Week 1 level spreads that stand out

Amid the chaos of last week’s realignment bombshell, there was a faint reminder that the college football season is fast approaching: the Week 1 betting lines were released.

From the handful of Week 0 games through the end of Week 1 on Labor Day, there are more than 50 games available to bet right now on BetMGM, including marquee matchups like Oregon vs. Georgia and Notre Dame vs. Ohio State.

These numbers are sure to move in the coming weeks, some very significantly, so we looked through them all to see what was surprising and if there are any games worth betting right now.

Here are some of the lines that stood out.

(All odds via BetMGM)

It’s a new era at Notre Dame, and it starts in Columbus vs. one of the nation’s top teams. Formerly the team’s defensive coordinator, Marcus Freeman takes over as head coach after Brian Kelly’s departure to LSU and has inherited a strong roster — especially on defense. The offense has plenty of experience, too, but must break in a new quarterback. The QB competition is expected to come down to Tyler Buchner and Drew Pyne, both of whom saw action last season.

Ohio State, meanwhile, saw three receivers go in the first round of the draft yet should not see much of a drop-off with Jaxon Smith-Njigba back in the fold with QB CJ Stroud, a Heisman finalist in 2021. The Buckeyes are absolutely loaded again and are 17-11-1 ATS as a double-digit favorite under Ryan Day.

Still, this feels like a big number. Notre Dame was an underdog of 14 points or more only four times during the Brian Kelly era. The Irish lost all four of those games but went 3-1 ATS.

Is Florida State back on the rise?

Following a run of five consecutive double-digit win seasons (including a national championship) from 2012-16, FSU is just 26-33 combined over the past five seasons. It’s been a tough go for the Seminoles, but there were signs of life last year under Mike Norvell. In Norvell’s third year on the job, FSU can make a strong statement by spoiling Brian Kelly’s LSU debut in New Orleans.

FSU’s coaches have tried to upgrade the roster with transfers, a strategy Kelly also employed ahead of his first year with the Tigers. Included in LSU’s group of transfers is ex-Arizona State QB Jayden Daniels, who will compete with senior Myles Brennan for the starting job. If Kelly wants a mobile option, Daniels is likely the guy. Kelly’s QB choice could be a bit of a hint toward what the offense will look like.

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) throws a pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Florida, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in Jacksonville. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Dan Lanning helped Georgia win a national championship, but he’ll be on the opposing sideline when UGA begins its title defense. Lanning spent the last three seasons as Georgia’s defensive coordinator and is now the head coach at Oregon. He’ll make his head-coaching debut against his former team.

Georgia lost a ton of talent to the NFL but is still a 17.5-point favorite in this one. That’s a credit to the level of talent that has been recruited to Athens, but there are still some questions surrounding this team. Will the defense be dominant again? How explosive will the offense be with Stetson Bennett back at QB?

The big spread also points to the changes in Eugene. In addition to the hire of Lanning, Oregon added ex-Auburn QB Bo Nix via the transfer portal. Nix’s career has been up-and-down, but he is no stranger to big-time environments after three seasons as an SEC starter. Beyond Nix, Oregon returns a lot of talent, including the entire line and several key defensive starters who were lost to offensive injuries last season.

This point spread opened closer to 14 at some books, but has continued to move as bettors are eager to back Georgia. Lanning’s familiarity with the UGA personnel makes the underdog a play worth considering, especially if the number continues to move.

Florida hasn’t been an underdog at home versus a non-conference opponent since it was a five-point dog vs. Florida State in 2017. And according to ESPN’s Chris Fallica, the last time the Gators were home underdogs in a non-conference game against anybody other than Florida State was way back in 1986 vs. Miami.

To open the Billy Napier era, though, the Gators are 2.5-point underdogs in Gainesville against Utah, the reigning Pac-12 champions.

The Utes played like a top-10 team over the second half of the 2021 season while the Gators collapsed in the final days of the Dan Mullen era. How quickly can Napier put his stamp on the way Florida plays? His teams from him at Louisiana were simultaneously creative and physical. At Florida he has an electric quarterback in Anthony Richardson, so that’s a good place to start.

