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What to watch: Week 1 college football viewing guide, picks against the spread

Every week throughout the season we’ll give you a college football viewing guide by highlighting the five best games of the coming weekend. We will pick those five games against the spread and highlight some other matchups that caught our eye from a betting perspective.

After a wild, news-filled offseason, Week 1 is finally here.

We’ve already had our first taste of the action via Week 0 (it went pretty well for Notre Dame and USC), but now it’s time to dive head-first into the college football season.

And before we get to an action-packed Saturday, we’ll be treated to Florida’s trip to Utah and Matt Rhule’s Nebraska debut vs. Minnesota on Thursday and a handful of other games on Friday.

Beyond Saturday’s slate, Week 1 extends to Sunday with the much-anticipated LSU vs. Florida State matchup in Orlando before No. 9 Clemson and Duke cap things off in Durham on Monday night.

(Note: All times ET, odds from BetMGM)

Florida at No. 14 Utah

Time: 8 p.m. (Thursday) | TV: ESPN | Line: Utah -4.5 | Total: 44.5

Utah is in pursuit of its third straight Pac-12 title, but all eyes will be on the availability of starting quarterback Cam Rising leading up to the season-opener versus Florida. Rising suffered a torn ACL in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2, and several outlets have indicated that he's doubtful to play. If Rising can’t go, Bryson Barnes could get the start for the Utes with redshirt freshman Nate Johnson also seeing the field. No matter who plays QB, the Utes will rely on their stellar defense to open the season with a win.

On the other side, Florida will start Wisconsin transfer Graham Mertz at QB as it enters its second season under coach Billy Napier. The Gators went 6-7 last fall when they had Anthony Richardson, the No. 4 pick in the NFL Draft, at QB. Mertz is a much different player. He arrived at Wisconsin as one of the program’s best recruits, but he struggled with accuracy and turnovers. Now he gets a fresh start in the SEC, and his first start at Florida will be in a hostile environment at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.

Nick Bromberg: Florida +4.5, Sam Cooper: Utah -4.5

Colorado at No. 17 TCU

Time: Noon | TV: Fox | Line: TCU -20.5 | Total: 64

TCU had an undefeated regular season before losing to Georgia in the national championship game last year, but much of the focus for this game will center on the debut of Deion Sanders as Colorado’s head coach. Sanders, a member of both the pro and college football halls of fame, had a 27-6 record at Jackson State and took over a CU program coming off a miserable 1-11 season. Sanders completely overhauled and upgraded the roster via the transfer portal, but the Buffs have a very tough schedule ahead.

That difficult schedule begins with the trip to TCU, a team that will look much different following last year’s incredible run to the CFP. Players like QB Max Duggan, WR Quentin Johnston, RB Kendre Miller, LB Dee Winters and CB Trevius Hodges-Tomlinson are all gone, and coach Sonny Dykes brought in a heavy transfer class to try to keep the momentum going with Chandler Morris is set to take the reins at quarterback. There aren’t many who expect TCU to get back to the CFP in 2023, but this is a team that can contend for the Big 12 title.

Nick: TCU -20.5, Sam: Colorado +20.5

Colorado head coach Deion Sanders responds to questions during a news conference after the team's NCAA college football practice at the university Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Colorado head coach Deion Sanders responds to questions during a news conference after the team's NCAA college football practice at the university Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

No. 21 North Carolina vs. South Carolina

Time: 7:30 p.m. | TV: ABC | Line: UNC -2.5 | Total: 64.5

Can North Carolina make some noise in the ACC? Clemson and Florida State are the clear favorites, but UNC was picked third in the preseason ACC poll. The Tar Heels return Drake Maye, who emerged as one of the best quarterbacks in the country last fall. Maye threw for 4,321 yards and 38 touchdowns while rushing for 698 yards and seven scores. With Maye leading the way, UNC should be pretty good on offense again but the Tar Heels must improve on defense to have any realistic shot at winning the ACC title.

South Carolina, meanwhile, is entering its third season with Shane Beamer as head coach. The Gamecocks went 7-6 in 2021 and then 8-5 last year in a campaign that included triumphant late-season victories over Tennessee and Clemson. Can that momentum carry over into 2023? The Gamecocks return Spencer Rattler at QB, but there are some questions about the offensive line and other skill position players. With trips to Georgia and Tennessee coming in September, a win over UNC could serve as an early season confidence boost for the Gamecocks.

