2021 PIGSKIN PICKS OF PROFUNDITY…WEEK 1

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

2019 College Football Pre-Season Top 25

First things first…I am indeed aware that the college football season begins tonight when the Miami Hurricanes visit the Florida Gators. I usually get these rankings published earlier in August, but…well, that didn’t happen. You’re not interested in my excuses and I’m not really into making any, so we’ll just go with the flow. I don’t think the Canes’ nor the Gators will factor significantly into how things play out, so it’s all good. We know that out of 130 FBS football teams only 65 “power” conference teams (including “independent” Notre Dame) have any shot at the national title, and this season it feels like it’s a ten team race at best. As a fan I am still entertained by watching games, but I have to admit that the foregone conclusion that the playoff has become sort of harshes my football buzz. I need underdogs. I need upsets. I need some semblance of parity. I need a little variety from year to year. One of the charms of college football has always been that each season players graduate and new players come in, which means that every year is different…except nowadays its seems like nothing much changes. There have always been dominant programs, but there were still cycles wherein some teams would rise for a couple of years while others fell off a bit. That yin & yang was part of the fun. I hope that happens this season. I hope a team or two that everyone expects to win a lot of games unexpectedly loses a few. I hope a few teams that no one sees coming win 10+ games and challenge for conference titles. I hope…but I won’t hold my breath. Still, it’s nice to have football back.

 

 

 

25        Virginia Tech

Last Season:     6-7

Key Games:     10/5 @Miami, 11/2 @Notre Dame, 11/23 vs. Pitt

This season will go one of two ways for the Hokies. Either they’ll have another miserable losing season and head coach Justin Fuentes will be on the hot seat…or they’ll rebound with 8 or 9 wins and have a legit shot to win a conference title in a rather weak ACC. Obviously I lean toward the latter scenario.

 

 

24        Auburn

Last Season:     8-5

Key Games:     8/31 vs. Oregon, 9/21 @Texas A&M, 11/16 vs. Georgia, 11/30 vs. Alabama

Here’s the thing about the SEC. Atleast half the conference is going to get some attention from the talking heads early in the season because…well, that’s just how it is. Heck, I have five SEC teams in these rankings, and that’s me being conservative. But logic dictates that only a couple of those teams will really be elite. The rest will either fall flat & have disappointing seasons or fall short a few times and end up with a solid 8 or 9 win season. I think the Tigers will land in the latter category. The season opener against Oregon should be a good barometer of what we can expect.

 

 

23        Michigan State

Last Season:     7-6

Key Games:     9/14 vs. Arizona St., 10/5 @Ohio St., 10/12 @Wisconsin, 10/26 vs. Penn St., 11/16 @Michigan

Trips to Columbus & Ann Arbor don’t bode well for the Spartans Big Ten title hopes, but I believe they’ll rebound from a subpar 2018 and win nine games.

 

 

22        Central Florida

Last Season:     12-1

Key Games:     9/14 vs. Stanford, 9/21 @Pitt

The Knights hadn’t lost a game in two years until they ran into the LSU Tigers in the Fiesta Bowl. Do I expect more of the same this year?? Maybe. Out-of-conference games against Stanford & Pitt are important and could make a huge difference. It’s probably too much to ask UCF to go undefeated again, but I think a ten win season deserves some respect.

 

 

21        Army

Last Season:     11-2

Key Games:     9/7 @Michigan, 12/14 vs. Navy

Very few football fans pay attention to the Black Knights until the very end of the season when the Army-Navy Game has the spotlight all to itself, but Army has gone 21-5 in the past two years, which is quite impressive. I don’t think they’ll go into Ann Arbor and pull off an upset, but I don’t believe another ten win season is far-fetched.

 

 

20        Northwestern

Last Season:             9-5                             

Key Games:              8/31 @Stanford, 9/21 vs. Michigan St., 9/28 @Wisconsin, 10/5 @Nebraska, 10/18 vs. Ohio St., 10/26 vs. Iowa

Perhaps it’s the purple uniforms, or maybe it’s the fact that they were perennial underdogs when I was growing up but ten win seasons have now become fairly normal in Evanston. It might be the tenacity of former linebacker & current head coach Pat Fitzgerald. For some reason I have a soft spot for the Wildcats. This prediction could be an epic disaster since they’ve got to travel to Palo Alto to begin the season and also have road trips to Madison & Lincoln. However, if Northwestern can gut out a few upsets and win eight games I may be onto something.

 

 

19        Fresno State

Last Season:     12-2

Key Games:     8/31 @USC, 9/7 @Minnesota, 10/26 vs. Colorado St.

I’m a bit sad because my work schedule has changed yet again and I have to be in bed super early on Friday & Saturday nights so I can get up at 5am. That means that for the first time in many years I won’t get to watch hardly any late night west coast games. The Pac 12 gets all of the attention, but don’t forget about the Mountain West. It has become standard for Boise St. to get the infinitesimal amount of love left over for the MWC, but I believe the Bulldogs will emerge as the better team this year.

 

 

18        Michigan

Last Season:     10-3

Key Games:     9/21 @Wisconsin, 10/5 vs. Iowa, 10/19 @Penn St., 10/26 vs. Notre Dame, 11/16 vs. Michigan St., 11/0 vs. Ohio St.

Are patience wearing thin where Jim Harbaugh is concerned?? Possibly, but I still think he’ll ditch Michigan before Michigan cans him…and neither scenario may ever happen. This isn’t the early 20th century anymore…everyone outside of the state of Alabama understands how difficult it is to win a national championship and knows it isn’t the only barometer for success. Harbaugh has won ten games in 3 out of 4 seasons leading the maize & Blue, which is pretty darn good. The one thing he has to do to quell any sort of rebellion: beat Ohio St. Now is the time. This is the year. The Wolverines could lose 3 or 4 other games and it won’t matter if they defeat the Buckeyes in The Big House in November.

 

 

17        Arizona State

Last Season:     7-6

Key Games:     9/14 @Michigan St., 10/19 @Utah, 11/9 vs. USC, 11/23 vs. Oregon

I’m a big fan of Sun Devils’ head coach Herm Edwards. He might be a better talking head than head coach, but I saw some flashes a year ago that leads me to believe that this is a team that could pull off a couple of upsets and sneak into the rankings.

 

 

16        Texas A&M

Last Season:     9-4

Key Games:     9/7@Clemson, 9/21 vs. Auburn, 10/12 vs. Alabama, 11/23 @Georgia, 11/30 @LSU

No team has more chances to affect the National Championship picture than the Aggies. All five key games noted above involve potential playoff contenders, so A&M has a unique opportunity to be the ultimate spoiler…or be embarrassingly inept. Entering Year 2 of the Jimbo Fisher era I believe they’ll continue to build a solid foundation that will eventually lead to playoff appearances in the near future.

 

 

15        Stanford

Last Season:     9-4

Key Games:     9/21 vs. Oregon, 10/5 vs. Washington, 11/16 @Washington St., 11/30 vs. Notre Dame

The Pac 12 is stacked, and it’ll be really interesting to see which team(s) emerge to lead the pack. Stanford has its biggest games at home, and that could lead to good things.

