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By Joe Nelson
Here are five college matchups per week as potential play-on or against situations for the first month of the upcoming college football season. These are situations that could potentially be favorable based mainly on scheduling situations and the series history. Please keep in mind that these predictions are Against the Spread, made well in advance with an estimated pointspread in mind. Through the course of the season many factors could strengthen, weaken or even reverse the prediction. The predictions are split into five different categories based on different types of situations.
Weekend of August 30
Revenge Spot - Michigan over Appalachian State: Back in 2007, Appalachian State famously upset Michigan, 34-32 to open the season, but that was a team coming off back-to-back FCS championships. The program is not in as strong form currently despite making the leap to the FBS level. Michigan has covered in four of the last five openers and the Wolverines will not overlook the Mountaineers.
Road Trip - South Carolina over Texas A&M: The Gamecocks are accustomed to being in the opening weekend spotlight and this will be a tough first road game in the post-Johnny Manziel era for Texas A&M in the first meeting between these programs. The Aggies were 0-4 ATS on the road last season, allowing 133 points in four games and South Carolina has not lost its opener since 1999.
Historically Speaking - Florida State over Oklahoma State: The Seminoles may not yet be too overvalued in what could be a historic season with nearly everyone back from last year’s title team. OSU has a lot of holes to fill and this matchup may not live up to the billing. Florida State is on a 12-3-1 ATS run in neutral site games and they will not disappoint on the big stage.
Look-Ahead - Navy over Ohio State: The Buckeyes have a big game with Virginia Tech on deck and this opener in Baltimore could be a challenge given Navy’s relentless rushing attack. Navy has been a remarkable underdog, going 42-22-2 ATS since 2002 with even better numbers the higher the spread gets. Ohio State is 0-3 S/U and ATS in the three seasons in neutral site games.
Letdown - USC over Fresno State: After a remarkable 11-2 season, it could be a tough debut for Fresno State, replacing Derek Carr. The Bulldogs lost by 25 against USC in bowl action as just a +6 underdog in Las Vegas last December as these teams will play consecutive games. That might normally be a tough spot for the favorite, but with the dawn of the Sarkisian era focus should be high.
Weekend of September 6
Revenge Spot - Texas over BYU: Texas was considered a national title contender early last season until getting blasted at BYU in the second game of the season, allowing 679 yards in a 40-21 loss. Even with a new coaching staff and with UCLA next, this will be a huge game for the Longhorns who have plenty of talent to work with. This is also a second straight long road trip for BYU.
Road Trip - Massachusetts over Colorado: The Buffaloes have just two road wins the past six seasons, so one should be hesitant to lay points on the road here in technically a second straight away game with Colorado across the country. UMass has taken some beatings the past two years in the move to the FBS level, but the Minutemen have held their own ATS at home and this team has some experience.
Historically Speaking - Oklahoma over Tulsa: Tulsa beat Oklahoma in 1996, but there have been seven blowouts in the series since with only one missed cover for the Sooners despite some steep lines. Playing on the road should keep this spread from climbing too high and the Sooners are 9-3 ATS in non-conference games the last three seasons. Last year’s 51-20 margin could have been worse.
Look-Ahead - Arkansas State over Tennessee: This is one of the few soft spots in a very tough 2014 schedule for Tennessee and with Oklahoma on deck and this game following up a Sunday TV game, it may be a challenging early spot for a Vols team with limited experience. Arkansas State has a new coach for fourth straight season but the Red Wolves are 7-3 ATS as a road underdog in that span.
Letdown - Memphis over UCLA: The Tigers could be a big climber this season with a veteran team that was much more competitive than last season’s 3-9 record. Beating a Pac-12 contender is unlikely, but this game is sandwiched in between high profile games for the Bruins and playing with less focus a week after cross-country travel could leave the team a bit fatigued and vulnerable.
Weekend of September 13
Revenge Spot - Louisiana Tech over North Texas: The Mean Green were out-gained in a 28-13 win in Ruston last season, just the second win in eight games in this series for North Texas. After big games with bigger Texas schools to open the season, this will not be an ideal spot for the host especially on a short week and while this is a third straight road game for the Bulldogs the travel is not substantial.
Road Trip - Marshall over Ohio: Ohio has won the last three meetings in this series, but this will be a challenging spot with the Bobcats opening with three consecutive road games. Marshall has a great shot to go undefeated in 2014 and they may not face too hefty of a spread this early in the season. Turnovers were the difference last season for the Herd and they should pull away.
