"If you lose a big fight, it will worry you all your life. It will plague you - until you get your revenge." - Muhammad Ali
Louisville 36 Miami 9. The Canes were embarrassed in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Louisville outplayed Miami on both sides of the ball and outcoached a UM staff struggling for answers. The numbers are hard for me to even type. Miami was outgained 554-174 in total yards and the Canes were 0-11 on third downs thanks to predictable play-calling, not having Duke Johnson, and the shaken confidence of Stephen Morris. Teddy Bridgewater was 35-45 for 447 yards and 3 touchdowns. Every member of the Miami program has been counting down the days until another shot at the Cardinals, a chance to seek revenge. The matchup between these two teams will look a lot different on Monday.
Both teams will be breaking in new starting quarterbacks. Sophomore Will Gardner gets the nod for Louisville and Miami will benefit significantly from not having to face Teddy Bridgewater again. Miami has excited the fanbase by naming true freshman Brad Kaaya as the starter. The future is now. Kaaya has plenty of help with Duke Johnson back, a strong and experienced offensive line, and one of the best WR groups in the nation in my opinion. Louisville is deep at WR, but some players just can't be replaced. WR DeVante Parker is one of those guys who requires defenses to gameplan around him. The Canes had no answer for Parker's size and speed in December. His foot injury will keep him out for a few months and will impact the explosiveness of UL's offense.
I think continuity will be a big factor in the season opener. Everyone is talking about the genius of Bobby Petrino, but his team will be playing in a new system for the first time on Monday night, on both sides of the ball. The Cardinals lost two first round picks on defense to the NFL Draft and have to replace seven starters. Miami has the same head coach and coordinators from a year ago, and the Canes lost very little to graduation and the NFL. If OC James Coley can build a gameplan that Kaaya is comfortable with, the Canes have the talent around him to win on the road.
Since we just endured having to watch the VMA's and the Emmy's, I wanted to give out a prize for this offseason. For months and months I've been telling Canes fans that the defense will show significant improvement in 2014. I've talked about how much talent Miami has in the secondary, how good Denzel Perryman is, and how the added depth on the defensive line will make an immediate impact. The reality is, fans just don't trust Mark D'Onofrio after his unit's poor performances the past few seasons. And the award for most overused Miami related statement goes to.........
"Stop telling me the defense is going to be better. At this point, I have to see it to believe it."
I expect many people to start seeing what they need to see on Monday night. If I'm right, send your excited reactions to @JPickens15. If Miami's defense looks like the 2013 version, I'll be ready to accept the blame.
(Programming Note - If you missed my picks for Thursday and Friday night, HERE'S THE LINK to my six games)
MIAMI +3.5 at Louisville 8pm - ESPN (MONDAY)
Louisville was extremely motivated to play Miami in the bowl game. The Cardinals played with an edge under Charlie Strong and the leadership of Teddy Bridgewater and Calvin Pryor was essential to their success. Bobby Petrino will be successful at Louisville once again, but there is going to be an adjustment period. Miami is an underdog since the game is being played at UL, but the Canes will be playing with a chip on their shoulder. Brad Kaaya will have his growing pains at times on Monday, but Duke Johnson and Stacy Coley will help pick up the slack. Look for a big play from each guy. I don't expect James Coley to be timid with his play-calling with Kaaya under center. Philip Dorsett will be open on a deep route in the first half, set up by play-action with Louisville overcommitting to stop Duke Johnson. The Canes have talented players and depth in the secondary. I expect two interceptions of Will Gardner. If UL's stud RB Michael Dyer is still hobbled with an injury, that's another positive for the Canes' chances to win. The opportunity to play on a national stage on Monday night is all Miami could ask for. It's time to make a statement that Miami is the team to beat in the Coastal. Canes win 34-27.
