Without further ado, we finally have some games to dissect...
Pitt (+3) @ Utah
Dan: Utah (-3) LOCK OF THE WEEK
While Bill Stull has moved on, Dion Lewis and Jon Baldwin return to help the new quarterback Tino Sunseri (what a name!) ease into his start role. However, traveling to Utah for your first start is not an easy task. Given a lack of improvements on the defensive side of the ball (remember that Cincy game last year?), and this game could be a high scoring affair. Any time you are looking at a game with a total score in the 60s or 70s, you have to like the home team, particularly with a road QB making his first start. Look for a late game changing error by the young Sunseri to lead to a narrow Utah victory.
Utah 38 Pitt 31
Jeremy: Utah (-2.5)
Even if this moves up to 3 by kickoff, I’m still taking the Utes. Pitt is a sexy pick to win the Big East this year, but here’s betting that Wannstedt finds a way to muck it up somehow. Pitt can generate some serious pressure off the edge with Romeus and Sheard (assuming he plays after pulling a Charles Barkley at an art gallery), but Utah finds a way to neutralize the speed rush by using the middle of the field. Dion Lewis may run wild, but the Panthers can’t convert in the red zone and Utah banks a solid W to open the season. Kudos to Pitt for scheduling a tough road opener. Nice preview of some future Irish opponents.
Utah 23 Pitt 16
Jimmy: Utah (-3)
In a rematch of the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, Pitt would like to make amends for the butt-whooping administered by Urban Meyer and future #1 overall bust, Alex Smith. Though I think the Panthers will have a fine team and likely finish as the Big East representative in the BCS, the Utes are a better team. Especially at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Dion Lewis will be a load to stop in the backfield, but a new quarterback behind center should prompt Kyle Wittingham to stack the box with 8 or 9 players and force Wannstedt to beat them through the air. If it’s close, I trust Wittingham over Wanny every day of the week.
Utah 31 Pitt 21
Is this the year that it all comes together for Pitt. They’ll be replacing Stull at QB but return playmakers Dion Lewis and Jonathan Baldwin on offense, so there shouldn’t be any real dropoff there. If they are to take the leap from run of the mill team to a true national storyline, they really need to be beating the likes of Utah, even if it is on the road. I will take Pitt on the road to get off to a good start and get the outright road win.
Pitt 24 Utah 20
Mike: Utah (-3) - LOCK OF THE WEEK
Many prognosticators are high on Pitt this season, but I expect the Panthers to fall far short of expectations for several reasons. Although several impact players return on offense (Lewis, Baldwin) and defense (Romeus, Sheard) for Pitt, the Panthers have more questions than answers this year, particularly at the QB, DT and DB positions. More importantly, Wanny is still the coach, which is always cause for extreme concern.
For this game, I expect Utah’s veteran tailback duo, Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide, to neutralize Pitt’s ability to rush the passer. On the other side of the ball, the Utes should be able to pressure Pitt’s Tino Sunseri, who will be making his first career start at QB, into multiple mistakes en route to a relatively comfortable win.
Utah 28 Pittsburgh 16
Connecticut (+3) @ Michigan
Dan: Connecticut (+3)
The Huskies style of play will keep this game close. They like to run the ball and run it often. Additionally, UM has some question marks on defense with the loss of Brandon Graham and the shift to the 3-3-5. Expect the change in defensive philosophies to cause some miscues and lead to some big plays for the Husky offense. Additionally, I don’t think waiting until the start of the game to name your starting QB inspires much confidence or does it do anyone any good. I like UM to have a decent year in the Big 10, but it could be a rough start out of the gate.
Connecticut 21 UM 20
Jeremy: Michigan (-3)
My heart wants to take UCONN, but my head says that the Wolverines get a big W to open the season. The Michigan defense (particularly the secondary) may be laughably terrible, but that offense is going to put some points on the board. The Huskies can’t keep up with the torrid pace set by Denard Robinson and Michigan gets Rich Rod a big home opener win. Consider me nervous for that Week 2 matchup in South Bend.
