College Football Week 1: Top 5 Matchups and Betting Picks
College football kicked off this past weekend with Week 0, which included 11 games. Week 1 kicks off on Thursday night, with Penn State facing off against Purdue in Indiana the biggest matchup of the night. There are plenty of solid matchups in Week 1, which goes from Thursday through Monday. Let's look at the best games and betting picks for the first official week of the 2022 college football season.
Penn State vs. Purdue
Date & Time: Thursday, September 1 at 8:00 p.m. EDT
Location: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, IN
Spread: Penn State -3.5
This is a big test for both of these teams to start off the season, as they both faced ups and downs throughout the 2021 season. Penn State began the season 5-0 and looked poised to make a run at the Big Ten Championship. But then a heartbreaking 23-20 loss to Iowa led to a nosedive on the season. Losses to Illinois (9 overtimes), Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State followed before they also dropped the Outback Bowl, 24-10, to Arkansas and finished the season at 7-6. Purdue finished with their highest win total since 2003, at 9-4, which included a 48-45 overtime win over Tennessee in the Music City Bowl. The Boilermakers have lost two key member of that 2021 squad, one on each side of the ball. Wide receiver David Bell and edge rusher George Karlaftis were both selected in the 2022 NFL Draft.
3 Keys to Victory for Penn State
Pound the Rock
After struggling to find efficiency with the run game last season, the Nittany Lions have to get it going this year to take the strain off of Clifford and the rest of the offense. For the first time in a while, they didn't have a 100-yard rusher. Keyvone Lee returning will be a big help, who is joined by freshmen Nicholas Singelton and Kaytron Allen. Lee will be the starter against Purdue after Noah Cain transferred to LSU. The third-year back started the final four games last year and finished with 530 yards rushing and two scores on 108 carries. He is a two-time leading rusher for Penn State and could have a big year as the potential leader of a three-back rotation.
That starts on Thursday against Purdue, who allowed an average of 154 rushing yards per game last season. Their leading tackler last season is also gone, in linebacker Jaylan Alexander and not having Karlaftis will be a huge blow.
Penn State had the sixth-best scoring defense in the country last season, allowing 17.3 points per game and more than 24 just twice. But that defense lost six starters to the NFL and their coordinator, Brent Pry, to Virginia Tech. They are going to have to quickly redefine themselves against a talented Purdue passing game. The Boilermakers' passing game ranked second in the Big Ten last season, but the loss of Bell will have a big effect.
Stopping the run and getting to quarterback Aidan O'Connell will be key for Penn State in this matchup. They return three staters on the defensive line including big impact tackle PJ Mustipher, who suffered a knee injury against Iowa. They did need to replace two of three starting linebackers for new coordinator Manny Diaz's defense. Sophomore Curtis Jacobs is the centerpiece and most experienced linebacker in the corp and is shifting from Sam to Will. He will be able to showcase his speed closer to the line of scrimmage, while being the only linebacker with more than two starts. Jonathan Sutherland has mostly played in the secondary for his career but is now shifting to the Sam linebacker spot. The sixth-year senior could swing between linebacker and secondary spots depending on the situation.
The Penn State secondary lost safety Jaquan Brisker and cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields to the NFL, but cornerback Joey Porter, Jr. and safety Ji'Ayir Brown are back are back to mold the defense. Porter Jr. could become the first defensive back out of Penn State to be drafted in the first round in April. He has elite potential and could really flash that this year.
The cornerback room is ultra-competitive, with Kalen King being a standout as a freshman in 2021, Johnny Dixon standing out in camp, and Daequan Hardy and Marquis Wilson also returning.
A big reason for Penn State's drop-off last season was Sean Clifford getting injured in the Iowa game. The inability for him to finish that game was a big reason why they lost, and he was never himself again the rest of the season. The sixth-year senior wound up playing all 13 of the Nittany Lions' games but really struggled down the stretch and in the bowl game. Keeping him upright and giving him time to throw the ball will be important in this game and the season.
