Reasons to be Excited about Thursday
1. Craig James will have a miserable night, watching games on his couch from “Real Street.” He will not be announcing/ruining the viewing experience of all ESPN viewers anymore. Better yet, his former network is showing the game of his nemesis Mike Leach – Washington State at BYU at 10:15pm. James is still looking for donations if you want to help him retire his campaign debt.
2. Interesting Story Lines
- Texas A&M has been complaining all summer about getting no respect from its new conference members in the SEC. The Aggies face a tough opener in a virtual road game against an experienced Louisiana Tech team. Time to put up or shut up.
- Vandy QB Jordan Rodgers just might have a coming out party in front of a national audience. Aaron’s little brother has talent and I expect him to show significant improvement in 2012.
- What will Mike Leach’s offense look like at Wash State? BYU QB Riley Nelson is a star in the making.
3. I’m good on Thursday nights. I went 10-4 last year in these situations, but unfortunately that was the only day I was successful. Have faith in me, the trend is your friend. A 3-1 start would get some nice momentum going into the weekend.
4. How will coaches adjust to change? The NCAA Football Rules Committee has moved kickoffs from the 30 to the 35 yard line. In addition, touchbacks will now give teams the ball on the 25 instead of the 20. Will teams use squib kicks or pop the ball up higher to try to pin offenses back? Or will teams with star kickers try for a touchback every time. Which coach will forget this rule change and complain to the referees first? With Ron Zook not coaching currently, this competition is up for grabs.
5. Time to pack my bags. I’ve been counting down the days all offseason and it’s finally here – time to get ready for my first road trip of 2012. Even though I’m going to Alabama vs Michigan on Saturday and SMU at Baylor on Sunday, my suitcases will be packed with multiple Miami jerseys. Regardless of location, always represent your team.
If you want to see live pre-game stadium pictures or need timely Tuesday night MAC and Wednesday night Sun Belt picks and previews, follow me on Twitter @Jpickens15.
It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for all summer – time for my Opening night picks. Expect another lengthy post on Friday with my thoughts on Thursday’s games and my picks for 10-15 weekend games. I’m using the Romney formula for transparency and only letting you see my regular season results for 2010 and 2011. Two years ago I won 56 percent of my games and left my mark on the sport forever. Last season I won a pathetic 46 percent. Here’s hoping 2012 looks a lot like 2010. Get your popcorn ready.
South Carolina at Vanderbilt +7 7pm ESPN
I already jinxed QB Jordan Rodgers earlier, but I think he has the ability to overcome my power. Vandy returns two of the SEC’s best skill players in RB Zac Stacy and WR Jordan Matthews. South Carolina is the more talented team and deeper team overall, but I have confidence that Vandy will score early and make the crowd a factor. Playing on the road in the SEC is always difficult, especially in the opening game of the season. USC QB Connor Shaw should have a solid season, but he has been slowed a bit recently by back spasms. While the return of star RB Marcus Lattimore has Gamecock fans excited, I’m still curious about how healthy he is after returning from last year’s injury. Spurrier and Carolina likely escape Nashville with a close hard fought win, but they’ll have to earn it.
Texas A&M vs Louisiana Tech +7.5 7:30pm ESPNU – game in Shreveport, LA
La Tech returns four senior starters on the offensive line and QB Colby Cameron is looking to build on a successful finish to last season. Star WR Quinton Patton had over 1200 yards in 2011 and he will have a big night against a very young Aggies secondary. This game will be played in Shreveport, and although it supposed to be a neutral site matchup, Louisiana Tech will enjoy the advantage given the proximity to Ruston. With a showdown against Florida looming on September 8th, Texas A&M may not be fully focused on Thursday night. Texas A&M begins the Kevin Sumlin era, and the team will be starting a redshirt freshman at quarterback – Johnny Manziel. Sumlin is fortunate to have WR Ryan Swope returning, which will be especially helpful given how often TAMU will throw the football in the spread offense. That being said, La Tech has all four secondary starters returning and I think they will be ready for the challenge. Experience and familiarity amongst both players and coaches is the difference in this matchup. La Tech has the ability for an upset and this game stays close throughout.
Washington State +14 at BYU 10:15pm ESPN
Both teams have talented senior quarterbacks – Jeff Tuel for Washington State and Riley Nelson for BYU. This should be an exciting high scoring affair – with both teams likely putting up 30 points or more. WSU WR Marquess Wilson is one of the nation’s best receivers and BYU won’t be able to stop him Thursday night. Mike Leach knows how to create opportunities for his playmakers. This game is so highly anticipated because of the return of Leach to college football. His challenge this season will be getting the Cougars to play better defensively. WSU was terrible on defense last year, but the unit returns most of its starters. While, BYU is the better team overall and the Cougars deserve to be favored at home, I think the two touchdown spread is far too large. The Cougars have struggled in September in recent years and I have confidence in Leach’s ability to keep this game competitive in his return to the sidelines.
Minnesota -8.5 at UNLV 11pm CBSSN
Gophers senior QB MarQueis Gray will be the best player on the field Thursday night. Gray will account for 3-4 touchdowns and his dual threat ability will create
havoc for the UNLV defense. Jerry Kill’s Minnesota team will show improvement in his second year at the helm, boosted by the additions of junior college players like RB James Gillum. The Rebels were one of college football’s worst teams in 2011 and things don’t look much brighter this season. UNLV redshirt freshman QB Nick Sherry will be making his first career start and I expect him to struggle against a Gophers defense that has some speed. Despite playing at home, UNLV will be overmatched both in size and speed against a Minnesota team that is on the right path under Kill’s leadership.