College Football Picks: 5 ranked matchups highlight Week 1

Aug 31, 2021, 9:31 PM | Updated: Sep 1, 2021, 9:34 am

A year after the traditional Labor Day weekend bonanza of college football was whittled down to fewer than a dozen games by the pandemic, the 2021 season starts like none ever before.

For the first time since 2005, when the holiday weekend became college football’s official launch date, the season will open with five games pairing Top 25 teams — including a top-five match-up.

The jewel of Week 1 comes Saturday night in Charlotte, North Carolina, where No. 3 Clemson faces No. 5 Georgia.

Elsewhere, No. 1 Alabama opens its national title defense and season as it usually does: At a neutral site against a Power Five opponent. The Crimson Tide and new starting quarterback Bryce Young face No. 14 Miami and D’Eriq King in Atlanta.

The Big Ten decided to open its season with a bunch of conference games that produced two ranked matchups. No. 12 Wisconsin hosts No. 19 Penn State, two Big Ten powers trying to quickly wash away the memory of disappointing 2020 seasons. No. 17 Indiana, ranked in the preseason for the first time since 1969, goes to No. 18 Iowa.

Maybe the most intriguing of the ranked vs ranked games is one that Texas probably didn’t expect would require such heavy lifting when it was scheduled. The 21st-ranked Longhorns host No. 23 Louisiana-Lafayette in the debut of head coach Steve Sarkisian.

The Ragin’ Cajuns of the Sun Belt knocked off a ranked Big 12 team, Iowa State, on the road last season.

Beyond the ranked matchups, there is No. 4 Ohio State at Minnesota on Thursday night; No. 10 North Carolina visiting Virginia Tech on Friday night; No. 16 LSU playing UCLA in the Rose Bowl on Saturday night; and No. 9 Notre Dame goes to Florida State Sunday night.

Last year, there just nine games played over Labor Day weekend in mostly empty stadiums. The Power Five conferences had all delayed their seasons, and four conferences had no plans to play in the fall at all.

The pandemic hasn’t gone away, but vaccination rates among college football players are well ahead of the general adult population. Optimism abounds. College football is back to — mostly — normal.

The picks, with odds from FanDuel Sportsbook:


No. 4. Ohio State (minus 13.5) at Minnesota

Buckeyes have won 11 straight against the Gophers and haven’t lost a season-opener since 1999 against Miami … OHIO STATE 35-23.


No. 10 North Carolina (minus 5 1/2) at Virginia Tech

Early tone-setter in ACC Coastal … NORTH CAROLINA 28-20.


No. 1. Alabama (minus 19 1/2) vs. No. 14 Miami

‘Bama is 10-0 in neutral-site openers under coach Nick Saban by an average margin of 27 points … ALABAMA 42-25.

Tulane (plus 31 1/2) at No. 2. Oklahoma

Sooners were scheduled to play in New Orleans, but Hurricane Ida forced a change … OKLAHOMA 49-14.

No. 3. Clemson (minus 2 1/2) vs. No. 5 Georgia

Don’t call it a playoff elimination game, but it could serve as tiebreaker of sorts come December … GEORGIA 28-24.

Kent State (plus 28 1/2) at No. 6. Texas A&M

Golden Flashes averages almost 50 points per game last season, but it was far Aggie-level competition … TEXAS A&M 55-21.

Miami, Ohio (plus 22 1/2) at No. 8. Cincinnati

Bearcats have won 14 straight in the Battle for the Bell … CINCINNATI 31-10.

Fresno State (plus 20 1/2) at No. 11. Oregon

Bulldogs warmed up by shutting out UConn last week; This will be tougher … OREGON 38-16.

No. 19. Penn State (plus 5 1/2) at No. 12 Wisconsin

Nittany Lions have won four straight and six of seven meetings, dating back to 2007 … WISCONSIN 24-21.

FAU (plus 23 1/2) at No. 13. Florida

After a three-year wait, Emory Jones takes over at quarterback for the Gators … FLORIDA 35-14.

San Jose State (plus 14 1/2) at No. 15. Southern California

USC is 4-0 against the defending Mountain West champions … USC 37-17.

No. 16. LSU (minus 2 1/2) at UCLA

Boy, could the Pac-12 use a victory over an SEC team to start the season … LSU 31-23, BEST BET.

No. 17. Indiana (plus 3 1/2) at No. 18 Iowa

Hawkeyes have won three straight and seven of eight in the series, but these aren’t your father’s Hoosiers. Or are they? … IOWA 28-23.