Nebraska as a double-digit favorite in a neutral site game? That number feels a little large, especially when you consider the Huskers’ penchant for losing games they are expected to win.

Under Scott Frost, Nebraska is 9-15 ATS as a favorite, though it did cover all three times it was a double-digit favorite in 2021. Those were the only three wins of the season for the Huskers, and one was a 56- 7 blowout over Northwestern as an 11-point home favorite. That was Nebraska’s only conference win in a season that featured an 0-8 record in one-possession games.

Will there finally be a breakthrough for Nebraska in 2022? Many thought it would come last year. Instead, the season got off to a disastrous start in Week 0 with a road loss to an Illinois team playing its first game with a new coaching staff.

Following an offseason of change, there is a ton of pressure on Nebraska to start the 2022 season off on a much better note. It’s really hard to trust Nebraska to cover such a big number, even though Northwestern was horrendous last season. Pat Fitzgerald-coached teams tend to bounce back after bad seasons.

Pittsburgh defensive lineman Calijah Kancey (8) plays against Clemson during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Pittsburgh.  (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Pittsburgh defensive lineman Calijah Kancey (8) plays against Clemson during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

How good is it to see the Backyard Brawl back on the schedule? These two haven’t played one another since 2011 and, strangely enough, the renewal of this rivalry will feature two former USC quarterbacks.

Pitt is on the heels of an ACC title run that saw Kenny Pickett vault himself into a first-round QB prospect. With Pickett now on the Steelers, Pitt brought in ex-USC QB Kedon Slovis to take the reins of the offense. But it’s an offense that may look a little different after offensive coordinator Mark Whipple left for Nebraska (Frank Cignetti Jr. replaces Whipple) and All-America receiver Jordan Addison transferred to, you guessed it, USC.

On the West Virginia side, JT Daniels is expected to take over as the Mountaineers’ starting quarterback. Daniels, whose injury at USC cleared the way for Slovis to start, won a national championship at Georgia but did so in a backup role behind Stetson Bennett. Can Daniels and new coordinator Graham Harrell provide some life for a WVU offense that has been underwhelmed in three seasons under Neal Brown?

With two new offenses being installed, this is a tough Week 1 game to handicap. I’m inclined to lean toward the underdog, so waiting for some potential line movement past the key number of 7 feels like the right move here.

Cincinnati beat Notre Dame on the road during its run to the College Football Playoff last season. The Bearcats were actually slight favorites in South Bend but found themselves as 7-point underdogs to open the 2022 campaign at Arkansas.

Cincinnati, with stars like Desmond Ridder and Sauce Gardner now in the NFL, should still be among the favorites in the AAC, but a point spread like this shows that the oddsmakers are expecting somewhat of a drop-off from Luke Fickell’s program.

It also shows respect for Arkansas, which has turned things around emphatically under Sam Pittman. Fayetteville is a tough place to play (just ask Texas), especially for a UC team that will be breaking in a new quarterback and offensive coordinator. I’m strongly considering laying the points with the Hogs.

Speaking of coordinator changes, one that hasn’t been talked about nationally too much is Manny Diaz at Penn State. Brent Pry was one of the most underrated defensive coordinators in the country, and now he’s the head coach at Virginia Tech, opening the door for Diaz, the ex-Miami head coach, to run the defense in Happy Valley.

PSU’s Week 1 test is a tough one. Under Jeff Brohm, Purdue has always been able to pass the ball and Diaz’s past defenses have been susceptible to allowing big plays. On top of that, the Boilermakers have accomplished the underdog role during Brohm’s tenure, going 19-8 ATS since Brohm’s first season in 2017.

This is going to be a tricky opener for Penn State on the heels of back-to-back disappointing seasons, and the spread being only 3.5 points gives a lot of respect to Purdue. You can look at this two ways. Purdue is ripe to pull off another upset at home, or you’re getting Penn State at a really good number that could climb closer to a touchdown by the time Week 1 rolls around.

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