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Betting Insights for College Football’s 10 Best September Nonconference Games

  • Believe it or not, the start of the college football season is just days away.
  • September will feature a number of meaningful nonconference showdowns.
  • I took a look at 10 of the most intriguing matchups.

One of the best parts about September is the nonconference showdowns that can have College Football Playoff implications. It’s the beauty of the sport — whether you love or hate the current postseason format. Week 1 NFL showdowns are fun, but they just don’t have the same tension as two Power Five titans clashing on a neutral field in prime time on Labor Day weekend.

With the start of the college football season now fewer than two weeks away, I thought I’d take a look at the 10 most intriguing nonconference matchups — through a betting lens. You will find a few games with potential national-title implications and others with interesting storylines.

Let’s dive in, starting on Sept. 1 and working our way chronologically through the month.


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No. 6 Washington vs. No. 10 Auburn

Spread: Auburn -2.5
When: Saturday, Sept. 1
Where: Atlanta, Ga.

This marquee nonconference game of the 2018 season will certainly shape the playoff picture, which means this intriguing matchup should matter to anybody holding a national-title future.

Considering Auburn has road trips to Alabama and Georgia in November, I don’t think it can afford a loss if it wants a ticket to the dance. Meanwhile, a loss by Washington could keep it out of the discussion — even if the Huskies run the table the rest of the season. They could be favored by double digits in every game after the Auburn matchup in a down year for the Pac-12, which could hurt how the committee evaluates their profile.

Led by Taylor Rapp and Byron Murphy, the Huskies arguably have the nation’s best secondary. With questions in the backfield, the War Eagle offense will go as Jarrett Stidham and the passing attack go. We will learn a lot about the Auburn offense in Stidham’s second year against this veteran secondary that allowed only 10 passing touchdowns last season — the second-fewest nationally.

No. 8 Miami vs. No. 24 LSU

Spread: Miami -2.5 (-120)
When: Sunday, Sept. 2
Where: Arlington, Texas

Two dominant defenses with questions on offense could lead to a very low-scoring game in this ACC vs. SEC battle of ranked teams. The total opened at 45.5 on Tuesday. While oddsmakers make Miami a slight favorite, LSU has recently excelled in Labor Day weekend nonconference openers on neutral fields — especially in the state of Texas.

No. 12 Michigan State at Arizona State

Spread: Michigan State -10
When: Saturday, Sept. 8
Where: Tempe, Ariz.

Michigan State brings almost everybody back on both sides of the ball and is clearly the superior team. However, the Spartans better “play to win the game,” or their national-title hopes (35-1) will effectively end on the second Saturday in September. Just ask Washington what a trip to Tempe can do to national-title aspirations: Getting upset by the 17-point home underdog Sun Devils last season shattered the Huskies’ playoff dreams.

The explosive Arizona State offense should provide the Michigan State defense with a nice early season test, but I’m just not sure the Sun Devils can stop a nosebleed.

 

Iowa State at Iowa

Spread: Iowa -3.5
When: Saturday, Sept. 8
Where: Iowa City, Iowa

The Iowa State seniors will be itching for revenge in this spot. The Cyclones have lost three straight to the Hawkeyes, including a 42-3 beatdown in 2016 and a heartbreaking 44-41 overtime loss last season in Ames. There will be big season win total implications for both teams in the battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy.

No. 2 Clemson at Texas A&M

Spread: Clemson -13.5
When: Saturday, Sept. 8
Where: College Station, Texas

Openers can really set the tone for a season, which Texas A&M knows all too well after blowing a 34-point second-half lead against UCLA in 2017. Despite leaving the ACC, new A&M coach Jimbo Fisher will once again face Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. The two national championship-winning coaches have split their six previous meetings.

Get used to seeing Clemson as a double-digit favorite. The Tigers might end up being favored by 10-plus points in every regular-season game. While Kyle Field in prime time can produce some magic, I’m not sure the Texas A&M offensive line can hold off the absolutely ferocious Clemson defensive front.

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Jimbo Fisher (right) and Dabo Swinney at a 2016 game between Florida State and Clemson.

No. 9 Penn State at Pittsburgh

Spread: Penn State -13.5
When: Saturday, Sept. 8
Where: Pittsburgh, Pa.

Should we put the Nittany Lions on upset alert? If the past two seasons are any indication, the Panthers will pull off one major stunner as a double-digit dog. Pitt defeated No. 1 Clemson (-21.5) in 2016 and knocked off undefeated Miami (-12.5) in its regular-season finale last year.

No. 15 USC at No. 21 Texas

Spread: Texas -4
When: Saturday, Sept. 15
Where: Austin, Texas

Texas has this game circled after a heartbreaking overtime loss at USC last season. Coach Tom Herman’s prowess as an underdog (a 21-1 streak against the spread, including his coordinator days) is well-documented, but he’s also been extremely successful in nonconference affairs over that span.

We should learn a lot about whoever eventually gets the USC starting quarterback job against what Longhorn fans call the real “DB U.”

No. 22 Boise State at No. 25 Oklahoma State

Spread: Oklahoma State -4.5
When: Saturday, Sept. 15
Where: Stillwater, Okla.

If we are ever going to see a Group of 5 team sniff the College Football Playoff, not only will we need chaos in the power conferences, but a legit smaller school will also likely need to pull off a road upset against a Power 5 team. I don’t think this is the year, but if you threw a dart on Boise at 350-1, a win in Stillwater is the first of many dominoes that would need to fall.

No. 11 Notre Dame at Wake Forest

Spread: Notre Dame -7.5
When: Saturday, Sept. 22
Where: Winston-Salem, N.C.

Notre Dame beat Wake Forest 48-37 in a wild shootout in South Bend last season. Wake will have revenge on its mind and will hope Notre Dame does, too — for Stanford the following week. If the Irish are looking ahead, Wake has the offensive firepower to pull off the upset.

One guy the Irish defense didn’t see last season is wide receiver Greg Dortch (injured), who is one of the most electrifying players in the country. Against Louisville last season, the Wake speedster had 10 catches for 167 yards and four touchdowns — and would have had five if not for a fumble into the end zone for a touchback.


Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports. Wake Forest wide receiver Greg Dortch celebrates a touchdown in 2017.

No. 13 Stanford at No. 11 Notre Dame

Spread: Notre Dame -4.5
When: Saturday, Sept. 29
Where: South Bend, Ind.

After losing seven straight to the Irish from 2002-08, Stanford has won seven of nine, including three in a row. Before last year’s 38-20 blowout Cardinal win, five straight games in the series were decided by a touchdown or less.

This will be a good opportunity for Heisman Trophy favorite Bryce Love (+650) to make a statement in front of a national audience.

Credit:

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Washington Huskies running back Myles Gaskin

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