Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 8/30/13
College Football Week 1 Picks Every year the wait for college football’s return gets longer.  Or maybe I just become more impatient.  Either way, we’ve finally arrived at Week 1 of the 2013 season and can settle back onto our couches, recliners, and barstools to resume watching the best sport in the land.  Sure to follow are weeks of joy, agony, and frustration as we endure the final year of the BCS system…raise your hand if next year’s playoff can’t come soon enough for you. Anyway, before getting to weekly picks, we wanted to toss our hats into the prediction ring by naming our projected conference title games (for leagues that have them) or champions (for those that don’t).  In all likelihood these assumptions will leave some egg on our faces; if college football has taught us anything, it’s that anything can happen.  Nevertheless, it’s fun to speculate: Conf. Zach Bigalke John Mitchell Matt Strobl AAC ACC Big 12 Big Ten C-USA MAC MWC Pac-12 SEC Sun Belt Louisville Clemson over Miami Baylor OSU over NW Marshall over UTSA NIU over Bowling Green BSU over SJSU Oregon over ASU Texas A&M over Georgia Louisiana-Monroe Louisville FSU over Miami Texas OSU over NW Marshall over Tulsa NIU over Ohio BSU over SJSU Stanford over UCLA Alabama over USC Western Kentucky Louisville FSU over Miami Texas OSU over Michigan Marshall over Rice NIU over Ohio BSU over Fresno State Stanford over USC Alabama over USC Louisiana-Lafayette Let’s get to the picks for week 1.  If you have a gambling problem, it’s probably best to stay away from these as they may not win you the millions that you’re hoping for.  Still, each week we’ll deliver our best guesses on how the biggest games will shake out.  Note that all picks are made against the spread as defined by Yahoo! Sports. Mississippi State @ Oklahoma State (-12.5) Strobl: This is a surprisingly large spread for the first game of the year, considering the level of competition. Sure, MSU is a team in transition that, according to coach Dan Mullen, may rely on as many as “six or seven” freshmen. And yes, the Cowboys are being picked by many to win the competitive Big 12. But despite the apparent imbalance, beating a quality SEC teams by two touchdowns is no mean feat. I’m tempted to challenge Vegas on this one, and if it was in Starkville I might follow through. But I do think OSU will have a dynamic offense, and despite some defensive concerns, should be able to handle the Bulldogs in Stillwater.  PICK: Oklahoma State Mitchell: Oklahoma State is one of the favorites in the Big 12, and Mississippi State is a middling SEC team, but a 12.5 point spread feels a little bit too high for the opening weekend tilt, even with the game being played in Stillwater. The Bulldogs have a few new starters in some key positions, but they do return veteran quarterback Tyler Russell and speedy tailback LaDarius Perkins, who rushed for over 1000 yards last season. The big question mark is their secondary, where they must replace three starters including Thorpe award winner Johnathan Banks. The new defensive backs will get a baptism by fire against Oklahoma State’s explosive passing attack, regardless of if it is J.W. Walsh or Clint Chelf taking the snaps at quarterbacks. The ‘Pokes have the better team, and should win, but look for it to be around a 10-point game. PICK: Mississippi State Bigalke: Oh, boy, is this ever a toss-up. That spread makes me hesitant to pick Oklahoma State, but the fact that Mississippi State is at best the fifth-best team in the SEC West and lost five defensive starters means that they don’t necessarily have the depth of an Alabama or LSU to seamlessly slide into the empty slots on the depth chart. Oklahoma State, on the other hand, has as much offensive firepower as ever, able to torment most SEC defenses. I could easily see a two-touchdown deficit for the Bulldogs on their road trip. PICK: Oklahoma State Alabama @ Virginia Tech (+20) Strobl: Another big spread, this 20-point gap isn’t as crazy as it seems. Alabama is far and away the game’s best program while the Hokies have struggled in recent seasons.  Even if you’re willing to discount last year’s 7-6 finish, VT hasn’t been its usual self of late; the team has suffered at least three losses in each of the last six seasons and has been generally unable to hang with quality opponents.  This may not be a blowout, but the Tide by three touchdowns is reasonable, even on the road.  