Week 1 College Football Picks: Best Opening Slate in Years

Welcome to my Picks column, because I like acting like I know everything. I’ll post this every Wednesday. I’ll pick 10 games and 1 Upset Special, which is a touchdown or more underdog who I think will win outright. For entertainment purposes only...

Picks: 0-0
Best Bet: 0-0
Upset Special: 0-0

We hit rock bottom in 2010. I was feverishly counting down the days until the opening weekend. I couldn’t wait, as I can’t every August, for college football to return. And then it did. And then I yawned.

The 2 marquee games were TCU vs. Oregon State in a half-empty JerryWorld and LSU vs. North Carolina after 8 UNC defensive starters had been suspended. The opening Thursday featured Southern Miss vs. South Carolina. The Friday night gave us Arizona at Toledo.

While I was eagerly – and soon to be disappointed – awaiting the UConn/Michigan game, the noon kickoff games provided zero entertainment. There was only 1 matchup of 2 BCS schools and it was Missouri vs. Illinois. It was also not on TV as I lived in Hartford at the time. It was a mind-numbing exercise in misguided expectations.

Thankfully, that trend has turned and hopefully for good. While Georgia at Clemson is the headliner, there are good matchups between quality teams starting from the first kick on Thursday at 6pm. Even the matchups between non-BCS and BCS teams are more intriguing than usual, with Orange Bowl participant Northern Illinois traveling to Iowa, BCS buster possibility Fresno State hosting Rutgers and Florida hosting a MAC team that returns its QB from a 9-win 2012.

There are cupcakes to be sure. There will always be cupcakes in Week 1. There are just less of them this year. Which is good, because I need to save room for the wings. And ribs. And beer. And etc. etc.

Odds are from here as I write this post. Home team in ALL CAPS

Bryn Renner UNC QB
North Carolina (+12) over SOUTH CAROLINA
I can’t imagine a worse week 1 opponent for South Carolina. If you’ve watched or read any of the college football previews, the focus has been squarely on the Gamecocks, their national title hopes and Jadeveon Clowney winning the Heisman. The talk about UNC? Pretty much non-existent.

If you watched UNC last year, you know that they have an excellent offense led by QB Bryn Renner and they can score a bunch of points on anyone. Stopping people is a different story. But as we saw in last year’s Outback Bowl, you can score on South Carolina. And I think UNC will. Everyone is taking UNC lightly, and with Georgia looming next week, I think South Carolina does too. I don’t know if UNC has the firepower to actually win but as Lee Corso says, “Ah fuck it.” I mean, “Closer than the experts think.”

VANDEBILT (+3.5) over Ole Miss
Was it just a year ago that Vanderbilt was the hot up and coming team in the SEC? All of the buzz is now firmly aimed at Ole Miss but I can’t really figure out why. Yes, they have a ton of high-profile recruits but they are still freshmen. Vanderbilt played in this Thursday Night showcase last year and almost stunned South Carolina. The fact you get points here is shocking and is almost too easy – Vandy is winning this game.

Some angles get played up more than others but Vanderbilt has two concurrent negative stories working against them – the charges of rape against 4 now-former players and the poor ticket sales. The latter may push coach James Franklin out of town. The former is cause for concern. Neither will affect the team on Thursday night. If anything, it may motivate them further.

Rutgers (+10.5) over Fresno State *Upset Special*
Yes, Fresno State is a hot “BCS Buster” candidate. But its last game was a shellacking at the hands of SMU in the Hawaii Bowl. What am I missing? Rutgers was one terrible half of football against Louisville from playing in the Sugar Bowl and getting a lot more preseason love then they’re getting now. The 10-point spread is absurd, I don’t care where the game is being played. I hate rooting or pulling for Rutgers, but this is a game they should win. If they don’t – it’s a long year in Piscataway. And for reasons other than it being Piscataway.

Toledo (+29.5) over FLORIDA
The rule of thumb is to not pick an underdog unless you think they can actually win the game, regardless of the spread. Well, yes, I do think Toledo could beat Florida. I doubt they will but a 9-win team returning its starting QB is getting disrespected big-time by this 4-touchdown spread.  Even if Florida does dominate like it’s supposed to, they failed to show the offensive blaze that would let them cover this spread. This goes into halftime close, Florida pulls away late and Toledo covers.

CINCINNATI (-10.5) over Purdue
Purdue is terrible. Cincinnati is not. I wrote Cincinnati would be undefeated headed into November. They ain’t losing this one. Need I say more?

