NCAA Football

Wisconsin Badgers vs. LSU Tigers Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

The Wisconsin Badgers are not used to starting the year against such a tough opponent and will put their 16-game winning streak in season openers on the line when they face the LSU Tigers at NRG Stadium in Houston.

Wisconsin began last season at home against UMass and barely covered the spread in a 45-0 rout. This year, the Badgers open as rare underdogs, a role that not been kind to Wisconsin bettors.

 

Point spread: LSU opened as 6.5-point favorites, but it had been bet down to five points by Thursday; the total was 50 at NRG Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 42.3-37.9 Badgers

 

Why the Wisconsin Badgers can cover the spread

The Tigers are coming off a win against another Big Ten team, topping Iowa 21-14 in the Outback Bowl. However, the Tigers just missed covering the spread against the Hawkeyes and failed to beat the line in five of their last six games to end last season despite winning four of five straight up, including the bowl victory.

LSU comes into this game as the No. 13 team in the AP Top 25 poll, but Wisconsin sits just one spot behind at No. 14 and figures to be extra motivated now that the injury to Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller has left the Big Ten wide open.

Wisconsin has a real opportunity here to make a big statement as a serious national title contender on national television. Running back Melvin Gordon also gets a chance to polish his Heisman resume, as he currently sits as a 12-1 bet to win the award.

 

Why the LSU Tigers can cover the spread

Wisconsin was favored by more than 40 points in each of its first two games last season, so to say this game at LSU is a huge step up in competition is a massive understatement. The same can’t be said for the Tigers, who beat TCU 37-27 in last year’s season opener as four-point favorites and routed Oregon 40-27 in their first game three years ago as three-point underdogs.

To make matters worse for the Badgers, they start 2014 trying to end a two-game skid both straight up and against the spread despite being favorites in both, including a 34-24 loss in the Capital One Bowl to another SEC team in South Carolina. LSU has the talent necessary to extend that slump for Wisconsin here. It will also extend the 2-14 SU slump when the Badgers get points on the road.

 

Smart Pick

Just about any SEC vs. Big Ten battle tends to favor the former, and this one is no different. Both teams have new starting QBs—junior Tanner McEvoy for the Badgers and a player yet to be named for the Tigers, either sophomore Anthony Jennings or freshman Brandon Harris—and both have strong running games.

But LSU’s talent pool is just too deep, giving the Tigers a significant edge to pull away late in the game for the SU and ATS win. Also remember the name Leonard Fournette, the highly rated LSU RB who could make this his coming-out party for a Heisman Trophy chase.

 

Trends:

  • Wisconsin is 9-4 ATS in its last 13 games
  • LSU is 1-5 ATS in its last six games
  • Badgers just 2-12 SU as road dogs since 2005
  • LSU played over in eight of past nine openers

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates, and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Hype: Welcome Back College Football

The 2014 college football season is officially here. Take a look at some of the best highlights from the 2013 season. Who do you think will have some highlight-reel plays this year?

Watch the video to see the ultimate college football hype tape.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Crimson Tide vs. West Virginia Mountaineers Betting Odds: Pick, Preview

The Alabama Crimson Tide opened the past two seasons with blowout victories over Michigan and Virginia Tech, covering big point spreads on both occasions.

Bama will try to do it again when it opens this 2014 season against the West Virginia Mountaineers on Saturday afternoon at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

 

Point spread: The Crimson Tide opened as 25-point favorites; the total was 55.5 at the Georgia Dome, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report). 

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 48.3-19.4 Crimson Tide

 

Why the West Virginia Mountaineers can cover the spread

The Mountaineers are coming off their first losing season since 2001, but they've got 13 starters back, including two quarterbacks with starting experience, last year's top three receivers and seven on defense, including six of the back eight.

Even with an offense that struggled at times last year, West Virginia hit the 30-point mark half a dozen times. And as underdogs of three touchdowns or more, the Mountaineers covered two out of three games last year. West Virginia may not pull the upset here, but it has the ability to keep things close.

 

Why the Alabama Crimson Tide can cover the spread

The Tide return 12 starters this season, but, as always, top-notch talent is in place to fill the holes. Florida State transfer Jake Coker and senior backup Blake Sims are still battling for the starting QB spot, but, either way, their main responsibility will be to hand the ball off to Heisman candidate T.J. Yeldon, who will be running behind an offensive line with three starters back.

Defensively, only five starters return, but two years ago, when that unit also had just five returning starters, it held foes to 11 points per game. Last year, Alabama was favored by more than three touchdowns eight times and covered the spread in five of those contests.

And it is 4-1 ATS opening the season the past five years.

 

Smart Pick

It may have holes to fill at quarterback and on defense, but Alabama is a program that reloads rather than rebuilds. The Tide will contend for a spot in the new four-team College Football Playoff this season, and they are currently one of two teams favored to make the mini-tournament.

West Virginia, on the other hand, may be a program on the decline. The move to the offensive-minded Big 12 hasn't gone too well so far, as the Mountaineers can't simply outgun foes like they used to do in the Big East.

However, in this spot, if the passing game can produce 21 points, West Virginia has a good chance to cover this spread. So the pick for this matchup is to take the points with the dog.

 

Trends:

  • The total has gone over in six of West Virginia's last seven games
  • Alabama 4-1 ATS past five openers
  • Over is 9-2 past 11 West Virginia games in September

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates, and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Hurricanes vs. Louisville Cardinals Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

The Louisville Cardinals, competing in the new American Athletic Conference last year, didn't play one game against a ranked team.

And while they went 12-1, they went just 5-7 against the spread. Now the Cardinals take a step up in competition and begin life in the Atlantic Coast Conference when they host the Miami Hurricanes Monday night.