The offensive line has been a very weak link the last few years, while center Juice Scruggs and tackle Cadean Wallace are the only returning starters. The rest of the offensive line will include Olu Fashanu at the other tackle position and a rotation at the guard spots between Landen Tengwall, Sal Wormley and transfer Hunter Nourzad. Perhaps a new look will do them some good and allow to grow as a unit.
3 Keys to Victory for Purdue
Stop the Run
Losing Karlaftis and Alexander is a big blow to the Purdue run defense and facing the 234-pound Lee will be tough. In addition to that, the young blood the Nittany Lions will be deploying in top 50 recruit Singleton and true freshman Allen will make it difficult for the Boilermakers to stop. While Penn State did struggle to run the rock last year, the youngsters and Lee will have a strong chance to breakout in this game. Plus, if they can't get things going, first-year offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich should look to deploy more quarterback run options for Clifford. Purdue had a weak run defense in 2021 and losing big playmakers won't help. But if they are able to slow down the blue and white's rushing attack at all, it will put a lot of pressure on Clifford to be the hero.
New No. 1 Receiver Emerges
With Bell gone, O'Connell will need to seek out a new number one target. That could have been Milton Wright, but the junior was deemed academically ineligible. Two-year starter Payne Durham is back at tight end, but the receiver corps is lacking experience. Purdue has two transfers from Iowa, in Tyrone Tracy and Charlie Jones, who project to be key contributors on the outside, while the rest of the room is pretty crowded. TJ Sheffield, Marshawn Rice, Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen and Elijah Canion look to get chances to be key contributors in the pass-heavy attack led by Jeff Brohm. One of these guys will have to emerge as the top option and begin to develop rapport with O'Connell.
The Boilermakers can really take Clifford out of the game and limit the passing game if they can create any pressure. As tough as that might be without Karlaftis, Purdue does have other solid options to get to the quarterback. They still carry over their same philosophy in being aggressive getting to the quarterback, after having their best statistical defense last year since Brohm took over in 2017.
This year, they have solid depth over just having one top guy like Karlaftis. Purdue should be able to keep fresh legs out there and limit Clifford in finding his receivers that will be without Jahan Dotson, the first-round pick to Washington. Penn State does have a solid group of weapons, led by Parker Washington. Creating pressure will be how Purdue wins this matchup, as their secondary does not matchup well with the Nittany Lion's receiving corps.
Any game in the opening week is difficult to predict, but especially when the two teams are evenly matched Big Ten squads. The vibes were very different for these teams at the end of last season, with Penn State limping towards the finish and Purdue pulling out a big overtime win in their bowl game.
Both teams handed out contract extensions to their head coaches. While Brohm had to replace five full-time assistants, James Franklin retained most of his staff. Each team has great leaders in six-year quarterbacks, but Clifford has the edge in more experienced weapons. The difference in the game will be how the run game of each team goes and how much pressure can be applied on the quarterbacks. Penn State escapes in a close one, with Parker Washington having a big game.
Prediction: Penn State 35, Purdue 31 (PSU -3.5)
West Virginia vs. 17 Pitt
Date & Time: Thursday, September 1 at 7:00 p.m. EDT
Location: Acrisure Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA
Spread: Pitt -7.5
One of college football's most historic rivalries, the Backyard Brawl, returns for this holiday weekend. It is the 15th-year anniversary of the Brawl's most stunning chapter, with West Virginia losing 13-9 in the 100th edition in 2007 and the date living in infamy for their fans. The Mountaineers came in as the No. 2 team in the country and were 28.5 point favorites over the 4-7 Pitt.
A week prior, they had hung a 66-piece on a top-20 UConn team. All they needed to earn a BCS title game berth was to get by a team limping to the finish line, but couldn't get it done. Following the upset, West Virginia fans threw beer bottles at Pat McAfee's jeep, wrecked his yard, and threatened his life. The fans blamed him for the loss, which caused him to contemplate suicide and he said it was the worst night of his life. The Mountaineers got revenge in 2009 as the start of three straight wins in the series. The final one was in 2011, and now 11 years later the rivalry is back.