Mississippi State (+12.5) over Oklahoma State
This is one of the more intriguing games of the weekend that I feel is a total tossup. Last year, these teams were both mediocre at best in their respective conferences. Somehow, Oklahoma State has parlayed that into being the preseason Big 12 favorites while Mississippi State has been tossed aside like an also-ran. Throw in the fact that it’s a neutral site and I could see either team winning. Until Oklahoma State proves me – and 2012’s results wrong – I will err on the side of caution. And the SEC.

While I’m here, can anyone explain to me how Oklahoma State is the preseason favorite in the Big 12? Everyone is down on Oklahoma, which happened to go 10-3 last year with each loss coming to a top 10 team (Notre Dame, Kansas State & Texas A&M). Meanwhile, Texas won 9 games, finished strong and won a nice Alamo Bowl game against a top 15 Oregon State club. Oklahoma State lost to both teams last year. Besides, Baylor is winning the Big 12.

Jordan Lynch QB
Northern Illinois (+3) over IOWA
I don’t get this line at all. Iowa was terrible last year. Northern Illinois made the Orange Bowl and put up a decent fight against a top-flight team in Florida State. The undoing for Northern Illinois and Jordan Lynch was the NFL-caliber defense Florida State put on the field to slow him down. Does Iowa have that? If they do, no one has alerted me. The game is at Iowa, but don’t you think Northern Illinois will be highly motivated to shut everyone up after the smear campaign launched at them since busting the BCS last year?

Jordan Lynch is back. He will be by far the best player on the field. I would have made this my Best Bet but I have another juicy line I couldn’t pass up.

Alabama (-20) over Virginia Tech
I wanted to pick Virginia Tech just to be contrarian. I wanted to find any excuse to pick the Hokies. But beyond, “Frank Beamer is a good coach,” I got nothing. They can’t make this line high enough. Unlike other dynasties in the BCS era – namely USC – Alabama shows no sign of complacency. Likely because Nick Saban preaches against it at every opportunity. They will be showing up in Atlanta with bad intentions to make a statement. Pray for Virginia Tech.

Georgia (-2) over CLEMSON *Best Bet*
I wrote in my Bold Predictions piece that Georgia would annihilate Clemson. I’m not changing up that pick now. Georgia is my pick to win the National Title. Clemson is my pick to be the ACC’s annual poster child for disappointment. Has any team ever gotten more mileage out of a Peach Bowl victory that was gifted to them by some atrocious Les Miles coaching? That win doesn’t make up for the South Carolina destruction to end the season. I have no faith in Clemson and will not have any faith until they win a big game in the regular season. Despite being a Top 5 team, Georgia might have the biggest chip on their shoulder of any time in the country. Dawgs are going to roll in Death Valley. And the ACC failure marches on…

Lsu (-4.5) over Tcu
I will be rooting for TCU to win. But they won’t. LSU has more players. LSU has better players. We saw this scene unfold in 2011 when big, bad Oregon traveled to Texas and left with bloody noses and scars. TCU is not the same TCU team that won the Rose Bowl and had an NFL QB at the helm in Andy Dalton. TCU may make noise. They make challenge for the Big 12 title in a down year in the conference. They aren’t beating LSU on the big stage on opening weekend.

If LSU wins, it will truly be a sad day for college football – especially if Jeremy Hill plays. If you don’t know, Hill was LSU’s leading rusher in 2012. He was also on probation in 2012 for an improper sexual relationship with an underage girl while in high school. He violated his probation – or so you would think – when he was caught on camera running up from behind and suckerpunching someone. Because Louisiana is where LSU plays, somehow his probation remained unchanged. LSU coach Les Miles let his team “vote” whether Hill could play or not – give me a fucking break – and he will likely play on Saturday.

It’s disgusting. But if you want your kid to grow up, get arrested twice and face no consequences – send him to LSU.

WASHINGTON (-3.5) over Boise State
Another pick I made in my Bold Predictions column. In fact, let me just cut and paste here: “This has almost nothing to do with football, which is admittedly odd and stupid for a college football blog post. But here’s the deal – Washington is returning to a renovated Husky Stadium, playing on campus for the first time since 2011 and hosting a team it almost beat in the Las Vegas Bowl. The stars are aligning. Boise State is good, but it is not of vintage Bronco greatness. Washington will ride the wave of emotion from a frenzy crowd in primetime – the game kicks off late night on the East Coast – and will score a huge victory for a program that has been trying to get over the hump for a couple years now.”

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