Nick: UNC -2.5, Sam: South Carolina +2.5

No. 5 LSU vs. No. 8 Florida State

Time: 7:30 p.m. (Sunday) | TV: ABC | Line: LSU -2.5 | Total: 56.5

These teams played a thriller in Week 1 last season, but the circumstances are much different this time around. Last year, LSU was embarking on its first season under Brian Kelly while FSU was trying to avoid its fifth consecutive losing season. All LSU did in Kelly’s debut season was win the SEC West. Meanwhile, FSU had a breakthrough by winning 10 games.

Expectations are sky-high for both programs entering 2023. This is the most anticipated matchup of the weekend as both teams aim to prove they are legitimate national title contenders.

LSU returns Jayden Daniels at QB, is loaded along both lines of scrimmage and has an excellent group of receivers. Do the Tigers have what it takes to finish ahead of Alabama in the SEC West again? Florida State is looking to knock off Clemson and win its first ACC title since 2014. The Seminoles have Jordan Travis back at QB and no obvious weaknesses. FSU has struggled along the offensive line in recent seasons, but that looks to be a position of strength this year thanks to returning talent and additions made through the transfer portal.

Nick: LSU -2.5, Sam: FSU +2.5

Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis (13) throws a pass during the first half of the Cheez-It Bowl NCAA college football game against Oklahoma, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis (13) throws a pass during the first half of the Cheez-It Bowl NCAA college football game against Oklahoma, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

No. 9 Clemson at Duke

Time: 8 p.m. (Monday) | TV: ABC | Line: Clemson -13 | Total: 55.5

Clemson made six consecutive CFP appearances between 2015 and 2022, but has not played up to that standard in the last two seasons — especially on offense. Even though the Tigers won the ACC last year, Dabo Swinney finally decided to hire outside of his coaching tree and bring in Garrett Riley from TCU as his new offensive coordinator. Riley should bring some juice to a stagnant Clemson offense that will now be led by sophomore QB Cade Klubnik. Klubnik, after taking over for DJ Uiagalelei, played great in the ACC title game but struggled in the Orange Bowl loss to Tennessee. How will he look after a full offseason in Riley’s system?

Klubnik and the Tigers will be challenged right out of the gate with a conference game at Duke. Duke is entering its second season under coach Mike Elko. The Blue Devils were one of the surprise teams of the 2022 season, going from 3-9 in 2021 to 9-4 in Elko’s debut season. Elko is a defensive coordinator by trade and the Blue Devils return a strong front seven but must work in some new faces in the secondary. On offense, Riley Leonard is one of the most underrated QBs in the country. The RB and WR rooms are both pretty deep, but the offensive line is a bit of a question mark. That’s not ideal when facing Clemson’s vaunted defensive line.

Nick: Clemson -13, Sam: Duke +13

Week 1’s best bets

Nick Bromberg

South Florida at Western Kentucky (-11.5): The Hilltoppers bring back Austin Reed at quarterback and two starting receivers. South Florida allowed over 41 points per game a season ago and has won three games over the past two seasons. WKU should cover easily in this one. Pick: Western Kentucky -11.5

New Mexico at Texas A&M (-38.5): I think this is going to be a good opening week for what could be a fascinating pairing of Jimbo Fisher and offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino. So good, in fact, that I think the Aggies could hit the over all by themselves. New Mexico doesn’t appear to be much better and it could be a long season for the Lobos. Pick: Over 49

Texas State at Baylor (-27.5): I’d like to see some improvement from Blake Shapen this season. Shapen threw for just 18 TDs to 10 interceptions and is one of just three starters back on the Baylor offense. The Bears should win this game easily and may even cover, but the total is way too high for my liking. Pick: Under 61.5

Sam Cooper

Ball State at Kentucky (-26.5): I'm very high on Kentucky this season with Liam Coen returning as offensive coordinator and NC State transfer Devin Leary at quarterback. I think Kentucky can post 40-plus points in this game, so we only need 10 points or so from Ball State to hit the over. Pick: Over 49.5

South Alabama at No. 24 Tulane (-6.5): Coming off a triumphant 12-win season, this is a dangerous opener for Tulane. The Green Wave lost a lot from last season, have Ole Miss coming to town next weekend and could overlook a really good Jaguars team that returns 18 starters. Pick: South Alabama +6.5

Coastal Carolina at UCLA (-14.5): Even with Dorian Thompson-Robinson now in the NFL, this could be Chip Kelly's most complete team at UCLA despite the QB situation still being a bit up in the air. Coastal Carolina returns Grayson McCall and several others on offense, but I have a lot of questions about the defense. I also think going from Jamey Chadwell to Tim Beck is a big coaching downgrade. Pick: UCLA -14.5

For other Week 1 picks from Sam Cooper, click here.

For Week 1 picks from Dan Wetzel, Pat Forde and Ross Dellenger, subscribe to the College Football Enquirer.