Annnnnnndddd we’re back!! Football has returned, and so have my nephew Zach & myself to prove that we’re just as smart as the talking heads on ESPN & other sports news outlets. The goal is simple for me my friends…to make it thru the season. Last year we didn’t get past Week 10 because I ended up spending the latter half of November, all of December, & the first part of January in the hospital. There are moments in life when one is faced with obstacles and what matters becomes clear. In the grand scheme of things I understand that this blog, these picks, and football games in general don’t mean a whole lot, but I am so blessed & grateful to be able to exercise my creative juices and embrace my love of something as ultimately frivolous as sports. It may seem silly to some, and I have several friends who’ll spend their weekends doing a hundred other things before watching a ballgame even crosses their mind. That’s cool…but I am totally psyched about spending the next five months of weekends engrossed in one of the most awesome forms of entertainment on the planet. If you have entered The Manoverse to check out these picks I assume we’re in agreement on that.
As usual college football starts before the NFL, but fortunately the playoff system has forced teams to re-evaluate their schedule strength. Back in the old days (just a few years ago) we’d be lucky to get even a few watchable, competitive games in the first couple weeks of the season. However, now the powers-that-be recognize the importance of coming out of the gate with a bang and grabbing some attention, so there are a plethora of games on tap that are worthy of attention. We’ll settle into our normal routine of picking five games next week, but will get things started with some bonus picks. As always I remind you that we are just fans and claim no intimate insider knowledge. Also, point spreads are included only to add a layer of intrigue & strategery. We are not here to encourage or endorse gambling, although what y’all do with your disposable income is your choice. Enjoy.
Oklahoma (-10.5) vs. Houston
I have the Sooners as my pre-season #2, with Houston also in the Top 10. This game is being played at the home stadium of the NFL’s Houston Texans rather than the Cougars’ normal home field, which shouldn’t make a difference one way or another except that there will be 70k in the stands versus 40k. Houston, TX is over 400 miles away from Norman, OK, so I assume there will be a distinct fan partiality for the underdogs. I suppose that there are those who feel like there is a legitimate chance for an upset. I am not one of those people. So then the question becomes whether or not Oklahoma will cover the points. I don’t anticipate that will be an issue. If Houston can stay within three TDs then finish the remainder of the season without another loss they still might be a solid Top 10 team. Zach believes this game will be a blowout win for the Sooners.
My Pick: Oklahoma
Z’s Pick: Oklahoma
UCLA at Texas A&M (-3)
The Bruins return QB Josh Rosen from a solid yet underachieving 9-5 team last season. However they lost RB Paul Perkins & LB Myles Jack to the NFL. Is Rosen the next Andrew Luck?? Or is he the next Jimmy Clausen?? I’m willing to bet he’s closer to the former than the latter. The bigger concern is UCLA’s defense, which gave up anywhere from 31-56 points in those five losses in 2015. The Aggies have the nominal home field point advantage, but I suspect that in reality the benefit will be greater. A&M’s QB situation has been interesting the past few years. 2015 starter Kyler Murray transferred to Oklahoma and will be the Sooners’ signal caller this season. Kenny Hill, who began 2014 as the top QB in College Station, transferred last year and will be the starter for the TCU Horned Frogs. Last season at A&M Murray lost his job to Kyle Allen, who has now transferred to Houston. So who is starting for A&M behind center?? Well…that’d be Trevor Knight, who was Oklahoma’s starter in 2014 before losing the job last year to Baker Mayfield, who had transferred to Oklahoma from Texas Tech. I think I have all of that straight. I don’t know…my head is spinning a bit. At any rate, I am looking for this to be a high scoring, close game, but I like the Aggies to win & cover. Zach not only doesn’t agree about the outcome, but is oddly unenthusiastic about watching this game.
My Pick: Texas A&M
Z’s Pick: UCLA
Georgia (-2.5) vs. North Carolina
The Bulldogs have a new head coach for the first time in 15 years. Mark Richt has moved on to Miami, FL, and former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart takes over the reins in Athens. Georgia is coming off a 10-3 finish last season and RB Nick Chubb returns after missing the latter half of 2015 with a knee injury. I suspect that Smart will have the defense ready to rock & roll, but I have questions about the state of Chubb’s recovery and what else Georgia has on offense if they are unable to completely rely on their star running back. The Tar Heels had a fine 11-3 season last year, but must start anew at the quarterback position. However they do return most of last year’s contributors elsewhere, including WR Ryan Switzer & RB Elijah Hood, who is a 6ft. 220lb. hoss. This is a “neutral” site game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, meaning it’s not really all that neutral. Despite that fact I’m going to roll the dice and pick the upset. Kirby Smart doesn’t have Nick Saban around anymore, and I think it might take him some time to grow into his new role. Zach thinks special teams will be the key, and he is picking the upset as well.
