So Sean and I ended up picking the exact same sets of games and the exact same picks across the board. We have the required games to pick and we can pretty much choose any other game where the line looks good and/or is a big game. Somehow, all roads led us to the picks below.
Rusty’s Record: 3-3
Sean’s Record: 2-4
Games of The Week
S: Nebraska (+9.5) at Oregon
Loved what I saw from the offense last week. Better play-calling, more misdirection, good execution on power-type plays by the offensive line, crisp decisions and good throws from Herbert. And, I really liked some of the young defensive players, especially Graham (No. 4), Gibson (No. 28), Scott (No. 34), and Faoliu (No. 99).
But I haven't seen Oregon's defense perform well against a Power 5 opponent since the 2014 season (Marcus be thy name). Until I see that, I am quite hesitant to lay near-double-digit points. I trust Oregon's newly invigorated offense to put up a lead. I just don't trust the defense to hold the lead (yet). This would be a wonderful week to be proven wrong. Ducks should win this thing; they're the better team. But maybe not by 10.
R: Nebraska (+9.5) at Oregon
I like Oregon’s chances of winning but this line is way too high. The Ducks get three points automatically for being at home but it’s tough to say that Oregon is a touchdown better than Nebraska.
This is Mike Riley’s third year at Nebraska and basically has his guys in place as the starters. The player making the most noise out of the off-season is starting quarterback Tanner Lee who takes over for Tommy Armstrong. Armstrong was a running quarterback who Riley had to fit into his pro-style offense. Tanner Lee was impressive at the Manning camp and did well in his opening game against the Arkansas State Red Wolves going 19/32 for 238 yards through the air and two touchdowns but questions remain after his statistically average career at Tulane against non-Power 5 opponents. The right side of the offensive line make up two of the four returning starters on offense and helped the Cornhusker offense average 5.9 yards per carry.
The defense is moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4, and us Duck fans know how difficult switching strategies is with the wrong players. There are six guys back on defense with two on the defensive line and three at defensive back. The Cornhusker defense allowed a 67% completion rate but did force two interceptions. Nebraska escaped with a win against Arkansas State, and a win is a win at the end of the day, but Nebraska is looking to prove a lot this next week.
Oregon did Nebraska a good number of favors in the matchup last year. The quarterback play will be improved and the defense will be better, how much better has yet to be determined. The Ducks are coming off a win against a good FCS opponent, but an FCS opponent is still an FCS opponent. Regardless, Oregon did what they were supposed to do against a team of that caliber, which is why I like them to win here.
S: Oklahoma at Ohio State (-7)
Tried to find ways to pick Oklahoma in this game (even resorting to: "Indiana's tall receivers gave Ohio State fits! Does OU have tall receivers?"), but I didn't want to overreact to Ohio State's sluggish start at Indiana, or Oklahoma's excellent dismantling of Tulsa. I think OSU kept their offensive gameplan vanilla against Indiana. And I think OU won't be able to run the ball against the Buckeyes' murderers' row defensive line: Indiana had 17 rushing yards. Although OU is billed as a wide-open offense, they have relied in years past on their excellent running backs to churn out yardage. Without that, I think they're at least 10 points worse than Ohio State. Lay the 7. I wouldn't feel comfortable taking the points against the Buckeyes at home in the 'Shoe.
R: Oklahoma at Ohio State (-7)
Oklahoma may have only played UTEP last wee, but they took care of business like a championship team is supposed to. They took it to the Miners from the Start and Baker Mayfield was near perfect going 19/20 for 329 yards and three touchdowns.
The Ohio State we saw in the second half is probably going to be the Ohio State we see against Oklahoma. The first half Ohio State struggled with tempo and had no answer for the pitch-and-catch Indiana was doing. Conditioning was a concern in the first quarter for the defense. In the second half, the offense calmed down, the defense had made adjustments, and they cruised to a win.
Last year, Ohio State decimated Oklahoma, winning 45-24 in Norman. Some cracks showed in the matchup against Indiana and the Buckeye defensive backs could have their hands full again. Indiana picked on the Ohio State corners all night and Oklahoma has one receiver that is 6 feet tall and another that is 6 foot 5. Unlike Ohio State, the Sooners have the personnel on both sides of the ball to keep up and will have a much better game plan to push Ohio State in a way that Indiana could not.
However, this is new Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley’s first away game and it’s a doozy. The advantage at home and having time to defend their vulnerability to the fade I think Ohio State will be able to take over in the final quarter for a two-score win.
S: Stanford (+4) at USC
I don't want to overreact to USC's "subpar" performance against Western Michigan. WMU, after all, was a 13-1 team last season. But the Broncos ran on USC. And they kind of ran whenever they wanted to. That's a bad sign when Stanford is coming to town, with one of the 3 best offensive lines in football. USC has more speed and versatility than Stanford, but since when does that matter? USC is 2-3 against Stanford over the past five, with their largest margin of victory in each win only 3 points. USC won't run past Stanford.
That's especially true because Stanford's secondary might also have one of the best secondaries in football. Sam Darnold will make some plays, but not enough to really edge USC ahead.
Give me the points. I think this is like a 20-17 game either way. Rooting for Stanford to knock off 'SC.
R: Stanford (+4) at USC
The overarching theme of week 1 is always that no one is as bad as they seemed and no one is as good as they seemed. Stanford ran all over Rice in Australia, averaging eight yards per carry. Keller Chryst looked good at quarterback going 14/24 for 253 yards and two touchdowns. As always, the running game will be the bread and butter of the Cardinal offense. The defensive backs don’t get nearly enough credit for how good they are. They held Rice’s quarterback to 10/24 and 95 yards and an interception. Rice averaged only 5 yards per pass attempt.