PICK: Alabama Mitchell: A 20-point spread is big, but we’ve seen time and time again what Nick Saban and company can do with a long time to prepare. They eviscerated Michigan in Dallas last season, and did the same to Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game with over a month to get ready. The big question mark for the Crimson Tide will be whether or not the offensive line will gel after losing three starters — first round draft picks Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker along with three-time All American Barrett Jones. They’ll get a good early test against an experienced Hokie front seven. Even if Alabama struggles to run, look for AJ McCarron to pick apart a Virginia Tech secondary that is without its No. 1 cornerback Antone Exum. McCarron has at his disposal, the deepest and most talented group of receivers in Tide history. PICK: Alabama Bigalke: Look, I’m all for giving the two-time defending champs the requisite respect heading into the season. But here, I must say, Vegas seems to have gone exorbitantly high on this pick. The Tide offense returns plenty of parts to drive Saban’s system to perfection, but that defense is thinner than most want to admit. I’m not about to say that Virginia Tech has the horses to hang an outright upset on Bama, but the fact that the Hokies return nine starters from a top-20 defense in 2012 means that they’ve got the potential to keep this game tighter than a three-touchdown gap. Roll Tide and all, but Beamer’s boys are going to cover the spread. PICK: Virginia Tech Georgia @ Clemson (+1.5) Strobl: Oh good, the Disappointment Bowl.  In spite of all its success, the Clemson program is still the living embodiment of underachievement.  Every year is “Clemson’s Year”, yet more often than not the Tigers fail to live up the hype.  To a slightly lesser extent, the same is true of UGA.  Mark Richt is forever on the edge of the hot seat as the Dawgs have struggled to distinguish themselves in the always-tough SEC East.  The question is which side will start the year off strong and stave off such criticism in 2013.  This amounts to a pick ‘em matchup, and though it could go either way, I like Georgia to eke out a quality road win.  Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins notwithstanding, the Tigers have some questions to answer on both sides of the ball. PICK: Georgia  Mitchell: These teams always seem to disappoint in these kind of games. The last time this much hype surrounded Clemson in a season opener, they were embarrassed in the Georgia Dome by Alabama in 2008. Two years ago, Georgia lost a highly anticipated season opener to Boise State in the same venue. Both of these teams have high-powered offenses, and both have question marks on defense. The Bulldogs return eight starters from last season’s 22nd ranked offense, including Aaron Murray at quarterback who enters his fourth season as the starting quarterback. Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall provide a strong 1-2 punch at running back that Clemson’s defense will have trouble with. But, they must replace eight starters defensively. Clemson has their own Heisman contender at quarterback in Tajh Boyd along with a playmaking wide receiver in Sammy Watkins. The Tigers have 7 starters back on defense, but that’s not necessarily a good thing considering they ranked 63rd in the country a year ago. In what is effectively a toss-up, I’ll take Georgia because I have a little more faith in their defense. PICK: Georgia Bigalke: Faith in defenses is a double-edged sword. Georgia has plenty of pieces to replace on their defensive unit, and the reality is that they’re unlikely to sustain their top-25 status defensively this season. I honestly see Clemson as the favorite in the ACC this season, and their run toward a BCS berth in the final season of that institution begins with a Georgia Dome “upset” of the Bulldogs. The Dome hasn’t been kind to either team as of late, but the fact remains that Georgia’s defense is threadbare and patchwork while Dabo Swinney at least knows what he has to work with — and has had an extra offseason of coaching to help get the crew into better fighting shape. PICK: Clemson LSU @ TCU (+4.5) Strobl: This is a far small spread, but no less difficult to pick.  In fact, this is a matchup that could easily go either way.  Embattled TCU quarterback Casey Pachall is expected to be back on the field in some capacity, though he may not start.  Whatever role he enjoys, he’s an offensive weapon that should draw plenty of attention from LSU’s defense.  That defense should be what defines the Tigers; in recent years, LSU has had its share of offensive inconsistency, but the stop unit has managed to keep the program among football’s best.  Even though Les Miles and company start out on the road, I think they manage to top the Horned Frogs.  I’d prefer something in the range of three points, but I’m willing to gamble that the Bayou Bengals can manage a one-touchdown margin.  