If you haven’t seen my conference-by-conference season preview, you can read it here.
Here are my picks for week 1.
Ole Miss -10 over Boise State (Thursday night game)
I don’t want to be that guy, but Boise might be done. They weren’t very good last season, not only by Boise standards, but even by Mountain West standards. At least they had the smarts to drop out of the Big East, so that gives them at least one big win. As for this game, all signs point to an Ole Miss victory. The Rebels should be improved from last season, when they were a pretty good team. Bo Wallace made a name for himself, and after being SEC-tested, he should have a field day against a Mountain West foe.
Boise, on the other hand, lost their all-world coach. They also have to replace a two-year starter at quarterback. This is where you say, “Tom, haven’t you spend the last two years making fun of Joe Southwick?” Exactly. Listen, maybe Grant Hedrick is the next Kellen Moore, I don’t know, but the fact that he’s a 5th year senior and couldn’t beat out a struggling Southwick for two years leads me to believe that he’s not the answer Boise State fans are looking for. Again, this is all speculation. I hope I’m wrong. College football is better when a cinderella like Boise State is involved, and the Broncos will always have a place in my heart for their magical run in the late 2000s. I went to 3 proms, I don’t remember any of them, I got married 3 months ago, I’ve already forgotten 75% of my wedding, hell, I have no recollection of my graduation except that the principal pronounced my name wrong. But I’ll never forget that magical 2007 Fiesta Bowl, still the greatest game I’ve ever seen in my life. Boise is like America’s ex-girlfriend. It was a good run, we’ll always have Tempe, but people move on, and I’m with Ole Miss now.
The Doris Burke Memorial 11:45am ESPNU Game of the Week
Ohio State -14 over Navy
Welcome to the newest segment on Take the Points, the Doris Burke Memorial Game of the Week, where I pick a game that most people have overlooked, usually due to its time slot and/or general lack of interest in the teams playing. Outside of Columbus, I don’t think too many people are fired up for a Braxton Miller-less OSU to take on the Naval Academy, but I believe there’s value in this line. Braxton Miller was a great football player; he wasn’t Ohio State’s entire team. The Buckeye defense should be stout, and their running backs will move the ball well enough to put up a few points. J.T. Barrett was a star Texas recruit. He’ll manage. Navy, on the other hand, is going to have trouble with their one-dimensional approach when they face off against Ohio State’s killer defensive line. Being one-dimensional is fine sometimes. Like if you’re Mr. T, you can make a whole career out of it. But when all you do is run, and your opponent goes eight deep on the D-line, that spells trouble. On the bright side for Navy, unlike Ohio State, their players can actually spell the word trouble. Ohio State: “We ain’t come to play school.”
The Obligatory UConn Pick of the Week
BYU at UConn UNDER 52.5
For those who don’t know, I live in Hartford, CT, or as nobody calls it, “Husky Country.” UConn is a basketball school, of course, whose football fans have more interest in tailgating than in watching the actual game. That’s why I coined the slogan, “UConn Football: There’s a game, too!” back in 2008. Don’t get me wrong, UConn had its glory days under Randy Edsall, culminating in an appearance in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl, where I got a $50 parking ticket outside the Black Bear moments after winning $50 betting on Oklahoma. (Screw you, karma.) But nowadays, after a 3-9 finish last season, UConn football is the butt of many jokes. I actually expect them to overachieve this season, by which I mean they’ll win 5 games. This, however, is not one of them. BYU comes into town with big goals, hoping to kick off a 10-or-more win season and a snag a premier bowl game. QB Taysom Hill has generated small amounts of preseason Heisman buzz, and while that may be overzealous, the fact is he’s an excellent quarterback who racked up 2,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards last year. The Cougars have a good defense to match. UConn will be lucky to score 20 points in this game, even with their new “up-tempo” style (they might throw a pass). Husky coach Bob Diaco, 2012 Broyles Award winner, was the mastermind behind Notre Dame’s title game run, which as we all know was predicated on strong defense. Look for a slow, run-heavy, defense-minded, low-scoring affair. 27-17, BYU.
Houston -11 over Texas San Antonio
You may be thinking to yourself, “I know nothing about Texas San Antonio, how could I possibly have an opinion on this game?” But, you know more about the team than you think. UTSA is led by former Miami Hurricanes coach Larry Coker, who is involved in many low-scoring affairs. He was notorious for hitting the under in many of his games at Miami, and has continued that proud tradition at UTSA. On the other hand, you’ve got a Houston Cougars team that is my surprise pick to win the AAC. They beat UTSA by 31 points last season and they return much of their team, including sophomore quarterback John O’Korn, who is likely to improve with a year in college under his belt*. Receivers Deontay Greenberry and Daniel Spencer form a dynamic tandem, and they return a solid stable of running backs as well. This team could score a lot of points, and absolutely blow the doors off some opponents. Plus, they’re at home. I like the Cougars to kick off a memorable season by beating the Roadrunners, 38-17.
(*The improvement from freshman to sophomore has to be the biggest jump that most players ever take. Hell, everyone grows up a lot between their freshman and sophomore years. When I was a freshman, I was just some idiot in an Abercrombie t-shirt who drank Natty Light and couldn’t hit a triangle 3-rack to save my life. But by sophomore year, I was wearing American Eagle, drinking Beast Light, and destroying people on the beer pong table. It’s called maturity.)