3 Keys to Victory for West Virginia
Offensive Line Improves
West Virginia's offensive line ranked dead last in the Big 12 in rushing yards and sacks allowed last season. They cannot rely on JT Daniels to get the ball out quickly to be effective on offense. Pitt has a deep front seven that will be making things very tough. If the offensive line can't put a stop to the pressure, Daniels will be forced to try and air it out against what is expected to be a great Pitt defensive backfield. Giving time for Daniels and the running backs will be key for West Virginia to get things going early.
Get Pressure on Slovis
On the defensive side, the Mountaineers will have to get pressure on Kedon Slovis as equally as they stop the pressure on offense. The transfer quarterback from USC comes in after three seasons - two as a starter - on the west coast. Unlike West Virginia, Pitt has a solid offensive line that returns every starter from their ACC Championship team. In additon, Slovis has strong weapons at his disposal and will have it too easy with extra time.
Find Impact Targets
If Daniels is able to get time to throw in the pocket, his most likely top target is junior Bryce Ford-Wheaton. Last year, he recorded 42 catches for 575 yards and three touchdowns. But outside him, there isn't much proven talent. Head coach Neal Brown will look towards Reese Smith and Kaden Prather to step up in the offense and be impact receivers. Depending on how the offensive line looks, the offense will likely have to rely heavily on the passing game. Even if the rushing attack gets going, Pitt is the better team overall and could bounce out to a big lead early.
3 Keys to Victory for Pitt
Slovis Steps Right In for Pickett
Pitt comes into this game after having their best season in 40 years. They won 11 of 14 games, including the ACC Championship behind the Heisman-caliber season from Kenny Pickett. Slovis comes into the game with some familiarity on the other sideline. He was coached at USC by West Virginia's first-year offensive coordinator Graham Harrell. Slovis already endured himself to the Pitt faithful, as he grabbed the mic at a pep rally and shouted "F**k West Virginia". If he can back that trash talk up on the field, there won't be much drop-off from Pickett, at least to start the season. In 26 starts over three seasons at USC, Slovis threw for 7,576 yards and 58 touchdowns. The senior has a solid array of weapons, led by one of the best duos in the ACC, Jared Wayne and Konata Mumpfield.
Force Daniels Out of the Pocket
As I mentioned, a big key to West Virginia's success is their offensive line. With that in mind, forcing Daniels out of the pocket and to throw on the run towards their talented secondary will give Pitt a good chance to stomp on their throats. The Panthers led the ACC last year in rushing yards allowed per game with an average of 88.7 and in interceptions with 16. All four of their defensive back starters are returning from last year, so they can take an even bigger step forward this year. That starts with the defensive line creating pressure and forcing Daniels to throw.
Find Jordan Addison's Replacement
Wayne is Pitt's leading receiver who is back this year and will get a lot of targets in the red zone. Mumpfield transferred in from Akron after being named a Freshman All-American. One of these guys will be looking to be the top target for Slovis after Addison transferred to the quarterbacks former school in USC. Wayne had his best season last year, as the senior caught 47 passes for 658 yards and six touchdowns over 13 games. Mumpfield caught 63 passes for 751 yards and eight touchdowns over 12 games. They might take some time to develop with Slovis, but one of them will have to stand out to get things going in the passing game.
This game could get out of hand quickly even if it stays close at the start. Pitt is clearly the better team on paper and still have a strong team after losing top guys. Both teams have high-profile transfers at the quarterback position. But Pitt's depth will take over and take advantage of West Virginia's offensive line with their front seven.
That defensive line is led by Calijah Kancey, who is one of the best defensive linemen in the country and a first-team All-ACC selection in 2021. This will force Daniels to throw and the secondary can force mistakes. West Virginia stays in the game early but Pitt runs away with it.
Prediction: Pitt 38, West Virginia 21 (Pitt -7.5, Over 51.5)
11 Oregon vs. 3 Georgia
Date & Time: Saturday, September 3 at 3:30 p.m. EDT
Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA
Spread: Georgia -17
The defending champion Georgia Bulldogs meet the Oregon Ducks at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday in one of the marquee matchups of the week. The Ducks haven't been highly regarded by sportsbooks the last two seasons, even after upsetting Ohio State as 15-point underdogs last year. The Bulldogs lost a lot of big time talent to the NFL this past year, but is still built very well on both sides of the ball. They are led by one of the premier coaches in the nation in Kirby Smart.
