Week 1 College Football Picks
The wait is finally over. Whether you sing Rocky Top, Dixieland Delight, Neck, or even go to the games for your personal Instagram content, having college football back is quite the blessing.
The greatest conference in college football will be in full swing this weekend as there are several compelling matchups throughout the Southeastern Conference. No shade towards Vanderbilt, but playing Hawaii isn’t exactly what we have all been waiting for. However, shoutout to the Commodores for their 35-28 win over the Rainbow Warriors. This week, you won’t have to wait all the way to Saturday for SEC action as Mizzou takes on South Dakota at home on Thursday night (8/31) at 8PM EST. The other matchup, perhaps the more compelling of the two, has Florida traveling to face #14 Utah in a rematch of last year’s opening game thriller which the Gators won 29-26.
Below, I will briefly analyze each game in the SEC this weekend and give my picks. My picks will include a straight up winner and a winner against the spread. The total is also listed, but I’d say betting that is not my forte. Tail me or don’t tail me, but let’s get to it. The odds are provided by ESPN and DraftKings.
8/31: South Dakota @ Missouri, 8PM EST, SEC Network
There are no odds listed on this game for a reason. Missouri should coast in this game. Although Mizzou isn’t known as a SEC power, they are still in the SEC. I expect the Tigers to dominate the line of scrimmage in this matchup and therefore the game. On the other hand, South Dakota was an abysmal 3-8 last year and lost 34-0 against Kansas State in their only
power five matchup of the season. Mizzou will need this game as a tune up for what is a rather challenging out of conference matchup in week 3 as the Tigers themselves face off against #16 with a matchup against MTSU in week 2.
Prediction: Missouri wins
8/31: Florida @ #14 Utah (-5, O/U 45.5), 8PM EST, ESPN
The health of Utah QB Cam Rising is paramount to the outcome of this game. Last year, Utah closed out their season with a 35-21 loss to Penn State in the Rose Bowl. To make the loss worse, Rising suffered a torn ACL during the game. Up until kickoff, we still might not know what his status is for this matchup. As a result, the line has been moving all week. That makes my job harder, but I’m up for the challenge.
Both teams believe that a physical matchup benefits them. That certainly will make for good television. In this matchup, Utah is more established in this play style. Even without Cam Rising, the Utes are in a good position to play to their playstyle even against a SEC team like Florida. On the other hand, Florida QB Graham Mertz is not established within the system. Not only that, Florida had major struggles last season as the ended the year 6-7. On top of that, Florida does not have the benefit of playing at home this season. While Utah might not be similar to a SEC environment, it will certainly benefit the Utes to have a fired up crowd at their back on top of not playing in The Swamp.
Prediction: Utah wins, Utah covers -5
9/2: Virginia vs. #12 Tennessee (Nashville, TENN -28, O/U 56), 12PM EST, ABC
This is a rather interesting ACC vs SEC matchup to start the season for the Cavaliers and the Volunteers. Saturday’s contest will be the first game for UVA since the tragic shooting that took the lives of three. Virginia coach Tony Elliott says “every day is a triumph” as they begin their second season under his direction. Above all, I’m glad that Virginia is getting back into the swing of things after such a horrific tragedy.
From the Tennessee side of things, the Vols are going into their first season without Hendon Hooker, Jalin Hyatt, and Cedric Tillman. Many speculate that the Vols will regress as a result, but time will tell whether Josh Heupel’s scheme is plug and play or not.
Tennessee is favored by four touchdowns. This is no coincidence. The Vols are going to score a lot of points on Saturday in Nashville. I don’t see any way Virginia is going to either keep up with Tennessee or slow their offense down. However, when asked about how they will be preparing for the Vols offense, Tony Elliott did not sound very concerned about the Vols fast pace. To add to the drama, Tony Elliott said that at one point he was offered the Vols’ head coaching position when it was open after the firing of Jeremy Pruitt. In response, Danny White tweeted “don’t remember offering. Ignored this the first time, can’t do it again. An interview doesn’t constitute an offer. Interviewed several candidates, offered one.” Safe to say, there might be some bad blood going into this game.
