 team should still be quite good, especially on defense. On offense, Tyler Buchner takes over as the new starting quarterback but receiver is a major question mark.
Receiver is a major strength for Notre Dame’s Week 1 opponent, Ohio State. The Buckeyes won 11 games last year but lost to Michigan for the first time since 2011 and did not win the Big Ten for the first time since 2016. The OSU offense was one of the nation’s best and QB CJ Stroud, WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba and RB TreVeyon Henderson are all back in 2022. The defense, though, is desperate for improvement. To get things on the right track, Ryan Day hired Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State to overhaul the unit. The defense gets a nice test in Week 1 with the Irish visiting the Horseshoe.
Nick: ND +17, Sam: OSU -17
Florida State vs. LSU
Time: 7:30 p.m. (Sunday) | TV: ABC | Line: LSU -3 | Total: 51.5
Florida State is in the midst of four consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1973-76. Will that streak end in 2022? Last year, FSU had a disastrous 0-4 start but managed to win five of its last eight to at least muster up some level of optimism entering this season. Mike Norvell, who is 9-13 in two seasons, has steadily increased the talent level across the roster but will have to overcome a tough schedule to get FSU back to a bowl game. That slate begins with LSU in New Orleans on Sunday night.
For LSU, it’s a new era. The Tigers moved on from Ed Orgeron and poached Brian Kelly from Notre Dame in a high-profile move. How will Kelly assimilate in Baton Rouge? He’s got a quarterback decision to make between Jayden Daniels and Garrett Nussmeier, but this roster is still full of talent. The Tigers are particularly strong at receiver (Kayshon Boutte is back from injury) and on the defensive line. Will Kelly and the Tigers start out on a good note by handling the Seminoles?
Nick: LSU -3, Sam: LSU -3
Week 1’s best bets
New Mexico State at Minnesota (-36.5): The Gophers haven’t been blowing out non-conference opponents in recent years. The last time Minnesota beat a non-conference team by more than Thursday night’s spread was a 48-10 win over the Aggies in 2018. Yeah, Nevada is rebuilding, but NMSU hung tough enough with the Wolf Pack in Week 0 to make me confident they can keep this within five touchdowns. Pick: NMSU +36.5
North Carolina (-1) at Appalachian State: The Mountaineers are loaded with experienced seniors across both the offense and defense and the home crowd is going to be especially rowdy with the biggest school in the state heading to Boone. I think App State pulls the “upset” to open its season. Pick: App State +1
Notre Dame at Ohio State (-17): I also want to take Notre Dame getting 17 points because that spread feels way too big for a matchup of top-10 teams. Instead I’ll say that Notre Dame’s defense can slow down Ohio State’s offense enough to keep the game under 60 points. I’m not sure the Irish will be able to keep up with OSU offensively, but I also don’t expect a repeat of the Buckeyes’ Rose Bowl offensive explosion. Pick: Under 59.5
Bowling Green at UCLA (-23.5): BGSU is a very experienced team but projects to be a mid-tier MAC team at best. I don't think the Falcons have enough firepower to avoid a blowout against Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Zach Charbonnet and the rest of the UCLA offense? Pick: UCLA -23.5
Georgia State at South Carolina (-12.5): With Spencer Rattler at QB, South Carolina should be much better on offense. Still, the total here feels high. Georgia State ran the ball 65% of the time last year and should be able to limit the number of possessions while the defense contains a South Carolina offense with so many new pieces. Pick: Under 56.5
No. 4 Clemson (-21.5) vs. Georgia Tech: I’m not expecting a significant leap forward from Clemson QB DJ Uiagalelei, but the combination of Clemson's run game and dominant defense gives me enough confidence to lay the big number against an overmatched Georgia Tech team. Pick: Clemson -21.5
For other Week 1 picks from Sam Cooper, click here.
For Week 1 picks from Dan Wetzel, Pat Forde and Ross Dellenger, subscribe to the College Football Enquirer.