It's a new season of games and a new season of picks. We've got the week 1 picks covered (we agree on a lot so kinda boring-ish, maybe, just read it and you'll get two opinions of the game) and picks for the playoffs:
S: Playoff Picks: (1) Baylor, (2) Auburn, (3) Michigan State, (4) Clemson
Bold, I know. I think Baylor goes unbeaten, Auburn loses 1 but wins SEC; Michigan State shocks Ohio State and tramples Minnesota in B1G champ game; Clemson loses to FSU in reg season, but beats Notre Dame and wins ACC championship. Pac-12 champ will have 2 losses and be out.
Home Teams in CAPS:
R: Playoff Picks: (1) Ohio State (2) TCU (3) Auburn (4) Oregon.
My nightmare is complete in the first round. TCU beats Baylor at home. Ohio State wins every game in juggernaut type fashion as the Alabama of the north where no survivors are taken. Auburn's defense doesn't blow the last five weeks of the season and is effective enough to let the offense take over and win games. Oregon wins the PAC-12 and you can't expect me to be objective about this.
S: South Carolina (-2.5) over NORTH CAROLINA
Only reason I'm taking SC here is because these two squads were trending in opposite directions to end 2014. UNC looked like dookey the last regular season game, and in the bowl game. Gamecocks at least won their bowl game. No confidence in either team, but UNC is so unreliable you can't take them to win a game like this.
R: South Carolina (-2.5) over NORTH CAROLINA
With these early games I tend to value returning starters, especially on the lines and even more specifically on the offensive line. South Carolina has four starters back on offense, two of which are on the line. They have eight players back on defense. However, North Carolina has ten starters back on offense and only replacing their tight end. On defense the Tar Heels have seven starters coming back. The reason why I differ from that strategy is based on F/+. South Carolina was 48th in F/+, 43rd in S&P+, and 34th in FEI. In those same stats North Carolina is 70th, 55th, and 84th. Even with similar records these teams are miles apart.
S: UTAH (-6) over Michigan
Michigan is more talented (probably) than Utah. But Utah has experience, and has some swagger after beating some good teams last year, including Michigan at the Big House. If this were a day game, I would think differently. But a night game at Rice-Eccles, where the Ducks were one Kaelin Clay DeSean-Jackson-move away from going down 14-0, and at elevation is too much to ask for a Michigan squad that is still one year away. I believe in Utah's defense keeping things in front of them, and the offense will put enough points up on the board to win by a TD.
R: UTAH (-6) over Michigan
If this line were Utah -7 then I think there would be more value on Michigan covering the spread. This game is at altitude, which is really an advantage that is hard to prepare for because you can't simulate the mental fatigue that occurs at altitude more so than the physical fatigue.
I really believe that Jim Harbaugh will turn this team around, maybe even this year. Last year the Wolverines were decimated by injuries, something that also occurred in Rich Rodriguez's last year at Michigan. They have eight starters back on offense and three on the offensive line. The Wolverines looked significantly better in their spring game than previous seasons as well. There's a huge upgrade in coaching that is coaching up a solid group of players. What Michigan has in coaching they lack in experience together. Utah has seven starters back on offense and defense with four on the offensive line and three on the defensive line. Travis Wilson has been playing smarter football since regaining the starting job and with Devontae Booker behind their offensive line they are going to be tough to stop. Last year's game in Ann Arbor wasn't that close and while this year's version will be more competitive I don't see Michigan covering -6.
S: BOISE STATE (-12) over Washington
Night game in Boise with a turnover-prone Washington QB. Any other questions?
R: BOISE STATE (-12) over Washington
Chris Petersen is travelling back to the land of smurf turf in Boise for the first time since departing for the purple pastures of Washington. Washington has only five returners back on offense only one of which is on the offensive line. The Huskies have only four guys back on a defense that was decent in the purest sense of the word but that was with three guys drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. Last year's Washington defense was the PAC-12 version of LSU's offense. All the talent in the world but deadly allergic to living up to potential. It only gets worse when you look at Boise State who has nine guys back on offense and eight back on defense. Weekday season openers in Boise are terrifying for everyone, but Oregon especially, and I don't see how Washington keeps this close. I love it when Washington loses.
S: Virginia (+19.5) over UCLA
Hundley and Co. barely made their way out of Charlottesville last year. Not that UVA is anything special, but they play decent defense. Why would I lay 20 points on an unknown starting quarterback for the Bruins?
R: UCLA (-19.5) over Virginia
Virginia is an abysmal program. They haven't had a winning season since 2011. With the opening schedule of UCLA, Notre Dame, and Boise State all before October you know Mike London might not even make it through the season. They have five starters back on offense and defense. Even though Virginia kept it close with UCLA last year the Cavaliers haven't won a game on the road since 2012. I've picked the Bruins to win the PAC-12 South so they better cover this game. With ten starters back on offense and eight on defense the Bruins are going to be ready to roll. In all likelihood UCLA is going to make a few dumb plays that lets UVA stay within the danger zone and thus the Bruins won't cover. But... I... just... can't... trust... Mike... London.
S: Stanford (-12.5) over NORTHWESTERN
Stanford needs more out of Kevin Hogan this year if they want to win the North. I think that starts now, in this road game. I think he completes 14+ passes and Stanford puts some points on the board in this one.
