Kramer: A bettor's guide to Week 1 in college football

By Adam Kramer  (VSiN.com) 

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It’s a simple question, and one Georgia fans have been asking themselves pretty much their entire lives: If not now, when?

Well, let’s first take a step back. I can’t speak for the average Georgia fan. I don’t know what this person feels about the program — one rich in just about everything required to be dominant in football. A program that has outrecruited every school in college football over the last four seasons, which includes mighty Alabama.

But if I were a Georgia fan and not just a gambler sitting on an array of Bulldogs future tickets — and I’ll get to those — I would feel good about this team. Not overly confident. Good. History says feeling any other emotion might be unwise.

Now, things aren’t perfect. The injury bug has already impacted Georgia at tight end (Darnell Washington) and defensive back (Tykee Smith). Arik Gilbert, the team’s star offseason acquisition, is also currently not with the team for personal reasons.

These issues are real, but elite teams can overcome these types of issues. And to me, Georgia is not only an elite team but the best team in college football.

I bet Georgia to win the national title. The Bulldogs are currently + 700. I bet them to win the SEC (currently + 200). I have them over 10.5 (currently -130). And I have J.T. Daniels to win the Heisman (currently 12-1).

And yes, I like Georgia (+ 3) against Clemson this week in what could wind up being the best game of the college football season.

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The talent across both sides of the ball at seemingly every position is spectacular. And while quarterback has always been a mixed bag, JT Daniels has the gifts to change that.

The narrative, of course, says otherwise. Unfair or not, Georgia has long been regarded as a resource-rich team incapable of conquering the sport despite so many advantages and close calls. Given the historic and absurd run of Alabama in the same conference, that feels a bit unfair.

But with Nick Saban’s team undergoing a massive makeover, this should be the year. No, this has to be the year. Because the talent is there and the schedule outside of this first week is mighty conducive. So I ask again, once more, with feeling.

If not now, when?

The Appetizer: Football Tidbits and Observations

1. Scott Frost. That’s it. I was at the Nebraska-Illinois game, and my main takeaway is just how poorly prepared his team was. Penalties. Turnovers. Ridiculous special-teams play. You name it. Nebraska fans, I’ve got nothing for you. The group I was with — Nebraska fans — began planning out their next coach by the fourth quarter.

2. I know there is football this week, but we need to talk about the “alliance” among the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC. It is useless. In fact, as we learned last week, this is essentially a handshake agreement among three conferences. Maybe they’ll schedule games against each other in the future, although many schedules are literally decided decades in advance. Maybe they won’t. It was a catchy thought. It was, so they thought, a perfect response to the SEC adding Oklahoma and Texas. But it felt rushed and flat. We can move along.

3. The Pac-12 also announced it is not planning to add any teams to its conference in the near term. This I actually agree with. While I thought Texas Tech and maybe Oklahoma State would have made decent additions from a market standpoint, standing pat is not a bad idea. To me, this is a significant piece of the expansion puzzle. The Big 12 almost certainly will look to add teams in the future to survive rather than dissolve. BYU and Cincinnati would be great additions given the circumstances.

4. LSU is coming to Vegas. The Tigers will play USC in the Vegas Kickoff Classic in 2024 at Allegiant Stadium to kick off the season. To me, this is magnificent on a few fronts. For starters, it should be a really interesting game, and it marks a movement to Vegas that should become far more popular in college football. But more importantly, what a social experiment. LSU fans are known for drinking college campuses out of alcohol; it’s almost a trademark. If they attempt to do that here, and they will certainly try, things could get spectacularly weird in a city that does weird better than anyone.

The Buffet: The Five Best Games of the Weekend

1. No. 3 Clemson (-3, 51.5) vs. No. 5 Georgia

It’s the biggest game of the football season. Plain and simple. Now, it likely won’t end up being the most important game of the year — I’ll reserve that for conference games to come — but it’s hard not to be completely entranced by the possibilities. To me, the intrigue clearly starts with the quarterbacks. D.J. Uiagalelei might have one of the biggest arms the sport has ever seen, and he looked fabulous in small doses last year. JT Daniels, while limited to start the year due to injury, closed strong and seems poised to take off. Another element to watch will be the return of Clemson wideout Justyn Ross, who was one of the best offensive players in the sport before an injury cost him last year. On the topic of Clemson, last season was the first time in four years the Tigers didn’t have a winning record against the spread. I’ve made it clear I believe Clemson will start 0-1 in that category.