There has to be some adjustment made for Western Michigan. I didn’t think Western Michigan would do well given that they lost Corey Davis and PJ Fleck but they proved me wrong against USC. The Broncos came ready to play. Last year, the Broncos were undefeated until meeting one of the best defenses in the country, Wisconsin, in the Cotton Bowl. Against USC the Broncos ran for 263 yards, averaging 5.5 per attempt. They also held Sam Darnold without a touchdown and two interceptions.
I don’t think that USC will play so poorly again. And when I say poorly I mean it was close into the fourth quarter but USC still ended up winning by 18 points. Ronald Jones had a great day, averaging 8.8 yards per carry and 159 yards on the ground to go with three touchdowns.
Again, I think this is a situation where the line is too high. I don’t think this is going to be a blowout one way or the other and a field goal win for USC makes a lot of sense. This will be close and probably the most exciting game of the weekend. I like USC to win but Stanford to cover.
S: Auburn at Clemson (-6)
Clemson has officially reloaded. It wasn't just that Clemson dismantled Kent State last week (they did). It was that it looked like Clemson wasn't even trying. Clemson's defense is a known quantity, and it did what it was supposed to do: shut every single thing down. But their offense and quarterback play look very solid, enough to create a lead and hold it. Yes, Stidham looked good at QB for Auburn last week. But I think the Clemson front four and secondary is going to give him fits. I would be wary of this line if it were on the road, but I like Clemson's defense too much to bet against them at home. Lay the 6.
R: Auburn at Clemson (-6)
There is so much hype for this Auburn team. Baylor transfer and starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham looked great in the spring game but just above average in the season opener against Georgia Southern. Stidham’s best asset is being able to throw the deep ball, which pairs well with Auburn’s rushing attack. The Auburn Tigers had two rushers run for 136 yards and average more 8.5 yards per carry and 9.7 yards per carry. There are eight starters back on offense and seven on defense so this is an experienced group that will be heading into Death Valley.
The biggest reason for hope in Auburn, Alabama is the defense. Kevin Steele was fantastic in his first year as defensive coordinator, making them a top 10 S&P+ defense in 2016 after being ranked 29th the year prior. There isn’t the depth this year that there was last year but the stars are good enough to be effective for an entire game this early in the season.
Clemson is just so good on both lines, especially the defensive line with Christian Wilkins. Auburn’s rushing game may really struggle with Clemson’s defensive front and Stidham may not have the time to wait for the vertical threats to get downfield with a pass rush getting in his face.
The Clemson offense has five starters back but the biggest loss is quarterback Deshaun Watson. Junior Kelly Bryant played extremely well with 77 yards on the ground to go with 236 through the air, 16/22, and a touchdown with one interception. He’s got speed but he doesn’t have the experience that Deshaun Watson had. The experience in big games is really what made Watson such a valuable asset. Luckily, Bryant gets his first big test at home.
With the home field advantage, the dominant trench play, and the talent advantage, I think Clemson is able to make some big strides and win by a touchdown.
Wild Card Games
S: Pitt at Penn State (-16)
I watched a good chunk of Penn State's opener vs. Akron. Now, given, it's Akron, but Penn State's offense looked just as dynamic and attacking as it did down the stretch in 2016. Pitt struggled mightily with Youngstown State, an FCS school. Pitt has a good staff, and should be a decent team in the ACC this year, but Penn State is operating at another level. Pitt wedged out a 42-39 road win last year, and I think they handle Pitt easily in Happy Valley this time around.
R: Pitt at Penn State (-16)
Pitt and Penn State seem very far apart after week one. Even though no one is as bad or good as they seem right now the difference between these two is much greater than sixteen points.
Pitt struggled against Youngstown State. They won 28-21 but were outgained by 70 yards and were even on turnovers. Pitt gave up 4.1 yards per carry and 9.7 yards per pass attempt. If those are the numbers are against Youngstown State they have some real issues going to Happy Valley.
Penn State dominated Akron from beginning to end. Penn State held Akron to 86 yards passing and 73 yards rushing while racking up 569 yards on their own. Trace McSorley played well but Saquon Barkley was fantastic, rushing for 172 yards and two touchdowns on only 14 carries.
S: Indiana (-2.5) at Virginia
Indiana is a good team. They're going to give a lot of people fits this year. UVA is either the worst or the second-worst ACC team. I think they'll have difficulty chasing around Indiana's lanky WRs, and Indiana's defense is pretty damn good. I like Indiana to get a road win by more than 3.
R: Indiana (-2.5) at Virginia
Bronco Mendenhall is now in his second season at Virginia. In his first season he got two wins. His first win was against Central Michigan and his second was the following week at Duke. He lost almost every other game by more than a single score.
Virginia’s offense was really bad in passing, efficiency, and explosiveness last season. There are five starters back, including starting quarterback Kurk Benkert, but it’s tough to see where they are going to see big improvement in this lineup. Against William and Mary the offense only averaged 2.9 yards per carry.
On defense they struggled against the pass but have eight starters back. Their secondary has the height to compete with Indiana’s receivers so they may not run into the same problems that Ohio State had. However, the Hoosier passing offense is greater than just jump balls.
I think Indiana will be able to pass well to the outside to open up the running game. Ohio State’s run defense is great and Virginia’s is obviously not at the same level, so the Hoosiers should be able to be more balanced. Virginia let William and Mary run 4.1 yards per carry. I don’t see much of a hangover happening for Indiana, especially after having a couple extra days of rest.