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    Week 1 of the college football season is days away. The picks are in across RunYourPool, OfficeFootballPool, and Splash Sports, and with them, we can officially declare the unofficial games to watch in Week 1.

    The most exciting games are the ones where the outcome is anyone’s guess. With that air-tight logic and blind faith in the knowledge of Splash Inc. users deployed, we’re diving headfirst into the data to determine the most intriguing pairings for college football’s 2023 kickoff.

    #5 LSU vs. #8 Florida State (in Orlando, FL)

    Splash Users Straight-Up Pick: LSU (66.1%)

    When: Sunday, Sept. 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET

    How to Watch: ABC

    LSU and Florida State ushered in the 2022 campaign with a “neutral site” scrap in New Orleans. They’ll do the same in 2023, this time at a “neutral site” in Orlando. Non-partisans will hope for comparable drama at Camping World.

    In an unranked matchup last September, the Tigers were down 14 with nine minutes to play and clawed their way back to get within one extra point of knotting the score at 24. But the Seminoles blocked the attempt with zero time left on the clock, indefinitely retaining their one-point advantage. The Brian Kelly era opened with a groan.

    Now a year on, their outlooks have drastically changed. Both teams went on to exceed expectations in 2022, setting up a top-10 duel this fall. Each outfit has eyes on their respective league titles, plus bids to the College Football Playoff. How they perform in Orlando will paint a clearer portrait of their seriousness.

    Jordan Travis is suiting up for his sixth season, and Mike Norvell hit the transfer portal hard this offseason to bolster an already-talented roster. Jayden Daniels still receives the snaps in Baton Rouge, and the LSU front seven appears ominous. But something has to give

    The Tigers are favored by 2.5 points, a line that also divided Splash users relatively evenly – just under 60 percent of users picked LSU to cover. It’s one of the premier early-season showdowns in 2023, and there’s little general consensus on which way it’ll go.

    #21 North Carolina vs. South Carolina (in Charlotte, NC)

    Splash Users Straight-Up Pick: South Carolina (51.6%)

    When: Saturday, Sept. 2 at 7:30 p.m. ET

    How to Watch: ABC

    For the third time in five years and 60th time overall, North Carolina and South Carolina will battle on the gridiron, and Splash users have no idea how it will go.

    A slim majority has sided with the southernmost squad but hardly by a convincing count. The margins got slightly wider when we asked Splash users if the Tar Heels would cover the 2.5 points Vegas is spotting them – only 40.9 percent think they’ll do that. But only bettors care about performances against the spread. I’m sure North Carolina would celebrate a one or two-point win all the same.

    South Carolina maintains modern bragging rights having triumphed in Charlotte at the Duke’s Mayo Bowl in 2021, 38-21, at the same stadium that will host the rematch in 2023’s Week 1. Spanning back to 2007, the Gamecocks have outdone the Tar Heels in four of their five meetings.

    Only one comes into the campaign with a number next to its name, but there is cause for optimism in Chapel Hill and Columbia. Drake Maye is back after throwing for more than 4,300 yards and 38 touchdowns in 2022, and incoming Kent State transfer Devontez Walker should be a menacing deep threat for Maye to maximize. Spencer Rattler is gearing up for his fifth season of college ball and second at South Carolina, and he’s still throwing to Antwane Wells, who finished in the top five of the SEC last season in receptions (second with 68) and receiving yards (fifth with 928).

    Both teams have some major question marks, though, especially on the defensive end. This is a crucial tastemaker for how well these two programs will fare in conference play and the likelihood that either could at all be a factor on the national stage. Beyond that, it’s an informal border rivalry with some heat behind it that doesn’t come around all that often. It’s worth checking out.

    California at North Texas

    Splash Users Straight-Up Pick: California (81.8%)

    When: Saturday, Sept. 2 at 4 p.m. ET

    How to Watch: ESPNU

    Splash users are fairly confident that Cal will win this game. But the straight-up pick isn’t what has caught our intrigue with this one – it’s how people reacted to the spread.

