With the sports world at a nearly-total standstill, DraftKings Sportsbook pumped a little life into the bodies of college football bettors by releasing preseason lines for the biggest games of the 2020 season– three months early.
Teams nationwide have canceled spring camp, meaning we won’t get the same look and insight at the programs we normally would. With not many opinions changing in the public eye, DraftKings figured there’s no sense in waiting until June to release the early lines, and took advantage of many fans being stuck at home. We’ll spur the trap and take a dive into some of the lines for the biggest and best games of the upcoming season.
2020 college football look-ahead lines
|Aug. 29||Navy vs. Notre Dame||ND -15.5|
|Sept. 3||BYU at Utah||Utah -4.5|
|Sept. 5||USC vs. Alabama||Alabama -5.5|
|Sept. 5||Michigan at Washington||Michigan -1.5|
|Sept. 12||Ohio State at Oregon||Ohio St. -6.5|
|Sept. 12||Louisville at Clemson||Clemson -23.5|
|Sept. 12||Texas at LSU||LSU -5.5|
|Sept. 19||Georgia at Alabama||Alabama -8.5|
|Sept. 26||Wisconsin at Michigan||Michigan -3.5|
|Sept. 26||Cincinnati at Nebraska||Nebraska -3.5|
|Oct. 2||USC at Utah||Utah -1.5|
|Oct. 3||Baylor at Oklahoma||Oklahoma -13.5|
|Oct. 3||Penn State at Michigan||Michigan -4.5|
|Oct. 3||Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin||Wisconsin -1|
|Oct. 10||LSU at Florida||Florida -1|
|Oct. 10||Texas at Oklahoma||Oklahoma -3.5|
|Oct. 10||Auburn at Georgia||Georgia -4.5|
|Oct. 10||Minnesota at Wisconsin||Wisconsin -9.5|
|Oct. 24||Ohio State at Penn State||Ohio St. -5.5|
|Oct. 31||Florida at Georgia||Georgia -2.5|
|Nov. 7||USC at Oregon||Oregon -4.5|
|Nov. 7||Alabama at LSU||Alabama -2.5|
|Nov. 7||Clemson at Notre Dame||Clemson -7.5|
|Nov. 28||Wisconsin at Iowa||Wisconsin -2.5|
|Nov. 28||Michigan at Ohio State||Ohio St. -8.5|
|Nov. 28||Auburn at Alabama||Alabama -9.5|
Three early matchups to watch
USC vs Alabama (-16.5): Sept. 5, Arlington, TX
If this game is played in 2019 under an Alabama team led by Tua Tagovailoa and with the roster the Trojans fielded, Alabama (-16.5) might be the easiest bet you’d make all weekend. Moving into 2020, a USC cover is not only not out of the realm of possibility, it makes for a great, albeit early, bet.
Under sophomore quarterback Mac Jones, Alabama went 2-1 including a loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl where Jones threw two of his three total interceptions. He led the Tide to a Citrus Bowl victory over an uninspired Michigan team and had played a gimmie match against Western Carolina. The truth is, we don’t know what this Alabama team is like without a star quarterback.
USC has quite the opposite problem – a crowded quarterback room full of talent. After losing freshman JT Daniels to a brutal injury Week 1, freshman Kedon Slovis led the team with 3,500 yards passing, 30 touchdowns and just nine picks. When Slovis went down with an injury against Utah, junior Matt Fink stepped in and lit the game on fire; throwing for 351 yards and three touchdowns.
The Trojans are littered with young talent, losing just two players to the NFL Draft (tackle Austin Jackson, receiver Michael Pittman). While sending a dozen players to the draft is nothing new for Alabama, the loss of Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy, Jedrick Wills, and a swath of first-round talent leaves them with seemingly less talent than previous years.
The Crimson Tide fizzled (in Alabama terms) last season, and is looking to correct their course, but this crew doesn’t seem to be the team to do it. With such a nontraditional offseason and limited offseason work, USC could make this a ballgame. Add in a neutral site and Week 1 rust, the Trojans are a great bet to keep this game within 17 points.
Ohio State (-6.5) @ Oregon: Sept. 12
Ohio State is 9-0 all-time against Oregon, with two matchups coming in the Rose Bowl, one in the 2015 National Championship Game, five in Columbus, and just once in Eugene (a 30-0 win by the Ducks in 1967). Oregon was entrenched in Playoff talk all season long, but a bad late-season loss at Arizona State relegated them to the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin. Ohio State cruised through their regular season and was eliminated from the Playoff in a game that will live in infamy in the hearts of Buckeye faithful.
