Predictions 101 — Week 1

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Here we go!

It’s been 33 long weeks without college football games to keep us occupied and the offseason was generally one that we’d like to forget.

Thankfully, the best season in sports is finally upon us and we’re digging right in.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thur. Aug. 30 thru Mon., Sept. 3)

1) No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 2 Alabama at Arlington, Texas
Sat., 8 p.m. ET, ABC

Thanks to Brady Hoke, Michigan got back to being Michigan last year, but three starting defensive linemen are not back this season. That doesn’t bode well for the Wolverines in this matchup versus the defending BCS champs.

Led by Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones and three other returning starters, the Crimson Tide offensive line is the best in the country and it’s looking for more ways to prove it.

Alabama averaged 5.5 yards per rush last season, but the offense generated just 13 plays that went for 40 or more yards. Nick Saban is looking for new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to add more explosiveness to the passing game led by junior quarterback A.J. McCarron.

Michigan’s offense suffers from no such lack of explosiveness. Senior quarterback Denard Robinson is a powder keg and has been a particularly strong performer out of the gate in September. However, opening against Alabama is a different ballgame.

Someone with a penchant for throwing interceptions might be in for a long night against a Crimson Tide defense that shouldn’t fall off much from last year’s showing that saw it allow only 3.3 yards per play and permit third-down conversions at a stingy rate of 24.5 percent.

Michigan’s corresponding numbers from last season were 5.2 and 36.4 percent. Take nothing away from Wolverine defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who did a masterful job last season, bringing Michigan’s defense out from the muck, but this is too tough a task.

Trent Richardson is gone and his replacement, Eddie Lacy, is nursing knee and ankle sprains, but that doesn’t mean the Tide will be searching for answers at running back. If Lacy is limited or ineffective, expect to see true freshman T.J. Yeldon show his considerable stuff.

Opening point spread: Alabama -11

The pick: Alabama 26-19

2) No. 24 Boise State at No. 13 Michigan State
Fri., 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

This will be the fourth consecutive time that the Broncos open the season against a ranked foe from a BCS automatic qualifying conference. Oregon, Virginia Tech and Georgia were each previously victimized. However, this is a bit different because it’s the first of the four played on the opponent’s home field … and the first played without Kellen Moore available to take snaps.

Thankfully for Boise State, both teams are starting new quarterback eras. Like Moore, Michigan State hero Kirk Cousins will be remembered for a long time at his alma mater.

Quarterback Joe Southwick won’t be the only new starter for the Broncos. Most of the skill positions around him will be manned by newcomers, as well as all but two spots on defense. Wow.

We keep hearing that Boise State has become one of these schools that reloads instead of rebuilds. Amazing.

Chris Petersen is indeed a miracle worker, but rolling into East Lansing where the Spartans have eight starters returning from a defense that allowed less than 280 yards and 19 points per game is a mighty tough task with a new signalcaller.

After this trip, the Broncos likely will fall out of the AP Top 25 for the first time since September of 2008. That’s nothing to mourn … rather something to marvel.

Opening point spread: Michigan State by 7 1/2

The pick: Michigan State 31-20

3) No. 14 Clemson vs. Auburn at Atlanta
Sat., 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

The last time we saw Clemson, the Tigers were being humiliated by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.

Reportedly Brent Venables, who came over from Oklahoma to be Clemson’s new defensive coordinator, hasn’t watched all the footage of that 70-33 debacle. We wouldn’t either. It would not only be depressing, but also barely relevant as he reworks what remains from that unit into his favored 4-3 alignment.

Similarly, the last time these two Tigers were on the same field a year ago, the ones representing Auburn surrendered 624 yards of total offense on their way to a 38-24 defeat that snapped a 17-game winning streak. At one point, Auburn inexplicably allowed Clemson to convert on 10 consecutive third-down attempts. Ouch.

Unlike Venables’ situation, that tape is something new Auburn defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder needs to take a long look at.

With Gene Chizik recently announcing that sophomore Kiehl Frazier will start at quarterback, the Auburn defense might need to hold Clemson under 19 points to win the ballgame. The future is bright for the young dual-threat signalcaller, but we aren’t sure how he’ll perform on such a big stage this early in the season. He’ll also be working with a new coordinator (Scot Loeffler, who takes over for Gus Malzahn) and without suspended starting center Reese Dismukes.

