Thor Nystrom

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Week 1 CFB ATS Predictions

Thursday, August 31, 2017






Ohio State -21 at Indiana (Thursday)

 

Straight Up:  
 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 

 

Analysis:


We rank Ohio State No. 1 and they enter the year as our favorite to win the national title. Even so, laying 21 points on the road in a Thursday opener against a quality opponent seems a bit rich.


Ohio State OC Kevin Wilson was the Hoosiers’ head coach last fall. While well acquainted with Indiana’s talent, that advantage is probably neutralized by new Hoosier HC Tom Allen’s familiarity with Wilson himself. Allen was one of the nation’s best defensive coordinators before his promotion. His defense doesn’t have the athletes to shut down Ohio State, but nothing the Buckeyes do will catch the Hoosiers off-guard.


Indiana’s offense was up-and-down last fall. Experienced at quarterback (Richard Lagow) and receiver (Nick Westbrook and Simmie Cobbs), Indiana should be able to accrue enough points to get the cover against an inexperienced Buckeye secondary.  Indiana has averaged 24.5 points per game against Ohio State in their last five matchups. If they can get to 24 on Thursday night, that should be good enough to cash our ticket.


 
 

Colorado -4 vs. Colorado State in Denver (Friday)

 

Straight Up:  
 
 

Against the Spread:


 
 

 


Analysis:


Colorado State has some steam coming into this one off a 58–27 demolition of Oregon State in last week’s opener. In large part because of that result, this line has dropped four points from when it opened CU -8.


That final score was a bit misleading, though. The officials stole what would have been a game-tying touchdown from the Beavers at the end of the first half and OSU promptly went into the tank after halftime, allowing the Rams to capitalize on a series of turnovers (the final yardage battle was fairly close).


All of which sets up a short six-day turnaround for Colorado State, which was amped to open its brand-new on-campus stadium against Oregon State last week. The Rams go from that twitched-up atmosphere to Friday’s game at an NFL venue in Mile High.


Last year in this spot, the Buffaloes thoroughly manhandled the Rams, winning 44–7 with a dominant 578-225 yardage edge. Colorado returns most of its skill talent and is turning the quarterback job over to gifted redshirt sophomore Steven Montez, who I think could be an upgrade over Sefo Liufau, now a supporting actor on HBO’s Hard Knocks as a backup quarterback on the Tampa Bay Bucs.


The Buffaloes will once again stampede CSU’s flimsy defense, which got gashed by Oregon State in the first half of last week’s game before turnovers and coaching gaffes rendered the Beavers immobile late.


If there’s a concern, it’s that Colorado lost most of its outstanding secondary to the NFL over the offseason. Colorado State’s efficient offensive machine will target the new secondary early and often, which should lead to a big game for QB Nick Stevens and star WR Michael Gallup (if you’ve never seen Gallup play, do yourself a favor and tune in).


Colorado State will get its points, but they’ll be outgunned by Colorado in a high-scoring affair.


 

 

Georgia -14.5 vs. Appalachian State

 

Straight Up:  

 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 


Analysis:


Until Georgia proves it can block, I’ll be fading them against strong defenses. Appy State has one of those. And for that reason, the Bulldogs are on upset alert Saturday.


Despite boasting the running back duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel last year, the Bulldogs still struggled to run the ball at times because the offensive line finished No. 101 in S&P+ Adj. Line Yards. That unit lost three starters over the offseason, so it’s difficult to project dramatic improvement.


On top of that, QB Jacob Eason was up-and-down last fall and his receiving corps is one of the weakest among Power 5 bluebloods. In our preview of Georgia, we concluded with the following sentence: “[The Bulldogs] could either sneak into bowl season as a major disappointment, or win the SEC if all the pieces come together. We’re splitting the middle with this projection, calling for an 8-4 finish.”


Much of that projection variance is owed to questions at receiver and along the offensive line. Georgia narrowly beat cream puffs like Nicholls State (two points) and Missouri (one) last year.


As for Appy State, you no doubt know the drill by now. This is a mid-major team designed to churn Sun Belt foes into dust and to grind away at more talented opponents in the hopes of a late upset. The Mountaineers nearly upended Tennessee in last year’s opener, and they’ll finish the job here if Georgia was unable to patch the holes along its offensive line over the summer.


 


Oklahoma State -17 vs. Tulsa

 

Straight Up:  
 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 


Analysis:


This is a rough spot for Tulsa, which still hasn’t decided on a replacement for QB Dane Evans and must open against one of the nation’s most terrifying offenses.


The Hurricanes only played one Power 5 team last year. They lost 48-3 against Ohio State in Week 2. While Oklahoma State’s defense is far more generous, Mike Gundy’s spread attack should lay waste to Tulsa’s armament. Tulsa gave up 41 points to Fresno State last year, 40 to SMU, 38 to Houston, 42 to Navy and 37 to Cincinnati. None of those teams compare offensively to Oklahoma State.


