- A few members of SI's college football staff think underdogs facing top-10 teams in the country can pull off the cover.
Week 1 of the college football season certainly provided its fair share of ups and downs for bettors. On that note, our staff picks went 4–4 against the spread last week. However, it's a whole new week, which means it's a perfect opportunity to make some more money. Here are our favorite plays for this upcoming weekend's slate.
Clemson at Texas A&M UNDER 54 points
At the risk of becoming “take the under” guy, we're continuing that strategy again this week. The Aggies’ best chance is to take possessions out of this game. First-year Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher is uniquely suited to do that. He ran one of the slowest-paced offenses in the country at Florida State. He also played Clemson every year, so he’s familiar with the personnel and knows how to keep it close even if he has an inferior team. (Case in point: Last year’s game, when a Florida State team en route to a 6-6 regular-season record was still very much in the game in the fourth quarter.) If you’re feeling especially frisky, take Texas A&M (+12), but I’m not nearly as confident about that as I am the under. The thing that can screw up my under pick is both Clemson QBs having great nights and trying to one-up each other. But playing two QBs usually leads to less consistent offensive performance, so I still feel fairly safe. — Andy Staples
Georgia at South Carolina +10
We’re not saying bet the moneyline here, because, straight up, we picked the Bulldogs. But Will Muschamp and his Gamecocks seem to be moving in the right direction, and 10 points is a lot. It’s hard to gauge either one of these teams after their Week 1 beatdowns of inferior opponents (UGA over Furman 45-0; USC over Coastal Carolina 49-15), but we know that South Carolina’s got a strong quarterback in Jake Bentley. He went 22 of 29 with four touchdowns in the opener. And remember how close last year’s match was in Athens? The Gamecocks hung around, eventually losing 24-10. — Ross Dellenger
Penn State at Pittsburgh OVER 56 points
Penn State’s offense started out slowly a week ago against Appalachian State, and it (only?) scored 38 points in regulation—but I’m still not buying that Trace McSorley’s offense won’t be one of the best in the game this year. With major losses—Saquon Barkley, Joe Moorhead—it’s going to take a few games for the group to hit its stride, but I predict a high-scoring game, or at least a step up in offensive output from the Nittany Lions, who’ll be out to prove a point. — Joan Niesen
Duke +3 at Northwestern
You may remember that last year, Duke took Northwestern behind the woodshed when these two teams met in Week 2, as Blue Devils quarterback Daniel Jones threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more in a 41–17 win in Durham. Jones was efficient and effective in the season opener against Army, and Duke got great news this week when running back Brittain Brown's knee injury turned out not to be as bad as it looked at the time. It may not be correct to call the Blue Devils one of the ACC's more explosive offenses, but they sneak up on you with the amount of points they pile up.
The Wildcats picked up a commendable 31–27 win at Purdue last Thursday, but they didn't score after halftime, and their last two touchdowns of the first half were the product of short fields caused by interceptions. They'll need to turn this into a nip-and-tuck defensive struggle to stay in it. Also of note: Fall classes don't start for another week and a half in Evanston, so whatever minor home-field advantage Vegas is assigning the Wildcats will have even less of an impact than usual. — Eric Single
Colorado at Nebraska -4
Everyone loves a renewed rivalry, and this game is taking us back to the old Big Eight and Big 12 days. The former Big 12 North teams haven’t played against each other since the 2010 season finale, after which Nebraska moved to the Big Ten and Colorado to the Pac-12. The programs played 63 consecutive years up until that point. Now, they’re playing the first round of two home-and-home series at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. Neither team has been very exciting to watch lately—Nebraska went 4-8 last year, while Colorado went 5-7—but there’s certainly some excitement surrounding the matchup with Scott Frost entering his first year coaching the Cornhuskers. Nebraska’s season opener last week against Akron was cancelled due to a lighting storm, so this will be everyone’s first chance to see what he’s working with.
Eyes will be on quarterback Adrian Martinez, the first true freshman in program history to start under center in a season opener. Untested heading into this matchup, he’ll face a defense that kept pressure on Colorado State last week, including three sacks and an interception. Martinez will rely on key returning receivers senior Stanley Morgan (school-record 986 receiving yards in 2017, second-most in Big Ten) and sophomore JD Spielman in the passing game.
