Week 1 College Football Betting Odds, Picks, Predictions: Our Top Plays for Saturday’s Evening Games, Including UCLA vs. LSU & Cal vs. Nevada
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images. Pictured: California Memorial Stadium, Home of the California Golden Bears.
- We've made it through the noons. We've made it through the afternoons. Now, it's time for college football's evening set.
- Our staff broke down a number of late-night college football games, including LSU vs. UCLA and Cal vs. Nevada.
- Check out all of their picks breakdowns for each individual bet below.
We’ve been watching college football since noon ET, so we might as well add on a few more games, right?
The noon and afternoon kickoffs have passed us by, which means it’s finally time for some Saturday night college football after dark. Our staff came prepared.
Our writers broke down four late games, starting with Illinois vs. UTSA at 7:30 p.m. ET, followed by Texas A&M vs. Kent State and LSU vs. UCLA at 8 p.m. ET and 8:30 p.m. ET, respectively. Then, the nightcap of Nevada vs. Cal wraps it all up at 10:30 p.m. ET.
So, grab a nightcap of your own and get ready. It’s going to be a late night.
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2021 Week 1 College Football Best Bets
The set of college football team logos below reflects each of our college football staff’s Week 1 best bets. Click any logo to navigate to a specific pick discussed in this article.
Listed odds have been updated as of 1. Specific bet recommendations come from the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing. Always shop for the best price using our NCAAF Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game. Photos via Getty Images.
7:30 p.m. ET
Big Ten Network
The Illinois Fighting Illini host the UTSA Roadrunners in Champaign early Saturday evening.
Illinois is coming off of an upset win over Big Ten foe Nebraska, while the Roadrunners are looking to improve on a 7-5 record in 2020. This is the first matchup between the two programs and the first time that UTSA has played a Big Ten school.
In the first quarter against the Cornhuskers last week, Illini quarterback Artur Sitkowski relieved Brandon Peters, who injured his non-throwing shoulder. Sitkowski went on to win Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors, going 12-of-15 for 124 yards and two touchdowns.
The Illini looked strong at the start of the Bret Bielema era, showcasing their veteran experience with over 80% of their starters returning from 2020. The defense caused a variety of problems for the Huskers, looking formidable in its opening act.
Illinois has a significant advantage with its Week 0 experience, getting rid of the first-game jitters while grabbing live-hitting experience.
The UTSA offense is led by dual-threat quarterback Frank Harris Jr., who averaged only 148.2 yards per game through the air last season but did complete 63% of his passes. UTSA will look to continue to develop its passing attack as it focuses on the run game.
Junior running back Sincere McCormick set school rushing records last season and was a finalist for the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award. A lion’s share of the workload this season will undoubtedly continue to fall on his shoulders.
The Roadrunners defense is returning an experienced core of starters, but it was a middle-of-the-pack unit last year.
Illinois comes into this game with a few inherent advantages. This is the second game of the season for the Fighting Illini. They have Power Five size and talent, as well as a recruiting advantage. Lastly, they draw this night game at home in front of a crowd that will be charged up after a big Week 0 win to kick off the Bielema era.
Bielema knows that the key to winning this one is to shut down the run game and force Harris to resort to the aerial attack. Illinois will be ready for the Roadrunners,
Historically, Big Ten teams that host CUSA teams have won by more than 20 points. I don’t project the margin of victory being that large in this one, but my model has Illinois as 10+-point favorites. Take Illinois -5 with a recommended one unit.
8 p.m. ET
Kent State was a major beneficiary of COVID-19 rescheduling last season.
Instead of an opening month that was set to feature road trips to Penn State, Kentucky and Alabama, the Golden Flashes feasted on an All-MAC buffet. As a result, Kent led the nation in scoring (49.8 PPG), finished 10th in passing and generated nearly four plays of 30+ yards or more every game.
But here’s the thing: Kent State did it in four games. And in two of those games, it played a pair of teams that finished in the bottom four of the SP+ rankings.
When the Flashes finally played a team with a pulse, they got stomped, 70-41. Jaret Patterson shredded them for 406 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
I foresee a step back for the Kent State offense now that it’s playing without their best offensive playmaker, Isaiah McKoy, for the first time.
