Alright, folks - let's kick this season off, shall we? Yes, we shall. And in fine fashion too - lots of good inter-conference games over the next four days. Since the last games aren't being played until Monday night, I'll probably post the outcomes and rankings on Tuesday, maybe an essay on Sunday depending on what happens this weekend. Hopefully we'll have a lot to talk about.
Wake Forest @ Baylor (+12)
The Demon Deacons have been solid the last few years. The Bears haven't.
The Call: Wake Forest by 14
NC State (+13.5) @ South Carolina
Is this the year Steve Spurrier turns the Gamecock's fortunes around? Or maybe it's the year Tom O'Brien turns the Wolfpack's fortunes around. One of these two needs to get better, dammit.
The Call: South Carolina by 17
Oregon State @ Stanford (+3)
Both of these teams pulled off some good wins over #2 teams last year, the Beavers over Cal and then the Cardinal over USC. They should be able to build on those - but one of them will be behind right from the start. The Beavers are going to be stronger this year though.
The Call: Oregon State by 10
Virginia Tech @ East Carolina (+9.5)
This one's tricky. The Pirates gave the Hokies a good scare in Blacksburg last year, and some people are calling for them to win outright this year (they do have the home field advantage). But let's not forget - the Hokies finished 11-3 last year, their only losses coming to national champion LSU, BC (which they avenged in the ACC Champ. game), and 12-1 Kansas in the Orange Bowl. There's some questions about their offense, but the D should be fine. They'll pull out the W again, but it'll be close again.
The Call: Virginia Tech wins, but East Carolina covers the spread
Hawaii @ Florida (-34.5)
This isn't even going to be entertaining. Unless you like it when Tebow runs for 200 and throws for 300, that is. (Well, he might get some numbers, but he'll be sitting less than ten minutes into the 3rd quarter.) The question is how will the Florida D hold up? This won't be much of a test, but they should be okay. 35 points is a lot of ground to make up though...
UPDATE: Harvin is out. The offense won't be as potent, but they'll still dominate. I'm sticking with my original call.
The Call: Florida by 38
USC (-19.5) @ Virginia
Kudos to the Trojans for traveling to a BCS school to start the season, and kudos to the Cavaliers for scheduling one of the toughest teams in the nation. I'm proud of you both. The Trojans have a lot of questions on offense, but their D should be dominant. The Cavaliers might score once or twice, but the Trojans won't score much more than that.
The Call: USC wins, but Virginia covers the spread
Utah (+3.5) @ Michigan
Another intriguing matchup. Michigan has Rich Rodriguez, sure, but they don't have a QB, O line, or basically anybody on offense who is going to be able to work Rodriguez's system right out of the gate. The D is suspect too, but they might be solid. It won't be a matter of preparedness like it was last year against App State - the Wolverines are gonna be ready to play this one. But so are the Utes.
The Call: Utah by 10
Appalachian State @ LSU (-?)
I don't usually pick games that involve DI-AA teams, but this one's different. The reigning champs for their respective divisions, sure, but make no mistake - this is all about the Mountaineers huge upset last year in the opener at Michigan. They're not going to be able to sneak up on anyone this year, and LSU should be ready. If the Mountaineers pull of the W, it won't be a bigger surprise than last year, but it'll have much bigger ramifications for college football as a whole. If the Tigers win, as they probably will, all the SEC fans will use it as more ammo against the Big 10. That's gonna be annoying. There's no line here, so we'll have to make up a reasonable one...
The Call: LSU by less than 24.5
Alabama v Clemson (-5)
Both of these teams need this one bad. The Tigers needs to start strong if they're going to have the season that everyone expects them to, while Saban needs this to keep people drinking the Tide-red Kool-Aid.
The Call: Clemson by 13
Michigan State @ California (-4.5)
The Bears are a mystery. They started off so strong last year, beating up on Tennessee and making it to #2 in the rankings, but then they fell right out of their oak tree perch. A QB change might be what it takes to get over the hump this year. The Spartans usually follow the same pattern - might they want a little revenge on the Bears for stealing their schtick? Tough call...
The Call: Michigan State by 7
Illinois v Missouri (-8.5)
The Big Rematch. Both of these teams had great seasons last year, and both should be at least .500 this year. Expectations are a bit higher for the Tigers who are returning their Heisman-hopefuly QB. There's no Oklahoma on the schedule this year, so that's a plus for them too.
The Call: Missouri by 10
Kentucky @ Louisville (-3.5)
I admit, I don't know as much about these two as I should. They both are very different than last year when they were led by solid QB's, and this season might be downers for both. Which one can keep for skidding back to obscurity?
The Call: Kentucky by 6
Colorado (-12) v Colorado State
These two played a solid game last year, but I don't think it'll be nearly as close this year. Hawkins should have his Buffs ready to go.
The Call: Colorado by 17
Fresno State @ Rutgers (-5.5)
I'm really looking forward to this matchup - two teams with a lot of fight who have had to work hard to build up their reputations in the last few years. But the Bulldogs won their last three games last year (including vs Kansas State and their bowl game against GA Tech). Look for them to be at or near the top of the WAC this year.
The Call: Fresno State by 7
Tennessee @ UCLA (+7.5)
Big SEC-Pac 10 matchup. Teams with a ton of history. Lots of national exposure. Being played in the Rose Bowl.
The Bruins are gonna get destroyed.
The Call: Tennessee by 24