 

 

14        Nebraska

Last Season:     4-8

Key Games:     9/28 vs. Ohio St., 11/16 vs. Wisconsin, 11/29 vs. Iowa

I’m really going out on a limb. After back to back four win seasons the Cornhuskers enter Year 2 of the Scott Frost era, which means that noticeable improvement is expected.  So does that mean going from losing seasons to bowl eligibility?? Or does it mean bursting back onto the scene with 8-10 wins?? The biggest games are at home, and just one upset might mean a huge turnaround for the program.

 

 

13        LSU

Last Season:     10-3

Key Games:     9/7 @Texas, 10/12 vs. Florida, 10/26 vs. Auburn, 11/9 @Alabama, 11/30 vs. Texas A&M

Ed Orgeron now seems to be firmly entrenched as the Bayou Bengals’ head coach, and that kind of stability provides a real sense of freedom for a program. A split against the four noted conference foes would be fantastic, but an early season non-conference battle at Texas could be the key to LSU’s entire season.

 

 

12        Utah

Last Season:     9-5

Key Games:     8/29 @BYU, 9/20 @USC, 9/28 vs. Washington St., 10/19 vs. Arizona St., 11/2 @Washington

Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to figuring out the Pac 12, but the Utes seem to be getting a lot of love. Anyone who has spent any time reading sports related content here at The Manofesto will recall my affection for BYU, which is why I consider that an important in-state contest for Utah even though BYU has only won eleven total games the past two years. I’m not sure what to think about Southern Cal or the two Washington teams…all three could make these rankings look silly a few months from now. One thing is for sure…the Utes are going to need to have some big road wins to have a successful season.

 

 

11        Iowa State

Last Season:     8-5

Key Games:     9/14 vs. Iowa, 11/9 @Oklahoma, 11/16 vs. Texas

Everybody loves to yap about Oklahoma & Texas, but Big 12 fans know not to sleep on the Cyclones. They’ve won eight games in each of the last two seasons, and with QB Brock Purdy entering his sophomore year I think bigger things await. I am predicting that they’ll upset either the Sooners or the Longhorns and finish third in the conference.

 

 

10        Wisconsin

Last Season:     8-5

Key Games:     9/21 vs. Michigan, 10/12 vs. Michigan St., 10/26 @Ohio St.

The bottom line is this…the Badgers have to upset one of the two Michigan teams because going into The Horseshoe & beating Ohio St. in October might be too much to expect. Otherwise, I expect a solid 8-10 win season, which is par for the course.

 

 

9          Southern California

Last Season:     5-7

Key Games:     9/7 vs. Stanford, 9/20 vs. Utah, 9/28 @Washington, 10/12 @Notre Dame, 11/2 vs. Oregon

I’m doing it…I’m rolling the dice on the Trojans!! I’m not sure what the heck happened a year ago, but it was USC’s first losing season in eighteen years. Was it an anomaly?? Or was 2018 indicative of a backward slide that will continue for the foreseeable future?? Obviously I’m betting on the former, and in the words of Billy Joel I’ll walk away a fool or a king.

 

 

8          Texas

Last Season:     10-4

Key Games:     9/7 vs. LSU, 10/12 vs. Oklahoma, 11/16 @Iowa St.

The long road back to relevancy is about as complete as one can expect nowadays…all they need to do now is maintain consistency. A losing or even mediocre season now would be disastrous for a program that’s taken almost a decade to rebuild. Most “experts” expect the Big 12 to come down to Texas & Oklahoma, so the Red River Shootout in mid-October will be a huge game, but the Longhorns shouldn’t overlook Iowa St. just a month later.

 

 

7          Notre Dame

Last Season:     12-1

Key Games:     9/21 @Georgia, 10/12 vs. USC, 10/26 @Michigan, 11/30 @Stanford

Coming off a playoff season expectations are high in South Bend, but the schedule is brutal. One slip will knock them out of contention, and with big road games at Georgia, Michigan, & Stanford I’d be stunned to see the Irish go undefeated.

 

 

6          Ohio State

Last Season:    13-1

Key Games:     9/28 @Nebraska, 10/5 vs. Michigan St., 10/26 vs. Wisconsin, 11/23 vs. Penn St., 11/30 @ Michigan

Ohio St. is a football factory that recruits elite athletes and churns out winning seasons as easily as you & I change socks in the morning. However, the dividing line for such teams is whether they win 9/10 games and finish highly ranked or go undefeated and contend for a playoff spot. I don’t think there will be a significant dropoff under new head coach Ryan Day, and perhaps it is even positive for the program to be rid of the various distractions that accompanied former coach Urban Meyer. However, I don’t think you’ll see the Buckeyes in the playoff, and they might even suffer a loss to Michigan.

 

 

5             Oregon

Last Season:     9-4

Key Games:     8/31 @Auburn, 9/21 @Stanford, 10/19 @Washington, 11/2 @USC

Mario Cristobal started his reign as the Ducks’ head coach with a nine win season, so now anticipation is at a fever pitch in Eugene. A non-conference battle with Auburn to kick things off is a neutral site game at The Palace in Dallas. I don’t necessarily think that game will make or break either team’s season, but the winner will certainly be headed on an upward trajectory. I’m not sure what to make of the Pac 12 quite yet, but if Oregon can emerge from the pack they just might find themselves in playoff contention.

 

 

4             Alabama

Last Season:     14-1

Key Games:     10/12 @Texas A&M, 11/9 vs. LSU, 11/30 @Auburn

I don’t know about y’all, but ‘Bama has become a team I love to see lose. I’m just really over the whole thing. I know I should root for fellow West Virginian Nick Saban, but I just can’t. I’m an underdog kind of guy and The Tide has evolved into The Evil Empire. However, a year ago I opined that Alabama might have to lose as many as three games for the powers-that-be to leave them out of the playoff. We know for sure that they don’t need to win the SEC or even play in the title game. So here is how I see it going down. I think A&M and LSU will both provide legit tests for ‘Bama, but they’ll go into the SEC Championship ranked #1 or #2 in the country, lose the title game to Georgia, and still make the playoff.

 

 

3          Oklahoma

Last Season:     12-2

Key Games:     10-12 vs. Texas, 11/9 vs. Iowa St., 11/30 @Oklahoma St.

Sooners’ head coach Lincoln Riley…at just 35 years old…has made a believer out of me. Two straight 12 win seasons. Two consecutive Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks. With former Alabama QB Jalen Hurts transferring in to lead the offense I see no reason to believe that Oklahoma won’t win the Red River Shootout and claim another conference title. The Big 12 doesn’t get as much respect as the other “power” conferences, and it would probably be easy for the playoff committee to squeeze the Sooners out…but I don’t believe that’ll happen this season.

 

 

2          Georgia

Last Season:     11-3

Key Games:     9/21 vs. Notre Dame, 11/2 vs. Florida, 11/16 @Auburn, 11/23 vs. Texas A&M

Beating Notre Dame in September is an absolute must for the Bulldogs’ playoff hopes, but fortunately it’s a home game. I’m not buying into any Florida hype, and by late November I think tough schedules will have taken their toll on Auburn and A&M. I also believe Georgia will win the SEC Championship. I would much rather see a Clemson-Georgia National Championship versus any matchup involving Alabama.

 

 

1          Clemson

Last Season:     15-0

Key Games:     9/7 vs. Texas A&M

Champion wrestler Ric Flair used to say “to be The Man you’ve got to beat The Man”, and until someone steps up & knocks the Tigers from their perch there’s no other choice for the #1 spot. When I look at the schedule it looks like A&M is the only legit threat they face in the regular season, and the playoff committee hasn’t penalized Clemson in the past for the relative weakness of the ACC so it would be inconsistent to do so now. Most “experts” seem to recognize that Clemson is on a whole other level at the moment, and QB Trevor Lawrence is special. He’s my favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.

