Week One is a bye week for the Irish, but we have plenty of other big games on the docket. There are actually four neutral site nonconference matchups this weekend, so we could have some bowl game type atmospheres. Alabama-Clemson is probably the game of the weekend if you ask me, but it's also going to be a big weekend for the Big 10 with Illinois and Missouri getting together for their border state rivalry and Michigan State heading out to Berkeley to take on the Cal Bears.
It's a little disappointing that ND is not playing on Opening Weekend, but it will be nice to just relax and watch the games without being stressed out about the ND game (for good reason over the last 10+ years). I'm headed out to a wedding in Seattle this weekend, so hopefully the west coasters actually know the season is starting on Saturday. Do they have sports bars in Seattle or am I going to have to find some coffeehouse to get the scores on the internet?? The only nice thing about the west coast is that I'm assuming USC will be on instead of Michigan for that 3:30 game.
Let's get to the week 1 picks (all game times in Eastern Time):
Thursday August 30, 2008NC State +12.5 at South Carolina (ESPN 8 pm)-
Matt: NC STATE +12.5
Down here in Wolfpack country everyone is really down on NC State. It's still early in his tenure there, but I don't think they can beat Spurrier in Columbia.
South Carolina 21 NC State 13
Mike: SOUTH CAROLINA -11.5
Notwithstanding the Ole Ball Coach’s poor mouthing about his offense this summer, S. Carolina’s strong defense should be able to shut down the offensively-challenged Pack handily and put up enough points at home to cover the spread with room to spare.
Doug: SOUTH CAROLINA -11.5
I kind of think NC State could be a decent team this year under Tom O'Brien, but in a packed house in front on a jacked up crowd in Columbia?? Nah. South Carolina just has more talent everywhere than NC State, and I expect them to roll in the opener.
South Carolina 27 NC State 10
Oregon State -3 at Stanford (ESPN2 9 pm) -
Matt: STANFORD +3
Gotta love the Pac-10. They just get right down to business on Week 1. I'm feeling the first upset of the season. Something about Jim Harbaugh inspires a little bit of confidence in me, so I'll pick Stanford in the mild upset.
Stanford 34 Oregon State 27
Mike: OREGON STATE -3
Hope springs eternal for Harbaugh and crew on the Farm this year, but too may question marks exist on offense against an underrated Oregon State team in the opener.
Doug: STANFORD +3
Give me the Cardinal and the points. Love Harbaugh this year. I think they are going to surprise some people. By the way, if the stadium isn't sold out for this game on Opening Night, Stanford fans should be ashamed of themselves. All those pansy Bay Area types are probably too busy playing Wii to bother with a college football game, but I'd like to see a packed house anyway.
Stanford 21 Oregon State 13
Saturday August 30, 2008
Hawaii +34.5 at Florida (ESPN GamePlan 12:30 pm) -
Matt: HAWAII +34.5
Urban puts his foot down against a June Jones and Colt Brennan-less team from the islands. Enjoy that flight home Hawaii.
Florida 49 Hawaii 17
Mike: HAWAII +34.5
Should be a laugher, but Hawaii will have enough offensive firepower and motivation to cover this enormous spread.
Doug: Hawaii +34.5
This seems like an awfully high line for a team like Hawaii that has a decent reputation, but Florida is on a mission this year. Urban has been in their ear all offseason, and I think the defense will be fixed. I think Florida wins the national title this year, so I see them getting off to a great start. Hawaii has a new QB and a new coach. Throw in about a 12 hour flight from Honolulu, and the game has blowout written all over it. Hawaii will probably score a couple tds to get the cover, but I don't expect a competitive game here.
Florida 45 Hawaii 17
USC -19.5 at Virginia (ABC 3:30 pm) -
Matt: USC -19.5
Mild intrigue at the QB position for USC. Shouldn't matter against UVA with the Trojan defense taking over.
USC 37 Virginia 13
Mike: VIRGINIA +19.5
Given USC’s injury issues and uncertainty at QB, this one should be closer than it would seem from a pure talent standpoint. I’m not expecting a squeaker, but 19.5 is too many points in an opening road game, even for the mighty Trojans.
Doug: USC - 19.5
This is a little bit of an intriguing game. USC is going to win with defense and athleticism, and I can't see UVA hanging in either area. I know it's been said a million times, but how gutsy is USC?? Opening on the road with Virginia is impressive considering the other games they have lined up.
