Sean and I are back. We’re here to give a breakdown of the matchups and I’ll give you the wrong picks, while Sean will give you the correct picks.
We are going to be picking the big games against the spread and each week we will pick a couple other games of our choosing. They may be interesting matchups or picks against the spread that we are very confident about. On to the picks!
Games of the Week
S: Michigan at Florida (+5)
The Wolverines return only 1 defensive starter and only 4 on the offense. Florida has half its defense back and nearly all of its offense. I think the Gators are an improved bunch, and I like the fact that they can improve substantially on offense in Jim McElwain's third year. Surprised to find then as an underdog here. Take those points, and frankly, I think Florida is two scores better. This is the lock of the week.
R: Michigan (-5) v Florida
As more and more time passes we see that more Gators are getting suspended. There’s an investigation by the UFPD and Gainesville PD for a whole slew of crimes. If there’s ever a real distraction that can take the attention away from a game it’s this one. Feleipe Franks beat out Malik Zaire to win the starting quarterback job and lead eight other returning starters on offense. On defense, five players are back but the talent on the defensive side of the ball goes deep.
Michigan has only five starters back on the whole team with four on offense and one on defense. The Wolverines had 12 players get drafted in the 2017 NFL Draft but based on the recruiting that Brady Hoke and Jim Harbaugh have done those spots are going to be filled by some of the best players out of high school.
Wilton Speight is back throwing the rock. Speight was a decent quarterback last year and could take this offense to the next level with some better play. They have to replace the top three receivers including tight end Jake Butt. On defense they rotated a lot of players so they aren’t starting from square one. I think the Michigan defense will force a lot of three and outs and create short fields for the offense.
S: Florida State (+7.5) at Alabama
I know, I know. It's "Alabama." But you can't ignore the fact that Alabama lost some dudes after last year's squad fell just short vs. Clemson. Jonathan Allen, the tremendous DE, was a generational type player on that defense who really made the 'Bama D what it was. He's gone, along with a few other elite defensive players. Does the Tide have the depth behind them? Of course they do! They've had the #1 overall recruiting class for seven years straight.
But, a lot of that depth is unproven. And it's a tough ask for unproven talent to find itself against a titanic team in its own right, Florida State. FSU's starters aren't any less talented than Alabama's. They won't really be afraid of those guys. And I think that's enough to take the points here, and keep our eyes out for an upset in the opening week mega-game.
R: Florida State v Alabama (-7.5)
Alabama will be the favorite to win the national title every year as long as Nick Saban is there and it is hard to pick against him no matter the spread. Saban reloads the roster with more four and five star recruits who have been backing up All-Americans and NFL Draft picks for the last three years. The last five years the Tide have opened the season against a strong, power five opponent and won all of them with some level of ease.
Jalen Hurts is back and if he’s developed his passing abilities he’s going to be near unstoppable. After Lane Kiffin’s departure I’m guessing Saban is going to push the offense towards a run-heavy approach, differing from more of the spread passing that was seen the last few years. The defensive backs struggled at times last year, but with three starters back they must have gotten better.
Florida State doesn’t have the tall, dominant wide receiver that has been the Achilles heel of the program. Receiver Auden Tate is 6’5” but was the fourth –leading receiver last year and we would have to see a big jump in skill for him to be a force on offense. Quarterback Deondre Francois leads five other starters on offense and nine starters are back on defense. Safety Derwin James is a dynamic playmaker and a player to watch on Saturday.
The line has to be better for Florida State this year. Otherwise Deondre Francois’ body might break down in a way that it didn’t last year. Francois was one of the toughest players on the field and was hit or pressured on a large percentage of his dropbacks. Dalvin Cook, who was maybe the best running back last year in college football, has to be replaced.
It’s hard to pick against Saban. I’m picking the Tide on the assumption that the defensive backs have improved and that the defensive line is going to be able to pressure Francois throughout the game. The Florida State defense won’t be able to contain Jalen Hurts and after three quarters of between the tackles running the Seminole front seven is going to give up explosive plays.
S: Texas A&M at UCLA (-3)
If Josh Rosen doesn't take care of business against the Aggies' woeful defense, there are major problems in Westwood. I think UCLA's defense is talented enough to keep A&M's offense in front of them, and I think Rosen's hopeful maturity at this point will help the Bruins avoid the mistakes that dogged them in last year's tight loss to Texas A&M. UCLA by 10.
R: Texas A&M (+3) at UCLA
This game could be a loser leaves town moment for both coaches. Sumlin and Mora are both sitting on the hot seat and both would love to get a win to add to their record for their own job security.
Talent has never been an issue for the Bruins.They consistently draw talent out of high school but a disconnect between the team and the school administration seems to be hampering their success. Losing Josh Rosen for the season certainly didn’t help Jim Mora’s chances but the dysfunction is not reserved to only the offensive side of the ball. This year nine starters are back on offense, including four of the five linemen, and six starters are back on defense. Jedd Fisch, who turned Speight into an above average quarterback last year is looking to take Rosen’s game up a notch.
