College football picks, predictions against the spread for the top 25 games of Week 1

The top-five matchup between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 5 Notre Dame is the most anticipated game on the Week 1 schedule.

The matchup between the Buckeyes and the Irish is part of a packed five-day weekend that begins with the renewed Backyard Brawl between No. 17 Pittsburgh and West Virginia on Thursday and ends with the ACC opener between No. 4 Clemson and Georgia Tech on Thursday. Monday. There are also ranked matchups between No. 3 Georgia and No. 11 Oregon and No. 19 Arkansas and No. 23 Cincinnati.

Of those 17 games involving FBS teams in the Top 25, a total of four have spreads in the single digits. Every week, Sporting News picks all of the AP Top 25 games by difference. In Week 0, we were 5-2 S/U and 5-2 ATS. A look at this week’s picks:

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Thursday, September 1

West Virginia at No. 17 Pitt (7 p.m., ESPN)

caesars: pit-7

Sports Interaction: pit-7

It’s the first backyard fight since 2011, and emotions should run high at Acrisure Stadium. Former USC quarterbacks Kedon Slovis and JT Daniels will be in the spotlight, but the chess match between new offensive coordinators Frank Cignetti Jr. and Graham Harrell is even better. Who drops it in the first game? Four of the last five meetings have been decided by four points or less.

To choose: Pitt wins 29-23 but DOES NOT COVER the difference.

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Central Michigan at No. 12 Oklahoma State (7 p.m., FS1)

caesars: Oklahoma State -21

Sports Interaction: Oklahoma State -21

Do you remember what happened last time? The Chippewas won in a Hail Mary-plus-sides thriller 30-27 in 2016. Don’t say Cooper Rush too loudly. Oklahoma State is still a sleeper Big 12, and they should walk away in the second half if they can contain second-team SN All-American Lew Nichols, who led the FBS with 1,848 yards and 16 TDS last season. The Chippewas were 4-1 ATS as dogs last season, and this line has added three points since opening.

Pick: Oklahoma State wins 34-16 and DOES NOT COVER the difference.

Friday, September 2

Western Michigan at No. 15 Michigan State (7 p.m., ESPN)

caesars: Michigan State -20

Sports Interaction: Michigan State -20

This is another line that has risen 3.5 points from its opening spread. The Spartans have a new backfield in Jarek Broussard and Jalen Berger, and veteran quarterback Peyton Thorne returns for Mel Tucker. La’Darius Jefferson and Sean Tyler are a capable duo at running back for the Broncos, but new quarterback Jack Salopek threw just five passes last season.

To choose: Michigan State wins 35-17 and DOES NOT COVER the difference.

Saturday, September 3

Colorado State at No. 8 Michigan (12 p.m., ABC)

caesars: Michigan -27.5

Sports Interaction: Michigan -27.5

Opinions vary on Michigan this season, but the offense must remain dynamic no matter how Cade McNamara and JJ McCarthy split first-team reps. The Wolverines were 5-1 ATS when favored by more than 14 points last season. Better days lie ahead for the Rams under Jay Norvell, but that’s a lot to ask for in Game 1.

To choose: Michigan wins 48-13 and COVERS the spread.

No. 13 NC State at East Carolina (12 p.m. ESPN)

caesars: North Carolina State -10

Sports Interaction: North Carolina State -10

There are high hopes in Raleigh, NC surrounding a loaded NC State team that features veteran quarterback Devin Leary, but the Wolfpack has missed its last two trips to East Carolina. The Pirates were 3-1 ATS as double-digit underdogs last season, but that loss was a blowout against Cincinnati.

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To choose: NC State wins 34-20 and COVERS the spread.

UTEP at No. 9 Oklahoma (3:30 p.m., FOX)

caesars: Oklahoma-31.5

Sports Interaction: Oklahoma-31.5

The Sooners are starting a new chapter with Brent Venables, but this will be where new offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby shows off a high-powered offense around Dillon Gabriel and a talented supporting cast. UTEP has a Week 0 game under its belt, but this won’t be pretty in the second half.

To choose: Oklahoma wins 51-14 and COVERS the spread.

No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 11 Oregon (3:30 p.m., ABC)

caesars: georgia -17.5

Sports Interaction: georgia -17.5

This is a huge line for the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game. Georgia was 7-3 ATS when favored by double figures last season, but the Bulldogs lost 15 players in the NFL Draft. It’s still a loaded list, but it’s one that Oregon coach Dan Lanning, who was Georgia’s defensive coordinator, knows well. Former Auburn quarterback Bo Nix also has some familiarity with the Bulldogs, and the Ducks are more talented than they’re given credit for here.

To choose: Georgia wins 32-20 but DOES NOT COVER the difference.

No. 23 Cincinnati vs. No. 19 Arkansas (3:30 p.m., ESPN)

kj-jefferson-9-29-getty-FTR.jpg

caesars: Arkansas-6.5

Sports Interaction: Arkansas-6.5

The Bearcats are back, and they won’t back down from the challenge of playing a true SEC sleeper in Arkansas, which is led by dual-threat quarterback KJ Jefferson (above). Ben Bryant and Evan Prater are vying for the starting quarterback job, and this is a tall order on the road. The Razorbacks pull away in the fourth quarter.