The Pokes have a Day 2 NFL quarterback prospect in Mason Rudolph, a running back (Justice Hill) who topped 1,100 yards as a freshman, and one of the deepest receiving corps we’ve seen in recent years (Rd. 1 prospect James Washington along with fellow NFL prospects Jalen McCleskey, Marcell Ateman and LSU transfer Tyron Johnson).


 
 

Boise State -11 vs. Troy
 

Straight Up:  

 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 

 


Analysis:


The thinking here is that this is Neal Brown’s last season opener at Troy. In short order, he’s built a Group of 5 powerhouse, and Power 5 offers should start streaming in come December (perhaps Ole Miss has already checked in).


On Saturday, Brown will find out how far he’s come against long-time G5 superpower Boise State. It’s one of the weekend’s best matchups, and maybe even a New Year’s Six eliminator.


Both teams went 10-3 last year. Business as usual for Boise, and a six-win improvement for Brown’s bunch. Brown’s Trojans combine an Air Raid offense with a rough-and-tumble defense. That offense is led by third-year starting QB Brandon Silvers and dynamic RB Jordan Chunn, and it features a pair of ace receivers in Emanuel Thompson and Deondre Douglas.


The concern with Troy is that they’re replacing both offensive tackles, including stud LT Antonio Garcia, a Patriots draft pick in the spring. If Boise State can get to Silvers, they’ll disrupt this timing-based attack. Our uncertainty with that aspect of the game is why we’re not predicting an outright upset. Silvers was only sacked seven times last season.


 
 

 NC State -5 vs. South Carolina

 


Straight Up:  
 
 

Against the Spread:



 

 


Analysis:


In this tasty matchup between ascending programs, I don’t see the Gamecocks scoring enough to keep pace with NCSU. South Carolina’s top-heavy defense also figures to have some issues defending the various offensive weapons State uses so effectively.


The Wolfpack are intent on getting OW Jaylen Samuels more touches, which should the ACC. You’ll see Samuels lined up as a slot receiver, a tight end, a halfback and a fullback on Saturday.


But don’t forget about Nyheim Hines, an offensive weapon in his own right who played receiver last year to get on the field while Matt Dayes polished off his collegiate eligibility. Dayes is in the NFL now, which allowed Hines to shift back to running back.


South Carolina’s offense should be improved after finishing No. 120 in the FBS in total offense last year. Ten starters return on that unit, including Jake Bentley, whose insertion into the starting lineup spurred a late-season surge that allowed the Gamecocks to sneak into the postseason. Bentley’s receiving corps has at least three future NFL players.


Unfortunately, his offensive line is probably going to be overwhelmed by NC State’s fearsome front four. Edge rusher Bradley Chubb surprisingly turned down the NFL in the winter. He and his friends will harass Bentley, speed up his internal clock, and not allow his gifted receivers the time they need to develop their routes downfield.


 

 

Michigan -5.5 vs. Florida

 

Straight Up:  
 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 

 


Analysis:


Listen, I feel just as crazy for backing Florida in this spot as you must think I am. But hear me out.


Sure, the Gators will be without 10 suspended players, including offensive stars RB Jordan Scarlett and WR Antonio Callaway. And sure, it’s terrifying to back a freshman quarterback (Feleipe Franks) in an opener against a defense like Michigan’s, even if the Gators were at full strength.


But let's keep in mind that Michigan just lost 42 seniors, 17 starters and all-purpose defensive weapon Jabrill Peppers, who declared early for the NFL Draft. Those defections took bite out of the defense, specifically on the edges and in the back-half.


The Wolverines will be strong on defense again anyway. They have one of the nation’s best interior duos in DTs Maurice Hurst and Rashaun Gary, for one. But rebuilding the rest of the defense is a tall-order even for a coordinator as gifted as Don Brown.


Not only that, but Michigan’s offense will be no better than last year’s No. 41 S&P+ finish, and it may even be a little worse. The Wolverines will attempt to replace WRs Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson and TE Jake Butt with a bunch of youngsters, and I trust Wilton Speight as far as I can throw him. In addition, three All-Big Ten offensive linemen were lost to graduation.


There’s a stink coming off Florida right now that is giving us exceptional line value; it’s not every day that you can catch nearly a touchdown with a top-20 team opening against a team that lost as much as Michigan did.


I won’t argue with anyone that wouldn’t back the Gators with their enemy’s money, but this is a nice contrarian spot if you have the stomach for it. And if you need a little nudging, consider this gem of a stat from OddShark: In their last 10 games as a road favorite of a touchdown or less, Michigan is 3-7 SU and 2-8 ATS.


 
 

Marshall -1.5 vs. Miami (OH)

 

Straight Up:  
 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 

 

 

Analysis:


We’ve got some real value here because of Marshall’s struggles last season. They shockingly regressed to 3-9 after averaging 11 wins per season the three years before that.


The Herd attempted to patch up holes on its defense with Power 5 transfers, and their veteran-laden quarterback Chase Litton is now joined in the backfield by FAU transfer RB Trey Rodriguez, who drew praise from coaches over the summer.


