While it may seem like the summer is still in full swing, the fact is the first weekend of the college football season is upon us. After beating up on each other for a couple of weeks, teams finally get to line up against an opponent and beat the snot out of them. There are some real duds in the opening few weeks of the season (Wake Forest versus Presbyterian? #2 Ohio State against Buffalo? Are you serious?), there are a few matchups that will be worth viewing and perhaps even a little extracurricular activity.
Saturday, August 31 – #5 Georgia at #8 Clemson
This is the top matchup of the first weekend of college football and it already is a critical game for both teams. A loss here wouldn’t exactly negate them from the discussion for the National Championship game, but it would definitely make the road more difficult. Add in the fact that both teams are fielding excellent squads and we have what could be a fantastic first week game.
Georgia, after coming up short in the SEC Championship Game to Alabama last year, was snubbed for a BCS bowl game and went on to beat Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, is primed to make a run this year for not only the SEC title but also the National Championship. Returning virtually their entire starting offense from last year including quarterback Aaron Murray (a Heisman Trophy candidate) and running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall (over 2000 yards rushing and 25 TDs between the two), the Bulldogs are going to be a formidable test for anyone this year.
Clemson didn’t lose much from its fine 11-2 team from 2012, either. Quarterback Tajh Boyd is back for another year (it seems like he has been in Columbia for most of the 2000s), but the defense is the question mark for this team in 2013. Whether the D can stand up to a multi-faceted offense is something that will be immediately answered in their first home game against Georgia.
The line on the game, set by the Mirage in Las Vegas, puts Georgia as a 1.5 point favorite with the over/under (O/U) at 72 points. I am personally surprised that it is that low as Georgia seems to be on a mission this year. Take Georgia and give up the points, but look for the under as to the total score.
Saturday, August 31 – #1 Alabama vs. Virginia Tech (Georgia Dome, Atlanta)
Two-time defending National Champion Alabama is still the team to beat as they enter into the 2013 season. They haven’t exactly picked easy opposition for their first game, however, in taking on Virginia Tech in a neutral site game in Atlanta, GA.
Although they did lose some quality players from last year’s team, the Crimson Tide seems to only reload, not rebuild. Quarterback A. J. McCarron (the pre-season first team all-SEC selection) will try to take Alabama to its third straight title and he has the ammunition behind him to get the job done. The first game against the Hokies will be a nice dress rehearsal for what should be a challenging SEC season.
This isn’t your father’s Virginia Tech, however. A fourth place finish in the Coastal Division of the ACC (4-4, 7-6 overall) has left the Hokies as one of the afterthoughts in the ACC. Quarterback Logan Thomas needs to find his 2011 form (when he led the team to an 11-3 record and the Sugar Bowl) rather than the display he put on last year.
Even with the neutral site taking away a home-field advantage from either squad, Alabama is currently a 19.5-point favorite with the O/U set at 46. The Crimson Tide will win in the end, but I would take Virginia Tech in this game to cover the spread (just too many points) and go with the under in an early season matchup.
Saturday, August 31 – #12 LSU vs. #20 TCU (AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX)
Another neutral site game on Saturday, both LSU and TCU look to get their seasons off to a good start with a win over a Top 20 team.
LSU is coming off a difficult season but, even with that said, they still finished 10-3 (6-2 SEC) but with a bowl defeat (to Clemson at the Chick-fil-A Bowl) on the record. Coach Les Miles has recruited defensively well, looking to bring the D back to the level that it was during their championship run heyday, while quarterback Zach Mettenberg leads a potent offense into Arlington for the neutral site battle.
TCU is coming off a disappointing season that started with so much promise. Quarterback Casey Pachall led the team to a 4-0 start before an injury against Southern Methodist knocked him out for the rest of the season. After his departure, the Horned Frogs went 3-6, including a loss to Michigan State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. With Pachall back at the helm – and with their always stout defense – TCU is expecting big things this year.
According to the Mirage in Las Vegas, LSU is a four point favorite with the O/U set at 50. I believe that TCU isn’t going down that easily and should, at the minimum, cover the spread if not win the game outright. That 50 O/U is way too low for these two teams, so take the over on that angle.
Thursday, August 29 – North Carolina at #6 South Carolina
The ACC (or at least some of their members) have chosen some tough competition for the first week of the college football season. Along with Virginia Tech (battling Alabama) and Clemson (taking on Georgia), North Carolina is stepping up to go against SEC powerhouse South Carolina).
This one isn’t going to be pretty. North Carolina hasn’t shown that they can replace their all-ACC running back Giovanni Bernard (who’s now plying his trade on Sundays) and, without that running threat, quarterback Bryn Renner is going to probably be running for his life for most of Thursday night’s game.
South Carolina will have to deal with the loss of Marcus Lattimore (also gone to the NFL), but quarterback Connor Shaw is more than able to make up for that loss. The defense for South Carolina is where the real star of this game is located, however, as defensive end Jadeveon Clowney will torment Renner all night.
South Carolina has been ticking upwards after starting as a 10-point favorite at the start of the week. The line is now up to 11.5, but I would still take South Carolina in this battle. The O/U has remained steady at 56.5 and, knowing South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier’s penchant for making a statement, I would actually take the over on this one.
Thursday, August 29 – #24 USC at Hawaii
The heat is on for USC head coach Lane Kiffin to do something with the Trojans. Picked last year as #1 in the pre-season polls, the team struggled to a 7-6 record and wasn’t even ranked in the final poll. It doesn’t look like it will get any easier this year.
Kiffin has yet to settle on a starting quarterback, with Max Wittek and Cody Kessler his options under center. Running back Silas Redd is nursing a knee injury that will keep him out of the game against the Warriors and could be problematic all season. Kiffin is going to have to figure these things out before the Trojans begin the PAC-12 season.
Hawaii won’t be a roadblock for USC this week, however. USC is a 21.5 point favorite, with the O/U set at 53.5. Take USC and the over, but keep an eye on this team as it could once again be a disappointment this college football season.
UPSET SPECIAL: California over #22 Northwestern, Saturday, August 31
While some may look at this as a reach (Northwestern finished 10-3 last year, Cal 3-9), there are always problems when a team travels multiple time zones to take on an opponent. Game time is 10:30 Eastern Time for this tilt, putting the Wildcats at a bit of a disadvantage, and going into a tough stadium to play at in Memorial Stadium against the Golden Bears will put them in an even tougher spot.
Northwestern is currently favored by six points (with an O/U of 58), but take Cal to at least cover the spread if not win the game outright. For the O/U, go with the under.
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