I have a busy schedule for the first weekend of the season. I will be at Sun Life Stadium Friday night watching the Miami Hurricanes take the field against FAU. Hopes are high for this team and I’m confident that Al Golden’s group will excite fans across the country. Early Saturday morning, I fly to Pittsburgh, PA because my friend is getting married the following day. I’ve been researching the best places in Pittsburgh to watch college football and will find a place to park myself for the entire day. Saturday’s schedule features numerous intriguing games and storylines, even ones that don’t involve the "Will he or won’t he play" saga of Johnny Manziel. Being suspended for two quarters won't satisfy everyone in the media.....but I'm excited to watch him play. The ACC battles the SEC in two nationally televised showdowns and I’m counting on Clemson to earn the conference some respect. Sunday is all about Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville, but don’t sleep on the Ohio Bobcats just yet. On Monday night, I’ll be at Heinz Field to watch the much anticipated debut of FSU QB Jameis Winston. Analysts across the country have universally proclaimed him as a future superstar. The nation will be watching on Monday night when the Noles and Panthers have a unique stage on Labor Day, with no NFL competition for viewers. I look forward to the clever remarks from FSU fans when they see me in my UM gear at the stadium. I will have a full report on how the Noles look in person to prepare Canes fans for a trip to Tallahassee in November. Unfortunately, I think they are going to look very legit.
This story is what college football is all about. A few weeks ago, I found myself playing golf at a course on the Kentucky/Indiana border during a friend's bachelor party. I walked up to the bar to order a drink and the two flatscreen TVs caught my eye. One was predictably on FoxNews, but the other was a local channel showing a preview for Western Kentucky football. I watched excitedly as Bobby Petrino talked for a few minutes. Apparently a guy near me noticed I was watching and asked "hey, did you go to Western?" I responded: "No, but I love them against Kentucky in week 1. Petrino will make some noise this year." He stared at me for a second before saying "I'm a proud UK alum. We got a coach this year and we'll be ready."
Get your popcorn ready. Here come the winners. Follow me @JPickens15 for picks, analysis, and thoughts from stadiums all season long.
If you missed my picks for Thursday night’s games, click HERE. South Carolina, Utah, Fresno State, and Vandy will help my 2013 start off the right way. Miami wins by 35 on Friday night.
NORTHWESTERN -6 at California – 1030pm – ESPN2
My favorite pick of the week. The Wildcats will be wearing white helmets that will cause a stir on Twitter, but their talent on the field will be what fans are most impressed by. RB Venric Mark is still underrated, despite the incredible year he had in 2012. The two quarterback system of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian will be effective this year because each guy provides a different skill set. Colter’s toughness is critical on running downs and Siemian has proven he can make plays in the vertical passing game. Northwestern’s defense is better than most people think and Coach Pat Fitzgerald has a mature team capable of winning a night game on the road. Cal’s new HC Sonny Dykes has his hands full in year one, being forced to start a true freshman at QB – Jared Goff. Cal’s defense was shredded during the second half of 2012 and will have difficulty with NU’s spread offense. Cal will struggle to replace the reliability of WR Keenan Allen who is now in the NFL. Goff shows his youth and has a few key turnovers early, allowing Northwestern to jump out to an early lead. NU wins by 20. Go Cats.
BYU -1 at Virginia – 330pm – ESPNU
A few weeks ago, I mentioned that UVA HC Mike London is seated squarely on the proverbial hot seat. Even though Miami can’t seem to figure it out in recent years, Virginia isn’t a very intimidating atmosphere for opposing teams. BYU had one of the nation’s best defenses a year ago and returns stud LB Kyle Van Noy. He will make plays all over the field and make life difficult for UVA’s young QB – David Watford. After redshirting in 2012, Watford is the starter for the first time, a difficult task against the aggressive defensive style of BYU. The loss of two BYU corners to injury during camp will hurt the Cougars down the road, but Watford won’t be able to take advantage of their absence. The Cougars will be led by QB Taysom Hill, who gained important experience as a starter for a few games last season before he suffered a knee injury. The way Hill runs reminds you of Tim Tebow and I was impressed by his toughness and leadership as a freshman. Hill has two huge WR to throw to in Cody Hoffman and Mitch Mathews, which is a big factor around the goal-line. BYU wins by a touchdown.
ALABAMA -19.5 vs Virginia Tech – 530pm – ESPN – (Atlanta)
The only reason Alabama isn’t favored by 25 is out of respect for VT HC Frank Beamer. Everyone knows about how talented Bama is, returning McCarron, Yeldon, Cooper, and Mosley. The Tide are used to playing in Atlanta and the Georgia Dome will be a sea of crimson at kickoff. Virginia Tech has been decimated by injuries in recent weeks at key positions – LB, RB, and OL. Logan Thomas has said all the right things during this offseason, but I don’t trust his ability to lead the Hokies through adversity. Alabama will win this game easily, the question is simply: by how much? I expect the game to look similar to Bama’s game against Michigan that opened their 2012 campaign. Roll Tide. Saban and company win by four touchdowns.
Georgia at CLEMSON +1.5 – 8pm – ABC
This is the ACC’s chance. Miami can beat Florida next Saturday and the ACC can go 2-2 against the juggernaut that is the SEC. In Dabo I trust…….ish. Clemson gained so much confidence in their bowl win over LSU. Tajh Boyd knows what he is capable of and WR Sammy Watkins will bounce back with a huge season. Georgia’s secondary has issues with inexperience, injury, and the suspension of Josh Harvey-Clemons. Look for Boyd to play well and launch the official start of his Heisman candidacy. Georgia will score on the Tigers and I have great respect for the RB tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Aaron Murray wants everyone to forget about those final five yards against Alabama. I like UGA’s chances to win the SEC East, but I give Clemson the edge on Saturday night at home in front of what should be one of the best crowds/atmospheres of the 2013 season. Clemson wins by a field goal in what will end up being the best game of the weekend.
