Finally, the full slate of college football games is upon us as virtually every program in the country hits the field in Week 1. With so many games on the board, the opportunities for shrewd gamblers quickly jumps off the charts.
The season’s full opening week can be a chaotic one as bookmakers and gamblers alike try to get a feel of seemingly random lines. No. 2 Ohio State ranks as a 17-point favorite over No. 5 Notre Dame, for example, despite the Fighting Irish’s lofty ranking. On the other side, Florida State is a three-point underdog against LSU despite entering Year 3 under coach Mike Norvell. By the time Tuesday comes around, the national rankings could look much different.
Finding value takes many forms for sharp betters. Finding an underdog with the potential to win and deliver an inflated money line victory is a gold standard. However, identifying teams that can pull off a late cover or a favorite that can stretch a lead well past the line can result in winnings as well. If the time is right, we might even delve into over/under plays with upside.
Heading into Week 1, lines are all over the map with a number of favorites playing outmatched opponents. That doesn’t mean there aren’t value plays to be found. Let’s examine five games where there’s some unexpected money to be made.
When: Friday, 8 p.m. ET | Where: Memorial Stadium — Bloomington, Indiana
Featured Game | Indiana Hoosiers vs. Illinois Fighting Illini
The Illini crushed Wyoming 38-6 in Week 0 thanks to 151 yards and two touchdowns from running back Chase Brown. The defense, meanwhile, held the Cowboys to just 30 yards passing, so there are some things to feel good about. Indiana probably won’t be quite as bad as the miserable 2-10 campaign it put together last season thanks to a solid transfer class that could help flip the program. However, Illinois is a physical, workmanlike program that seems ready to take another step. Perhaps most importantly, Illinois has already gotten all the first-game kinks out; Indiana, on the other hand, has to find its sea legs against a team with a win already under its belt. The Hoosiers are just a slight home favorite and the line has already shrunk, so get whatever plus money you can. Pick: Illinois ML (+110)
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET | Where: Snapdragon Stadium — San Diego, California
Featured Game | San Diego State Aztecs vs. Arizona Wildcats
Might as well start Saturday’s value plays with the spiciest pick of the weekend. It’s hard to ignore what coach Jedd Fisch is building in Tucson. The Wildcats brought in quarterback Jayden de Laura, the former Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, from Washington State and UTEP transfer receiver Jacob Cowing, who posted 1,354 yards receiving in 2021. Additionally, the Wildcats added several Power Five defensive transfers and a handful of elite Southern California recruits. Granted, the Aztecs are opening a new stadium on Saturday and emotions will be high after a Mountain West Championship Game run last year, but the Wildcats just might be under the radar enough to pull off one of the biggest upsets of the opening weekend. I’m going all in with the money line. Pick: Arizona ML (+196)
BYU vs. South Florida
When: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET | Where: Raymond James Stadium — Tampa, Florida
Featured Game | South Florida Bulls vs. BYU Cougars
Finding value in a double-digit favorite is counterintuitive, but BYU might be the most undervalued school in the Preseason AP Top 25 and a 12-point line hardly captures the difference between these two teams. The Bulls went 2-10 and lost seven games by more than 10 points in 2021. On the other sideline, BYU is 21-4 over the past two seasons and ranks among the national leaders in returning production. What, exactly, about this game screams close? More than 30% of the money is on South Florida to cover, and the line has actually moved in the Bulls’ direction since it opened. Getting $100 back on a $110 investment into BYU is one of the safest bets you’ll make this weekend. If you can get even bigger odds with a line under 20, jump on it. Pick: BYU cover (-110)
When: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET | Where: JMA Wireless Dome — Syracuse, New York
Featured Game | Syracuse Orange vs. Louisville Cardinals
The Cardinals are entering a make-or-break season under coach Scott Satterfield, but the Orange are a perfect appetizer to open the year. Syracuse went 5-7 last season with an embarrassing 41-3 loss against the Cardinals, and it’s heading in the wrong direction. Yet, Louisville is still less than a one-score favorite. Cardinals quarterback Malik Cunningham had five touchdowns on just 25 total touches against Syracuse last season. Expect fireworks and a cover. Pick: Louisville cover (-110)
Florida State at LSU
When: Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET | Where: Caesars Superdome — New Orleans, Louisiana
Featured Game | LSU Tigers vs. Florida State Seminoles
LSU ranked No. 8 in the newly released 247Sports Talent Composite and boasts a title-caliber blue-chip ratio. But what all those recruiting stars hide for bettors is a program that’s still in the early stages of finding its identity. There’s a new quarterback in town, a new secondary and 10 NFL Draft picks gone from a 6-7 team that couldn’t afford losses. On the other side, Florida State has the massive advantage of having already played a tune-up game against Duquesne, which it won 47-7. Quarterback Jordan Travis looked sharp and three different running backs cleared 100 yards rushing. More than 85% of the money is heading LSU’s direction, but Florida State straight up is a way to make decent coin. Pick: Florida State ML (+130)