Week 1 Preview and Picks Against The Spread: Thank God Almightly, Football is Back! [Arkansas State]
The college football season is finally here! Even though most of the teams in the country are playing cupcakes and getting a good first win under their belt, I have managed to talk myself in to each and every game being intriguing. This is no small feat mind you. We actually have good football games every day this weekend. Thursday has an SEC matchup. Friday has Boise State against a Big Ten team. Saturday has Auburn against Clemson and Alabama against Michigan. The most relieving feeling though is knowing that almost every day of the week now, college football in all of its glory will be on television. I’m starting to get teary-eyed. I’ll probably write a love letter to tell college football how I feel about it tomorrow.
#9 South Carolina (-6) at Vanderbilt
The first of two very entertaining Thursday night games features Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks against James Franklin’s Vanderbilt team. Nothing better than an SEC matchup to start off the season.
Vanderbilt struggled against the run, and against a team like South Carolina that has Marcus Lattimore that could spell problems. The Commodores ran very effectively last season and have 15 starters back including 3 on both lines.
There are some reasons that this game could be close. First, South Carolina seems to struggle at the beginning of the season. See their 3-point win over Navy and 3 point win over UGA last season. Also, the Gamecocks have to replace three offensive linemen and that unit usually takes the longest to get used to each other. The game is also at Vanderbilt.
South Carolina struggled itself against the run, being ranked 49th by Football Outsiders in Rushing S&P+. The Gamecocks will probably have an elite defense again this year with a top 25 offense to go along with it.
Washington State (+13) at BYU
All aboard the Pirate Ship! Mike Leach, it is great to have you in the conference. I have many fans who went to Washington State and it has been rough seeing them the last few years, and then Bill Moos brings Leach to Pullman. What an amazing turn of events for a tortured fan base.
BYU surprisingly has gone independent. With a fan base that is pretty much built-in with the Mormon religion the Cougars have an easy sustainability plan that will carry them in to the future, win or lose. (Winning obviously helps) The Cougars were pretty average last year in terms of offense. They didn’t rank above 50th in any category on offense except for passing downs S&P+ (via Football Outsiders).
The greatest matchup advantage for Washington State is their passing offense against the Cougars 64th ranked passing defense according to S&P+. Most telling is that Leach has never had a losing season, which is amazing because his previous job was at Texas Tech. It also only takes 3 days for Leach to put in his system, which will help with excelling from the beginning of the season.
Tennessee (-3) at NC State (Neutral)
As I said in the SEC East preview, Tennessee just has tons of starters back. Count em’ 19 total, 10 on offense and 9 on defense. Last year the Volunteer offense was at best average. Their possessions were too variable and they’re rushing game was horrific, gaining only 90 yards of offense on the ground each game. The defense on the other hand was above average. The greatest signs of improvement though comes back from the returning starters. There is a ton of continuity heading in to this first game of season, especially with the entire offensive line coming back. Fifty Shades of Tyler Bray looks to improve upon passing for only 1983 yards and 17 touchdowns. I look forward to seeing Derek Dooley’s “I’m intentionally trying to burn your retinas” orange pants.
NC State has Mike Glennon returning at the quarterback position after throwing for over 3000 yards and 42 touchdowns with a 62.5% completion rate. This could pose problems as Tennessee ranked 49th in S&P+ against the pass. As bad as Tennessee was rushing last year, NC State may have been even worse, they’re rushing S&P+ was 115th in the nation. With only 13 starters back there is hope for the future but the offense was average last year and the defense was below average. At a neutral site in SEC country and with all the returning starters, it looks like Tennessee will get its first win en route to try and reach bowl eligibility this year.
#24 Boise State at #13 Michigan State (-6.5)
This is easily one of the games I am most looking forward to this weekend. Boise State has a history of beating top ranked opponents in opening games. They did it to Virginia Tech two years ago and Georgia last year. (Yeah I choose to ignore 2008 started in Boise. For all I care we had a bye and opened against Purdue) Part of me really just wants the Spartans to win, not just because I picked Sparty to win the BIG-10, but because I don’t want to put up with another season of people constantly trying to argue that Boise State should play for the national title when they go undefeated against easy competition.
A guy I know close to the program responded to me with this when I asked about what Kellen Moore meant to the offense:
[Laughs] Peyton Manning to the Colts would be a good comparison. Kellen basically helped game plan with the coaches, a lot of the input was his.
Pretty strong words right? There are also only 7 starters returning to this team, only two of which are on defense. Three offensive linemen return but Boise State was held together by Kellen Moore’s unheard of 74.3% completion rate, 3800 yards, and 43 touchdowns to only 9 interceptions. Moore threw receivers open when they hadn’t been open before the pass. He made up for a lot of mistakes and lack of depth. Jeff Southwick starts at quarterback and DJ Harper comes back as one of the best running backs according to POE but I think the offense will regress and the defense will definitely regress. Maybe by week 4 the offense will be firing on all cylinders, but probably not this first week.
