We are less than a month away from the kick-off of the 2012 college football season and here are some early plays for Week 1. Have the college football odds makers left us any value on the table to help start our season off right?
The 2012 college football season is now about four weeks away as the season kicks off on Thursday night, August 30th, and 5 Dimes has now released Week 1 odds on most of the games.
The highlight of opening weekend is the marquee matchup between the defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide and the Michigan Wolverines in Arlington, TX on Saturday night September 1st, but with Alabama currently at -11½ we have deemed that game unplayable for now.
There are also more conference games in Week 1 than there have been in past years, a fact probably necessitated by several conferences expanding to the point where a longer conference schedule is required. We in fact lead off with an SEC tussle between Vanderbilt and South Carolina, and other conference games include some ACC battles in Miami-Florida vs. Boston College and Georgia Tech vs. Virginia Tech.
We have no college football picks on those latter two games yet, but we do feel that there is value to be found in other spots at this early stage and that now is the best time to jump on these games before the lines start to move. Here are our early looks.
Thursday, August 30
Vanderbilt +6½ vs. South Carolina: South Carolina and Georgia are the top two teams in the SEC East, but Vanderbilt is a tough place to play and Commodores coach James Franklin guided a team that some believed would win only three games last year to a bowl game. Just ask Georgia and West Division powerhouse Arkansas how tough it has become to play in Nashville as Vandy took both of those teams down to the wire here last season when the Commodores finished 5-2 straight up and a perfect 6-0 against the spread in this stadium. Quarterback Jordan Rodgers, younger brother of the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron, should improve in his second year as a starter while the Gamecocks could still be without superstar running back Marcus Lattimore in Week 1, or it least he may still be limited less than nine months after tearing his ACL. Look for Vanderbilt to take another SEC powerhouse down to the wire in front of a frenzied home crowd with an upset not impossible.
Friday, August 31
NC State +3½ vs. Tennessee: This is one of two selections that we have that will be played at a neutral site in Atlanta. We are looking for NC State to surprise some people this season while we expect Tennessee to have a down year, so not surprisingly we are taking the points with the Wolfpack in the opener. NC State went just 7-5 during the 2011 regular season, but the Wolfpack did then beat Louisville 31-24 in the Belk Bowl. NC State can score points on anyone and it returns senior quarterback Mike Glennon and most of its offensive line. Yes, the defense was porous at times last year but it should improve with eight returning starters including superstar cornerback David Anderson, who could be the key to this selection. Anderson could be a top 10 selection in the 2013 NFL draft and he will be assigned put the clamps on whatever good Tennessee receiver (Da'Rick Rogers or Justin Hunter) is on his side. We expect him to succeed, and while Tennessee’s Tyler Bray is one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC, we do not trust the Tennessee running game if Bray does not have his usual success.
Boise State +7 at Michigan State: Every year, Boise State opens the season with a quality opponent to validate itself in the eyes of its many skeptics that still don’t consider the Broncos to have one of the elite programs in the country, and ever year so far, the Broncos have proven their doubters wrong, such as when Boise knocked off Georgia opening week in Atlanta last season. However, this will be the Broncos’ toughest task yet as this will be a true road game vs. a ranked Big Ten opponent in East Lansing with quarterback Kellen Moore and his 50-3 career record now having moved on to the NFL, and let’s not forget that running back Doug Martin is also now playing on Sundays. Still, Boise State will always be relevant as long as Chris Peterson and his 73-6 record is the head coach and the defense should be as solid as usual. That defense is the key to staying within a touchdown here and possibly shocking the world as the Spartans are starting a rookie quarterback of their own in Andrew Maxwell that can be forced into some mistakes.
