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Upset Watch: Week 1

The college football season kicks off just two days from now. Expectations are high for many teams around the country; opening weekend could make or break it for many teams, especially those involved in top 25 matchups.

If you followed the Upset Watch last season, you know I pick five underdogs to cover the points, a favorite to cover, and I preview the Michigan game.

Be sure to check out my website, Before Visiting the Sportsbook, throughout the week, for more content.

This Week

As is typical with opening weekend, very few games involve two top 25 teams. (#24) Boise State Broncos travel to East Lansing to take on the Spartans on Friday night at 8:00 PM EST on ESPN. On Saturday, in primetime, the (#8) Michigan Wolverines take on the (#2) Alabama Crimson Tide at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas at 8:00 PM EST on ABC.

In all, five of the top 25 teams are playing FCS opponents and three top 25 teams are opening with a conference game.

Upset Watch

Eastern Michigan +6.0 @ Ball State (Thurs). Eastern Michigan is 6-9 in the last 15 meetings, but 7-8 ATS, including 3-1 ATS in their last four trips to Muncie. The last three games have been decided by no more than three points per game. Ball State Coach Pete Lembo is 6-6 (7-5 ATS, 1-1 ATS as a favorite); Eastern Michigan Coach Ron English is 8-28 (15-20-1 ATS; 13-16-1 as an underdog). The Cardinals beat Eastern Michigan in Ypsilanti, despite being two point underdogs. The home team has struggled as of late, 2-6 in the last eight meetings. Look for an improved Eastern Michigan defense. I like the Eagles with the points and to win this one.

Western Michigan +10.0 @ Illinois. Illinois has won two of the three meetings since 2004, with each of the three games being decided by no more than six points. Illinois Coach Tim Beckman is 21-16 (19-19 ATS, 11-8 ATS as a favorite); Western Michigan Coach Bill Cubit is 47-39 (38-40-3 ATS; 17-15-1 as an underdog). Western Michigan is 3-10 in road non-conference games since 2007 (2-10 against BCS opponents; 3-8-1 ATS against BCS foes); Illinois is 6-1 in home non-conference games against FBS opponents since 2007 (3-0 against MAC opponents; 1-4 ATS against MAC foes). The Broncos nearly knocked off Illinois last year; WMU returns QB Alex Carder. Cubit is 1-2 SU against Beckman, but is 2-1 ATS, including last year’s 66-63 shootout in the Glass Bowl when Toledo was a 12 point favorite. I like Illinois to get the win, but like WMU to keep this at single digits.

@ Iowa State +1.5 Tulsa. Last, and only meeting, was in 1961, when Iowa State beat Tulsa 27-6. Tulsa is 1-10 since 1997 on the road against BCS teams. Iowa State is 12-1 in home openers since 1999. Tulsa Coach Bill Blankenship is 8-5 (7-6 ATS, 5-2 ATS as a favorite); Iowa State Coach Paul Rhoads is 18-20 (20-18 ATS; 13-10 as an underdog). Iowa State is 8-2 against non-conference foes other than Iowa (7-3 ATS) since 2009. Steele Jantz gets the nod to start at quarterback for the Cyclones. Tulsa has traditionally played a tough non-conference schedule, so its no surprise how close the spread is – they have played well against BCS teams. Still, Paul Rhoads has been known to pull out a surprise win or two each season (2009 at Nebraska, 2010 at Texas, and 2011 Iowa and Oklahoma State). I like Iowa State in a close one.

Auburn +3.5 Clemson (Atlanta, GA). These teams have split the last two meetings, in a series which Auburn has dominated (14-1 since 1952; 34-12-2 overall). Since 1974, Clemson is 1-5 away from home, in season openers. Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney is 29-19 (26-23 ATS, 18-12 ATS as a favorite); Auburn Coach Gene Chizik is 35-29 (32-29 ATS; 17-15 as an underdog). Since 2009, Auburn is 2-1 against ACC foes (1-2 ATS). Since 2008, under Dabo, Clemson is 3-4 against SEC foes (4-3 ATS). Auburn has named Kiehl Frazier to be their starting quarterback, but he will be without wide receiver DeAngelo Benton, who was suspended indefinitely. Clemson will be without wide receiver Sammy Hopkins for the first game – a big loss. Heading into last season, the ACC was 20-33 against the SEC. The loss of Hopkins is the reason why I have this game on here.