Prediction: Vols win, Vols cover -28
9/2: Ball State @ Kentucky (-26.5, O/U 49.5), 12PM EST, SECN
The Wildcats will have a new look on offense this year as Will Levis is suiting up for the Tennessee Titans this fall and NC State transfer Devin Leary is QB1. This may be addition by subtraction, but who knows. Kentucky is a well-coached team who has shown to be consistent against teams that are worse than them. While I don’t see any upset here, I do think there will be some growing pains for the Wildcats as they adjust to Leary’s play style in game. Good thing for Kentucky that they start off with a much lesser opponent.
Prediction: Kentucky wins, Ball State covers +26.5
9/2: Western Carolina @ Arkansas, 1PM EST, ESPN+ & SECN+
Like the South Dakota/Mizzou game, there are no odds listed for this game on DraftKings. In Western Carolina’s sole power five matchup last season, they lost 35-17 to Georgia Tech in Atlanta. That doesn’t shout out much confidence for me in picking them over the Hogs at home this Saturday. The Arkansas faithful is sure to show out in numbers and be very drunk while doing it. Thus, creating an environment uninhabitable for the Catamounts.
KJ Jefferson is returning for the Hogs, so I expect him to have a field day. The same concept of the South Dakota/Mizzou game applies here. Arkansas is not a major power in the SEC, but they are still in the SEC. Therefore, they should dominate the line of scrimmage with the running style and control the game in every aspect.
Prediction: Arkansas wins
9/2: Mercer @ #22 Ole Miss, 2PM EST, ESPN+ & SECN+
This is yet another game with no odds listed. Although Mercer is not a power five opponent, they do have experience against SEC teams. They have played Auburn several times in recent memory as well as Alabama. The environment should not scare the Bears, but I expect Ole Miss to have their way. It is likely that Jaxson Dart will start for the Rebels, but don’t be surprised to see Spencer Sanders and Walker Howard get action.
In this case, I see all three of those options having success in this game. However, look for Mercer to keep things respectable for a quarter or two. In the end, though, Ole Miss will win this game rather comfortably.
Prediction: Ole Miss wins
9/2: UMass @ Auburn (-35, O/U 51.5), 3:30PM EST, ESPN
Auburn, like Florida, had a year to forget last year. The Tigers went 5-7 and let go of Head Coach Bryan Harsin in the middle of the season after a loss to Arkansas that set their record at 3-5. To replace Harsin, Hugh Freeze is the new man in charge on the plains.
In due time, Auburn will be much better than people expect this season. They brought in a solid transfer class that will help with some of the growing pains of a new coach. Auburn always has talent, so don’t be surprised when they are winning games under Coach Freeze. All of that to say I don’t see them winning the SEC West, but they should have no problems against UMass. UMass was one of the worst teams in college football last season with a 1-11 record. They are in a lot of trouble on Saturday afternoon when they head into Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Prediction: Auburn wins, Auburn covers -35
9/2: SE Louisiana @ Mississippi State, 4PM EST, SECN
2023 should be a very interesting campaign for Hail State as they are without the pirate for the first year in a long time. Rest in peace, legend. Mike Leach will certainly be missed as he was an icon in college football for as long as he was a coach. His air raid style was the definition of Mississippi State football and lead QB Will Rogers to outstanding statistics.
This year, the Bulldogs turn to Zach Arnett as their Head Coach. He is known as a great defensive-minded coach and served as the defensive coordinator for Hail State for the last three seasons. The main question for Mississippi State is how a defensive minded coach will handle what was built to be an offensive juggernaut.
Those questions are more fitting for a more compelling matchup. SE Louisiana doesn’t stand a very good chance in this one.
Prediction: Mississippi State wins
9/2: UT Martin @ #1 Georgia, 6PM EST, ESPN+ & SECN+
The two-time defending national champion has a cupcake for the first game of the year, much like many other teams in the conference do. Despite the Dawgs losing a lot of talent to the NFL, Georgia is expected to be very good once again this year. They recruit at an extremely high level and are coached well. Even if Georgia is taking UT Martin lightly, expect this game to be over by halftime.
