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Chalk Talk: Staff picks for big favorites in Week 1

DJ Uiagalelei

DJ Uiagalelei

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

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Favorites come in all shapes and sizes in college football. While double-digit spreads are a relative rarity at the pro level, those numbers can vary wildly on Saturdays as teams dip in and out of conference play or step up (or down) a level in competition.

And while it’s often easy to be tempted to take a handful of points and hope for the best with a significant underdog, sometimes the favorites are favored for a reason. Each week our College Football staff will share their picks for which “chalk” favorite of 10 points or more will both win and, more importantly, cover the spread.

Here are our staff’s picks for Week 1, with some big numbers spread all across the country:

Vaughn Dalzell (@VMoneySports): Clemson (-21.5) over Georgia Tech

Last year’s 14-8 win against Georgia Tech was one of the lower points of the season for Clemson, and it snapped a 5-0-1 ATS stretch versus the Yellow Jackets. The Tigers have won seven straight in this series, recording a 5-1-1 ATS mark along the way.

Clemson’s offense could not possibly be as bad as last season, and in spring ball and fall scrimmages they looked much better - specifically QB D.J. Uiagalelei. Georgia Tech’s projected offensive line from spring ball had fewer than 20 career starts among them, so Clemson should be able to dominate defensively once again.

Scores in this series before last year were as follows: Clemson 73, Georgia Tech 7 --- Clemson 52, Georgia Tech 14 --- Clemson 49, Georgia Tech 21 --- should I keep going?

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Eric Froton (@CFFroton): South Carolina (-12.5) over Georgia State

Gamecocks HC Shane Beamer deserves a presidential commendation for steering SC to a winning record in his first season in Columbia following a woeful 2-8 finish in 2020. Adding to the degree of difficulty was a trio of subpar quarterbacks, Luke Doty, Jason Brown and grad transfer Zeb Noland, who led the team to a 5.2 yards per play average (94th). They now replace that trio of terror with former No. 1 quarterback from the 2019 class, Spencer Rattler, who should drastically improve an offense that was brutal in the red zone while averaging 3.3 points per scoring opportunity, eighth-worst in the country. He will be throwing behind a veteran offensive line that returns all five starters, including 136 line starts, while FCS All-American WR Antwane Wells has been lighting up training camp and will give the receiving room a nice boost.

While Georgia State returns 15 starters, they brought back 19 last year and will employ a run-heavy approach in an attempt to slow down Rattler and the rest of the SC offense, since their secondary allowed 264 passing yards per game last year. With South Carolina in their second year under Beamer and far more talented offensively, I think they push the pedal to the metal in a showcase spot for Rattler and easily cover the 12.5-point spread.

Brad Thomas (@MrBradThomas): Clemson (-22) over Georgia Tech

Clemson opened last season with a disappointing 10-3 loss against the eventual national champions, Georgia. It was no surprise that their offense underwhelmed under former 5-star quarterback D.J. Uiagelelei, as the Tigers finished 82nd in scoring and hope to get more out of their offense this season. They were carried to a 10-win season by their stout defense and great defensive line. Clemson finished fourth in defensive FEI by holding opponents to just 14.8 points per game and tallying 42 sacks on the season. With 61% of that defensive production returning and another solid recruiting class, the Tigers should be able to handle Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

The Yellow Jackets had an abysmal 2021 season, winning just three games. They finished the season on a six-game losing streak and ranked toward the bottom of almost every offensive statistical category. On top of that, Georgia Tech has less than 56% of its total production returning. New OC Chip Long will have his hands full rebuilding this offense. Much like last year’s 14-8 loss to the Tigers, it will be challenging for Georgia Tech to score points on Clemson. I might be the only person outside of new Tigers OC Brandon Streeter who think Uigalelei will take the next step this season. He should see a boost to his confidence, having his former QB coach now calling the plays. Tony Elliott did a fantastic job at Clemson, but the relationship between Uiagalelei and Streeter should make game-planning much easier. With the Clemson defense remaining a dominant force and Uiagalelei set to make strides, I like Clemson to cover the big 22-point spread against Georgia Tech.

Zachary Krueger (@ZK_FFB): TCU (-13.5) over Colorado

Sonny Dykes left SMU after last season and is bringing his pass-happy ways to TCU. He has yet to name a starting quarterback, with Max Duggan or Chandler Morris set to start this one, but TCU does have their No. 1 wide receiver in place in Quentin Johnston. A potential first-round pick for the 2023 NFL Draft, Johnston went for 33-634-6 last season, averaging 20.4 yards per reception for his career. If this game was being played at TCU, the spread for this one would look a bit different - obviously. While neither team is expected to be stellar this season, TCU’s projected win total currently sits at 6.5, while the total for the rebuilding Buffaloes sits at 2.5. Colorado also needs to find a replacement for leading rusher Jarek Broussard (142-661-2), who left for Michigan State at the end of last season. Assuming Dykes and the Horned Frogs air it out in this one, an aggressive approach could prove too much for Colorado to match. This line has seen some aggressive movement after TCU opened as eight-point favorites. Despite this one getting juiced up, a two-touchdown win for TCU still feels within reach.