The Three Top SEC Week 1 Upset Picks
The Southeastern Conference joins the college football fray for the first time this season as Week 1 gets underway this weekend. All but one of the 14 teams from what most consider the sport’s best conference are favored to win their first game, many by a hefty margin. Ironically, only Georgia wears the underdog tag this week, which is ironic, given the Bulldogs’ status as one of the favorites to win the SEC East.
Let’s take a look at the first full slate of the season and dial in on the top SEC upset picks for Week 1.
The Top SEC Upset Picks For Week 1
Oddsmakers are sure to miss the mark in several of these highly anticipated games and we have isolated a few underdogs who could push the favorite and perhaps, in some cases, even steal an upset victory. We share our three top dogs with bite below.
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Rice (+20) to Cover Against Arkansas
Rice and Arkansas meet for the first time since Arkansas left the Southwest Conference in 1992. The now defunct conference’s members must have a long memory, as Arkansas is just 12-17 SU against former SWC opponents since joining the SEC. Rice may not be able to pull off the outright victory here, appearing as nearly 20-point underdogs since this line opened, but the Owls could pose an interesting challenge for the Razorbacks.
For starters, since 2005, the SEC is just 26-32 ATS against Conference USA opponents as favorites of more than 19 points, including just a 15-21 ATS mark in September.
Further, this will be Arkansas’ first non-conference game, as well as its first game as a favorite, under second-year head coach Sam Pittman. The Hogs, who covered just two of their last 14 non-conference games, may struggle to replicate the stability Feleipe Franks brought to the quarterback position last season with a far less experienced QB room in 2021. That task will be made more difficult given Rice’s propensity toward shortening games with a run-heavy attack, shrinking the margin for error for the Arkansas offense, especially against a huge spread like this.
Rice’s head coach Mike Bloomgren began his tenure by losing 20 of his first 21 against FBS foes, but now has a team that has won five of its last eight games (6-2 ATS), including a 20-0 blanking of 15th-ranked Marshall last season. The Owls return 19 starters and added Nebraska transfer QB Luke McCaffrey to help elevate the competition under center.
Rice is 4-0 ATS in its last four road openers and covered its last game at an SEC opponent, a 42-10 loss as 42.5-point dogs to then 10th-ranked LSU.
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Rice vs. Arkansas Pick
Under Bloomgren, Rice has covered nine of 13 games as road underdogs across three seasons (7-2 ATS last nine), including three outright wins. The Owls should be able to hang around enough here to move to 5-1 ATS in their last six road games.
Our Pick: Rice +20
Georgia (+3.5) Over Clemson
Dabo Swinney’s Clemson team is once again set up for a stellar season. They are favorites to win the ACC and will have every chance to earn another spot in the College Football Playoff. However, this opponent in this spot could not be a tougher ask to start the year. Meeting Georgia at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, albeit the site where Clemson won the last four ACC title games, means the Tigers play their toughest opponent in the entire regular season schedule right out of the gate.
That’s especially tricky this season, given that Clemson will be transitioning to life without Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne with an offense that returns just five starters from last year’s squad. This situation is a far cry from the previous four season openers, each of which Clemson was favored by 34 or more points and won each by an average of 39 points.
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Now, they will have to contend with a Georgia team that has won seven straight season openers with its last loss in that role coming to this Clemson bunch in 2013. The Bulldogs last opened the season on a neutral field back in 2016 against UNC, winning by a 33-24 score as three-point favorites.
While Clemson is just 6-8 ATS versus non-conference opposition across the last three seasons, Georgia, under head coach Kirby Smart, is 18-2 straight up in non-conference play, as well as 10-5 ATS in neutral site games.
Georgia vs. Clemson Pick
Look for the SEC to move to 13-8 ATS as road dogs in the first game of the season since 2005, including 5-1 ATS when the spread is less than four, as Georgia puts forth a more polished effort here.
Our Pick: Georgia +3.5
UCLA (+3.5) to Cover Against LSU
The UCLA Bruins got a nice warmup for this high stakes affair with their 44-10 victory over Hawaii at the Rose Bowl last Saturday. Now, LSU, after a disappointing 5-5 encore performance in 2020 following its 15-0 National Championship season the previous year, has to travel to Los Angeles after a wild week that might, quite understandably, have some of the team and staff focused on other things.
With Hurricane Ida set to lash through Louisiana, the Tigers evacuated to Houston last weekend, forced to prepare in a foreign setting while a storm blew through the area.
Chip Kelly’s unique offense is a difficult prep for defenses in the best of scenarios and this development could understandably hurt a group that allowed 40 or more points in five of its 10 games last season. Making matters worse, LSU will play without its top choice at quarterback. Myles Brennan is injured, and the team’s top two options at running back missed considerable preseason time, too.
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UCLA knows how to keep it close, as five of its seven games last season were decided by seven points or less and the Bruins’ average losses in those games was a mere 3.8 points per contest. UCLA has covered both of its last two games as home dogs in a season’s first two games and has won its last three games as home dogs of four points or less outright (Cal ‘20, ASU ‘19, USC ‘18).
The Bruins, who piled up 244 yards on the ground in Week 0 against Hawaii, have covered seven straight games after rushing for 200 or more yards in their previous game and have also not lost any of their last four games ATS after scoring 40 or more points. UCLA has lost just two of its last 10 games ATS following a win and is 5-2 ATS in its last seven games overall.
UCLA vs. LSU Pick
With a bye coming next for Chip Kelly’s guys, look for them to up the offensive tempo and wear down a surely mentally exhausted Tigers team.
Our Pick: UCLA +3.5
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