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This Week’s Best College Football Underdog Picks: Sept. 1, 2018

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Early-season shockers are nothing new in the college football world. With the NCAA’s big boys often playing minnows from smaller conferences and even the lesser Football Championship Subdivison, opportunities for underdogs to stage an upset are plentiful.

Appalachian State over Michigan was a September game. So was James Madison over Virginia Tech. Just last year, Troy came to Baton Rouge and stunned LSU on Sept. 30.

You don’t even have to look back that far — just last weekend, Hawaii stunned Colorado State as a two-touchdown underdog.

One reason for these late-summer surprises is that teams aren’t always properly evaluated this early in the season. Just because a team carries a high ranking doesn’t always mean it’s actually that good, and the opposite is true for the underdogs.

The other reason we see so many famous early upsets is because teams simply aren’t ready for the season. Players haven’t seen live game action in nine months and in some cases not at the collegiate level at all.

So which favorites are ripe for the picking in Week 1? Here are the top five college football underdog picks for this week’s slate of games.

Underdog Pick No. 1: Tulane

Want to get your betting weekend started early? Check out this Thursday special from New Orleans: Wake Forest as a 6-point favorite against Tulane in a game that starts at 8 p.m. ET Thursday on CBS Sports Network.

It’s an under-the-radar game, but sometimes that’s where gambling value can be found. Tulane has improved year by year under coach Willie Fritz and returns quarterback Jonathan Banks and a bevy of players around him, but last year’s shaky defense is even less experienced this year.

Wake Forest, however, must also replace several key players from last year. Dave Clawson has done a solid job reviving this program, but it’s possible the Demon Deacons take a small step back this year — or at least need a couple of games before hitting their stride.

The Green Wave came within a yard of beating SMU last year and reaching its first bowl game in more than a decade, so Tulane will be plenty hungry to start off on the right foot. That emotion and home-field advantage should be enough to at least keep this one close.

Pick: Tulane +6 or Tulane money line +205

Related: College Football Betting Guide

Underdog pick No. 2: Florida Atlantic

The Owls travel to Oklahoma for a noon ET kickoff Saturday on FOX. The Sooners are 21-point favorites.

It would be crazy to say that Florida Atlantic is an unknown, because its coach, Lane Kiffin, is one of the most well-known personalities in college football. But many casual fans might not realize just how good this team was last year. Some sets of computer rankings had the Owls in the top 10 in the nation for offense — even after adjusting for schedule.

Oklahoma is, of course, Oklahoma. And Kiffin has plenty to replace, both on the field and withih his coaching staff, which lost both coordinators. This is hardly a given, but with three touchdowns on your side and Oklahoma breaking in a new quarterback in Kyler Murray, betting Florida Atlantic with the points could pay dividends.

Pick: Florida Atlantic +21

Underdog pick No. 3: Tennessee

The Volunteers open up with a 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday game against West Virginia in Charlotte, N.C. The Mountaineers are a 10-point favorite and the game will be shown on CBS.

On the surface, it sure seems like West Virginia can cover that spread, with Heisman Trophy candidate Will Grier at quarterback and plenty of returning talent. Tennessee, meanwhile, had a historically bad season and a historically wayward coaching search after firing Butch Jones.

But don’t count the Vols out. It’s easy to see a scenario in which Jeremy Pruitt, whom Tennessee finally settled on after seemingly searching every section of the phone book, has coached up the talent in Knoxville (one thing Jones always did well was recruit) and has his team fired up to play its first game.

This feels like a game that could come down to the wire. Take Tennessee with the points.

Pick: Tennessee +10

Underdog pick No. 4: Wyoming

The Cowboys aren’t much of an underdog, but they are receiving 1.5 points as a home dog against Washington State in a game that starts at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network.

There might be a bit of power-conference bias in that line, however. Think about this: Wyoming has the advantage of having already played a game, and anyone who stayed up late last Saturday saw the Cowboys defense dismantle New Mexico State. And the Cowboys are playing at home at the highest elevation (more than 7,000 feet) of any Division I team in the nation. Washington State might be walking into a trap, and your upset meter should be on high alert.

Pick: Wyoming +1.5 or Wyoming money line +105

Underdog pick No. 5: Troy

The Trojans have a rare opportunity to host a well-known opponent when Boise State comes calling as a 10.5-point underdog in a 6 p.m. ET game shown on ESPN News.

Boise State, of course, is well known because the Broncos themselves are giant-killers. But for Troy, this qualifies as a huge game — especially in the context of the Group of 5’s slot in the New Year’s Six bowls. The winner here will be among the favorites to claim that spot, along with whoever emerges from the American Athletic Conference.

Make no mistake: Boise State is loaded and is the heavy Mountain West Conference favorite. But this is a road game at a dangerous opponent with everything to play for and calls for the tried and true strategy of betting with a home underdog.

Pick: Troy +10.5

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