College Football Week 1 Upsets & best underdog Picks: Three High-Powered Offenses Getting Points in Primetime

Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jordan Travis (13) pats his teammate s helmet after the team scored a touchdown. The Florida State Seminoles defeated the Oklahoma Sooners 35-32 in the Cheez-It Bowl at Camping World Stadium on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022.
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Sam Avellone


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Long-time suffering Browns fan born and raised in the greater Cleveland, Ohio area who now resides in SEC country. University of South Carolina alum. Sports handicapper for close to 10 years with a primary focus on NCAAB while enjoying NFL, PGA, NCAAF, NBA, and Soccer. For Sam Avellone media enquiries, please email
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College Football is finally back, which means the weekly underdog article is back as well! How exciting! We have had a small taste of college football already in Week 0 and on Thursday night of Week 1, but this weekend represents a more official start to the season with over 60 games from noon till midnight on Saturday and other games sprinkled on Friday, Sunday, and Monday. I identified 3 underdogs that stood out to me most on this weekend’s slate and will touch briefly on why I like each. Let’s get to the picks.

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Best Week 1 upsets and underdog bets

Toledo Rockets +9.5 (-110) vs Illinois Fighting Illini

Toledo returns quite a bit from last season’s 9-win team with 82% of its offensive production and 72% of its defensive production back in the mix this year. Quarterback Dequan Finn headlines the returning offensive production and provides the Rockets with dual-threat capabilities after rushing for over 600 yards in addition to more than 2,200 passing yards in 2022. He will have his top 2 receivers back in Jerjuan Newton and Devin Maddox, as well as his top 3 running mates in Jacquez Stuart, Peny Boone, and Micah Kelly. Furthermore, the offensive line returns a talented trio on the interior including Vinny Sciury and Nick Rosi at the guard positions. There is some turnover on the defensive front 7, but the Rockets should be very strong in the secondary with 4 returning starters that rated above a 77 in coverage grade according to PFF. In fact, Quinyon Mitchell, Nate Bauer, and Zachary Ford were the 3 highest graded coverage defensive backs in the MAC. Mitchell finished first overall in coverage grade among all defensive backs in the FBS, just ahead of Illinois’s Devon Witherspoon – who was drafted 5th overall by the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL Draft. 

Finn played through injury throughout last season, yet was still very productive and guided the Rockets to a MAC championship. He should be able to make plays with his legs in this game, as well as through the air against an inexperienced secondary that will be without its starting free safety Matthew Bailey – who is not expected to be back until at least Week 3. While there is a natural talent gap between the MAC and the Big Ten, I believe the Rockets have just enough to keep this matchup close with playmakers on both sides of the ball. Furthermore, the Illini are breaking in a handful of new pieces at key positions including quarterback, running back, and right tackle, which may require a bit of an adjustment period for the offense. I expect the talented Toledo secondary to keep Illinois’ Isaiah Williams in check and capitalize on any of quarterback Luke Altymer’s potential mistakes in his first Illinois start, leading to a Toledo Rockets cover. 

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South Carolina Gamecocks +2.5 (-110) vs North Carolina Tar Heels

It feels like the whole world is betting on the Tar Heels in this game, but I am not convinced they are going to win outright much less cover the spread in this neutral site matchup against the Gamecocks. Obviously quarterback Drake Maye is an incredible asset for the Tar Heel offense. He had the highest usage rate of any quarterback in college football with the third-best cumulative EPA and even led the Tar Heels in rushing last season. With him at the helm, the Tar Heels will likely have another high-powered offense this year. However, they will have to improve their rushing attack to take some pressure off Maye, who will be without his top 2 receivers from a season ago. North Carolina finished 66th in rushing success rate in 2022 according to CFB-Graphs and outside the top 60 in overall rushing grade according to PFF. The strength of the offense is the passing attack, which ranked 9th in success rate and 2nd in passing grade. Fortunately for the Gamecocks, the secondary is the strength of their defense. While there are a few pieces that have moved on to the NFL, South Carolina returns 2 of its 3 best coverage defensive backs from a unit that finished top 40 in passing success rate allowed and EPA per pass last year. 

Like North Carolina, South Carolina has a high-end quarterback leading its offense, as Spencer Rattler returns for his second season in Columbia. Rattler battled inconsistencies last year, but greatly improved down the stretch and led the Gamecocks to wins over Tennessee and Clemson. His main beneficiary will be wide receiver Antwane Wells Jr., who returned to South Carolina after catching 68 passes for 928 yards and 6 touchdowns. Wells will lead a pass-catching group that features 2 very good tight ends as well as freshman Nyckoles Harbor, who possesses incredible upside and speed as a five-star recruit and track star. The Gamecocks have some question marks on the offensive line and in the backfield, so expect them to aggressively utilize their passing attack early and often against a North Carolina defense that finished outside the top 105 in EPA per pass and passing success rate.

This matchup figures to be high-scoring with 2 prolific passers and porous defenses. However, I give the slight edge to South Carolina due to its playmakers in the passing attack. While the Tar Heels ease in new receivers, the Gamecocks will be able to rely on Wells, Harbor, Trey Knox, and Josh Simon for offensive production throughout. Give me the points in what should be a thrilling Week 1 matchup under the lights. 

Florida State Seminoles +2.5 (-110) vs LSU Tigers

Florida State vs. LSU represents another ACC-SEC matchup in Week 1 that should be thrilling to watch. Heimsan hopefuls Jayden Daniels and Jordan Travis return to their respective programs in search of a College Football Playoff berth, while LSU seeks revenge on Florida State for last season’s 1-point defeat. Both of these teams will likely be very good this season, but I am especially bullish on the Seminoles. Coach Mike Norvell was extremely successful in the transfer portal, bringing in wide receiver Keon Coleman and tight end Jaheim Bell to join an already stout pass-catching group headlined by Johnny Wilson. Furthermore, they will have one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country, as well as a talented running back duo in Trey Benson and Lawrence Toafili. Defensively, Braden Fiske and Fentrell Cypress II will be key additions to a unit that yielded just 21.8 points per game and should complement Jared Verse, Tatum Bethune, and Kalen DeLoach very well.

LSU has plenty of talent across its roster too. The Tigers return 4 of 5 starters on their offensive line as well as Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr. out wide. They do not have as much wide receiver depth as the Seminoles, but they do possess quite a bit of running back depth with its top 4 rushers returning from last season. Defensively, LSU lost 7 of its top 11 tacklers from last season, including leaders at the edge and in the secondary. Coach Brian Kelly brought in 11 defensive transfers to fill the voids left by the departed players, but this unit is going to need some time to adjust to playing together. 

LSU defensive tackle Maason Smith will miss this game due to a suspension that he was unable to serve last year because of an injury sustained in this very matchup with Florida State. With quite a bit of turnover on the defensive side of the ball, Smith’s absence is even more noteworthy. Expect Florida State to take advantage of the missing interior defensive lineman with running back counters, and for Travis to succeed on the ground as well as through the air when targeting his elite pass-catchers. At this point in time, Florida State appears to be the more complete team and will be playing in its home state despite the neutral location – so I am happy to take the points with the Seminoles. 

Honorable Mentions: South Alabama +6.5, Duke +13


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