2018 Pigskin Picks of Profundity…..Week 1

My nephew & I first began doing these picks in 2013. I flew solo in 2012, but we’ll set that aside. In five years Zach has amassed a record of 198-263 (a 43% winning percentage), while I have gone 239-210 (53%). We utilize a point spread from the oddsmakers for each game just to make things a little more interesting but do not encourage gambling, even though that kind of thing is apparently legal now. As usual college football begins before the NFL, and because of the way the College Football Playoff does its rankings more teams are beginning their year with a competitive challenge rather than beating up on inferior opposition. I have all of these teams in my pre-season rankings, and I’m excited to see if my pre-conceived notions were accurate.

 

 

 

 

 

Washington       vs.    Auburn (-2.5)

This is a neutral site game being played in Atlanta, which means that it will be a pro Auburn crowd. Both teams have been receiving some pre-season love, with most polls ranking both in the Top Ten. A season ago both won ten games, with the Tigers upsetting Alabama in The Iron Bowl (which should’ve meant the end of ‘Bama’s season) before falling to Georgia in the SEC title game, and the Huskies falling short of a conference championship game appearance because of a mid-season loss to Stanford. Auburn has Heisman hopeful Jarrett Stidham under center, as well as a defensive line that a lot of folks are talking about. Washington brings back QB Jake Browning, RB Myles Gaskin, and nine starters on defense. It is a squad replete with experienced senior leadership. The Vibes have me high on Washington, to the point that I believe they’ll be in the playoff. A victory for them in this game might be considered an upset by some, but I fully expect it. Zach thinks it’ll be close but believes Washington is the better team.

My Pick:     Washington

Z’s Pick:     Washington

 

 

 

Florida Atlantic           at      Oklahoma (-21)

While I don’t expect the Sooners to be in the playoff discussion in December neither do I expect Lane Kiffin’s Owls to walk into Norman and pull off a stunning upset. However, this could be a win/win situation for both teams. New Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray can settle into his role & the team can work out any kinks against a decent opponent before the real fun begins. FAU has the comfort of knowing that this is the toughest test they’ll face all season and no one is expecting much. I’m not a proponent of moral victories, but that’s about the best that FAU can hope for in this game. So it all comes down the points. By how much will Oklahoma win?? A year ago they dispatched early season non-conference opponents by 40+ points, but I think FAU is better than UTEP & Tulane. How much better?? Probably enough to stay within 25-30 points. Zach is not only picking FAU to cover the points…he thinks they’ll win the game. He’s either a freakin’ genius or needs medical attention.

My Pick:     Oklahoma

Z’s Pick:     FAU

 

 

Michigan           at      Notre Dame (even)

Is the first week of the season too early for a Must Win game?? Probably. And that perspective might be a tad dramatic. Yet it is difficult to deny that some folks are beginning to question Jim Harbaugh’s tenure as head coach in Ann Arbor. The Big Ten is really competitive, and the Wolverines are likely to be underdogs in a few conference battles, making this game seem much more significant than it probably should be. QB Shea Patterson transferred from Ole Miss in the midst of an NCAA investigation into the program which ultimately cost the head coach his job. Patterson was granted a waiver by the NCAA so he does not have to sit out a year and has two seasons of eligibility remaining. Since he is the most talented quarterback to wear the Maize & Blue in atleast a decade he easily won the starting job, and expectations are high. Notre Dame went into last season with head coach Brian Kelly on the hot seat after a 4-8 finish in 2016. They rebounded nicely with a ten win season, although that schedule pales in comparison to what they face this year. Senior QB Brandon Wimbush will lead the Irish, but he might be on a short leash. It doesn’t help that his offensive line lost two Top Ten NFL draft picks. My gut feeling is that Notre Dame will have to rely heavily on defense for a few games until the offense finds its mojo, and that might work okay against Michigan. It’ll be a close one, but I think the home field actually could make a meaningful difference. Zach is a huge Michigan fan and is therefore really excited about this game. He believes Notre Dame is overrated and Michigan’s defense will be the difference.

My Pick:     Notre Dame

Z’s Pick:     Michigan

 

 

Miami (FL) (-3.5)              vs.        LSU

The Hurricanes felt like they were on the verge of being back last year…almost. The ACC won’t be a cakewalk, and beginning the season against the Bayou Bengals is a tough test. This is a Sunday evening contest being played at The Palace in Dallas, which probably means a pro-LSU crowd. The Tigers were a solid nine win team a season ago, and if they want to match that they’re probably going to have to make hay before a brutal mid-season stretch when 0-4 is a real possibility. Those of us “of a certain age” remember when Miami was a really annoying & dominant powerhouse, but they’ve lost 3 or more games each season since 2003, and while ten win seasons are great it doesn’t make a team elite, which is what I expect again this year from the ‘Canes. LSU is probably going to get rocked a few times in October & November, but I like their chances in this game. Conversely, Zach likes Miami to win easily.

My Pick:     LSU

Z’s Pick:     Miami (FL)

 

 

Virginia Tech     at      Florida St. (-7.5)

Clemson and Miami are getting all the pre-season ACC buzz, but don’t overlook these two teams. Everyone always forgets about Virginia Tech until all the sudden a highly ranked team ventures into Blacksburg and gets a punt blocked or loses on a Pick Six late in the fourth quarter. I don’t expect the Seminoles to win their division and make it to the ACC title game, but I believe that last season’s 7-6 fiasco was an anomaly. New coach Willie Taggart has a talented trio of quarterbacks, including former starter Deondre Francois, who suffered a knee injury in the season opener a year ago but has returned to reclaim his job, and workhorse RB Cam Akers to lead the offense. The defense is young and a complete wildcard, which could be an early season issue. Tech lost five players from last year’s 9-4 team to the NFL, so expectations are being tempered, although a friendly schedule could help. I’ll probably be predicting a pretty big upset for the ‘Noles in a couple of months that will pretty much make their entire season, but for now…despite playing in hostile territory…I think the Hokies will get the job done. Zach likes Florida State to snag the victory…but he thinks it’ll be by less than a touchdown.

My Pick:     Virginia Tech

Z’s Pick:     Virginia Tech

2018 College Football Pre-Season Top 25

Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh got some attention from the sports media recently when he pontificated about the College Football Playoff eventually expanding from four to eight teams and ultimately ending up at sixteen. Obviously it isn’t a new debate and Harbaugh’s comments were simply convenient fodder on a slow news day. However, what always strikes me about the discussion is the fact that everyone talks about the idea of expanding to eight or sixteen teams, but no one ever mentions the solution that I prefer, which is a six team playoff. In this format the top two teams would get a bye, which incentivizes trying to snag one of those two spots versus merely sneaking into the playoff. All five “power” conference champions would qualify, making conference title games de facto playoff games and actually meaningful instead of the needless money grabs that they are right now. One wildcard would be chosen which would likely spark a few heated arguments. Most of the time one of the “power” conference runners-up would get the nod (like Alabama anytime they happen to falter), but when you occasionally have an undefeated contender from one of the “other” conferences…for example, the 2017 Central Florida Knights…then they could very easily slide into that spot.

