Heading into the Memorial Day Weekend, the last thing on a sports bettor’s mind is Week 1 of the college football season, back to the old online odds calculator. But if you want to get the jump on the bookies, and grab the early odds on the biggest games for NCAAF’s openers, these are the best matchups on the board:
Tennessee Volunteers vs. West Virginia Mountaineers (-7)
The 2017 campaign was a letdown for the Volunteers, who expected to be a sleeper team in the SEC. Instead, Tennessee crumbled against elite conference competition and showed the true gap between this program and others like Alabama and Georgia. The Vols have a deep run game, led by Ty Chandler, Tim Jordan, and Michigan State transfer Madre London, but that may not be enough to keep pace with an always-exciting WVU attack in Week 1.
The Mountaineers are also hoping to leave a rotten 2017 in the rearview. West Virginia closed the year with three straight losses, including a bowl defeat at the hands of Utah. That late stumble coincided with the finger injury to star quarterback Will Grier, who is among the Heisman Trophy hopefuls in 2018. This is the second year under offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, so there should be more cohesion on offense, especially if WVU can get the run game going. This opener against an SEC foe will be a good test of that growth.
Auburn Tigers vs. Washington Huskies (Pick)
This opener will likely dash the playoff hopes of one of these top programs. Auburn was so close to making the CFP cut last season but was thrashed by Georgia in the SEC title game, leading to another big loss to Central Florida in the Peach Bowl. The Tigers’ biggest strength remains their defense, which allowed only 18.5 points on 319.6 yards against per game last season – both stats ranked among the Top 20. Their biggest weakness is on the other side of the ball, with four starters gone from the offensive line.
Washington is a favorite to run through the Pac-12 and is a live long shot to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. Quarterback Jake Browning needs to shake off a rough junior season and find the form that grabbed national attention in 2016. And on defense, the Huskies have a loaded front seven with plenty of pro potential back, including Jaylen Johnson and Greg Gaines on the defensive line and Tevis Bartlett, Benning Potoa’e, Ryan Bowman and Amandre Williams at linebacker.
Miami Hurricanes vs. LSU Tigers (+3)
The Hurricanes had an incredible ride in 2017, winning 10 games to top the ACC Coastal and flirting with an undefeated season and a spot in the CFP before stumbling against Pittsburgh in the regular season finale and losing the 38-3 to Clemson in the ACC Championship. That transformed into a postseason loss to Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl. Quarterback Malik Rosier is on a short leash to start 2018 after his late-season struggles spoiled the Canes’ CFP hopes, and he’ll be thrown into the fire against an SEC defense in Week 1.
Louisiana State will always remain a contender, due to an elite stop unit and solid rushing attack. But the one thing that has plagued the Tigers in recent years is the lack of a passing game. They have a new offensive coordinator in Steve Ensminger but QB Danny Etling isn’t a game-breaker for LSU and might not even have the starting job come Week 1. With both teams thriving on stops and turnovers, this opener could come down to which quarterback makes the fewest mistakes.