"When you win, nothing hurts." - Joe Namath
After Purdue's loss on Sunday afternoon, I wrote the following, mentally preparing myself for the worst-case scenario. Given the sensitivity of the content, I sent it to my handlers on my personal John Pickens email server, hoping that by distributing it, I would combat the jinx.
"Some things are just too strong to overcome. As Purdue's QB Austin Appleby missed a wide open TE in the end zone in the 4th quarter, I didn't flinch. Purdue (+7.5) kicked a FG to go up 31-27 with 10 minutes left. Marshall started to drive down the field with under 5 minutes, but my confidence was still sky-high. After a long long offseason, my record this week was sitting at 10-8, heading towards 11-8. After Marshall scored a touchdown with 3 minutes left, I began to feel something. The gravitational force that is Precise Mediocrity was starting to pull on the Boilermakers. Sure enough, with 1:20 left Appleby threw a terrible interception that was returned for a touchdown to give Marshall a 10-point lead. Purdue had one final chance at a FG or TD to salvage my victory, but another interception sealed my fate. Finishing 10-10 on the week became an obvious inevitability. The Buckeyes never had a chance."
Ohio State trailed 17-14 at the half but managed to overcome adversity on the way to a 42-24 road win. Precise Mediocrity was defeated, at least for one night. I finished the week with an 11-9 record, with a 55% winning percentage that is my goal for this season. After a long offseason, it feels great to start out with some positive momentum. My two Golden Picks were disasters (good luck in the NFL Christian Hackenberg), but I saved my best picks for the biggest games. In matchups of two Power 5 teams, I went 8-1, which bodes well for the rest of the year when conference play begins. Huge wins by Texas A&M, Alabama, and Notre Dame fueled the way to my impressive performance.
Everyone's excited this week about the debut outings of SVP, Colbert, and the NFL, but the real story to focus on is the Hurricanes taking over Del Boca Vista. I personally can't wait for the opportunity to watch the Canes play in a smaller stadium, packed with what I what I hope will be mostly Miami supporters. FAU looks at this game as a chance to shock the world, but Miami will be motivated to make a statement exerting dominance in South Florida. The Owls will be playing the role of Jack Klompus, attempting to irritate and make things difficult for the Canes early, but Miami's offense should have a huge night. Drive your Cadillac over to the game, bring your Executive in case of rain, and get there early because traffic/parking will be a mess. I wish there were some backyards we could park in.
MIAMI -17.5 at Florida Atlantic - 8pm FRIDAY
The Canes did everything you could ask for on Saturday night against Bethune Cookman. A dominating 45-0 win that featured great plays on defense and a RB rotation of three guys who all impressed. Mark Walton is going to be a star at Miami. Brad Kaaya wasn't at his best, but he's the guy I'm the least worried about this season. Miami's defense certainly seemed more aggressive, but I'll wait to see more against better opponents before declaring judgment. I did love how active Trent Harris was and how well UM's secondary broke on the ball all night.
FAU's offense will be a better test than many fans seem to think. The Owls scored 41 points in regulation against Tulsa, behind a great passing performance by QB Jaquez Johnson and a dominant running game (61 carries for 300 yards and 3tds). Clearly Tulsa's defense won't be winning any awards this season, but that much production against any FBS opponent warrants attention.
As good as FAU was on offense, the Owls still lost the game thanks to a dreadful defensive performance. Tulsa QB Dane Evans threw for 424 yards on just 21 completions and had two of his WR's go for more than 160 yards each. Brad Kaaya will have numerous opportunities to make big plays on Friday night. I'm hoping to see a lot less WR screens and a lot more downfield routes from OC James Coley. With or without Stacy Coley, the Canes have enough talent and depth at WR to take advantage of a porous Owls' secondary.
Miami fans I've interacted seem surprised the spread for this game is larger, citing that Miami will essentially be playing "a home game." It's not that simple. Playing in Boca will be a strange environment for the Canes, given the size of the stadium. It will feel more like a neutral site or a bowl game in my opinion. It's important for Miami to start fast and end any dreams of an Owls upset. Big plays from the defense and special teams units will be crucial for the Canes this season. Corn Elder's emergence as a punt returner was special last week. It seems like forever since we saw Miami returning kicks for touchdowns. With the talent on this roster, every kick should be a potential scoring opportunity.
I'm predicting a 28-point win for the font challenged Canes. 41-13 sounds about right to me. Miami won't completely shut down the Owls, but will force a few turnovers in the first half to help put the game out of reach.
WESTERN KENTUCKY -1 vs Louisiana Tech - 8pm THURSDAY
A season ago, WKU was embarassed by Louisiana Tech in a 59-10 loss, but a lot has changed since them. The Hilltoppers gained confidence on offense and stars emerged in QB Brandon Doughty and RB Leon Allen. WKU beat Vanderbilt on the road and played well on defense last week. Louisiana Tech is now led by QB Jeff Driskel, famous for his struggles in Gainesville. I can't bring myself to trust Driskel in this one. Despite a great game against Southern in the season opener, I have to see it against a real team to believe he's a capable player again. Forget Steelers Pats, this is the game of the night on Thursday. Conference USA football at its finest. WKU wins by a touchdown.