 

Point spread: The Cardinals opened as three-point favorites; the total was 54 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 46.2-31.5 Cardinals

 

Why the Miami Hurricanes can cover the spread

The Hurricanes return 14 starters this season, seven on each side of the ball. They have to replace quarterback Stephen Morris, but running back Duke Johnson is back after missing the last half of last season with a bad ankle, along with three along the offensive line.

And the defense returns four of last year's top six tacklers, and five of the back seven. Miami started 7-0 last year before losing Johnson and won three road games.

This is the Hurricanes' fourth season under head coach Al Golden, and they might have their best team yet for him. With some decent play from the QB spot, Miami should be right in this game. They are 5-1 ATS in their past six openers, according to Odds Shark’s Week 1 trend sheet.

 

Why the Louisville Cardinals can cover the spread

The Cardinals lost their head coach (Charlie Strong) and their starting quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater) over the offseason, but with new coach Bobby Petrino—who led this program to initial prominence a decade ago—back in charge, the offense should continue to click.

Louisville returns last year's leading rusher, leading receiver and four along the offensive line, and just enough talent remains on defense. The Cardinals are 12-2 SU at home over the last two seasons, and with a win it wouldn't take much to cover the short spread.

 

Smart Pick

This game is a rematch of last year's Russell Athletic Bowl, won by Louisville, 36-9. The Cardinals covered easily as five-point favorites, but a lot of guys who played for the 'Ville that night have moved on. Miami looks like it holds an edge in the comparison of the two defenses, and with Johnson back the 'Canes should be able to grind out some drives on offense.

Plus, Miami may have a bit of revenge in mind. And with a new coach comes new systems, so Louisville might go through a learning curve early this season. So the pick for Monday night is Miami as a road dog.

 

Trends:

  • Miami is 7-2 ATS in the past nine games as road underdog
  • Louisville is 7-1 SU in its last eight games at home
  • Miami is 5-1 ATS in the past six openers

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark; all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line-move updates and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2014 College Football Doppelgangers

There is time enough the next five months to watch college football players on film, hidden beneath a cloak of padding and uniform, and talk about how they look on the field.

Now is our last good chance to talk about how they look.

Yes, it's frivolous, but with Texas A&M and South Carolina kicking off the earnest college football season Thursday at 6 p.m. ET, we only have a few hours of frivolousness left before things get real. (And if last night was any indication, we might not even have that.)

So let's indulge ourselves with some 2014 doppelgangers—if only to get the offseason out of our systems while we still can.

Enjoy!

Begin Slideshow

Florida State Seminoles vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys Betting Odds: Pick, Preview

The Florida State Seminoles pulled off a tough trick last year, rampaging to a national championship and making a bunch of money along the way, going 11-2 against the spread despite battling some huge point spreads.

The 'Noles begin defense of their title when they take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys on a (supposedly) neutral field in Arlington on Saturday night.

 

Point spread: Seminoles opened as 17.5-point favorites; the total was 63 at AT&T Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 65.3-44.9 Seminoles (we see the computer projection here as extremely high)

 

Why the Florida State Seminoles can cover the spread

The Seminoles come back this year with 13 returning starters, two more than they had heading into last season. Seven starters return on offense, including Heisman-winning QB Jameis Winston, 1,000-yard receiver Rashad Greene and four along the offensive line. Six are also back on a defense that held foes to 12 points per game last year. Winston was able to play through distractions last season to complete 67 percent of his throws for 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman.

If healthy, and behaving himself, he might only get better. This is essentially a road game for FSU, and the Cowboys have been lame as home underdogs lately.

 

Why the Oklahoma State Cowboys can cover the spread

The Cowboys only return eight starters from a team that almost won the Big 12 last year, but at least a couple of key cogs are in place. Quarterback J.W. Walsh completed 60 percent of 190 passes last year as a redshirt freshman, and RB Desmond Roland averaged almost five yards per carry while scoring 16 touchdowns. Oklahoma State was only dogged on the betting line once last year, and it upset the hell out of Baylor in that instance.

And over the last three seasons, the Cowboys are 4-2 ATS as underdogs. Also, most of the crowd should be on OSU's side Saturday night considering the game is being played about an afternoon's drive south of Stillwater.

 

Smart Pick

Florida State is the preseason No. 1 in every poll, and for good reason. The 'Noles outscored foes last year by a 52-12 per-game average, and they could post similar numbers this year. Winston is great, the offensive line is one of the best in the country and the talent is on hand to fill holes on defense. Oklahoma State, meanwhile, is probably heading into a rebuilding year, with seven new starters to be found on both sides of the ball.

Florida State was favored by 17 points or more 10 times last year; it went 8-1-1 ATS in those contests. If the Seminoles can hold the Cowboys to 17 points, they'll have an excellent chance to cover this spread.

 

Seminoles vs. Cowboys Trends

  • Cowboys 1-6 ATS past seven as home underdog
  • OVER is 13-2 past 15 Oklahoma State games in September

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted—check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson Tigers vs. Georgia Bulldogs Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

The Georgia Bulldogs may have lost last year’s season opener 38-35 to the Clemson Tigers, but they had won the previous five meetings—going 4-1 against the spread.

And they will have the benefit of home-field advantage this time around, even though it wasn’t very advantageous last season when the Bulldogs were just 1-4-1 ATS in home games.

 

Point spread: The Bulldogs opened as 9.5-point favorites; the total was 57 at Sanford Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 46.3-36.7 Tigers

 

Why the Clemson Tigers can cover the spread

Georgia struggled mightily against the spread overall at the sportsbooks last season, even before quarterback Aaron Murray went down with a torn ACL. The Bulldogs were just 2-8-1 vs. the line after splitting their first two games, including the season-opening setback at Clemson, and don't have Murray around to take the team's snaps at quarterback.

