Three games ago, Miami was shut out by Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl, and allowed the nation’s most sacks (51) in the 2019 season. Fast forward nine months and this revamped offense just put up 47 points in the first ranked game of 2020, and earned Rhett Lashlee “Coordinator of the Week” honors by Pick Six Previews. Manny Diaz and Blake Baker always had the elite defense in place, but now a potent offense has Miami looking like a complete team and ACC contender.
Meanwhile, Florida State lost their opener (as a 12-point favorite) to Georgia Tech meaning they are now just 10-16 (38%) against-the-spread since the start of the 2018 season. The Georgia Tech loss would have looked worse on the scoreboard too, if not for three blocked kicks. Remember, Florida State was only able to muster 3 points over the final three quarters against Georgia Tech – but UCF put up 49 points and 660 yards against that same defense.
Though a small sample size so far, it is clear that Lashlee has been able to install his new offensive scheme faster than Mike Norvell’s transition. Another distraction is that Norvell is in quarantine and will not be coaching Saturday.
PREDICTION: MIAMI 27, FLORIDA STATE 13
BET: MIAMI -11 @ -110
This game is stuck on SEC Network, but deserved the national CBS 3:30 slot. Auburn is becoming a trendy darkhorse pick to compete for the West Division, and thus, the SEC title. I don’t see it. I was the only preseason publication to have Auburn ranked outside the Top 25. The last time we saw Auburn, they were getting pushed around by Minnesota in the Outback Bowl. And now personnel-wise, they must replace three defensive linemen (two were Top 50 NFL Draft picks), along with four starting offensive linemen.
Such youth/inexperience in the trenches is a challenge in any season opener, but especially against Kentucky. This is a physical, tough program built around Mark Stoops’ defense, and Eddie Gran’s offensive line. In Pick Six Previews’ annual season preview book, I ranked them as the #4 best offensive line in the nation – with four All-SEC linemen.
Auburn has one of the worst records ATS over the past five seasons -- 42.4%. Kentucky has flown under the radar the past two seasons (57.6% ATS) and is playing with a chip on their shoulder again in 2020. I loved it at Kentucky +10.5, but still like it at Kentucky +7.5.
PREDICTION: KENTUCKY 20, AUBURN 17
BET: KENTUCKY +7.5 @ -115
UCF rolled up 49 points and 660 yards on a Georgia Tech defense that had just shut down Florida State a week earlier. It is the same old UCF – hyper-tempo, speed, and an offense designed to crease opponents for long-yardage plays.
They will score in bunches against East Carolina, who was the consensus pick for last place in the AAC.
But most importantly to a spread pick, UCF is looking to blow out all of their opponents in an effort to bolster their resume for the Playoff Committee. It is near-impossible for non-AQ teams to make the 4-team bracket, but blowout wins certainly help.
PREDICTION: UCF 52, EAST CAROLINA 20
BET: UCF -27.5 @ -110
I was shocked with this opening line. In a unique offseason with no spring ball and limited summer/fall camp, the program continuity holds more importance now than ever before. Florida is entering their 3rd year under Dan Mullen and Todd Grantham, returns a majority of their starting roster, and returns their starting quarterback. Kyle Trask enters as the 1st team preseason All-SEC quarterback, a position that has held back the Florida program for years. The defense has been there all decade, but finally they have quarterback stability to complete the roster.
Meanwhile, Ole Miss is going through a coaching transition and we’ve seen new coaches/coordinators really struggle ATS so far in this young season. Ole Miss had a bright spot last year in their rushing attack with dual-threat quarterback John Rhys Plumlee and a duo of star backs. However, Kiffin is rumored to be heading towards a pass-heavy attack, which seems in conflict with their only proven strength from 2019.
I was the only preseason publication to select Florida to make the Playoff. I love them here in the opener against a coach-change team.
PREDICTION: FLORIDA 37, OLE MISS 17
BET: FLORIDA -14 @ +105
Nick Saban is 12-1 (92%) ATS in his season openers at Alabama – and faces a coach-change Missouri. Look for Alabama’s Moore Award finalist offensive line to generate a ton of yards for back Najee Harris.
PREDICTION: ALABAMA 42 MISSOURI 13
BET: ALABAMA -27.5 @ -115
Texas Tech allowed 33 points, 600 yards, and 8 yards per play to FCS Houston Baptist in their opener. I don’t see them holding Texas to under 45 points, and see them hitting a few scores of their own. Saturday is the first round of Big 12 league games, and this one will certainly feel like it.
PREDICTION: TEXAS 48, TEXAS TECH 24
BET: OVER 70 @ -110