NCAA Football Predictions: Week 1 Opening Line Report and Picks
by Alan Matthews - 8/25/2014
It feels like forever ago that we saw Florida State beat Auburn in the final BCS Championship Game -- and one of certainly one of the best national title games this century. Now the BCS is dead, and we are introduced to the four-team College Football Playoff. How will it work? No one seems to know other than the 13 members who will pick the national semifinalists similar to how the NCAA Tournament field is chosen. At least we no longer have to worry about polls or computer rankings. They are still out there but have no bearing on what teams the committee chooses. I don't know about you, but I sure trust someone like a Tom Osborne or Barry Alvarez or Mike Tranghese more than I do a computer or some biased coach with his poll vote.
The season kicks off Thursday night, and each week this year I will provide an opening-line report on Monday with a look at some of the more interesting games.
No. 21 Texas A&M at No. 9 South Carolina (-10.5, 58): The post-Johnny Manziel era begins at A&M with sophomore Kenny Hill pegged to start at quarterback and try to fill those rather large shoes. Did Manziel make A&M what it was or did Coach Kevin Sumlin and his offense make Manziel a star? We should find out the answer to that immediately as the Gamecocks could be the best team in the SEC East and should be terrific defensively even with the loss of Jadeveon Clowney. USC is 6/1 at Bovada to win the SEC Championship Game and 8/5 to in the East. A&M is 40/1 to win the SEC and 20/1 to win the West. The Aggies would have just about no shot to win college football's toughest division if they start 0-1. This will be the first game ever on the SEC Network. The pick: USC wins but Aggies cover.
Boise State vs. No. 18 Ole Miss (-10, 53.5) in Atlanta: This is exactly the kind of game Boise State used to win under coach Chris Petersen. Will the program fade into irrelevance now that he's in Washington, or will his former offensive coordinator, Bryan Harsin, keep the Broncos as a national threat? Boise State did not crack the preseason polls for the first time since 2008 and lost both of its games vs. Power 5 conference teams in 2013. The Broncos do have a stellar running back you might not know about in junior Jay Ajayi. He rushed for 1,425 yards and 18 touchdowns last year. Ole Miss is a dark horse in the SEC after finishing 8-5 a year ago, which included three losses by a touchdown or less. The pick: Rebels are for real. They cover Thursday's game, and the total stays "under".
Penn State vs. Central Florida (-1.5, 48) in Ireland: Nothing like a little college football at breakfast as this game in Dublin kicks at 8:30 a.m. Eastern on Saturday. I'm not really sure why UCF is favored. Yes, the Knights were tremendous last year -- they also won 34-31 at State College -- but they also lost their two offensive stars in Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson. Bortles threw for 288 yards and three scores vs. PSU while Johnson rushed for 117 yards and a TD. Coach George O'Leary is starting a redshirt freshman QB in Pete DiNovo. Penn State, meanwhile, has perhaps the Big Ten's best quarterback in sophomore Christian Hackenberg. If two teams look fairly even, always go with the better QB. The pick: Nittany Lions win in Coach James Franklin's debut.
No. 5 Ohio State vs. Navy (+14, 55) in Baltimore: This screams trap game for the Buckeyes. They are no doubt still reeling from losing QB and Heisman contender Braxton Miller for the season. Plus, OSU has a dangerous game next week at home against Virginia Tech. Might the Buckeyes overlook Navy? I suppose if you are going to play Navy it's best to do it in the opener because that gives you all summer to prepare for that triple-option offense. The Middies have a terrific quarterback in Keenan Reynolds, probably the school's best since Roger Staubach. I'd take him over OSU's new starter, J.T. Barrett, at least as things currently stand. The pick: I'd take Navy if this line moved a half-point higher but OSU a half-point lower. Under regardless.
West Virginia vs. No. 2 Alabama (-24.5, 55.5) in Atlanta: This is the Jameis Winston backup bowl as both starting quarterbacks, Jacob Coker of the Tide and Clint Trickett of WVU, left Florida State when it was made pretty apparent that Winston was the team's starting QB and future of the program. Coker (18-36, 250 yards, interception) played in seven games as a backup for the national champs last year. He's eligible to play right away for Alabama because he graduated before transferring. Trickett transferred to WVU in May 2013. He led an upset of Oklahoma State in his first start last year but then twice suffered concussions and also injured his shoulder, which eventually required offseason surgery. WVU was just 4-8 last year but should be much improved with 14 starters back and the addition of former Pittsburgh running back Rushel Shell. However, top cornerback Ishmael "Ickey" Banks was just suspended for three games. The pick: Mountaineers cover.
Miami Fla. at Louisville (-3, 54): This is the second straight time these two will face off as Louisville throttled Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl to cap off last season. I don't take much from that because both the Hurricanes and Cardinals have new starting quarterbacks and UM star Duke Johnson wasn't healthy for that bowl game. I was moderately surprised that Miami coach Al Golden named true freshman Brad Kaaya his starting QB over Kansas transfer Jake Heaps. Will Gardner replaces Teddy Bridgewater (who threw for 447 yards and three TDs in the bowl game) under center for Louisville. The status of Louisville star receiver DeVante Parker is up in the air after he hurt his foot in practice Friday. He's doubtful as of now. Parker had 12 TD catches in 2013. This is the debut of Bobby Petrino back as Louisville's coach and the only game on Labor Day (8 p.m. kickoff). The pick: Parker injury is big. Canes win outright. Love the under with two new QBs.
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