With Murray off to the NFL, Georgia will have to turn to fifth-year senior Hutson Mason, which could give Clemson enough of an edge for them to get the payout on the road. They face a team that has won 24 of 28 games as home chalk over the past few seasons.

 

Why the Georgia Bulldogs can cover the spread

The Bulldogs will be facing a new quarterback for the Tigers in senior Cole Stoudt, who replaces departed three-year starter Tajh Boyd, also in the NFL after setting nearly every passing record at the school. Stoudt saw limited action last year, completing 47 of 59 passes with eight career touchdown passes against only one interception.

So the Tigers may appear to have a slight edge under center, but they are also without star wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who was selected with the No. 4 overall pick in the NFL draft.

Without Watkins, it remains to be seen if Clemson can air it out and cover the number at the sportsbooks. Georgia has dominated ACC teams against the number over the past decade, according to the Week 1 trends report at Odds Shark.

 

Smart Pick

Even though these teams have faced each other only once in the last decade, the Bulldogs have won two of the last three home meetings by more than two touchdowns, which bodes well for them as favorites of little more than a TD here.

While both QBs have been in their respective systems for a while, Mason has more potential to become a star with better talent around him, led by junior running back Todd Gurley.

This is a huge Top 25 matchup between two highly ranked AP teams in No. 12 Georgia and No. 16 Clemson, and the host Bulldogs simply can’t risk keeping it close and will not take an early loss in this spot. Play Georgia.

 

Trends:

  • UNDER is 8-2 past 10 Clemson games vs. SEC teams
  • Georgia 12-4 ATS vs. ACC since 2002

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark; all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line-move updates and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Boise State Broncos vs. Mississippi Rebels: Odds, Analysis and Prediction

Boise State will continue with its motto of playing “anybody, anytime, anywhere” when it opens this season against the Rebels of Ole Miss on Thursday night at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

The Broncos are coming off their worst season in recent memory, and they're no longer the betting darlings of college football, with three straight losing seasons against the spread. But they have been double-digit underdogs just once in 13 seasons, and they won that game (2008 at Oregon).

 

Point spread: Rebels opened as 9.5-point favorites; the total was 54 at Georgia Dome, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 38.6-32.7 Broncos

 

Why the Boise State Broncos Can Cover the Spread

The Broncos are beginning the post-Coach Petersen era, but they are expected to continue on with their winning ways with new head coach and alumnus Bryan Harsin. Boise State returns 15 starters this season—six more than last year. Seven starters are back on offense, including senior QB Grant Hedrick, 1,400-yard rusher Jay Ajayi and last year's Top 2 receivers, Matt Miller and Shane Williams-Rhodes, while eight starters are back on defense, including the entire back seven.

Finally, over the last six seasons Boise State has been dogged by seven points or more four times (3-1 ATS, according to the college football database), so they clearly do not enjoy the underdog label.

 

Why the Mississippi Rebels Can Cover the Spread

The Rebs are heading into their third season under head coach Hugh Freeze, and college football programs often make great strides in the third seasons of coaching regimes. Ole Miss gets back 15 starters this year, including senior QB Bo Wallace, last year's two leading rushers and nine on defense, including last year's Top 5 tacklers.

The Rebels are 15-11 SU and 17-9 ATS under Freeze and 5-2 ATS when favored by seven points or more. If they can limit Boise State to 17-20 points, Ole Miss should begin this season with a win and a cover.

 

Smart Pick

The Broncos are trying to bounce back under a new head coach, while the Rebs are trying to take the next step under Coach Freeze. But Boise State will have few friends at the Georgia Dome, while Ole Miss should be backed by most of the crowd. The Broncos will also be dealing with the learning curve that comes with a new coach, at least for the early part of this season.

And one has to wonder if this Boise State program is on the same level as the one that rose to national prominence under Coach Petersen. So the pick for this season opener is to give the points with the Rebs. The computer, which admittedly isn’t always too super early in the season, is calling the outright upset.

 

Trends:

  • Boise State 3-1 ATS past four games as dogs of 7+ points
  • Mississippi trends UNDER in September games (seven of past nine)

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered first-hand unless otherwise noted—check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Wisconsin vs. LSU: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Both No. 14 Wisconsin and No. 13 LSU enter Saturday in Texas with a strong track record in season openers, with playoff aspirations and conference bragging rights on the line.

LSU has won 45 nonconference games in a row in the regular season and 11 straight openers, but this time, Les Miles' team has to answer questions under center and hope that an ultrahyped freshman can effectively take on the Badgers' defensive front right away.

Not to be outdone, Wisconsin has a 43-3 nonconference record in that same span and has won 16 straight openers. But yes, Gary Andersen in his second year is throwing a former safety under center to see what happens.

Something has to give. Before one of Saturday's marquee showdowns, here is a look at the important details.

 

When: Saturday, August 30, 9 p.m. ET

Where: Reliant Stadium, Houston, Texas

Television: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 50
  • Spread: LSU (-6.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

The Biggest Question Marks

For both teams, this classification directly applies to under center.

Despite the presence of junior Joel Stave, who completed 61.9 percent of his passes last season for 2,494 yards and 22 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, the Badgers coaching staff has decided to switch gears and roll with Tanner McEvoy in the opener.

According to Tom Oates of Madison.com, the decision likely came down to the former safety's ability to run with the football:

It probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise, though. Andersen has spoken often of his preference for a dual-threat quarterback and Stave is purely a pocket passer while McEvoy can both run and throw.