2. No. 1 Alabama (-18.5, 62) vs. No. 14 Miami

In four seasons, Alabama has lost four games. It has also been above .500 against the spread the last three years, headlined by a 9-4 performance in 2020. But this team is wildly different from the juggernaut we saw last fall. The Crimson Tide return only a handful of offensive starters, although much of a young defense remains intact. Miami brings back a ton from 2020, although the pieces lost, particularly on defense, had a massive impact. Once again, not to beat a dead horse, but I look at the quarterbacks. One, D’Eriq King, is coming off a torn ACL. When he is healthy, he has the traits to give this Alabama defense fits. The other, Bryce Young, was the No. 1 football recruit in the country a short while ago. After largely sitting last season, he’ll get a crack to put his spin on an offense under the guidance of new coordinator Bill O’Brien. The talent gap is wide at many positions, but King is electric. He’s going to need to be.

3. No. 12 Wisconsin (-4.5, 50) vs. No. 19 Penn State

To me, this is one of the more difficult games to handicap. The 2020 Big Ten season, due to COVID-19, was largely broken. And the performance of these two teams was largely dismal. A year later, and it’s difficult to visualize what a (hopefully) normal year will look like. Home field, of course, is a good place to start. Camp Randall should quite literally be rocking as it often does, and I like both QB Graham Mertz and RB Jalen Berger. Penn State, meanwhile, started last season 0-5 — headlined by a few heartbreakers — and closed by winning the last four. PSU's Sean Clifford has flashed at QB, and he's athletic enough to impact this game with his legs and his arm. Wisconsin will likely get plenty of public love. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the dog bark a bit.

4. No. 18 Iowa (-3, 46) vs. No. 17 Indiana

This is plenty sexy. Sure, I live in Big Ten land. Sure, I have spent many hours (and tailgates) in Iowa City. But beyond bias I cannot escape, this is a perfect barometer game for two teams ranked inside the AP Top 25 receiving unique sorts of hype. I am curious how Indiana responds after such a dazzling 2020. The Hoosiers were 7-1 ATS last year and were also solid against the number in 2019. Many of the pieces, especially on offense, return. Wideout Ty Fryfogle and QB Michael Penix Jr. (coming off an ACL injury) are keys. For Iowa, running back Tyler Goodson is a likely candidate to become a breakout star. Again, home-field advantage looms large. Iowa has done its best work inside Kinnick and will get first crack at one of the darlings of the sport.

5. No. 21 Texas (-8, 58) vs. No. 23 Louisiana

This is not an easy assignment for Steve Sarkisian. In fact, the new coach at Texas would likely much rather face one of the many cupcakes found across college football. Louisiana is not that cupcake. A quality offensive line returns along with an abundance of experienced skill position talent that could push the Longhorns. It’s this group that guided the Ragin’ Cajuns to a 10-1 record last year, even though they were 5-6 ATS. Still, the team was fabulous, and it could very well make this interesting. As for Texas, we know running back Bijan Robinson is capable of magic. It also sounds like redshirt freshman Hudson Card will get the start at quarterback. Regardless of who takes the first snap, this is a game for which to reserve a screen.

Last Call: Parting Shots on Other Games of Note

No. 4 Ohio State (-13.5, 65) at Minnesota: Our first major glimpse at new Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud comes on the road on a Thursday. But the biggest theme to watch? How Minnesota’s offensive line holds up against maybe the best defensive front in college football.

No. 9 Notre Dame (-7.5, 56) at Florida State: The Seminoles are coming off a 3-6 season (also 3-6 ATS). The good news is Florida State gets Notre Dame at home with a new QB. The bad news is this program needs a massive jolt to pull the upset against one of more consistent programs in CFB.

Ole Miss (-9.5, 75.5) vs. Louisville: Lane Kiffin’s offense faces a program that finished last year 4-7. This number, in my opinion, speaks volumes to the level of respect Kiffin’s team is receiving heading into the year. And you know what? I don’t disagree. The schedule is brutal, but the team has talent.

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