Michigan 31 UCONN 21
Jimmy: Connecticut (+3)
Ann Arborites will be experiencing flashbacks to the nightmarish 2007 home opener. Connecticut isn’t stunning anyone like Appalachian State, but the Huskies are still a little under-appreciated. DickRod may have had Randy Edsall’s number while at West Virginia, but UConn has improved steadily in the last 3 years. They play disciplined, smash mouth football, a recipe for an opening day upset.
I’m curious to hear if the redesigned Big House, featuring luxury boxes and club seats and a capacity bump to 109,901, will make for a more imposing environment. Generally boxes and club levels create more of a stale atmosphere, but they claim the design will be noisier. Consider me a doubting Thomas to this “greater advantage” rhetoric as it sounds like the administration is trying to rationalize the $226 Million price tag. I’d love nothing better than for UConn to hush the crowd on the first drive with a prolonged 14-play march towards 7. I think the Huskie win this outright and DickRod's seat becomes habanero hot.
UConn 30 Michigan 24
Matt: Michigan (-3)
There really isn’t a game this opening weekend with more riding on it for a program than UConn’s visit to the newly renovated Big House. If Michigan loses this one, then presumably loses next weekend in South Bend, that’s it - the Rich Rod era is over. The program will stay stuck in a state of turmoil. Having said that, I am riding nothing more than a gut feeling that Michigan begins to take steps in the right direction this year. All reports are that Denard Robinson has dramatically improved as a passer, and there is no denying he has the wheels to wreak havoc on a defense.
I will say that I was thoroughly impressed with UConn’s program last year after their visit to ND last year. They’re rarely going to outtalent or outathlete their opponent, but just very well coached and a dynamic running game. But I don’t think they win this weekend.
Michigan 32 UConn 27
Mike: Connecticut (+3)
Like Pittsburgh, Connecticut seems to be receiving an inflated amount of hype this season. For some reason, this Husky team has been widely billed as Randy Edsall’s “best team ever” (which, as an aside, is akin to being labeled as “best episode of the Brian Benben show”), despite having an inexperienced secondary, a thin defensive line and a QB, Zach Frazer, who has shown few signs of competence thus far.
Nonetheless, UConn looks downright stellar compared to Michigan, which has a secondary bereft of talent, a former walk-on fullback starting at linebacker and no talented running backs. Given the lack of skill and depth for the Wolverines, coupled with the lingering questions about Rich Rodriguez’s future, there is a distinct possibility that Michigan will suffer a full scale Sparty-like implosion this season, which would warm my heart. Anyway, look for Connecticut to grind out a victory by running the ball effectively against an undermanned Wolverine defense, picking its spots against the Michigan secondary and forcing a few mistakes from the scatter-armed Denard Robinson.
Connecticut 28 Michigan 20
Dan: TCU (- 13.5)
Thirteen points is a huge spread for a non-BCS team against a generally underrated Oregon State squad. However, the various strengths of TCU really line up well against the weaknesses of Oregon State. Oregon State will be starting a new quarterback against an aggressive, blitzing defense in what is essentially a road game at Cowboy Stadium. Additionally, TCU returns its veteran quarterback, Andy Dalton, who should have an opportunity to pick apart the Beavers’ questionable pass defense. Additionally TCU’s strong rush defense should help contain Jacquizz Rodgers. Look for the Horn Frogs to begin another campaign on the hunt for a BCS bid.
TCU 31 Oregon State 17
Jeremy: Oregon St. (+13.5) – LOCK OF THE WEEK
This line is absurd. TCU is solid and very well may run the table, but are the oddsmakers really giving them this much respect this early in the season? Shocking. The Rodgers boys keep this game close, but the Horned Frogs get a late FG to put it out of reach.
