It’s finally here.
While a wacky Week 0 and Thursday night’s action got us back in the swing of things, now it’s time to fully dive into Week 1 of the college football season. Get settled, y’all, because there are games all the way through Monday night.
If you’re new here, every Friday throughout the season we’ll give you a college football viewing guide by highlighting the five best games of the coming weekend. We will also pick those five games against the spread, plus some other matchups that caught our eye from a betting perspective.
(Note: All times ET, point spreads from FanDuel Sportsbook)
5. Fresno State at USC
Time: 10:30 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: USC -13.5
Coming off a season in which it finished with a losing record for the first time since 2000, all eyes will be on USC on Saturday night. Clay Helton somehow kept his job even after his team lost five of six down the stretch and missed out on a bowl game. In an effort to strengthen an offense that was far too inconsistent for its talent level, Helton brought in Graham Harrell from North Texas to install the Air Raid.
The new-look USC offense will get its first game action against the defending Mountain West champion, Fresno State. Jeff Tedford has done a fantastic job at his alma mater, going 22-6 in two seasons coaching the Bulldogs. In the two seasons before his arrival, Fresno combined for four victories. Fresno allowed only 14.1 points per game on defense last year and should be strong defensively yet again. The offense, however, returns just three starters.
Picks: Sam: USC -13.5, Nick: USC -13.5
4. Northwestern at No. 25 Stanford
Time: 4 p.m. | TV: Fox | Line: Stanford -6.5
Northwestern rebounded from a 1-3 start to make a surprising run to the Big Ten West title a year ago. To get to Indianapolis, where they were routed by Ohio State, the Wildcats won seven of their final eight regular-season games. Of those seven wins, six were by 10 points or less. Northwestern returns 12 starters entering 2019, highlighted by the linebacking duo of Blake Gallagher and Paddy Fisher. The offense will have a new starting QB. Coach Pat Fitzgerald has been tight-lipped about the starter, but most expect it to be Hunter Johnson, a former five-star recruit who transferred to Evanston from Clemson.
If it is Johnson under center for the Wildcats, he will face a tough task going against the Stanford defense in his first career start — especially when he tries to challenge Cardinal cornerback Paulson Adebo. Adebo is a proven commodity on defense just like QB K.J. Costello and left tackle Walker Little are on offense. But the Cardinal will be working in a lot of new faces entering 2019. They will have to get up to speed quickly if Stanford wants to compete for a title in the rugged Pac-12 North.
Picks: Sam: Northwestern +6.5, Nick: Northwestern +6.5
3. Houston at No. 4 Oklahoma
Time: 7:30 p.m. (Sunday) | TV: ABC | Line: Oklahoma -23
After eight seasons at West Virginia, Dana Holgorsen made a rare move from the Power Five to a Group of Five program. Holgo’s debut for Houston is going to be a tough one. He inherited a Cougars offense that returns eight starters, led by explosive quarterback D’Eriq King. King is coming off a season in which he threw for 2,982 yards, rushed for 784 yards and scored a combined 50 touchdowns. But Holgorsen also inherited a Houston defense that was torched for 70 points by Army in the Armed Forces Bowl and now has to deal with Oklahoma, the team that led the nation in points (48.4) and yards (570.7) per game in 2018.
For the Sooners, this will be our first look at Jalen Hurts in an OU jersey. Hurts, of course, spent the last three seasons at Alabama but chose to transfer rather than back up Tua Tagovailoa for another year. Hurts will have guys like Trey Sermon, Kennedy Brooks, CeeDee Lamb and Grant Calcaterra to get the ball to, but the Sooners will have a revamped offensive line with four new starters. And like Houston, Oklahoma struggled mightily on defense a year ago. Trying to contain King will be a big test in Alex Grinch’s first game as OU’s defensive coordinator.
Picks: Sam: Oklahoma -23, Nick: Houston +23
2. Boise State at Florida State
Time: Noon | TV: ESPNews | Line: Florida State -7
Even without Brett Rypien and Alexander Mattison on offense, Boise State enters 2019 as one of the top Group of Five teams in the country. But much of the team’s success could hinge on true freshman QB Hank Bachmeier, a four-star recruit who beat out a senior and a redshirt sophomore to win the starting job. The team’s strength is up front on both sides of the ball. The offensive line returns all five starters while Curtis Weaver, who has 28 tackles for loss and 20.5 sacks combined over the past two seasons, is the standout on the defensive front.
