While the Power Five is beginning the 2020 college football season a couple weeks later than initially scheduled as the COVID-19 pandemic has shuffled the sport’s enture schedule, the ACC and Big 12 are officially kicking off en masse on Saturday with nearly every team in action. The SEC is still a couple weeks away from beginning its season (Sept. 26), and the Big Ten and Pac-12 are currently surveying playing in spring 2021, but major college football is nevertheless on the deck this weekend.
Preseason No. 1 Clemson will be in action Saturday night as nearly a five-touchdown favorite over Wake Forest, while No. 10 Notre Dame — a temporary member of the ACC for 2020 — has a featured afternoon game as a three-touchdown favorite over Duke. The Big 12 does not have any marquee games on the schedule, though No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 14 Texas will both be in action in games that will likely be over before the first quarter.
With action starting early in the day and continuing late into the night, let’s take a look at the biggest games on the schedule Saturday along with our picks and predictions for what will transpire in those contests. Our CBS Sports college football experts have picked every game both straight up and against the spread, giving you ample opportunity to decide how to make your picks ahead of kickoff. All times Eastern
Syracuse at No. 18 North Carolina (-22.5) — Noon on ACC Network: This is a big, whopping number for a conference game that will be the first action for either team after limited-to-no spring and a socially distanced preseason camp. While I’m all in on North Carolina having one of the best offenses in the ACC this season, you have to leave room for some first week hiccups in your expectations for this game. Those points might show up in less touchdowns but also in having to settle for field goals when that high-octane offense gets into scoring position and the field shrinks. Then I’m looking at Tommy DeVito and wondering if, after a very disappointing 2019, he’s taken the steps forward to go put a couple touchdowns on the board against North Carolina’s defense. The Tar Heels will win handily, but more than three touchdowns is a big ask at this point in the season. Pick: Syracuse (+22.5) — Chip Patterson
Duke at No. 10 Notre Dame (-20.5) — 2:30 p.m. on NBC: Picking games will be harder than ever before this year because we might not find out players are missing until just before kickoff. Still, given what we know about both of these teams heading into Saturday, I have a hard time not taking the Fighting Irish. The Irish beat Duke 38-7 last season in Durham, North Carolina, and I don’t think enough has changed for either team to expect this year’s contest to go much differently. I feel comfortable taking the Irish at anything better than three touchdowns. Pick: Notre Dame (-20.5) — Tom Fornelli
Georgia Tech at Florida State (-12.5) — 3:30 p.m. on ABC: Both defenses should have an early edge because of their returning talent and the fact that neither offense inspires confidence as a unit capable of a breakout performance in Week 1. It’s going to take the Seminoles time install and execute everything new coach Mike Norvell wants to do, and for that reason, it’s tough to see Florida State scoring enough to pull away. Georgia Tech’s running game should generate enough punch to score at least a couple of times and keep the Yellow Jackets within the spread. Pick: Georgia Tech (+12.5) — David Cobb
No. 1 Clemson (-33) at Wake Forest — 7:30 p.m. on ABC: National television is going to be a heck of a stage for the entire country to realize that Clemson’s defensive line is right back to 2017-18 levels of depth and dominance. Sophomore Tyler Davis is going to be one of the best interior defensive linemen in the country this season, fellow sophomore K.J. Henry is ready to be the next great Clemson pass rusher and the true freshman duo of Bryan Bresee and Myles Murphy have “over-delivered” on their five-star promise according to Clemson’s coaches. That group is going to run five or six deep with player that could start on any line in the conference, and it’s going to cause all kinds of problems for Wake Forest in this matchup. Even if Trevor Lawrence gets off to a 2019-like slow start with his top targets gone, the defense will be so disruptive it will be tough for the Demon Deacons offense to get in any kind of rhythm. Pick: Clemson (-33) — Chip Patterson
UTEP at No. 14 Texas (-14) — 8 p.m. on Longhorn Network: Bookmakers predict this will be a blowout, and I’m not inclined to disagree. Personally, huge early-season lines like this aren’t fun because it’s clear who the better team is — it’s just whether they keep their foot on the gas pedal long enough to cover. The Miners have been bad for a while, having won just two games in the past three years. A 24-14 win over Stephen F. Austin of the FCS ranks in Week 1 didn’t exactly inspire a ton of confidence for a cover this week. Lay the points, I guess. Pick: Texas -43.5 — Ben Kercheval