Week One Predictions
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In six seasons gone by, I have yet to win my own contest here on Fans25.com. I have finished in the top five twice, and I have been 69% or better for the season every year, but I have yet to bring home the prize....In 2013, I look to put an end to that streak with some good picking - but it will not be easy. Once again we have a top-notch group of fans looking to show who is boss, and once again the games are tough to pick. Here in the very first week of the season I see several games that are going to make this tough!
Here are my predictions for the games of week one:
North Carolina at #6 South Carolina - August 29th, 6:00 - ESPN - Second-year Head Coach Larry Fedora brings his Tar Heels a few hours south to mix it up with the Gamecocks of South Carolina, a team riding a wave of success under Steve Spurrier (ninth season at USC, 22-4 last two seasons, 12-4 SEC). This is an intriguing game, one that will be filled with excitement early on, and one that will eventually go the Gamecocks' way. South Carolina is very well coached, and has a number of outstanding players on both sides of the ball. UNC also has some future NFL guys and it is yet to be seen how Fedora will pan out in Chapel Hill. His first team won eight games, and one of the losses included a last-second heartbreaker to Louisville on the road....In this one, I see UNC making some noise early as both teams will be sky-high and the Tar Heel athletes can play with USC's athletes for a decent while. On top of that, Heel senior QB Bryn Renner will be tough for the Gamecock defense to sack as he releases the ball quickly. But South Carolina is much deeper at this point, and once the game settles in, I see quarterbacks Dylan Thompson and Connor Shaw finding gaps in the UNC defense, and scoring several times. This is an exciting game for a season opener. I see the Gamecocks prevailing in a good ball game....South Carolina, 37-26.
Ole Miss at Vanderbilt - August 29th, 9:15 - ESPN - Under James Franklin, Vandy has become one of the SEC's feared programs. Go ahead, laugh at me for typing that. I don't care. The fact of the matter is that in most every conference, the 'Dores would finish in the top two or three of that league. In the SEC, they get lost in the mix a bit, but make no mistake about it: Vanderbilt is for real. Franklin has improved the program in the win total in each of his first two seasons, including a 9-4 mark (5-3 SEC) a year ago....On the opposite sideline will stand Hugh Freeze, the second-year Mississippi head coach who led the Rebels to seven wins in 2012. Freeze spent the offseason racking up big-time recruits, and will send a talented team - even if that talent is mainly freshmen - up to Nashville for this game....I think Freeze is going to get Ole Miss rolling, but I don't think it will start in this game. Franklin's teams are tough at night at home, and despite a new starting QB for Vanderbilt (Austyn Carta-Samuels, a transfer), the experience should be on their sideline...Vanderbilt, 30-17.
#24 USC at Hawaii - August 29th, 11:00 - CBS Sports Network - The Rainbow Warriors (yes, the colorful part of the name is back) will host the Trojans of USC in a game way out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Southern Cal will play two QBs in this game, something WR Marqise Lee isn't crazy about. Lee, though, will have to adjust until either Max Wittek or Cody Kessler separate from the other. Both are redshirt sophomores and both have talent. But neither of them has hardly anything for experience...Hawaii, as is usual, falls a little short in the talent department. The Rainbow Warriors get who they want from the Hawaiin Islands, but do not exactly haul in the biggest West coast names beyond that. They will field a good team, and will win a few games, but I don't think this will be one of them. I think USC gets the 2013 season rolling with a relatively easy win...USC, 38-22.
Syracuse vs. Penn State - August 31st, 3:30 - ABC regional - The Orange of the 'Cuse will carry the ACC banner in an OOC game against the Nittany Lions in New Jersey. Syracuse is going into year one in their new conference with a coach going into year one at the school. Head Coach Scott Shafer has been the DC for the past four seasons before getting the promotion to head man. He has a good offense coming back to try to do damage in 2013, led by the return of both running backs, Jerome Smith and Prince Tyson-Gulley, and three offensive linemen. Defense is the 'Cuse question mark ...Penn State is led by a strong defense, anchored by defensive end Deion Barnes. On offense, PSU will send 5-star recruit Christian Hackenburg out onto the field. Hackenburg is a tremendous talent, but his lack of experience at the college level is the obvious question...In this one, I see Penn State as a little bit stronger program right now. The defense is strong and the offense returns enough to give Hackenburg some adjusting time....Penn State, 27-20.