We like Marshall by double-digits over the Redhawks, who are overvalued after their late-season six-game winning streak in 2016. Miami snuck into a bowl by beating a procession of poor MAC teams. Talent-wise, Marshall is in a different class than any of the six teams Miami beat to go bowling.


 

 

Michigan State -17 vs. Bowling Green


Straight Up:  

 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 

 


Analysis:


Similar thinking here to the Marshall-Miami matchup. We get value on both sides of the line, with Michigan State overlooked due to last year’s 3-9 finish and a nightmarish offseason. Bowling Green, meanwhile, showed promise at the end of last season by winning three straight games after a 1-8 start.


Like Miami (OH), Bowling Green beat up on the lower-half of the MAC during its winning streak. And like Marshall, Michigan State had a dominant three-year run (12 wins per season between 2013-2015) before last year’s fall from grace.


This is a talent mismatch on the field. Bowling Green allowed 77 points apiece to Ohio State and Memphis last season. They gave up 40 or more to Middle Tennessee, Toledo, Miami (OH) and Northern Illinois. MSU RB LJ Scott is in line for a huge afternoon in what we see as being a blowout Spartans win.


 


Alabama -7 vs. Florida State (in Atlanta)

Straight Up:  

 
 

Against the Spread:



 

 


Analysis:


Last season, Alabama demoralized USC in this spot. Florida State won’t wilt. HC Jimbo Fisher built towards 2017 last season, and he and his program are confident about their chances. Florida State president John Thrasher said the following at last Friday’s alumni luncheon: “I shouldn't talk too much trash, but I think we're gonna beat Alabama pretty bad next week. I really do."


On offense, Seminoles QB Deondre Francois will have to make due without RB Dalvin Cook and his two top receivers from last year. FSU is loaded with prospects receiving prospects and shouldn’t fall off much on the perimeter. Cook, meanwhile, will be replaced by what should be a strong one-two punch (Jacque Patrick and five-star freshman Cam Akers).


While we’re not concerned with the Noles’ offense, FSU will have to have fixed their deficiencies against deal dual-threat quarterbacks to beat Jalen Hurts. FSU was gashed for 1,041 yards against Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson in losses to Louisville and Clemson.


The antidote to dual-threat quarterbacks is All-World hybrid athletes who can play either deep or in the box. Future Rd. 1 pick S Derwin James was hurt last year. He’s now healthy, and his presence will level-up the impact of his defensive teammates.


As always, Alabama is stacked. While we expect Nick Saban to retain his unbeaten record against former assistants, this game should be a back-and-forth affair that is decided late in the fourth quarter. We want the points.




Virginia Tech -4 vs. West Virginia (in Landover, Maryland on Sunday)

 

Straight Up:  

 
 

Against the Spread:



 

 

 
Analysis:

FedEx Field is the site of this matchup between two teams that finished with 10 wins last year, both of whom must replace several marquee names on offense.


West Virginia swapped out Skyler Howard for Florida transfer QB Will Grier. Many of my industry colleagues are bullish on Grier, but I have reservations. He hasn’t played since 2015 after getting suspended for a year due to PED use. At Florida, he had an elite defense backing him. At West Virginia, his margin for error is far smaller.


While Grier has a strong rushing attack behind him, his receiving corps is pocked with uncertainty. Shelton Gibson is playing on Sundays now, Jovan Durante transferred to FAU and Marcus Simms is suspended. That leaves the uninspiring duo of Ka’raun White and Gary Jennings atop the depth chart. From center to left tackle, the Mountaineers are also inexperienced.


Virginia Tech lost QB Jerrod Evans, WR Isaiah Ford and WR/TE Bucky Hodges to early declaration (each probably regrets that decision). Josh Jackson steps in at quarterback. Jackson didn’t get the ink this summer that Grier did, but it’d be no surprise if he outplays him this fall. The Mountaineers had arguably the Big 12’s best defense last year, but they must replace several starters.


Virginia Tech has the decided defensive advantage heading in. VT DC Bud Foster has had months to study Grier’s work at Florida and figure out how to attack the left side of WVU’s line. Jackson’s dual-threat game is a mystery to the Mountaineers’ staff, and VT HC Justin Fuente and company should be able to consistently scheme themselves into the red zone. WVU’s 3-3-5 is difficult to prepare for in one week. Seven months is a different story.


****


2017 Record: Straight-Up: 2-2 (50%); Against the Spread: 0-4 (0%) 

 

2016 RecordStraight-Up: 112-61 (64.7%); Against the Spread: 96-72-5 (57.1%)

 

2015 Record: Straight-Up: 120-64 (65.2%); Against the Spread: 91-88-5 (50.8%)

 

2014 Record: Straight-Up: 118-72 (62.1%); Against the Spread: 99-90-1 (52.4%)



Thor Nystrom is a former MLB.com associate reporter whose writing has been honored by Rolling Stone magazine and The Best American Essays series. Say hi to Rotoworld's college football writer on Twitter @thorku.
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