My Pick: North Carolina
Z’s Pick: North Carolina
Notre Dame (-3.5) at Texas
Charlie Strong’s critical season begins with a huge game against a tough opponent, but fortunately for the Longhorns the game is in Austin. The Irish lost over a dozen players to the NFL. It looks like they’ll be giving time behind center to both QBs DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire, who missed most of last season with a broken ankle. But who will they be throwing or handing off to, and who’ll be protecting them?? And can the defense find new stars to replace those that have moved on?? Texas is in the third year of the Strong era, and the first two haven’t gone well. 6-7 & 5-7 doesn’t cut it in the Lone Star State folks. But here a fantastic opportunity presents itself…a non-conference game at home against a much heralded team that must replace a huge chunk of their roster and may not be on solid footing early on. Word on the street is that Texas will be starting a hotshot freshman QB. Heck…why not?? Nothing else has worked. This could be considered a must-win for Texas, as the Big 12 (which has ten teams) schedule is usually always tough. It’s probably not the wise choice, but I’m rolling with another upset here. Zach thinks that Notre Dame’s on-field changes & off-field issues will catch up to them and once again is picking the upset.
My Pick: Texas
Z’s Pick: Texas
LSU (-10) vs. Wisconsin
Leonard Fournette. Learn it. Love it. You’ll be hearing the name a lot this year. The Tigers’ RB begins the season as the early Heisman favorite after racking up 22 TDs and almost 2000 yards rushing in 2015. Unfortunately three late season losses and a poor showing against Alabama (31 yards, 1 TD) doomed his Heisman chances and his team’s season. The opener is another “neutral” site game that isn’t neutral, as it is being played on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field in Green Bay. Well okay…I think it’s safe to assume the weather conditions in early September won’t be quite so chilly. At any rate, the Badgers are coming off a solid 10-3 season, and tough opening games aren’t anything new for them. In 2015 they lost to Alabama and in 2014 it was a close loss to…LSU. I don’t think the pattern will be broken this year, and I don’t believe the Bayou Bengals will have any problem covering the points. Zach sees LSU as a serious national title contender.
My Pick: LSU
Z’s Pick: LSU
Arizona (-1) vs. BYU
The Wildcats finished 2015 with a mediocre 6-6 record, with a lot of high scoring games for both they & their opponents. The Pac 12 is a brutally tough conference, which makes it essential to win non-conference games. BYU is an independent, and their schedule is probably one of the toughest in the nation. This was the case last season as well and the Cougars finished an impressive 9-4. Three of those losses were by a total of 13 points. They play atleast seven teams who could challenge for a Top 25 ranking, although it looks to be a frontloaded docket, meaning if they can get to November with a decent record they’ll have an opportunity to finish strong. I don’t know enough about either team to intelligently analyze the rosters, so this is a total vibe game, and I’m going with the underdogs. Zach believes in Rich Fraudriguez’s spread offense and looks for the ‘Cats to put up some big passing numbers.
My Pick: BYU
Z’s Pick: Arizona
USC vs. Alabama (-10.5)
This is a big one…or atleast it should be. A matchup pitting two of college football’s most decorated programs against each other in Week 1 would have been unheard of not long ago. Having said that, one must ponder whether Southern Cal can currently claim that elite status. After records of 7-6, 9-4, 9-4, & 7-6 the last few years there is no doubt that the Trojans have been good…but not that good. Meanwhile, as we all know, the Tide has rolled to four national titles in nine seasons in the Nick Saban era. If ‘Bama loses more than one game it is major news. That’s got to end at some point, right?? I don’t know…we’ll see. This is a true neutral site game at the Palace in Dallas, so I’m not sure either team will have a notable crowd advantage. Until I see some significant chinks in the armor I can’t go against Alabama. They’ll have a tough time getting thru a super strong SEC unblemished, but I think they’ll easily win & cover this game. Zach concurs, predicting a 35 point win for ‘Bama.
My Pick: Alabama
Z’s Pick: Alabama