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Duck the Odds: Week 1, Co-Authored by Rusty Ryan

"For entertainment purposes only!"

Steve Dykes
Folks, Duck the Odds returns with a new wrinkle: ATQ's own Rusty Ryan joins the - show? I guess? - to make his side-by-side picks with/slash/against my own.  Who will win this contest of armchair quarterbacking and acting like we know stuff? Well, no one really wins in a contest like this. But if we are going by percentage of picks, I'll probably go with Rusty. I have Irish Luck.

But I digress! Week 1 offers up a tasty platter of games that whets your (and our) offseason-long appetite for college football. Let's get to the picks.

--The Picks (Home Teams in CAPS)--

(Rusty's picks are listed second and have the spread listed in parentheses and he also used the real, appropriate
"Hawai'i" spelling.)

Sean: OREGON -51 over South Dakota: Um, what? No one bet this game. Please. It's mean. But realistically, yeah, it'll be like 66-10. Ouch.

Rusty: OREGON (-51) over South Dakota

This game should be over by the first quarter.  What I’m looking for out of this game is some old-fashioned dominance.  I want to see perfection and Ayele Forde taking the first carry of the second half.

If you can find a place that will take a first half bet then that’s the best way to go if you’re going to bet this game at all.  By the time the second half comes around almost everyone on the two-deep will be sipping Gatorade on the bench.  However, if you can finish your bet at the end of the first half when the Ducks are still executing their game plan and not deferring to their bread and butter fundamental plays then you are probably golden.

S: Navy +16.5 over Ohio State (at Baltimore): Oh man. This is a dangerous game for a vulnerable OSU squad. Lots of good Buckeye players, but the loss of Braxton Miller has to sting, and they're on the road facing a small but disciplined Navy squad with a magician at QB: Keenan Reynolds. OSU will score, but probably not a ton through the air, and I think Navy will be able to at least keep it tight.

R: Navy (+16.5) over Ohio State

Last time the Midshipmen took on the Buckeyes it was 2009 in the Horseshoe.  I remember Navy passing in an attempt to tie the game on a 2-point conversion instead of doing what they do best: run the damn football.

Ohio State has the benefit of preparation time.  By opening with a triple-option team the Buckeyes have given themselves plenty of time to find the nuances and ready themselves for the unique blocking present in Navy’s attack.  The strategies used by triple-option teams can be incredibly difficult to learn but in a little more than a week it is entirely manageable.

Urban Meyer has had success with almost anyone running the quarterback position.  Even with the loss of Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller I don’t think we’ll see a big enough drop off in performance at the quarterback position to warrant an upset alert for Brutus.  However, Navy was the 8th most efficient team on offense last season and they’ll wear down the Buckeye defense while running down the clock.  The lack of negative plays and red zone efficiency will keep this game close but won’t be enough for Navy to win, but it will be enough for the cover.

S: HAWAII +17 over Washington: Traveling to Hawaii is always weird. Especially in Week 1. With a new coach. And a new backup QB. Despite going 1-11 last season, Hawaii scored some points, had bad luck on turnovers (-10), and lost a lot of close games. Not saying Hawaii can win, but Washington is starting some dude named Jeff Lindquist at QB (Is he a CPA? No one knows.) on the road with a new coach.  I don't love this line, but am un-confidently taking all the points and betting on weirdness and a shaky opener for Coach Pete.

R: HAWAI’I (+17) over Washington

The islands of Hawai’l welcome us to the nightcap of the opening college football weekend.  Chris Petersen makes his debut as the Husky head coach without assumed starting quarterback Cyler Miles for this game.

Last year the Rainbow Warriors were pretty bad.  They finished the year with only one win, which was over Army in the season finale.  All hope is not lost on the Warriors as they’re adjusted W-L record per Bill C. was 4-8.  With seven starters coming back on offense, most of the offensive line on the two-deep, and six defensive starters coming back, Hawai’I is going to be noticeably better and more competitive.

Washington has seven starters back on offense and defense.  Even though they are staying with a pro system there is still an adjustment period in terms of learning terminology.  Both lines are veteran groups and will get off to a great start.  I just think 17 points is a lot to overcome in this scenario.

S: VIRGINIA +21 over Ucla: Very hyped, hip sexy pick for Pac-12 champ and inaugural playoff contender? On the road? Across 3 timezones? Against an experienced team (17 starters back)? What could go wrong? Don't mistake me here, I think UCLA should win, and win easily. But if I have to choose, I'll take all those points. UVA is still stinging (and embarrassed) at the smack-down that the Ducks laid on them in national TV last year. You don't think they're taking this as an opportunity to fix that image?  I think UCLA wins, but that's a lot of points to lay. Not crazy about this line, but I'll take the home dog here.

