Football season really snuck up on me!! There were actually a few college games last weekend, but I didn’t realize it until the night before. I suppose I’m a little out of practice since we took a break from these picks a year ago. Thankfully those games, which ESPN called Week Zero (seriously), weren’t anything…notable. But this week?? Folks, we have interesting matchups from Thursday to Sunday, which is great since our local Italian Heritage Festival…a northcentral WV tradition for over four decades…has been cancelled for the second straight year due to The Sickness and I suddenly find myself with no weekend plans other than watching football. A big shoutout to my nephew Zach who will once again be doing picks with me this season. Two years ago he ended the season with a .500 record of 52-52, while I was 61-43. Zach has already called his shot and predicted that he’ll best me this season. We’ll see.
Boise State at Central Florida (-5)
Neither team is really in the “Group of 5” spotlight anymore, and both are probably praying they’ll get invited to “move up” in the upcoming conference realignment chaos. The Broncos finished 5-2, skipped out on bowl season, and their head coach bolted for Auburn. New head coach Andy Avalos was a longtime Boise St. assistant before spending last season as the defensive coordinator at Oregon. After three straight 10+ win seasons (including going undefeated in 2017) UCF fell to 6-4 a year ago, including a bowl loss to BYU. UCF gets the home field bump in this Thursday night game, but I think Boise comes into town and steals a win for their new coach. Zach concurs, predicting a high scoring affair in which the Broncos’ ground game makes the difference.
My Pick: Boise St.
Z’s Pick: Boise St.
Ohio State (-13.5) at Minnesota
I have defending CFP runner-up Ohio St. as my preseason #1, while Zach despises them with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns. The Gophers had won bowl games in 4 out of the previous 5 seasons before last year’s pedestrian 3-4 campaign. I’m not holding anything bad that happened a season ago against anyone, so there is reason to believe that they could be a winning team once again…but Minnesota isn’t beating the Buckeyes. The points make me a bit nervous, but I think the favorites roll big & cover easily. This is also a Thursday night game. Zach doesn’t think Ohio St. will have any issues replacing departed QB Justin Fields, and they may even get into the playoff again…but will choke once they arrive. As far as this game, he calls the Gophers scrappy and believes they could stay close for atleast a half, but at the end of the day the favorites will win.
My Pick: Ohio St.
Z’s Pick: Ohio St.
North Carolina (-5.5) at Virginia Tech
The Tar Heels are a Top 10 team according to some polls, but not mine. I think they’ll have a nice season, but they aren’t winning the ACC. The Hokies haven’t had a 10 win season since 2016, and a year ago they finished 5-6. How’s that move to the ACC working out for them?? I know Tech has the home field, and strange things happen at Lane Stadium after dark, but I foresee a blowout for the favorites on Friday night. Like myself, Zach has doubts about Carolina’s playoff worthiness, but thinks they’ll be pretty good. He believes this will be a closer game than I do, but still predicts the Heels will cover.
My Pick: UNC
Z’s Pick: UNC
Stanford at Kansas State (-2.5)
The Wildcats have been getting some pre-season love and should be in the top half of the Big 12 after finishing 4-6 a year ago. Meanwhile, Stanford feels like a forgotten team in the Pac 12, which seems unfair. Putting aside last year’s 4-8 finish, Stanford had won 9+ games eight of the previous nine seasons. Kansas St. has the home field, but I think it’ll be a comfortable win for the visitors. Zach recalls that Kansas St. oftentimes begins the season strong before fading away, but thinks Stanford’s size & strength will make the difference.
My Pick: Stanford
Z’s Pick: Stanford
Penn State at Wisconsin (-5.5)
This might end up being one of the best games of the (real) opening weekend. After winning 11 games in three of the previous four seasons the Nittany Lions were a pedestrian 4-5 in 2020, but I’m not concerned at all. The Badgers had won 10+ games in five of the previous six seasons until last year when they were 4-3. Both teams will be looking to put a forgettable season behind them, and I look for both to be successful in that endeavor. The loser here is behind the proverbial 8-Ball right out of the gate though, and I think that’ll be Penn St. Look for Wisconsin to run the ball a lot and their offensive line to wear out the opposing defense before surging to victory in the 4th quarter. Zach concurs.
My Pick: Wisconsin
Z’s Pick: Wisconsin
Fresno State at Oregon (-21)
The Ducks are my pre-season #3, and if they’re going to get the playoff committee’s attention a dominant victory in the season opener would be a good start. Fresno seems to have a solid team more often than not, but they’re not winning this game. Can Oregon cover the points?? I think so. Conversely, Zach foresees first game jitters for Oregon being just enough to allow Fresno to keep things closer than three TDs.
My Pick: Oregon
Z’s Pick: Fresno St.
Alabama (-18.5) vs. Miami (FL)
There was a time when this would have been the top matchup of the week. Unfortunately ‘Bama has simply gotten too good (and boring), while the ‘Canes aren’t the powerhouse they once were. Still though, given the storied history of both programs, if we close our eyes and use our imagination we might be able to fool ourselves into believing this is a game awash in nostalgia & greatness. The truth?? As decent as Miami has been lately they’ve only gotten to nine wins three times in the past decade and The Tide will roll in Atlanta. Can they cover the points?? Sure. I think Alabama wins by three TDs. Zach is a big Nick Saban fan and thinks the favorites pull away in the second half for a comfortable win.
My Pick: Alabama
Z’s Pick: Alabama
Georgia vs Clemson (-4)
This is the best game of the weekend. Both teams have legit playoff hopes. The Dawgs face a formidable schedule and will need to beat Alabama in the SEC title game. Conversely, this is the toughest game of the season for Clemson until they get to the ACC Championship. It won’t be easy, but I believe Georgia waltzes into Charlotte, NC and steals a late victory via turnover or some kind of special teams wackiness. Zach also thinks it will be close, but foresees Clemson winning by a touchdown in the last three minutes of game.
My Pick: Georgia
Z’s Pick: Clemson
Notre Dame (-7) at Florida State
Since the NFL doesn’t begin their season until next week this is a Sunday night game, which is cool. Can the Seminoles regain some semblance of their former glory after being a dumpster fire the past few years?? I’m not sure whether or not that’ll happen, but if so it won’t be in this game. The Irish have their eyes on another 10+ win season, something they have accomplished five out of the past eight years, including a playoff appearance a year ago. I predict more of the same in 2021, including an easy win in this one. Zach concurs.
My Pick: Notre Dame
Z’s Pick: Notre Dame