College football is finally back.
While Week 0 provided a much-needed taste, Week 1 is here to bring you the goods with four ranked matchups.
Like we’ve done in years past, every Friday throughout the season we’ll highlight the five best games of the coming weekend. This year, we’ll pick those games against the spread, plus some other matchups that caught our eye from a betting perspective.
(Games on Saturday unless otherwise noted, all times ET)
5. Florida Atlantic at No. 7 Oklahoma (Noon, ABC)
Time: Noon | TV: ABC | Line: Oklahoma -20.5
What does Lane Kiffin have up his sleeve in Year 2? His first year at Florida Atlantic ended with 10 straight wins and a Conference USA title, but his Owls, led by stud running back Devin Singletary, have a tremendous test to open 2018: a trip to Norman, Oklahoma.
The Sooners, on the heels of their third straight Big 12 title, will line up without Heisman winner Baker Mayfield at quarterback. His replacement, MLB first-round draft pick Kyler Murray, will be fascinating to watch. He is an explosive athlete, but will he be anywhere near as efficient in the passing game as Mayfield?
The OU defense will be tested with the Owls, but won’t know who is playing quarterback until kickoff It could be Chris Robison, who landed at FAU after being dismissed by Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley. If he starts, it adds a layer of intrigue to an already compelling game.
Picks: Sam: FAU +20.5, Nick: FAU +20.5
4. No. 8 Miami vs. No. 25 LSU (Arlington, Texas)
Time: 7:30 p.m. Sunday | TV: ABC | Line: Miami -3.5
Joe Burrow has a tough task in his first career start. The Ohio State transfer earned the starting quarterback job for LSU and is tasked with avoiding the turnover chain at all costs. For much of 2017, the Miami defense wreaked havoc for opposing offenses, leading the country in sacks and causing 31 turnovers total (third-most in the country). With seven starters returning, the ‘Canes will look to make life tough for Burrow, who is far more mobile than his LSU predecessor, Danny Etling.
With the suspension of Ed Ingram, LSU has only two starters returning up front to pave the way for an inexperienced group of running backs. That could force Burrow to go to the air for the Tigers to pull out the upset. One of his top targets will be Jonathan Giles, a Texas Tech transfer who had 69 catches for 1,158 yards and 13 TDs in 2016.
Picks: Sam: Miami -3.5, Nick: LSU +3.5
3. No. 20 Virginia Tech at No. 19 Florida State
Time: 8 p.m. Monday | TV: ESPN | Line: Florida State -7.5
After such an eventful offseason, Virginia Tech has to be happy just to be playing football again. With eight starters to replace, the Hokies will have a very new-look defense from a personnel standpoint, but it seems foolish to doubt longtime coordinator Bud Foster. Still, heading to Tallahassee to face Florida State will be a big test for an inexperienced group.
Florida State should look different, too. With Willie Taggart in the fold as head coach, we’re not entirely sure what the Seminoles’ offensive attack will look like, but he has plenty of weapons to work with. After missing almost all of 2017, Deondre Francois is back as FSU’s starting quarterback. He has a stud behind him at running back with sophomore Cam Akers. He’ll see plenty of carries as FSU looks to bounce back from a down 2017 campaign.
Picks: Sam: Florida State -7.5, Nick: Florida State -7.5
2. No. 14 Michigan at No. 12 Notre Dame
Time: 7:30 p.m. | TV: NBC | Line: Notre Dame -1.5
Shea Patterson’s Michigan debut against Notre Dame in South Bend? Yes, please.
Dynamic quarterback play has been nonexistent during Jim Harbaugh’s tenure, and Michigan fans are hoping the Ole Miss transfer can bring some excitement to the Wolverines’ offense. The former five-star recruit is immensely talented but will have a huge test going into Notre Dame Stadium on a primetime stage.
The quarterback position was a question mark for Notre Dame last fall, too. Brandon Wimbush is one of the best running QBs in the country, but he completed less than 50 percent of his passes. The Irish have to replace two linemen who were top-10 NFL picks, plus RB Josh Adams, so Wimbush’s improvement will be a big factor if Notre Dame is going to reach its potential. That starts against an immensely talented Michigan defense.
Picks: Sam: Notre Dame -1.5, Nick: Michigan +1.5
1. No. 6 Washington vs. No. 9 Auburn
Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: ABC | Line: Auburn -2.5
In a year where many consider Washington the Pac-12’s top — and perhaps only — contender for the College Football Playoff, there’s a lot on the line against Auburn. You can’t write off an entire conference’s CFP hopes in September, but a win over Auburn would go a long way for the Huskies from a résumé perspective. Plus, it would help the Pac-12’s résumé after going 1-8 in bowl play.
Washington returns 17 starters, including QB Jake Browning and RB Myles Gaskin. But the most important returnee could be Trey Adams, who is coming back from a knee injury to start at left tackle. He and the rest of the UW line will have to be at the top of their game against Auburn’s ferocious defensive front seven.
With Jarrett Stidham at quarterback, the Tigers have talent on offense, too, but the line is a bit of a question mark. Look for the Huskies to pressure the QB early and often.
Picks: Sam: Washington +2.5, Nick: Washington +2.5
Week 1’s best bets
Army at Duke (-13.5): A triple-option team coming off a 10-win season getting two touchdowns is too enticing for me to pass up. I think Duke wins straight-up but Army doesn’t let the Blue Devils run away with it. Pick: Army +13.5
Tennessee vs. No. 17 West Virginia (-10): It may take Tennessee a bit to get going. Jeremy Pruitt’s defense has a stiff test in Week 1 and should keep the game relatively close. But WVU salts it away with a late touchdown pass. Pick: West Virginia -10
SMU at North Texas (-4.5): The Mean Green return 17 starters from a team that went 9-5 in 2017. North Texas got demolished by SMU a year ago but I’m going out on a limb and saying it’ll be different in 2018. Pick: North Texas -4.5
BYU at Arizona (-11.5): Khalil Tate and Kevin Sumlin really feels like the perfect match, doesn’t it? Tate was borderline unstoppable during some games last season, and I expect him to have a big season debut against BYU. The Cougars should be better than last year’s 4-9 record, but the defense doesn’t have the speed to hang with Tate. Pick: Arizona -11.5
Ole Miss at Texas Tech (-2.5): With 10 returning starters, Texas Tech’s defense should be pretty solid, but that Ole Miss offense just has a lot of talent. This one should be a track meet, but I like the Rebels, with receivers A.J. Brown and DaMarkus Lodge, to pick apart the TTU secondary. Pick: Ole Miss +2.5
UNLV at USC (-26.5): OK, hear me out with this one. I expect USC to win and do so fairly easily, but I don’t think the Trojans, with true freshman QB J.T. Daniels making his first start, will want to show all that much on offense with a trip to Stanford in Week 2. UNLV has some real athletes on offense and should fight for all four quarters. This has backdoor cover written all over it. Pick: UNLV +26.5
For Pat Forde and Pete Thamel’s Week 1 picks, check out Race for the Case: