2017 – Week 1 Picks

We are back!  The weekly picks column where you are guaranteed to make money if you use this and go to Vegas.  That is, go against what we say.  Last year we did pretty good straight up.  We went 93-58 in that format, with a record of 5-9 trying to peg the "Upset of the Week."  Our picks against the spread is where you can make money.  We went 66-83-2 in that format.  That's pretty gross, but it's an improvement over 2015!

Another season is upon us.  Week 0 started last weekend with a nice appetizer for the season.  Hooray for college football!  I am just going to copy and paste what I wrote from last year, because there are the same excited feelings and thoughts every year.  "Don't give us your corporate, cookie cutter stadiums in the NFL.  Don't give us 32 teams that all run some version of the West Coast Offense.  Give us games that are played with real passion from fans, who actually have connections to the teams they root for.  Give us venues like Autzen, The Horseshoe, and The Swamp.  Give us venues like Army and Northwestern.  Give us goofy neutral site games that take place at a NASCAR track. (Don't think that's happening in 2017.)  Give us matchups that feature a triple option team going against a 3-5-3 defense.  Give us live mascots that can actually kill you if they get off their leashes or out of their cages.  I don't care that these aren't the best players playing the game.  I don't care that the level of play isn't that of professionals.  We want games lost because a kicker misses an extra point.  That's what makes college football so great and so unpredictable.  At least that's what we say to justify our terrible picks record."

For 2017, the traditional powers are dominating the top of the preseason polls: Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State, USC, Penn State, and Oklahoma are sitting in the top 10.  Can we consider Clemson a traditional power at this point?  The term "Clemson-ing" is definitely retired, but I don't know if they fit the mold.

The SEC is going to try to field at least 2 teams this year that have less than 4 losses.  Shocking, I know.  Alabama had the best record in the SEC last year and the second best record was Florida at 9-4, and they did that with 1/2 a team.  (Meaning their offense was worse than Kansas statistically.)  The PAC 12 has some very good QBs coming back this year looking to light it up.  The Big 10 has a loaded eastern division with 3 potential Playoff contenders.  The Big 12 has a championship game returning pitting the 2 best teams in the conference against each other.  You just know that the Big 12 is going to have their Playoff candidate knocked out of the picture with a loss.  It will just be poetic justice for a league that is complete knee-jerk rather than visionary.  The ACC might be the most well rounded conference with Miami and Virginia Tech actually making the other division respectable.  (I still don't know who is in what division except that Florida State and Clemson are in the same division.)

On to the 2017 season and the start of our incorrect guesses about game outcomes!

Teams on bye:  Houston and UTSA postponed due to Hurricane Harvey.  We will say Stanford and Rice have byes this week too.  We will just consider their games last week as Week 0.

   Tulsa

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   #10 Oklahoma St. (-17)

Expectations are high for OK State this year with a million stars returning on offense and an average defense that will surely be their downfall if they don’t make the Big 12 Championship/CFP.  There are loud whispers that OK State has a solid shot to make the Playoff if they can handle OU at home this year and walk away as the Big 12 Champ.  Will they stub their toe right out of the gate though?  It’s possible. 

Tulsa is not a team to be overlooked by any means.  They won 10 games last year with their Baylor-esque offense and (you guessed it) average defense…sounds vaguely familiar.  They lose some key figures on offense but bring back four starters on the O-line.  This offense is a system, just like it was at Baylor under Montgomery - insert the next guy and let it rip.  The defense will be improved since they get back their key contributors in the secondary.  Tulsa can certainly make the Pokes sweat for 3 quarters. 

This is going to be a fun one to watch, but unfortunately for Tulsa, OK State runs away in the end with their star RB, Hill.  

PICK: Oklahoma State 52, Tulsa 38 

   Maryland

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   #23 Texas (-17.5)

Good riddance, Charlie Strong. Texas made the biggest coaching hire of the offseason in luring Tom Herman away from a Houston program that almost snuck its way into the college playoff. Along with Herman comes huge expectations for a Texas program that is coming off of its third straight losing season. The Longhorns have plenty of returning starters to right the ship - seven on offense and ten on defense- but will have to learn how to win again and be the top-tier program that was once the standard at Texas.
 
Sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele, who started all 12 games for the Longhorns last year and set team freshman records, has re-captured the position and will have fellow underclassmen at all of the skill positions on offense. "If we continue our energy that we have out on the practice field that we've been having, I think it's going to be a lot of fun this year," Buechele said. "It's our first game and everybody's going to have a lot of energy. It's going to be a lot of fun to play in front of the fans and go play in our season opener.”
 
