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College football upset alert: Expert picks for Week 1 underdogs with the best odds to win

You know when your buddy makes that all-knowing declaration that so-and-so will pull off the upset this weekend? Well, we’re going to keep track of such prognostications, and see who among our group at The Sporting News can spot the underdogs who are about to spring the upset.

Our four esteemed participants will be charged with picking three underdogs each week who will win straight up. Should said underdog pull off the upset, points will be awarded to the correct picker in the amount the team was an underdog. Your 6.5-point dog wins the game (hello, Illinois), you get 6.5 points. Simple, dimple.

In an absolutely loaded Week 1, which includes FIVE top 25 matchups, there are plenty of chances to go big (Louisiana Monroe is getting 30.5 at Kentucky) or small (Houston is a 1.5-point dog vs. Texas Tech).

MORE: Week 1 picks against the spread | SEC betting guide

On to the upsets:

Bill Bender, college football lead writer

Penn State (+5.5) over Wisconsin

The Nittany Lions have won six of the past seven meetings, and that includes two trips to Madison. The line looked too high off the go knowing that both teams have up-and-down veteran quarterbacks in Sean Clifford and Graham Mertz. Clifford can test the Badgers with a talented group of receivers that includes Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington, and if they avoid a disastrous start the Nittany Lions can get out of Camp-Randall Stadium with a huge Big Ten victory to start the season.

Ohio (+1.5) over Syracuse

It’s an admitted homer pick knowing that I’m an OU grad, and this “Journalism School Bowl” should be close. The Orange are coming off a 1-10 season and averaged 11.6 points per game in road games. Ohio coach Frank Solich retired in the offseason, and new coach Tim Albin will try to control the clock with running back De’Montre Tuggle, who averaged 7.6 yards per carry. The Solich era took off after a home upset against Pitt. Albin will get the same early building block against Syracuse.

Navy (+2.5) over Marshall

This is a tough one to pick. Both teams closed last season on losing streaks, and Marshall has a new coach in Charles Huff. The Herd have a talented quarterback in Grant Wells, but he played in just two road games last season. Navy hasn’t played a Conference-USA opponent since 2017. That option attack will need to be better than last season, but a group of new faces led by quarterbacks Tai Lavatai and Xavier Arline will spring a light upset.

Mike DeCourcy, senior writer

Louisiana +8.5 points over Texas

Going to be honest here: I have no idea whether the Ragin’ Cajuns have any chance at all to win. I picked this game just to show what a farce the UT program has become, barely favored by a touchdown to beat a team that plays in the Sun Belt. Imagine the arrogance of an administration that blames its conference for this kind of decline. Maybe we all were wrong to declare the SEC had just acquired two football powers in its mid-summer expansion. Maybe they just added a power in Oklahoma and, in Texas, one more team to use as a victim, like the Citadel or Troy.

Georgia +3.5 points over Clemson

This is the opportunity to get the Tigers, with Trevor Lawrence wearing the garish uniform of the Jacksonville Jaguars and everyone at Clemson still adjusting to this new reality. UGA is going to need to be much better than it was in the Peach Bowl to win this neutral site game. But then, it’s going to need to be better to fulfill any of its SEC ambitions. This seems like the right team at the right time.

RELATED: Betting trends to know for Georgia-Clemson

Louisville +10.5 points over Ole Miss

I’m probably the least experienced sports bettor on this panel. What little action I’ve entertained has mostly been futures bets on the Steelers to win the Super Bowl. (Hey, I cashed back in 2005! Don’t ask me about 2008 — long, sad story). But if the idea is to pick an underdog winner and the book is going to offer me a high-major team on a neutral field getting double digits, I can’t pass up this one.

Getty Images

Bill Trocchi, senior editor

Louisiana +8.5 points over Texas

This one admittedly feels like the 12-5 upset everyone is picking in the NCAA Tournament, and then 5-seed comes out and wipes the floor with the 12. But hear me out. Louisiana went 10-1 last season with the lone blemish by three points to Coastal Carolina. Twenty starters are back, including QB Levi Lewis. Any early hiccup and Texas will feel its throat tighten.

UCLA +3.5 points over LSU

Impressive opener for the Bruins. LSU has been forced to practice all week in Houston. Lots of new faces for LSU making their debuts, including both coordinators. Come for the uniforms, stay for the upset.

San Jose State +13.5 over USC

Another upset pick where the underdog had a dress rehearsal last week and the favorite did not. Seventeenth-year QB Nick Starkel threw for 394 yards and four TDs vs. Southern Utah, and he has 19 other starters back with him from a 7-1 team. Beware, Trojans. Beware.

Zac Al-Khateeb, content producer

Penn State (+5.5) over Wisconsin

The Badgers get an automatic advantage playing at home in Camp Randall, especially when a fully packed crowd reacts to “Jump Around” for the first time since 2019. Neither team played particularly well in last year’s COVID-19-affected season, but Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford has a better track record of airing it out than Wisconsin counterpart Graham Mertz. Plus, he has a more proven playmaker at receiver in Jahan Dotson.

Indiana (+3.5) over Iowa

Fifth-year coach Tom Allen has the complete trust of this team after leading Indiana to consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1993-94; he’ll have the Hoosiers ready for what looks like the program’s most anticipated season-opener in recent memory. Couple that with quarterback Michael Penix Jr.’s return from a season-ending ACL tear a year ago — and that Hoosiers avoid Kinnick Stadium’s patented nighttime voodoo — and the Hoosiers should feel confident about getting a win.

Maryland (+2.5) over West Virginia

Maryland has won a combined five games under third-year coach Mike Locksley, so he’s likely feeling a little heat heading into this season-opener vs. West Virginia. Conversely, Mountaineers coach Neal Brown showed marked improvement in his second year, getting the team to a 6-4 season and a bowl win. This game, like so many others, will come down to quarterback play. Can second-year quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa — Tua’s younger brother — take the next step? Bringing in Dan Enos from Cincinnati is a great first step in what should be a high-scoring affair.




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