FLORIDA STATE -17.5 vs Oklahoma State 8pm - ABC (Game in Arlington, TX)
The defending champs will be ready. A big stage at Jerry World will have the Noles motivated to prove last season was a sign of things to come. OKST lost 13 starters from 2013 and the Cowboys will struggle early with inexperience. Florida State's stout offensive line will control the game and RB Karlos Williams should have a few opportunities to break a long run. QB Jameis Winston will build on his legacy and find his favorite target WR Rashad Green early and often. OKST QB J.W. Walsh has been inconsistent throughout his career and the Noles secondary will force a few turnovers. Florida State fans will travel well to this game and plan on visiting that stadium again in January. Complacency might be an issue for FSU down the road, but the Cowboys will get FSU's best shot in the opener. The Noles win by four touchdowns and earn me my first Golden Pick victory of the season.
PENN STATE +2 vs Central Florida 830am - ESPN2 (Game in Ireland)
A natural disaster almost ruined my dream of a live college football game at 830am on a Saturday. Thankfully, the volcano fears have subsided and this game will be played in Ireland as scheduled. This game will be close throughout, but I give a significant edge to the Nittany Lions due to the quarterback matchup. QB Christian Hackenberg should have a big season and gained valuable experience in 2013. RB Bill Belton is a nice player and he'll rush for 100+ on Saturday. Penn State's biggest weakness is a lack of depth due to NCAA sanctions, but that won't be a big factor in the season opener. PSU's defensive front seven has experience and talent, forcing UCF to need to pass to have sustained success. The Knights will go with redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo at QB. UCF has a very good defense, but in a close game that's decided in the 4th quarter, I'm relying on the elite ability of Hackenberg to lead his team to a game-winning or game-clinching drive.
OHIO STATE -15 vs Navy 12pm - CBSSN (Game in Baltimore)
This line has come down a few points since the season-ending injury to Braxton Miller, but the Buckeyes are the clear pick here. Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett gets the start at QB for Ohio State. Playing Navy is a great scenario for Urban Meyer to get Barrett some experience. RB's Ezekiel Elliot and Dontre Wilson will have success early, opening up some play-action chances for Barrett to shine. OSU will dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, with a significant size and strength advantage up front. Navy's option attack is tough to prepare for during the season, but the Buckeyes are fortunate to play them Week 1, with all offseason to prepare. Navy had a strong season and finished 9-4 in 2013 and I expect another strong season. While QB Keenan Reynolds will put up some huge numbers against opponents later in the year, OSU's defensive line is one of the best in the country. Urban Meyer has recruited well and you'll notice a large talent gap on the field on Saturday.
NORTHWESTERN -11 vs California 330pm - ABC/ESPN2
Great stat from Inside NU - "Pat Fitzgerald is 8-0 as a head coach in season openers. In the Big Ten, only Urban Meyer has a longer current winning streak. (Meyer is 12-0 all-time in openers.)" Northwestern lostVenric Mark to a transfer and lost WR Christian Jones to an injury, but the Wildcats still have a lot of talent on offense. QB Trevor Siemian has experience and should have a huge year now that he owns the starting job alone. RB Treyvon Green, WR Tony Jones, and WR Cameron Dickerson will help Siemian and lead this offense to a significantly better season than we saw in 2013. The NU coaching staff has been together for a long time and that consistency is always helpful in an opening game. The Cats return most of their starters on defense and will force turnovers against Cal, which proved to be the difference in the matchup between these two teams last August. Cal had one of the worst defenses in the country last year and went a dreadful 1-11. I don't expect that defense to improve fast enough to stop Northwestern's spread attack. The Golden Bears return starting QB Jared Goff, who I like a lot, but the talent around him is lacking. NU starts fast at home and pulls away in the second half.
WEST VIRGINIA +26 vs Alabama 330pm - ABC/ESPN2 - (Game in Atlanta)
The Crimson Tide certainly have incredible skill position players in Yeldon, Henry, Cooper, White, and Jones. The battle to start at QB for Alabama has confused most media members and fans. People assumed Jacob Coker would win the job easily, but right now it seems like Blake Sims will start and Coker will play some as well. Rotating quarterbacks might help Alabama down the road in the SEC, with both guys gaining reps, but that lack of continuity might prevent a blowout in Atlanta on Saturday. West Virginia QB Clint Trickett will have some limited success making plays against an Alabama secondary that will feature some new starters. With the line being 26, I only need a few scores from West Virginia to be in good shape for a win. I expect a touchdown for WR Kevin White or WR Mario Alford to keep things respectable early. This game is my best chance to look like I'm clueless on Sunday morning because I'll be kicking myself if Alabama wins 45-0. But I'm sticking with the Mountaineers to make enough plays to lose by 14-20.