Maryland ended up 6-7 last season, and unlike Texas, made it to a bowl game. The biggest question of the preseason for Maryland was answered Monday when Durkin named sophomore Tyrell Pigrome as his starter at quarterback after a four-player battle at the position.  Pigrome saw action in 11 games last season, starting only once, passing for 322 yards and two touchdowns while adding 254 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.  It won't matter much who's behind center if the Terrapins' offensive line doesn't block better. Maryland allowed a Big Ten-high 49 sacks last season, but it did well opening holes for Ty Johnson, who averaged 9.1 yards per carry last season. Defensively, the Terps return seven starters, with 57 career starts coming back to the linebacker corps that should be the unit's strength. The Terrapins face arguably the toughest schedule in the nation, with conference games later in the season against No. 2 Ohio State, No. 9 Wisconsin, No. 11 Michigan and No. 6 Penn St. But first, it's the Longhorns, who -- despite their recent struggles -- have Maryland's full attention.
 
I don’t think this game is even close to a contest. The Texas football program has a lot to prove, maybe even too much to prove, but facing a Maryland team that is most likely taking a step back this year at home is a good way to start the season. I believe that Tom Herman will have the Longhorn offense humming in week one, but the big surprise will be the Texas D. Texas grabs the college football landscape’s attention with an impressive performance on both sides of the ball.
 
PICK: Texas 41, Maryland 13

  #11 Michigan

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   #17 Florida (+4)

A nice top 20 match up for opening weekend.  This game has more going on for headlines off the field than what is going to happen on the field.  Florida is up to 10 players suspended for this game.  That's probably a good sign for the Gators program going forward.  It seems that all these teams in the state of Florida do better when they are controversial and have players breaking the rules.  Is Florida State still known as Free Shoes University?  

Michigan and Florida are having a ridiculous staring contest regarding the release of their depth charts.  Football coaches are just absurd with guarding information.  Is it really that big a deal if someone knows that Wilton Speight is starting instead of John O'Korn or vice versa?  It's just football.  Stop being so serious.  Florida will be defending their SEC east crown, and while this doesn't impact that goal, it does impact the perception of the SEC vs the Big 10.  In some roundabout way, this game will be a big data point in figuring out strengths of conference and Playoff participants, even if these 2 teams aren't in the running.  Michigan is looking to add some sort of title with Harbaugh to match the hype he has brought the past few years.  Just win a division at least once!  

The Wolverines are replacing basically their entire defense and they are one of the least experienced teams in the country.  Experience matters at the start of the season, so the pick is Florida even with all those Gators suspended.  

PICK: Florida 20, Michigan 14 

   W. Michigan

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   #4 USC (-28)

Western Michigan is coming off an outstanding year where they went undefeated in the regular season capturing the MAC crown, and they were able to make a New Year's Six bowl, the Cotton Bowl, where they lost to Wisconsin by 8.  But as is the case with most Group of 5 teams that have unprecedented success, they lost their coach, P.J. Fleck, to a Power 5 school.  They also lost some key players from that team, most notably WR Corey Davis who ended up being the 5th pick in the NFL draft.  It's so hard to sustain that success at a Group of 5 program.  Will they be able to maintain some of that momentum going into this season?  Starting the season off against preseason #4 and defending Rose Bowl champion USC is not ideal.  But this is USC where the hype train picks up a lot of steam only to derail at some point.  

In case people forgot, this team started off 1-3 and people were calling for Clay Helton to be fired.  They suddenly reeled off 9 straight wins, including that Rose Bowl victory, and everyone started the hype.  USC has QB Sam Darnold who is the next great Heisman hope and many are projecting as top passer for the next NFL draft.  A major bowl win, a hyped Heisman candidate, and a top 5 preseason ranking?  It has all the makings of a classic USC let down.  They still have talent but they had quite the talent drain losing some players to the draft.  They might be looking ahead to Stanford, but I think they take care of business against Western Michigan in the season opening station on the USC Hype Train.  

PICK: USC 38, Western Michigan 23

   Appalachian St.

