The first week of the 2021 college football season is officially underway, and while games were played over the last three days, Saturday’s slate is absolutely loaded. Not only is there a rare top-five matchup in Week 1, there’s four other games being contested between top 25 teams that will undoubtedly shake up the college football rankings when they are released on Tuesday.
No. 3 Clemson and No. 5 Georgia will square off in Charlotte in the biggest game of the season, No. 1 Alabama and No. 14 Miami will tee it up in Atlanta and the Big Ten boasts multiple important conference matchups right out of the gate.
The Tigers are breaking in a new-look offense with sophomore quarterback DJ Uiagalelei at the helm. He looked phenomenal in the limited time that we saw him last year, and will have the daunting task of solving the riddle that is the Georgia defense on Saturday night. Meanwhile, Bulldogs quarterback JT Daniels and second-year offense coordinator Todd Monken will have to square off against a Tigers defense that is loaded — especially up front.
No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 3 Clemson in Charlotte is clearly the game of the day, but No. 1 Alabama may have its hands full with No. 14 Miami in Atlanta. No. 12 Wisconsin hosts No. 19 Penn State in one of the premier Big Ten showdowns of the season, while No. 17 Indiana invades No. 18 Iowa in another and No. 21 Texas welcomes No. 23 Louisiana in a tough nonconference showdown.
While winning is all that matters for the standings, we care about whether these teams will cover their spreads. Be sure to stick with CBS Sports throughout the day for college football coverage from the opening kickoff on Saturday to the final whistle. Let’s take a look at our expert picks for the first full Saturday of the season
It is not easy to get a great read on this game, and I believe the oddsmakers have this one lined up just about right. I lean towards Wisconsin simply because home teams should have a significant advantage early in the season as visitors get acclimated to playing in front of fans again. Camp Randall Stadium is already a raucous atmosphere, and it could take Penn State a little more time to adjust in the first game back.
Complacency won’t be an issue for Alabama’s new-look offense, which will keep its foot on the gas for all four quarters no matter the score. After all, they have to get those game reps. Whether Miami can keep up will depend on what D’Eriq King is able to do against this Crimson Tide defense, but the Hurricanes should do enough to keep pressure on Bryce Young and Co. for all four quarters. Alabama will get the job done and force a few mistakes, but Las Vegas isn’t giving the Hurricanes enough respect.
I have these two teams rated extremely close to one another, not just as top-half squads in their own division but even within a point of each other on a neutral field. That’s where I lean on a home field advantage component that Iowa did not have in 2020 and will certainly have with fans back in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Iowa doesn’t often lose in these spots as a short favorite anywhere, and I don’t expect that trend to reverse at home in a season opener with plenty of time to prepare for a crucial conference game against a ranked foe.
There’s no question: Texas is the more talented team, perhaps the most talented team Louisiana has played in several years. Yes, Texas is breaking in a number of unproven underclassmen, but after all the upset alert talk this offseason, it’s unlikely the Longhorns will overlook this critical home opener. Still, Louisiana’s defense keeps this close down the stretch
Clemson doesn’t really lose in Charlotte. I understand that facing Georgia is not the same as whoever the ACC Coastal spits out for the Tigers in their annual playoff warm-up, but there’s little “neutral” about Bank of America Stadium. I like Clemson’s edge because of its quarterback advantage. D.J. Uiagalelei has the kind of dual-threat playmaking ability that might be needed in a close, heavyweight-style fight. “Big Game Dabo” has put the ball in the hands of his quarterback in crunch-time situations for nearly a decade — from Tajh Boyd to Deshaun Watson to Lawrence and now Uiagalelei. D.J. is the difference, and Clemson will win by a touchdown
LSU is going to be a force, and it’ll start on Saturday with a big win over the Bruins. Max Johnson and wide receiver Kayshon Boutte will have huge games and make a statement to the college football world that the Tigers are back. On the flip side, the talented LSU defensive backfield