Kentucky +14.0 @ Louisville (Sun). Kentucky leads the series 14-10, winning four of the last five meetings, but having lost last season. Kentucky is 4-8 in true road openers, while Louisville is 10-4 in their last 14 home openers (all 4 losses to Kentucky). Louisville Coach Charlie Strong is 14-13 (15-12 ATS, 6-7 ATS as a favorite); Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips is 11-14 (12-13 ATS; 6-9 as an underdog). These teams are going in opposite directions, with Louisville getting much better (and having a shot at the Big East title) and Kentucky eroding (and possibly being the worst SEC team). In the last 15 meetings, Kentucky is 7-8 against Louisville (7-8 ATS, 5-4 ATS as an underdog). Four of the last five meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less. Take Kentucky to cover the points, but Louisville gets the win.

Sure-fire Favorite

Colorado -6.0 Colorado State (Denver, CO) (Sun). Last year I was all over the Rams in the Rocky Mountain Showdown. Colorado State not only didn’t cover, but also they got thumped by two touchdowns. Colorado Coach Jon Embree is 3-10 (4-9 ATS, 0-1 ATS as a favorite); Colorado State Coach Jim McElwain is 0-0 (0-0 ATS; 0-0 as an underdog). Colorado is 10-5 against Colorado State since 1997 (Buffs are 7-8 ATS and 5-7 ATS as a favorite). The Buffaloes are 4-1 in the last five, with an average victory of 10.6 points per game. Colorado loses their quarterback, running back, and top five wide receivers, while Colorado State picks up a new quarterback and a new offense. The Buffaloes pick up a highly touted quarterback in Texas transfer Connor Wood. The offense will take time, but Colorado should continue the dominance over their in-state rival, winning by at least one touchdown.

Gameday Prediction

Nick Saban is 146-54-1 straight up (9-2 at Toledo, 32-24-1 at Michigan State, 48-16 at LSU, and 55-12 at Alabama). Coach Saban is 12-8 at neutral sites, 52-16 in non-conference play, and 43-331 against teams in the top 25, at the time of the game. While at Alabama, Coach Saban is 38-26-1 ATS (28-22 ATS as a favorite).

Brady Hoke is 58-52 straight up (13-12 at San Diego State, 34-38 at Ball State, and 11-2 at Michigan). Coach Hoke is 57-44-4 ATS (38-30-1 at Ball State, 12-10-2 at San Diego State, and 7-4-1 at Michigan) and 31-25-1 (22-20-1 at Ball State, 7-4 at San Diego State, and 2-1 at Michigan) against the spread as an underdog.

Since 1997, Michigan is 1-0 straight up against Alabama (1-0 ATS), with the lone meeting being in the 2000 Orange Bowl. The Wolverines were held to 37 yards on the ground, but made up for it through the air, throwing for 369 yards. Alabama was held to just 305 offensive yards (121 passing and 184 rushing).

Michigan hasn’t lost on opening weekend since 2008 (25-23 to Utah), while Alabama hasn’t lost on opening weekend since 2001 (20-17 to UCLA). Coach Saban has won 14 straight non-conference games, dating back to 2009 season. Alabama returns six starters on the offensive side and six on defense, losing key players RB Trent Richardson, S Mark Barron, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, LB Dont’a Hightower, LB Courtney Upshaw, DT Josh Chapman, CD DeQuan Menzie, and TE Brad Smelley. The Tide lose a lot, especially on the defensive side, but expect them to emerge in the top half of the SEC, easily. Expect the injured RB Eddie Lacy to play against Michigan, but expect a running back by committee, which should include freshman phenom TJ Yeldon.

Under Saban, the Tide are 21-13-1 ATS as 10-14 point favorites, including 13-3-1 in the last two seasons. Michigan hasn’t been a 10-14 underdog under Hoke, but he is 2-0 ATS, since 2007, in those games at San Diego State and Ball State. I’d be surprised to see Michigan win this one, but they should keep it around 10 points.

Michigan +14.0 Alabama.

Alabama 27 Michigan 17.

Who ya got?