The defense for Michigan State is their strong point. Their weakest in passing S&P+ on defense, and even then, they’re 11th in the country. On offense they struggled to rush on a per play basis but with four offensive linemen back that should improve production. Andrew Maxwell can lean on stud running back Le’Veon Bell in a way Boise State can’t lean on their running game.
Notre Dame at Navy (+17) (Neutral Site)
I firmly believe that Notre Dame feels that their brand is in trouble. They haven’t won a championship in years and haven’t even been relevant in the national title hunt. Don’t confuse this though with not being relevant. They are incredibly relevant simply for the fact that people care about Notre Dame. People care if they win or lose. Here’s how I know they think their brand is in trouble: they use crazy uniforms and are playing in Dublin.
Dublin is the richest city in the world because it is always doublin’. (Heard that on vacation and loved it) I know someone in Dublin and they say nobody there knows that this is happening; Notre Dame hasn’t advertised it at all. You know what you do if your brand is in great shape? You play games at home and don’t change uniforms.
Notre Dame probably could have won three more games last year if they had controlled turnovers and had solid quarterback play. Everett Golson was named the starting quarterback and analysts have said he lacks elite throwing ability, which is problematic when your offense relies on passing. Notre Dame appears though to have both a top 25 offense and defense.
Navy on the other hand takes the air out of the ball. They will limit total possessions and hope to catch a break to squeak out a win. They were not electric last year on offense by any means and struggled on defense. However, this style could be Notre Dame’s kryptonite. If Notre Dame fumbles in the red zone then it plays perfectly in to what Navy wants to do. I like Notre Dame to win, but Navy to cover.
Ohio at Penn State (-6)
Ohio is not a pushover by any means and are probably looking at an 8 to 10 in season in the MAC conference. The Bobcats won the east division last year and one thing champions know how to do at all levels are the little things. They don’t turnover the ball, they have first downs, and they don’t allow huge plays. The Bobcat defense is also very experienced with 8 starters coming back including 3 on the defensive line. The interior of the offense line also returns to an offense with a total of 6 returning starters led by quarterback Tyler Tettleton.
This may be the most watched game by the general public after the offseason that Penn State had. Not as many people left the program as originally projected and it speaks a lot to Bill O’Brien and his leadership that he kept as much players as he did. The team definitely seems to have an “us against the world” mentality based on interviews. The school is behind the program more than ever now that they feel they like got shafted by the NCAA and it will be an electric scene in Beaver Stadium. I like Penn State to cover, but just barely.
Nevada at Cal (-11)
Nevada has 12 starters coming back including three on the offensive line. The Wolfpack are just one year removed from a 13-win season. The head coach and offensive coordinator both are pistol offense experts, meaning that whatever Nevada does is pretty much on the cutting edge. The secondary is very experienced and will be a good test for Zach Maynard. Cody Fajardo threw for 68.8% and ran at +16.1 POE, which is impressive all around for a quarterback.
Cal has three returning offense linemen itself and also has most of its secondary coming back. The Bears did struggle last year against a different option offense, allowing 365 yards rushing. Nevada is not Oregon, but the Wolfpack did beat the Bears 52-31 two years ago in the desert. Cal returns to Memorial Stadium after a remodel and look to win big. The Bears only had a 44th ranked defense in terms of rushing S&P+. So this is a favorable matchup for Nevada to cover, but with the game at home and Cal returning guys at the right positions, I think the Bears will cover, winning by about two touchdowns.
Miami (FL) at Boston College (+3)
On a possession-by-possession basis the Hurricanes were one of the most efficient teams in the country. They had around the 15th best offense, their biggest struggle was with the defense. They struggled to defend the pass and when dealing with uncertainly on play call due to favorable down and distance for the offense, the Hurricanes couldn’t get a good stop. Two linemen return on offense and six total players are back on defense. In Al Golden’s second year I hope that the defense improves as it is pretty hard to be that bad at defense with the number of high quality players coming in.
The Eagles will probably pick up the win this weekend. First, they are at home. Second, they beat Miami last year with similar offensive output in terms of yards. The biggest difference is that the Eagles have 17 starters coming back, including 10 on offense. 4 starting linemen on offense are back and 3 are on defense. The offense was the worst part of the team, passing and rushing, but with almost al the players coming back it has to improve. On defense the Eagles were relatively great against the pass and were consistent. The defense should improve this season along with the offense and getting a win over Miami will be a good start to being bowl-eligible.
#14 Clemson (-3) at Auburn (Neutral Site)
While College Gameday is in Dallas for Michigan v. Alabama, Clemson v. Auburn will be the most entertaining game this Saturday. These are two teams that have had explosive offenses in the past and have defenses that are questionable.