FLORIDA STATE -10 at Pittsburgh – 8pm – ESPN – MONDAY
My stop at Mad Mex on Monday afternoon will help me physically prepare to watch this contest. Pitt QB Tom Savage is at his third school and gets a fresh opportunity to start in his final season of college football. FSU’s deep defensive line will help welcome him back to live action. The Panthers are in for a rude awakening in their first game in the ACC. You’re not in the Big East anymore…..FSU is faster, stronger, and much more talented on both sides of the ball. The Noles are very confident about what they have coming back this season. Highly touted freshman QB Jameis Winston is being looked upon to take the Noles beyond ACC title hopes. He has help from a veteran offensive line and experienced WR’s led by Rashad Greene. Look for a new look on defense from new DC Jeremy Pruitt. From the looks of their depth chart, the Noles are changing their traditional positions on defense. Players will rotate and play numerous positions, bringing blitzes from all angles. I expect the Pitt fans to head for the exits in the fourth quarter.
Across the Country
OKLAHOMA STATE -12.5 vs Mississippi State – 330pm – ABC – (Houston)
Mike Gundy turned 46 years old a few weeks ago, and wow that makes me feel old. I admittedly couldn’t evaluate this game without bias because MSU QB Tyler Russell’s hideous interceptions against Northwestern last winter keep replaying in my mind. I don’t trust Russell’s confidence after he’s gone 1-5 in his last six starts, after beginning 2012 with a 7-0 record. Oklahoma State will play both Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh at QB and I expect both to have success against a secondary that is replacing two talented corners. The Cowboys offense has shown the ability to put up huge numbers year after year and I see no reason why that won’t continue. WR Josh Stewart has 100+ yards and 2 TDs on Saturday. OKST scores early and often, en route to a 20 point win.
WASHINGTON STATE +16 at Auburn – 7pm – ESPNU
This is one of the most interesting games between two teams coming off 3-9 seasons in college football history. Auburn will be starting Nick Marshall at QB, but his first game in Gus Malzahn’s system won’t go perfectly, given the complexity and pace of the offense. Washington State actually returns key players at DL and LB, but may struggle against the speed of Marshall if protection breaks down. Auburn will miss their best defensive player DE Dee Ford, who is out with an injury. WSU will rely on QB Connor Halliday to make plays in the passing game. I was impressed with Halliday at times last season and I expect him to put up at least a few touchdowns. He now has some experience under Mike Leach and I expect the Cougs to win a few more games in 2013. Auburn ends up winning by 7-10 points, but the Tigers aren’t polished enough to blowout the Cougars.
LSU -4 at TCU – 9pm – ESPN – Cowboys Stadium
Will Devonte Fields play for TCU? Will Jeremy Hill play for LSU? Who will start at QB for TCU? Both coaches are playing games with each other and the media in the lead-up to this showdown. LSU lost tons of talent to the NFL Draft on defense, but Les Miles has recruited well for years. DC John Chavis got his young players significant playing time in 2012 and I’m confident in his ability to field one of the nation’s toughest defenses again this year. LSU returns QB Zach Mettenberger and his three favorite WR, plus RB Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard. Mettenberger showed flashes of his talent last season and I’m curious to see how he develops under new OC Cam Cameron. TCU will likely play both quarterbacks, but I expect Casey Pachall to resume his former leadership role when the game is on the line. This game is being played in Cowboys Stadium and while that is a location advantage for TCU, expect LSU’s players to be more comfortable in this type of atmosphere. The Tigers will regain some of the SEC supremacy to make up for a potential UGA loss earlier in the night. LSU wins by a touchdown or more. Les eats celebratory astroturf around midnight Saturday.
Boise State at WASHINGTON -3.5 – 10pm – FS1
Expect to hear about Boise State’s success under Chris Petersen over and over again in the lead-up to this contest. With his starting QB returning, Petersen has been almost unbeatable at Boise, but there is a significant difference this time around. Joe Southwick isn’t remotely close to being the same player and leader as Kellen Moore and Jared Zabransky. While Southwick played well to end the year in 2012, I still don’t trust him to will his team to a road win in a hostile environment. UW QB Keith Price is going to have a standout season in the Pac 12 and the crowd in the newly renovated Husky Stadium will be a factor on Saturday night. Washington returns nearly every starter from last season and will avenge the close loss to Boise State last December in the Las Vegas Bowl. I’m hoping either Austin Seferian-Jenkins or Kasen Williams lines up to play on Saturday for the Huskies, but I like Washington regardless. Believe in the Pac 12 is going to be my motto for 2013.
OHIO +20 at Louisville – 330pm – ESPN - SUNDAY
Louisville enters this season with expectations of an undefeated season after last year’s bowl victory over Florida. Louisville’s defense returns a lot of talent, but this group struggled against the run a year ago. QB Teddy Bridgewater is considered by many to be the best in the country and the Cardinals will certainly light up the scoreboard. But don’t forget that his Ohio counterpart Tyler Tettleton is no slouch. The Bobcats have experienced players at the skill positions, including RB Beau Blankenship and WR Chase Cochran who had a huge game in last year’s Independence Bowl. Ohio is expected to compete for the MAC title this year and will keep this game closer than the experts think. The return of troubled UL RB Michael Dyer to college football is also something to watch.
What do you think about these picks? Agree or Disagree? Go Canes, Full Speed Ahead.
Odds from Covers.com