We are a hair over three weeks away from ending our current national nightmare of Saturday-less college football. Preseason polls are out (Roll Tide), watch lists are out (hello Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield and 2016 Heisman winner Lamar Jackson) and yes, week one's odds are out.
The Pac-12 has some interesting games scheduled in week one. Several Pac-12 teams are heavy favorites. This may present a quandary for the weekend warrior who dabbles on online betting sites.
PigskinGrind does not recommend betting heavy favorites early in the season. Positional battles may still be ongoing. Some starters may play sparingly in order to recover from injury or give the reserves more playing time. Some heavily-favored teams field a vanilla offense to keep its playbook a mystery as long as possible.
In other words, a low-scoring game or an early blowout may produce a backdoor cover when the reserves relieve the starters.
Here are the current odds (as of August 4) for the opening week and first full week of college football.
Oregon State +3.5 at Colorado State
This is an interesting matchup. Head coach Gary Andersen is familiar with the Rams because he played them while coaching at Utah State. Andersen is now in his third year with the Beavers. PigskinGrind expects major improvement, especially from the veteran defense.
The Rams have struggled with inferior opponents such as UTSA and UNLV. They may overlook a surprisingly sneaky good Beaver team. Remember, Oregon State lost to Stanford, Washington State and Utah by a combined 20 points.
Buy Oregon State and take the 3.5 points.
Stanford -31 v Rice (Sydney, NSW, Australia)
This looks like a cakewalk for the Cardinal but tap the brakes for a minute. In Stanford's last five season openers, it has only covered the spread once (2014, Stanford -42 v UC Davis). Stanford beat Rice last year in Palo Alto 41-17 but failed to cover the 35-point spread.
Rice returns a veteran team and plays in a truly neutral venue. Stanford should win big, but that four-plus touchdown spread looks a little too big.
Sell Stanford and buy Rice.
Washington -33 at Rutgers
This is a Friday night game at Rutgers—the game starts at 5 p.m. local time, 8 p.m. on the West Coast. Does the time change affect Washington? Maybe.
The Huskies' record covering the spread in season openers is 2-3 in the past five years—on the road they are 1-1. In 2014, they were favored by 15 points at Hawai'i and won 17-16. The following season they were favored by 11 at Boise State and lost 16-13. Washington went 50-50 in covering the spread last season.
Washington quarterback Jake Browning may struggle against the Big 10's fourth-best pass defense but if the run game gets going as expected, it may not matter. The Huskies' running game will take a lot of time off the clock. That generally translates to longer drives and lower scoring games.
Sell Washington and buy Rutgers.
Colorado -7 v Colorado State
PigskinGrind is a believer in Mike MacIntyre and his Buffaloes. While they no longer have Sefo Liufau as their signal caller, sophomore Steven Montez has a lot of quarterback experience. Montez threw for more than 1,000 yards last season and finished with a 138.05 passer rating.
The Rams will have already played Oregon State when these two square off in Denver on a Friday night. Since PigskinGrind has the Beavers covering the spread against Colorado State, expect the spread in this game to widen.
Buy Colorado now!
North Carolina -12.5 v Cal
Cal has a new coach in Justin Wilcox. His first game on the road at North Carolina will be baptism by fire. Cal has one of, if not the, toughest schedules in the nation. Last year Cal did not go bowling but it still upset Texas and UCLA and beat Oregon and Utah. Unfortunately, Cal went 0-5 on the road, 1-5 including a tilt against Hawai'i in Sydney, NSW, Australia.
Larry Fedora's offense may present some problems for the Bears. Expect a strong running game since the Tar Heels are breaking in their new quarterback. What better way to do that than against last year's second-worst rush defense in the country? The Bears gave up an average 272.83 rushing yards per game.
Sell Cal and lay the points with North Carolina.
USC -27 v Western Michigan
Do you get the feeling that the Trojans are just champing at the bit to prove last year's 10-3 season was the beginning of a Trojan resurgence? Heisman candidate quarterback Sam Darnold is a playmaker playing behind an elite offensive line. Darnold's quick release and uncanny field awareness will play a big part in the offense rolling.
Western Michigan head coach Tim Lester is coaching his very first college football game against a No. 4 ranked Power Five school. Losing coach P.J. Fleck to Minnesota was a big loss. So was losing four-year starter quarterback Zack Terrell. Expect the Broncos to be overwhelmed by an excited crowd at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
UCLA -3.5 v Texas A&M
Quarterback Josh Rosen is expected to return from injury. Rosen's presence on the field coupled with Texas A&M's most experienced quarterback (Jake Hubenak) having only three career starts looks like a Bruin victory.
The Aggies' defensive line was a monster last season but their two big studs on the ends, Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall, are now making hay on Sundays. PigskinGrind expects the Bruins rebuilt offensive line to protect Rosen—his injury last season was a result of poor pass protection and run blocking. Rosen will post huge numbers against a defense that yielded an average 250 passing yards per game last season.
One final tidbit: UCLA tends to post an excellent record in the first six weeks of football.
Texas A&M will keep it close but UCLA should win by at least one touchdown. (If the Bruins lose, expect head coach Jim Mora's hot seat to be scalding.)
Arizona State -24 New Mexico State
This is a Thursday night game which means #Pac12AfterDark will come into play. That is not a good thing for the Sun Devils. Their offense should roll but their defense is still a question mark—will it give up a big play to make things more interesting?
The Aggies have a lot of positive things going for them. The good news is that they return almost everyone from last season. The bad news is that they went 3-9 last season.
Arizona State should win by three touchdowns but that extra three points could be the difference maker.
Sell Arizona State, buy New Mexico State's bid for a backdoor cover.