3 Keys to Victory for Oregon
Sewell Proves He's The Real Deal
With the exit of first-round pick Kayvon Thibodeaux, redshirt sophomore linebacker Noah Sewell becomes the focal point of the Oregon defense. The former five-star recruit enters the season with a lot of hype, being placed on Bronko Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik, Butkus and other watchlists. A big first test comes right off the bat as Sewell has to prove the hype his real to keep the Ducks in the game.
His running mate Justin Flow will also be a factor, who earned last year’s Pac-12 Week 1 Freshman of the Week before missing the ret of the season due to injury. The likely first-round pick in Sewell can be a wrecking ball and new head coach Dan Lanning can elevate him to another level. Last season, the younger brother of Penei Sewell led the team with 114 tackles.
Dan Lanning "Outsmarts Smart"
The Nick Saban coaching tree continues to grow more branches. Lanning served as Smart's defensive coordinator and linebackers coach from 2019 to 2021, while the Georgia head coach was on Saban's staff from 2007 to 2015. The jury is still out on whether Lanning can lead his own team the way Smart has, but he led a top-5 total and scoring defense in 2019, and the nation’s best defense in 2021.
In addition, he helped develop 10 linebackers who were drafted during his time as linebackers coach. Lanning knows Smart well and can get inside his head, not to mention Oregon already has a talented defense. He was key to Georgia becoming a nightmare for opposing offenses.
Bo Isn't Nixed
Bo Nix transferred to Oregon from Auburn and didn't blow anyone in his previous matchups with the Bulldogs. He is 0-3 overall and has completed just 56 percent of his passes for 639 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. Maybe the fourth time is the charm and being familiar with the Georgia defense will help him. In the opening game of the season and against an opponent that plays at that high a level, Nix may play with some extra motivation.
3 Keys to Victory for Georgia
Don't Underestimate Oregon
Play Your Game
Develop YOUR Playmakers
Prediction: Georgia 31, Oregon 17 (OR +17)
23 Cincinnati vs. 19 Arkansas
Date & Time: Saturday, September 3 at 3:30 p.m. EDT
Location: Razorback Stadium, Fayettville, AR
Spread: Arkansas -6.5
Cincinnati is coming off an unforgettable 2021 season in which they finished 13-1 (8-0 AAC), won the AAC Championship, and made the College Football Playoff. Arkansas had an up and down season, going 4-4 in the SEC and finishing third in the West Division. But the Razorbacks were able to cap the season off with a victory over Penn State in the Outback Bowl. This will be the first-ever matchup between these two schools on the gridiron, with Arkansas having the home-field advantage.
3 Keys to Victory for Cincinnati
Quick Adjustments with New Look Squad
Cincinnati is seeing a lot of turnover this season, as they lost several key players to the NFL Draft and transfer portal, including uber-talented cornerback Sauce Gardner and quarterback Desmond Ridder. The Bearcats are going to have to quickly learn as a young and fresh unit against a tough opponent on the road. Without their top two cornerbacks, it will be tough to stop the offense led by quarterback KJ Jefferson even without top playmaker Treylon Burks.
Stop the Run
Slowing down the Arkansas offense starts with stopping the running game, one that averaged 223.3 rushing yards per game last season. Cincinnati also allowed an average of 153.5 yards per game, which ranked 59th in the country. Having a weaker secondary means the Bearcats need to focus on creating pressure on the quarterback and limiting the rushing attack. They lost seven starters from last season, losing half its total tackles and TFL, 61.5 percent of its sacks, 10 of 19 interceptions, 34 of 51 pass breakups and 27 of 41 QB hurries.