 

Anyway, all of that is just a mildly interesting preamble for our true purpose today. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

25     Oregon

Last Season:      7-6

Key Games:       9/22 vs. Stanford, 10/13 vs. Washington, 10/27 at Arizona

Former Florida International head coach & Alabama assistant Mario Cristobal takes over in Eugene after the Ducks have gone 20-18 the past three years following seven seasons of 10 or more victories. The PAC 12 is really competitive, and I don’t expect Oregon to be in the conference title mix, but a pre-Halloween clash at Arizona could be the deciding factor in getting to eight wins and securing a spot in the rankings.

 

 

24     LSU 

Last Season:      9-4

Key Games:       9/2 vs. Miami (FL), 9/15 at Auburn, 10/13 vs. Georgia, 11/3 vs. Alabama

I don’t think anyone is getting out of the SEC with less than two losses. They’re all going to spend the next few months beating each other up, playing a game of Last Man Standing. The non-conference season opener against Miami is a neutral site game at the Palace in Dallas, and it’ll set a tone right off the bat. The Bayou Bengals are probably going to have to upset Auburn or Georgia…perhaps both…to get to eight wins and slip into the bottom of the Top 25.

 

 

23     Michigan

Last Season:      8-5

Key Games:       9/1 at Notre Dame, 10/13 vs. Wisconsin, 10/20 at Michigan St., 11/3 vs. Penn St., 11/24 at Ohio St.

I’ve slowed my roll on enthusiasm for the Harbaugh Era in Ann Arbor after initially thinking that he might have the Wolverines back in the national title conversation within a few years. The truth is that the Big Ten is so tough that winning a conference title would be a major accomplishment. The schedule is vicious, including a season opening non-conference clash against the Irish in South Bend, a rivalry that had been on hiatus for a few years. Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson will start at QB, and he’ll need to spice up an offense that has really been holding the team back. 8 or 9 wins feels like the ceiling again, but if those victories include a couple of big upsets it should be enough to sneak into the rankings.

 

 

22     West Virginia

Last Season:      7-6

Key Games:       9/1 vs. Tennessee, 9/15 at NC St., 9/22 vs. Kansas St., 11/3 at Texas, 11/10 vs. TCU, 11/23 vs. Oklahoma

Mountaineers QB Will Grier will be a legit Heisman candidate and converted quarterback David Sills has become a solid receiver, so I am not at all concerned about the offense. It’s been a lack of defense that has held WVU back the past few seasons, but a couple of transfers will allegedly bolster that side of the ball this year. I don’t expect the ‘Eers to beat TCU or Oklahoma (though both opponents are visiting Morgantown), so I think games against K-State and Texas will be the difference between 7 or 8 wins versus 9 or 10 wins.

 

 

21     Penn State        

Last Season:      11-2

Key Games:       9/29 vs. Ohio St., 10/13 vs. Michigan St., 11/3 at Michigan, 11/10 vs. Wisconsin

Happy Valley might be somewhat less happy in 2018 since Saquon Barkley is now toting the rock for the NY Giants. That doesn’t mean that the Nittany Lions will fall completely off the map, but for me it does take them out of the conference title discussion. QB Trace McSorely will be a Heisman contender, and whether this team wins 9+ games or falls into mediocrity looks to be squarely on his shoulders.

 

 

20     Texas       

Last Season:      7-6

Key Games:       9/15 vs. USC, 9/22 vs. TCU, 10/6 vs. Oklahoma, 11/3 vs. West Virginia

We’ve been waiting for the Longhorns to get back to their former glory for nearly a decade. Head coach Mack Brown was forced into retirement in 2013, and Charlie Strong couldn’t get it done in his three years in Austin. Tom Herman’s inaugural season at the helm was a slight improvement, but still underwhelming. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that they’ll win more games this year than last, but an upset or two will be necessary to achieve that goal.

 

 

19     Florida State                       

Last Season:      7-6

Key Games:       9/3 vs. Virginia Tech, 10/6 at Miami (FL), 10/27 vs. Clemson, 11/10 at Notre Dame

The Seminoles’ season was torpedoed right out of the gate in 2017 when starting QB Deondre Francois suffered a tear of his patellar tendon and freshman James Blackman stepped in to fill the void. After the season head coach Jimbo Fisher bolted for Texas A&M (and a ten year $75 million contract), which took a lot of folks by surprise. Former South Florida & Oregon head coach Willie Taggart has taken the helm, which also came as a bit of a surprise. Francois & Blackman are both in the mix at quarterback, and redshirt freshman Bailey Hockman might get some reps as well. RB Cam Akers will be be a huge help to whomever is under center. The schedule is brutal, and I understand that this isn’t the 1990’s anymore. One shouldn’t assume that Florida St. will sit near the top of the college football mountain like they used to, especially in an increasingly deep & competitive ACC. However, I think eight wins is doable, and anything more would really thrill the folks in Tallahassee

 

 

18     Florida Atlantic

Last Season:      11-3

Key Games:       9/1 at Oklahoma, 9/21 at UCF

The talking heads love to fawn all over the glamor teams in the power conferences, but a) when two such teams play each other someone is going to lose, and b) there will be teams winning the “other” conferences. Owls’ head coach Lane Kiffin will undoubtedly move on to another high profile job in the future, but for now he’ll be focused on building on last year’s 11 win season. I don’t expect FAU to travel to Norman and beat the Sooners, but I am predicting an upset of Central Florida in Orlando a month into the season. Another 10+ win season should be recognized with a spot in the Top 25, which will help score a big payday for Kiffin…eventually.

 

 

17     Stanford

Last Season:      9-5

Key Games:       9/8 vs. USC, 9/22 at Oregon, 9/29 at Notre Dame, 11/3 at Washington

RB Bryce Love has to be considered the Heisman frontrunner early on, especially since he was the runner-up a year ago. That’s enough for me to consider Stanford a Top 25 team, but the PAC 12 is so loaded that it’s going to take an upset or two for them to get over the hump.

 

 

16     Oklahoma

Last Season:      12-2

Key Games:       10/6 vs. Texas, 10/20 at TCU, 11/23 at West Virginia

I am not buying any pre-season hype that puts the Sooners back in the playoff conversation or even has them in the Top 10. A team just doesn’t replace a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback that easily. It helps that former Texas A&M starter Kyler Murray will be stepping into that role though, and the defense will be counted on to win some close games. A Big 12 title isn’t out of the question, but I believe the road is going to be bumpier than it has been in recent years for Oklahoma.

 

 

15     Ohio State         

Last Season:      12-2

Key Games:       9/15 vs. TCU, 11/29 at Penn St., 11/10 at Michigan St., 11/24 vs. Michigan

No one can convince me that this Urban Meyer kerfuffle won’t cause a disturbance in The Force in Columbus. Whether the coach’s “paid leave” ends tomorrow or he is ultimately terminated damage has already been done, especially as it relates to a very tough early game against TCU. The talent level is indisputably elite on the field, although replacing JT Barrett at quarterback won’t be easy. The Big Ten is just too competitive to expect more than a couple of teams to still be standing in November, and this year I think it’ll be the Buckeyes who are left out in the cold.