R: Ucla (-21) over VIRGINIA

UCLA is so hot right now… UCLA.  The entire city of Bristol is blasting a mash-up of "Jockin Jay-Z" with the words changed to "Jockin’ Hundley."  With reigning PAC-12 Offensive and Defensive FOTY Myles Jack back at linebacker there’s really no telling how high the hyperbole can go.  And believe me, I know hyperbole.

With nine starters back on offense and eight back on defensive this team is surging in the power rankings and have found their way to many expert’s playoff bracket.  There’s a lot of pressure on the Bruins and a lot to prove in this first game against the Virginia Cavaliers.

Virginia Head Coach Mike London is on the hot seat after last year’s disappointing 2-10 finish.  The last time Virginia really warranted any time on my television screen was when they were getting romped by Oregon to the tune of 59-10.

The lone bright spot on the Wahoo defense is that they were 10th in the country last year in adjusted success rate on defense, meaning that they keep teams in long downs.  The offense really struggled last year and even with seventeen starters back it’s not going to be enough to keep up with the Bruins.

S: Alabama -26 over West Virginia (at Georgia Dome): God, I don't know. I have no idea and I don't really care.  Alabama is good?

R: Alabama (-26) over West Virginia

West Virginia only recorded two wins over FBS opponents last year. They beat Oklahoma State as 19-point underdogs and then needed overtime to beat TCU. The Horned Frogs did have close games that went into overtime against Texas and Iowa State but this is a team that has been trending down since 2011. Dana Holgorsen has found himself on the hot seat and I don’t think this is the game where he starts to make a case for himself.

Much of the drama this off-season surrounding the Alabama team has not been solely about their loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, but also about who will start under center. The scary truth is that it doesn’t really matter. Alabama needs a quarterback like Oregon needs more running backs. Anyone under center is going to do just fine when the thing they do most often is take the snap from center and hand it off to whichever former 5-star running back is sitting in the backfield.

Jacob Coker has been pegged by outsiders to take over the starting quarterback position after transferring from Florida State where he lost a reportedly close quarterback battle with current Heisman Trophy holder Jameis Winston. Alabama is going to do a lot of Alabama things that is only going to make listening to "The Paul Finebaum Show" next week the best decision you can make while at work.

Oh yeah, and West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett said his first kiss was Nick Saban’s daughter. So you bet your ass Saban isn’t taking his foot off the gas.

S: Texas A&M +11 over SOUTH CAROLINA: A&M is Johnny Football-less.  Gamecocks are Connor Shaw-less and Jadeveon Clowney-less. I don't know much about either of these teams. South Carolina has a stronger roster from top to bottom, and have a very strong running game, but A&M even without Manziel will be able to move the ball. I don't see 'SC crushing A&M, and so I think this is an application of the Take The Points in a Shoot Out (TTPIASO) rule (Thanks, Solid Verbal guys). Take all those points and root for a back-door cover.

R: SOUTH CAROLINA (-11) over Texas A&M

HATIN’ ASS SPURRIER IS BACK IN ACTION ON THURSDAY NIGHT!  Everyone seems to be pulling for the Old Head Ball Coach to finally win the SEC this week.  I know I am.  And if you love America, you will too.

Texas A&M is led by head coach Mike Sumlin who is venturing into a new world without Johnny Manziel at quarterback or Mike Evans who effortlessly catches anything in his zip code.  Any player that contributed significant statistics last year is no longer eligible and only five starters are back on offense.

Both Aggie lines have to make up for some star power lost and the defensive line especially is full of youth.  Early on in the season it is hardest for the lines to get grooving together.

The Gamecock team has got eight starters back on offense and their new quarterback is a senior that knows the offense well.  With Mike Davis at running back, who totaled 1214 yards and 11 touchdowns last year while averaging 5.8 yards per carry, there’s a nice security blanket to take the pressure off.

Last year the offense and excelled while the defense was quietly good.  Many think that the defensive units underperformed last season.  In a game that will involve both teams moving very fast I think the Aggies will make just enough mistakes too quickly for South Carolina to pull out a cover at the end.

S: Ole Miss -11 over Boise State (at Georgia Dome): I always love a chance to bet against BSU, and here I have it. I think the Rebs' defense (9 returning starters) is going to be way too much for BSU to handle. Ole Miss has been recruiting super well, and their young recruits have enough experience now to really assert themselves. They also have Dr. Bo, the most experienced QB in the ESSEESEE. The last time we saw Boise they were getting beat up by Oregon State in the Hawaii Bowl. I think this is a 14-point win for Ole Miss.

