Sidelines with John Clay

College football picks: Which teams get good early returns?

Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh.
Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh. AP

We’re starting a new Friday feature in which Ben Roberts and yours truly pick the top college and NFL games of the weekend.

We’ll pick 10 games, both straight-up and against the spread. Since the NFL season doesn’t start until Eagles-Falcons next Thursday, we’re starting with an all-college schedule. And what a schedule it is with Michigan-Notre Dame, Auburn-Washington, Miami-LSU, Virginia Tech-Florida State, to name just a few.

Here goes:

Central Michigan at Kentucky

3:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPNU

Line: UK by 17.5

Ben: Kentucky 30, Central Michigan 19

The Cats were 1-6 against the spread at home last year (yikes!). Look for Benny Snell to set the tone early, but UK might not have enough for the blowout some are expecting.

Against the spread pick: Central Michigan

John: Kentucky 35, Central Michigan 10

Touchdown Terry Wilson makes his Big Blue debut a memorable one as the new quarterback helps the Cats take advantage of Central Michigan’s youth to start 2018 off on the right foot.

Against the spread pick: Kentucky

Louisville vs. Alabama (at Orlando, Fla.)

8 p.m. Saturday on ABC

Line: Alabama by 24

Ben: Alabama 45, Louisville 13

The Tide have exceeded lofty expectations in their last three season openers, all against teams better than this Louisville bunch. Bama rolls in Week 1.

Against the spread pick: Alabama

College football on television this weekend (Aug. 30-Sept. 3)

John: Alabama 37, Louisville 7

The post-Lamar Jackson era begins with a thud for Bobby Petrino and the Cardinals. Not to worry, as Nick Saban would say, it’s all part of the process.

Against the spread pick: Alabama

Middle Tennessee at Vanderbilt

7:30 p.m. Saturday on SEC Network

Line: Vanderbilt by 2.5

Ben: Middle Tennessee 31, Vanderbilt 27

Vandy has defeated Middle the past three seasons. The last two were routs, but that won’t happen Saturday. The Blue Raiders have a ton of experience and could contend for a league title.

Against the spread pick: Middle Tennessee

John: Vanderbilt 23, Middle Tennessee 17

I’d like the Blue Raiders’ chances if this game was played in Murfreesboro. Then again, the Commodores rarely enjoy a home field advantage with regard to crowd support. Still, Vandy’s defense will pull this one out.

Against the spread pick: Vanderbilt

Washington vs. Auburn (at Atlanta)

3:30 p.m. Saturday on ABC

Line: Auburn by 2.5

Ben: Auburn 28, Washington 24

The Huskies bring back a ton and might very well end up in the college football playoff, but gut says go with the SEC in a virtual home game for the talented Tigers.

Against the spread pick: Auburn

John: Auburn 31, Washington 30

This might be the best game of the weekend. If Gus Malzahn can plug a few holes, Auburn has a chance to be in the College Football Playoff. Washington could be right there with the Tigers.

Against the spread pick: Washington

Ole Miss vs. Texas Tech

Noon Saturday on ESPN

Line: Texas Tech by 2.5

Ben: Texas Tech 30, Ole Miss 27

The Red Raiders return basically their entire defense and an experienced O-line to bolster a usually potent scoring attack. Siding with them in a squeaker.

Against the spread pick: Texas Tech

John: Texas Tech 45, Ole Miss 28

The effects of probation and scholarship reduction should start to hit Ole Miss this season. The depleted Rebels will have a tough time grounding Texas Tech’s air attack.

Against the spread pick: Texas Tech

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Tennessee vs. West Virginia (at Charlotte, N.C.)

3:30 p.m. Saturday on CBS

Line: West Virginia by 10

Ben: West Virginia 38, Tennessee 20

QB Will Grier is one of several key returning starters on an offense that averaged 34.5 points per game last season. It’ll take time for Jeremy Pruitt to fix the mess in Knoxville.

Against the spread pick: West Virginia

John: West Virginia 24, Tennessee 3

Reality check for new Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt. It’s great to get an SEC job. It’s better if you have SEC-type talent. Former Florida quarterback Will Grier is now a Heisman contender at West Virginia.

Against the spread pick: West Virginia

Texas vs. Maryland (at Landover, Md.)

Noon Saturday on Fox Sports 1

Line: Texas by 14

Ben: Texas 30, Maryland 21

Texas wins the game, avenging a home loss to the Terps in last season’s opener, but Maryland should show more on the field than is apparently expected after a terrible off-season.

Against the spread pick: Maryland

John: Texas 45, Maryland 10

Texas is dealing with reports coach Tom Herman accompanied a now infamous ex-Ohio State assistant to a strip club in 2014. Maryland is dealing with an internal investigation and its head coach, D.J. Durkin, being on administrative leave. College football is fan-tastic.

Against the spread: Texas

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Michigan at Notre Dame

7:30 p.m. Saturday on NBC

Line: Notre Dame by 1.5

Ben: Michigan 28, Notre Dame 20

The Wolverines’ defense will be stout and their offense could be special. Not yet a believer in the Irish. Prime-time renewal of this rivalry should be fun.

Against the spread pick: Michigan

John: Notre Dame 20, Michigan 17

Did you see where Colin Cowherd said Jim Harbaugh has a better resume than Nick Saban? Brian Kelly might have something to say about that. Look for some Irish magic on a Saturday night in South Bend.

Against the spread pick: Notre Dame

Miami vs. LSU

7:30 p.m. Sunday on ABC

Line: Miami by 3.5

Ben: Miami 30, LSU 13

LSU has all kinds of offensive questions, and Miami has a legitimate shot at the College Football playoff. Mark Richt’s bunch takes another step forward starting here.

Against the spread pick: Miami

John: LSU 20, Miami 17

Not an Ed Oregeron believer, but can’t shake this feeling that Miami is a bit overrated. In a season in which LSU’s Coach O has to win, the Tigers will start strong by pulling an upset.

Against the spread pick: LSU

Virginia Tech at Florida State

8 p.m. Monday on ESPN

Line: Florida State by 7.5

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Ben: Florida State 31, Virginia Tech 20

FSU QB Deondre Francois is back after that season-ending injury in last year’s opener. He and new coach Willie Taggart should have the Noles’ offense humming this fall.

Against the spread pick: Florida State

John: Virginia Tech 24, Florida State 17

Willie Taggart will be just fine as Florida State’s new coach, but the Seminoles could have a bumpy beginning. Under Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech will spoil the debut party.

Against the spread pick: Virginia Tech

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