It’s likely the decision is based in large part on McEvoy’s ability to run. Andersen has talked throughout the offseason about having more big-play threats on offense and having a quarterback who can run the option and scramble adds to the arsenal.

The decision is not so simple for Miles.

Clearly, as he has announced, the team will go with a two-quarterback approach for the time being. Fans will remember sophomore Anthony Jennings for his 99-yard, game-winning drive against Arkansas last year after Zach Mettenberger succumbed to injury, but Brandon Harris is a wildly similar player who simply needed to learn the playbook.

Miles has kept the job up in the air so much that he has prevented either signal-caller from meeting with the media so as to not become a vocal leader.

It doesn't seem like a strategy to keep the Badgers on their toes, either; Miles, more than anyone else, understands that the preparation for both players is nearly identical. Chalk it up as just another wrinkle in one of the year's most intriguing matchups.

 

Traditional Rules

Fans of more traditional, gritty football won and lost at the line of scrimmage will get a nice ode to the days when that sort of thing was the only football around when these two clash.

Fans know about Wisconsin. The program churns out top-flight offensive linemen better than anywhere else, and with it comes some gaudy statistics from any and all backs who line up behind them.

Heisman contender Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement give the Badgers perhaps the most potent rushing attack of all this season, as last year's numbers help to foreshadow:

Considering the Badgers ran wild (293 yards) on an SEC defense in the Capital One Bowl some months ago against South Carolina and Jadeveon Clowney, one is safe to presume the attack can do so once again Saturday. As an added caveat, the team now has a dual-threat quarterback in the mix.

That does not mean the Tigers cannot counter, though.

Miles has two ground-efficient quarterbacks at his disposal, and after a mountain of hype thanks to 7,619 rushing yards and 88 touchdowns in high school, Leonard Fournette is set to take the collegiate world by storm. His bid to do just that comes against a solid Badgers 3-4 scheme.

Fournette is so talented, in fact, that he even has Gordon's attention, as captured by Jesse Temple of Fox Sports Wisconsin

He's getting a lot of hype, man. I can only imagine the pressure. It seems like he's a hard worker. When you're getting praise from your head coach, saying all these great things about you, you have to be doing something right. We'll see how good of a player he is. I'm sure he'll put up a performance. But I hope not too well against us.

Normally, a reliance on such a young player on a huge stage would be a detriment, but running back is one of those rare positions that typically provides a seamless transition to any level if the talent in front of him is of quality, which it is in Baton Rouge.

Again, something has to give.

 

Prediction

The only real crack in the armor for either side in this match comes in the form of Wisconsin's critical replacements.

Andersen has made quite the interesting call under center, and while it is one that could very well make him look like a genius in hindsight, right now, it is hard to get behind the idea of a player with no career attempts to his name.

Add in the fact defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's 3-4 scheme is getting an overhaul at literally every spot on the front seven, and Saturday seems a bad time to test things out.

When all else fails, because picking out an advantage for either side seems impossible, the safest bet is to go with the most talent overall. That happens to be LSU at the moment, but Wisconsin won't go down without a fight.

 

Prediction: LSU 24, Wisconsin 20

 

Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson vs. Georgia: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

One of college football's fading rivalries gets renewed Saturday when No. 12 Georgia hosts No. 16 Clemson in a showdown that will surely have major playoff implications down the line.

For the hosts, it is yet another early-season roll of the dice against a major opponent rather than the conventional easy-does-it approach to the early weeks of the season most programs employ.

Both teams have sights on major things down the line, but Saturday's contest will force units in transition to sort things out in a hurry or suffer a devastating loss on a national stage.

With so much on the line between two old foes, let's take a moment to break down the key aspects of the battle.

 

When: Saturday, August 30, 5:30 p.m. ET

Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Georgia

Television: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 54.5
  • Spread: Georgia (-9.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Picking Up the Pieces

First and foremost, don't expect a boatload of scoring between the two sides this time, as both are breaking in new quarterbacks.

In the wake of record-breaking quarterback Aaron Murray's departure to the NFL, the Bulldogs now turn to senior Hutson Mason, who had never attempted more than 30 passes in a season until last year when he threw 110, completing 60.9 percent of them for 968 yards and five touchdowns to three picks.

He will be helped along by surefire Heisman contender Todd Gurley, whose rushing totals do the talking:

Senior Cole Stoudt has boots of roughly the same size to fill for Clemson with Tajh Boyd gone, but he seems at an even bigger disadvantage than his counterpart come Saturday. He threw a career-high 59 attempts last year and completed nearly 80 percent of them, but it's too small a sample size to buy stock in at the moment.

Stoudt also has to overcome a unit that will sorely miss wideouts Sammy Watkins (1,464 yards and 12 scores last year) and Martavis Bryant (828 and seven), running back Roderick McDowell (1,025 and five) and lineman Brandon Thomas.

To his credit, Stoudt seems ready to seize the proverbial bull by the horns, as Clemson Football captures:

To make matters even worse, Georgia has a new defensive coordinator in Jeremy Pruitt, who hails from Florida State. He gets to send the nation's best group of linebackers after Stoudt and Co., led by Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera, the former the SEC's leading tackler last year. Oh, and he has five upperclassmen to work with in the trenches.

Clearly, being on the road is not the biggest worry for the Tigers. 

 

The Future

That's what it is all about Saturday. 

Playoff implications run rampant in this one, although Clemson coach Dabo Swinney points out that it is the first game of the year, per The Associated Press, via Fox News:

God forbid we go down there and lose the game. But if we do, Georgia's not in the playoffs and we're not out of it. It's a long season, it's a long way to go. And vice versa, if we win the game, let's not punch our ticket to Dallas just yet. We've got a long way to go in a long season. Every game is critical.

