Two games – one weekend. My first road trip of the year begins with a trip to Cowboys Stadium, to witness the wonder that Jerry built. This game was mentally booked on my schedule since the day it was announced in 2010. Denard Robinson against a Nick Saban defense, what more can you ask for. I have faith in Brady Hoke’s team and think the Wolverines will play well. If Floyd Mayweather is as confident in Michigan as people have reported, who am I to doubt the champ. Mayweather and Pickens are an unlikely duo, but we happen to agree on Saturday night’s outcome. After months of waiting for schedule releases this offseason, my Labor day plans got significantly better when Baylor announced that it would be hosting SMU on Sunday night. Waco is just a few hours from Dallas and Baylor is the definition of a program on the rise. Robert Griffin III won’t be suited up, but the Bears still have a talented roster in 2012.
Vanderbilt started my season out with a much needed victory. South Carolina clearly isn’t the 9th best team in the nation. Shame on me for picking against BYU on the biggest night of Mitt Romney’s political career. Mike Leach has more work to do than I thought in Pullman. Minnesota dominated the stat-sheet, but couldn’t turn opportunities into touchdowns against UNLV. The Gophers OT win wasn’t enough to win my pick, and I was left to deal with a 1-2 record on Opening Night. Thankfully there are thirteen more picks left to be decided this weekend. Hopefully Boise State and Tennessee can right the ship with their performances tonight.
Notre Dame plays Navy at 9am eastern on Saturday, making it possible for me to watch fifteen consecutive hours of college football. Thank you to all who made that possible. The Irish playing in Dublin is just one of many exciting storylines for the first Saturday of the season. All eyes will be on Penn State’s first game against Ohio to see how Bill O’Brien’s team responds to adversity. Everyone will be watching Saturday night to see if Michigan has what it takes to dethrone the defending champion Crimson Tide. Enjoy your Saturday – College Football is back.
Navy +15.5 vs Notre Dame 9am CBS – game in Dublin
Simply put, the line in this game is way too big. Notre Dame struggled at the beginning of last season and the Irish are starting a talented young QB with no game experience. Everett Golson begins his journey as a nationally hated figure – the starting QB for Notre Dame. I think Golson will be successful this season, but he will likely make mistakes like most freshman do early. ND suspended stud RB Cierre Wood and he will be missed. Coach Brian Kelly has been complaining to the media about how hard it is to prepare his team to play at 9am in a foreign country. If he is complaining publicly, it doesn’t bode well for his team’s focus. The logistics and the unfamiliarity of this matchup being in Ireland could lead to a closer, sloppier game. Navy scores 17-20 points and hangs around until the 4th quarter.
Western Michigan at Illinois -10 12pm ESPNU
New coach Tim Beckman brings a new exciting offense to the Illini. QB Nathan Scheelhaase will thrive in the no-huddle Saturday against a poor WMU defense. Western Michigan is led by one of the MAC’s best players, QB Alex Carder. He won’t have his usual success in this matchup because the Ilini return most starters on a defensive unit that was among the best in the nation in 2011. LB Jonathan Brown is a star and CB Terry Hawthorne will make plays in the secondary. Illinois fans will be thrilled with replacing Zook for Beckman after this game is over.
Northwestern pk at Syracuse 12pm ESPN2
Northwestern’s offense will improve significantly in 2012 with the addition of USC transfer WR Kyle Prater. He gives the Wildcats the size and speed needed to compete against the elite teams in the Big Ten. WR Demetrius Fields is a proven playmaker for NU and I expect him to have an impact Saturday. QB Kain Colter takes over as the full-time starter after splitting time last year. Colter knows how to win on the road, proven by his leadership in a road win at Nebraska. Colter’s dual threat ability will cause problems for a suspect Syracuse defense. The Cuse are led by QB Ryan Nassib and WR Alec Lemon – both talented players coming off solid seasons. While the Carrier Dome is a tough place to play, NU Coach Pat Fitzgerald will have his team ready. Northwestern is the better team and the Wildcats take care of business on the road in the Broadcast Journalism Bowl.
Nevada at California -11.5 3pm Pac-12 Network
This is taking a lot of guts for me to believe in Cal QB Zach Maynard. I think he will show improvement this season and rely on his half-brother, WR Keenan Allen, who will be the best player on the field Saturday. RB Isi Sofele is a playmaker and I expect him to play well behind a Cal offensive line that will overpower Nevada upfront. The Wolfpack are led by QB Cody Fajaro and the Pistol offense will have some success against a relatively young Cal defense. In the end though, Cal’s perimeter speed and strength up front will be too much for Nevada to deal with. Tedford’s team starts the season on a high note, breaking open their renovated stadium with a two touchdown victory.