Auburn had to recover from only 6 starters coming back and this year 17 returning. The numbers on offense and defense were hurt last season. The defense should be much improved but the biggest question is on offense as the Tigers are undergoing a transformation from a spread to run to a pro-style attack. Auburn may have troubles moving from offense to offense, the square peg in a round whole problem.
The defense for Auburn could match up well though against Clemson who is without Sammy Watkins, who is suspended for the first two games of the season. Clemson has 14 starters coming back but only two are on the offensive line and one is on the defensive line. Tajh Boyd played phenomenal last season but I am cautiously waiting for the other shoe to fall. It is Clemson after all. The defense was pretty bad last year but with 7 starters that should improve. Normally the Clemsoning doesn’t occur until a game against the likes of Wake Forest or Duke, and hopes have to get high for annual rite of passage in Death Valley to happen.
Hawaii (+42) at #1 USC
I am incredibly excited for Norm Chow’s Hawaii to take a trip to Los Angeles to take on USC. What hasn’t been written about USC? Nothing at this point. At the beginning of the season Hawaii isn’t going to have any health issues leading to problems with depth. Even though the Trojans are playing just slightly more than 60 total players this season they will still be able to dominate this game, but I don’t think by more than 42 points.
USC projects to have the best offense in the country with two NFL running backs, an NFL quarterback better than half the league as is, four returning offensive linemen, and two first round caliber receivers. Defensive line is the weakest part of the team and has depth concerns. The depth issue may not rear its ugly head this week, but expect it to in the weeks to come.
Hawaii returns 10 starters from last season including three starters on the offensive line. The biggest reason for hope is that Hawaii gets USC early in the season. USC normally isn’t strong early in the season. Also, two years ago the Rainbow Warriors gave the Trojans trouble when running the pistol. I like USC to win big, but Hawaii to cover.
#8 Michigan at #2 Alabama (-12) (Neutral Site)
The College Gameday game of the week will be a disappointment. Alabama is going to win this one, and make it look fairly easy. The Crimson Tide is just too fast on defense. There isn’t a size or speed advantage anywhere for Michigan’s offense. Denard Robinson has been a big play machine but has feasted on slower Big-10 defenses and many of his big passing plays are simply jump balls that tend to come down in the Wolverine’s favor.
As good as Trent Richardson was last year, the Alabama offensive line is also amazing, making it easier to replace Richardson with another phenomenal running back. The defense though is what will set up quarterback AJ McCarron and the offense. The best offense for the Tide is their defense. The defense creates three-and-outs and the special teams make good returns to create
I think Michigan may be more of a paper tiger this year. Denard Robinson is amazing but I just don’t think he has the pieces around him or the right system for him to shine as bright as he can. The defense at Michigan may have just been a mirage, something that looks good but once you look closer and see it over time against more competition, it turns out to just be an RC Vending Machine.
Kentucky at #25 Louisville (-12.5)
There aren’t a lot of great things to say about Kentucky, but there is a lot to say about Louisville. The Cardinals are projected to win the Big East even though their coach Charlie Strong believes that they will be peaking next year.
On offense Kentucky was one of the worst teams in the country and had a defense that ranked in the 40s. The Wildcats lost to Louisville at home last year after being outgained.
The Cardinals had a good offense and defense last year and those units will improve with Strong continuing to be the head coach.
Georgia Tech at #16 Virginia Tech (-7)
The best time to get a triple-option offense is in the first week of the season or in your bowl game. Otherwise, you don’t have time to prepare because no one really runs it anymore. To a lesser extent the same is true of the spread offense, but since so many people run it the advantage is not as pronounced. This game will give one team an early lead in the ACC Coastal division.
Georgia Tech continues to defy naysayers who argue that the triple-option won’t work in major college football. They had the 19th best offense according to F/+ last season and they were surprisingly effective through the air. This is a balanced team with the philosophy that being balanced is being able to move the ball consistently. They were 25th in passing and 11th in rushing S&P+ (Football Outsiders). The defense is what let the team down. This is also the first time they’ve opened their season against a top opponent.
The Hokies have opened against good opponents two of the last three years. Neither went well but they know how to prepare now. The defense has always been the rock of this team. A defense that limits points and creates turnovers that leads to easy touchdown is a staple of Beamerball. The offense in Blacksburg has a greater advantage over Georgia Tech’s defense than Georgia Tech’s offense has over Virginia Tech’s defense. There will not be a ton of possessions in this game so the score won’t be high, but there’s a chance we can see Logan Thomas break out.
PAC-12 Games (We’ll do more analysis once games get good)
Utah beats UNCO
UCLA beats Rice
BYU beats WSU (I don’t want this to happen)
ASU beats NAU
Stanford beats San Jose State
Oregon beats Arkansas State
Cal beats Nevada
Colorado beats Colorado State
USC beats Hawaii
Washington beats San Diego State (Upset Alert)
Arizona beats Toledo