    Vegas is favoring Cal by 7.5. When given that context, Splash users suddenly prefer the Mean Green, with 51.6% of pickers choosing North Texas against the spread. This flip indicates that while the general expectation is for the Golden Bears to come away victorious, people don’t think it’ll come easy.

    This fall is all about new beginnings in Denton. After a seven-win season and defeat in the C-USA Championship Game, UNT fired head coach Seth Littrell. Eric Morris is now the man on the throne. Even more drastic, the Mean Green are playing their first downs as members of the American Athletic Conference, a move 12 months in the making. A statement to start the season over a power-conference opponent would mean a lot, especially on home turf.

    Cal is undergoing a polar opposite experience. The Bears have no idea what their future holds beyond 2023, with the official demise of the Pac-12 seemingly imminent and the school’s next landing spot undetermined. Perhaps there will be some better answers by kickoff in Denton, but there’s no guarantee.

    There is reason to believe that this Bears team will improve on last year’s 4-8 finish. Jake Spavital is the new offensive coordinator, returning seven years after his original stint in Berkeley saw the Bears lead the Pac-12 in total offense (513.2 yards per game) and score better than 37 points per outing in 2016. Cal struggled severely on defense in 2022, which is unusual for a Justin Wilcox-coached team. With Jackson Sirmon and David Reese lined up at linebacker, the defense should take a step forward.

    But this is all speculation until we see it on the field. This game won’t grab the same national headlines as others, but the meaning is there. Without a victory, Cal is staring directly down the barrel at missing a bowl game for the fourth-straight try. The augmentation is different for the Mean Green, but UNT could put the American on early notice without even playing a conference game if it can send Cal home losers. Keep an eye on what develops in Denton.

    Jackson State vs. Florida A&M (in Miami Gardens, FL)

    Splash Users Straight-Up Pick: Even (50%)

    When: Sunday, Sept. 3 at 3 p.m. ET

    How to Watch: ESPN

    It doesn’t get more even than this. Splash users are split perfectly down the middle on this SWAC clash between Jackson State and Florida A&M, set for the neutral site of Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.

    The game is part of the recent renewal of the Orange Blossom Classic, which initially ran from 1933 through 1978 with Florida A&M inviting another historically Black college to a challenge, often in Miami but sometimes spread across the Sunshine State. The Rattlers revived the Classic in 2021 and have annually met Jackson State in Miami Gardens for soon-to-be three seasons in a row.

    Future Orange Blossom Classics will not involve Florida A&M, though. The Rattlers declined to sign a three-year contract with the event for 2024 through 2026, with athletic director Tiffani-Dawn Sykes pointing to home game counts as the cause.

    There is an incredible amount of history steeped in the Orange Blossom Classic, and much of it centers around FAMU. What was once considered the unofficial de facto Black national championship, it is one of the defining Classics of HBCU football. Coming chapters won’t be the same without Florida A&M.

    That’s all the more reason to tune in to the 2023 edition. It’s the last time for the foreseeable future that FAMU’s Marching 100 and all its pageantry will feature at the Classic, and it’ll be the Rattlers’ last chance for the foreseeable future at winning its first Orange Blossom Classic since 1978 – Jackson State has had the better of FAMU is each of the two contemporary fights. In 2021, it was a slim, 7-6, scoreline that separated the sides. In 2022, 56 points towered between them. FAMU won’t want that as its enduring legacy upon its exit.

    The Tigers are the trendsetter in the SWAC having taken back-to-back titles. The Rattlers are 14-2 in conference play since joining the SWAC in 2021. Jackson State is responsible for both blemishes.

    Do yourself a favor and give this one a chance. You’d have to look hard to find another game anywhere in the country with as much on the line in Week 1 as this Orange Blossom Classic. Oh, and did I mention that JSU and FAMU don’t like each other?

    CFB FAQs

    How are college football bowl games determined?

