Saturday, September 3, 2016
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: WEEK ONE PICKS FOR THE LABOR DAY WEEKEND
After a couple of days of fried mushrooms and potato skins, we're finally treated to some filet and lobster for the main course. Not only has the College Football Playoff system provided more clarity at the end of the season, it's also produced higher caliber inter-conference matchups as teams recognize the need to impress the committee with quality schedules. Every Power Five conference, but particularly the SEC and Big Ten, has a team participating in a big game to open the season. Can we consider these battles elimination games? Probably not this early in the season, but some of the losing teams will have their playoff backs to the wall, and it's barely Labor Day.
Boston College 17 vs. Georgia Tech 27 (Dublin, Ireland): I'm not sure how the tailgating is in Dublin or if the Rambling Wreck will be welcoming the Yellow Jackets into the stadium, but with six wins between them in 2015, the ACC didn't exactly export their best for this game. I'm expecting a lot more from Georgia Tech.
Miami, Ohio 3 @ (17) Iowa 38: Iowa returns eight starters off a defense that got the Hawkeyes within three points of a playoff appearance. Miami is coming off a three win season. Enough said.
Massachusetts 6 @ (25) Florida 30: UMass might not have been as their 3 - 9 record indicated last year, but they definitely aren't good enough to take down the Gators in the Swamp in early September.
South Dakota State 13 @ (13) TCU 31: I know the Horned Frogs have Arkansas coming to Fort Worth next week, so they better not sleep on a team from the premier FCS conference.
Southeastern Louisiana 10 @ (21) Oklahoma State 58: I have the Cowboys contending for a playoff spot, so they can't stub their toe against a vastly inferior foe. Too much offense from Oklahoma State for the FCS Lions.
Hawaii 10 @ (7) Michigan 41: The Rainbow Warriors will look more like the Road Warriors by the end of the season. After getting drubbed by California in Australia a week ago, they now head in the other direction to face a tough Michigan team. You might as well throw them on the barbie.
Oregon State 17 @ Minnesota 26: Believe it or not, this game against the Beavers, winners of only two games in 2015, is Minnesota's marquee non-conference game, all of which are at home.
Fresno State 16 @ Nebraska 30: The Cornhuskers seven losses last season were by a total of 25 points, with only two by more than a touchdown. Even with just a little better luck, they stand to post a better record in 2016. San Jose State should be a good test to see if they can turn their fortunes around in Mike Riley's second season.
Western Michigan 24 @ Northwestern 23: Teams from the MAC have traditionally been thorns in the sides of Big Five conference teams in the early weeks of the season. The Broncos return eight starters that put up a lot of points last year, including a total of 36 in losses to Michigan State and Ohio State, both better Big Ten teams than the Wildcats. Do I smell the first MAC attack of 2016?
Bowling Green 13 @ (5) Ohio State 34: Bowling Green defeated two Big Ten teams last season, but neither one was the caliber of the Buckeyes. The Falcons also lost a lot of talent due to graduation, so they shouldn't pose too much of a threat to Ohio State.
Kent State 10 @ Penn State 27 : The good news is that Kent State brings back 17 position starters from last year. The bad news is they went 3 - 9 and scored a touchdown or less in six games with those guys on the field. Can the same players improve enough to give a decent Big Ten team a battle? Probably not.
Rutgers 20@ (14) Washington 38: There's a lot of buzz around Washington this season, but I'm not buying it yet. That doesn't mean I think they'll lose their opener, though. Rutgers is still trying to get their act together, and heading out west isn't going to help.
Missouri 13 @ West Va. 26 : Missouri is only a season or two removed from being a good football team. Last year was a disaster both on and off the field for the Tigers, and they only have five starters back from an offense that was among the worst in the nation. That may be a blessing in disguise, but West Va. is used to having to score points to win in the Big 12.
Boise State 41 @ Louisiana 14: The Ragin' Cajuns get to host a big time football program, but the good part will pretty much end there. Boise brings back almost its entire offense from a team that really lit up the scoreboard in 2015. Louisiana gave up a lot of points to far inferior teams than the Broncos last season.
BYU 31 vs. Arizona 28 (Glendale, Arizona): The Wildcats travel an hour or so up I-10 to face BYU, a team that managed to go 9 - 4 a season ago with early wins against Nebraska and Boise State. Arizona struggled, especially defensively, and they'll need to shore that up if they look to make any improvement over 2015.
(16) UCLA 26@ Texas A&M 27: There are some great college football venues throughout the country, but you'd be challenged to find any better or unique one than Kyle Field in College Station, Texas. It's not just big and loud, it's downright intimidating for visiting teams. On a neutral field or in Los Angeles, I'd be likely to pick UCLA. But the Aggies' fans are probably good for at least four points in aid to their team.
(22) North Carolina 31 vs. (18) Georgia 34 (Atlanta, GA): Both of these teams are my picks to win their respective divisions, UNC the ACC Coastal and Georgia the SEC East. From a national perspective, even though neither team is expected to challenge for a playoff berth, a win here would certainly be a big plus if they find themselves as conference champion.
(2) Clemson 31 @ Auburn 20: One thing is certain, the Tigers will win, but which one is the question. Clemson is on a lot of lists to repeat as a playoff team, primarily because of Heisman candidate Deshaun Watson. I agree and their run to another title game begins against a team that is trying to rebound from a lackluster 2015.
(3) Oklahoma 27 @ (15) Houston 30: I'm certain when this game was scheduled, the Sooners had no idea that Houston would have as strong a team as they've been able field the last couple of seasons. Oklahoma will need to hitting on all cylinders to avoid the upset at NRG Stadium in Houston. The Cougars failed to finish off an undefeated season in 2015 and will have a lot of motivation to try and complicate the job of the playoff committee.
(17) USC 24 vs. (1) Alabama 28 (Arlington, TX): Neither of these teams is a stranger to big opening games. Trojan coach Clay Helton is trying to bring some stability to a program that has gone through coaches like Alabama goes through transfers. Always talent laden, it remains to be seen if USC can get a big win and put them in the conversation again on the national stage.
La. Tech 17 @ Arkansas 27: The Hogs were surprised by Toledo last year, but I don't see a repeat by the Bulldogs, who are coming off a pretty good bowl season. That said, Arkansas needs to get off to a better start than they have in past years under Bret Bielema.
Liberty 10 @ Va. Tech 31: The Hokies will be unveiling a new offense under Justin Fuente and Hokie fans are hungry for renewed energy. The FCS Flames will provide a good proving game before Tech heads to the Battle of Bristol next week against highly touted Tennessee.
(10) Notre Dame 23@ Texas 24: I'm not convinced that Notre Dame is a top ten team and even more convinced that they won't end the season there, considering their schedule. Texas, showed a few flashes of promise last year, but will have to be consistently better to satisfy the Longhorn fan base and compete in the Big 12.
(4) Florida State 30 vs. (11) Ole Miss 20 (Orlando, FL): Although technically a neutral site, there will be lot of tomahawk chopping going on in central Florida. Ole Miss will also have to contend with 'Noles running back Dalvin Cook, one of the top three running backs in the country.
Don't forget to check out my new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" at Amazon.com and listen to me Friday's at 8:40 am EDT/ 7:40 am CDT on Lou in the Morning, streaming live on www.WPFLradio.com, 105.1 FM.