On the other side, Florida State is hoping for much better results in Year 2 under Willie Taggart. The Seminoles went 5-7 in 2018, the program’s first losing season since 1976. But the Seminoles should be an improved squad in 2019. FSU returns 16 starters and will go with James Blackman, who started in 2017, as the starting QB under new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles. FSU struggled mightily on the offensive line last fall and allowed more points per game defensively (31.5) than any other year in program history. A Week 1 win over a quality opponent like Boise State could go a long way toward getting FSU back on track.
Note: The game has been moved from 7 p.m. in Jacksonville to noon ET in Tallahassee due to Hurricane Dorian.
Picks: Sam: Boise State +7, Nick: Boise State +7
1. No. 11 Oregon vs. No. 16 Auburn (Arlington, Texas)
Time: 7:30 p.m. | TV: ABC | Line: Auburn -3.5
Oregon enters the 2019 season as Yahoo Sports’ pick to win the Pac-12. The team is ultra-talented, especially with QB Justin Herbert — a potential No. 1 NFL pick — returning for his senior season. Herbert has the luxury of playing with an RB duo that put up 1,757 yards and behind the Pac-12’s top offensive line. The defense, meanwhile, returns seven starters and has a new coordinator, Andy Avalos (formerly of Boise State).
For Auburn, a lot has been made of the schedule. And rightfully so, it’s arguably the toughest in the nation. But that has overshadowed the amount of talent on Gus Malzahn’s roster. The Tigers are loaded on defense, especially the defensive line. The offense has speed everywhere, but will be led by a true freshman QB named Bo Nix. Nix was a five-star recruit who beat out redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood for the starting spot.
The potential for overreaction is strong with this game. A win for Oregon would go a long way toward altering the national perception of the Pac-12 and could also make some believe the Ducks are legitimate College Football Playoff contenders. An Oregon win could also start a potential tailspin for Auburn and Malzahn, who has seemingly been on the hot seat for the last three seasons. A win for Auburn will make the Pac-12 an easier target than it already is.
Picks: Sam: Auburn -3.5, Nick: Oregon +3.5
Week 1’s best bets
Tulsa at No. 18 Michigan State (-23): If the Spartans are as good as everyone expects, then this should be a cakewalk. Michigan State does have a history of some close early-season games, however. Pick: Michigan State -23
Indiana State at Kansas (-4.5): Game 1 of the Les Miles era at Kansas should go well. But this line is giving me flashbacks to the times of Charlie Weis, Turner Gill and David Beaty. Kansas should win by more than a touchdown over an FCS opponent. Right? Pick: Kansas -4.5
Illinois State at Northern Illinois (-5.5): Here’s another line that looks too good to be true. Northern Illinois lost a lot of talent from 2018 and also coach Rod Carey to Temple. But this is still a bowl-bound team that should have no issue with an FCS opponent. Pick: Northern Illinois -5.5
Utah State at Wake Forest (-3.5): Some things seemed to click late last year with Wake Forest QB Jamie Newman. Utah State QB Jordan Love is getting NFL hype, but he lost his head coach, top running back and top five receivers from a year ago. I’ll take the Demon Deacons at home. Pick: Wake Forest -3.5
Georgia Southern at No. 6 LSU (-27.5): I think this is a classic look-ahead spot for LSU. The Tigers are shifting to a spread offense this year. With a trip to Austin to play No. 10 Texas in Week 2, why would they want to put their new schemes on tape? That, coupled with Georgia Southern’s proficiency at running the triple option, makes me side with the Eagles here. Pick: Georgia Southern +27.5
Notre Dame at Louisville (+18): Louisville is going with a full-blown rebuild under Scott Satterfield. The Cardinals will definitely have some extra juice playing at home in a prime-time game, but I expect the Irish to wear them down as the night goes on. Pick: Notre Dame -18
For Week 1 picks from Pat Forde, Pete Thamel and Dan Wetzel, subscribe to the Yahoo Sports College Podcast.
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