When this game was announced, most Miami fans were either confused or upset. Why would Miami play at Appalachian State? My reaction was the exact opposite. I immediately added a trip to North Carolina to my calendar. This is an opportunity to see my first Sun Belt stadium and to watch a game with spectacular scenery in the background. I wanted to learn about the city of Boone so I went to the ultimate source, Wikipedia. My favorite sentence in the entry is “Boone is a center for bluegrass musicians and Appalachian storytellers.” Coming in a close second was learning that Boone has the highest elevation of any town east of the Mississippi River with a population over 10,000. Boone has an elevation of 3,333 feet, which is about 3,332 feet higher than Miami. No roofs or shade are needed at Kidd Brewer Stadium (The Rock), with the brisk mountain air keeping it cool.
The next stop for my research was the official Appalachian State sports website. On the FAQ page I was greeted with the perfect first sentence: “Malt beverages and unfortified wine may be consumed in designated campus locations by those fans of legal drinking age.” After figuring out what unfortified wine was, I moved on to the announcements about the Miami game. The Canes' trip to Boone is what college football is all about. The city has a population of just over 18,000, but a record crowd of over 34,000 will be inside the stadium. There will be standing room only sections. There will be an additional student section to help with the unprecedented demand. An additional video board will be positioned to help all of the extra fans watch replays of Miami touchdowns. And best of all, vendors like The Farmer’s Wife Apple Pies and the Appalachia Cookie Company are all back this season. I love the new upgrades to Sun Life Stadium, but there is something charming about a stadium without ATMs and sushi. I can't imagine many things better than eating homemade fried apple pies while watching the Canes win a game in the mountains.
MIAMI -4 at Appalachian State - 12pm - ESPN
App State’s opening game at Tennessee showed that the trip to Boone will be a challenge for Miami. App State has a run-heavy offense (91 runs 45 passes through 2 games) and a disciplined offensive line in front of senior RB Marcus Cox. QB Taylor Lamb led his team to an 11-2 record and a bowl win in 2015. All that being said, Miami has significantly more talent. After watching Tennessee struggle for almost all of regulation, Mark Richt knows he will need to call a more aggressive game than the Vols. UT QB Josh Dobbs rarely challenged App State downfield and allowed the Mountaineers to dictate the game on defense. I feel good about Miami’s skill players matched up one on one in the open field. While I never want to see Brad Kaaya play poorly, I’m actually excited it happened against FAU. Kaaya will be refocused this week, learn from his mistakes, and take advantage of the showcase opportunity of this matchup. FSU-Louisville is the big game at noon, but there will be plenty of eyes on ESPN with most people rooting for the Canes to be upset. If this was an Al Golden-coached team heading on the road for a noon kickoff in a weird and new environment, I would rightfully be worried. I think Mark Richt’s experience as a head coach will help his team be ready on Saturday.
The Canes used the games against FAU and FAMU to gain confidence on both sides of the ball. The explosiveness of Mark Walton as the featured RB has been exciting to watch. Manny Diaz’s defense will continue to bring pressure and try to force Taylor Lamb to beat Miami in the passing game. If Miami can seize the early momentum, this game could be a 20-point win with the Canes pulling away in the second half. If Miami turns the ball over and struggles in the first half, Brad Kaaya will have to prove himself and rally his team to a late victory.
I picked some of the most deplorable teams in the nation last week and paid the price for it. I COMPLETELY DISAVOW the performances of Duke, Umass, Kentucky, Wyoming, Purdue, and Kansas. After a decent opening week, I went a frustrating 6-10 on Saturday. My record when picking home teams is embarrassing so far and I’m running out of neutral site games to win. Fortunately I have dominated in ACC games, because the Big Ten and the Big 12 have been difficult. I won’t stay down for long though. I took my medicine, hydrated aggressively, played with my children, and will be back better than ever this weekend, ready to crush everyone who has criticized me for my recent struggles.