Miami -2 at Boston College 330pm ABC
I believe in Al Golden. No media member thinks the Hurricanes have a chance to make noise in the ACC this season – and I couldn’t be happier about it. Expectations couldn’t be lower and I expect Golden will be able to use this lack of respect as a motivational tool. Miami is very young, but the Canes have better talent than BC at nearly every position. Stephen Morris will prove he is one of the conference’s best quarterbacks, and his leadership will be vital in an opening day road game. If Miami freshman RB Duke Johnson gets loose on Saturday, expect him to be a factor all season. The Canes are no longer distracted by the NCAA issues that loomed over last year’s team. Boston College will likely struggle in the ACC once again, marking the final season under HC Frank Spaziani. BC will miss their most dependable WR Bobby Swigert, who is out with a injury. As someone who has been to more than forty college football stadiums, I can confidently state that BC has one of the worst home-field advantages in the nation. Look for Miami to make an early statement with a ten point victory.
Tulsa at Iowa State +1.5 330pm FSN
Paul Rhoads found out he had truly arrived on the college football scene earlier this week. President Obama visited Ames Tuesday and said “I won’t pretend I can give a speech like Coach Rhoads can, but I’m going to try.” Rhoads has his Cyclones on the rise and his team is confident about 2012. ISU QB Steele Jantz won the starting job in the fall and I expect him to play well, drawing on his experience from last season. Tulsa starts former Nebraska QB Cody Green, and I expect him to continue to struggle against Big 12 competition. Tulsa returns talent on offense, but Green isn’t good enough to take advantage. Iowa State’s home field advantage showed in a dramatic win against Oklahoma State a year ago. Look for the Cyclones to win a close game in the 4th quarter.
Auburn vs Clemson -3 7pm ESPN – game in Atlanta
While Clemson will clearly miss suspended WR Sammy Watkins, I expect the potent Chad Morris spread offense to get rolling against an average Auburn defense. QB Tajh Boyd will be even better this year given his familiarity with Morris’s system. RB Andre Ellington should have a big night as well. Auburn QB Kiehl Frazier is in the Tim Tebow mold – great runner with little passing ability. SEC bias may have people leaning towards Auburn, but this Clemson team will be one to watch this season. Under new DC Brent Venables, Clemson’s defense will be much improved in 2012, erasing the ghosts of the 2011 Orange Bowl. The Fighting Dabo’s get it done in the Tiger Bowl.
Alabama vs Michigan +14 8pm ABC
I’ve previewed this game to death over the past few weeks, mainly because I’m so excited about it. Denard Robinson always shows up when the lights shine the brightest. I expect him to make plays against an Alabama defense that must replace a lot of senior leadership. This is the 2nd year in OC Al Borges’s offense and Robinson should be more comfortable in the system. Alabama has a dominant offensive line and should be able to run the ball well all night. QB AJ McCarron is a solid player but his arm doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of Michigan fans. Alabama is the better team, just not more than two touchdowns better on a neutral field. If Denard can make a few plays early or Michigan can force an early turnover, I think the Wolverines keep this one close at least until the fourth quarter. UM is fortunate to be playing Bama to open the season, and I’m counting on the Crimson Tide defense to be a step slower than last year’s championship squad.
Kentucky +13 at Louisville 330pm SUNDAY ESPN
Rivalry games at the beginning of the season – anything can happen. Louisville is the better team and QB Teddy Bridgewater should have a nice season in the Big East. Still though, 13 points is too large a margin for this state bragging rights game. Both teams have already begun talking trash in the media and I expect a hard-hitting close game. Kentucky QB Maxwell Smith should be improved this season and all reports say he’s looked good in fall practice. Louisville escaped Lexington with a seven-point road victory in 2011 and I think this year’s result will be similar. Expect Bridgewater to make plays down the stretch in a 7-10 point Louisville win.
SMU at Baylor -9.5 630pm SUNDAY ESPN
This will be my second time watching SMU’s new QB Garrett Gilbert in person. The first time was in Austin in 2010, when he struggled for Texas in a blowout home loss to UCLA. SMU is hoping the change of scenery can spark the transfer’s career. I’ll believe it when I see it. Baylor must replace the greatest player in program history – Bobby III. I’m very excited to see how much the culture of Baylor football has changed, just as a result of last season. Although he can’t fill Griffin’s shoes, new starter Nick Florence showed his talent last year when he replaced the Heisman winner mid-game against Texas Tech. Baylor has better athletes on both sides of the ball, led by WR Terrance Williams and RB Jarred Salubi. SMU’s star WR Darius Johnson will have a few big plays, but it won’t be enough. Baylor wins a shootout by two touchdowns.
Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech -7 8pm MONDAY ESPN
Va Tech returns nine starters on a defense that was one of the best in the country last year. Georgia Tech’s option attack is tough to prepare for, but the Hokies have a significant advantage in preparation since this is the opening game. Virginia Tech’s experienced defense has seen this option offense in past seasons and DC Bud Foster has been focusing on ways to stop GT all spring and summer. VT’s QB Logan Thomas has received a lot of preseason hype and his dual threat ability will be tough for Georgia Tech to deal with. I do think Thomas is slightly overrated, but it won’t matter on Monday night. The crowd in Blacksburg will be a factor and once the Hokies get an early lead, Georgia Tech’s offense has difficulty coming from behind. QB Tevin Washington can’t make plays in the passing game and the Hokies will force numerous 3rd and long situations early.
Follow me on Twitter @Jpickens15.