The Aggies escaped the Bruins last year in overtime but I think they’’ll win this game in regulation. Texas A&M has to replace quarterback Trevor Knight at quarterback as well as Myles Garrett on defense. Both lines are question marks going into the season. On defense, seven starters are back and with Noel Mazzone staying on as offensive coordinator I don’t’ expect to see much of a drop in production. I don’t think that Jim Mora is going to be able to do enough to pull out the win in this opening game.
S: Tennessee (-3) at Georgia Tech
With lower expectations in 2017, I think this is the Vols' time to shine. Still ultra-talented, still very experienced, now with fewer eyes on them: just the time to go on a nice run in an underwhelming SEC East. Georgia Tech finished with a nice record in 2016, but benefited from some good breaks and close wins. Tennessee should be better than Tech at every position. The Vols' ability to handle the "throwback" Yellow Jacket triple option is a question, but it's a question for every Tech opponent. I like Tennessee's advantage on offense vs. the Tech defense, and I think the Volunteers cruise here.
R: Tennessee (-3) v Georgia Tech
The champions of life have seven starters returning on both sides of the ball. Of the returning starters on offense, four of them are on the offensive line. The Volunteers run a very run-heavy offense and this year they will be without Josh Dobbs who was a dominant quarterback who could run. The defense should see improvement with some key playmakers coming back from injury.
Georgia Tech won’t benefit from having a difficult offense to prep for on short notice, given that Tennessee has had the last few weeks to prepare for an offense that is rarely seen in major college football. Head coach Paul Johnson has eight starters back on offense and defense but must replace Justin Thomas at quarterback.
I like the Volunteers’ superiority in talent in this game. I think the quality of players will offset some of the schematics in the game but this should be a close one.
Sean’s Wild Card Picks
West Virginia at Virginia Tech (-3)
WVU loses too many guys for me to like them much this season. I loved their defense last year, and at times called it "playoff-worthy." But there are only 3 starters back on the defensive side of the ball. On offense, they'll be reliant on Will Grier, who played about 3 solid games at Florida in 2015. I may trust the offense later, but not yet, especially considering the perpetual buzzsaw that Virginia Tech's defense presents. I'll lay the three points on Virginia Tech, who will be solid on defense and presentable on offense given what head coach Justin Fuente brings to the table.
Maryland (+20.5) at Texas
Hesitant to lay this many points on an unproven Texas defense. Maryland had a surprisingly solid year in 2016, then followed it up with solid recruiting. Texas's offense and defense have the talent to make strides this year, but they are still capable of an out-of-nowhere stinker. Not saying they blow this one, but Maryland is too solid a B1G program to get beat badly in an opener. I'll take the points.
Rusty’s Wild Card Picks
Ohio State at Indiana (+21)
The Buckeyes are hoping to come back from where we last saw them. Clemson shut out Ohio State in the playoff semi-final. Heisman favorite JT Barrett had a good year but when compared to his previous season it was a disappointment. Barrett threw a lot of short passes as the offense wasn’t able to stretch the field vertically.
Former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson joins the Buckeye staff as the offensive coordinator. Indiana had success against the Buckeyes when they hosted the game two years ago. If Wilson can find a way to take the top off the defense then the Buckeye offense may become unstoppable. There are eight starters back on offense, including four of the five offensive line. All of the defensive linemen return, which could set them up for a solid start.
This could be a difficult game for the Buckeyes. Indiana has to be fired up to have the chance to beat their former head coach who took a role lower on the totem pole than the one he had in the Hoosier state. The Hoosiers have nine players back on offense and the only top tackler to replace is Marcus Oliver. The offense has to replace the two leading rushers from last year’s team but quarterback Richard Lagow is back on offense. The line has three starters returning as well as a starting receiver and tight end.
This is a really big spread for a Thursday night game on the road for the Buckeyes. I think Indiana has a ton of motivation heading into the matchup and it will be rocking in Bloomington, Indiana.
Western Michigan at USC (-23.5)
This is a dangerous pick because of the spread but I love the Trojans this year. Sam Darnold and four other returning starters, including stellar running back Ronald Jones, are back. The defense has three of four starters back on the defensive line. While the secondary may need some time to get into full gear the talent disparity is just too far apart in this matchup.
PJ Fleck was the head coach who oversaw much of the success in Kalamazoo, MI. Quarterback Zach Terrell has departed as has leading receiver Corey Davis. The leading returning receiver had only 25 catches last year. There’s a lot of production to replace and while there are seven starters back on defense there is a different coach this year. Tim Lester is a first-year head coach who is now supposed to take on one of the most talented teams in the country.
This is a game that is going to allow Sam Darnold to show off his skills and start the Heisman hype train. This is a big spread but I think we are going to see a few turnovers lead into a blowout win for USC.