TCU 20 Oregon St. 17
Jimmy: Oregon St. (+13.5) – LOCK OF THE WEEK
Giving credit where credit is due, TCU had a great 2009 season, playing dominant ball, especially on defense. Gary Patterson has good momentum with the Horned Frog program. But this is a lot of points to be giving an above-average BCS school, in the first game of the season no less. Even with the graduation of my second favorite Canfield of all time, Oregon State has offensive firepower that has had all preseason to scheme ways to penetrate the Purple Daze (does this unit have a nickname? Any TCU readers out there?). Led by the sensational WR James Rodgers (I’m obliged to tout my namesake as a viable Heisman candidate all season, even if he misspells his last name) and his equally electrifying twin Jacquizz, the Beavers will find themselves in plenty of shootouts. This game in "neutral" Cowboy Stadium won’t be a Pac-10 type barn burner, but the first game jitters generally lead to close contests among similarly talented schools. TCU wins, but this is one of the more entertaining games of the day.
TCU 28 Oregon State 24
Matt: Oregon State (+13.5)
Hmm, this line seems a little too high for me. I know the game is in Texas, but its in cavernous Jerry World that will reportedly be half full, so not a daunting road environment for OSU. Oregon State is a notoriously slow starter under Mike Riley. If the seemingly timeless Sean Canfield were still under center, I would be tempted to pick the Beavers for an outright win, but with a new QB going up against TCU’s vaunted defense, I think the Frogs pull out a tight one.
TCU 17 Oregon State 14
Mike: Oregon State (+13.5)
Considering Oregon State’s early season track record, an upset seems unlikely here. Still, the Beavers always have a solid defense and they should have plenty of offensive firepower this year with the return of James and Jacquizz Rodgers. As for TCU, the departures of several impact players on the defensive side of the ball, especially Jerry Hughes, should result in a slightly weaker squad than last year’s 12-1 team. In this game, however, the Horned Frogs defense will have the benefit of facing a young QB, Ryan Katz, who will be making his first start before a pro-TCU crowd in Arlington. The Beavers will eventually hit their stride in conference play as usual, but Katz’s inexperience will prove to be too much to overcome in this game.
Texas Christian 21 Oregon State 13
North Carolina (+3) vs. LSU (Atlanta)
Dan: LSU (-3)
I do not plan on gambling on this game. Far too much uncertainty regarding the ongoing investigations at UNC. We know Austin is out. But we don’t know about Greg Little, Bruce Carter, Robert Quinn, and others. There are now reports saying UNC could face “multiple suspensions”. If that is the case, LSU at -2 could be a bargain. But LSU has their own issues, starting with the fact that Jordan Jefferson is still their quarterback. His inconsistency really handcuffs LSU’s offense. For now, I expect a low-scoring affair with LSU pulling off the cover.
LSU 14 UNC 10
Jeremy: LSU (-3)
This line is going to keep moving in LSU’s favor with the news that Marvin Austin is out. The Heels have been the darling of the offseason, at least in the ACC, with far too many breathless articles circulating about their talent on defense. Smells like a perfect recipe for disappointment, especially considering that UNC hasn’t fielded a competent offense since Mack Brown left for Austin. Les Miles’ job might be in serious jeopardy, but he staves off the rumors for at least another week with a big opening weekend win.
LSU 21 UNC 3
Jimmy: LSU (-3)
An attractive matchup for the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic (as it’s apparently now known as) in Atlanta. Of all the “neutral” games this week, this promises to be the Swiss standard, unless rabid LSU fans buyout all the UNC faithful. I was high on the Tar Heels coming into the year, but the tenuous situation with key players committing NCAA violations begs for a wait-and-see approach. Marvin Austin is already suspended indefinitely. Butch Davis has great talent on both sides of the ball, but how the team reacts and rallies without one of its leaders will be telling. Speaking of talent, nobody questions how much is on the LSU roster. It’s more a question of will Les Miles and staff make the most of it. I like the Bayou Bengals to roar out of the gate and turn some heads. We’ll see if they can sustain success all season.