Even though suspended wideout Sammy Watkins isn’t available to lean on, we’ve got more confidence in Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, who was 30-of-42 for 386 yards and four touchdowns in last year’s matchup. And tailback Andre Ellington and receiver DeAndre Hopkins are ready to roll for the defending ACC champs.

Opening point spread: Clemson by 7 1/2

The pick: Clemson 27-19

4) Georgia Tech at No. 16 Virginia Tech
Mon., 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

There’s lots of hype around jumbo quarterback Logan Thomas being the “next Cam Newton.” He has the size and some of the tools, but we just need to see if his young supporting cast compliments him well enough to get the job done each week.

Thankfully, the Hokie offense won’t be overly pressed to produce since the Virginia Tech defense, which has a host of experience at every level, will keep the majority of its opponents significantly under wraps.

Last year, the Hokies put the clamps on the Yellow Jackets in the fourth quarter of a 37-26 victory in Atlanta.

With Georgia Tech severely inexperienced at the receiving positions, it’s hard to picture the Ramblin’ Wreck keeping pace in this crucial Coastal Division showdown in Blacksburg.

Opening point spread: Virginia Tech by 7 1/2

The pick: Virginia Tech 27-17

5) No. 9 South Carolina at Vanderbilt
Thurs., 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Gamecocks surpassed all expectations last year, winning a school-record 11 games. What’s even more amazing is that they played nearly half the season with All-Everything tailback Marcus Lattimore on the sidelines.

With his recovery from knee surgery complete and Connor Shaw solidified at quarterback (if back spasms don’t get in the way), South Carolina is dreaming big.

Vanderbilt, however, doesn’t give a hoot about all this and there is some danger looming in Nashville as second-year head coach James Franklin has the Commodores feeling good about notching back-to-back bowl seasons.

Of course, good times in the opener will last only as long as quarterback Jordan Rodgers (Aaron’s little brother) remains upright while facing South Carolina’s skyscraper defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney (6-6) and Devin Taylor (6-8).

Remember how poorly the Gamecocks played in last season’s lid-lifter against East Carolina?

This will be tight.

Opening point spread: South Carolina by 8

The pick: South Carolina 24-23

RIVALRY GAME OF THE WEEK

Notre Dame vs. Navy at Dublin, Ireland
Sat., 9 a.m. ET, CBS

How could we pass up the longest continuous intersectional rivalry in college football? And this time it’s a season opener in Ireland!

Newly named starting quarterback Everett Golson has that electric quality to him, but he also won the confidence of Brian Kelly by displaying good decision making in practice. According to Kelly, he was intercepted just one time in his first 126 attempts of fall camp.

Following that sort of trend was the bright side of the offseason for Kelly, who spent (and continues to spend) considerable time getting tough with his misbehaving players.

Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo has been laying down the law regarding another kind of toughness, the physical kind. He and his Midshipmen feel that’s what was missing as they slipped to a 5-7 mark last season and missed out on a bowl game for the first time in eight years.

Navy has only 11 returning starters and is particularly inexperienced in both trenches. After losing its entire starting defensive front, it’s frightening to think of how punchless the Midshipmen pass rush will be after barely generating any penetration and pressure a year ago.

Opening point spread: Notre Dame by 14

The pick: Notre Dame 28-16

UPSET SPECIAL OF THE WEEK

Washington State at BYU
Thurs., 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

We like Mike Leach. We admit it. We don’t like pirates. We don’t like Pullman. But we like Leach. And, guess what, his act and attack is going to work up in the Palouse.

Like the oddsmakers, we realize that Wazzu has no business waltzing into Provo thinking that they’ve got this won. But once the bullets start flying, BYU will know that it’s in for a 60-minute shootout against Leach and his senior triggerman Jeff Tuel.

Of course, BYU quarterback Riley Nelson, a seventh-year senior, is capable of grabbing a hold of the game and not letting go, especially against Washington State’s limp defense, but at least the experienced Cougar secondary has been there before against similar attacks.

Maybe it’s not a moneyline play, but there’s a lot to like.

Opening point spread: BYU by 12 1/2

The pick: Washington State 31-30

2011 regular season record: 121-43
2011 bowl record: 20-15

Pac-12, SEC, Big Ten well-represented in Super Bowl, Nebraska’s Super Bowl streak hits 25

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The New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles have clinched their spot in Super Bowl LII in Minnesota in two weeks after capturing the AFC and NFC championships, respectively, on Sunday. With Tom Brady (Michigan, Big Ten) and Nick Foles (Arizona, Pac-12) leading their teams into the Super Bowl, the Pac-12, SEC, and Big Ten will be well-represented in the big game this season.