NOTRE DAME -7.5 vs Michigan State - 730pm - NBC
Once again, Michigan State is getting little national respect. Mark Dantonio usually thrives on the underdog role, but in this game I actually think this large spread is justified. The Spartans are young on offense and QB Tyler O’Connor will have trouble on the road at Notre Dame. The Irish have one of the best QB’s in the nation in DeShone Kizer. His performance against Texas still has NFL scouts buzzing two weeks later. Look for Notre Dame to take an early lead and pull away in the second half.
VANDERBILT +7 at Georgia Tech - 1230pm - ACC Network
I trust Derek Mason’s ability to have his team ready for the triple-option. The Commodores, led by LB Zach Cunningham, are underrated on defense and should be able to force a few turnovers. Georgia Tech hasn’t shown any explosiveness yet on offense and will struggle to put this game out of reach. I love Vandy RB Ralph Webb and expect him to have a big afternoon. If Vandy QB Kyle Shurmur plays well, the Dores might be able to pull the outright upset.
PENN STATE -9 vs Temple - 12pm - BTN
While I was disappointed in Penn State’s defense against Pittsburgh, I came away very impressed with QB Trace McSorley. With star RB Saquon Barkley in the backfield, McSorley and the Nittany Lions offense will be difficult for Temple to slow down. Temple lost 28-13 to Army in Week 1 and will lose by a similar score in Happy Valley.
HOUSTON -8 at Cincinnati - 730pm - ESPN
Houston is better on both sides of the ball and won’t be intimidated playing on the road. QB Greg Ward Jr. is back after missing last week with an injury. He has playmakers surrounding him and will help the Bearcats put up 35+ against an average Cincinnati defense. Houston has a chance to make the College Football Playoff with an undefeated season.
UTAH STATE -9 vs Arkansas State - 9pm - CBSSN
After suffering humiliating losses to Toledo and Auburn, Arkansas State has to play on the road on a Friday night in Utah. The Red Wolves don’t have a great defense and QB Chad Voytik hasn’t been able to effectively replace Fredi Knighten. Utah State were overwhelmed at USC, but the Aggies will able to show more balance on offense tomorrow night. Matt Wells is 16-2 at home as a head coach. Utah State wins by two scores.
ARIZONA STATE -19.5 at Texas San Antonio - 930pm - ESPN2
It’s sad I can’t call UTSA the Fightin’ Larry Coker’s anymore. New UTSA coach Frank Wilson will have a long Friday night trying to stop Arizona State’s offense, led by RB Kalen Ballage. Against Texas Tech, Ballage scored an NCAA record eight touchdowns on just 15 touches in ASU’s version of the wildcat offense. QB Manny Wilkins impressed me on Saturday night as well. UTSA has scored just 40 points combined in two games this season, not nearly enough to stay close with the Sun Devils. ASU wins in a blowout.
FLORIDA STATE -2.5 at Louisville - 12pm - ABC
College GameDay will be in Louisville for this showdown. UL QB Lamar Jackson is the talk of the country right now, but FSU’s defense will be his biggest test yet, even without star S Derwin James. Florida State’s speed can limit Louisville’s big plays in the running game. FSU DE DeMarcus Walker will step up as the team’s leader. QB Deondre Francois grew up quickly in Week 1, leading the Noles to a comeback win over Ole Miss. Look for FSU to win it in the fourth quarter on a Ricky Aguayo FG.
FLORIDA ATLANTIC +22.5 at Kansas State - 230pm - FSN
Miami won 38-10, but I was impressed with the Owls at times on Saturday. FAU has enough talent to keep this game competitive. Kansas State was dreadful on defense last season and QB Jesse Ertz struggled in an opening-week loss to Stanford. FAU QB Jason Driskel will have more time to throw and make a few big plays in the passing game. Kansas State wins by two scores.
COLORADO +21 at Michigan - 330pm - BTN
The hype and intrigue around the Wolverines is unrelenting. That being said, we still have no idea how good Michigan is, with blowout wins over Hawaii and UCF proving very little. While Colorado isn't an elite team, the Buffs are still a significant step up in competition. Colorado destroyed rival Colorado State 44-7 and beat Idaho State 56-7 last week. QB Sefo Liufau is experienced and capable of having a big game. Expect a Michigan win with Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh, and Jake Butt leading the way on offense, but it might be interesting for a while.