    Only bowl-eligible teams are selected for College Football Bowls. At the NCAA Division I FBS level, the standard by which teams become available for selection in bowl games varies. For example, in 2018-19 season, the team had to have at least as many wins as overall losses. Wins against non-Division I teams do not count toward the number of wins.

    How do you play college football pick'em pools?

    Simply pick winners from the games each week selected by the Pool Commissioner, either straight up or against the spread. Whichever member has the most points at the end of the season wins

    What is a football pool?

    "Football Pool" is a broad term for a group of people competitively guessing the outcome of one or more football games. There are many types of formats, each assigning winners differently. They can be played informally between friends or through a more formalized system. They are often considered a great alternative to fantasy football given the ease of playing, although there are fantasy football pools as well.

    How to run a football pool?

    How you decide to run a football pool varies greatly depending on the game type. In each case, however, you'll want to determine the rules and settings before you begin inviting members to join you. You'll want to clearly establish how score will be kept, how tiebreakers work, and how winners are decided before anything else.

    How to play squares football pools?

    Football squares are played by creating a grid, in which Team 1 takes the column and Team 2 the rows. In some cases, participants may claim as many squares as they like. In others, commissioners limit them to one. At the quarter times and end of the game, the winner is decided at the point the scores final digit intersect.

    How do you setup a college football bowl pool?

    To set up a college football bowl pool, you'll need to first choose if you will include all the games or specific ones. Then, you'll need to set the ground rules. As commissioner, you'll implement rules to ensure everything runs smoothly during the bowl games. Many use pool sites like RunYourPool to make the process easier.

    What is a college football squares pool?

    In a college football squares pool, a commissioner starts with a 10x10 grid of 100 squares (though commissioners decide to use smaller 5x5 pools). Members pick one or more squares in that grid. Winners are determined based on the score of each team after each quarter and at the end of the game.

    How many squares in a football pool?

    In a traditional football squares pool, a grid is sectioned off into 100 squares with 10 columns and 10 rows. This accounts for a direct relationship between each possible digit from 0 to 9 on both the X and Y axis. For smaller square grids like 5x5, multiple numbers can be assigned to each column and row.

    How to read a football squares pool sheet?

    In Squares formats, football pool sheets include a grid, where one team is the column and one is the row. Winners are determined at the end of each quarter when the last number in the team’s score (on each side) is matched to the numbers on the grid, and the intersecting square wins.

    How do you setup a college football bowl pool?

    To set up a college football bowl pool, you'll need to first choose if you will include all the games or specific ones. Then, you'll need to set the ground rules. As commissioner, you'll implement rules to ensure everything runs smoothly during the bowl games. Many use pool sites like RunYourPool to make the process easier.

    How do you win college football confidence bowl pool?

    The winner of a college bowl confidence pool is the member with the most points after all games have ended. Members rank each game based on how confident they are in their pick (44 points = most confident, 1 point = least confident). For each game picked correctly, members receive the number of points they assigned.

    What is a college football bowl confidence pool?

    Players try to pick the winner of every bowl game, assigning a point value to each game. Picks are made "straight up," not using a point spread system. Members rank each game based on how confident they are (44 points = most confident, 1 point = least confident). A winner is determined by totalling the point values assigned to correctly picked games.

    How do you setup a college football bowl pool?

    To set up a college football bowl pool, you'll need to first choose if you will include all the games or specific ones. Then, you'll need to set the ground rules. As commissioner, you'll implement rules to ensure everything runs smoothly during the bowl games. Many use pool sites like RunYourPool to make the process easier.

    How do you win college football bowl pick'em pool?

    As you might expect, the player who selects the most bowl winners will win their pick'em pool. You can win your college football bowl pick'em pool by choosing winners wisely, based on past performance, player starting status and other "intangibles."

    What is a college football bowl pick'em pool?

    In a College Bowl Pick'em pool members attempt to pick the winner of every College Bowl game (or a subset of games determined by the Pool Commissioner). Picks are made using the point spread system or "straight up", as assigned by the Pool Commissioner.

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