Best bets are back! This season feels like an end, mostly because it is -- not for this column, but for the Pac-12. Also, the four-team College Football Playoff will have its swan song before the 12-team field takes over in 2024. Although change is coming, this year may feel the same as the recent past in some regards. Many familiar names top the polls, for example. No. 1 Georgia is favored to win its third straight title, something that has not been done in major college football since Minnesota in the mid-1930s. But we can worry about that later. It's time to make some picks.
Each week, I will use this space to tell you what I think are a few of the best bets heading into the weekend. I will also throw in an upset of the week, which will be a team that is at least a touchdown underdog that I am picking to win outright.
I will also give you picks on other games involving potential CFP teams. Since most teams have not played yet, just about everybody is technically a CFP candidate at the moment. So for the first few weeks of the season, I'll go with the top 12 teams from the AP poll.
Odds via SportsLine consensus
Week 1 picks
Utah State at No. 25 Iowa
Iowa's offense was so bad last season that offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz took a pay cut and will be incentivized if the team -- not just the offense -- averages 25 points per game. My guess is we will not see new quarterback Cade McNamara take a knee very often. I am still not buying the new Iowa offense, although the defense could rack up a score or two. Pick: Utah State (+25)
No. 18 Oregon State at San Jose State
The Spartans have the advantage of having already played a game. They lost to USC in Week 0, but managed to put up 28 points. I like Oregon State a lot – it could win the Pac -12 – but the Beavers will have some first-game struggles, especially on offense with new QB DJ Uiagalelei. They will win, but not by this much. Pick: San Jose State (+16.5)
Northwestern's miserable 2022 season was only surpassed by its miserable offseason, so you could forgive the Wildcats if they do not come out firing on all cylinders. Rutgers mustered a few early wins last season, but only managed to eclipse 20 points twice in conference play. Northwestern, meanwhile, only surpassed the 14-point mark twice against Big Ten foes. Two of the worst offenses in the nation a year ago and no expectations for much improvement means take the under. Pick Under 40.5
Upset of the week
I give the Bears credit for scheduling this game. Not many power conference programs will travel to Group of Five destinations. The question for Cal is if it can score; it was a problem last season and likely will be again. The last power conference school to visit North Texas was Indiana in 2011 -- and the Hoosiers lost. I expect the fired up Mean Green to get another win this time. Pick: North Texas ML +210
Other CFP candidates
- East Carolina at No. 2 Michigan (-36) Pick: Michigan
- No. 3 Ohio State at Indiana (+30) Pick: Ohio State
- Middle Tennessee vs. No. 4 Alabama (-39) Pick: Alabama
- No. 5 LSU vs. No. 8 Florida State (+2.5) Pick: LSU
- Nevada at No. 6 USC (-38) Pick: USC
- West Virginia at No. 7 Penn State (-20.5) Pick: Penn State
- No. 9 Clemson at Duke (+13) Pick: Clemson
- Boise State at No. 10 Washington (-14.5) Pick: Washington
- Rice at No. 11 Texas (-35) Pick: Texas
- Virginia at No. 12 Tennessee (-28) Pick: Tennessee
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 1? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread -- all from a proven computer model that has returned almost $2,500 in profit over the past seven-plus seasons -- and find out.