RICE +21 at Notre Dame 330pm - NBC
Notre Dame's season projections are now held hostage by the looming suspensions of several of the team's best players. The academic investigation will be a significant distraction and guys like DaVaris Daniels andKeiVarae Russell can't be replaced easily. The Irish will benefit from having Everett Golson back at QB this season and Brian Kelly has recruited well in recent years. That being said, too many people are dismissing Rice's chances of being competitive on Saturday. New starting QB Driphus Jackson has dual-threat ability and has played well in a few appearances over the past two seasons. Rice will miss the power running ofCharles Ross, but has a great WR in Jordan Taylor. While the Owls will struggle to stop the running game of Notre Dame, I think Rice's offense is capable of putting up 20 points in South Bend. Rice is a team that's built a winning culture in recent years and I don't expect the Owls to be intimidated. Notre Dame eventually pulls away, but the game is closer than most people expect.
GEORGIA -7.5 vs Clemson 530pm - ESPN
Clemson had a great season in 2013 and beat UGA in the opener behind Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, and RB Roderick McDowell. All three are gone and the Tigers need to find new playmakers on offense at every position. QB Cole Stoudt has been in Chad Morris's offense for years, but he can't run the ball as effectively as Boyd did. Thankfully for Clemson, DE Vic Beasley should be a 1st round pick and has All-Americanability. He leads a strong defense that will make things difficult for opponents in the ACC. Georgia's offense is led by QB Hutson Mason, another guy who has paid his dues and waited for his opportunity. Mason has a nearly unstoppable group of running backs to help him, led by Todd Gurley. I expect the running of Gurley and Keith Marshall to be the difference on Saturday night. Clemson won't have as much success running the ball, putting too much pressure on Stoudt on the road in Athens. Both of these teams will have strong seasons, but Georgia gets the job done on opening weekend.
LSU -5 vs Wisconsin 9pm - ESPN (Game in Houston)
What a way to end your Saturday. This game should be one of the best of the day. LSU has three freshman players on offense that have captured the attention of the country this offseason. QB Brandon Harris, RB Leonard Fournette, and WR Malachi Dupre are the present and the future for LSU. Fournette is even being considered as a darkhorse Heisman candidate, drawing comparisons to Adrian Peterson. Les Miles hasn't tipped his hat about who he's starting at QB, and we might see both Harris and Anthony Jennings under center on Saturday. Most people were surprised when stories came out saying QB Tanner McEvoy would be Wisconsin's starter, but I won't be shocked if Joel Stave plays as well. Wisconsin's star player is RB Melvin Gordon, but he'll face one of his toughest challenges of the season. LSU's defense is young up front, but very talented. The Tigers have an elite secondary and will make things difficult for a Wisconsin offense without real playmakers in the passing game. Les Miles will win this game in typical LSU fashion, especially given the geographical advantage the Tigers will have, with the game being played close to home.
UTAH STATE +6 vs Tennessee 7pm - SECNetwork - SUNDAY
Utah State isn't being shy about promoting their star QB Chuckie Keeton. A website launching his candidacy for the Heisman might seem premature to some fans that haven't watched him play, but Keeton has always exceeded my expectations. This matchup with Tennessee is the moment he's been waiting for. He nearly beat Auburn on the road three years ago as a freshman and his experience will help him deal with the atmosphere in Knoxville. Keeton has some playmakers around him and RB Joe Hill is a difference maker. Tennessee will go with Justin Worley at QB, but I've never been sold on his ability to win against quality opponents. UT has a lot of good young players and will be good under Butch Jones in a year or two. This quote from Butch Jones early this offseason says it all - "I've never been in a situation where you basically have to replace both your offensive and defensive lines." That spells trouble against a good opponent in Week 1. Chuckie and Utah State will have a chance to win in the 4th quarter.