I’ve been to stadiums throughout the Eastern and Central time zones, primarily focusing on the Big 12, Big 10, ACC, Big East, SEC, and the MAC. The biggest hole in my college football traveling history is my lack of experience seeing games on the West Coast. The natural thought would be for me to rush out to Oregon or USC to see an exciting Pac 12 matchup. While both Eugene and LA are destinations for me in the near future, I decided to start with something more off the radar. Friday night, I’ll be witnessing my first game in a Mountain West stadium. While Washington State at UNLV isn’t exactly a marquee matchup, it is a nationally televised ESPN game, which thereby makes it somewhat acceptable for me to go.
The UNLV game isn’t the reason for my trip to Vegas, but I made a rule long ago. If a legitimate college football game is happening within fifteen miles of my physical location, I must try to attend it. When this game was announced as a Friday night kickoff, I was thrilled at the opportunity to watch Mike Leach’s new team play in person. Unfortunately, Washington State has struggled this season – getting blown out at BYU and barely beating Eastern Washington. A tilt with UNLV may be just what the doctor ordered. Thanks to a brilliant marketing campaign, everyone now knows the phrase “What Happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” UNLV’s football team wishes that rule applied to their results on the field this season. The entire country found out how poorly the Rebels’ rebuilding process is going after they lost on Saturday to an FCS team that was 4-7 in 2011 – Northern Arizona. I’m counting on Washington State’s loyal fans to make a weekend out of it and head to Vegas in large groups, providing much needed atmosphere Friday night. If you want updates on my picks and travels this college football season, follow me @JPickens15.
Along with sports fans everywhere, I’m anxiously awaiting the end of Rick Reilly’s contract at ESPN. Reilly’s childish and ridiculous writing has been painful in recent years, with his article on Notre Dame in August taking the cake. Hopefully Notre Dame’s deal with the ACC teaches Rick a lesson – regardless of whether or not Notre Dame deserves it, the Irish command power and money. Everything Notre Dame does and thinks, shifts the college football landscape. I personally root against ND in every sport and at every opportunity, but am thrilled at the prospect of Miami playing the Irish more often. The ACC only gets stronger and this is a good deal for college football fans.
Washington State -8 at UNLV FRIDAY 9pm – ESPN
WSU may be without starting QB Jeff Tuel, but I’m confident that backup Connor Halliday will play well if called upon. Halliday showed his ability last year in a breakout performance against Arizona State. While UNLV’s freshman QB Nick Sherry has shown promise, he is prone to turnovers. UNLV’s defense will struggle to stop Mike Leach’s creativity on offense and the Cougars will look more comfortable in week three. The Rebels are playing at home, but I’m assuming that most fans that watched them lose to Northern Arizona won’t be excited to attend Friday night’s matchup. Pullman, Washington stands up and puts on a show in front of a national television audience.
Wake Forest +28 at Florida State 12pm – ESPN
Jimbo Fisher expressed shock that his team was favored by so much. He is concerned with Wake’s passing game, led by experienced QB Tanner Price. Wake Forest is a team led by redshirt juniors and seniors and the Demon Deacons will be confident heading to Tallahassee, having beaten the Noles in 2011. FSU is much more talented and QB EJ Manuel should have a big day in the passing game. The Noles have played a dreadful schedule thus far so we haven’t seen how good this team can be. FSU dominates in the second half and wins by three touchdowns, but a slow start makes Wake the pick.
Western Michigan at Minnesota -2.5 12pm – BTN
Minnesota is confident and trying to start the season 3-0, a significant achievement for Coach Jerry Kill. MarQueis Gray has played very well at QB for the Gophers and he’ll be the most effective player on the field Saturday. WMU QB Alex Carder has an NFL arm, but he is without several key playmakers at WR this Saturday. Illinois beat WMU earlier this year and stifled the Broncos offense. I expect to see a similar result against another Big Ten team. The Gophers take another step in the rebuilding process and win by a touchdown.
Boston College at Northwestern -3.5 330pm – BTN
BC and QB Chase Rettig seem improved in the passing game in 2012. While NU struggled against Syracuse’s passing game in week one, BC’s wide receivers don’t have the same size and speed that gave the Wildcats issues. BC’s defense gave up big plays against Miami and will struggle against the dual threat ability of NU QB Kain Colter. Northwestern has won two close games in the fourth quarter this season. The Wildcats are confident and Venric Mark has been one of the nation’s most exciting players. NU should have a great crowd on hand for this matchup and will do what it takes to win again late.