PICK: LSU Mitchell: LSU was ravished by early entrees to the NFL Draft, specifically on defense as they will trot out eight new starters on Saturday in Dallas. But, the Tigers do not rebuild; they simply reload and the cupboard in Baton Rouge isn’t exactly bare. This LSU defense has the potential to be even better than they were a year ago. Senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger made major strides in the second half of last season, and the Tigers will hope that rolls over into this season. Their ground game will make life easier on Mettenberger, even if Jeremy Hill doesn’t play. TCU has Casey Pachall back at quarterback, and even if he doesn’t play they can rely on Trevone Boykin, who gained valuable experience last season in Pachall’s absence. The big question in this game will be whether the Horned Frogs’ offensive line will be able to hold up against a ferocious LSU defensive front. Expect a defensive struggle, but LSU should get the win and cover the spread. PICK: LSU Bigalke: LSU is another team like Georgia that has an absolutely retooled defense, and I find it especially hard to pick them in this encounter given their competition. Gary Patterson has built TCU into the type of team that can actually contend offensively in the Big 12 while being the best team defensively in every conference in which they’ve competed. Les Miles is a great coach as well, don’t get me wrong, but if you had to trust Casey Pachall or Zach Mettenberger in one game, well… which would you pick?!  PICK: TCU Boise State @ Washington (+3.5) Strobl: A good rule of thumb in college football is never bet against Boise State.  When the odds seem long, when wins seem unlikely, the Broncos, more often than not, still manage to come through.  Still, this de facto rematch of last season’s Las Vegas Bowl (won by BSU, 28-26) will be no cakewalk for the underdogs in blue.  Washington returns a whopping 20 starters and could put together a nice campaign in 2013.  Starting off with a win over #19 Boise would be a real feather in the Huskies’ cap.  Washington will have experience and the crowd on its side, but this betting line leaves just enough room for me to feel good about taking Boise and the points.  PICK: Boise State Mitchell: Matt’s exactly right when saying not to pick against Boise State, but apparently I haven’t learned by lesson even after being burned time and time again by picking against Chris Petersen’s Broncos. I’d like this spread a bit more if it was around 2.5, but Steve Sarkisian may have his best team yet in Seattle with sixteen returning starters. Senior quarterback Keith Price returns, and so do his top two receivers from a year ago. They also return 80% of their offensive line, and 1400 yard rusher Bishop Sankey. Sankey had a huge game against the Broncos in last season’s Las Vegas Bowl, and you can expect more of the same when these two meet on Saturday. The home field advantage makes me favor the Huskies more than anything, and I figure they cover the 3.5 point spread. PICK: Washington Bigalke: You really have learned nothing over the past few years, have you, John? Sarkisian may have a veteran team (that, mind you, has so far underachieved during its time in Seattle), but that fails to recognize what Boise State has coming back. Joe Southwick has progressed during his short time replacing Kellen Moore behind center on the Smurf Turf, while Price has regressed in his time succeeding Jake Locker. I know the atmosphere will be rocking at the unveiling of the renovations at Husky Stadium, but Petersen has a penchant for pulling off big upsets in openers. The Broncos haven’t lost two straight season openers since their first two seasons at the I-A level, and they’re not about to relive those days. PICK: Boise State BYU @ Virginia (+1.0) Strobl: After making some strides in 2011, Mike London saw his Cavs stumble to yet another 4-8 finish last season. He’s a talented coach, but the same was true of many of his predecessors who had similar difficulties getting UVA to be a consistent contender. BYU has a lot of question marks and is looking to embrace a faster tempo on offense this season under QB Taysom Hill. That may result in a period of adjustment, but I suspect that the Cougars will be able to escape Charlottesville with a victory in this pick ‘em matchup. PICK: BYU Mitchell: Virginia took a step back in Mike London’s third year, and I don’t see them being much better this year. BYU, on the other hand, had one of the best defenses in the country a year ago, and even after losing seven starters they should still be pretty good on that side of the ball in 2013 thanks to the return of star linebacker Kyle Van Noy. An inconsistent Virginia offense will have trouble moving the football against this Cougars defense. New starting quarterback David Watford completed just over 40% of his passes in limited playing time in 2012. BYU sophomore quarterback Taysom Hill looked good in two starts last season, and Bronco Mendenhall hopes he can stay healthy for a full season to provide stability at the position. This is basically a pick ‘em, and I am tempted to take the Cavs at home, but BYU, at least on paper, appears to be the better team. PICK: BYU Bigalke: Now that Utah State has lost their first game of the season, it falls upon the Cougars to carry the banner as Utah’s BCS Buster hopeful in 2013. For the first time in five seasons, the Cavaliers are scheduling a I-A opponent in their season opener — and if their previous three season openers against upper-level competition (losses at Pittsburgh, at Wyoming and home to USC) are any indication this one isn’t about to go well either. BYU can easily win by at least a field goal over Virginia, no matter how good Mike London might be as a coach. After all, London is in the midst of the perpetual Cavalier rebuilding project while BYU remains a household name nearly 30 years after their landmark national championship thanks to consistently strong performances season after season. This year isn’t about to be any different, no matter how difficult their independent schedule might be. (This is one of the easy games.) PICK: BYU Washington State @ Auburn (-15.5) Strobl: Okay, okay, yes– Wazzu has been a bottom-feeder among power conference teams for what feels like forever.  