Week 1 Picks

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College Football is upon us once again. While the debut of Georgia State as a Fun Belt team was mere morsel of an appetizer,  Thursday it’s time to feast my friends.

There is a heck of a slate of games this weekend, beginning with 14 games on Thursday. I’m picking my top seven match-ups as I’ll do every week throughout the season (unless my honey-do list gets too long at home).

No. 21 Texas A&M at No. 9 South Carolina- 6p.m. ET on SEC Network: The Aggies begin life without Johnny Manziel, and South Carolina looks to find an identity on defense after Jadeveon Clowney. South Carolina has won 17 straight games at home, and Steve Spurrier is 23-1 all-time in openers as a college coach.

The Augusta Chronicle

Sophomore Kenny Hill is the new Texas A&M quarterback. He attempted just 22 passes last season, but Kevin Sumlin has been able to put up big numbers no matter who his signal caller is. South Carolina also has a new starting QB in Dylan Thompson. Unlike Hill, Thompson has plenty of experience, including playing in 10 games last year as he completed 58.4 percent of his passes for 783 yards and four touchdowns.

Last year the Aggies showed no desire in playing defense against anyone giving up 32.2 points per game and an average of 475.8  yards per game. With an offense that features running back Mike Davis, who averaged 5.8 yards per carry en route to a 1,183-yard season, I think the Gamecocks take this one pretty easily.

Prediction: Most Las Vegas books have South Carolina as a 10.5-point favorite. I’m going with South Carolina 45, Texas A&M 24.

Boise State vs. No. 18 Ole Miss- 8 p.m. ET on ESPN: Chris Petersen is gone. The BCS is gone. Thus it will be a long time before Boise State is able to prove to they truly are more than just a flash in the pan in the world of college football. A win over an up-and-coming SEC team would be a good start.

Ole Miss is favored by 11 in most books. That’s largely in part due to the fact that they’re led by senior quarterback Bo Wallace, who threw for 3,346 yards last season. Boise signal caller Grant Hedrick takes over full-time after splitting time with Joe Southwick last year.

The Rebels have a distinct advantage on defense with nine starters returning. Even though Boise State’s 6-2 record against ranked opponents since 2009 is an interesting tidbit, I don’t think this group of Broncos can hang.

Prediction: Look for Ole Miss and head coach Hugh Freeze to make statement in his third season opener. Ole Miss wins 28-14.

West Virginia vs. No. 2 Alabama- 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC/ESPN2: This game has an interesting sub-plot. Projected starting quarterbacks Clint Trickett and Jacob Coker were teammates at Florida State in 2012, before Trickett went to West Virginia last year and Coker enrolled at Alabama this summer.

AP Photo

Trickett has further taken the storyline off the field by telling reporters that his first kiss was actually Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s daughter when they were six.

As far as Vegas is concerned off the field stories are the only intriguing aspects of this Chic-fil-A Kickoff game, with the Crimson Tide as a 27-point favorite.

The Mountaineers spread offense will be a good test for an Alabama secondary that wasn’t up to Saban’s lofty standards a year ago.

Prediction: I think Alabama is one of the best teams in the country, but I’m thinking West Virginia will cover here. I’m going Alabama 35, West Virginia 17.

Arkansas at No. 6 Auburn- 4 p.m. ET on SEC Network: This is a game that Vegas really wants you to put your money on. Auburn starting quarterback Nick Marshall won’t start the game, and no one knows if he’ll play at all thanks to a marijuana citation this off-season.

The Tigers are a 19.5 favorite despite Marshall’s suspension, because Vegas wants you to bet on the Razorbacks. But don’t fall for it. Auburn’s No. 2 QB Jeremy Johnson can play. He was a four-star prospect out of Montgomery, Ala. and was named Mr. Football as a senior.

Arkansas has won three of its last four trips to Jordan-Hare Stadium, but I don’t have much faith in a fourth victory.

Prediction: I think Auburn wins this one in a boat race. I’m taking the Tigers 42-20.

No. 16 Clemson at No. 12 Georgia- 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN: This was an awesome game last year, with two veteran quarterbacks battling it out as Clemson held on for a 38-35 win.

This year it looks like another great match-up, just with a pair of inexperienced QBs this time around. Georgia will start senior Hutson Mason who has waited his turn the last three years behind Aaron Murray. Clemson will also go with a senior to start year in Cole Stoudt, but true freshman Deshaun Watson could also see time this season.

Clemson’s defense has the edge in this one with Vic Beasley one of a handful of veteran defenders who returned, but UGA has the X-factor with Todd Gurley.

Prediction: Georgia is favored by 7.5 in this one. I think that the Bulldogs win, but in another thriller 27-21 over Clemson.

No. 1 Florida State vs. Oklahoma State- 8p.m. ET on ABC: Jimbo Fisher wants his team to display an attitude of dominance in 2014. Dominance is what Vegas expects in this one with FSU favored by 18.5 points.

The Seminoles are loaded again, and the big stage in Dallas will be nothing new to them. Oklahoma State returns just 10 total starters on offense and defense from a team that appeared in the Cotton Bowl last year.

