Take a deep whiff, folks -- that's the smell of real, live, mattering football. The dark ages are over; come receive the light.
As will be a regular installment of our in-season coverage of college football here at The Draft Network, I'm taking Week 0 to warm you up to my college football lines and pick'ems as you (and I) usher in yet another lucrative and joyful season of crunching leaves, pumpkin spice, and money lines on single-digit dogs.
Welcome to college football -- let's go lose some money.
All current lines provided by The Action Network
Lock of the Week
Arizona (-11) v. Hawai'i (Saturday, 8/24, 10:30 PM EST)
Last year, the Rainbow Warriors started out the year hot: two big wins against Colorado State and Navy as double-digit dogs. Arizona sputtered: dropped an ugly one to BYU and then got absolutely lambasted by Houston. The Warriors would go on to ride a 6-1 start to an 8-6 finish and a bowl game; Arizona would deal with Khalil Tate injury as they limped to 5-7. After that, it felt like the book was written: Hawai'i was hot, and Arizona was not.
Now, there's reason to be excited about Arizona in Year 2: Khalil Tate should be healthy, returning seven starters on his offense and four on his offensive line, and more of the dual-threat player that made him a dark horse Heisman contender. By the end of the season, Arizona was one play and one point away from beating Arizona State and qualifying for a bowl.
This team isn't as bad as they seem -- and Hawai'i isn't as good as they look, either.
The Run 'n Shoot offense with head coach Nick Rolovich and QB Cole McDonald took college football by storm, ripping through unprepared secondaries as defensive coaches dusted off old tomes of theory in an effort to slow the typhoon. A year removed from the sensation -- and after the offense slowly died off, as McDonald's health deteriorated, in 2018 -- expect defenses to be stronger against the Run 'n Shoot in Year 2 -- especially as Hawai'i looks to replace the production of their leading receiver in John Ursua.
HC Nick Rolovich is 6-13-1 ATS at home in his tenure as the head coach for Hawai'i, and Arizona should be able to pour points on Hawai'i joke of a defense while capitalizing on a long summer preparing for the Run 'n Shoot tomfoolery awaiting them in Honolulu. Hawai'i is a trendy pick, but this is a good spot to fade the public with 72% of the money on Hawai'i. Might be worth waiting to see if this line slides to -10.5 before kickoff.
Pick: Arizona (-11)
Miami v. Florida (-7) (Saturday, 8/24, 7:00 PM EST)
I don't know jack diddly about the Miami Hurricanes, and neither do you.
Redshirt freshman Jarren Williams has won the starting QB job over big names like N'Kosi Perry and Tate Martell, the shiny Ohio State transfer. Manny Diaz, a new head coach, has refreshed the bleeding depth chart with a wealth of transfers like Martell -- ex-Buffalo WR K.J. Osborn, ex-UCLA DT Chigozie Nnoruka, ex-VT EDGE Trevon Hill, and ex-USC S Bubba Bolden fill out the ranks.
Defenses under Manny Diaz have always shined -- there's no doubting that. The author of Turnover Chain hysteria has regularly won with his front seven wreaking havoc, and the return of linebackers Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney Jr. -- both NFL Draft eligible last year -- helps gloss over the loss of EDGE Joe Jackson and DT Gerald Willis. With departures abound in the secondary, only one returning starter (CB Trajan Bandy) likely leaves the INT-hungry Hurricanes a bit weaker through the air than they've been previously under Diaz.
Enter Feleipe Franks and the improved Florida Gators passing attack. After a late season benching against Missouri in an embarrassing 17-38 loss, Franks rebounded with strong showings against South Carolina, Idaho, Florida State, and Michigan. Florida also retains leading receiver Van Jefferson and leading rusher Lamical Perine, so the big guns are back on offense.
But everyone else isn't. One starter returns to an offensive line that wasn't exactly dominant in 2018 to begin with, and Franks is at his worst when making panic plays under pressure. The Miami defense has a clear advantage in pass rush situations over this group, even with the loss of Jackson and Willis -- don't sleep on Virginia Tech transfer Hill having a huge coming out party against the two new offensive tackles.
If Williams, a totally unknown dual-threat, has enough juice to keep Miami close, this game could flit around the touchdown figure for four quarters. I generally try to avoid exact touchdown lines, especially early in the season when play is sloppy and new starters are getting acclimated. We're more likely to see surprising blowouts then quality, predictable wins, as Vegas and the teams both regulate the rocky landing into 2019.
This is a big ticket game, with a ton of early bets. Best to avoid it for now, and hunt for value in less-scrutinized fields. If I had to, I'd take Florida (-7).
We don't have any more Week 0 games to bet (I have nothing on FCS teams for you), so I figured I'd circle some early Week 1 lines I'd get action on before the public turns to those games early next week
UCLA (+3) v Cincinnati
There's heavy sharp action on UCLA's underdog line against Cincinnati, and rightfully so: a young team only got older and better, returning a whopping 19 of 22 starters for a team that was better ATS (5-7) than their 2018 record (3-9) might indicate. In fact, they covered in two of their last three games, only failing to cover their final game (Stanford) by a point.
An embarrassing home opening loss to the Chip Kelly era against these Bearcats started the book on a disappointing freshman season, but this rebuild was always going to take time. Cincinnati returns QB Desmond Ritter and RB Michael Warren Jr., so they should still be able to score -- but the defense is lacking in top-tier talent and the pass-rush is notably weak. Expect Kelly's Bruins to pour on the points.
BYU (+5) v. Utah
Early sharp action here as well, as 70% of bets have come in on Utah, but the initial line has moved from -6.5 to -5 for the Utes. I'm also very hesitant on betting on a gassed Utah team, which has become a preseason darling and likely will receive inflated lines early as we find out what QB Tyler Huntley and this offense really is. I'm not sure I'll bet this one yet, but early signs indicate this could be a closer match-up than we think (BYU was 9-4 ATS in 2018).
Oregon State (+15.5) v. Oklahoma State
More sharp action that I absolutely love -- I was likely going to be hot on Oregon State early this year anyway as I waited for books to adjust. The Johnathan Smith offense is willing to go for it on fourth down, has a deep stable of backs in Jermar Jefferson and Artavis Pierce, and returns other key offensive starters in QB Jake Luton, TE Noah Togiai, and WR Trevon Bradford -- the OL is still beefy with NFL talent in OG Gus Lavaka, OT Blake Brandel, and transfer OC Nathan Eldridge. Oklahoma State is 8-13-1 as an away favorite in the last seven seasons of Gundy's tenure, and has never been as uncertain at QB in that time frame. This could be an early trap for the Pokes.