A total of 29 players from the Pac-12 will be on the Super Bowl rosters for the Patriots and Eagles, as well as 28 players from the SEC and 27 from the Big Ten. Cole Cubelic of the SEC Network shared the conference numbers on Twitter, which the Pac-12 will surely take pride in.

When it comes to the school by school breakdown, it is the Stanford Cardinal that come in at the head of the Super Bowl class this season with five players on the Super Bowl rosters.

The official account for Stanford football on Twitter has a different official count for the Super Bowl, however.

Nebraska also has three players in the Super Bowl and will continue to carry the longest active streak of consecutive years with at least one player playing in the Super Bowl.

You can watch all of these former college football players play for the Super Bowl championship in two weeks on NBC on Sunday, Feb. 4.

Early betting lines see Alabama open as massive favorite against Louisville

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The start of a new college football season is still a good distance away, which means taking any action on opening lines you may come across now is not for the faint of heart. However, it is never too early for some to place some wagers on the upcoming season, and initial opening lines from one sports book are making Alabama, Oklahoma, and Ohio State heavy favorites in their respective season openers next fall.

As relayed by Brett McMurphy via Twitter, 5Dimes has released a handful of opening lines for some games of interest in Week 1 of the 2018 season. Among them is Alabama’s season opener in Orlando against Louisville. The defending national champion Crimson Tide are opening as a lopsided 29.5-point favorite against the Cardinals, who begin a season without NFL-bound and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson at quarterback. Alabama would have been a considerable favorite against the Cardinals even if Jackson was coming back next season, but to be a nearly 30-point favorite against a team like Louisville is incredible.

Other heavy favorites will include defending Big Ten champion Ohio State giving 31 points to Oregon State in Columbus and defending Big 12 champion Oklahoma spotting Lane Kiffin and FAU three touchdowns in Norman. Of note, Miami is also a one-point favorite against LSU in their season opener in Arlington, Texas, and Auburn is a four-point favorite against Washington in Atlanta.

Kevin Sumlin is a 7.5-point favorite in his coaching debut with Arizona against BYU and Texas is a 10-point favorite on the road against Maryland (Maryland topped the Longhorns in Austin in last season’s Week 1 matchup). Notre Dame is a slight two-point favorite against Jim Harbaugh and Michigan in their Week 1 primetime contest (7:30 p.m. on NBC, for those wondering).

See any early lines you like? Or will you be holding off until closer to the start of the season to put your money where your mouth is?

After leaving Michigan State, Hunter Rison lands at K-State

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Less than two weeks after leaving East Lansing, Hunter Rison is headed a little bit further west to continue his collegiate playing career.

On his personal Twitter account this weekend, Rison revealed that he “will be furthering my athletic and academic career at Kansas State University.” The announcement came nearly a dozen days after Rison’s father, former Michigan State wide receiver Andre Rison, confirmed during a radio interview that his son would be transferring from his alma mater, citing a desire for more playing time.

After sitting out the 2018 season to satisfy NCAA transfer bylaws, the wide receiver will have three years of eligibility remaining.

Rison was a four-star 2017 signee, rated as the No. 46 receiver in the country and the No. 9 player at any position in the state of Michigan. The 5-11, 200-pound Rison was one of four four-star recruits signed as part of MSU’s February 2017 recruiting class.

As a true freshman, he caught 19 passes for 224 yards. In the September loss to Notre Dame, he set career highs in receptions (four) and receiving yards (73).

Former Ohio State assistant leaving Minnesota for Michigan

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An assistant with history on one side of The Game rivalry is headed to the other side. reportedly.

FootballScoop.com first reported that Minnesota’s Ed Warinner (pictured, center) is leaving Minnesota to take an unspecified job at Michigan. SI.com‘s Bruce Feldman subsequently confirmed the initial report.

While the Wolverines have not yet confirmed the addition of Warinner, the coach’s updated Twitter profile indicates that he’s now at U-M. As Jim Harbaugh already has his allotment of 10 on-field assistants, it appears likely that Warinner will serve as some type of offensive analyst.

Warinner spent the 2017 season as the offensive line coach and running-game coordinator at Minnesota. Prior to that, He was the line coach at Ohio State from 2012-16. In 2015, he added the title of co-offensive coordinator.