But the underlying implications, as USA Today's Dan Wolken explains, are massive for a rebuilding Clemson squad:

For Georgia, a bit of the past seeps into Saturday to form a potent mixture given the volatility of the SEC.

Bulldogs faithful will, with a reluctant reach into the memory banks, recall the 38-35 loss last season to kick off the year. It sent the team on its way to five total losses.

Revenge and future fortunes are quite the enticing set of motivators, so a new-look Clemson squad needs to fire on all cylinders out of the gate or risk throwing the season in jeopardy, even if Swinney has downplayed a potential loss.

 

Prediction

Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley might just be the nation's top defender this season, but he will not be able to stop Gurley and a host of others in a hostile environment.

Look at it this way. Georgia is without Murray, sure, but last year the Bulldogs still went to Clemson and gave the Tigers all they could handle despite missing Gurley for a large portion of the contest. Now things shift to Athens, and while the Bulldogs defense has improved, the Tigers have suffered numerous significant losses.

Thanks to the revenge factor, Georgia won't overlook the opposition with a date against South Carolina up next. Gurley is going to get his consistently, while Pruitt's defense will silence a developing offense.

 

Prediction: Georgia 28, Clemson 20

 

Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arkansas vs. Auburn: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Normally, a duel to start the season between a team that played in the national championship the year prior and an opponent that won all of three games is not one to catch, but something feels different about Saturday, when the No. 6 Auburn Tigers host the Arkansas Razorbacks.

As Bret Bielema heads into his second year of a rebuild at Arkansas, so too does Gus Malzahn, albeit one has had quite a bit more success than the other.

Still, Bielema's team is clearly on an upswing, while the Tigers have hit a bit of a downward trajectory in some ways after coming up 13 seconds short against Florida State in the title game.

Below, let's take a look at some of the finer details surrounding the matchup.

 

When: Saturday, August 30, 4 p.m. ET

Where: Jordan–Hare Stadium, Auburn, AL

Television: SEC Network

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 57.5
  • Spread: Auburn (-21)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

What Arkansas Does Well…

…Might just be enough to make this competitive.

The Razorbacks won all of three games last year and were handed a 35-17 defeat by Auburn in Fayetteville last year, but progression seems to be the keyword around the program.

Brandon Allen is back under center for Arkansas a year removed from throwing for 1,552 yards and 13 touchdowns to 10 interceptions while hobbled. That experience and health will presumably pay dividends.

But the real meat of the Razorbacks' approach comes on the ground thanks to a three-headed monster consisting of Jonathan Williams, Alex Collins and Korliss Marshall. Their production last season alone speaks volumes, with Marshall set to replace Kiero Small, who is now in the NFL:

With another elite rushing attack on deck and a healthy, experienced leader under center, the Razorbacks might be able to control the pace of the game in a hostile environment, somewhere they are 3-3 at since 1994 when unranked and the Tigers ranked.

It helps that Auburn has a major black eye heading into the affair.

 

The Battle Against Complacency

Auburn has already begun to slip in a way.

Quarterback Nick Marshall's offseason run-in with the law this past summer has put things in unnecessary territory, as Malzahn will indeed start Jeremy Johnson over last year's star player as a result.

Johnson has attempted just 41 passes so far in his career and is as versatile as Marshall, but it is hard to replicate what Marshall did last season—1,976 passing yards and 14 touchdowns, with another 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.

"Jeremy Johnson will start, and then Nick Marshall will play," Malzahn said, per Joel A. Erickson of AL.com. "I'm not ready to say exactly when and all that, but he definitely will play."

It's a strange situation to monitor, as a rotation at quarterback typically has a negative impact on both participants as it breaks rhythm.

Outside of that, the Tigers are clearly the more talented team on paper, and its only true hurdle come Saturday may be a false sense of confidence. For his part, Malzahn is doing what he can to stress to his team that the same sense of urgency as last year must still be present.

"We're playing an Arkansas team we believe is going to be much improved, especially in the second year with their head coach," Malzahn said, per Erickson. "We had a good game versus them last year that was probably a little closer than the score, and our guys know we'll have to play well to be successful."

Given the bitter taste of how the title game ended last year, one can presume it won't be an issue for the Tigers. But an SEC showdown to start the season, no matter what went down last year, is a dangerous concoction indeed.

 

Prediction

Bielema is going to deserve a wealth of credit by season's end. While he may not match what Malzahn was able to do last season in the biggest one-year turnaround in SEC history, the Razorbacks are going to be a much better overall squad.

Just don't expect it all to come together right away.

Auburn is by far the more talented team on the field Saturday, hence one of the reasons Marshall might be held out most of the game to drive a point home to the entire roster. In theory, Arkansas can run the ball effectively, but the offensive guru that is Malzahn can do it even better.

Don't be shocked if the Razorbacks hang around in the first half, but eventually the talent disparity will shine through, and the Tigers will distance themselves comfortably.

 

Prediction: Auburn 38, Arkansas 14

 

Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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FSU vs. Oklahoma State: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Not that Florida State needed any advantages heading into its season opener under the bright lights in Arlington, Texas, but Jameis Winston and Co. get an opponent in Oklahoma State with little experience under its belt.

College football's cyclical nature has the Cowboys in a precarious, vulnerable position now that a wealth of talent from past years has moved on, mostly thanks to eligibility's expiration date.

The Seminoles are not without their issues, but they happen to be on the opposite end of the spectrum in that regard, which, on paper, should do much to silence one of the nation's perennial offensive powerhouses.