 

 

14     Auburn              

Last Season:      10-4

Key Games:       9/1 vs. Washington, 9/15 vs. LSU, 11/10 at Georgia, 11/24 at Alabama

Auburn is in much the same situation as Ohio St. as far as probably being the 3rd  or 4th best team in a deep conference. QB Jarrett Stidham will be an early Heisman contender, but a neutral site season opener against Washington in Atlanta could put the kibosh on everything very quickly. I think the Tigers are looking at atleast three losses, but if they balance those out with an upset or two the season could still be rather successful.

 

 

13     Notre Dame     

Last Season:      10-3

Key Games:       9/1 vs. Michigan, 9/29 vs. Stanford, 10/6 at Virginia Tech, 11/10 vs. Florida St., 11/24 at USC

Brian Kelly probably saved his job last year with a 10 win season following a dismal 2016. The schedule is daunting to say the least, but if the Irish can get a couple of big upsets at home pollsters may be lenient.

 

 

12     South Florida

Last Season:      10-2

Key Games:       10/27 at Houston, 11/23 vs. UCF

A year ago I predicted a Top Ten finish for the Bulls in Charlie Strong’s first year at the helm in Tampa. Instead they finished somewhere around #21 in most polls, in part because of intrastate and AAC rival Central Florida, who went undefeated and snagged that Top Ten spot. UCF is still getting much of the “non-power” love from talking heads this pre-season, but I’m not buying it since Scott Frost bolted to coach at his alma mater Nebraska. Can USF steal the spotlight in 2018?? Can they win the AAC and maybe even go undefeated?? I think it’s possible.

 

 

11     Boise State                

Last Season:      11-3

Key Games:       9/15 at Oklahoma St.

The Broncos are once again defending Mountain West champions and ended last season on a high note by defeating Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl. The issue was their early non-conference schedule, which accounted for two out of three losses. I don’t have Oklahoma St. in this Top 25 because they are replacing a quarterback as well as one of the nation’s best wide receivers, so I think it is possible that Boise could go into Stillwater in mid-September and score an upset. That combined with another conference title could have them hovering near the Top Ten by season’s end.

 

 

10     Southern Cal   

Last Season:      11-3

Key Games:       9/8 at Stanford, 9/15 at Texas, 9/29 at Arizona, 11/24 vs. Notre Dame

Sam Darnold is gone, off to a doomed future quarterbacking the NY Jets. With a true freshman probably stepping into that role it’ll be up to the Trojan defense to keep scores low and grind out some close victories. A non-conference tilt at Texas won’t be a picnic, and the rest of the schedule looks a bit intimidating as well, but The Voices are telling me to go big or go home on this one.

 

 

9       Michigan State 

Last Season:      10-3

Key Games:       10/13 at Penn St., 10/20 vs. Michigan, 11/10 vs., Ohio St.

The Spartans rebounded quite nicely a year ago from a miserable 2016 during which they only won three games. QB Brian Lewerke is said to have NFL potential along the lines of former Michigan St. signal callers Kirk Cousins, Brian Hoyer, Connor Cook,& Drew Stanton, which I’m sure is meant as a compliment. The Big Ten is going to be a grind, but both the Wolverines and the Buckeyes have to come to East Lansing, so an upset or two could really boost the chances of a Top Ten finish and an appearance in the conference title game.

 

 

8       Virginia Tech    

Last Season:      9-4

Key Games:       9/3 at Florida St., 10/6 vs. Notre Dame, 11/17 vs. Miami (FL)

Who said the ACC was a basketball conference?? Okay okay…I’m sure I’ve probably said that in the past, but this season the football side of things could be quite impressive, atleast at the top. The Hokies are always a tough opponent, and after a few lean years they got back to double digit victories last year. I don’t believe that they’ll win the conference title or be a serious playoff contender, but an upset or two could vault them into the Top Ten.

 

 

7       Georgia

Last Season:      13-2

Key Games:       10/13 at LSU, 11/10 vs. Auburn

The Bulldogs played for the National Championship last season and came very close to winning it all before an Alabama comeback that we all knew was coming. I don’t foresee another playoff appearance this year, but they are the clear favorites in their division and should get another crack at ‘Bama in the SEC title game.

 

 

6       Miami (FL)

Last Season:      10-3

Key Games:       9/2 vs. LSU, 10/6 vs. Florida St.

Break out the Turnover Chain!! I have my opinions about that particular “tradition”, but it was an undeniably unique motivational tool last season. I don’t think Florida St. will be an easy out this year, but that might not matter all that much since they play in the other ACC division. An appearance in the conference title game should be expected. The only questions are a) can they get past LSU in the neutral site season opener in Dallas, b) can they stand toe to toe with Clemson in the ACC Championship game, & c) will winning the conference title translate into a playoff berth??

 

 

5       Clemson  

Last Season:      12-2

Key Games:       10/27 at Florida St.

A lot of people are picking Clemson as the favorites to win it all, but as a certain ESPN personality is fond of saying…not so fast my friends. Yes, the Tigers are loaded. They have NFL talent throughout their roster, especially on the defense. Dabo Swinney is a legit great coach and unlike some of his peers he seems like a genuinely good dude. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that they even have a chance to go undefeated. But…but…what if they go into Tallahassee at the end of October and get beat?? Look at the rest of their schedule. Might a one loss ACC Champion with victories on their resume against the likes of Furman, Georgia Southern, Wake Forest, & Syracuse get left on the outside looking in?? I not only believe it is possible…I think it might be probable.

 

 

4       Washington      

Last Season:      10-3 

Key Games:       9/1 vs. Auburn, 10/13 at Oregon, 11/3 vs. Stanford

Speaking of being left out, after a playoff appearance two years ago the Huskies fell short last season because of tough road losses to Arizona St. & Stanford. Trust me y’all, if you can stay awake ‘til about 1am on Saturday nights in the fall PAC 12 football is usually worth watching. Not only does Washington have the best defense in the conference, they also return QB Jake Browning & RB Myles Gaskin. I’m calling it right now…they will beat down Auburn in the non-conference neutral field season opener in Atlanta, which should put the rest of the country on notice that Washington is back and they are for real.

 

 

3       TCU 

Last Season:      11-3

Key Games:       9/15 vs. Ohio St., 9/22 at Texas, 10/20 vs. Oklahoma, 11/10 at West Virginia

Most “experts” are predicting a solid Top 25 season for the Horned Frogs, but I’m taking things a step further. I think they’ll upset Ohio St. in an early season non-conference “neutral site” game at The Palace in Dallas. I parenthesize that because let’s be honest…it isn’t exactly neutral since Dallas is only a half hour from TCU’s campus in Fort Worth. The Buckeyes have had too many distractions this summer and are ripe for the picking. That game is a major reason that I have Ohio St. ranked 15th and TCU in playoff position instead of the other way around. Other than that I look at the fact that Oklahoma has to come to Fort Worth, Texas is rising but not quite there yet, and my Mountaineers tend to screw the pooch in huge home games against top flight opponents. Everything seems to be breaking in TCU’s favor, and if they can take advantage there just might be a national championship opportunity waiting.