Navy at Penn State -5.5 330pm – ABC
This is the day Penn State fans have been waiting for. The Nittany Lions will win a game. You heard it here first. FG kickers will not be necessary. I watched how easily Notre Dame ran the ball against Navy a few weeks ago. Penn State’s offensive line is bigger and stronger than Navy’s defensive line, and Bill O’Brien will rely heavily on the running game. Despite the injuries and transfers and scandal that weigh heavily on Penn State, there is still strong leadership in the locker room. PSU won’t be stopped short this weekend and beats Navy by ten or more.
North Carolina at Louisville -3 330pm – ABC
Louisville is the best chance the ACC has to make a statement this season. While UNC isn’t a powerhouse in the ACC, the Tar Heels came into this season with decent expectations. UNC clearly missed injured RB Giovanni Bernard last week in a close loss at Wake. L’Ville has playmakers on offense, led by emerging star QB Teddy Bridgewater. While UNC is still adjusting to a new coach and a new offensive system, Louisville is significantly improved under Charlie Strong. The Cardinal win by ten at home, and announces their pseudo legitimacy to the nation.
Florida at Tennessee -3 6pm – ESPN
Tennessee QB Tyler Bray showed how explosive his offense can be in an opening week showcase against NCST. Bray has two talented WR in Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson. Florida beat Texas A&M in a hard fought battle last week, but the Gators suffered several injuries to key players. The most important guy missing is CB Cody Riggs, who would be an important factor in trying to slow UT’s wide receivers. UF’s best player and RB Mike Gillislee should be able to play, but will be slowed by a groin injury. Derek Dooley inches further off the hot seat and his Vols get an enormous home conference win. I’m not sold on Florida’s offense and the Gators will show fatigue after their second straight tough road game.
Arizona State at Missouri -6.5 7pm – ESPN2
I’m counting on Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel to have his team motivated after a disappointing loss to Georgia. Columbia is a tough place to play at night and Arizona State’s youth will show. QB Taylor Kelly hasn’t been tested on the road and Missouri’s defensive speed will be a challenge for the Sun Devils. Missou QB James Franklin will be the best player on the field and the Tigers bounce back with a nice win against a quality opponent.
USC -8 at Stanford 730pm – FOX
Matt Barkley is ready to firmly establish himself as the Heisman front-runner. The Trojans have lost the past three games against Stanford and will be motivated and ready to play. The Cardinal didn’t miss Andrew Luck against Duke last week, but this matchup will expose the inexperience of new QB Josh Nunes. Stanford won’t be able to stop the country’s best WR duo – Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. If USC starts well and builds a two-touchdown lead early, this game will be a blowout. Lane Kiffin is busy banning reporters from reporting the news, but his thankfully he is a better game coach than he is a human being.
Notre Dame at Michigan State -5.5 8pm – ABC
Brian Kelly has been busy commenting on his school’s decision to join forces with the ACC. Hopefully that has been distracting him from properly preparing for Michigan State. The Spartans have one of the best defenses in the country, led by DE William Gholston. ND has to decide how to handle its QB situation, with Everett Golson likely to play most of the game. Notre Dame struggled against Purdue’s stout defensive line, and the Spartans present an even bigger challenge. MSU RB LeVeon Bell will play well at home and QB Andrew Maxwell will have opportunities to make plays down the field in play-action. Golson’s youth finally shows on the road in a very tough environment. Spartans win by two touchdowns.
Ball State at Indiana -2.5 8pm – BTN
This game is where true scouting comes into play. I watched the entire Indiana preview show on BTN in August and learned about the depth at quarterback. Indiana lost QB Tre Roberson to a broken leg last week, but Juco transfer QB Cameron Coffman is ready to step in. The coaching staff has confidence in Coffman and Kevin Wilson’s offense is finally starting to click. Ball State has a solid running game led by RB Jahwan Edwards. This game should be a shootout, with Indiana getting the edge at home. Indiana has a great chance to start the season 3-0 and I expect the Hoosiers to finish the job.
BYU -4 at Utah 10pm – ESPN2
BYU is motivated and ready to dominate the Holy War. These teams hate each other and the Cougars are still living with the embarrassment of last year’s blowout loss to the Utes. Utah starting QB Jordan Wynn is now out for the season with a shoulder injury, leaving Jon Hays to take the reigns of the offense. Hays has some experience from 2011, but he isn’t as talented as Wynn and will be a downgrade. BYU’s defense has looked great thus far and star QB Riley Nelson is a clone of Tim Tebow – Strong, Lefty, Religious, Dual-Threat, Leader. Nelson said this week – “In preparation of this game, we’re watching film from last year against Utah. Guys see it and it leaves a bad taste in their mouths. Not so much as an emotional motivator, but from a learning standpoint. We made these, these and these mistakes, now let’s not make them again. If we can do that, we’ll put ourselves in a good position.” This is one of my favorite picks of the week. Utah is coming off a loss to Utah State and the Utes looked slow throughout. BYU is better on both sides of the ball. The Cougars take an early lead and win convincingly on the road.