Below, let's take a closer look at one of the marquee matches that headlines the return of collegiate football.

 

When: Saturday, August 30, 8 p.m. ET

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Television: ABC

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 63.5
  • Spread: Florida State (-17.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

The (In)Experience Factor

If the Cowboys are to emerge victorious against the No. 1 team in the land at the Cowboys Classic, Mike Gundy, now in his 10th year as coach, will need to pull off a minor miracle.

Oklahoma State is pretty much an entirely new team this season after losing 28 seniors and 13 starters in the offseason. Names that range from the recognizable (Justin Gilbert) right on down to the criminally underrated (Calvin Barnett) are gone, which means the team is more ill-equipped than ever to handle last year's Heisman winner.

Chris Nee of 247Sports puts into perspective the holes in the ship Gundy must patch: "According to research done by Phil Steele, Oklahoma State has the lowest percentage of returning letterwinners from 2013 of any team in the country. The Cowboys have 38 returning, lost 32, for a percentage of 54.29 percent."

It means that those left behind, of which there are very few, must pick up the pieces in one of the most brutal trial-by-fire scenarios possible.

One such name is defensive tackle James Castleman, who tallied 33 tackles and a sack last season. He has already spoken about taking down Winston, too.

“Of course I’d like to sack him,” Castleman said, per Kyle Fredrickson of NewsOK.com. “He’s a Heisman winner.”

Castleman is joined in the returnee department by junior quarterback J.W. Walsh. In limited action the past two seasons, Walsh has helped keep Oklahoma State's reputation as an offensive juggernaut relatively intact:

As ESPN CollegeFootball illustrates, Walsh was solid under center last season when given the opportunity, but that pales in comparison to what the Florida State defense did:

It helps that Walsh has been around Gundy's schemes for so long, but to truly influence the outcome in a positive manner, he's going to need some serious contributions from a very green defense.

 

The Experience Factor

Major departures, such as Kelvin Benjamin and James Wilder Jr., make it seem as if the Seminoles are in a bit of a rebuild mode around a Heisman winner, but that's simply not the case—six of the offensive starters alone have 10 or more starts on their resumes, and four of the five linemen in front of Winston a year ago are back.

Karlos Williams (730 yards and 11 touchdowns last season), Dalvin Cook and Mario Pender will surely support Winston effectively through sound contributions on the ground behind that elite line.

A line Winston is not shy about, either.

"Well, our offensive line is the best offensive line in the country," he said, per Natalie Pierre of the Tallahassee Democrat. "And I repeat that Florida State's offensive line is the best offensive line in the country."

There are issues, believe it or not. No. 1 wideout Jesus Wilson is still suspended thanks to an arrest earlier this summer, and linebacker Matthew Thomas is out with an ankle injury. But those are minor problems given the recruiting classes Jimbo Fisher reels in annually and the wealth of experience back for a repeat attempt.

Winston gets the headlines, and rightfully so, but it is the depth around him that puts the Seminoles over the top.

 

Prediction

There was an outside chance when this game was scheduled that the two teams would be highly ranked and give fans a can't-miss affair. The game still falls into that category, but only because Florida State has lived up to its end of the bargain.

The Cowboys will be explosive in 2014, and history points out that they have won their past six openers and are 11-2 in the state of Texas.

But this year is a unique situation, both in opponent and talent leakage. Winston will be able to exploit Oklahoma State's defense routinely, and when he does not, three backs will bully their way up and down the field to make the Cowboys' former offensive potency a moot point.

 

Prediction: Florida State 48, Oklahoma State 20

 

Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

 

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Rice vs. Notre Dame: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

For No. 17 Notre Dame, Saturday's contest against Rice is a chance to get back on track after a summer of transition and controversy, not to mention the re-debut of quarterback Everett Golson.

After a 9-4 season and a win over Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl, things went a tad south for the Fighting Irish, but playoff aspirations remain in South Bend. Rice is simply on the hunt for its first win over the major program after a 10-win season last year.

At face value, the matchup does not seem all that precarious for the Fighting Irish. But a bevy of details suggest otherwise. Let's take a look at the pertinent info.

 

When: Saturday, August 30, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana

Television: NBC

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 51.5
  • Spread: Notre Dame (-24.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Transition and Controversy

Brian Kelly seems to be alone in his consistency as things turn sour around him.

The head of the No. 17 team in the land has a pair of new coordinators to break in beneath him, with Mike Denbrock the new face on the offensive side and Brian VanGorder on the defensive.

The former has plenty of work to do with a new quarterback, while the latter has to walk side by side with Kelly into a potential matchup nightmare without some key players. 

First, the offense. After he told Sports Illustrated that he used "poor judgement on a test," per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com, Golson missed all of last season. 

Kelly announced Golson would be back under center for the Fighting Irish effective immediately, per Dan Murphy of 247Sports:

Back in 2012, Golson completed 58.8 percent of his passes for 2,405 yards and 12 touchdowns to six interceptions. As somewhat of a dual-threat player, he also carried the ball 94 times for 298 yards and six more scores.

He returns matured and ready to lead the team, as captured by Rachel Terlep of the Elkhart Truth:

It sounds great on paper, but Golson has to mesh with a new coordinator in a hurry come Saturday—his defense might need all the help it can get.

The "controversy" portion of the equation comes from the investigation into three of VanGorder's defenders. Cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore will miss the contest, per the AP, via ESPN.com.

It's not as if the defense was a source of optimism in the first place, as so many young faces are in new roles. Even VanGorder did not sound all that cheery when asked about his unit, per the AP.