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   #15 Georgia (-14)

Michigan’s kick. Appalachian State’s block. The shocked fans standing motionless in the Big House. All the pieces of the last-second victory worked together to prove one truth: It can be done. Ten years ago, App State, an FCS team at the time, knocked off then-No. 5 Michigan on the road in the season opener. The broadcast called it “one of the greatest upsets in sports history.” That game, that win, and that moment have been preserved. App State landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Oral histories have been written. And now when major college football programs face App State, as Georgia will on Saturday, they don’t see the Mountaineers as just another easy win. 
 
If Georgia players don’t have as vivid memories of the 2007 blocked kick, they don’t have to look far for another cautionary tale that features App State as a main character. In Tennessee’s opener last year, App State, which now plays in the Sun Belt Conference, almost did the unthinkable again. Tennessee, an early favorite for the SEC East division title, needed overtime to beat the Mountaineers.
 
Against Tennessee, App State accumulated 184 rushing yards. With running back Jalin Moore, who finished last year with 1,402 rushing yards, App State has what Smart called an “SEC back.” And even though App State’s defensive players don’t have the size of those from top programs, Smart said the Mountaineers are “as quick and as fast as we’ll play all year.”
 
There is no doubt that App State will put points on the board, but the depth and quality of players clearly favors Georgia in this one. I predict that App State enters halftime within ten points of the Dawgs, but Georgia’s depth rears its face in the second half and they easily cover the spread.
 
PICK: Georgia 48, App State 24

   #3 Florida State

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   #1 Alabama (-7)

This is what you came for. All the waiting for the college football season, all the speculation, all the thoughts, theories and beliefs about who’s great, who’s not, who’s overrated,who’ll end up in the College Football Playoff, and what’s going to happen could all likely be settled in Atlanta on the first big Saturday night of the season. Alabama is everyone’s No. 1, Florida State is actually the second best team – even if the AP and Coaches polls don’t see it that way – with a good argument to be made as the top team in terms of talent. And now. these two get to beat each other up in one of the most impressive opening weekend matchups ever.
 
The game’s biggest question mark – will new Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Brian Daboll keep things relatively vanilla, or will there be more downfield shots? Behind yet another tremendous O line, and with a loaded backfield highlighted by a dangerous running quarterback in Jalen Hurts, Daboll and the Crimson Tide offense might just line up, pound away, and dare Florida State’s defensive front to hold up for a full four quarters. However, if FSU can hold up against the run and force third-and-longs – and keep Hurts from taking off – the D will get the Tide off the field.
 
Can another star of the ACC pick up against the Crimson Tide where Clemson left off in Tampa back in January? My guess is no.
 
Can Alabama flex its muscle and show that, yeah, it’s Alabama, and the rest of the world isn’t? My guess is yes.
 
Can this be a good enough game so that the potential remains for the loser to get into the College Football Playoff and make this a possible rematch in the shiny new Mercedes-Benz Stadium again on January 8th when the stakes are going to be far higher? Uh, yeah.
 
At the very least, the winner of this will have the inside track to at least get into the CFP and be everyone’s No. 1 team until something crazy happens. Hopefully, this is just the start of a fun and crazy year with plenty of twists, turns, and classics before figuring out the final four teams. But if the best game of the 2017 college football season just so happens to be played in Atlanta on September 2nd, it’s all good.
 
PICK: Bama 27, Florida St 17

   BYU

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   #13 LSU (-12.5)

This one was supposed to be a juggernaut showdown to begin the season, but if any of you watched the BYU vs Portland State game, you’ll know that we’re likely to be disappointed.  The offense struggled horribly against an FCS team, albeit a solid FCS team…still not an excuse.  The offense had a couple good drives, but the whole 3rd down conversion was lost on BYU.  

You can bet that LSU will be slightly tougher to convert 3rd downs against.  BYU’s defense was the star of last weekend and the sole reason they beat Portland St.  You can bet that LSU watched that game together in the bayou and were salivating at rushing that O-line.  I believe the quote from the announcer was (and I'm paraphrasing here), “If Portland State can do this to BYU on defense, then you can bet that LSU will be able to do it 4 times better”.  Luckily for BYU, they have a chance to fix some things before heading to the SuperDome.  LSU is going to be jacked up, to say the least, to prove to everyone that they’re legit this year behind their Cajun Coach, Ed O.  If LSU gets past this game then they can cruise into October until they meet Florida.  Obviously the defense will be fantastic, but if they can turn the offense into something worth a damn and become consistent under new OC Matt Canada, then they’ll compete for the SEC West. 

With how terrible BYU looked last week, there’s no way I can take them here.  LSU without a doubt.  