To choose: Arkansas wins 31-21 and COVERS the spread.

No. 24 Houston at UTSA (3:30 p.m., CBSSN)

caesars: Houston -5.5

Sports Interaction: Houston -5.5

The Cougars have inherited the 5-man tag, and quarterback Clayton Tune leads a talented roster. This is a dangerous matchup in the state. The Cougars have also handled these matchups in recent seasons. That said, UTSA is returning quarterback Frank Harris, and Arkansas transfer Trelon Smith could have an impact.

To choose: Houston wins 34-30 but DOES NOT COVER the difference.

Troy at No. 21 Ole Miss (4 p.m., Red SEC)

caesars: Old Miss -22

Sports Interaction: Old Miss -22

Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin worked the portal for new quarterback Jaxson Dart and running back Zachary Evans, and those stars will be on display in the opening game against the Trojans. The Rebels are just 7-6-1 as favorites under Kiffin, so this is a tough spread to follow. It could be tight on the deck.

To choose: Ole Miss wins 38-14 and COVERS the spread.

No. 25 BYU in South Florida (4 p.m., ESPNU)

caesars: BYU-12

Sports Interaction: BYU-12

BYU has a tough schedule this season, but the Cougars are equipped to handle it with quarterback Jaren Hall. BYU was just 3-7 ATS as a favorite last season. They start this season at the other end of that trend.

To choose: BYU wins 39-22 and COVERS the spread.

Rice at No. 14 USC (6 p.m., Pac-12 Network)

caesars: CSU-34.5

Sports Interaction: CSU-34.5

Who’s ready to overreact to Lincoln Riley’s experience in Los Angeles? The Trojans should have an explosive offense around Caleb Williams, Travis Dye and Jordan Addison, and Rice gets in the way here. Look for the Trojans to make an authoritative opening statement against an outmatched opponent. It’s still a huge line to deal with.

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To choose: USC wins 52-10 and COVERS the spread.

No. 7 Utah at Florida (7 p.m., ESPN)

caesars: Utah -2.5

Sports Interaction: Utah -2.5

The Utes are the favorites, and they are talented enough to travel and win on the road around quarterback Cam Rising and a strong running game with Tavion Thomas. The X factor here is new Florida coach Billy Napier and quarterback Anthony Richardson. Is there room for a Week 1 surprise? The hits continue to arrive for the Pac-12 in a “stir” in El Pantano. The Gators haven’t lost a home opener since 1989.

To choose: Florida wins 27-26 in a Riot.

Miami, Ohio at No. 20 Kentucky (7 p.m., ESPN+)

caesars: kentucky-18

Sports Interaction: Kentucky-17.5

There is real excitement surrounding the Wildcats this season, and quarterback Will Levis is leading what should be one of the best offenses in the SEC this season. The RedHawks endured a 31-26 loss at Minnesota last season and are a decent pick to win the MAC. That won’t be enough in Lexington.

To choose: Kentucky wins 40-20 and COVERS the spread.

Utah State at No. 1 Alabama (-39) (7:30 p.m., SEC Network)

caesars: al-39

Sports Interaction: al-39

Alabama games are going to have spreads like this, and they’re eternally hard to measure. Yes, the Crimson Tide should get to pick their marker in the second half, and Bryce Young has to get comfortable with a new core of receivers. The Aggies have a Week 0 game under their belt, but that’s not enough against a defense led by Will Anderson. The Crimson Tide covered the two times they were favored over 30 points last season.

To choose: Alabama wins 50-10 and COVERS the spread.

No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Ohio State (7:30 p.m., ABC)

caesars: Ohio State -17.5

Sports Interaction: Ohio State -17.5

The line continues to rise in favor of the Buckeyes, with few giving the Irish a chance to win outright at The Shoe. Ohio State’s offense is going to be tough to stop around CJ Stroud and a loaded group of receivers, and there’s pressure on Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner in his first big start. The Buckeyes have won the last four meetings of this shortened series by an average of 16 points per game. Can new Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman turn that tide against an elite opponent down the road? What does new Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles bring to that side of the ball? The Irish sneak out the back door late.

To choose: Ohio State wins 42-27 and DOES NOT COVER the spread

BENDER: Big Ten should stop programming Notre Dame

Monday, September 5

No. 4 Clemson vs. Georgia Tech (8 p.m., ABC)

caesars: Clemson-21

Sports Interaction: Clemson-21

Clemson beat Georgia Tech 73-7 in 2019, but posted a 14-8 win with a goal-line position last season. So what is going to be at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium? The Tigers should be nasty on defense, and this feels like the first of many “fast break” games in the ACC. We’re going to trust the big plays to come back for the Tigers.

To choose: Clemson wins 38-13 and COVERS the spread.

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