As we enter the first full week of the 2021 college football season, we must come to grips with the fact that we don't know a whole hell of a lot yet. Don't feel bad about it; it's nearly impossible this season. Not only are there the typical questions surrounding any team, but we have to toss on another layer: Who even knows what to take away from 2020?
How can you look at a Pac-12 team that played four games and compare its performance to an SEC team that played 10? What can you take away from them that has any meaning moving forward?
While these questions are difficult, sportsbooks don't seem to have the answers. I went 1-3 in my four picks last week, but I took solace in the fact that the books swung and missed as much as I did. Just look at the six games featuring FBS teams so far and compare the final margins to the game spreads.
San Jose State
On average, the lines for these six games were off by 14 points. That's two touchdowns! Yes, it's a small sample size, but you don't typically see the lines prove to be that far off.
So, keep that in mind as you prepare yourself for the first full week of the season. I wouldn't get too heavy until we have a better idea of what to expect moving forward, but I do like the following six plays in Week 1.
Odds via Caesars Sportsbook
Games of the Week
No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 5 Georgia in Charlotte: This is not the easiest game to prognosticate. On one side, we have a Clemson team that is replacing quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne. Then there's Georgia, which has JT Daniels back at QB but lost a couple of key players to injury at other spots, including the team's top receiver, George Pickens. There are questions on both sides, but what causes me to lean towards Georgia is that I believe the Bulldogs are one of the few teams in the country that can deal with Clemson's defensive front for 60 minutes.
Don't get me wrong, they won't stop them completely, nor will they be pancaking them all night long. But they'll hold their own and win enough battles to help the Bulldogs offense move the ball. I'm not as convinced that Clemson's offensive line will be able to do the same against this Georgia defense. It's the matchup in which I believe one team has a clear edge on the other, and it could be what decides the whole thing. Georgia 27, Clemson 24 | Pick: Georgia (+3)
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 14 Miami (FL) in Atlanta: Yeah, I'm sorry, Miami, but I don't think you're ready for this. That's not to say you won't be able to compete in the ACC, but Alabama is a different monster entirely -- even an Alabama team breaking in a new quarterback, running back, offensive coordinator, some new wide receivers ... and plenty else.
It's Alabama. It reloads every single season.
On the flip side, we have a Miami team that showed flashes last season. While I'm a big fan of QB D'Eriq King, he's coming off a torn ACL. I don't know that he's 100%, and even if he is fully healthy, Alabama has the defensive personnel to force King to stay in the pocket and win with his arm. I don't think he can do that often enough over 60 minutes, plus Miami isn't good enough defensively to stop Alabama. Nobody can stand up to the Crimson Tide in that way. Oh, and if you're wondering: Alabama is 24-12 ATS as a double-digit favorite since 2016. The Tide make a habit of covering these spreads. Alabama 42, Miami 17 | Pick: Alabama (-19.5)
Lock of the Week
UTSA at Illinois: This is one of the few Week 1 games where we have an idea of what to expect from one of the teams playing. Illinois pulled off the upset against Nebraska last Saturday, and this line has not adjusted to what we saw. Illinois' win wasn't a fluke. This is a team that was able to dominate Nebraska in the trenches for most of the afternoon, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The Illini played a lot of man and QB spy to take away Adrian Martinez and force him to beat them with his arm. He couldn't.
I anticipate the Illini defense doing something similar against a UTSA team that rushed for more than 215 yards per game last season. The problem with the Roadrunners is they ranked 84th nationally in passing efficiency. I expect the Illinois defense to do everything in its power to take RB Sincere McCormick (1,467 yards, 11 TD last season) out of the picture and force UTSA to beat it in other ways. Illinois 31, UTSA 17 | Pick: Illinois (-5)
Under of the Week
No. 10 North Carolina at Virginia Tech (Friday): This is a big game right off the bat for both teams. North Carolina enters as a top-10 team seen by many to be Clemson's biggest threat in the ACC. Now, "biggest threat" is relative, but the Tar Heels nevertheless are still a popular pick to win the ACC Coastal. Meanwhile, the Hokies aren't at the top of many lists for contenders in 2021, but they are still dangerous -- particularly at home in front of a packed Lane Stadium.
The Hokies will approach this game cautiously. This is an offense that ran the ball 61.8% of the time last season, which ranked 11th nationally. They're facing a North Carolina group that finished 2020 ranked 79th in defensive success rate against the run. I expect Virginia Tech to try to bleed the clock and limit possessions to slow down an explosive North Carolina offense because it's the only way they can keep pace. This should lead to a lower-scoring affair. North Carolina 31, Virginia Tech 24 | Pick: Under 64
Under the Radar Play of the Week
Southern Miss at South Alabama: I mentioned before that the lines were way off last week as we all try to adjust to a new season. In that vein, this game stood out because my numbers suggest the wrong team is favored. At a neutral site, I'd have Southern Miss roughly four points better than South Alabama. Even with the game in Mobile, Alabama, the atmosphere at Hancock Whitney Stadium isn't worth five points, so I'm all over the Golden Eagles.
Also, I'm a fan of what first-year coach Will Hall did as an offensive coordinator at Tulane the last few seasons. This Southern Miss offense could have a few wrinkles that the Jaguars aren't prepared for. I'm a believer that South Alabama coach Kane Wommack will do a solid job, but it's going to take him some time. Southern Miss 34, South Alabama 28 | Pick: Southern Miss (+1)
Fade of the Week
New Mexico State at San Diego State: Listen, we might be fading New Mexico State every week of the season until they give us a reason not to. The Aggies lost to UTEP by 27 points last week, and the Miners are expected to be one of the worst teams in the country. I don't doubt that San Diego State will steamroll the New Mexico State this weekend, but I'm going to take a more cautious approach.
The full-game spread has the Aztecs as 31.5-point favorites, but I'm a bigger fan of laying the points in the first half. I don't want to run the risk of San Diego State removing its starters in the second half and taking its foot off the gas, allowing the Aggies to cover. I don't think covering 20 points before halftime is too much to ask of this Aztecs team, at least not against New Mexico State. San Diego State 31, New Mexico State 3 | Pick: San Diego State 1H (-19.5)
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 1, and which national title contender will go down hard? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread -- all from a proven computer model that has returned over $3,600 in profit over the past five-plus seasons -- and find out.