PICK: LSU 33, BYU 14

   Texas A&M

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   UCLA (-3.5)

Both teams (and coaches) need this win badly to get off on the right foot.  The team that loses will be under a world of pressure going into Week 2. 

To add to the drama, we have everyone’s favorite QB - Josh Rosen - returning from a shoulder injury.  The overly confident, borderline annoying QB, talks a huge game but has yet to fully back it up.  NFL scouts are dying to see if he has recovered and lead his team to a great season for once.  Jim Mora Jr. has cleaned house on his staff after last year's complete disaster of a season.  So there is a lot of turmoil on the Bruins side.  Are they organized enough to get it done?  A&M will have a change of heart this year in philosophy – RUN THE BALL - mainly because they don’t have a QB that can sling the rock around the yard to their young WRs.  This game is almost guaranteed to be a close one until the end.  You have to give the edge to the side with the better (much better) QB to lead their team to victory in the late stretches. 

I’ll take UCLA at the Rose Bowl by a TD.  

PICK: UCLA 31, Texas A&M 24

   Tennessee

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   Georgia Tech (+3)

The last game of an exciting Week 1 isn’t all that exciting, but damn it, I’ll watch every minute of it. 

Tennessee is supposedly rebuilding this year after losing QB Josh Dobbs, who was underwhelming in his final season.  Expectations are kind of low for the Vols in 2017, but don’t let that fool you, there is a ton of talent in place to make a run at the SEC East.  Eight of their top 9 tacklers are back on defense.  Their new QB Dormandy is a true pocket passer with a solid arm, and if he can keep his composure the Vols will put up some points.  This game will be one of two things for Butch Jones - they win and the hype train will take off - or - they lose and you can expect fans to call for his job.  Funny how that works nowadays - these kids and their instant gratification. 

GA Tech is a bit of an afterthought this year, which scares me and it should scare you too.  Every time GA Tech is picked to win their division they end up under .500.  When no one cares about GA Tech they find a way to win 9-10 games.  GA Tech replaces their QB and lost their top runner to suspension.  The Vols better not sleep on the triple option or they’ll get burned on national TV.  

There are still too many factors going against GA Tech here to see them pull off this upset.  

PICK: Tennessee 31, GA Tech 23

   #22 West Virginia

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   #21 VA Tech (-4.5)

Upset of the Week!!!
 
This is not a routine season opener for both the West Virginia and Virginia Tech football teams. The Mountaineers and Hokies will get to test themselves Sunday night against another top 25 team in a nationally televised game at an NFL stadium. Oh, and they each will be facing a long-time rival that their program has not played in 12 years. The Mountaineers will meet No. 21 Virginia Tech at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at FedEx Field, the home of the Washington Redskins. This will be the 52nd meeting between the schools. But the teams have not squared off since 2005, when Tech won the Black Diamond Trophy for the second straight year. 
 
Jake Spavital vs. Bud Foster: THE SHOWDOWN
 
Cue the wild west music. The thousand yard stares these two will be sharing from across the field will be Iliad-type levels of epic. Daenarys and her three dragons could only dream of generating the type of hot, hot fire that the squaring off between Foster’s defense and Spav’s offense will produce. 
 
Bud Foster has been doing this for a long time, and is as distinguished a college coach as they come. As a veteran defensive coordinator now entering his 30th season in Blacksburg. Spavital, on the other hand, is just now coming into his own after several years cutting his teeth as offensive coordinator and quarterback whisperer at Texas A&M and Cal. 
 
Spavital’s M.O. is a red bull-injected spread attack that favors the pass and multiple receiver sets, being lead by wunderkind and gloriously-maned quarterback Will Grier. The Mountaineers also boast a hydra of a running back corps, lead by the Big XII’s returning leader in rushing Justin Crawford.  
 
Foster will look to stymie West Virginia’s air raid attack with a talent-laden defense featuring pre-season All ACC linebacker Tremaine Edmunds that likes to disguise coverages and blitz hard across the front. Spavital is a visor guy, whereas Foster likes the classic ball cap. Spavital is team Red Bull whereas Foster seems more like a coffee guy. Advantage: Spavital.
 
In this era of college football offense seems to have gotten the upper hand on defense, and although West Virginia is as inexperienced as they come their offense will do just enough to pull off the upset in this one in the fourth quarter.
 
PICK: West Va 34, Va Tech 30

Season Record - Straight Up: 0-0

Season Record - Versus Spread: 0-0

Upset of the Week: 0-0

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