Prediction: Georgia wins
9/2: New Mexico @ #23 Texas A&M (-38, O/U 49), 7PM EST, ESPN
The Aggies are going to, or supposed to, look completely different on offense this year. The seat has continued to get hotter and hotter for Head Coach Jimbo Fisher. Texas A&M recruits highly every year. However, they seem to be very good at doing less with more. Lots of their recent underachievement has to do with their offense. This is strange as Jimbo is known as an offensive mind. The offensive struggles are concerning, but if I was an Aggie I would be happy to see Coach Fisher being willing to go in another direction.
The new offensive coordinator for Texas A&M is Bobby Petrino. He is a familiar face in the SEC as he was the Head Coach of Arkansas from 2008-11. The Hogs were solid for most of his time there, so this will be a fascinating season in College Station.
As for this game, Texas A&M should roll. They are far and away the better team. The Aggies also have something to prove this year. Can they compete for the SEC finally after years of disappointment? I say no, but I’ve been wrong before.
Prediction: Texas A&M wins, New Mexico covers +38
9/2: Alabama A&M @ Vanderbilt, 7PM EST, ESPN+ & SECN+
Would you believe it if I told you Vanderbilt was first in the SEC right now? Well, they are as they are the only team with a win so far. Congrats, Commodores! Enjoy the reign of terror
while you have it. After this week, they should be the only SEC team with two wins. I was shocked to find out there is no spread on this game. Vegas must love Vanderbilt this week. I do too as Alabama A&M wasn’t a very solid team last year as their record was 4-7. Beyond that, wouldn’t it be nice to see Vandy at 2-0?
Prediction: Vanderbilt wins
9/2: Middle Tennessee @ #4 Alabama (-38.5, O/U 52), 7:30 EST, SECN
Poor Blue Raiders. They start the season on the road against two SEC teams with Alabama and Missouri, respectively. At least the harder matchup came first as Nick Saban likely won’t make life easy Saturday night. Alabama is undefeated in season openers under Saban and have only not covered twice. I will certainly be getting into more Alabama coverage as the season goes on, but this one seems self-explanatory.
Prediction: Alabama wins, Alabama covers -38.5
9/2: #21 North Carolina (-2.5, O/U 64.5) @ South Carolina
This may be the most underrated matchup in the country this weekend. Both teams can catch someone by surprise due to their high scoring offenses. UNC made the ACC championship last season thanks to the outstanding play of QB Drake Maye. Maye projects to be an early first-round pick in next year’s draft. That isn’t for no reason. On the other hand, South Carolina is feeling good about themselves as they closed out the regular season with back-to-back upset wins over two top ten teams in Tennessee and Clemson.
As for the Tar Heels, they lost offensive coordinator Phil Longo to Wisconsin in the offseason. This will likely hurt the production of the North Carolina offense, but I trust Drake Maye to make a lot of plays against the Gamecocks.
As for South Carolina, I trust their defense much more than North Carolina’s. UNC ranked 104th in opponent points per game with an average of 31.3 given up while South Carolina ranked 92nd with an average of 30.4 opponent points per game. Their statistics in that category are close. In the end, South Carolina plays in a much tougher conference. So, with better statistics in a better conference shows why I favor the South Carolina defense. In addition, South Carolina’s offense is nothing to overlook. They put up over 30 points per game last season. With the weaknesses in the North Carolina defense, expect to see the Gamecocks put up a lot of points on Saturday night.
Prediction: South Carolina wins, South Carolina covers +2.5
9/3: #5 LSU (-2.5, O/U 56) vs #8 Florida State
The marquee game of the week comes on a Sunday night, which is weird. Nonetheless, this game deserves its own platform. Last year’s game in New Orleans was a thriller as Florida State won 24-23 thanks to a blocked extra point at the end of the game. Watching that game was rough as both teams looked sloppy. Don’t expect that this year as both of these teams are much more polished than they were a year ago. Whoever wins this game is going to be an immediate contender for the College Football Playoff.
Both starting QBs are returning as Florida State’s Jordan Travis and LSU’s Jayden Daniels are poised to make an impact on this game. Florida State’s receiving core versus LSU’s portal-made secondary is going to be key in this matchup. The Seminoles are known for their quality passing game while LSU is known for having an outstanding pass defense.
LSU is going to be without Maason Smith and John Emery Jr for this contest, but the Tigers are too deep and out for blood this year. I see them getting their sweet revenge in Orlando on Sunday night.
Prediction: LSU wins, LSU covers -2.5