The Buffs have a sharp QB of their own, however, in Steven Montez. He went 22 of 25 for 338 yards and four touchdowns—including an 89-yard bomb to Laviska Shenault Jr. in the second half—with one pick in last week’s win over CSU. Watch the quarterbacks, they will certainly be fun to watch in this one. I'll roll with the home team, though, as it aims to make a statement in Frost's debut. — Laken Litman
Eastern Michigan at Purdue -16.5
Purdue's loss to Northwestern last Thursday was impressive in its self-inflictedness. The Boilermakers managed 472 yards of total offense but turned it over four times, including three in the first half, and simply couldn't get out of their own way all game. On a crucial third down with time running down in the fourth quarter, Purdue looked to have gotten a stop that would have gotten it the ball back with a chance to win. Then, in keeping with the theme of the night, an unnecessary roughness penalty gave Northwestern a game-clinching first down. I'm banking on the Boilermakers avoiding shooting themselves in the feet for the second straight week. They have a true star on their hands in true freshman Rondale Moore, who set the school single-game all-purpose yard record in his first college football game. Eastern Michigan handled business in beating FCS Monmouth 51-17 last week, but the Eagles project as nothing more than an average MAC team. Purdue gets back on track with a comfortable 20-plus-point win at home. — Daniel Rapaport
UCLA +30.5 at Oklahoma
After UNLV cashed for us last week as a 26.5-point underdog at USC, we’re going back to the well with a large underdog on the road. Chip Kelly’s debut could not have gone worse, as UCLA lost as a 14-point home favorite against Cincinnati. Meanwhile Oklahoma absolutely crushed FAU in its season opener.
So why in the world are the Bruins the smart bet?
UCLA is a lot more athletic and talented on defense than FAU is. They also get three key pieces back on that unit after defensive back Mo Osling and defensive linemen Osa Odighizuwa and Moses Robinson-Carr all served a one-game suspension. Oklahoma’s offense is on a whole different level compared to Cincinnati’s, yet it was encouraged to see the Bruins’ defense hold the Bearcats to a paltry 2.6 yards per play in a tight second half.
Graduate transfer Wilton Speight suffered a back injury in last Saturday’s game, with true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson filling in as the signal-caller for the remainder of the contest. The Bruins also have a third potential option to start at quarterback in Devon Modster. Oklahoma has to prepare for several distinct styles depending on who is under center, which could also work to UCLA’s advantage.
Whoever the starting quarterback is, he’ll have plenty of electrifying weapons to work with in tailback Kazmeir Allen, wideout Theo Howard and tight end Caleb Wilson. Those three are a threat to score on any play. There will be some growing pains, like there were against Cincinnati, with this young offense, but I have a feeling Kelly has some tricks up his sleeve and won’t let his team fall to an 0-2 start so easily. — Max Meyer
UCLA +30.5 at Oklahoma
At the beginning of the season, this looked like a possible trap game for Oklahoma. Now, after losing its first game at home to Cincinnati, UCLA comes into this contest as an enormous four-touchdown-plus underdog.
Oklahoma barely broke a sweat in dismantling Florida Atlantic, as Kyler Murray, running back Rodney Anderson and a majority of the starters were on the sidelines by halftime. The Bruins are more talented than FAU and should be able to catch OU in difficult positions, just based off the way Chip Kelly calls plays.
But two true freshmen—Thompson-Robinson, who filled in admirably for an injured Speight, and the speedy tailback Allen, a dynamic player who is a home-run threat with each carry—provide enough potential problems to keep the Sooner defense on its heels.
While the point spread is large, don’t expect the outcome to be quite that big. One thing to keep in mind: While Oklahoma has a 28-2 win-loss record in its last 30 games as at least a 28-point favorite, the Sooners have only covered the spread 12 of those times. — Scooby Axson
Bonus: Group of 5
Air Force at Florida Atlantic -9
We know, we know. Lane Kiffin and his Owls were bludgeoned in the opener, but Oklahoma is a playoff team. Kiffin and his fast-moving, quick-scoring offense get an Air Force defense that allowed 393 yards of offense a season ago. FAU RB Devin Singletary averaged 4 yards a carry against the Sooners (18-69) and three of Kiffin’s receivers caught at least four passes. And that was all in a 63-14 loss. Back at home in Boca and playing against a team that finished 5-7 in 2017, Kiffin and his Owls find a way to piled it on, salty about last week’s result. — Ross Dellenger