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College Football Betting 2021: Best Week 1 spread picks

South Bend, Indiana, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei (5) warms up before the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

While college football Week 0 has come and gone, the 2021 college football season begins in earnest with Week 1 action. And with a packed slate of games comes endless opportunities for betting value.

These are my model’s biggest edges compared to the betting market. The best strategy is to make sure you bet early in the week and beat the closing line while also looking everywhere to find the best price. Those are two of the simplest and most important things you can do to cut down on the bookmaker’s margin and stay above water over the course of a season. 

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Clemson Tigers (-3) vs. Georgia Bulldogs

Projection: Clemson -6.8

Everyone wants to bet on the biggest game of the week, right? Luckily, I see an edge on Clemson’s current price, so there will be something to root for Saturday night. Georgia seems to be a trendy national championship pick this year, but the Tigers match up favorably in this contest.

For one, Clemson’s defensive line is one of the top units in the country on either side of the ball. It returns Bryan Bresee and Myles Murphy after their stellar true freshman seasons, as well as Tyler Davis and a former top recruit Xavier Thomas. Clemson’s defense ranked first in havoc generated from the front seven (forced fumbles and tackles for loss) and fifth in sack rate last season.

Meanwhile, Georgia quarterback J.T. Daniels has struggled tremendously over his career when under pressure. He’s thrown 91 balls under pressure in college, recording 15 turnover-worthy plays on such plays compared to just 26 completions. Cincinnati was the only team that actually managed to pressure Daniels in his limited sample last season, and it really affected his play. He had 14 attempts under pressure against the Bearcats, completing 50% of those passes for 5.3 yards per attempt and two interceptions.

Clemson did lose Trevor Lawrence to the NFL (in case you haven’t heard), but we can be pretty confident that the team is in good hands at the quarterback position. D.J. Uiagalelai came in as an incredibly coveted recruit and absolutely lived up to the hype when he was forced to fill in after Lawrence’s positive COVID-19 test in 2020. He attempted 96 passes across his two starts, earning grades of 83.2 and 76.5 with zero turnover-worthy plays and five big-time throws.

As far as weapons go, Justyn Ross returns after missing all of 2020 due to injury, plus several players could emerge as elite playmakers. In case you forgot, Ross totaled 301 receiving yards and three touchdowns in the 2018 playoff as a true freshman. The Tigers also have Frank Ladson and Joseph Ngata waiting in the wings, and each could explode this year if they are able to stay healthy. Don’t forget about E.J. Williams, either, who capped off an impressive freshman season with an 80-yard performance against Notre Dame in the ACC championship game. If the Tigers can get healthy seasons out of these receivers, it’s very likely they'll field one of the best passing offenses in the country.

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Georgia lost its top four cornerbacks from 2020 in terms of snap counts, but it did add former Clemson cornerback Derion Kendrick and West Virginia slot corner Tykee Smith via transfer. Smith is out for the game with an injury, which is a significant loss, considering he landed on PFF's preseason All-American team. Kendrick played well for Clemson in the regular season over the past two years, but his past two playoff appearances against Ohio State (2020) and LSU (2019) were forgettable, to say the least. Kendrick was targeted 17 times in those contests, allowing 13 catches for 274 yards and five touchdowns.

If Clemson’s offensive line is able to hold up in pass protection, I like how the team matches up against these Georgia cornerbacks.

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