After Week 1 of the 2021 college football season, it’s almost futile to form an opinion. It’s often irresponsible to trust your eyes.
College football history is littered with early-season geniuses who were unveiled as frauds and with late-risers who ended up ranking among the nation’s best. Just last season, Mississippi State’s K.J. Costello went to Death Valley and lit up defending champion LSU for 623 yards and five touchdowns. His Heisman Trophy push quickly ended with a total of 644 passing yards, one touchdown and eight interceptions in the next three games, leading to his benching less than a month after the upset win over LSU.
Texas A&M, in its 2020 opener, struggled to scrape by the SEC’s perennial doormat, Vanderbilt, then finished the season with its highest ranking since 1939. Iowa State lost its season opener at home to Louisiana-Lafayette, 31-14, then recorded the best record in the Big 12.
This is evidence to counter concern over the Cyclones’ unexpectedly tight win against Northern Iowa last Saturday and to stop planning a parade after Iowa’s blowout of Indiana that same day.
Iowa remains relatively unproven. The Hawkeyes are coming off a 2020 season that included just one win over a winning team in the Big Ten, they return the shaky quarterback play of Spencer Petras, and they are introducing three new starters to the defensive line. Iowa’s inability to stretch the field or stretch drives is more likely to be repeated than Riley Moss’ pair of pick-sixes against the Hoosiers.
Meanwhile, Iowa State’s defense still looks like one of the Big 12’s best, and its explosive offense is set to return, with All-American tight end Charlie Kolar making his season debut. He joins the school’s all-time winningest quarterback (Brock Purdy), the nation’s leading rusher last year (Breece Hall) and an improved offensive line.
The Cyclones are also simply due. They have lost their past five meetings against the Hawkeyes, as well as four straight in Ames. Last year, Iowa State followed its shocking season-opening loss with a home upset over Oklahoma. In one of the biggest games in state history, IOWA STATE (-4.5) will respond again.
Pittsburgh (-3) over TENNESSEE:
So much for Joe Milton’s fresh start with the Volunteers. Even in a blowout win over Bowling Green, the Michigan transfer completed just 11 of 23 passes. Let’s set 44.3 percent as the Over/Under against one of the nation’s best defensive fronts.
Oregon (+14.5) over OHIO STATE
You should save your bet for Saturday. For now, I’ll guess that potential No. 1-overall NFL pick Kayvon Thibodeaux suits up for the Ducks with a sprained ankle and harasses C.J. Stroud, whose uneven first start hints at trouble against Oregon’s dynamic pass rush.
SOUTH FLORIDA (+29) over Florida:
This selection really is for entertainment purposes only.
Rutgers (-2) over SYRACUSE
This could be the ultimate overreaction, but it’s hard to pretend they are the same old Scarlet Knights after they put up their most points (61) against an FBS foe in 13 years. Don’t make me regret this, Greg.
NOTRE DAME (-17) over Toledo
The Fighting Irish likely won’t repeat their playoff run with so many new pieces, but their overtime win Sunday against emotionally charged Florida State, playing to a throwback Doak Campbell Stadium crowd, said more about the Seminoles. Brian Kelly’s new starters will grow from the experience, and Notre Dame’s reintroduction to the deep ball will create more running room for sophomore Kyren Williams.
GEORGIA (-24.5) over Uab
Last week, the Bulldogs’ defense quickly revealed its ceiling in a dominant display against Clemson. This week, JT Daniels brings the offense back to life, as he did when leading the unit to over 37 points per game in his four starts last season.
Colorado (+17) over Texas A&M (at Denver)
Even in last year’s breakthrough campaign, the Aggies didn’t make a habit of covering big spreads. The downgrade from senior Kellen Mond to redshirt freshman Haynes King — who debuted with three interceptions — should keep the Buffaloes close in Boulder.
Ball State (+22.5) over PENN STATE
Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford is more capable than a strong Wisconsin defense let him show, but this number is still too large for an offense which mustered just 11 first downs. The defending MAC champs return 20 starters and currently hold the nation’s fourth-longest win streak (eight).
MIAMI (-8.5) over Appalachian State
The Hurricanes shouldn’t be too dejected. Alabama could even make Rihanna look bad. D’Eriq King can achieve the same against defenses that aren’t already in national championship form.
ARKANSAS (+7) over Texas
The Longhorns’ Steve Sarkisian put his freshman quarterback in position to excel in his first career start, but the new coach won’t be able to protect Hudson Card against an underrated defense — returning nine starters — and a hostile atmosphere. For the first time in five years, every seat in Fayetteville has been sold.
Washington (+7) over MICHIGAN
If any program understands how it’s possible to fall on your face against the FCS, it’s Michigan (see: 2007 Appalachian State). What’s understandably left out of the tale of that legendary upset is that the Wolverines beat No. 10 Penn State three weeks later, then closed out the season with a win over No. 9 Florida. Washington’s loss to FCS foe Montana may define this team, but it won’t define its season. The talent is still there. And the motivation is more than Michigan expected to see.
BYU (+7) over Utah
The Cougars haven’t won the Holy War since 2009, but their most important mission usually succeeds. Six of the past seven meetings have been decided by one possession.
USC (-17) over Stanford
It’s as if Facebook and Friendster traded places. Not only is USC head coach Clay Helton guiding the Pac-12 favorite after escaping approximately 30 years on the hot seat, but former Giants dream candidate David Shaw of Stanford could soon hit the unemployment line. After years of overachieving, the Cardinal may be lucky to repeat their 4-8 run in 2019, having put up seven points and less than two yards per carry in a Week 1 loss to Kansas State.
BEST BETS: Colorado, Arkansas, Washington
THIS SEASON (BEST BETS): 5-9-1 (1-2)
2014-20 RECORD: 904-866-15