Historically Speaking - West Virginia over Maryland: The Terrapins won 37-0 in this matchup last season, but that snapped a seven-game win streak for the Mountaineers. Maryland could be very competitive this season, but they are on an 23-36 ATS run at home since 2004. Value could be with the Mountaineers if they lose badly in the opener vs. Alabama, which seems likely.
Look-Ahead - Bowling Green over Indiana: The Falcons are in a coaching transition, but the 2013 MAC champions should remain competitive. Last season, Bowling Green lost just four games with the lone ugly showing being a 42-10 loss in Bloomington. Getting to host a B1G team will provide great motivation and IU is 2-13 S/U on the road under Kevin Wilson. The Hoosiers also have Missouri next.
Letdown - East Carolina over Virginia Tech: The Hokies have lost several early season games in recent years and they barely slipped by ECU last season, winning 15-10. After a huge national game with Ohio State in Week 2, this will be a tough follow-up test and it will be a huge game for the Pirates who beat North Carolina last season on the road. A Week 2 loss to South Carolina could also bring value.
Weekend of September 20
Revenge Spot - North Carolina over East Carolina: The Tar Heels expect to be a serious contender in the ACC this season and after a 55-31 loss in Chapel Hill last season, the Pirates have their attention. After playing South Carolina and Virginia Tech the previous two weeks, East Carolina could be out of gas against a rested UNC squad playing in this revenge spot.
Road Trip - Michigan State over Eastern Michigan: The challenge at Eastern Michigan will be great for first year head coach Chris Creighton with this being the third consecutive road game for the Eagles and a daunting test in East Lansing. The Spartans have not been great in the heavy favorite role, but if they enter this game off a loss to Oregon, they may aim to pour it on to get back on track.
Historically Speaking - LSU over Mississippi State: The Tigers are 21-1 S/U and 18-4 ATS in this series since 1992. This will be a second straight road game for the Bulldogs and even when they play well against LSU, they seem to find ways to miss the cover. Last season, Mississippi State had 468 yards against LSU but still lost 59-26 at home.
Look-Ahead - Northern Illinois over Arkansas: This is a challenging scheduling spot for the Huskies, but they will embrace the opportunity to face a major conference foe. The Huskies have experience against a Bret Bielema offense facing Wisconsin in 2011 and this could be a tricky spot for the Razorbacks with this game in between bigger games with Texas Tech and Texas A&M.
Letdown - San Jose State over Minnesota: The Spartans out-gained Minnesota in a misleading 43-24 loss in Minneapolis last season and this could be a tough spot for the Gophers as a big game at TCU is the week before and the B1G opener with Michigan is on deck. Minnesota should start the season 2-0 before the TCU game which could be a rude awakening for a team that may have overachieved in ‘13.
Weekend of September 27
Revenge Spot - Missouri over South Carolina: The only regular season loss for Missouri came against South Carolina last season, losing 27-24 in a game where quarterback James Franklin was injured. South Carolina has a chance to be a very impressive 4-0 at this point in the season with early season home dates against Texas A&M and Georgia and value could be with the underdog.
Road Trip - Toledo over Central Michigan: This will be the third road game in four weeks for Central Michigan and the first MAC game after playing three straight major conference teams. A tired team could head to Toledo in a second straight road game and the Rockets have impressive numbers at home, going 10-2 S/U under Matt Campbell in two years.
Historically Speaking - N.C. State over Florida State: The Wolfpack have covered in 11 of the last 13 meetings with Florida State including four straight home meetings. N.C. State will surely be a home underdog in this matchup and Florida State will enter this game coming off a much bigger game with Clemson. N.C. State has a light early schedule and could build some confidence to keep close.
Look-Ahead - Iowa State over Baylor: The Cyclones lost 71-7 in Waco last season, so this will be a game the Bears can feel comfortable overlooking. Iowa State might be 1-2 or worse at this point in the season with tough games early, but they have two weeks to prepare for this game. Baylor should be 3-0 and a heavy favorite, but its attention could waver with a much bigger game with Texas next.
Letdown - UTEP over Kansas State: The Wildcats play Auburn the week before this game in a big Thursday night showdown and with the rest of the Big XII schedule following, this will be an overlooked game on the schedule. Kansas State has lost a game S/U as a heavy favorite each of the last two years and UTEP could be an improved team with some depth and experience after an ugly 2013 season.
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