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Another Journey Begins - Thursday & Friday Picks

It's opening week and I'm here to pick games for Thursday and Friday nights. I carry an undefeated record into this week and know this is going to be my breakout season.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Let's start another journey together. The 2015 season is upon us. This is my junior year with State of the U. My first two years were a rollercoaster - flashes of brilliance mixed with disappointment and immaturity due to overconfidence. This should be my breakout season. By November, I expect agents to being circling, but I've already told the editors Cam and Jerry that I've committed to returning as a senior. That being said, if I win 40% of my games and become universally hated by readers, my emotional fragility might result in the consideration of a graduate transfer to a blog with lower expectations.

Quick Miami thought - I was relaxing watching Kanye West's monologue on mute on Sunday night when I saw the terrible news about Gus Edwards being out for the season. Reading it made me feel as guilty as Roger Goodell watching the trailer to "Concussion," because I'm worried I jinxed Gus with my positive preview last week. He worked hard and was ready for his chance to shine. I wish him the best in his recovery and hope he'll return better than ever in 2016. Fortunately for the Canes, there is a trio of running backs that I have confidence in to fill the void. Yearby, Walton, and Gray will make the most of their increased opportunities.

I couldn't have asked for a better start to the season. I picked Montana to keep things close against North Dakota State and the Grizzlies ended up winning the game outright. I'll be updating this stats table all year. It's only one game, but all of those green numbers make me excited.

Thursday Night

CENTRAL FLORIDA -14 vs Florida International - 6pm

This pick is more about my opinion of FIU than anything else. I was critical of UCF QB Justin Holman last year, but I expect him to take a significant jump forward in 2015. He has talent and arm strength and enters this season with confidence and experience. FIU QB Alex McGough hasn't shown the ability to beat teams downfield in the passing game. UCF has better players on both sides of the ball, especially at the line of scrimmage (offensive and defensive line). The Knights will rush for 200 yards led by RB William Stanback on their way to a blowout win in Orlando.

SOUTH CAROLINA -2 vs North Carolina (Game in Charlotte) - 6pm

This is one of the week's most interesting matchups. On paper it seems like UNC should be favored, with a returning starting QB in Marquise Williams and some talented skill players around him like WR Ryan Switzer and WR Quinshad Davis. North Carolina has a chance to really help the national perception of the ACC and I'll be rooting them on, but I've been burned by the Heels too many times. South Carolina will be starting Connor Mitch at QB, a highly-touted redshirt sophomore. He'll benefit from having one of the SEC's best playmakers, Pharoh Cooper, as a target. UNC's defense was a disaster last season and new DC Gene Chizik will have his hands full trying improve the unit quickly, even with most of the key contributors returning. I want to pick UNC, but I can't stop thinking that Spurrier and company will find a way to win a close game by a field goal in the fourth quarter.

WESTERN KENTUCKY -2.5 at Vanderbilt - 8pm

Derek Mason hasn't named a starting QB yet for Vandy, but I expect it to be Wade Freebeck over Johnny McCrary. Regardless, the Commodores won't have enough offense to keep pace with Western Kentucky and star QB Brandon Doughty. The sixth-year senior has seen it all and is looking to built on a monster year in 2014, when he threw for 4800 yards and 49 touchdowns. RB Leon Allen also returns as senior after a breakout year of 1500 yards and 13 touchdowns. Vanderbilt might improve this season, but that will take time. This game certainly seems like a trap, with an SEC team listed as an underdog at home, but I'm not falling for it. All SEC teams are not created equally. WKU wins by 10.

UTAH -5.5 vs Michigan - 830pm

Utah beat Michigan in 2014 in the Big House, but no one is talking about that game heading into Thursday. All eyes are on new head coach/savior Jim Harbaugh. I expect him to go with Iowa transfer QB Jake Rudock as his starter. Rudock and Shane Morris are both average guys that pale in comparison to Utah's dual-threat QB Travis Wilson, who has always been one of my favorite players in the nation. While Michigan's run defense should be stout in 2015, Utah has an experience offensive line and a darkhorse Heisman candidate in RB Devontae Booker. Utah will have the edge in a close game with a great special teams unit. Winning in Salt Lake City is never easy for road teams. Look for Michigan to improve significantly in 2015, but the Wolverines won't have enough firepower on offense to keep pace with the Utes. Utah players feels disrespected by all of the focus on Harbaugh's first game and HC Kyle Whittingham knows how to make the most of that chip on their shoulder.