 

 

2       Alabama                               

Last Season:      13-1

Key Games:       11/3 at LSU, 11/24 vs. Auburn

Okay okay okay…I give. Uncle!! Uncle!! It has become abundantly clear to me that the playoff committee will twist themselves in knots to roll the Tide into the Final Four. It doesn’t matter if they have a loss or two. It doesn’t matter if they don’t win the SEC Championship. Hell, it doesn’t even matter if they don’t make it to the SEC title game. The powers-that-be rendered conference championship games totally meaningless the minute ‘Bama was awarded a playoff spot last season. They might remedy that someday, but under the current rules I assume Alabama would have to lose atleast three games to be left out of the playoff, and I don’t think that’s going to happen. An early November clash in Baton Rouge will probably be low scoring and a complete snoozefest which will be counterbalanced by an exciting Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa just a few weeks later. If…if…if ‘Bama were to drop both games they MIGHT get left out of the playoff…but maybe not. The biggest offseason news story has been the quarterback battle between last year’s starter Jalen Hurts and sophomore Tua Tagovailoa, who came into the second half of the National Championship Game in January and won the Tide another trophy. Both guys will probably see their fair share of action this season, and I don’t foresee it being an issue. Nick Saban will go with the hot hand and use his special brand of Jedi mind tricks to soothe egos.

 

 

1       Wisconsin        

Last Season:      13-1

Key Games:       10/13 at Michigan, 11/10 at Penn St.

Last season it was Wisconsin’s loss to Ohio St. in the Big Ten title game (combined with the Buckeyes’ inexplicable regular season loss at Iowa) that left a crack in the door that Alabama walked thru all the way to a national championship. Since the Badgers don’t have Michigan St. or Ohio St. on the schedule this year and open the season with games against Western Kentucky, New Mexico, and BYU I expect a fairly clear path to another conference title game…probably against Michigan St….and I don’t think they’ll blow another opportunity. I suppose it’s possible that they could find themselves in the same boat as Clemson, with people questioning their strength of schedule. The easy way to take care of that is to go undefeated. It won’t be easy with trips to The Big House and Happy Valley, but I’m predicting that they’ll get the job done.

2017 College Football Pre-Season Top 25

With the exception of the Thanksgiving-Christmas corridor this might be my favorite time of year. Anticipation is at its zenith and the possibilities are endless. Just looking at the schedules has me amped up, especially for two or three weekends when the lineup looks to be especially loaded. Whenever I begin this process I almost always get The Vibes, and the word that keeps popping into my head at the moment is parity. It is unlikely that any team gets thru their season unbeaten, and it’s entirely possible that a team with 2 or 3 losses sneaks into the playoff. Saturdays are going to be as glorious as usual this autumn, if only I can stay awake to watch the games. 16 of the 25 teams I have ranked here had 10 or more victories last season, and a few more won 9 games. Who will shockingly fall off the map?? Who will do a complete turnaround and climb out of the abyss of losing seasons into the Top 25?? Only time will tell, and what follows represents my best guess based solely on minimal research & decades as a dedicated fan, not any sort of insider knowledge. Perhaps we’ll look back in a few months and laugh at my foolishness, or maybe…just maybe…I will prove my worth as a bona fide guru. Who knows??

 

 

 

 

 

1          USC

Last Season:             10-3

Key Games:              9/9 vs. Stanford, 10/21 at Notre Dame, 11/18 vs. UCLA

Honestly, the schedule doesn’t look all that daunting for a top tier team, and with Heisman Trophy contender Sam Darnold behind center I don’t think we’ll see the Trojans go backward. Clay Helton is firmly entrenched as the head coach, providing consistency that the program has been lacking in recent years. If any big time powerhouse has a legit chance to go undefeated this is the one, and at the very least anything short of a playoff appearance will be a huge disappointment.

 

 

2          Penn State

Last Season:             11-3

Key Games:              10/21 vs. Michigan, 10/28 at Ohio St.

Last season’s Rose Bowl was probably the best post-season game other than the national championship. USC bested the Nittany Lions 52-49 on a last second field goal, and in many people’s minds it was a harbinger of fantastic things to come for both teams. The Sandusky/Paterno kerfuffle seems to be in the rear view mirror for Penn St., and while we could engage in endless sociopolitical commentary about all of that there is no doubt that moving past the fallout is good for the football program. There are two Heisman contenders in Happy Valley…QB Trace McSorely & RB Saquon Barkley…and, while I’m no expert, I have to believe that bodes well for the team’s chances of success. They’ll have to face the Buckeyes in Columbus, but Michigan will be a home game. If the Lions can split those two huge games I think they just might be national title contenders.

 

 

3          Oklahoma State

Last Season:             10-3

Key Games:              10/21 at Texas, 11/4 vs. Oklahoma

Surprise!! While the other team in Oklahoma usually gets all of the attention (and still will this year) the Cowboys have been pretty successful, racking up 10 or more wins in five of the past seven seasons. QB Mason Rudolph returns for his senior season, and it feels like he may be flying under the radar just like his team. That’s probably fine with the folks in Stillwater. Don’t be surprised if this is the team that comes out on the positive end of Bedlam, and I think they might even have an outside shot at perfection.

 

 

4          Florida State

Last Season:             10-3   

Key Games:              9/2 vs. Alabama, 9/16 vs. Miami (FL), 11/11 at Clemson

The season opener against Alabama will obviously set a tone for the season. That game is a neutral site contest in Atlanta and is the highlight of college football’s first weekend. A win would set the Seminoles on a course for a playoff appearance, but I don’t think a loss would be fatal. They’re still the favorites to win the ACC.

 

 

5          Ohio State

Last Season:             11-2

Key Games:              9/9 vs. Oklahoma, 10/28 vs. Penn St., 11/25 at Michigan

The Buckeyes still have JT Barrett behind center, and that gives them an immediate advantage. They did lose seven players to the NFL, but that’s nothing to an elite program. The second weekend of games will be highlighted by Ohio St. against Oklahoma, but it’s in Columbus and, while the talking heads will do their best to pump up the hype machine, I really don’t think it’ll be much of a contest. Penn St. will visit Columbus right before Halloween & a showdown in The Big House wraps up the regular season, and it is in one of these games that I expect Ohio St.’s playoff dreams to be dashed.

 

 

6          Alabama

Last Season:             14-1

Key Games:              9/2 vs. Florida St., 11/4 vs. LSU, 11/25 at Auburn

I’m a non-conformist so I rarely do what everybody else does…rank ‘Bama #1. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong. They may win or they may lose the season opener against Florida St., but The Voices are telling me that the true waterloo for the Tide will come in November against an archrival…either LSU or Auburn. Maybe both. A one or two loss Alabama would almost certainly still be in the playoff conversation, but I think they’ll fall short of the goal.

 

 

7          South Florida

Last Season:             11-2

Key Games:              9/15 vs. Illinois, 11/4 vs. Houston

Charlie Strong wasn’t deemed good enough to get the job done for Texas, but he’s moved on and found himself in a good situation. The American Athletic Conference doesn’t get much respect, but someone’s going to win it and the Bulls seem to be receiving all the buzz despite a coaching change that would normally be cause for apprehension. They’ll need to go undefeated to rank this high, and I don’t believe that to be an unreasonable expectation.

 

 

8          Georgia

Last Season:             8-5

Key Games:              9/9 at Notre Dame, 9/30 at Tennessee, 10/28 vs. Florida

It’s season 2 for Kirby Smart as the head coach in Athens, and I think his team will be more successful than they were last year. Obviously the SEC is extremely competitive, but if the Bulldogs can win a couple of the noted key games a Top 10 finish isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Running back Nick Chubb passed up being a likely first round NFL Draft pick to return for his senior season, a huge positive. A Georgia-Alabama conference title game could be really fun.