UTAH -13.5 vs Utah State - 9pm - FRIDAY
Utah State's opener was nearly a disaster. The Aggies were just 1-15 on third down and scored late to beat Southern Utah 12-9 at home. USU's offensive line had issues and QB Chuckie Keaton was missing his two best receivers, who will both be out of the lineup again on Friday night (suspension and injury). The Utes will control the game early, playing at home in Salt Lake City. QB Travis Wilson looked great against Michigan and RB Devontae Booker will have more holes to run through against the Aggies. Utah's stout defensive line will cause havoc in the USU backfield and Kyle Whittingham's team will move to 2-0 after a convincing win.
CLEMSON -17 vs App State - 1230pm
This game is me admittedly falling into a trap. I think this line should be much bigger and I'm willing to discount App State's 20 returning starters because I believe Clemson has far superior talent. QB Deshaun Watson is a superstar in the making and he'll shine on Saturday even without WR Mike Williams who went down with an unfortunate injury in the opener. App State beat Howard 49-0 in week 1, but things will be different when they face one of the nation's best defenses. Clemson wins by 28.
WAKE FOREST +4.5 at Syracuse - 1230pm
Syracuse will miss starting QB Terrel Hunt who is now out for the season with a torn achilles. Freshman backup QB Eric Dungey will get the start in his first real college test (I'm not counting his 10-17 passing against a dreadful Rhode Island team last week). Both Wake and Syracuse are decent defensively and I would expect this game to be relatively low-scoring. Wake QB John Wolford looked great against Elon in the opener and is poised to take the next step this season, after gaining ACC experience as a freshman in 2014. Look for a back and forth battle between two teams desperately trying to climb out of the cellar of the ACC. The game will be decided by a field goal in the final minutes.
COLORADO -13 vs Umass - 2pm
I was devastated by Colorado's loss to Hawaii because I was so confident in the Buffs. I'm willing to give QB Sefo Liufau one more chance to redeem himself. Umass didn't play opening weekend, but should be overmatched in this contest. The Buffaloes have star WR's in Nelson Spruce and Shay Fields and they'll be a bigger factor on Saturday than we saw in Honolulu. The Buffs will stop fumbling the ball away and convert better in the red zone. Look for a bounce back blowout win for Mike MacIntyre's squad.
RUTGERS -2 vs Washington State - 330pm
Mike Leach says QB Luke Falk will be able to start against Rutgers, but he won't be enough to prevent the Cougars from starting the season 0-2. Rutgers beat WSU last year in Pullman by controlling the clock and running for over 200 yards. Expect this game to look very similar. Washington State lost to Portland State in the opener, giving up 233 yards and three touchdowns on the ground to the FCS opponent. Despite all of the distractions facing the Rutgers football program (arrests, suspensions, and coaches emailing professors), the Scarlet Knight players stepped up and dominated Norfolk State 63-13. Both Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig played well for Rutgers at QB. Kyle Flood's team has depth at running back and a powerful offensive line. Look for Rutgers to pull away in the second half.
IOWA STATE +3.5 vs Iowa - 445pm
The epic Cy-Hawk Trophy will be on the line on Saturday afternoon. The last four seasons, this game has been decided by 3, 3, 6, and 3 points respectively. Expect another battle down to the wire. Both teams handled FCS opponents in their openers. I like Iowa QB C.J. Beathard, but also think Iowa State QB Sam Richardson has underrated talent if he's protected. Neither team has an explosive offense and the pace will be slow on Saturday. Use the series history as a guide and look for a low-scoring game decided by a field goal.
CALIFORNIA -13.5 vs San Diego State - 5pm
This is the year Cal takes the next step under HC Sonny Dykes. QB Jared Goff is a legitimate star in the Pac 12 and he has two great WR to target in Kenny Lawler and Bryce Treggs. Cal's struggles the past few seasons are due to an awful defense, but the Bears do have some experienced players back on the DL and at LB. SDSU beat San Diego 37-3 in their opener, but that doesn't tell the whole story. The Aztecs scored three touchdowns on special teams and defense, putting up just two offensive touchdowns against an FCS opponent. They'll need much better production on offense to keep pace with Cal's uptempo Bear Raid attack. Cal's secondary is a weakness, but SDSU isn't good enough in the passing game to exploit it. Cal scores 40+ and wins by three scores.
