Eight long months since Ohio State upset Oregon and 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota in the first College Football Playoff National Championship Game, the 2015 NCAA season kicks off on Thursday night. Sweet!
The first playoff was a huge success, both from a TV ratings and betting action perspective. I still say it will grow to eight teams by 2020, maybe sooner if a one-loss Big 12 champion gets left out for a second straight year because that conference doesn't have a title game.
You may want to plan your New Year's Eve accordingly this year because that's when the two semifinals will be, and they are at the Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl. Glendale, Ariz., site of last season's Super Bowl, will host the National Championship Game on Monday, Jan. 11. I'll be previewing the college football weeks all season.
Here's a look at some Week 1 matchups -- all games Saturday unless mentioned -- that caught my eye, with odds from BetOnline. I'm in an underdog mood apparently.
Michigan at Utah (-5.5): This Thursday game will draw big ratings simply because it's the Michigan debut of head coach Jim Harbaugh, the former Wolverines quarterback. Harbaugh still hasn't announced his starting QB between Shane Morris and Iowa transfer Jake Rudock. But apparently it's known to everyone on the team. Harbaugh says he won't announce it publicly until he has Utah's final pregame depth chart in his hands. Utah went into the Big House last season and won 26-10. This one won't be that lopsided. The pick: Give the points.
No. 2 TCU at Minnesota (+14): I say the Horned Frogs are a bit overrated. True, they have Heisman Trophy favorite Trevone Boykin back to run what was the nation's No. 2 offense in 2014. But I say the Big 12 was overrated as well last year, so I give no credence to any of those wins. And I believe oddsmakers are overvaluing TCU because of a 42-3 rout of Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl. Minnesota is very well coached by Jerry Kill. The Frogs beat the Gophers 30-7 in Fort Worth last year. The pick: I'm shopping around for 14.5 points and taking them.
No. 5 Michigan State at Western Michigan (+18.5): This could be the biggest trap game of Week 1. The Spartans have to break in a new starting receiver and running back, plus it's their first game without long-time defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, the new coach at Pitt. Western is probably the most talented team in the Mid-American Conference. But mostly, I think MSU sleepwalks through this trip to Kalamazoo -- it still wins -- and saves everything for Sept. 12 against visiting Oregon. The pick: WMU.
Washington at No. 23 Boise State (-10.5): The Broncos' players will want this one in a big way because most of them were recruited to Idaho by former Boise coach Chris Petersen, who took over at Washington last season. Boise does have to replace one of the best running backs in the country, Jay Ajayi, and very good quarterback in Grant Hedrick. The Huskies bring back just 10 starters, among the fewest in the nation. They may play two quarterbacks Friday among Jeff Lindquist, redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels and true freshman Jake Browning. Petersen may not name a starter until game day. The pick: Boise wins, but I'll take the points.
BYU at Nebraska (-6): This is one of the most intriguing Week 1 games even though neither club is ranked. BYU plays some pretty good teams in 2015, so if the Cougars somehow run the table they could crash the College Football Playoff. Nebraska hasn't lost a home opener since 1985 but usually doesn't play an opponent of this quality. And eight Huskers will miss this game. New coach Mike Riley has said five are suspended but hasn't announced who. The Huskers also have lost wideouts De'Mornay Pierson-El (6-8 weeks), Lavan Alston (season) and Sam Burtch (2-4 weeks). Then again, BYU has lost starting running back Jamaal Williams, tight end Steven Richards and linebacker Colby Jorgensen. The pick: BYU.
Virginia at No. 13 UCLA (-17): The Bruins will start true freshman Josh Rosen at quarterback as he beat out Jerry Neuheisel, who was last year's backup to star Brett Hundley. Know this: the only team to win a national title with a true freshman QB as its primary starter was Oklahoma in 1985. The Wahoos gave visiting UCLA some trouble in last year's opener. The Bruins won 28-20 as 21-point favorites thanks to three defensive touchdowns. The pick: Wait for or shop for 17.5 and take the points.
Akron at No. 19 Oklahoma (-31): Here's another possible trap game as OU possibly looks ahead to Tennessee in Week 2. The Sooners announced Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield as the team's starting QB this week. He was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year with TTU and sat out last season. Another reason the Sooners might be a bit off is they are learning a new up-tempo offense under new coordinator Lincoln Riley. The pick: Go find 31.5 and take the points. OU will call off the dogs in the second half.
No. 20 Wisconsin vs. No. 3 Alabama (-9.5): Neutral-site game in Arlington. A lot of national experts I respect think that Alabama is overrated. The Tide did lose a lot off last year's team. The big hole is at quarterback to replace Blake Sims. That remains undecided. Reports were that Alec Morris had inched ahead, and that would be a surprise. Jake Coker, the expected starter, and Cooper Bateman are the two other guys. Nick Saban may play two of them vs. the Badgers. Wisconsin lost Heisman runner-up Melvin Gordon, but the Badgers always just plug in a new guy there and he shines. This year's it is Corey Clement. The pick: This is at 10 at many sites. I'll take the points and hope to find 10.5.
No. 1 Ohio State at Virginia Tech (+11): Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer says he won't name the winner of his QB competition between Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett until the Buckeyes offense takes the field. I say it's Barrett. We get our first look at Braxton Miller as a receiver. Remember that OSU is without four suspended players -- including starting end Joey Bosa and H-back Jalin Marshall -- and lost receiver Noah Brown, an expected big contributor to a season-ending leg injury. Will there be a national title hangover? The pick: Take the points.
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