Prediction: FSU rolls in this one I think. I’m taking the Seminoles 42-16 over the Cowboys.

No. 14 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 LSU: This all smash-mouth football fan could ask for. Two big physical teams, with a pair of the best running backs in the country.

Madison.com

Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon ran for 1,609 yards last year and is considered by some to be a darkhorse Heisman candidate. LSU’s top tailback is a 6-foot-1, 224-pound freshman named Leonard Fournette, who has Jameis Winston-hype around him as he makes his collegiate debut in Houston on Saturday.

LSU will rotate quarterbacks with both Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris both expected to play. Wisconsin will start Tanner McEvoy, who played safety for the Badgers last year. McEvoy brings a dual-threat element to the quarterback position that could make Wisconsin’s vaunted rushing attack even tougher to defend.

LSU is a five-point favorite in this one, and I think the Tigers athletes on defense get them by the Badgers.

Prediction: I’m going with LSU 21, Wisconsin 14.

Week 4 Picks

Photo from N.C. State

Lets just be honest about this week’s slate of games. It’s not one that inspires much enthusiasm. I mean College Gameday is in Fargo, North Dakota for North Dakoka State and Delewarte State.

With that, I’m not going to bore you with the usual breakdown of the top three match-ups of the weekend and just give you seven short picks this week. Last week I was 6-1 against the spread, but I’m only giving myself credit for a 5-2 week since I said Texas A&M would win outright. That puts me at 14-7 for the season.

Now lets get into this week’s picks.

No. 3 Clemson at North Carolina State- Thursday 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN: Clemson is a 13.5-point favorite on the road, on a Thursday night. That’s usually a recipe for disaster, but I think the Tigers are talented enough to win by two touchdowns in Carter-Finley Stadium. N.C. State hasn’t found much rhythm on offense since Brandon Mitchell went down in week one against Louisiana Tech. Junior Pete Thomas threw two picks as the Wolfpack escaped Richmond 23-21 last time out.

Prediction: Clemson rolls to a 35-17 victory.

SIMON WARBY/The Stanford Daily

No. 23 Arizona State at No. 5 Stanford- Saturday 7 p.m. ET on FOX: This only the match-up of the weekend that features two ranked teams. Arizona State is fresh off a bizarre win over Wisconsin. Stanford again looks like it will battle with Oregon for Pac-12 supremacy. The spread is the Cardinal by six and I like them to cover that home.

Prediction: Standford wins 24-13 over Arizona State.

North Carolina at Georgia Tech: Saturday Noon ET on ESPN: The Yellow Jackets are 6.5-point favorites over the Tar Heels. Last year these two teams combined for 118 points as Tech won 68-50. GT looked impressive last weekend in its 38-14 win over Duke in Vad Lee’s homecoming. I think that UNC has to play better on defense if they’re going to challenge Tech and Miami for the Coastal Division title.

Prediction: Georgia Tech continues to roll at home and wins another shootout over UNC, this time 42-35.

Michigan State at No. 22 Notre Dame- Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC: Notre Dame just escaped Purdue last weekend with a comeback 31-24 victory. Michigan State has been a disaster on offense this season, but scored 55 points last week against Youngstown State. The Spartans have scored just nine offensive touchdowns this year, but the defense has scored four times in addition to allowing just 10 points per game. Tommy Rees avoided turning the ball over against Purdue, which allowed the Irish to come from behind. If he can do that again on Saturday then Notre Dame will be in good shape against Michigan State’s anemic offense.

Prediction: Notre Dame is favored by five points and I think the Irish win by less than that. I think Michigan State’s defense keeps it close in a 17-14 loss.

Tennessee at No. 19 Florida- Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS: Both teams enter this SEC opener with bruised egos. Florida looked awful in a sloppy 21-16 loss to Miami two weeks ago, while Tennessee is fresh off a 59-14 thrashing from Oregon. Ultimately I think that Florida’s defense will be able to control this one. The Gators are favored by 17 points, but we’ll see if they can even put that many points on the board.

Prediction: Tennessee covers but it’s an ugly 17-10 victory for the Gators.

Utah at BYU- Saturday 10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN: The Holy War should be an entertaining ending to the fourth week of the season. The Utes are averaging 49.3 points per game this year and are fresh off a 51-48 overtime loss to Oregon State. BYU had last week off, but ended Manny Diaz’s career at Texas in a 40-21 win in week two. BYU is a 6.5-point favorite, and I think the Cougars rushing attack will be more than enough to cover that.

Prediction: Maybe I’m underselling Utah here but I think that Taysom Hill and BYU cruise to a 49-28 victory at home.

Boise State at Fresno State- Friday 9 p.m. ET on ESPN: This game likely will decide who wins the Mountain West. Boise State has bounced back nicely from a loss to Washington in the opener with wins over Tennessee-Martin and Air Force. Fresno State is 2-0 and I’ve already written this year that I think with Derek Carr the Bulldogs have a chance to be the final BCS-busters. Plus they ran the most amazing play of all-time (posted above) two weeks ago against Cal-Poly, allowing lineman Austin Wentworth to score. Fresno State is a 3.5-point favorite.Prediction: I’ve got to keep riding with Fresno here. I think the Bulldogs win 35-28.

