Picking winners against the spread (ATS) is always a tough job. Even the so-called experts miss the mark, especially in week 1. We do not know anything because not one game has been played. (There is an exception to that rule—more on that later).
I tend to stick to some formulas that have served me well over the years. I also use different, casual jargon while talking about point spreads and stuff so please do not take umbrage at some of the language used here. You and I are just having a fun convo talking 'bout how to win some money, if you choose to wager.
First rule of thumb: Avoid picking teams in games with large spreads unless you are very familiar with both teams.
Second rule of thumb: Try to pick more underdogs than favorites in the first few weeks.
Third rule of thumb: Bet on the SEC straight up if the game is being played in the South or "neutral" venue. Do not lay too many points unless the head coach is Nick Saban—bet the farm on him.
Here are my picks in bold.
San Diego State +14.5 at Stanford, (Friday night game on August 31)
Let us start with the bad news for Pac-12 fans: this is a Friday night game. This is not good for the favored Pac-12 team.
Second, San Diego State does not fear Stanford. The Aztecs beat the Cardinal 20-17 last year.
Third, Stanford hosts USC the following weekend on September 8. Is this a trap game?
I doubt Stanford head coach David Shaw gets beaten in two consecutive years by a Mountain West team, but this game may be closer than everyone thinks. #Pac12AfterDark
Florida Atlantic +21 at Oklahoma
Owl head coach Lane Kiffin. The man. The dream killer. The smirky smile.
The Sooners win but Kiffin and his Owl visor throw some shade with an intentional backdoor cover.
West Virginia -10 v Tennessee (at Charlotte)
The Vols are under first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt, who has zero head coaching experience. Pruitt will be facing offensive-minded genius Dana Holgorsen, the quirky head coach at West Virginia who is primed for making a big statement after seven years in Morgantown.
I expect big hair and burning couches after the 'Neers cause tears in Knoxville.
Virginia Tech +6.5 v Florida State (Monday, September 3)
I love the Hokies with an upset here. Florida State has an incredible roster of talent but former head coach Jimbo Fisher is now at Texas A&M.
I have to wonder if Fisher would have left if he thought the 'Noles were a potential championship team.
Michigan -2 at Notre Dame
Wolverine head coach Jim Harbaugh has to be pissed off at this distracting #shoegate scandal. No one has been suspended yet, which is good news for Michigan.
Also, a reminder: A pissed off Harbaugh wearing a detachable headset and Wal~Mart khakis will be coaching on the sidelines.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has reportedly decided to re-engage and show more interest in college football.
Seriously, I cannot wait for the midfield salutations and handshakes before and after the game.
Grab some popcorn.
Miami -3.0 v LSU Sunday (September 2, Arlington)
Miami is almost there. I rode on the Hurricane's bandwagon last season until I fell off from embarrassment after its stunning losses to Pittsburgh and Clemson. And to Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl. Sigh.
I am happy to report I am back on the wagon and may be insufferable if the 'Canes pull off this victory. I like LSU and its head coach Coach O, but man, I think this is a rebuilding year until the Tigers play the Crimson Tide in The Game of the Century 3.0.
Alabama -26 v Louisville (at Orlando)
The Crimson Tide and Cardinals are fielding some defensive units with little starting experience. But the Tide's offensive line is, well... frightening. And deep.
Alabama sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa's Heisman campaign begins on September 1. It is going to be a fun show.
Cal -8.5 v North Carolina
Cal beat North Carolina 35-30 last year when... how do I put this... Cal kinda sucked. This year the Bears return 18 starters and their head coach Justin Wilcox rid himself of that "first-year head coach" label.
I like the Bears' potential, especially in nonconference games. In the last four seasons, Cal opened against Northwestern (-10), Grambling State (+44), Hawai'i (+20) and North Carolina (-12). Cal beat them all and covered the spread.
The Bears still have that "I'm going to mess up your entire season" sort of vibe.
USC -25 v UNLV
The spread is a big one. And considering that USC only covered the spread four times last season, well... why bet on the Trojans?
Two reasons. One, quarterback JT Daniels is the real deal. Two, the level of talent between the Rebels and the Trojans is as deep as the Roman tubs at the Bellagio.
No offense, Las Vegas.
The one game not to bet on: UCLA -16.5 v Cincinnati
Remember that the Bruins are overachievers in the first six games of the seasons, especially against nonconference foes. However, the elephants in the room are the O-line and strength and conditioning.
Cincy could win. But so could UCLA. This match-up could swing either way. I like UCLA -2.5 but since the spread is more than two touchdowns, it looks like a sucker's bet.
There are better games out there from which to pick.