College Football Week 1 Predictions: Best Bets and Picks
North Carolina vs. Virginia Tech Prediction
Entering his third season back in Chapel Hill, head coach Mack Brown brought #10 UNC to its highest preseason rank in 25 years. It all starts with recruiting. The prior coaching staff (Fedora) could only retain 10% of the state’s homegrown blue-chip prospects. Brown is landing over 50% of them and reaching program highs in recruiting average.
Further, Brown made excellent coordinator hires. Offensive wizard Phil Longo pairs his air-raid pass concepts with a physical downhill run game in the middle. Sam Howell is back for a third season leading the offense and is in the Top 3 in QB rating among returning 2020 quarterbacks. The offensive line returns all five starters. They are NFL-sized and are scattered across all-conference teams.
But a rapidly improving defense moves UNC from an average 7-win or 8-win team to a potential Playoff-tier. Over the whole 2020 season, it was an average defense, but over the final month – as younger 5-star players surged up the depth chart – they ranked in the Top 20 of Pick Six Previews’ per-play, opponent-adjusted percentiles.
While it will be a challenging opening environment in a Friday night Lane Stadium, Virginia Tech has several issues to overcome. Their powerful rushing attack from 2020 loses its star running back and top lineman. The defense (while hit with opt-outs and quarantines) struggled in a transition year, moving from legendary Bud Foster to Justin Hamilton.
UNC has too much firepower and a hidden gem of a defense.
UNC 34, Virginia Tech 20
Pick: UNC -5.5 (-107)
Clemson vs. Georgia Prediction
Serious playoff stakes are on the line in Charlotte for the highest-ranked season opener since 2017. Clemson brings a championship pedigree and arguably the top defensive coordinator in the country, while UGA brings the #2 recruiting roster and a modernized offense that finally opened up the playbook.
It is “strength on strength” when UGA has the ball. UGA consistently produces top offensive line groups, while Clemson has a defensive line loaded with 5-stars like Myles Murphy and Bryan Bresee and is drawing comparisons to their infamous “Power Rangers” group in 2018.
However, a personnel mismatch may occur on the flipside: Clemson’s offensive line vs. UGA’s front seven. Clemson posted consecutive seasons with the nation’s #1 yards/carry average in 2018 and 2019 but fell to 70th last year. It remains a question for 2021, especially after coach Dabo Swinney noted they would rotate centers throughout the game. UGA is consistently ranked in the national top 5 in most defensive categories, and coordinator Dan Lanning has another talented bunch. Look for UGA to dominate that line of scrimmage and eventually win the overall game outright.
Georgia 27, Clemson 24
Pick: UGA +3 (-103)
LSU vs. UCLA Prediction
UCLA beat up on non-AQ Hawaii in the opener last Saturday and benefitted from a special teams touchdowns and three rushing scores from Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet.
Chip Kelly’s first two UCLA teams were plagued by poor defense and inconsistent play at quarterback. His third team, 2020, started to turn the corner on both issues, and they played much better than their misleading 3-4 overall record would suggest.
With that said, LSU is an annual top 5 recruiter and is now extremely veteran after one of the most significant transition seasons we’ve ever seen. All those reps and game experience pay dividends now in 2021.
Head coach Ed Orgeron made some impressive coordinator hires, indicating they are trying to return to what worked in 2019.
While I respect UCLA enough to rank them near my preseason Top 25, LSU is on a different talent level, position group by position group. And the half-empty Rose Bowl will have more Tigers than Bruins.
LSU 34, UCLA 27
Pick: LSU -3 (+104)
Iowa vs. Indiana Prediction
Iowa was 5 points away from an undefeated season last year. Their defense rated atop most of Pick Six Previews’ defensive metrics, and coordinator Phil Parker continues to reload stout units.
The back seven is veteran-packed with all-conference performers and consistently rated in the top 5 in defending against long-yardage explosive plays.
That’s exactly what Indiana survives on. Because on a per-play, efficiency view, Indiana’s offense struggled in 2020 (11th of 14 Big Ten).
Iowa will contain those explosive plays and win the battles in both trenches, especially the interior offensive line led by Rimington candidate Tyler Linderbaum.
Iowa 26, Indiana 20
Pick: Iowa -3 (-110)
Iowa State vs. Northern Iowa Prediction
Yes, Iowa State likes to slow the game down. But they cleared the 42 total points mark in all 12 games last year.
Iowa State 34, Northern Iowa 10
Boston College vs. Colgate Prediction
I have Boston College picked 3rd in the ACC Atlantic and all the way up at #33 overall in Pick Six Previews’ preseason Top 40. But the old Switzer “half hundred” seems like a stretch, regardless of opponent.
Boston College 48, Colgate 7
Pick: Colgate +50 (-110)
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