No. 23. Louisiana-Lafayette (plus 8 1/2) at No. 21 Texas

Ragin’ Cajuns are coming off consecutive double-digit victory seasons … TEXAS 31-21.


No. 9. Notre Dame (minus 7 1/2) at Florida State

Seminoles have lost four straight opening games … FLORIDA STATE 27-23, UPSET SPECIAL.


Boise State (plus 5 1/2) at UCF, Thursday — @bkbeban

Two of the best programs outside the Power Five square off … UCF 31-27.

Michigan State (plus 3 1/2) at Northwestern, Friday — @Colin_Dilworth

Spartans upset the Big Ten West champions last season … NORTHWESTERN 23-20.

Texas Tech (plus 1/2) vs. Houston at NRG Stadium, Saturday — @jefe172

Cougars looking to prove they belong in the Big 12 … HOUSTON 34-28.

Stanford (plus 2 1/2) vs. Kansas State at Arlington, Texas, Saturday — @Ben_Petersheim

Body clock game alert for this 11 a.m. CT kickoff for a West Coast team … STANFORD 28-26.

Oregon State (plus 6 1/2) at Purdue, Saturday — @Ashleyrgsports

Get to know Purdue DE George Karlaftis, a possible future first-round NFL draft pick … OREGON STATE 31-27.

Nevada (plus 3 1/2) at California, Saturday — @lilerq74

Get to know Nevada QB Carson Strong; Maybe this season’s Zach Wilson … NEVADA 28-24.

West Virginia (minus 2 1/2) at Maryland, Saturday, — @SydneyCarton1

Mountaineers have dominated the regional rivalry recently, winning nine of 10 since 2004 … MARYLAND 27-24.



Last season: 179-78 straight; 124-132-1 against the spread.

Bowl season: 12-13 straight; 12-13 against the spread.


Follow Ralph D. Russo at and listen at


More AP college football: and

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) drives as Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (11) defends during the f...
Associated Press

Young scores 27 to lead Hawks past Jazz, 115-108

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Trae Young had 27 points and six assists to lead the Atlanta Hawks to a 115-108 victory over the Utah Jazz on Friday night. De’Andre Hunter scored 26 points for the Hawks. Onyeka Okongwu had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Dejounte Murray added 13 points and eight assists. Atlanta […]
1 day ago
Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) shoots a three point basket as Houston Rockets forward Jae...
Associated Press

VanVleet has 32 as Raptors get 117-111 win over Rockets

HOUSTON (AP) — Fred VanVleet scored 32 points, Gary Trent Jr. added 29 and the Toronto Raptors snapped a two-game skid with a 117-111 win over the Houston Rockets on Friday night. The Raptors took a commanding lead in the third quarter and were up by double-digits for most of the fourth. But five straight […]
1 day ago
Portland Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons (1) shoots against Washington Wizards guard Monte Morr...
Associated Press

Blazers rally from 20 down to end Wizards’ win streak

WASHINGTON (AP) — Anfernee Simons scored 20 of his 33 points in the third quarter and the Portland Trail Blazers erased a 20-point deficit, snapping Washington’s six-game winning streak Friday night with a 124-116 victory over the Wizards. Simons made six of Portland’s nine 3-pointers in the third, and the Trail Blazers finally caught and […]
1 day ago
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) is fouled as he drives to the basket against San Antonio...
Associated Press

Embiid’s double-double keys 76ers as Spurs drop 8th straight

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Joel Embiid had 33 points and 10 rebounds and the Philadelphia 76ers beat San Antonio 137-125 on Friday night, sending the scuffling Spurs to their eighth straight loss. Tyrese Maxey had 25 points and James Harden added 16 for Philadelphia, which has the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. “Tonight was […]
1 day ago
A scrum breaks out between Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic players during the second half ...
Associated Press

Fight between Magic, Timberwolves leads to 5 players ejected

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A fight broke out and punches were thrown during the game between the Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night. Five players were ejected following the brawl, which started in front of the Orlando bench late in the third quarter. Minnesota guard Austin Rivers and Magic center Mo Bamba were the […]
1 day ago
Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin (8) stands on the ice during the NHL All Star Skills Showcase, F...
Associated Press

NHL takes skills showcase outside, McDavid shines inside

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Sidney Crosby got dunked into a tank of water, Nick Suzuki holed a golf ball with a hockey stick and the NHL made hockey an outdoor sport for its skills showcase in South Florida. Two new events outside in the sun highlighted the league’s annual skills competition at All-Star Weekend, with […]
1 day ago
College Football Picks: 5 ranked matchups highlight Week 1