The first two weeks of the 2022 college football season are nearly upon us. While most of the country’s top teams won’t face significant challenges on their schedule until they enter conference play, a few marquee matchups could have College Football Playoff implications down the road.
With less than a month before games kick off, our analysts tackled some of the most important questions surrounding the first two weeks to help bettors get the jump on early line movement before it’s too late.
Monday: Heisman Trophy race
Tuesday: Win Totals
Wednesday: Conference title races
Thursday: Week 0/1 tips
Friday: National title odds
Oregon vs. Georgia (-17.5) and Notre Dame at Ohio State (-14.5) are two games that could impact the CFP landscape. What are your early thoughts on those two matchups?
Bill Connelly, ESPN Football Insider: Let’s put it this way: SP+ couldn’t possibly be higher on Ohio State — it has the Buckeyes No. 1 over Georgia and Alabama thanks to how highly it thinks of the Buckeyes’ offense — and it still projects them to beat Notre Dame by only an average of 12.8 points. Obviously if Notre Dame’s quarterback situation remains blurry, the Irish could bobble, but they have the kind of experience and physicality in the trenches that Ohio State struggled with at times last season (particularly against Michigan and Oregon). If I’m putting money on that one, I’m picking the Irish..
It’s kind of the same story with UGA-Oregon. SP+ never saw Oregon as a serious contender last season, projects the Ducks just 24th to start the year and still has them as only 13.5-point underdogs in this one. The “Kirby Smart facing his former protege (Dan Lanning)” angle makes things a bit weird, especially if Smart is as mean to former assistants’ teams as Nick Saban has tended to be through the years. For that reason, I wouldn’t put money on this either way. But 17.5 points is awfully aggressive.
Stanford Steve Coughlin, ESPN betting analyst: I don’t like both games, but if I had to lean, I would rather lay the 14.5 with Buckeyes because they can turn it into a shootout. When I look at the other game, Oregon has a ton of experience coming back on the offensive line, and Lanning has enough talent to frustrate Georgia’s offense while the Ducks’ offense attempts to shorten the game on the ground. Georgia also has to replace players on defense, with many replacements playing considerable time for the first time in their careers.
Other notable games include Utah (-2) favored in Gainesville at Florida, an FSU/LSU (-3) matchup in New Orleans and Clemson (-19.5) meeting Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Anything catch your eye on those?
David Hale, ESPN college football writer: I like the ‘dogs across the board. The long road trip for Pac-12 teams to start the season hasn’t usually ended well, and Florida will be fired up to start the Billy Napier era. Brian Kelly’s rebuild at LSU might work out nicely, but Mike Norvell has had three years to remake FSU, and this has the makings of a coming-out party for the Seminoles. And while I fully expect Clemson to win comfortably, there’s nothing about last year’s Tigers that leads me to believe they should be giving close to three TDs on the road in a season opener this time around.
Joe Fortenbaugh, ESPN betting analyst: I’d grab the points with the Seminoles, who get a tuneup against Duquesne the week before traveling to New Orleans. That’s a big advantage over Brian Kelly’s LSU Tigers, who will be making their season debut in this matchup. With 16 starters back from a year ago, this is Norvell’s best team since arriving in Tallahassee. LSU returns only 11 starters, has a new head coach and will be trotting out former Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels. For those who are unaware, it didn’t end well for Daniels in Scottsdale, so I’m not exactly bullish on his chances in Baton Rouge.
Connelly: I love Utah this season. The Utes should have another Utah-level defense this season, and they’ve rarely had QB play as good as what Cameron Rising delivered (albeit in a run-heavy offense) last season. Florida is an absolute mystery, but I at least understand why the Utes are favored. I agree that FSU might be capable of a solid step forward, but I assume Brian Kelly raises LSU’s floor pretty far and pretty quickly, so I’m not touching that one. Favoring Clemson by 19.5 points means you actually expect the offense to score at least 20 points. That feels dicey based on what we saw last season, but Georgia Tech could be really, really bad.
What about the rest of Week 0 and Week 1? Which games should bettors jump on now?
Connelly: You know what? It’s time to live a little, get some adrenaline going and put money on UConn. Yes, I said it. They’re +28 against Utah State to start the season, and I feel like the Aggies are a pretty big regression contender this season. (Or maybe wait and live bet this one if it’s still close after a quarter or so.) If you’re looking for more logical options: NC State should probably be better than -11 against East Carolina, UCLA -25.5 is pretty aggressive against an experienced Bowling Green squad, SP+ is screaming for you to put money on Cincinnati +7 against Arkansas (I’m not quite as sure), and as excited as I am about James Madison making the FBS jump, giving them -7 against Middle Tennessee right out of the gate seems like a bit much.
Fortenbaugh: TCU -8.0 at Colorado. The Sonny Dykes experience comes to Fort Worth, where 18 starters from last year’s squad are back and ready to embrace a new era. SMU won a grand total of 15 games in the four seasons before Dykes took the reins. In his four years on the job, Dykes doubled that number. Colorado is going through a transition on offense and lost five of its top seven defensive tacklers. That 8 number feels like too many points to lay for the Buffaloes.
Chris Fallica: TCU -8.0 at Colorado. The Buffs are going to have a hard time matching TCU point for point given their inexperience at QB and RB. Whoever wins the QB job for the Horned Frogs will have plenty of offensive weapons at his disposal in Dykes’ offense. I’d expect this number to move, so at the very least, you’re probably getting some closing line value by playing this early.
The Oct. 8 matchup between Texas A&M and Alabama in Tuscaloosa is sure to generate a lot of interest after quarrelling between Jimbo Fisher and Nick Saban in the spring. The Tide are currently 14.5 points favorites. Is that too much or not enough?
Connelly: SP+ says Bama by about 12.6, so that’s a pretty good line. But it would be really disappointing if, after so much chirping and anticipation, this game played out in rather normal fashion. Anything beyond an A&M upset or a 35-point Bama win will feel like a letdown.