VIRGINIA TECH -6 vs Boston College - 330pm - ESPNU
This pick assumes Virginia Tech won’t continue to fumble the ball on nearly every snap. VT QB Jerod Evans will bounce back and play much better at home against a stout BC defense. The Eagles won’t have an answer for WR Isaiah Ford. BC has scored just 40 points combined in two games.
OREGON +3 at Nebraska - 330pm - ABC
I’ve tried to pick against Nebraska in every game this season. Despite my 0-2 record, I refuse to quit. Oregon is flying under the radar right now. The Ducks have some terrific playmakers in RB Royce Freeman, WR Devon Allen, and TE Pharaoh Brown. QB Dakota Prukop has looked sharp this season after transferring from Montana State. The Huskers pulled away against Wyoming in the second half, capitalizing on numerous turnovers. Oregon won’t make those same mistakes. I actually like Oregon to win outright.
ALABAMA -11 at Mississippi - 330pm - CBS
Revenge is a powerful motivation. Alabama lost to Ole Miss the past two seasons and won’t allow it to happen again. The Crimson Tide have only given up 16 points this season and have looked like the most complete team in the nation. Ole Miss is vulnerable on defense, especially in the secondary. Lane Kiffin will take advantage and set up his young QB Jalen Hurts to succeed. Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly will be running for his life all night. After being sacked repeatedly against FSU, the Rebels won’t be able to slow down the relentless Alabama pass rush.
TEXAS A&M +3.5 at Auburn - 7pm - ESPN
Myles Garrett, Daeshon Hall, and the Texas A&M defense have the ability to take over a game. Auburn’s offense is still in search of an identity. The Aggies have an experienced QB in Trevor Knight and one of the best wide receiver groups in the country - Noil, Seals-Jones, and Kirk. Don’t be surprise if Texas A&M pulls the upset on the plains.
LSU -13.5 vs Mississippi State - 7pm - ESPN2
Statements like “LSU has found a quarterback” are clearly an overreaction because I watched Danny Etling play enough at Purdue. That being said, he did spark the offense last week after replacing embattled QB Brandon Harris. Against Mississippi State, expect Etling to manage the game and rely heavily on RB’s Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. LSU’s defense will make it difficult for MSU QB Nick Fitzgerald to continue to have success in the running game. Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night usually means a Les Miles victory.
OKLAHOMA +2 vs Ohio State - 730pm - FOX
Both teams have Playoff aspirations, but this is truly Oklahoma’s last chance. Ohio State is talented, but young across the board. J.T. Barrett is the stabilizing force for the Buckeyes. Oklahoma will play well at home and I expect a big night from QB Baker Mayfield. I expect this game to come down to the wire and I give a small edge to the Sooners at home.
USC +9 at Stanford - 8pm - ABC
USC was dominated by Alabama in the season opener, but I think the Trojans are better than we saw that night. While RB Christian McCaffrey should have another nice game, I’m not sold on Stanford’s passing game. USC has been able to run the ball well on Stanford in recent years and has a trio of impressive running backs. Look for USC WR JuJu Smith-Schuster to make a big play early to give his team momentum. Stanford probably ends up winning, but this game will be closer than people expect.
UCLA -3 at Byu - 1015pm - ESPN2
Like Nebraska, I’m also 0-2 when picking against BYU this season. That losing streak ends Saturday night. The Cougars have beaten me twice, despite scoring just 37 combined points in two games. BYU doesn’t have a pass play of more than 20 yards and QB Taysom Hill has struggled. UCLA’s offense will put up 28+ points, led by talented QB Josh Rosen.
TEXAS -8.5 at California - 1030pm - ESPN
I’m a believer in the 2016 Longhorns. After two wins to start the season, Texas is confident and ready to take advantage of a below-average Cal defense. Freshman QB Shane Buechele is making his first road start, but his team will control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Expect Cal QB Davis Webb to put up decent numbers, but much like saw in last week’s game against SDSU, the Bears can’t stop anyone. Texas wins by two scores.