Folks, there ain't two ways about it: we got absolutely wrecked in the early going. UCLA missed a backdoor cover on a fumble returned for touchdown that was blown dead by the referees, and Texas State missed a +33.5 cover by half of a point. Throw that on Arizona's faceplant against Hawai'i in Week 0, and we're bleeding early in college football betting.
That's good news: we'll regress up to the mean with a strong Saturday full of juicy lines. Let the covers flow!
Lock of the Week
Oregon (+4) v. Auburn (Saturday, 7:30 PM EST)
I'd like to preface by acknowledging that the Pac-12 against the SEC...well, that hasn't gone well for the Pac-12. Lord knows, the Pac-12 against any other conference hasn't gone well -- there isn't a guaranteed win there.
That said, this isn't a case of out-athleting as can often be the case when the SEC faces other conferences: Auburn's five-year average in recruiting puts them 7th in the nation, but Oregon comes in at 17th. There also won't be unfamiliarity from the coaching staff, as Oregon HC Mario Cristobal saw the Tigers four times as an assistant head coach and offensive line coach -- the Tide went 3-1 against Auburn during that time, and Cristobal regularly recruited the No. 1 overall class as well.
Cristobal is well-suited to play an SEC team, and I think his team mirrors his fit. Oregon's offensive line enters the contest as the most experienced line in the country, with three players -- Jake Hanson at C, Shane Lemieux at LG, and Calvin Throckmorton at RT -- brining three seasons of starting experience a piece. Freshman phenom LT Penei Sewell enters his sophomore year already as one of the best in the country; Alabama transfer Dallas Warmack starts again at RG. That's 132 career starts, fellas.
They're big, physical, and proven -- that's going to matter against an Auburn defense that wins through its front. Potential 2019 first-rounder Derrick Brown returned to school in a key get for Gus Malzahn's crew, and he's buttressed by Nick Coe, Marlon Davidson, and Big Kat Bryant. That's 32.5 TFLs and 18.5 sacks returning from last year! If Auburn wins this game, it will be by creating regular and disruptive pressure to keep the Oregon passing attack of schedule.
Which brings us to Justin Herbert, the senior Oregon QB and another key return to school. As I've documented, and you can see on the scouting report attached to Herbert's name, one of my biggest concerns with his film is his reaction to pressure. Both in 2017 and 2018, consistent pressure turned Herbert into a skittish and uncomfortable quarterback in the pocket by quarters 3 and 4, and it hurt the Ducks accordingly. Herbert also lost last season's target king in WR Dillon Mitchell, now fighting for a roster spot on the Minnesota Vikings -- his 132 targets represented 32.6% of the market for Oregon. Woah, Nelly.
So why am I still in on Oregon? Because while Herbert may decline against pressure, he's still a plus quarterback in the NCAA with heat in his face. I'm not close to saying the same about true freshman Bo Nix, who steps under center for the first snap of his Auburn -- and collegiate career -- on primetime College Gameday in Jerry World. That is no small task, and while the Tigers have top OT talent with Prince Tega Wanogho and Jack Driscoll, the Oregon defense was 32nd last year in Football Outsider's Havoc Rate because of the playmaking penchant of their defense. They return every starting secondary player save for one.
Getting pressure against Auburn is generally difficult because of how quickly the ball comes out in the Malzahn offense, but I don't think Nix will be able to sit back and pick open the Oregon defense. Meanwhile, Oregon returns 10 starters on offense, including 1,000 yard rusher CJ Verdell, and replaces Mitchell with Penn State transfer Juwan Johnson. This team was 31st in offensive S&P+ last year, and there's no reason to expect a significant decline.
Can a true freshman QB for a team that lost its two leading receivers keep pace? I don't think so. I like Oregon on the line, and even straight up, because I'm frisky like that.
Northwestern (+6.5) v. Stanford (Saturday, 7:30 PM EST)
I'm nowhere on both teams. Stanford lost their whole offensive line (besides LT Walker Little) and was already on the decline in OL play last season, with a ton of upperclassmen. Northwestern has a total unknown in Hunter Johnson starting at QB and most of their offensive line has been replaced as well -- they played a ton of games tight last year and are likely getting overrated by books. I'll wait on these squads until I know more about their 2019 products.
SMU (+115) v. Arkansas State (Saturday, 7:00 PM EST)
SMU has a ton of firepower on offense, with draftable WRs in James Proche and Reggie Roberson Jr. catching passes from Texas QB Shane Buchele. Running the Sonny Dykes Air Raid, you know they'll be able to pour points on the board -- and Arkansas State tends to give them up, with a 79th ranking in pass defense S&P+ last year. Arkansas State has enjoyed consistently strong seasons under Blake Anderson, but talented QB Justice Hansen has graduated, and unfortunately, Anderson will not be on the sideline following the passing of his wife earlier in August.
Three For The Road
Notre Dame (-18) v. Louisville (Monday, 8:00 PM EST)
Keep an eye on this line to see if you can grab it at -17, to buy the landmark deficit. Things have been sliding toward Louisville as handicappers fade the retooling Irish, but the quarterback play is as strong as ever in South Bend, and most of the offensive line is returned. Louisville won't be as bad as they were last year -- God help them -- but they don't have nearly the talent to keep pace with a motivated Notre Dame squad.
Fresno State v. USC (-13.5) (Saturday, 10:30 PM EST)
Grab this line before it moves to -14 -- it's been flying up since USC opened an astounding -9.5 (!) against a good, but significantly depleted Fresno Squad. At home! USC has far superior athletes and a new offensive identity oriented on high volume, explosive passing attacks. Fresno won't have the firepower to keep pace.
Georgia v. Vanderbilt (+22) (Saturday, 7:30 PM EST)
Vanderbilt ended the season with 5 straight covers, though only one was on a double-digit underdog. They return the best offensive weaponry they've had of Derek Mason's tenure as HC, and potentially upgrade at QB with Ball State transfer Riley Neal. Meanwhile, Georgia lost key starters on both sides of the ball, with a wildly unproven receiving corps and a front seven without an established pass-rusher. This game screams salty SEC slugfest that doesn't get anywhere close to a 3+ touchdown spread, and considering that Kirby Smart is 3-8 ATS on 20+ point spreads, I'm willing to ride the Commodores.