R: Ole Miss (-11) over Boise State

Boise State makes its way to the Georgia Dome to take on Ole Miss.  The Broncos of the famed blue turf are without Chris Petersen.  BSU made their money off of players that were undervalued and then incredibly well coached.  They pulled off upsets and if not for a few missed field goals they could’ve accomplished a lot.  Now the move on without the fearless leader and I think they’re going to be missing him early in the season.

The Rebels of Ole Miss return nine starting defenders and last year’s starting quarterback Bo Wallace.  While the offensive line has some questions to answer I think the defense will do a good job of giving them short fields to work with.  Watch Robert Nkemdiche on the defensive line.  He’s a guy that will make plays this year.

S: Washington State -8 over Rutgers (at Seattle): Wazzu's got 8 starters back on O. I think Rutgers is terrible, and has to travel coast-to-coast to take on a Leach squad littered with veterans. This is a shootout that Rutgers cannot hang in.

R: Washington State (-8) over Rutgers

The Fighting Mike Leachs take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Centurylink Field in Seattle.  The Cougars have gotten better every year under Mike Leach.  In last year’s season opener the Cougs gave Auburn a run for their money but lost 31-24.  They have eight starters back on offense and six on defense.

The offense really excelled getting first downs and scoring in the red zone, when both are adjusted for opponent.  However, the Cougars were dead last nationally in PPP+ rushing.  It remains to be seen whether a team can have such a disparity between rushing and passing and compete on a championship level.

Rutgers, New York City’s college team, subscribes to the idea that if you say something enough times it becomes true.  No one in New York City cares about the Knights who are now in the Big-10.

It appears that the Scarlet Knight strength, slowing/stopping the run, is a mismatch in this matchup.  The Cougars barely run and the Knights were 61st nationally in adjusted sack rate.   The Knights also made their living on offense through explosive plays.

Washington State is going to pass efficiently and keep the Rutgers offense in front of them.  The Cougars will pull out a win and mark my words, will surprise a couple teams this year.

S: Lsu -5 over Wisconsin (at Houston): LSU always plays great at the beginning of the year and then fades down the stretch.  Wisconsin always takes some time to heat up. I think Wisconsin is going to have a huge year in the B1G West. But LSU is probably a TD better, mostly because of their speed advantage, in what is basically a home game.

R: Lsu (-5) over Wisconsin

The biggest reason why I’m tuning into this game is because we are seeing two great teams play each other on the first college football Saturday.  The second reason why I’m turning in is to see true freshman running back Leonard Fournette line up in the backfield for the LSU Tigers.

Fournette has garnered comparisons to Adrian Peterson and his high school highlight tape parallels that of Reggie Bush and Joe McKnight.

Gary Andersen led the Badgers to nine wins in his first year as head coach.  The offense will be taken care of as that unit is Andersen’s specialty that he brought from Utah State.  With only three returning starters on defense coming back there are a lot of issues when facing an LSU team that mass-produces buffet busters and huge running backs.

The matchup to really watch is how Wisconsin fairs against the LSU defense.  The Bayou Bengals have some of the most athletic and rugged defenses in college football and it’s a philosophical collision when the Badgers have the ball.

S: Fresno State +22 over USC: Um, OK. I had a thoughtful response written out, and then this Josh Shaw George Costanza story comes out.  Can't help the psyche of a team eager to prove itself. But I digress. In actual analysis, USC's last game: crushing Fresno State 45-20 in the Las Vegas Bowl, when FSU had their superstar QB Carr. Now the Bulldogs return only 5 offensive starters and run into a Week 1 buzzsaw with NFL talent at RB, OL, WR, DL, LB, and S. I think USC cruises. But 22 is a lot to lay. I think USC wins comfortably and subs out their starters early because they are so shallow to keep it from becoming a laugher.

R: Fresno State (+22) over USC

I think the media overreaction to Josh Shaw’s lie about spraining his ankles while saving his nephew from drowning is directly proportionate to how quickly they bought the story without doing any double-checking whatsoever resulting in a lot of hero praising.

But I digress.

USC is off their sanctions and still maintain more NFL quality players than the Oakland Raiders.  Their starting 22 players can play with anybody.  The question is the same this year as it has been since the sanctions were handed down.  Will USC be able to stay healthy enough and be able to maximize their backups strengths while hiding their weaknesses?

The Trojans have become a dark horse in recent weeks to win the South and possibly make a run at the playoffs but "seven-win" Steve Sarkisian has got a lot to prove.  The offensive line and defensive lines are works in progress but the Trojans have talent at the skill positions to make up for it.  The stars on the line just need some time to gel to be dominant, but they won’t get that time before facing Fresno State.