USC 31 - 10
Utah +3.5 at Michigan (ABC 3:30 pm) -
Matt: Utah +3.5
Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2008 Michigan Wolverines! Don't sleep on the Utes and I'm on record as predicting a miserable season in Ann Arbor. They'll be lucky to get to .500
Utah 17 Michigan 14
Mike: UTAH +3.5
This may be a pure reflection of my virulent hatred for Michigan, but I think this experienced Utah team will take care of business at the Big House.
Doug: MICHIGAN -3.5
I know Utah is supposed to be good and that they are the trendy pick for the upset, but give me the Wolverines. They have been hearing the words "Appalachian State 2.0" all offseason, so I expect them to bring their "A" game against Utah. Michigan is certainly down and has a ton of new players to integrate, but I refuse to pick them to lose AT HOME to freaking Utah. I just can't do it. This is one of those games where everyone who is talking upset is cursing themselves when it is 21-3 in the second quarter, Michigan is cruising, the fans are happy, Hail to the Victors is playing every other down, and Utah has the deer in the headlights look going.
Michigan 23 Utah 17
Oklahoma State -7 vs. Washington State (at Seattle, WA) (FSN 3:30 pm) -
Interesting non-conference game. I'll admit I don't know a whole lot about Wazzu. But I know all I need to know about the Cowboys. They won't do 'everything right', but there won't be any need to 'downgrade or belittle' them after this game.
Oklahoma State 34 Wash St. 24
Mike: WASHINGTON STATE +7
Confusing line here. This seems like way too many points for a ‘Pokes program that has never shown itself to be anything but a Big 12 also-ran under coach Mike Gundy. I think the talent of these two teams is somewhat similar and the Cougs should be plenty fired up in their opener under new coach Paul Wulff in front of the (sort of) home crowd.
Doug: WASHINGTON STATE +7
On paper, is there really that much of a difference between Washington State and Oklahoma State?? Aren't they essentially the same program?? They both have occasionally good teams, but generally stick in the middle of the pack in the conference. I just don't see any reason to give Oklahoma State seven points in this game for no reason. They aren't a good enough team to get 7 points on the road. The game is in Seattle, so I expect most of the fans to be cheering for the Cougars. Both teams have good offenses, so I'm expecting a shootout.
Washington State 34 Oklahoma State 30
Appalachian State at LSU (ESPN 5 pm) - (picking winners only since there's no line)
I would love to see App State keep it close, but I just think there is going to WAY too much speed on the field for them to keep up with. Will be interesting to see how the QB situation plays out this year under The Hat
LSU 41 App State 17
I refuse to take the bait here.
My buddy Rhett might be disappointed that I'm picking the LSU Tigers over his beloved Applachian State Mountaineers, but I really can't see any way that App State pulls the shocker again. LSU is breaking in the new QB, but they are too loaded on defense and at the skill positions to lose this game. Armanti Edwards is a great player and I would not be stunned to see this game get slightly interesting, but LSU has too much talent to lose at home to App State. App State is not sneaking up on anyone this year, so I expect LSU to be ready for them.
LSU 31 Appalachian State 13
Michigan State +5 at California (ABC 8 pm) -
Matt: MICHIGAN STATE +5
Another game where I would love to pick an upset, but I think Cal finds a way to get the W at home, although Sparty covers. Don't sleep on Michigan State this year. If somehow the Buckeyes falter I think MSU will be right there at the end of the season.
Cal 34 Michigan State 31
Mike: CALIFORNIA -5
While I am generally bullish on Sparty this year, I think it’s asking too much for them to travel out West and beat a talented Cal team on the road. Cal will move the ball through the air against the Spartans’ undermanned secondary and take care of business at home.
Doug: Cal -5
I may end up regretting this pick, but I just can't take a Big 10 team in a big nonconference game until they prove to me that they are capable of doing it. Everything about this game points to MSU. They're hungry, they have veterans back in key positions, and Dantonio is a good coach.
I just can't do it though. Cal spanked Tennessee in the opener last year, and I'm assuming they are looking to prove themselves as much as Michigan State is. Cal has the firepower and weapons to put up points on anyone.
Cal 37 Michigan State 24
Alabama +5 vs. Clemson (at Atlanta, Georgia) (ABC 8 pm) -
Matt: ALABAMA +5
Game of the weekend! I would love to see both of these teams appear on ND's schedule in the near future. I'm disobeying two big rules in college football - don't underestimate a Saban coached team and don't bet on Clemson in a big game. I don't know if Clemson lives up the preseason hype - but I think for at least this week they pass their first test. Too much Cullen Harper, Spiller and Davis.