"Maybe the best answer to that is, let's keep getting better as we go through the year. We have a lot of work to do. The players know it. But let's keep improving. Let's keep working. I don't know where we are right now. The one thing I do know is there's a lot better football in front of us," he said.

That developing unit will now have to encounter Rice quarterback Driphus Jackson. He's no Taylor McHargue—the man he replaces, who surpassed 7,000 yards of total offense on his career—but the junior is a dual-threat quarterback in the utmost sense.

While he has just 85 pass attempts on his career, Jackson's ability on the ground meshes well with an offense that racked up 405.6 yards and 29.6 points per game last season while ranking No. 12 in time of possession. He has experience, too—he came on in relief of McHargue last season and led the Owls to 10 points and a win against Kansas.

Jackson has his team riding high into the matchup, clearly, per the team's Twitter account:

This isn't some pushover matchup to start the season that a big program is accustomed to on a yearly basis.

The problem is only compounded by issues Kelly's team has brought upon itself. It all comes to a head Saturday.

 

Prediction

Rice's ground attack may prove difficult for a depleted, new Notre Dame front seven to handle, but those struggles should be a non-factor if Golson is back to his 2012 form and if his body can handle its first live action in quite some time.

If that's the case, the Fighting Irish should be able to get out to a sizable lead and eliminate the ground game as an option for Jackson and Co.

Rice won 10 games a season ago and can exploit weaknesses on the ground to control games with relative ease, but in a hostile environment with a new face under center, the more talented team will eventually pull through amid the chaos.

 

Prediction: Notre Dame 35, Rice 20

 

Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

 

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WVU vs. Alabama: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide start the redemption march in a matchup that had the look of a heavyweight bout when booked two years ago.

West Virginia is the guilty party for spoiling what should have been a season-opening classic at a neutral site in Georgia, having lost 14 games since agreeing to the matchup. Saban's squad has some recent history to overcome as well thanks to two losses to end last season, one being a lopsided result in the Sugar Bowl.

While surely not as great a contest as what could have been, this one still comes equipped with off-field drama, quarterback questions and serious implications on the rest of the season, not to mention the direction of each program.

Without further ado, let's take a look at all of the critical info.

 

When: Saturday, August 30, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia

Television: ABC, ESP2

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 55.5
  • Spread: Alabama (-25)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Quarterback Controversy

This one has layers to it but only thanks to Clint Trickett's big mouth.

Trickett, now a senior, let slip a slight detail in the days leading up to the contest that might incite the wrath of Saban's defense in a big way, as captured by Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

As if Trickett's job was not difficult enough before the game, the impact of that quote makes the matchup more interesting, to say the least.

That's not to suggest Trickett cannot handle the Alabama defense, but he will have to show a strong semblance of improvement from last season, his first with a large chunk of playing time. He threw for 1,605 yards and seven touchdowns and interceptions while completing just 52.8 percent of his passes.

Luckily for him, though, he won't be the only signal-caller under the spotlight Saturday.

Blake Sims and Jacob Coker still have no clue as to who the starter is as Saban continues to clutch the cards close to his chest, as Jim Dunaway of WIAT 42 Birmingham details:

Sims, now a fifth-year senior, has the edge in the experience department, although he has attempted just 39 career passes. Coker was the subject of much hype after his arrival via transfer from Florida State, where the quarterback position remains on lockdown.

Either option is a good choice given the wealth of talent that will surround the signal-callers. T.J. Yeldon is back in the fold in the backfield and is on the hunt for his third consecutive season with a minimum of 1,100 rushing yards and 12 scores. A bevy of targets through the air make the Crimson Tide one of the nation's deepest units.

Still, the game Saban continues to play is a risky one, as such a decision can certainly fragment a locker room in a hurry if not handled properly.

 

The West Virginia Mystery

In comparison to their opposition Saturday, the Mountaineers are basically an unknown.

So, here are two facts to know before things get underway in what may be a closer game than some anticipate: West Virginia runs a rather strange defense, and the offense is surely capable of being quite potent.

First, the defense. West Virginia employs a 3-3-5 stack look, which is as strange as it sounds. The scheme is clearly a bit narrow-minded in that it is meant to get extra defensive backs on the field to counter spread attacks.

Alabama wideout Amari Cooper notes that the look is giving his unit some pause, as captured by Michael Casagrande of AL.com: "They play a pretty weird defense to me. I've never went up against that type of defense. They play an odd defense with three-down linemen and two guys have to come for a receiver to be hot. So it's something we are going to work all this week, and we will get used to it."

It's a strange look that will give some inexperienced quarterbacks issues, but yes, it does seem ripe to be exploited by backs such as Yeldon.

Offensively, the Mountaineers remain one of the more explosive attacks in the country thanks to the scheme, so do not place too much stock into the loss of a back such as Charles Sims to the NFL.

Saban himself heaped praise on the unit, per Myfoxal.com:

We think this is going to be a very challenging game for us. We certainly have a lot of respect for what [West Virginia] has been able to do. They scored a lot of points last year in games that they weren't successful in winning, but they certainly were successful in being able to move the ball and score points on people.

The odds of the Mountaineers scoring on a few big plays is great, even with a somewhat new face under center and his offense being tasked with overcoming a unit that might just be the nation's best.

 

Prediction

At the end of the day, it all comes down to talent on the field.

Saturday Down South's Christopher Walsh summed up the talent disparity best:

So yes, both teams are breaking in new quarterbacks under center. Both have obvious strengths and weaknesses, but on the same field, the Crimson Tide simply trump this matchup with relative ease.

Alabama can ride the ground game to a victory Saturday, especially against a scheme that seems conducive to giving up a lot of yardage in that manner. Sometimes a plan goes awry, and that appears to be the case with this one that many thought would be a great game just a few seasons ago.