 

 

9          Wisconsin

Last Season:             11-3

Key Games:              10/7 at Nebraska, 11/18 vs. Michigan

I’m a little nervous about this one because the Big Ten is so tough. Can they really land three teams in the Top 10? And if so, is this the right third team?? I’ve left Nebraska, Northwestern, & Iowa out of this Top 25 altogether, but they’re always dangerous opponents. I’m betting that the Badgers get by all of them, meaning that a mid-November clash with Michigan…in Wisconsin…might decide a spot in the conference title game.

 

 

10        Auburn

Last Season:             8-5

Key Games:              9/9 at Clemson, 10/14 at LSU, 11/11 vs. Georgia, 11/25 vs. Alabama

The Tigers have been a bit off the radar the past few years since winning the national championship in 2010 and losing the title game in 2013. They are 23-16 over the past three seasons. Not bad, but not remarkable either. Exceeding mediocrity will be a tall order this season. They’ll need to pull off upsets in a couple of the games I have noted, but doing so would surely make them a solid Top 10 team.

 

 

11        Oklahoma

Last Season:             11-2

Key Games:              9/9 at Ohio St., 10/14 vs. Texas, 11/4 at Oklahoma St.

QB Baker Mayfield will get a lot of Heisman hype early in the season, but I’m just a bit uneasy about the sudden departure of head coach Bob Stoops. The Sooners will have superior talent on the field as they always do, and all indications are that new coach Lincoln Riley is a bright young mind who probably would’ve been a head coach somewhere sooner rather than later anyway, but I just don’t foresee a team undergoing such a coaching change contending for a national championship, especially with a daunting early season battle on the road in Columbus, OH. There’s also the fact that the Big 12 is expected to be as competitive this season as it’s been in awhile. Oklahoma will be a good team, but I think they’ll be on the losing end of one or two games that most wouldn’t expect them to lose.

 

 

12        Washington

Last Season:             12-2

Key Games:              9/23 at Colorado, 10/28 vs. UCLA, 11/25 vs. Washington St.

The Huskies were a playoff team last season and QB Jake Browning returns for his junior year. That’s good enough for me to take this team seriously. Barring any surprising losses it feels like Washington should be the favorite in their division to get a shot at the Pac 12 title, but I think that’s the ceiling. Any unexpected stumbles along the way could cause a rapid tumble down the rankings.

 

 

13        Louisville

Last Season:             9-4

Key Games:              9/16 vs. Clemson, 10/21 at Florida St.

Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson returns under center, and while there’s no denying that he’s a dynamic player the fact is that he’s not going to sneak up on anyone this year. Even going back to last season it seems like opponents began to figure him out since the Cardinals lost three straight to end the year, including a beatdown in the Citrus Bowl at the hands of LSU. Having said all of that, I think a 9 win season is possible. Keep an eye on the games against Clemson & Florida State. I expect both to be losses, but if they’re competitive contests it’ll go a long way toward earning Louisville respect.

 

 

14        Clemson

Last Season:             14-1

Key Games:              11/11 vs. Florida St.

Replacing a starting quarterback might be just as daunting as rebooting things under a new head coach. I am a huge fan of Deshaun Watson, who is now plying his trade in the NFL with the Houston Texans, and I don’t believe he’ll be easily forgotten (he should’ve won the Heisman Trophy last year). I have no doubt that the defending national champions will just reload at most positions, and head coach Dabo Sweeney is the real deal, but I think the Tigers will taste bitter defeat at the hands of archrival Florida St., and will probably be upset in atleast one other game.

 

 

15        Michigan

Last Season:             10-3

Key Games:              9/2 vs. Florida, 10/21 at Penn St., 11/25 vs. Ohio St.

When Jim Harbaugh was hired as the Wolverines’ head coach back in 2015 I predicted that they’d be “legitimate national championship contenders within three years”. However, faced with the task of replacing about 75% of the starting rotations on both sides of the ball I think it might be wise to dial back expectations just a bit. They have Ohio St. at The Big House in Ann Arbor, but must travel to Happy Valley to face Penn St. Another 10 win season would be phenomenal in a stacked Big Ten…anything more than that is probably wishful thinking.

 

 

16        West Virginia

Last Season:             10-3

Key Games:              9/3 vs. Virginia Tech, 10/28 vs. Oklahoma St., 11/18 vs. Texas, 11/25 at Oklahoma

Expectations are high for the Mountaineers, atleast here in West Virginia. The long awaited debut of QB Will Grier, a transfer from Florida who had to sit out last season, is imminent, and he’ll have no shortage of weapons, including RBs Kennedy McCoy & Justin Crawford and WRs Juvon Durante & KaRaun White. The X factor is the defense, which must replace the entire front line and cornerback Rasul Douglas, who has moved on to the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. The optimism probably doesn’t spread too far outside the Mountain State, but that’s alright…we’re used to everyone underestimating us in all walks of life. West Virginia MUST beat archrival Virginia Tech in the season opener, and then pull off atleast one upset in big games against celebrated conference rivals.

 

 

17        Boise St.

Last Season:             10-3

Key Games:              10/6 at BYU, 11/11 at Colorado St.

The Broncos are what they are. They’ll win 9 or 10 games, play for the conference title, and try to surprise everyone by upsetting a team from a “power” conference in a bowl game. But wait…Boise HASN’T played for the Mountain West championship or in a bowl game that people actually watch since 2014. Can they rebound this year?? I think so.

 

 

18        Virginia Tech

Last Season:             10-4

Key Games:              9/3 vs. West Virginia, 9/30 vs. Clemson, 11/4 at Miami (FL)

In his first season as the Hokies’ head coach Justin Fuente led his team to 10 wins and spot in the conference title game. Can that success be duplicated in 2017?? Maybe. The ACC isn’t a cakewalk by any stretch, and a neutral site season opener against my WV Mountaineers won’t be an automatic win. The difference in Tech’s season will be whether they win 7/8 games or 9/10 games. Either is possible.

 

 

19        Florida

Last Season:             9-4

Key Games:              9/2 vs. Michigan, 10/7 vs. LSU, 10/28 vs. Georgia, 11/25 vs. Florida St.

It wasn’t that long ago that almost every team would open the season with a couple of easy games against cupcake opponents, the result usually being a 65-10 snoozefest that accomplished nothing except filling the coffers of the overmatched losing team. However, with the advent of the four team playoff strength of schedule has become a point of emphasis. One wouldn’t think that teams from the heralded SEC would need to concern themselves with such matters, but it looks like they’re not taking any chances. The Gators begin their season at The Palace in Dallas against Michigan. The winner will probably be vaulted into the Top 10, the loser will have to battle back. Either way Florida will have a tough road after that first game, and they’ll need to upset a couple of conference opponents to finish as a ranked team.

 

 

20        Texas

Last Season:             5-7

Key Games:              9/16 at USC, 10/14 vs. Oklahoma, 10/21 vs. Oklahoma St.

Here’s what I find interesting. IF the South Florida Bulls do as well as most are predicting in Charlie Strong’s first year as head coach there, what does it say about his ability?? And IF the Longhorns bounce back from a long stretch of mediocrity as well, does credit have to be given to new head coach Tom Herman, or will it be because Strong recruited well and the suits in Austin pulled the plug on him too soon?? It’s a conversation I’ll be looking forward to throughout the season. I don’t think Texas is going to suddenly be a threat to win 10 games or compete for the Big 12 title, but if they can pull off an upset or two, play Southern Cal tough in the opener, and ultimately win 8 games I think this spot would be well earned.