Mississippi State vs #13 Oklahoma State - August 31st, 3:30 - ABC regional - An interesting matchup as the Bulldogs from the SEC venture into Big 12 country to face the Cowboys. Oklahoma State is perennially one of the best scoring teams in America, and with coach Mike Gundy's proven attack set to take the field under a senior QB, Chris Chelf, I see it happening again. MSU features a defense that is better than most in the Big 12, but I don't think that will slow the Cowboys down too much....In this one, I see the game developing like many where the visitor comes in over-matched; they will hang around early on, but eventually the more talented home team will take over. I see Mississippi State getting a score early, and maybe stopping the Cowboys on a drive or two. But eventually, that potent OSU offense will erupt for more than its fair share of points....Oklahoma State, 41-21.
BYU at Virginia - August 31st, 3:30 - ESPNU - Props to the Cavaliers for scheduling quality OOC games as the Hoos welcome BYU and Oregon to Scott Stadium this fall in back-to-back weeks to get things going. The Cougars are not the pass-happy type program of the 80's and 90's when guys such as Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Ty Detmer were slinging it around. But they can still play ball. This year's BYU quarterback is sophomore Taysom Hill, who returns to the starting role after going 2-0 in 2012 before a bizarre knee injury knocked him out for the season. On a game-ending, kneel-down play against Utah State, Hill was hit in the backfield and suddenly gone for the year...Fast forward to 2013 and Hill is on a mission to join the list of prestigious names above. He will start by trying to beat a UVA program that has been a mystery for years. The Hoos had some great seasons under long-time coach George Welsh (retired in 2000), but have yet to do anything signifacnt since. Fourth-year HC Mike London will start QB David Watford - a guy who was on the scout team in 2012 - to try to beat the Cougars...This is a tough game to pick as both QBs are relatively unknown in actual football games. I want to pick UVA as they have home-field and represent my conference. But something tells me the Cavaliers are just not a very good program. BYU, 33-24.
#1 Alabama vs. Virginia Tech - August 31st, 5:30 - ESPN - Just a few seasons ago, this game would have been extremely hard to pick. Alabama was yet to establish their dynasty, and VT was a feared program that played hard-nosed, hit-you-in-the mouth football. A few years later, Tech is still a good program, just not a top-15 type of program. And Alabama? Well, we all know what has developed down there....To start 2013, these two teams will tangle in the Georgia Dome. Honestly, I don't think VT has much of a chance, but I am very interested to see if they can play the Tide closer - on a neutral field - than Notre Dame did seven months ago. Good grief that was boring. I think this game will go Bama's way - as stated already - but not the blowout that is anticipated. I think VT will make something happen early on and give Bama a decent game...In the end, Alabama is superior on offense and defense, and are perhaps the best-coached team in America. Beamer's boys will fight hard, and keep it respectable, but Alabama wins this one...Alabama, 34-17.
Washington State at Auburn - August 31st, 7:00 - ESPNU - The Gus Malhzahn era will get underway under the lights at Jordan-Hare Stadium as the former popular OC takes over for ousted Gene Chizik. Just 24 months removed from a BCS title, Chizik had Auburn fans in fury with poor performances. Enter Malzahn - OC of the 2010 team that won it all - and a master of the spread offense. He will try to get the scoreboard lights flashing again on the home side with an offensive plan that will be fun to watch develop in a league filled with good defenses...WSU Head Coach Mike Leach knows a thing or two, as well, about lighting up scoreboards. His Texas Tech teams broke school, conference and national records on a weekly basis back in the day. So far at WSU, though, he hasn't gotten that going yet. His 2012 team passed for 334 yards per game - ninth nationally - but the Cougars were 108th in putting actual points on the board last year...In this one, I see some rusty football happening. Auburn has a decent defense, and will limit Leach's offensive gameplan. For Auburn, the Malzahn spread attack will also be going through growing pains. I see many mistakes, but an exciting opener for both!...Auburn, 26-20.
#5 Georgia at #8 Clemson - August 31st, 8:00 - ABC - The Dawgs and Tigers are set to renew a rivalry that dates back to the glory games of the 80's, when these two were annually thinking national title. The towns of Athens and Clemson sit just an hour or so away from each other across the state line, and the fan bases are all too familiar with one another. I hate to say it, but I would bet a family member that more than one "incident" involving rabid fans will go down at this contest. This is the hardest ticket to a Clemson home game since the first Bowden Bowl 14 years ago...On the field - where it counts - the national prediction is to think SEC first, then sit back and see what happens. Everyone knows Clemson has a high-powered offense, but I am hearing many predict that Clemson's offense will sputter when faced against a fast and physical SEC defense. And it might. But I don't think it will. I think UGA will slow Clemson down some, but that CU will score their share. The key for Georgia is to keep the ball away from QB Tajh Boyd and company - a gameplan executed to perfection by South Carolina a year ago when they kept the ball for 43 minutes in a defeat of the Tigers....For Georgia, QB Aaron Murray looks to give the ball to running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall to do exactly what the Gamecocks did: score enough to win, then keep the ball out of Boyd's hands. Murray is very good, and he will guide the Dawgs to points with his arm and with those two dangerous running backs. But I think the Clemson defense is the most under-rated unit on the field going into this game and will be out to prove a point....In this one, a battle is on the horizon. I see a back-and-forth game that keeps all 85,000 fans gasping for air. This game could go either way hinging on a play or two here or there, so it would be ludicrous for me to pick against my own squad - in our house - in a 50/50 game. Clemson has one of the top FG kickers in the nation, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if Chandler Catanzaro wins another one for the Tigers...Clemson, 33-31.