Week 1 Picks

Now that we can finally move on from the Johnny Manziel autograph saga, lets break down the week 1 action.

North Carolina at No. 6 South Carolina- Thursday 6 p.m. ET on ESPN:

UNC.edu

The season gets started on ESPN as North Carolina visits South Carolina at 6 p.m. ET on Thursday. The Gamecocks are favored by 13 points.

USC has the most dynamic defensive player in the county in Jadeveon Clowney, and a unit that allowed just 18.2 points per game a year ago will be strong again in 2013. Offensively Connor Shaw, who is USC’s leading returning rusher and passer, will lead the way again. He completed 67.5 percent of his passes a year ago.

UNC signal caller Bryn Renner is one of the more underrated passers in the country. Last year the Tar Heels were 8-4 as Renner completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 3,356 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Renner and Larry Fedora’s high octane offense should be able to move ball on USC, even without Hard Knocks star Giovani Bernard.

Pregame reading: South Carolina has won 13 straight openers, Steve Spurrier thinks UNC is good enough to end that streak.

Pick: I think USC will get it done, but I think the Tar Heels will cover. I’m going with USC over UNC  24-17.

Top Five Heisman Trophy Contenders

No. 12 LSU vs. No. 20 TCU in the Cowboys Kickoff Classic- Saturday 9 p.m. ET ESPN

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For an opening-weekend match-up between two top-20 teams, this game flown a bit under the radar. Perhaps that’s because UGA-Clemson has the makings of heavy-weight prize fight.

Still this is an intriguing match-up. LSU will be looking to replace eight players on the defensive side of the ball, including a whole new defensive line.

I think that Zack Mettenberger will thrive under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. He’ll also benefit from the fact that the expectations have been lowered from the ridiculous levels they were a year ago, when Tigers’ fans referred to him as the Mettsiah. Les Miles hasn’t announced whether or not if running back Jeremy Hill will play in the opener after an off-season arrest.

TCU head coach Gary Patterson has also been coy with the media about his team. Patterson hasn’t announced whether Casey Pachall or Trevone Boykin will start at quarterback. Pachall started the year 4-0 last year before withdrawing from TCU to receive treatment for substance abuse following a DUI. Boykin filled in for Pachall the final 12 games and threw for 2,054 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Patterson hinted that TCU may actually find a way to get both quarterbacks on the field for the fist snap on Saturday, but I think that’s just a little bit of gamesmanship. The Horned Frogs will be without the reigning Big 12 defensive player of the year, defensive end Devonte Fields, as he serves a two-game suspension to start the year.

Pregame Reading: Nola.com: LSU vs. TCU 5 things to keep an eye on.

Pick: I think LSU comes in with a chip on it’s shoulder and handles TCU with ease. I’m taking the Tigers over the Horned Frogs 27-10.

No. 5 Georgia at No. 8 Clemson- Saturday 8.p.m. ET ABC

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It doesn’t get any better than this for an opening-week match-up.

Two national-title contenders, with two potential Heisman finalists under center, will really set the tone for the final year of the BCS era. UGA’s title hopes could survive a loss in week one, while Clemson would likely be relegated to a best-case scenario of the Orange Bowl with a loss to the Bulldogs.

What makes this match-up so exciting is that both teams are going to put up points. In part because they’re very talented on offense, and also in part because both teams tend to struggle with not letting teams score lots of points. Clemson averaged 41 points per game last season, while allowing 24.8. UGA scored 37.8 points per game, and gave up 19.6 (but they gave up 20 points or more in eight of 14 games).

The Tigers should be better on defense in their second season under defensive coordinator Brent Venables. I’m not sold that the UGA squad will be better after losing so much talent to the NFL last year (seven defenders were drafted in 2013), and the fact that Josh Harvey-Clemons will be suspended for the opener.

Pregame reading: Cool story from David Ching on ESPN.com on the history of the Georgia-Clemson rivalry.

Pick: I think Clemson gets it done at home in a shootout. I think the Tigers take down Georgia 42-35.

Dark-horse Heisman Trophy contenders

Other Picks:

Rutgers at Fresno State- Thursday 10:30 p.m. ET ESPNU- I think Fresno State has a chance to make some noise this year. They start off with a win over Rutgers.

No. 1 Alabama vs. Virgina Tech in the Chic-fil-A Kickoff- 5:30 p.m. ET ESPN: Let’s get real here, the Crimson Tide will roll by three touchdowns.

No. 19 Boise State at Washington- Saturday 10 p.m. ET Fox Sports 1: I like the Huskies’ QB Keith Price so I’m going with UW over Boise in an upset.

No. 11 Florida State at Pittsburgh- Monday 8 p.m ET ESPN: Pitt needs to run the ball to be successful, and I just think that FSU is just too big up front for that to happen. Even if Jameis Winston has some debut jitters, I like the Seminoles by two touchdowns.