OKLAHOMA pickem at Tennessee - 6pm
This should be one of the weekend's best games. Oklahoma won this matchup 34-10 in Norman last year. This season, Tennessee has all of the hype, but I'm not sold on the Vols just yet. Tennessee gave up huge chunks of yards to Bowling Green and has suffered numerous injuries in the secondary. Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield played well against Akron and he has a lot of talent around him in RB's Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine and WR Sterling Shepard. Oklahoma's defense was dominant in the opener against Akron and Mike Stoops will have his unit ready for a tough challenge in Knoxville. Tennessee has two stud RB's in Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd, but the gaping holes they saw against BGSU won't be there on Saturday night. Tennessee still hasn't won a marquee game under Butch Jones and I'll probably continue to pick against the Vols until they do. The Sooners win a close one on the road.
ARIZONA -11.5 at Nevada - 7pm
Tyler Stewart will be making his second career start at QB for Nevada. Arizona will be without their star on defense Scooby Wright after he was injured last week. The Wildcats didn't respond well after he left the game, but will be far more ready to deal with his absence on Saturday night after a week of practice. Rich Rod's offense was disappointing in the opener against UTSA and I expect QB Anu Solomon and RB Nick Wilson to have much better games against Nevada. Zona also gets WR Samajie Grant back from suspension, to add to a group of explosive playmakers on the perimeter. Look for Arizona to get back on track with a 20 point win.
KENTUCKY +7.5 at South Carolina - 730pm
South Carolina's offense is dreadful and unlikely to improve anytime soon. The Gamecocks were very fortunate to beat UNC and only did so thanks to a few terrible decisions by the Heels in the red zone. USC QB Connor Mitch and RB Brandon Wilds both suffered injuries in the opener and won't be 100% on Saturday. In addition, Spurrier's team also has depth issues at WR with two contributors banged up already. Kentucky built a 33-10 lead on Louisiana-Lafayette before pulling off the gas and allowing the Cajuns back into the game in the 4th quarter. That will serve as a wakeup call for Mark Stoops and his players. Kentucky has the talent to beat South Carolina outright and QB Patrick Towles won't be intimidated by the environment in Columbia. This game will be close throughout, with the final margin likely being just a field goal.
OREGON +3.5 at Michigan State - 8pm
For the first time in over three years, Oregon is an underdog. Michigan State seems ready for another shot at the Ducks after being exposed in the second half in Eugene last season. The Spartans looked great on offense last week against Western Michigan behind QB Connor Cook and a strong running game, but struggled to slow the Broncos's passing attack. I can't ignore the Ducks getting points and was impressed with Vernon Adams in his Oregon debut. For once, the pressure isn't on Oregon. Michigan State is hosting every recruit within a flight of East Lansing and the Spartans are expecting a program defining win. Oregon still has playmakers and speed at every position. Look for big games from Royce Freeman and Byron Marshall as the Ducks keep it close and have a shot to win on the final possession.
INDIANA -7.5 vs Florida International - 8pm
FIU had a huge win at UCF last week and QB Alex McGough was impressive. That being said, I attribute that game more to a terrible performance by the Knights than I do FIU being significantly improved. UCF struggled to run the ball, a problem Indiana won't have against FIU. The Hoosiers were fortunate to pick up former UAB star RB Jordan Howard this offseason. QB Nate Sudfield and WR Ricky Jones had huge games in a dramatic 48-47 victory over Southern Illinois. Indiana struggled to replace nine players suspended for the opener, including several key contributors on defense. The close win was a wakeup call for a team with bowl aspirations under HC Kevin Wilson. FIU doesn't have enough talent on offense to keep pace in what will likely be a shootout. Indiana wins by two touchdowns.
LSU -4 at Mississippi State - 915pm
LSU didn't get to play the opener against McNeese State due to a lightning storm, so the 2015 Tigers are still a mystery. QB Brandon Harris will be starting and I'm anxious to see if he improved this offseason. Mississippi State will benefit from playing LSU at home, but the Bulldogs are vastly overrated in my opinion. MSU lost far too much last season to the NFL and graduation and returned just seven starters. This team is ranked based on playing in SEC West and as a nod to the talent of QB Dak Prescott. LSU's defense will be improved in 2015 and Tigers' RB Leonard Fournette is probably the best in the nation at his position. Les Miles and company get the job done on the road.
BYU +3 vs Boise State - 1015pm
While the loss of a talented leader like Taysom Hill would dramatically impact many teams, BYU won't miss a beat with QB Tanner Mangum in the lineup. The former Elite 11 QB is about to turn 22 and brings a maturity to the Cougars that most teams would dream of having in a backup. BYU will rally around each other and play for Taysom Hill, not allowing a letdown after an emotional Hail Mary win over Nebraska. Boise State was anything but impressive against Washington in the opener and I was stunned by how anemic the Broncos looked on offense most of the night. This will be QB Ryan Finley's first big road test as a starter and the BYU crowd will make things tough on him early. Don't be surprised when BYU pulls another upset and moves to 2-0.