College football picks, schedule: Predictions against the spread, odds for top 25 games Thursday in Week 1

The first full week of the 2021 college football season is officially underway, and while games were played last weekend in Week 0 and there was a game Wednesday, the first showdown involving a team in the AP Top 25 takes place Thursday. No. 4 Ohio State travels to face Minnesota in the second Big Ten conference game of the season as the Buckeyes eye a return to the College Football Playoff and chance at a national championship. That trek will not come without some obstacles, including breaking in a new starter at football’s most important position.

With Justin Fields no longer under center, Ohio State will be relying on its bevy of talented pass catchers to supplement first-year starter C.J. Stroud. Minnesota under coach P.J. Fleck is looking to find its footing after a disappointing 2020 campaign that saw the team play just seven games, finishing 3-4 without a win over an upper echelon opponent. Even a toe-to-toe battle with the Buckeyes would do the Golden Gophers a lot of good entering the rest of their season.

Also Thursday, UCF and Boise State will square off in one of the top Group of Five games this season. Not only do both programs hope to kick off the season with a big-time win, they will also be angling to show off their credentials as the Big 12 will undoubtedly be evaluating both teams as potential additions to the league after the departures of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC. Thursday also marks the debuts new coaches as UCF’s Gus Malzahn replaces Josh Heupel and Boise State’s Andy Avalos steps in for Bryan Harsin after the latter coaches left for Tennessee and Auburn, respectively.

While winning is all that matters for the standings, we care about whether these teams will cover their spreads. Be sure to stick with CBS Sports throughout the day for college football coverage from the opening kickoff on Thursday to the final whistle. Let’s take a look at our expert picks for the first big game day of the season.

Odds via Caesars Sportsbook | All times Eastern

Boise State at UCF

Featured Game | UCF Knights vs. Boise State Broncos

7 p.m. | ESPN, fuboTV (Try for free) — Boise State is a strong team, but the experience gap is hard to ignore. The Broncos lose more than half of their adjusted production from a defense that already ranked outside the top 40. Adding five Power Five transfers alone at running back and wide receiver gives UCF an explosiveness that Boise State’s young cornerbacks can’t match. The coaching experience gap will also rear its head down the stretch. UCF cements the AAC as the frontrunner for the Group of Five bowl bid with a comfortable home win. Prediction: UCF (-5) — Shehan Jeyarajah

No. 4 Ohio State at Minnesota

Featured Game | Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Ohio State Buckeyes

8 p.m. | Fox, fuboTV (Try for free) — It’s tough to go against the Buckeyes in a Big Ten game. Ohio State won its six Big Ten games by an average of 21.5 points last season. Sure, there’s the possibility that with a new quarterback under center and plenty of new faces in other spots, the Buckeyes won’t be nearly as efficient in the first game of the season. Not to mention, this is a road game where Ohio State will be playing in front of fans for the first time since 2019. Still, I just don’t trust that Minnesota’s offense will be able to keep pace over a full 60 minutes, so I’m laying the points with Ohio State. Prediction: Ohio State (-14.5) — Tom Fornelli

Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 1, and which national title contender will go down hard? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread — all from a proven computer model that has returned over $3,600 in profit over the past five-plus seasons — and find out.