Fresno State has eight starters back on defense and five starters back on offense, three of which are on the offensive line.  They have to replace NFL Draft pick Derek Carr who threw for over 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns last year.  Josh Quezada is back running the rock and he’s looking to break the 1,000-yard rushing mark.

S: Cal +11.5 over NORTHWESTERN: I do not think that Cal will win this game in any way, but this is a TTPIASO game. Take those points and root for a garbage time TD by Cal to cover.

R: Cal (+11.5) over NORTHWESTERN

Cal was absolutely atrocious last year.  Their play in the rain at Autzen Stadium had me laughing harder than  I can remember at a college football game.  In the Bears’ defense, they were crossing over to a new system and quarterback Jared Goff was a true freshman playing in a tough league.  Given that, Cal almost beat Northwestern last year succumbing late 44-30.

Northwestern had a rough off-season and I personally have them trending down.  They had to deal with the unionization issue that is in the best interest of the players but the institution and NCAA openly discouraged its formation.  Their best skill player and running back, Venric Mark, transferred just a few weeks ago, to West Texas A&M.

The Wildcats team went downhill after College Gameday made their first appearance in time to see Ohio State rush their way to a win and the first loss for Northwestern in a 7-game losing streak.  The defense wasn’t very good, but the offense was the weakness in the second half of the season.

There’s no way Cal can be as bad as they were last year.  Northwestern is probably a little down from last year.  I like Cal to cover and win this game.

S: Clemson +8 over GEORGIA: Clemson has been recruiting well, and has a great DL. I think they'll match up well against Georgia's excellent running game. Lots of speed on the perimeter on defense, too, which should give the new Georgia QB some trouble getting started.  Although Clemson loses a lot of its offensive skill, they've got some swagger after beating down Ohio State in the Orange Bowl, and won't be afraid to play big, bad SEC Georgia. I think the Bulldogs win, but take the points.

R: GEORGIA (-8) over Clemson

The Georgia Bulldogs are the safe pick to make when choosing a SEC-East Champion.  With eight starters back on defense and six back on offense this team is set to reload.  With Todd Gurley back running the football it’ll take a lot of pressure off the quarterback replacing Aaron Murray, brother to the winner of the latest "Bachelorette" season.

Clemson has seven defenders and five offensive starters back from last year’s 11-win team that beat Ohio State in the Orange Bowl.   They lose quarterback Tajh Boyd, star receiver Sammy Watkins, and leading rusher Roderick McDowell.

Both Tiger lines are solid coming into this season but the loss of star power creates a lack of identity on offense.  Last year when the Tigers beat Georgia 38-35, explosive plays made by the skill players made the difference.

This will be the most exciting game of the weekend.  Stars for both teams will appear and playoff hopes for one team will be pretty much gone after this game.  With the game between the hedges I like the Bulldogs to win and cover.

S: Florida State -19 over Oklahoma State (at JerryWorld): Analysis analysis analysis only 8 starters back on Okie State analysis analysis.  I'll take Florida State minus-anything until they prove to me otherwise.

R: Florida State (-19) over Oklahoma State

Jamies Winston, the King of the Crab People, takes his loaded team to Dallas to open the season, which also happens to be the location of the national championship game.

The Seminoles don’t have any obvious weaknesses.  Receiver Kelvin Benjamin needs to be replaced as does running back Devonta Freeman, but seven other starters are back on offense and six other starters are back on defense.  Having Jameis Winston back also helps.

Mike Gundy’s Cowboys only return four starters on each side of the ball.  The last time Gundy had a very inexperienced team Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon blew up on the scene.  However, the learning curve is steep, especially when the opponent is Florida State.

This one could get ugly.

S: LOUISVILLE -3.5 over Miami: Louisville's last game? A 36-9 win in their bowl game against your Miami Hurricanes. I don't see this going 25 points differently, especially with weasel-but-awesome-coach Petrino back in Louisville. Lay the 3.5.

R: LOUISVILLE (-3.5) over Miami

Bobby Petrino was last seen on a national level wearing a neck brace, having a bruised and red face, and being found out to have extra relations with another employee in the athletic department at Arkansas.   The quarterback whisperer is back in Louisville!

Miami has named true freshman Brad Kaaya the starting quarterback.  Going on the road against a team still enjoying the after-glow of a defensive genius in Charlie Strong and on the upswing on offense with Bobby Petrino is not the easiest place to start a game.

Duke Johnson is back after suffering a season-ending surgery last season and the star is going to need to run his ass off in order to keep his game competitive for the ‘Canes.