LSU 26 UNC 13
Matt: LSU (-3)
If you look up turmoil in the dictionary, there is undoubtedly a picture of Butch Davis or Marvin Austin or at least a mention of the UNC football program. Talk about a team that has had to deal with distractions the past few weeks. And the agent talk has now turned to academic problems, which is never a good sign. Something tells me this is not going to end well for the program with the NCAA snooping around. On the other sideline, LSU and soon to be embattled coach Les Miles are not exactly a picture of serenity, but they should be up to the challenge having been written off by many going into the season. You want a bold prediction: Jordan Jefferson will be the best QB in the SEC West not named Mallett this year. I sense ‘the leap’ coming for him. Sorry if that offends all you Cam Newton fans, but that year of experience that Jefferson gained last year could prove invaluable.
LSU 20 UNC 13
Mike: LSU (-3)
For most of the summer, I believed that North Carolina would win this game. After all, UNC, with its loaded defense, looked like a potential breakout team in 2010 under Butch Davis, whereas the bumbling Les Miles has started to look like the second coming of Larry Coker in the last two years. In light of the turmoil surrounding UNC, which could be forced to play without many of its top players in this game due to NCAA rules violations, I simply cannot pick the Tar Heels to win this game. Moreover, even assuming that UNC is at full strength, the Bayou Bengals still have the overall talent edge, especially on offense. In a game where points will likely be at a premium, Miles will earn a much needed victory to keep the fan base at bay…at least for a week or two, that is.
LSU 13 North Carolina 3Virginia Tech (+2.5) vs. Boise State (Washington DC)
Dan: Virginia Tech (+2.5)
Don’t expect this to look like your typical Virginia Tech game. The Hokies must replace most of their starting defense from last year, while returning a high-octane offense led by Tyrod Taylor. However, Boise State returns 21 (!!) starters from last year’s undefeated squad with a reputation for an extremely disciplined defense that shut down mobile quarterbacks last year (Masoli, Kaepernick). Given that, expect Virignia Tech to try and control the trenches and play smash mouth football up the middle. Boise has been susceptible to that in the past. Throw in that despite Chris Peterson’s best efforts, I find it hard to believe the lofty pre-season ranking won’t go to Boise State’s collective heads a little bit. I think they may very well wins this game, but for now I’m putting my faith in Frank Beamer. Either way it will be a close game.
Virginia Tech 21 Boise State 20
Consider me firmly saddled to the last seat on the Boise bandwagon. I love what Frank Beamer does year in and year out in Hokie-land, but the Broncs are the better team and Tech has no answer for that high powered Boise offense. Kellen Moore throws for 3 TDs and the Broncos shock the Hokies with a huge win in front of a partisan DC crowd.
Boise St. 27 Va Tech 13
Jimmy: Boise State (-2.5)
If I’m bathing, showering and swimming laps in the Notre Dame bluengold-ade this fall, I’m at least shotgunning the Boise State orange-ade. No coach does a finer job of preparing his team for a big game with a few weeks time than Chris Petersen. The Broncos will be more than ready for Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Williams & Co. Expect to see some trickeration as Kellen Moore leads a weapons-rich Boise offense against Bud Foster’s Lunch Pail defense. The quest for the holy crystal ball makes an emphatic statement Monday night with the nation's attention squarley on them.
Boise St. 33 Virginia Tech 28
Matt: Boise State (-2.5)
Wow, game of the weekend, other than the Irish of course. It’s not often we find out in Week 1 of a college season whether a team is a national championship contender or not, but that’s exactly what we’ll know about Boise State after Monday. If they can come across the country, play a de facto road game against a national program with a fierce defense, they’ll earn national respect the likes of which no non-BCS team has ever garnered.