Clemson 27 Alabama 24
Mike: CLEMSON -5
I believe that Alabama will improve over this year under Saban and there are obvious concerns of whether Clemson will finally live up to its lofty expectations. Clemson, however, is the more talented team on both sides of the ball and they should be able to handle Alabama in this neutral site affair.
Doug: ALABAMA +5
Probably the one game I am most excited about this weekend. WOW. What an opener! Two heavyweights going toe to toe in the Georgia Dome. This game is going to be a war. Matt, I'm assuming that you are fired up to be living south of the Mason-Dixon line since that game will be coming on instead of Cal-MSU. Maybe Clemson is for real this year, but I'm looking at these coaching matchups and going with Bama all the way. Saban vs. Tommy Bowden with an offseason to prepare?? Give me Saban all day. Saban has now had a whole season to implement his system, and I expect to see a much better Alabama team this year. Clemson has a very experienced team that may be for real, but I just don't trust Clemson in a big game. The next big game that Tommy Bowden wins will be his first. Watch out for Alabama freshman sensation Julio Jones.
Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer!!
Alabama 21 Clemson 17
Illinois +9 vs. Missouri (at St. Louis, Missouri) (ESPN 8:30 pm) -
Matt: MISSOURI -9
I don't know why. He's a gutty player and has really been improving. But I'm just not sold on Juice Williams. I think Illinois has a nice year, but don't see them as a legitimate BCS contender.
Missouri 31 Illinois 17
Mike: MISSOURI -9
I’m not particularly comfortable laying this many points in a rivalry game against a talented opponent at a neutral site. Nonetheless, I think Chase Daniel and company will light up the scoreboard against Illinois’ defense, thus forcing the Illini offense to abandon their running game and rely upon the passing ability (or lack thereof) of Juice Williams.
Doug: Illinois +9
I'm not in love with Illinois this year, but I just can't give 9 points to Missouri against a team with comparable talent. There is no reason for Illinois to get blown out in this game. They have Juice Williams and Benn back, some of their better defensive players are back, and they played Missouri down to the wire last year. I honestly could see Illinois winning this game outright, but will take Missouri in a competitive game with the Illini covering the spread. If Illinois gets spanked in this game, the luster of the 2007 Rose Bowl season will have worn off quickly. I think 2008 is a big season for Illinois to prove that last year was not a fluke, but I'm not sure how much faith I have in Ron Zook at this point. I think he's done a real nice job, but they need to keep the momentum going this year if he's going to be successful at Illinois.
Missouri 30 Illinois 24
Washington +14 at Oregon (FSN 10 pm) -
Matt: OREGON -14
The first stop on the Tyrone Willingham Farewell Tour!
Oregon 52 Washington 27
Mike: OREGON -14
I pity Washington fans.
Doug: WASHINGTON +14
Am I crazy to pick Willingham here?? Washington is going to stink this year and probably will have many let downs, but Ty is one of those coaches who will have his guys sky high for about 3 games a year. You just have to pick those three games. Wouldn't the opener be a logical pick?? I think Willingham is going "all in" for the opener. He's had the entire offseason to think about Oregon, it's a rivalry game, and they absolutely need to get off to a good start if he's going to have a shot at saving his job. If there was ever a game for Willingham to have his guys ready, it will be this game. Jake Locker will probably be the best player on the field in this game, so he alone can keep them competitive. Oregon is breaking in some key new offensive players, so I could see Washington going to Eugene and keeping this game competitive.
For the record, if Washington plays well in this game (or dare I say, wins it), they are a mortal lock to follow it up with a complete dud the next couple weeks. That's the Willingham way.
Oregon 28 Washington 20
Sunday August 31:
Kentucky +4 at Louisville (ESPN 3:30 pm) -
Matt: KENTUCKY +4
Yikes. Two teams in their first game with new QB's. I really don't know which way to lean, but something just doesn't seem right with the Louisville program under Steve Kragthorpe. I'm going to have to see the resurgence before I go predicting big things from them.
Kentucky 27 Louisville 21
Mike: LOUISVILLE -4
Not crazy about laying the points in this Governors Cup matchup, but these are two teams that have gone in opposite directions since the end of last year. Kentucky will be starting a first-time signal caller in Mike Hartline (who would have been a backup if not for the repeated off-field transgressions of Curtis Pulley) and they will be replacing departing star players at RB, WR and TE. Although Louisville is similarly green at the skill positions, they feature a future star at QB in Hunter Cantwell and their defense should improve immediately under new defensive coordinator Ron English.