And yes, Auburn has had much more recent success.  But a three-score spread?  Even on The Plains, that’s a mighty big margin for a team coming off of a 3-9 2012.  A brand new coach and a brand new QB mean that the Tigers will need to start almost from scratch, proving themselves all over again.  Facing an unfamiliar team with a mad scientist like Mike Leach right off the bat could be quite a challenge.  Washington State’s offense should be able to do some damage, even if it remains one of the Pac 12′s weaker teams overall.  I can see Auburn winning, even winning comfortably.  But with this kind of spread, I have to go with the Cougars to cover.  PICK: Washington State Mitchell: This is an absurdly high spread in favor of a team that was historically bad last season. I know excitement is high on the Plains with offensive guru Gus Malzahn taking over, but the talent on the roster is much of the same as last season. Auburn and Washington State had practically the same team last season, and I wouldn’t say Gus Malzahn is a better offensive coach than Washington State’s Mike Leach. Neither defense will have much success on Saturday, as Mike Leach’s Air Raid guided by quarterback Connor Halliday should put up some points. The Cougars probably won’t have much to stop Malzahn’s offense, either. The wildcard is Auburn starting quarterback Nick Marshall, who is a dual threat and could be the x-factor for them this season. The one concern with him is the 20 interceptions he threw on the junior college level last year. I’ll take Auburn to win, but Washington State to keep it under three scores. PICK: Washington State Bigalke: I love this mentality that Gus Malzahn can magically produce offensive genius on the football field… it’s the same mentality we’ve instilled in Mike Leach over the years. Both teams are going to score plenty of points on the Plains, the defenses are going to be wheezing on a southern August Saturday, and both teams could potentially put up 40 or more in this one. That said, they’ll trade punches to the end thanks to a couple of defenses that likely aren’t tuned up yet for the challenge, and that’ll be to Washington State’s favor. Whether they actually leave Auburn with a victory is another question, but they’ll easily keep this one within two touchdowns. PICK: Washington State Ohio @ Louisville (-20.5) Strobl: The hype is huge for the Cardinals in general and QB Teddy Bridgewater in particular.  Rightfully so, when one considers the level of competition in the poorly-named American Athletic Conference (yawn) and the fact that Louisville returns 19 starters from last year’s Sugar Bowl-winning team.  Charlie Strong bested his former employer and Louisville proved it was for real in that win over Florida, and while a number nine ranking might be a bit of a stretch, the Cards are clearly one of the nation’s better teams.  With a cakewalk schedule, relatively speaking, they simply need to avoid mistakes in order to return to the BCS.  That said, the Bobcats are no pushovers.  Frank Solich has guided Ohio to some impressive victories over the years, and engineered an upset of Penn State last season. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Ohio keep this one close, but with all the talent on the Lousiville side, I lack the courage of my convictions.  PICK: Louisville Mitchell: Louisville, with a favorable schedule and 14 returning starters, including quarterback Teddy Bridgewater who could very well be the top signal caller off the board in the 2014 NFL Draft, could run the table. The Cardinals return nine starters from a Top-25 defense, and their offense should be extremely dangerous with Bridgewater and a load of talent at the skill positions. Ohio is one of the favorites in the MAC, and should be with the return of senior quarterback Tyler Tettleton. The Bobcats are no stranger to playing a BCS team for the first game of the season, as they toppled Penn State on the opening weekend of 2012. Frank Solich is a heck of a coach, and he has built a steady program. Louisville is the better team and should win, but I like Solich’s Bobcats to keep it under three touchdowns. PICK: Ohio Bigalke: I have Louisville as my favorite to win the inaugural contention of the conglomerate also known as the American Athletic Conference, and their offense is destined to be something spectacular in 2012. But Ohio has a ton of talent returning as well, and it’s hard to argue with what the Bobcats were able to do against elite competition last season. While they will be on the road, Frank Solich’s crew will be supremely prepared to battle against the Cardinals. They might drop by the BCS Buster wayside after this weekend, but it won’t be because they were blown out by Bridgewater and crew. PICK: Ohio Florida State @ Pittsburgh (+10.5) Strobl: A rare Monday night matchup in college football.  