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CFB Betting Tips From Pamela Maldonado: What to Watch in Week 1

Willie Taggart Heads into his Second Year as FSU Head Coach

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been counting down the days for college football’s return since the second Clemson finished putting a whupping on Alabama in the national championship. The waiting is over and football is back. 

There’s a lot of uncertainty when it comes to picking games in Week 1 of college football because of the turnover, new head coaches, loss of key players, and freshman/inexperienced quarterbacks. But that won’t stop any of us from betting, now will it? There are so many games on the slate but there are a few matchups that have caught my eye and a few teams that I’ll be interested in watching because of new schemes, new coaching, new players.

Here’s what I’ll be watching in Week 1:

Boise State vs Florida State

True freshman Hank Bachmeier has been named the starting quarterback for Boise State after it was noted that redshirt sophomore Chase Cord had yet to take a snap with the No. 1 offense after tearing his ACL midway through last season. Big shoes to fill as last year’s starter, Brett Rypien, left as an undrafted player to the NFL, ending his college career with a 3,700-yard, 30-touchdown season, and Offensive POY honors in the conference. If healthy, it was expected that Cord would see the start but instead we get Bachmeier, who is the first true freshman to be an FBS starter since Rypien in 2015.

On the flip side, you have a team in Florida State that on paper should produce much more than it did last season, finishing just 5-7 and 3-5 in the conference. The Seminoles are consistently the best recruiting team in the conference, have a lot of production returning, get a new OC in Kendal Briles from Houston, and a (somewhat) experienced QB. The question is, do we trust Willie Taggart, who’s entering his second season, as a head coach? Last year, the team had a decent defense but was near the bottom (13th) in offense – ahead of only Louisville, which finished with a 2-10 record, 0-8 in conference.

Why I’m looking forward to this matchup: We get a complete unknown in QB play for Boise State, a team that is regarded highly by the market (9.5 regular-season win total) playing against a team that should see a better season. But does Florida State make it back to a bowl (after its 36-year streak ended with Taggart), or improve its 2018 record of 5-7 to maybe 7-5 or better?

Odds: Boise State is +5.5 on a neutral field. If you like trends, the Broncos are 5-0 ATS in their last five games when playing as an underdog and head coach Bryan Harsin is 11-2 as an underdog over his career.

Houston vs Oklahoma

I love college football because I love offensive games. Let’s light up the scoreboard, boys! Houston has QB D’Eriq King returning after capping off a great 2018 season completing 63 percent of his passes with 50 touchdowns – FIFTY! As a top-20 passing offense, the Cougars will be looking to retain that prowess even as they get a new head coach in Dana Holgorsen. Although Houston does lose OC Kendal Briles to Florida State, I’d expect a natural transition with Holgorsen, who was the head coach at West Virginia (top five in passing last year), so not a big change in offensive styles.

Expect points and expect A LOT! In 2018, Houston ranked 130th out of 130 in passing defense – yes, that means they were dead last – but Oklahoma was a smidge better, closing out the year ranked 129th.

Why I’m looking forward to this matchup: You could probably create a drinking game out of this for every touchdown scored. Let’s not, though! Oklahoma has surprised the last few years because of great QB play from Murray and Mayfield. Well, they’re both gone to the NFL and OU now has Jalen Hurts, who could very well be a great QB but is he Murray/Mayfield great? Will he be able to put up those types of stats? It remains to be seen but I am convinced of King’s abilities.

Odds: Houston is +23 on the road with the OVER/UNDER set at 82.5 (steep). The total has gone over in six of Houston’s last seven games and over in 11 of OU’s last 15 games.

SMU vs Arkansas State

Shane Buechele! The junior QB is a transfer from Texas who played in every game as a freshman. He recorded 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Then came Sam Ehlinger, who became Texas’ shiny new player. The Mustangs closed out a pretty disappointing year with a 5-7 record, going 4-4 in the AAC.

Arkansas State went 8-5 last season and I can’t say with confidence that it will be replicated. QB Justice Hansen was good at his position, the best quarterback in the Sun Belt Conference, but he’s now gone. In comes Logan Bonner with little to no experience. The Red Wolves may definitely have some regression without their All-Conference QB, All-Conference left tackle and All-Conference corner. To make matters worse, they’ll be starting the season without head coach Blake Anderson. Anderson tragically lost his wife last week after she battled breast cancer for the second time in three years. Defensive coordinator David Duggan will take over while Anderson takes some leave.

Why I’m looking forward to this game: I think SMU has some upside. We know what Buechele is capable of producing so I would think there’s some potential there for a high-ceiling QB. Add that to the mix of returning staff (HC, OC, DC all in their second year) and this Mustangs team potentially has a shot at a good season – at least a six-win season.

Odds: Arkansas State -3, OVER/UNDER 58.

Honorable Mentions

Georgia Southern vs LSU:

Georgia Southern QB Shai Werts didn’t throw a single interception the entire season last year after playing nearly every snap – with only 10 touchdowns (zero picks!). I just want to see if this streak can continue vs an LSU defense that is known for forcing a lot of turnovers. This is a game where as soon as Werts throws a pick, I’m changing the channel. I’d be shocked if I end up not reaching for the remote.

Odds: LSU -28, OVER/UNDER 53.

Georgia Tech vs Clemson

GT’s head coach, Paul Johnson, retired after last season and if GT is known for one thing, it’d be for running the triple-option offense for years. Well, now that’s gone as GT has brought in Geoff Collins, who was the head coach at Temple the last two years. The offense will certainly change, but what’s expected? Your guess is as good as mine, but Collins has said he’ll be running an “NFL-style, spread-based attack” – so a more conventional, pro-style offense.

Expect different, but different won’t necessarily mean magic.

Odds: Clemson -36, OVER/UNDER 60.

Illinois State vs Northern Illinois

A game of two teams that don’t generate much excitement, true. But NIU is a team, I think, worth mentioning. The Huskies took the title of MAC champions last year for the first time since 2014, finishing 8-6, 6-2 in conference, after making it to a title game for the sixth straight season. They have lost their bowl game the last two years (2018 vs UAB, 2017 vs Duke), but they have some changes that make me interested in seeing if they could progress. NIU has a new head coach in Thomas Hammock, who does not have any head coaching experience but who has been the Baltimore Ravens RB coach for the last five years.

RB Tre Harbison could see an even bigger boost in production because of it. Last year he was the first 1,000-yard rusher at NIU since 2015, finishing with 1,034 yards. I think NIU will remain a strong team even after losing DE Sutton Smith and his 15 sacks to the NFL. This team has a new HC, offensive coordinator, and a returning QB but a bet to win the MAC at +500 isn’t so far-fetched.

Odds: NIU -5.5, OVER/UNDER NA