The Aggies defense ranks No. 6 entering the season, according to SP+, and should live in Kent’s backfield, particularly DeMarvin Leal.
Defensively, Kent State couldn’t stop anyone from running the football, and while the Aggies may have some early growing pains through the air, they should be elite on the ground. If you can find a prop bet offering Texas A&M to run for 300 or more yards, hammer that as well.
And finally, it’s worth noting Jimbo Fisher is 9-2 ATS in nonconference games since arriving in College Station, covering the closing number by an average of 6.8 points per game.
8:30 p.m. ET
I sure hope LSU was paying attention last week because UCLA was not messing around.
The Bruins hosted Hawaii last weekend for Week 0 and did not disappoint, scoring 24 points in the first quarter and never taking their foot off the gas en route to a 44-10 win.
UCLA had a field day on the ground, rushing for 244 yards and four touchdowns. Zach Charbonnet contributed to 106 of those yards, along with three touchdowns.
The Bruins had a modest passing game with Dorian Thompson-Robinson completing 10-of-20 passes for 130 yards and one touchdown. While those numbers seem low, they really didn’t have to pass at all with the run game clicking.
LSU is going to need to improve on last year’s defensive struggles, and fast if it wants to avoid dropping its season opener.
Finishing last season with a Defensive Success Rate that ranked 112th, LSU got torched all season, with opposing teams scoring 30 or more points in six out of the Tigers’ 10 games.
If LSU wants to win at a more consistent rate, it will have to limit the shootouts.
The handicap of UCLA comes down to whether or not it can keep up its offensive success. Finishing last season with an Offensive Success Rate that ranked 31st with an Offensive TARP of 92%, the Bruins’ offense will be one to watch this season. They showed no reason why it can’t build off that success.
While LSU will no doubt provide a step up in talent from Hawaii, the Tigers defense is still shaky.
If Thompson-Robinson can find his groove and limit his turnover-worthy plays, the Bruins should be able to roll the Tigers.
I believe this number is mispriced when compared to Collin Wilson’s power ratings, which makes UCLA a slight favorite.
I grabbed the Bruins earlier this year at +4.5 and would still take them to +3.
10:30 p.m. ET
By Doug Ziefel
We will get our first taste of West Coast football after dark when the Nevada Wolf Pack square off against the Cal Golden Bears. This matchup will showcase two teams trending in opposite directions coming off the 2020 season.
Jay Norvell gets 10 starters back on each side of the ball and has the Wolf Pack poised to break through this season. Last season was the Pack’s best under Norvell at 7-2, which included a win over Tulane in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
The Nevada offense was the most productive it’s been in the last seven years, as it averaged 31 points and totaled 441 yards of offense per game.
The offense is led by arguably the best passing attack in the Mountain West. NFL-caliber quarterback Carson Strong lit up opposing defenses last season with a 27:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio while completing 70% of his passes. Strong will have all five of his top receivers back and could raise his draft stock even higher this season.
Defensively, the Wolf Pack showed they can shut down even the best teams in the conference. Last year, they led co-conference champion San Jose State, 20-7, at halftime but eventually lost after giving up a kick return touchdown and committing some costly turnovers.
The Wolf Pack should be considered a contender to win the Mountain West Conference.
The Golden Bears, meanwhile, are coming off a dismal 2020 season after dropping games to UCLA, Oregon State and Stanford.
The issues on this team are predominantly on offense. Cal averaged just 20.3 points per game last season, but there is room for growth with nine returning starters. Matching up against Nevada, though, is not going to help the offense build confidence.
The line for this game is essentially set in favor of Cal because of home-field advantage, but that advantage is diminished when you look at two recent trends in particular.
First, Nevada has won the last two meetings even though Cal owns the all-time series. Secondly, and more importantly, the Golden Bears are 1-8-1 against the spread as a home favorite over the last four seasons.
Nevada is simply the better team, and there is a great deal of value on it in this matchup.
Our Action Network PRO Projections make this line a pick’em. Nevada holds a significant advantage on the offensive end of the ball to go along with a defense that should have little trouble stopping the Bears.
Nevada covers and most likely wins outright.