 

Prediction: Alabama 30, West Virginia 14

 

Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Power Ranking Top 5 Home-Field Advantages in Pac-12 Football

The trainers, coaching staffs and players that make up each program in the Pac-12 undoubtedly have the biggest impact on wins and losses. But part of what makes college football so special is the pageantry and atmosphere surrounding stadiums throughout the country every Saturday.

That atmosphere, aside from creating buzz and excitement, can often provide a very real advantage for the home team. That comes from deafening noise which makes it difficult for offenses to communicate and momentum that you can practically feel swirling around the stadium and washing over the home team.

But stadiums aren't simply built with an advantage in place. It's the crowd that creates the edge, and players feed off of it.

So which programs have the best home-field advantages in the Pac-12? Here's our top five.

 

All stats via cfbstats.com. We're looking at home-field advantages as they stand today in 2014. A list taking into account the entirety of a team's history would look much different.

Just missed: Washington State-Martin Stadium, Arizona-Arizona Stadium

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Power Ranking Top 5 Home-Field Advantages in Pac-12 Football

The trainers, coaching staffs and players that make up each program in the Pac-12 undoubtedly have the biggest impact on wins and losses...

Begin Slideshow

Wisconsin Badgers vs. LSU Tigers Complete Game Preview

Capping off a terrific opening-day slate, the Wisconsin Badgers take on the LSU Tigers in Houston, Texas, at NRG Stadium.  Both teams have a lot of turnover on both sides of the ball and question marks at the quarterback position.

These schools faced off twice in the 1970s, with LSU taking both games—though they haven't met since 1972 when the Tigers won 27-7 in Baton Rouge.

In light of the new College Football Playoff, high-caliber nonconference games will be played more frequently in the opening weeks of the season.  This game is no exception, and neutral-and-neutral series will become a bigger piece of the early-season schedule with television contracts being what they are.

When the two teams face off at 9 p.m. ET, all eyes will be watching (except for those watching Florida State and Oklahoma State) as both teams look to get a leg up on their playoff bid and maybe even a spot in the Top 10.

Begin Slideshow

Georgia Football: 5 Stars Who Will Break out in 2014

When the Georgia Bulldogs take on Clemson, there will be some players who stand out from the rest. Some of those players will be veterans that are expected to excel, and the others will be young players who were stars on Friday nights not too long ago.

But there are the players who have seen their time on the field but have yet to break out. Well, for five Bulldog players, that will change this year, and it starts with a strong debut on Saturday between the hedges.

So here’s a look at the five players that will break out in 2014.

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Texas Football: 5 Stars Who Will Break out in 2014

Fall camp is just about in the books, and the season starts Saturday for the Texas Longhorns, who are counting on big breakouts from their offseason stars.

With David Ash back at quarterback and both running backs healthy, all three are set to have their biggest seasons yet. On the other side of the ball, defensive end Cedric Reed and cornerback Quandre Diggs should thrive under the new system.

These players have done it before at this level, so calling them breakout candidates just undersells what they have done in the past. They have proven they are stars.

What the Horns need is some members of their supporting cast to come out and prove themselves as well. Based on opportunity and talent, these five Longhorns are the favorites to do just that.

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Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Auburn Tigers Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

The Auburn Tigers could not have played much better than they did during last year’s surprisingly good regular-season run, going 12-1 straight up and 11-2 against the spread.

Meanwhile, the Arkansas Razorbacks could not have played much worse in 2013 with a 3-9 record straight up—including a nine-game losing streak to close out the season—and a 4-8 mark against the spread. Auburn has been awesome within the SEC, while Arkansas has been awful.

 

Point spread: Tigers opened as 21-point favorites; the total was 57.5 at Jordan-Hare Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 40.4-17.4 Tigers

 

Why the Arkansas Razorbacks can cover the spread

The Razorbacks probably wish they did not have to open 2014 against the Tigers after losing to them at home 35-17 last year in Week 10. Arkansas went 0-8 SU in SEC play and 3-5 ATS, covering two of the last three on the road at LSU and Ole Miss.

This team is just 3-12 ATS in its past 15 road games overall but has fared well vs the line at Jordan-Hare Stadium, going 5-2 ATS in the last seven trips there. None of the last three meetings between the teams have been decided by more than 20 points, so maybe Arkansas can keep it within the big number of three touchdowns.

 

Why the Auburn Tigers can cover the spread

Auburn may seem to have a bit of a disadvantage to start the game, as quarterback Nick Marshall was suspended for a violation of team rules. But while Jeremy Johnson will get the starting nod ahead of him, Marshall is still expected to play and will likely put up big numbers when he does get into the game in an effort to boost his early Heisman Trophy campaign.

In the last meeting, Marshall completed seven of eight passes for 118 yards and one touchdown and added nine rushes for 59 yards on the ground. Former running back Tre Mason was the star of the game with 168 yards rushing and four touchdowns.

 

Smart Pick

The Razorbacks will not need to deal with the NFL-bound Mason here, which means he will obviously not get the opportunity to chew up the clock. Instead, expect them to test Auburn’s defense, a similar one to the unit that got burned late by Florida State in last year’s 34-31 BCS National Championship Game loss.

While Arkansas’ offense will never be confused for the Seminoles, the team has a fresh slate in 2014, and the Tigers definitely overachieved in making it as far as they did last year. Look for the Razorbacks to do just enough to hang in this one and grab the cover, giving their fans some hope for the new season.

 

Trends:

  • Auburn 8-0 ATS past eight conference games
  • Arkansas 0-12 SU, 3-9 ATS past dozen games within SEC

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates and get the free odds tracker app.

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