MINNESOTA +15 vs Tcu - 9pm

The TCU hype for this season is unprecedented. Nearly every media member is picking the Horned Frogs to make the playoff and QB Trevone Boykin to win the Heisman. I'm anxious to see how TCU deals with the pressure of immense expectations, a role that is largely unfamiliar to the program. TCU has some explosive weapons on offense in RB Aaron Green, WR Josh Doctson, and WR Kolby Listenbee. That being said, I don't think Minnesota's defense is getting enough attention. The Gophers held down Ohio State for most of the game last season, losing a close one 31-24. QB Mitch Leidner should improve as a passer this year and is always a threat in the running game. Minnesota will run the ball and try to control the clock as much as possible, with the goal of getting to the fourth quarter within striking distance. I have faith in Jerry Kill's team to do just enough to lose by 7-10 points. TCU is not nearly as invincible as we've been led to believe.

TULANE +8 vs Duke - 930pm

Duke is a complete unknown this season. Many people are assuming that given recent success, David Cutcliffe's team will simply reload and stay relevant in 2015. Duke will be playing a lot of inexperienced players and has already lost CB Byron Fields and LB Kelby Brown to season ending injuries. RB Jela Duncan is out indefinitely and the Blue Devils are banged up at the skill positions on offense. QB Thomas Sirk will be making his first start. Tulane returns a lot of guys who were key contributors in 2014. The Green Wave struggled to a 3-9 season, but their young players gained valuable experience. QB Tanner Lee started as a freshman last year and showed flashes of talent. He'll be able to make some plays and keep Tulane hanging around. This is a tricky game for Duke on the road and I expect the Blue Devils to win by just 3-7.

COLORADO -7.5 at Hawaii - 1159pm

You'll see me picking Colorado at lot this season. I love QB Sefo Liufau and his talented WR's Nelson Spruce and Shay Fields. If the Buffaloes can improve a bit on defense, this team will surprise some people. New DC Jim Leavitt will be up for the challenge. I would be worried about the trip to Hawaii and the time change if this game was midseason, but since it's the opener I don't expect the travel to be a significant factor. Hawaii will be starting former USC QB Max Wittek, but he'll quickly find out the talent gap between the Pac 12 and his Rainbow Warrior teammates. Norm Chow hasn't recruited well at Hawaii. Stay up until 330am EST and watch the Buffs put the finishing touches on a double digit win.

Friday Night

ILLINOIS -14 vs Kent State - 9pm

After the shocking timing of Tim Beckman's firing last week, this game now has a lot of intrigue. How will the Illini players respond around new head coach Bill Cubit? I expect Illinois to rise to the occasion and rally around each other, thanks to the leadership and talent of QB Wes Lunt, who is healthy entering the season. RB Josh Ferguson should have a big night against a Kent State team that finished just 2-9 last season.

BOISE STATE -12 vs Washington - 1015pm

I usually love picking Washington, but I'm not very optimistic about the Huskies chances this season. Chris Petersen will have a hard time replacing the defensive production of star players like Danny Shelton, Shaq Thompson, and Hau'oli Kikaha, all now in the NFL. The Huskies also lost arguably their best playmaker in WR John Ross to an injury. UW is keeping their starting QB a secret until kickoff, with the job going to either Jeff Lindquist (a junior with some experience) or Jake Browning (an exciting true freshman that enrolled early). UW will be relying on a significant number of freshmen this season and there will likely be some growing pains early. Boise State on the other hand, returns nearly everyone from a team that finished 12-2 a year ago. The Broncos finished the 2014 season with nine straight wins and many think there is a legitimate chance BSU could go undefeated in 2015. QB Ryan Finley is a new starter, but he's surrounded with talent, including the three top WR's from last year and a stud TE in Jake Roh. Expect Boise to finish in the top 15 in defense this season as well. Washington will be a much better team in November than we'll see on opening weekend. Look for an experienced Boise State to win by three touchdowns on the blue turf.