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College Football Betting Picks for Week One (9/4/2021)

What a whirlwind weekend to start off college football. Despite being annually hyped up as a program on the rise, Scott Frost's Nebraska Cornhuskers let the prognosticators down once again in a poor showing in Champaign, Illinois. Week Zero's only competitive game had a scoop-and-score fumble return with less than a minute left in the first half, two missed extra points, and a safety scored as the first points of the season. While it will be difficult to follow that up, we are left with no shortage of football this weekend, and for the better part of the next four months as we enter the heart of the college football schedule.

Last week's slate gave us a 2-1 start to the season, not to mention the added bonus of offering the Illinois money-line bet as an underdog. Despite opening the first quarter with a 24-3 lead, UCLA slowed the pace and defeated Hawaii 44-10, with Hawaii's absent offense causing our only loss on the day. UTEP manhandled New Mexico State by a score of 30-3, easily cashing the under, and Illinois' 30-22 win over Nebraska narrowly cashed the under as well. The season-long record is 2-1.

For Week One of the college football season, here are some expert betting picks to help you as you enjoy your Labor Day weekend.

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Stanford vs. Kansas State (-3) (Arlington, TX)

O/U: 53

Under head coach David Shaw's leadership, the Stanford Cardinal have maintained their elite academic reputation while also often putting a competitive football team on the field. The Cardinal enter 2021 with low expectations having to replace quarterback Davis Mills and eight other starters from a year ago. Defensive coordinator Lance Anderson's task of improving a defense that allowed nearly 32 points a game a year ago is daunting. On offense, senior Jack West will be under center and he does have some limited experience throwing 56 career passes over parts of three seasons. The Cardinal lost offensive tackles Foster Sarrell and Walker Little to the NFL and will lean on a quick-hitting west coast passing attack to counter the line's inexperience. There will be a lot of seniors starting for David Shaw's team, but not a lot of game experience for those elderly players.

The Kansas State Wildcats experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in 2020. With quarterback Skylar Thompson, who enters his sixth season in Manhattan, at the helm, the Wildcats knocked off Oklahoma in Norman, and started the season 4-1. After Thompson suffered a season-ending upper-body injury, the keys were turned over to freshman Will Howard who struggled mightily as the Wildcats finished 0-5 down the stretch. Thompson is joined in the backfield by sophomore stud running back Deuce Vaughn, who led all freshmen with 1,221 all-purpose yards and is poised for an even bigger role in his second year in former North Dakota State head coach Chris Kleiman's offense.

A neutral-site opener against a fellow Power 5 opponent should offer both teams a chance to showcase their hopeful offseason improvement. Kansas State enters the year with outside aspirations at a Big 12 title chase, while Stanford is simply hoping to stay competitive and make a bowl against a strong conference schedule and six teams in the AP preseason top 25. Expect a fairly evenly matched game and a lot of points.

Pick: Over 53


Western Michigan at Michigan (-17)

O/U: 67

The Western Michigan Broncos enjoyed an offensive resurgence in their brief 4-2 campaign last season. Coach Tim Lester's team averaged 41.7 points per game behind a standout six-game stretch from quarterback Kaleb Eleby, who threw 18 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions. Eleby's 195.08 passer rating was third in the country last year - only behind NFL first-round draft picks Mac Jones (New England Patriots) and Zach Wilson (New York Jets). Eleby loses his dynamic receiver D'Wayne Eskridge to the Seattle Seahawks, giving way to opportunity for a host of young players. If junior receivers Skyy Moore (25 catches last season) and Jaylen Hall (7 touchdowns on only 12 receptions last year) can take the next step, that will go a long way in replacing Eskridge, who caught 34% of the team's completions, and also served as the team's primary kick return (to great success). The Broncos return 10 starters on defense, and the defensive line averaged 8.5 tackles for loss per game last year - good for fifth in the nation. The Broncos have a team capable of taking the MAC championship home this year, especially if Eleby can keep up his excellence without his oft-used target Eskridge on campus.

Coach Jim Harbaugh's status on the hot seat dominated the conversation for much of the last calendar year, but he returns to Ann Arbor still in charge. A disappointing 2-4 campaign in 2020 brought more questions than answers, and key departures like quarterback Joe Milton and running back Zach Charbonnet have left a vacuum on offense. Junior quarterback Cade McNamara was recently awarded the starting gig, and he did throw five touchdowns against no interceptions in a four-game audition last year. McNamara will lean heavily on Ronnie Bell, a receiver that is on the 2021 Biletnikoff award watchlist - presented annually to the nation's top wide receiver. The Big Blue did get a boost on defense when safety Daxton Hill and defensive end Aidan Hutchinson both decided to forgo the NFL for a season and to return for 2021, and with new co-defensive coordinators in place, the Wolverines should see improvement on that side of the ball. The offensive line is concerning, with only 30 combined returning starts and an uneven performance in 2020.

The in-state matchup will be fun for alumni and students alike. Until Michigan's offense can prove its competence, they may have some difficulty moving the ball against the Broncos' defensive front. On the flip-side, Michigan's strength is on the defensive side of the ball and they could give Kaleb Eleby fits as he tries to develop a rapport with a new top target.

Pick: Under 67


New Mexico State at San Diego State (-31)

O/U: 51

After an embarrassing 30-3 home loss in week one, the New Mexico State Aggies find themselves shamed once again in the Rotoballer weekly expert betting picks article. Coach Doug Martin's team was undisciplined and disastrously completed 9 of 33 passes, averaged a mere 3.0 yards per carry, and lost a humiliating opener despite UTEP handing the Aggies 140 penalty yards, which barely outpaced the 190 yards of offense that the Aggies mustered. At quarterback, both Jonah Johnson (8 of 24 passing) and Weston Eget (1 of 9 passing) looked lost and were running for their lives behind poor offensive line play. Maybe Coach Martin should relinquish the play-calling duties, and focus on making sure his team shows up to the right stadium on time and ready to play this time.

Coach Brady Hoke is far removed from his tenure at Michigan, but now he leads the San Diego State Aztecs from the Mountain West conference. In the Aztecs' 99th season of collegiate football, the team ushers in a new starting quarterback (senior Jordan Brookshire) but does return eight defensive starters from a team that allowed only 17.8 points per game a year ago.

New Mexico State hasn't beaten San Diego State since 1955, and that streak stands virtually zero chance of breaking this year. The Aztecs' returning talent on offense, and Coach Hoke's preference to rely on the running game should make for a quick-hitting and comfortable Aztecs win to start their 2020 season.

Pick: Under 51

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