As for the game, the obvious matchup to watch is Kellen Moore against the Bud Foster led defense. However, interestingly enough, the Broncos actually ran it more than they passed it last year, and on the other side of the field the Hokies should have their most potent offense since the Mike Vick years. In other words, this game should be fascinating from all aspects. I just think that Boise State is a better team, better program right now. Would I be surprised if they got smacked down like the last time they came east against Georgia: mildly, but then again it is Boise State. But I think that program has progressed enough, recruited enough and is well coached enough that they can win this game and begin a national championship run. We’ll see…
Boise State 24 Virginia Tech 20
Mike: Virginia Tech (+2.5)
With two talented teams and no shortage of intriguing story lines, this is the marquee matchup of the weekend. From a talent standpoint, Boise has a slight edge on offense with Kellen Moore, who may be the nation’s finest quarterback, and a talented group of veteran backs and receivers. For the first time in recent memory, however, Virginia Tech appears to have an explosive offensive attack as well, though some might question whether its offensive coordinator, Bryan Stinespring, is capable of presiding over a top flight offense. On defense, there is no doubt that Bud Foster will mold the Hokies into an elite unit, as is his wont. The Broncos should be strong on defense as well, although they may suffer from the loss of their coordinator, Justin Wilcox, who left Boise to join Derek Dooley in Tennessee.
These two teams are very evenly matched, but I like Virginia Tech for three reasons: (1) venue, (2) special teams and (3) psychology. The first two are self-evident but, with regard to (3), there is more pressure on Boise than Virginia Tech. If Tech loses this game, they could still accomplish plenty this season by winning the ACC. By contrast, if Boise loses, they have no chance at the national title and a slim chance of making another BCS bowl. As such, I give the edge to Tech in this early season classic.
Virginia Tech 31 Boise State 27
Bonus Sleeper Picks:
Dan: Marshall @ OHIO STATE (-28.5)
Tressel ball generally doesn’t result in blow-outs. But a new coach and complete physical mismatches all over the field yields an ugly start for the new Herd Coach. Terrell Pryor begins his Heisman hopeful campaign with a bang.
OSU 41 Marshall 10
Jeremy: Washington @ BYU (-3)
Let me go head and stand up on my soapbox for a minute. Kudos to BYU for taking the independence plunge. Come on in boys, the water’s fine. Great to see that Swarbrick has already stepped up to the plate with an apparent 6-game deal looming in the future. Perhaps the rumors are true that ND, Texas and BYU were engaged in some serious back-room type conversations during all this re-alignment mess to take care of each other in the future.
As for this game, I love me some Bronco Mendenhall. Think he’s one of the rising stars in the NCAA coaching profession. I also love me some Steve Sarkisian, and I’m sure the trip back to Provo is pulling on his heartstrings a bit. He’ll do great things at UW, but the Cougs are too much this year and win on a late TD. Remember the name Jake Heaps. Charlie Weis thought he would be the next Jimmy Clausen. He’s already threatening to move into the starting role as a freshman. He just might break every BYU passing record before he’s done.
BYU 23 Washington 17
Jimmy: NORTHWESTERN (-5.5) @ Vanderbilt
The Big 10 matches wits with the SEC in what might as well be dubbed the "Quiz Bowl." In Pat Fitzgerald I trust, even if he lost the starting QB who nearly led the Wildcats to a terrific Outback upset vs. Auburn on January 1st. The Wildcats spread offense will keep ticking with QB Dan Persa, RB Arby Fields and TE Drake Dunsmore (a 1st teamer on the All-Name team). The Commodores are still scrambling from the fallout of Bobby Johnson resigning in mid-July. First-time head coach Robbie Caldwell will have his hands full learning on the job in the SEC. The Wildcats won’t make his learning curve any easier.
Northwestern 31 Vanderbilt 14
Matt: UCLA @ KANSAS STATE (-1.5)
If Chad Millman and Teddy Covers are concerned about UCLA’s offensive line, then so am I! A lot of injuries for the Bruins, combined with a road trip to Manhattan, spells 0-1 for me.
KSU 35 UCLA 31
Mike: KENTUCKY (-3) @ Louisville
Although this game will be played in Papa Johns Stadium, I expect that there will be plenty of Big Blue fans in attendance for the Governor’s Cup. This game is a bit difficult to handicap because both teams have a new head coach this year, but Kentucky has a significant edge in talent over Louisville. Accordingly, I think this will be a somewhat easy task for the visiting Wildcats, even in a rivalry game.
Kentucky 28 Louisville 10
Stay tuned for Notre Dame picks tomorrow!