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It's never too early to get started with some college football game picks. We're still a few weeks away from the true Week 1, but Alex Kirshner has picks for both this weekend and next

Week 1 College Football Predictions: Can Nebraska Start The Season With a Big 10 Win?

College football’s 2021 season is nearly upon us. Betting on this sport in Week 1 is always a bit tricky, because the teams change so much from year to year and so little is ultimately known about them before they take the field. This year, most teams have a lot of returning talent, but it’s hard to know how much to make of a 2020 season that was interrupted in so many ways by the pre-vaccines COVID-19 pandemic. Analytics systems that usually help us rate teams and pick spreads are going to have a lot of noise baked into them for a while.

As ever, though, we’ll look for value where we can find it and try to make some astute picks for early-season games. Here are a few I like as we get closer to Week 1 over Labor Day weekend. Your lines and odds may vary depending on where you place your wager. They are always subject to move, but especially so with this much time until kickoff. Be sure to check your operator’s policy on cancelations, postponements, and the like.

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Week 1 College Football Predictions

Nebraska vs. Illinois

Bet: Nebraska -6.5 @ -111

The very first game of the 2021 season (and really, part of Week 0 rather than Week 1) is this Big Ten West meeting in Champaign. I do not think Nebraska will be great this year, and the Huskers now have things to worry about other than just playing Illinois. But the Illini are likely going to take a while to reach a decent floor under new coach Bret Bielema, and the Nebraska defense is likely going to be a matchup problem for the Illinois offense. The Huskers have one of the best slot defenders in the country in hybrid player JoJo Domann, and Illinois’ passing offense is going to be horrible. At some point, the Huskers should be able to crash down on Illinois’ run game and force a lot of short drives. I think they’ll win by more than a touchdown.

Boise State vs. UCF

Bet: UCF -4.5 @ -110

Both of these teams have new head coaches –– Andy Avalos at Boise, Gus Malzahn at UCF. At home, I like the Knights’ ability to cover a spread at this number. UCF QB Dillon Gabriel is the best deep ball thrower in the Group of 5 conferences, and the Knights have recruited well enough that I think he’ll find enough useful targets relatively quickly, even though there is not an obvious heir apparent to last year’s star wideout Marlon Williams. (Three transfer receivers, Jordan Johnson from Notre Dame, Brandon Johnson from Tennessee, and Nate Craig-Myers from Colorado State, might all be important.) Boise’s rushing offense didn’t do much of anything in 2020, and that should not change much for the better.

Ohio State vs. Minnesota

Bet: Ohio State -13.5 @ -110

The roster talent gap here is so wide that the Buckeyes can cover a two-touchdown spread on the road against a conference opponent. Minnesota has a tough offensive line and an experienced quarterback in Tanner Morgan, but with both Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman now in the NFL, they no longer have any wide receivers to answer the firepower of the Buckeyes’ Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson Jr. Speaking of those two wideouts, Minnesota’s secondary could be its weakest position group, and that’s not good when you’re facing maybe the two best receivers in the country and whichever five-star QB is throwing to them.

Penn State vs. Wisconsin

Bet: Penn State +5 @ -108

I believe in a Penn State bounceback this year, after an 0-4 start doomed their season in 2020. Quarterback Sean Clifford has a low ceiling at this point, but he also has a high floor and won’t deny the Nittany Lions a chance to compete. He’ll benefit from probably the best running back room in the Big Ten (led by Noah Cain and Baylor transfer John Lovett) and one of the country’s better perimeter receivers, Jahan Dotson. Wisconsin’s defense is primed to be worse than normal, and I don’t know if QB Graham Mertz will have the juice to thrive in shootouts. (He might, but he was an extremely mixed bag in 2020 and it’d be nice to see a good outing from him against someone other than Illinois.)

Alabama vs. Miami

Bet: Miami +19.5 @ -110

Earlier in this offseason, the Crimson Tide were closer to two-touchdown favorites for this neutral-site meeting in Atlanta. You may want to hang on a little longer and see if the number hits 20, 21, or –– wow, this would be a lot of movement –– 21.5 before pulling the trigger on the Hurricanes. But here’s what I’m thinking. Alabama is the best team in the sport, but if the Tide build a big lead, they are likely to turn over the depth chart and let lots of backups play late in the game. They’re also facing one of the best QBs in the country in D’Eriq King, and I think the Miami offense can score a couple of touchdowns to help with this number, even if they don’t come until garbage time. Plus, if there’s a time to pick against Bama this fall, it’s while we’re still not certain how good new starting QB Bryce Young will be. As always, I doubt the Tide at my own risk. I just believe in King at a number this big, given the circumstances.

College Football Picks & Predictions

Nebraska -6.5 @ -111

UCF -4.5 @ -110

Ohio State -13.5 @ -110

Penn State +5 @ -108

Miami +19.5 @ -110

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Article Author


Alex Kirshner covers college football for the Moon Crew newsletter. He is a co-author of The Sinful Seven: Sci-Fi Western Legends of the NCAA, and he lives in Washington, D.C.


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