Wyoming at #18 Nebraska - August 31st, 8:00 - Big Ten Network - The Cornhuskers get a warm up game to get the 2103 camapign underway. While I know Wyoming can play good ball from time-to-time, they are still, well....Wyoming. Nebraska should come out and score and score often in this one. The Cowboys were 99th in the nation in points against last fall, and I don't know what kind of superman recruit could make them be much improved on defense....The bottom line here is that Nebraska is the superior team and will win this one with ease, at home. A game like this would normally not make the list in this prestigious contest, but in week one, where the slection is often littered with cupcakes vs super powers, this game was able to sneak in there. If Nebraska were to lose, it would be big news. But they won't...Nebraska, 40-13.
#12 LSU vs #20 TCU - August 31st, 9:00 - ESPN - What a tough one to pick! Two of the top coaches in the game - Gary Patterson of TCU and Les Miles of LSU - bring their squads to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas (the Jerry Dome) for what is sure to be a hard-hitting contest. Sadly, when reading up on this game it was hard to get past all of the news concerning suspensions to get to the X's and O's. TCU quarterback Casey Paschall is back after being suspended last year for substance abuse. LSU running back Jeremy Hill is going to sit out some of this game (battery charges), but Miles is not saying how long at this point...All of that aside, I have tremendous respect for what kind of game this will be. LSU is unpredictable but is always hard-hitting. TCU is most always very disciplined under Patterson. Both have question marks in key places, such as QB. LSU brings in a new OC in Cam Cameron who will try to get Zach Mettenburg on track. TCU's Paschall is a very good player, but it is yet to be seen if he can get rolling in his first game back against a good defense....This game is just so hard to pick. I was leaning towards LSU, anyway, when I caught news of another TCU suspension: Devonte Fields. Fields is listed on the depth chart for this game, and many think he will play, but Patterson insists he will sit the first two games. The very productive defensive end is out for a "violation of team rules." I will go with LSU in this one based on Miles' experience in these big-time opening games. It will be a dandy!...LSU, 26-21.
#22 Northwestern at California - August 31st, 10:30 - ESPN2 - I talk all of the time about how impressive it is that Northwestern does what they do on the football field considering their size and elite acadmic status. And sure enough, again in 2013, they have put together a team capable of making a run at a huge year under Pat Fitzgerald. But in week one, 2,500 miles from home, they better have their chin-straps strapped on tight. Cal is not a program that strikes the fear of God into your soul. But they do have very good athletes and you just never know what a team with a brand new coach will throw at you. Cal starts the Sonny Dykes era in this game, and would love nothing more than to make news with a top 25 upset....In this one, I see a great game...Dykes and company will throw out a plethora of new stuff for Fitzgerals' squad to deal with. But I think the Wildcats are disciplined enough to deal with the excitement and mystery of Cal, and hold on for a key road win...Northwestern, 28-21.
#11 Florida State at Pittsburgh - September 2nd, 8:00 - ESPN - The Pitt Panthers start a new day as they officially start ACC play with this game against the Seminoles - the conference all-time leader in countless team categories in this sport. If Pitt were to win this one, it would be a major upset, no doubt about it. But realistically, the do have a shot. FSU will be starting a freshman at quarterback, Jameis Winston, and this game is a season opener 1,500 miles from Tallahassee. Crazier stuff has happened in the college football world. Pitt Head Coach Paul Chyrst feels his second team is up to the challenge and will be there at the end against the Seminoles, but feels speed is the factor that will be tough to deal with. "Start with your best players on the field, and go from there," said Chryst....In this one, I feel FSU gets a good scare in what will be a festive - and historic - day for Pitt football. Florida State is the better team at this point, and I expect them to come up with just enough plays for a less-than-spectacular win...FSU, 28-23.
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