R: Stanford (-12.5) over NORTHWESTERN
Northwestern has six starters back on offense, three on the offensive line, and eight on defense. Stanford has nine starters back on a very good offense but only four on defense. The Stanford defense has earned the benefit of the doubt against a program like Northwestern who ranks 71st in F/+. Northwestern averaged only 23 points per game last year and have only two quality wins in the past two years. I just don't see Northwestern getting much of anything going on offense and Kevin Hogan's offense will make the difference.
S: AUBURN (-10.5) over Louisville
I like me some Louisville, but I think Auburn is primed for a playoff run and maybe even an undefeated season. They have a quarterback with time in the system for the first time in...a long time. They return a ton of offensive talent and now have Muschamp orchestrating the defense. I think Auburn rolls.
R: Louisville (+10.5) over Auburn
I picked Auburn to win the SEC and make the playoffs but I think they struggle in this game. The Tigers have Will Muschamp on defense who will turn the defense from god-awful to above average. Jeremy Johnson is big quarterback who reminds some of a quarterback who will not be named. I have Louisville winning the ACC because they have so much talent although very little of it is proven. Bobby Petrino is a fantastic coach (as long as he stays in the coaching role) and he will keep this close enough for a backdoor cover.
S: Arizona State (+3) over Texas A&M
If the Sun Devils ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE, they have to win this game. This has "shootout"written all over it. I think the level of QB play is too high to hope for either defense to stop anyone. ASU wins a wild one.
R: Texas A&M (-3) over Arizona State
I would really like to pick Arizona State here for PAC-12 supremacy purposes but Texas A&M on offense is a force of the next world. They stole the defensive coordinator from LSU who created some of the best defenses of the last decade. They have the superior talent in this game and the superior coaching with Mike Sumlin. With eight starters back on offense and defense this is a team that could put a hurting on the Sun Devils.
Every once in a while ASU will totally blow up their own spot. Last year they got blown out by UCLA, beat by Oregon State (which is a modern travesty), and then lost to Arizona at the end of the year. Mike Bercovici has a lot of experience at quarterback and DJ Foster is there biggest offensive weapon. With nine starters back on defense this is a great team but the Aggies are something special this year.
S: Texas (+9.5) over NOTRE DAME
Texas on the road with a warm body at QB against an athletic Irish defense and a Charlie Strong defense vs. a team not known for putting up crazy points = 24-17 either way.
R: Texas (+9.5) over NOTRE DAME
First, I'd just like to make it clear this is not an entirely objective pick. I really dislike Notre Dame immensely. Notre Dame has a ton of talent on defense, like NFL-caliber talent. They have a certain starter in Zaire. I think Charlie Strong is a much better coach than Brian Kelly is and for years Notre Dame has been far below the sum of its parts. The first year of the Charlie Strong dynasty at Texas was rough, but a lot of that was a result of Strong cleaning house and forcing his system on the team that might have gotten lazy under Mack Brown. We're going to see a huge improvement from the Longhorns this year, one that will allow them to keep it close and cover against Notre Dame.
S: Alabama (-10) over Wisconsin
Lay 'em and laugh. Wisconsin won't score more than 17 points in this game. The Alabama RB corps will score 4 TD by themselves.
R: Alabama (-10) over Wisconsin
Wisconsin has a new head coach who has been around the Wisconsin program for a long time. Paul Chryst comes by way of Pitt after coaching for a few years in Madison. Chryst runs the same type of offense that the AD likes, which means he'll get along just fine and won't leave town so quickly and desperately in a way that brings him to Corvallis. Against the top tier opponents the Badgers have been on the losing end the last couple years. They have only five starters back on offense and only six back on defense. Meanwhile, Alabama is a death-machine of 5-star recruits and Nick Saban at the helm that will roll through anyone on the back of El Tractorcito if LANE KIFFIN WILL CALL A DAMN RUN PLAY WHEN HE IS AVERAGING 7.3 YARDS PER CARRY. The quarterback position at Alabama is really a vanity position more than anything else. The Bama defensive front seven is going to terrorize the Badger offensive line and the offense won't be slowed by the Badgers' non-elite, non-multiple, defense.
S: VIRGINIA TECH (+12) over Ohio State
Last year, the consensus 1 and 2 teams looked really shaky against mid-level opponents in week one (FSU v. Okie State; 'Bama v. West Virginia). I can definitely see that happening here. This is a true road game in a hostile environment against a team that is famous for its defensive and special teams prowess, without maybe the best defensive player in the nation inJoey Bosa. Ohio State wins, but 12 is too many to lay in a game like this with a Virginia Tech team that is motivated to make a statement under the lights at home.
R: VIRGINIA TECH (+12) over Ohio State
Last year Virginia Tech really benefitted from an inexperienced JT Barrett who looked very uncomfortable. This year I have faith that Virginia Tech's defense, historically solid every year and able to keep up with top competition, will make a few adjustments and add a few wrinkles to their defense to confound the Ohio State quarterback. The lack of trust might still be there because the Buckeyes have almost no starting receivers from last year playing in this game. Ohio State is also without Joey Bosa. VaTech has eight starters back on offense and defense. Ohio State is obviously going to win but Virginia Tech will force them to really earn it.