College Football Opening-Week Games More Interesting than they Appear
by Trevor Whenham - 8/26/2013
The opening weekend of the college football season has no shortage of high-profile games — Alabama vs. Virginia Tech, Georgia at Clemson, and LSU at TCU chief among them. Beyond those marquee games, though, there are some very interesting matchups — games that could be even more interesting from a betting perspective than the big ones. Here are eight hidden gems that stand out:
North Carolina at South Carolina, Thursday
This is a rivalry that has lost a lot of steam lately. While South Carolina has been consistently good but not yet great, North Carolina has fought scandal and underachievement and is in a pretty dark place as a program. The headlines for this one, then, will be all about Jadeveon Clowney and not much else. While I am indeed very interested to see how focused Clowney is and whether he can live up to the impossible hype this season, he’s not actually the player I am most looking forward to seeing. North Carolina QB Bryn Renner is quietly coming off an excellent season and is a prime candidate to take another big step forward this year.
UNLV at Minnesota, Thursday
UNLV has been almost impossibly bad for a long time — an easy team to bet against. While the team is not going to be a shocking BCS contender now, or likely ever, by any means, coach Bobby Hauck is slowly getting this team moving in the right direction. His roster has improved, and he has more depth than in years. The team could take a step forward this year, and that would be very useful for bettors because the public certainly isn’t going to pay any attention. This opener against a mid-level (to be kind) Big Ten program will show us if the Rebels are indeed a team on the move.
Utah State at Utah, Thursday
Chuckie Keeton, meet the world. There are a whole lot of quarterbacks in the Mountain West getting serious attention — Fales, Carr, Fajardo. Utah State’s Keeton is getting lost in that shuffle a little bit, but he certainly doesn’t deserve to be. Last year in his first full year as a starter he completed nearly 68 percent of his passes for almost 3,400 yards with 27 touchdowns and nine picks, and he ran for eight touchdowns in his last seven games. This could be a real coming-out party for Keeton against an imperfect Utah squad, and I’m excited to see what he can do.
USC at Hawaii, Thursday
I like it when interesting games are played in Hawaii. They are played so late that bettors in the eastern time zone struggle to stay awake, but living in the west they are the perfect way to end an evening. This one should be interesting. For one, the storyline of Norm Chow hosting his former employer in his second year in the program is a good one. More interesting, though, is whether Lane Kiffin can have his team ready and looking good — unlike at almost any time last year. Last year’s collapse from top-ranked to 7-5 was historic. Kiffin could start making us forget that that ever happened, or he could start the countdown to his dismissal. Until we see them on the field, there is no way to guess which will happen.
Texas Tech at SMU, Friday
This one is all about Kliff Kingsbury. The list of coaches who have been more universally welcomed and praised upon being hired than Kingsbury is very short. A hero when he played for the school, he has quickly become a world-class coach. Now he is the man in charge, though. This is an opponent that is well-matched for his debut — tough enough to be respectable, but easy enough to beat if things go well. Though Kingsbury is the main story, it’s also our first chance to see SMU in their new incarnation as a member of the American Athletic Conference.
Temple at Notre Dame, Saturday
It has been a very rocky offseason for the Irish. They got humiliated by Alabama. They lost their quarterback. Recruits and current players fled in a steady stream. Brian Kelly’s temper was called into question. Can the team push all that aside and shine again against a schedule that is always challenging? Or will the distractions catch up to them? Temple isn’t a great team, but they are a good early test for the Irish.
Ohio at Louisville, Sunday
Louisville has a good chance to go unbeaten, but they can’t afford to falter at any moment if they want to. Last year, Ohio had a chance to go unbeaten, but they couldn’t handle the pressure. They are still a very good team, though, and redshirt senior QB Tyler Tettleton, son of Mickey, is a strong quarterback. This will be a tough test for the Cardinals — probably their second-biggest challenge of the year. If they shine here — and especially if Teddy Bridgewater shines and gets his Heisman campaign off to a good start — then it could be a very interesting year.
FIU at Maryland, Saturday
I really couldn’t care less about FIU — especially after the just plain wrong decision to replace Mario Cristobal with Ron Turner. This one is all about Maryland. They had a mess of a year last season, going through so many quarterbacks that they were trying anyone with a pulse at the position by the end of the year. The guy who was supposed to start last year before an ACL injury derailed his season, C.J. Brown, is back and ready to go. He has Stefon Diggs, one of the most dangerous and under-praised players in the country, to use as a weapon. I don’t think the Terps are a real contender, but they could be much-improved — and interesting for bettors. This will be a first test of where they are really at.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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