 

 

21        Stanford

Last Season:             10-3

Key Games:              9/9 at USC, 9/23 vs. UCLA, 11/10 vs. Washington, 11/25 vs. Notre Dame

Contrary to what the folks in SEC territory would have us believe I happen to think that the Big Ten & Pac 12 are the toughest football conferences in America. Stanford always seems to be in the mix near the top, and I have no reason to foresee anything different this season. They’ll need to score a couple of big upsets, and the fact that 3 of the 4 key games I have noted are being played in Palo Alto should certainly help the cause. Look for an 8 or 9 win season and a ranking somewhere in the lower portion of the Top 25.

 

 

22        LSU

Last Season:             8-4

Key Games:              10/7 at Florida, 10/14 vs. Auburn, 11/4 at Alabama

Allow me to say something controversial. I think Leonard Fournette was an overrated college running back that will have a relatively short and very average NFL career. There…I said it!! At any rate, I don’t believe Fournette’s departure will have that much of an impact on the Bayou Bengals. Actually it may help not having him as a distraction. What doesn’t help is a schedule that includes trips to The Swamp and Tuscaloosa. 9 wins and a 3rd place finish in their division looks like the ceiling, and that’d be good enough to finish as a ranked team. Head coach Ed Orgeron is firmly entrenched as the head coach for now, but I have to believe that he’s on a short leash. He’ll get two seasons to prove his worth, and probably needs to win 8 or 9 games each year.

 

 

23        Miami (FL)

Last Season:             9-4

Key Games:              9/16 at Florida St., 11/4 vs. Virginia Tech, 11/11 vs. Notre Dame

Head coach Mark Richt acquitted himself quite nicely in his first season in Coral Gables, as the ‘Canes continue to hover on the fringes of their former glory. With the ACC raising the bar and being one of the better conferences I have a difficult time seeing them making any kind of significant leap in 2017. However, if they can win a couple of key games and beat all of the teams they’re supposed to defeat I don’t think equaling last year’s success is an unreasonable expectation.

 

 

24        UCLA

Last Season:             4-8    

Key Games:              9/23 at Stanford, 10/28 at Washington, 11/18 at USC

Despite recent comments that “football and school don’t go together” (a statement that might contain a kernel of truth but should never be verbalized) I like QB Josh Rosen. He’ll be a first round NFL draft pick next spring, and his importance became clear when the Bruins lost 4 out of their final 5 games when Rosen suffered a season ending shoulder injury last year. The Pac 12 is super tough, but I think UCLA flips the script and wins 8 games.

 

 

25          Notre Dame

Last Season:             4-8

Key Games:              9/9 vs. Georgia, 10/21 vs. USC, 11/11 at Miami (FL), 11/25 at Stanford

Surely the beloved Fighting Irish won’t finish with a losing record two years in a row?? If they could pull off one…or two…upsets sneaking into the rankings seems like a solid possibility. Conversely, another bad year might mean the end of the road for head coach Brian Kelly.

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2016 Pigskin Picks of Profundity…..Week 8

kickoff_footballFirst, a few random thoughts.

  • I was wrong…the Carolina Panthers have indeed fallen victim to the Super Bowl curse. I honestly never saw it coming.
  • I am perfectly aware that my WV Mountaineers have virtually no shot to make the college football playoff, even if they go undefeated, something that I don’t think is going to happen anyway. However, recent comments by former NY Giants DB turned talking head Jason Sehorn were unprofessional & unnecessary.
  • Alabama is such a machine that I’ve grown bored with them.
  • I’m not surprised that the New England Patriots are that damn good…I’m just not happy about it.
  • Ben Roethlisberger is the starting QB on my fantasy dynasty team. Thank God Derek Carr is my backup.
  • What the hell is wrong with the Big 12?? The number “12” is in the name…they should be compelled to add two members!!
  • I’m really surprised about how much Notre Dame & Michigan St. have fallen since last season.

Okay, so last week Zach was 3-4, while I went 5-2. Yay…I’m above .500!! Let’s see how it goes this week.

My Season:        21-20

Z’s Season:        14-28

 

 

 

 

BYU                 at             Boise St. (-7)

byuThe Broncos are 6-0 and ranked 14th in the country, having defeated some pretty solid competition. However, let’s BOISE-ST-LOGOnot overlook the 4-3 Cougars, who lost those three games by a total of 7 points. They’ve got a RB named Jamaal Williams who will be playing on Sundays next year. I’m going to roll the dice and pick the upset. Conversely, Zach has concerns about BYU’s defense and thinks Boise will win in a blowout.

My Pick:   BYU

Z’s Pick:   Boise St.

 

Miami, FL                at             Virginia Tech (-6)

miamiu2Ahhhh…it’s a battle of former Big East foes, both of whom abandoned the conference for the ACC and killed the Big East. At Virginia_Tech_Hokies2any rate, both programs seem to be on the cusp of relevance again. I know the Hurricanes have lost two in a row and the Hokies were beaten by Syracuse last week, but I still think both can win 9 or 10 games and get a major bowl bid. Obviously the winner of this game will be in better shape. Tech is getting the home field bump, but I believe Miami is the better team. Zach can’t overlook the home field advantage and likes the favored Hokies.

My Pick:   Miami, FL

Z’s Pick:   Virginia Tech

 

 

Arkansas                at             Auburn (-10)

Okay…so, neither of these teams have a snowball’s chance in Brazil of winning the SEC or even their division. But the Razorbacks, at 5-2, and the arkansas-razorback-logoTigers, at 4-2, can both still have great seasons. A victory here would certainly help. Auburn is getting a big home field bump, but that seems odd. The points are a bit much and I’m not buying it. Zach concurs.

My Pick:   Arkansas

Z’s Pick:   Arkansas

 

 

NY Giants (-2.5)      vs.   L.A. Rams

laramsBefore the season I predicted that the Rams would go 3-13. They’ve already gotten three wins and we aren’t even to the Giants Logomidpoint of the season. More surprising than that is the fact that they’re doing well with Case Keenum under center and #1 overall draft pick Jared Goff hasn’t even smelled the field. Imagine what they could be doing if they’d chosen Carson Wentz or Paxton Lynch. Meanwhile, the always unpredictable Giants are also 3-3. They really need to find a better running back, but as long as Odell Beckham is around being an elite receiver they have a fighting chance. This game is being played in London and will start at 9:30am here in America. In other words no one will be watching. I’m going to walk on the wild side and pick the upset…for no apparent reason. Zach likes OBJ to have another big day and lead the Giants to victory.

My Pick:   LA Rams

Z’s Pick:   NY Giants

 

Minnesota (-2.5)     at     Philadelphia

Everybody has been impressed with rookie QB Wentz, but after a 3-0 start the Eagles have lost two straight. Meanwhile, Sam Bradford, who was vikingstraded to Minnesota from Philly a couple of months ago, has led the Vikings to a 5-0 record. When QB Teddy Bridgewater was lost to injury I assumed Minnesota’s playoff hopes had ended, but I was wrong. Really wrong. I suppose they’ll lose at some point, but I don’t think it’ll be this week, even in enemy territory. Zach likes the Vikings’ defense and believes that will be the difference.

My Pick:   Minnesota

Z’s Pick:   Minnesota