Doug: LOUISVILLE -4
The battle of Kentucky is always an entertaining game. My wife hails from Lexington, Kentucky and I do support UK sports, but I can't see Kentucky winning this game. I just don't think they'll be very good this year. Kentucky lost a lot of players, including Andre Woodson. I'm not sure about Louisville with Kragthorpe, but they probably will be hungry to win this game.
Louisville 27 Kentucky 20
Colorado State +11.5 vs. Colorado (at Denver, Colorado) (FSN 7:30 pm) -
Matt: COLORADO -11.5
Two programs headed in different directions. Where have you gone Sonny Lubick? Dan Hawkins has Colorado ready to roll.
Colorado 47 Colorado State 16
Mike: COLORADO STATE +11.5
Margins of victory in the last six CU-CSU matchups: 3, 4, 3, 3, 7, 5. I think I’ll take the points.
Doug: COLORADO STATE +11.5
Throw out the records!! Was Colorado State really that bad last year that they are 11.5 point dogs to a team that went 6-7 last year in a rivalry game on a neutral field?? I just think that's waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too many points in a rivalry game. I think Colorado is a bit of a sleeper this year, but I can't see a blowout here. Case in point, the last six Colorado-Colorado State games have been decided by 7 points or fewer. Love the Sunday night idea for this game by the way. Sonny Lubick would not be proud of what has happened to CSU football, but I still like them to cover in a wild game.
Colorado 35 Colorado State 30
Monday September 1
Fresno State +5 at Rutgers (ESPN 4 pm) -
Matt: RUTGERS -5
Really tempted to pick the Fresno upset. You know Pat Hill will have them ready to go. I just think Rutgers at home has to find a way to get it done. Probably my least confident pick of the weekend though.
Rutgers 28 Fresno 21
Mike: RUTGERS -5
Very tough game to call. Fresno returns a veteran QB, as well as plenty of other experienced players this year, and Pat Hill’s teams have shown a propensity for the upset in past years. Having said that, Rutgers possesses a talent edge on both sides of the ball and I don’t think Fresno’s defense will be able to stop Mike Teel and the Scarlet Knights’ veteran receiving corps.
Doug: FRESNO STATE +5
Always a good feeling when the team you think is going to straight up win this game is an underdog getting 5 points. Love everything about the fighting Pat Hills. They are always one of the gutsiest teams in the country when it comes to scheduling, and they have no reason to be intimidated by the pomp and circumstances on the banks of the Raritan. Big game for Rutgers. They probably need to find a way to win this one if they are going bowling this year. The post-Ray Rice era begins, but Teel is a solid QB and they have a good WR corps. I think Rutgers has done some nice things the last few years, but I can't shake the feeling that they peaked as a program two years ago and now are on the downswing. Fresno has just as much talent as Rutgers, and I seem them bouncing back this year from a disappointing 2007 season. Give me Fresno in this one.
Fresno 24 Rutgers 23
Tennessee -7 at UCLA (ESPN 8 pm)
Matt: Tennessee -7
You've got to give Phil Fulmer a little credit because this is the second year in a row they've headed west to play a Pac-10 team. I think this year fly home happier than the trip home from Berkeley last year.
Tennessee 31 UCLA 21
Mike: UCLA +7
Another tough one. UCLA has been beset by injuries, especially at QB where Kevin Craft will be starting his first college game. Moreover, Tennessee features a strong offensive line and a stable of dynamic skill position players. Vols will be starting a first time QB on the road and many defensive newcomers, however, and I expect the Bruins to be well prepared in their debut for coach Neuheisel and his excellent coordinators, Norm Chow and DeWayne Walker. Tennessee will have the better team over the course of the season, but there is too much inexperience to lay 7 points on the road.
Doug: TENNESSEE -7
I really want to pick UCLA in this one and probably would have if Olsen hadn't been injured, but I can't do it if they are going to be starting one of those stiff backups that played against ND last year. UCLA is on the rise with Neuheisel and Norm Chow, but Tennessee has a lot of players back and should be looking to make a statement. I'll admit that I don't trust Phil Fulmer here and that UCLA could easily win this game, but I feel like Tennessee has too much at stake to blow this game. If they play up to their capabilities, the Vols should roll.
Tennessee 24 UCLA 10