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NCAAF Opening Line Report: Buckeyes open with another crack at the Hokies
By Colin Kelly

A year ago this week, Ohio State was 1-0, ranked No. 7 in the nation and full of high hopes, despite having already lost star quarterback Braxton Miller for the season.

But unranked Virginia Tech, a 10-point road underdog, bounced the Buckeyes 35-21. By the end of the season, Ohio State was on its third quarterback, Cardale Jones.

Oh, and the Buckeyes were also national champions, having vanquished Oregon 42-20 in the title game to cap the first year that the Football Bowl Subdivision had a playoff. Indeed, Ohio State’s only loss (14-1 SU, 10-5 ATS) was against VaTech – and the Buckeyes will get another crack at the Hokies on Sept. 7 in Blacksburg, in a contest that wraps up the first week of the 2015 season.

Johnny Avello, executive director of race and sports for Wynn Las Vegas, likes the look of Ohio State, pegging the Buckeyes a 12-point chalk.

“We all know that Ohio State is loaded. Even with the absence of defensive end Joey Bosa (suspension), they’re still loaded,” Avello said. “Virginia Tech returns 16 starters from last year’s 7-6 team (6-7 ATS), but coach Frank Beamer’s teams have been underachievers the last three seasons.”

One thing Avello isn’t putting much stock in: an Ohio State desire to avenge its only blemish from 2014.

“I’m not putting a revenge factor into this one, because who needs revenge when you’ve won the national championship?”

Wisconsin Badgers vs. Alabama Crimson Tide (-10)

Part of a full first Saturday next weekend, this matchup is technically on a neutral field – AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. But it’s a hefty trip for the No. 20 Badgers, and the third-ranked Crimson Tide have been perennial national title contenders for several years now, winning it all in 2009, 2011 and 2012.

“The Badgers are going to be a good squad, but this is a tough opening act to start the season,” Avello said. “They also have a new coach (Gary Andersen), so it may take time to get to their full potential.”

‘Bama went 12-2 SU in 2014 (but a dismal 5-9 ATS), losing to Ohio State 42-35 as a 7.5-point chalk in the national semifinals. Wisconsin (11-3 SU, 6-8 ATS in 2014) edged Auburn 34-31 in the Outback Bowl catching 5.5 points to cap its 2014 campaign.

“Alabama is Alabama. It’s hard to find fault with a team that’s won the national championship three times since 2009,” Avello said. “But with multiple new players in starting roles on offense, the Tide may need a few games to get rolling.”

Michigan Wolverines at Utah Utes (-5.5)

It’s a Thursday night kickoff in the debut for Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh, who played quarterback for Michigan back in the 1980s. But Michigan is coming off a 5-7 SU and ATS campaign (which explains the new coach), while the Utes were 9-4 SU and ATS last year.

“Michigan is most likely a year or two away from competing for the Big Ten’s top spot or a national title, but with that being said, look for significant improvement from the Wolverines,” Avello said. “Playing on the road has been extremely difficult the last seven years for Michigan, with only 11 wins in 33 attempts.

“Utah has seven starters back on both offense and defense and should be as good as last year’s team. But I expect Michigan money closer to game time, and the house will probably need the favorite.”

Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Fighting Irish (-10)

The Longhorns, coming off a meager 6-7 season (7-6 ATS), are looking to restore their brand name, while the Fighting Irish won their first six games last season, then limped to an 8-5 SU finish (6-7 ATS).

“Last year’s record is tough to swallow in Longhorns country. They did show signs of life toward the end of the season, but the quarterback position was just too inconsistent,” Avello said. “The Irish on paper look very good, especially on defense, where almost everybody returns. I expect a correction after they allowed an average of 30 points a game last season.”