Iceland Volcano -2 over Penn State/UCF
Last time I saw a massive cloud of smoke delay a football game it was coming from a cargo van outside Snoop Dogg’s PeeWee league. I don’t know what’s happening with this game… It looks like they’ll play, but if this Iceland volcano goes crazy there’s a chance these teams might be stuck in Ireland for the next two weeks. If that happens, each team can take turns playing against Dublin College and Waterford Tech. Still tougher than the AAC. Oh, and if that’s not enough, this game starts at 8:30am. It’s not often I have to set my alarm on a Saturday so I can wake up, go downstairs, and fall back asleep on the couch. I appreciate the effort to expand college football globally, but maybe this volcano is God’s way of saying we should keep American football in America. I’ve been to Ireland. They’re good with soccer and their Cranberries CDs.
UCLA -21 over Virginia
Woodshed game of the week. UCLA is arguably the best team in the PAC-12 (argued by other people, not by me), and I’m picking Virginia to finish bottom-3 in the ACC. The only thing that makes me hesitate about this pick is the cross-country trip. Long flights are a pain, you may know that if you’ve listened to any comedian ever. However, I think there is precedent, as UCLA visited Nebraska at the beginning of last year, and after a very sluggish start, came out firing in the second half for a big comeback win. Don’t be surprised if UVA hangs around during the first half of this game, but eventually Todd Hundley and Co. will kick into high gear and blow them out. 51-20, Bruins.
Alabama -26 over West Virginia
Rule #1 of Take the Points is: Never bet against Alabama. Twenty six points is a little more than I’m comfortable laying; I’d prefer if this line was around twenty one. Nevertheless, I’ll jump off Josh Shaw’s balcony before I take the defense-free Mountaineers over Nick Saban and Bama.
Arkansas (+19.5) at Auburn – STAY AWAY
Great opening week game. This game gives us a chance to play a fun game, “Does This Coach Actually Have Ethics?” Nick Marshall will begin the game on the sidelines as a punishment for violating team rules, a.k.a. smoking the chronic. Will Gus Malzahn hold him out for a significant portion of the game, or will Marshall make his debut the second Arkansas takes a 3-0 lead? That’s the question. Either way Auburn will win, as the Tiger’s high-speed read-option system relies on no individual quarterback or running back to succeed. This line is a little high for my personal taste, but I should note my Take the Points podcast co-host Dan loves the Tigers and predicted Auburn to win the National Championship in our season preview episode. Regardless of outcome, this game is worth watching.
Florida State (-18) vs. Oklahoma State – STAY AWAY
Last year’s Florida State team was undefeated in the regular season, but they did it against an extremely easy schedule. It’s like Kim Kardashian with her iPhone game; yeah she made $75 million, but she got it by exploiting 14-year old girls. This year is different. FSU has a respectable schedule, starting with this huge game against Oklahoma State on a neutral field in week 1. Add in the pressure to repeat as champions, the target they’ll have on their back in every single game, and the 2% chance that Jameis Winston is arrested during a game, and I think it’s wise to wait on the Noles. Let’s see how they perform in this match-up before we anoint them a lock to repeat. Furthermore, Oklahoma State loses a ton of talent and, according to Phil Steele, are the most inexperienced team in the country. This should be a heck of a game, but in terms of making a pick, it’s a total stay-away for me.
Georgia -7.5 over Clemson
Another line that I hate. Georgia is clearly the more talented team, with the return of Marshall and Gurley and yacht club member Hutson Mason at quarterback. I’ve already covered both these teams in my season preview, but it’s worth reiterating how much Clemson lost from last year: Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Martavius Bryant, and now an injury to RB Roderick McDowell. On the other hand, Cole Stoudt is a decent quarterback, and the Tigers have some studs on defense. For more, see my ACC preseason notes here. Stay away from this game if you’re smart, or lay the points and prepare to hold your breath for 3 hours.
Wisconsin +5 over LSU
Don’t underestimate the Badgers. Year after year, they produce quality running backs, massive O-lineman, and slightly-above-average white guy quarterbacks who run a 5.6 forty. I believe LSU is one of the most talented teams in the nation, and I believe they’ll ultimately win, but Wisconsin has too much pride to be embarrassed in a nationally-televised game. 23-20.
Utah State +6.5 over Tennessee
Let’s end on this, my upset pick of the week. I like the Aggies to win this game outright, kicking off what should be an extremely frustrating year for Tennessee fans. Tennessee is one of the nation’s best football programs historically, but thanks to the Curse of Phil Fulmer they haven’t been competitive in years. It’s sad, and unfortunately, this year won’t be any better. Tennessee has, in my opinion, the 2nd toughest schedule in the country (behind Auburn). They draw Alabama out of the SEC West and they have to visit Oklahoma on Sept. 13, along with the annual games against Florida, Missouri, and South Carolina. This is a difficult year and I fear they may overlook their first real challenge of the year, Utah State. Star quarterback Chuckie Keaton returns from injury, and the Aggies defense should give Justin Worley and UT a lot of problems. The Volunteers have zero returning starters on O-line and D-line and I expect them to struggle with turnovers and penalties. Utah State is the real deal. They’re going to come to Knoxville and leave with a victory. The Aggies win straight-up, 27-25.