Saturday, September 1
Marshall +23½ at West Virginia: Marshall almost always plays the Mountaineers tough in what has been an annual West Virginia in-state rivalry that could end for the foreseeable future this season with the Mountaineers’ leap to the Big 12. Yes, West Virginia will fit right into the Big 12 with its prolific offense that put up 70 points vs. Clemson in Orange Bowl, but don’t forget that Marshall also went to a bowl game last year and won it vs. Florida International. The Thundering Herd have one of the best defenses in Conference USA and the offense returns quarterback Rakeem Cato, running back Tron Martinez, and a good set of wide receivers. Far worse Marshall teams than this one have played West Virginia tough in recent seasons, with a key reason being that Coach Doc Holliday was on the West Virginia staff before being hired by Marshall. We are not calling for an upset here, but the big points are worth taking given the recent history.
Southern Miss +17½ at Nebraska: Speaking of inflated spreads in a game featuring a Conference USA team, we bring you a Southern Miss club that went 12-2 last year, finishing off by upsetting the heavily favored and then undefeated Houston Cougars in the C-USA Championship Game and then winning its bowl game vs. Nevada, visiting a Nebraska team that disappointed in its first year in the Big Ten. Now we get that there is a vast difference in the conferences, but with the Golden Eagles defending opposing quarterbacks in pass-happy Conference USA reasonably well, we simply do not trust the terribly inaccurate Cornhuskers quarterback Taylor Martinez giving this many points. Sure, Nebraska may be able to run at will, but that could also eat up a lot of clock, which is beneficial to a +17½ underdog, and the Nebraska defense lacks star power this year with the defections of Lavonte David and Alfonzo Dennard.
Colorado -5½ vs. Colorado State: This annual rivalry will be played at Sports Authority Field in Denver, home of the NFL’s Denver Broncos. Colorado is one of two favorites that we actually think hold some value on opening weekend. No we are not saying that the Buffaloes are a good team as they are still one of the weakest links in the Pac-12, although they did upset the Arizona Wildcats and, even more shockingly, the Utah Utes at the end of last season. However, we are talking about a Colorado State opponent here that went 1-6 in the Mountain West last season with the only win coming in the conference opener 14-10 over a New Mexico team that finished 1-11! The Rams averaged only 21.4 points and 351 total yards per game last year and they could have a redshirt quarterback in Connor Smith starting this year. Even if Smith does not win the job, the starter will be terribly inexperienced nonetheless with last year’s starter Pete Thomas transferring to NC State. Colorado has excellent linebackers in Jon Major and Doug Rippy that can make life miserable for whatever young Rams’ quarterback gets the job.
Auburn +3½ vs. Clemson: Atlanta will be a busy site on opening weekend as this will be the second game played there in as many nights. Clemson has some of the best offensive skill position players in the ACC, but we think that the Tigers are overrated because they ere rather thin on both the offensive line and defensive lone this year, which should make them vulnerable vs. physical teams. While there are not too many of those inside the ACC, Clemson is facing one in this SEC Auburn opponent. Auburn was expected to struggle in its first year without Cam Newton last year, but the Tigers were just fine outside of the SEC going 4-1 including a 43-24 destruction of another ACC team in Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Granted, the one non-conference loss came at Clemson, but Auburn has not forgotten and after being very inexperienced last season, a more mature Auburn team that is one year older while returning 19 starters can get its revenge.
Sunday, September 2
Louisville -14 vs. Kentucky: Louisville is the second favorite that we like in Week 1. Now, we are certainly not in the habit of giving double-digits in college football, but the vast differences in the two defenses here should lead to a blowout. Louisville could be a top 25 team by year’s end as the Cardinals look like the favorites to win the Big East this season. Coach Charlie Strong has done an excellent job of building a very good defense, thanks to some great recruits from the southeast where Strong was formerly a defensive coach in Florida under Urban Meyer, and the Louisville offense got better as the year went on last year and should continue to improve under the guidance of sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Conversely, Kentucky has never been known for its defense, although the Wildcats were improved on that side of the ball last year. It looks like it was just a one-year improvement though as the Wildcats must now replace six defensive starters, most notably All-America linebacker Danny Trevathan and All-SEC safety/linebacker Winston Guy.