Luke Fickell declined to announce who the starting quarterback is ahead of the game on Saturday, although he has made the decision on who it is. Following the departure of Ridder to the NFL, the Bearcats will either hand senior Ben Bryant or sophomore Evan Prater the keys to the offense. Ridder will be hard to replace, as he is the third-winningest quarterback in FBS history at 44-7 after winning the battle against Bryant for the starting job in 2019 and 2020. The now Atlanta Falcon was the AAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2020 and 2021. Bryant has 14 career college starts, while Prater has none. The former started at Eastern Michigan last season, finishing the year with 3,121 yards and 14 touchdowns on 279 completions, before transferring back to Cincinnati. Prater redshirted his freshman season and sat behind Ridder last year. Bryant is a traditional pocket passer, while Prater is more of a dual-threat quarterback. The Bearcats may go with experience which would mean Bryant, but if they want more options on offense they should go with Prater. Perhaps if the starter gets off to a slow start, Fickell tries to kickstart the offense by putting in the other.
3 Keys to Victory for Arkansas
Pound the Rock
The Razorbacks have to return to what saw them have success last year, the running game. Jefferson had a lot to do with that, so his dual-threat abilities will be big. He had the second-most rushing touchdowns on the team with six and the most rushing yards with 664. The leading running back was Dominique Johnson, who rushed for seven touchdowns and 583 yards. The junior will miss some time to start the season after suffering a knee injury in the Outback Bowl. Raheim Sanders was named the top running back for this season after a dominant spring. He rushed for five touchdowns and 578 yards, good for third on the team behind Johnson and Trelon Smith - who transferred to UTSA.
Don't Overthink It
In facing a team that has lost as much talent as Cincinnati has, Arkansas must not overthink how they attack the game. They have the more well-rounded roster and have an experienced quarterback in Jefferson. They will need to trust him to lead them to victory, especially after finishing off strong with a bowl game victory last season.
Take Advantage of Cincinnati's Weak Spots
Cincinnati could keep this game close, but Arkansas is far more talented a team to lose. They will cover the spread by a slim margin, with their defense holding off a late push. Both defenses can hold steady which will be what keeps the Bearcats in the game. But the Razorbacks will ultimately make more plays in the big moments.
Prediction: Arkansas 27, Cincinnati 20 (AR -6.5)
5 Notre Dame vs. 2 Ohio State
Date & Time: Saturday, September 3 at 7:30 p.m. EDT
Location: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
Spread: Ohio State -17
The title for matchup of the week goes to Notre Dame traveling to Columbus to face Ohio State on Saturday night. The Fighting Irish are being written off by oddsmakers and this game is an opportunity for them to take back some of their respect. Ohio State is a very talented team, having a strong receiving corps behind the leading Heisman candidate CJ Stroud. But does Notre Dame incompetent? The answer is clearly no, but let's find out if they have what it takes to slay the beast of the Big Ten East.
3 Keys to Victory for Notre Dame
Find Michael Mayer
The top target for new quarterback Tyler Buchner is tight end Michael Mayer. He is arguably the best returning tight end in the country, with his great combination of speed, route running and catching ability. Last season, the junior caught the most passes for Notre with 71 and tied for the team lead in touchdown catches with seven. Ohio State has a new defensive scheme and Mayer could expose it early on. Against a similar defense in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State, he had seven catches for 72 yards and a team-best two touchdown cataches.
To keep this game close, Notre Dame needs to control the line of scrimmage and slow the game down. That means getting to Stroud and finding their balance on offense. Keeping the game close comes down to limiting the passing game and getting rhythm offensively.
Limit Ohio State to One Dimension
Going along with the need to control the tempo, the Irish will need to work on keeping the Buckeyes offense to one dimension. Limiting the big plays and stopping Ohio State on third down will be important. If they let Ohio State get into a grove, the route may be on.
3 Keys to Victory for Ohio State
Heisman Campaign Begins
Ohio State goes where CJ Stroud take them this season, as he is the current Heisman frontrunner. He lost top receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, but still has a bevy of options led by Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Finding the air attack early in this one will be key as they look to pull away from Notre Dame.
Limit Michael Mayer
Stay Aggressive Defensively
Notre Dame has what it takes to stay in this game, but Ohio State is far too talented for the Irish to take it outright. The Buckeyes might struggle defensively to start out in their new scheme, but will ultimately find themselves and limit Notre Dame. A 17-point spread is pretty big and there's a strong chance the Irish can cover it. Especially it being Week 1, everyone will be rusty so we shouldn't expect complete annihilation.
Prediction: Ohio State 37, Notre Dame 27 (ND +17)