The Seminoles are looking for another strong year after last season’s 12-2 finish capped by a BCS win.  Pitt…well, Pitt is looking to get back to a record better than .500.  In his debut season with the Panthers, Paul Chryst limped to a 6-7 record, but as he’s able to put his own players and philosophy in place, the program should improve.  Although it can be discouraging to play a strong opponent in Week 1, this game could be a good measuring stick for the Panthers.  Regardless of how they play, I expect the ‘Noles’ overall level of talent to prevail.  FSU should cover here.  PICK: Florida State Mitchell: The highly anticipated debut of Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston shouldn’t disappoint, and I’m so high on him I like the Seminoles to win their second straight ACC title. Pittsburgh’s defense will be a tough initial test for the former five-star recruit, as the Panthers return eight starters from last season’s 17th ranked defense. The Panthers have the defense, but their offense is full of question marks after losing quarterback Tino Sunseri and running backs Ray Graham (graduation) and super recruit Rushel Shell (transfer). Rutgers transfer Tom Savage has the experience, but he didn’t exactly set the world on fire as a starter in the past. With Winston leading the way, and a stingy defense that should be fine even with seven new starters thanks to the recent recruiting prowess of Jimbo Fisher, the Seminoles shouldn’t have much trouble covering the 10.5 point spread. PICK: Florida State Bigalke: See, now this spread feels just right. Pittsburgh is making its merry way over the the ACC, ditching the Big East in advance of its rebranding, and they just feel like the perfect fodder for a Seminoles team easing into a new season after winning the Orange Bowl over NIU and then watching 12 starters depart. A two-touchdown victory feels just about where Jameis Winston will manage in the first road start of his college career. PICK: Florida State   Upset of the Week  Strobl: Western Kentucky (+4.5) over Kentucky Let’s see.  The Hilltoppers won last year’s matchup in Lexington, added Bobby Petrino in the offseason, and get the ‘Cats at home in 2013…but Kentucky is the one giving points?  I could maybe buy a three-point spread, but anything more than a field goal feels too big here.  Kentucky has been underachieving for so long that it’s hard to be excited about 2013, even though Mark Stoops does bring some defensive gravitas to the program.  Say what you will about Petrino as a person, the guy can coach, and WKU has been pretty solid over the past few years.  I like the ‘Toppers to keep this close, if not win it outright. Mitchell: Western Kentucky (+4.5) over Kentucky Completely agree with Matt. The Hilltoppers beat Kentucky in overtime last season, and they look to be the better team once again in 2013. With Bobby Petrino now guiding the program, you can expect a much improved offense this year. The offense held the team back from realizing its full potential in 2012. Western Kentucky’s defense, led by senior linebacker Andrew Jackson, who is one of the best linebackers in the entire country, finished last season 26th in the nation in total defense. If the offense can take a step forward, and it should considering Petrino is one of the best offensive minds in the coaching ranks, then the Hilltoppers could reach double-digit wins. Optimism is high in Lexington with Mark Stoops now the head man as he has ignited a spark in the fanbase. The Wildcats are recruiting at a torrid pace, but it will be interesting to see if Stoops can hang onto the class in what will be a tough year for Kentucky. Bigalke: Wyoming (+30) over Nebraska I concur with Matt and John that Western Kentucky will cover that spread (and probably beat Kentucky outright as well), but I’m going to change it up so that you hear about somebody other than Bobby Petrino and his crew. I’m always getting burned picking my boyhood rooting interest against powerhouse teams. But what do you really thing Bo Pelini is going to do with this Cornhuskers team this season? Do you think he can really lead Taylor Martinez and crew to a 30-point victory? Let me put it this way — in last season’s home opener against a Southern Miss team that ended up going 0-12, Nebraska won 49-20. And Wyoming, with junior quarterback Brett Smith back leading the offense, has the firepower to hang with what has historically been a hit-or-miss offense during Pelini’s tenure in Lincoln. While the Pokes might not knock off the Huskers, this line is ludicrous given the talent returning to both sides in the fight.   THIS SEASON: Strobl: 0-0-0 Mitchell: 0-0-0 Bigalke: 0-0-0  
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