The Ducks lose the centerpiece to their offense, star quarterback Justin Herbert, to the NFL Draft. Behind Herbert was, frankly, not a lot. According to OurLads, Oregon had one other quarterback on the active roster, redshirt freshman Tyler Shough. In games Oregon lost, Herbert threw for three touchdowns, two interceptions, and averaged just 24.5 points (avg. 35.4, 16th in nation).
The real story behind Oregon comes in their stellar defense, who returns virtually everybody after allowing just 16.5 points per game in 2019. Superstar defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux recorded nine sacks and 14 tackles for losses as a freshman and is already projected to be a top pick in the 2021 NFL Draft should he declare. The Ducks also return PFF’s top-graded offensive line and All American tackle Penei Sewell.
In Columbus, it’s business as usual– lose top talent to the NFL Draft and replace it with more top talent. Despite losing generational talents like Chase Young and Jeffrey Okudah on the defensive side of the ball, the Buckeyes return several high-profile players like Shaun Wade, Tuf Borland, and Zach Harrison. Assistant Kerry Coombs assumes the defensive coordinator position left vacant by the departure of Greg Schiano to Rutgers.
Justin Fields, who finished the season with 50 total touchdowns in 2019, returns for unfinished business after being generally criticized for his Playoff performance against Clemson. Fields will continue to be protected by PFF’s 4th-ranked offensive line led by All American guard Wyatt Davis. Ohio State brings back one of the most lethal receiving corps in the country, returning over 1,750 yards of receiving production and 25 receiving touchdowns.
This game will be one of the best displays of trench warfare the coming season has to offer. The Buckeyes open as 6.5-point favorites, and possess the more explosive offense. Despite this game being played in Eugene, Ohio State should be able to win by a possession or more. The game will be decided on the outside, where Oregon is outmatched in athleticism.
Notre Dame (+1) vs Wisconsin: Oct. 3, Green Bay, WI
The last time the Badgers played a night game at Lambeau Field, they pulled off a massive upset of #5 LSU in 2016. It turned out to be a game that would etch itself in Wisconsin football history. Four years later, Wisconsin returns to Lambeau to take on Notre Dame in what will likely be a top-15 matchup.
The Fighting Irish took a massive hit this offseason, losing key pieces on both sides of the football; most notably top targets Chase Claypool and Clay Kmet, and leading rusher Tony Jones Jr. They signed their lowest-ranked class in 15 years, but do return star quarterback Ian Book. Notre Dame is unique since their success rarely relies on the play of their quarterback. Book had five games of under 200 passing yards (Irish went 4-1) and eight games with a completion percentage under 62% (Irish went 6-2).
Efficiency, though, matters in the Notre Dame offense. In games where Book completed more than 62% of his passes, the Irish went 5-0. When Book attempted 30 or less passes, Notre Dame went 7-1 with an average margin of 27 points (includes 31-point loss to Michigan); when he attempted more than 30 passes, that point margin drops to 11.7 (includes six-point loss to Georgia). The counter: Wisconsin ranked 13th last season in passing efficiency defense.
The Badgers return nearly their entire defense, a group that will contain one senior and will likely return most players again for 2021. Wisconsin also ranked 6th in rushing defense, a critical key against the Irish (Notre Dame rushed for under 50 yards in their only two losses. Further, they were the only two games where they rushed for under 100 yards). Wisconsin will try to take away Notre Dame’s ground game and force Book to win the game through the air.
On offense, the Badgers are looking to replace the usual – a workhorse running back (Jonathan Taylor) and some pieces on the offensive line, a line that ranked 8th last season according to PFF. Since 2005, the Badgers have had more individual 2,000-yard rushers (2) than years without a 1,000-yard rusher (1). Notre Dame struggled against the run last season, ranking 60th nationally and allowing more than 153 yards per game on the ground.
The winner of this game will win the running game. Injuries to the offensive line and front seven could play a major factor, and each team’s ability to replace their top rusher. Wisconsin (-1) gets the slight nod because they return more on the offensive line than Notre Dame. Oddsmakers see this one as a near coin flip, with the Wisconsin venue likely giving the Badgers the slight edge. Either way, this is shaping up to be an early October masterpiece.