Preview 2016

Week One Early Big Game Fearless Predictions

Sep 5, 2015; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish line squares off against the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame defeats Texas 38-3. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 5, 2015; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish line squares off against the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame defeats Texas 38-3. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It’s going to be one of the greatest opening college football weekends ever. What are the early Week One predictions for the biggest games?

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Here’s the annual drill when the first lines for the opening weekend come out several months before the season starts. I don’t look at the lines, I make the picks on the big games with the scores, and then after it’s all done the lines are added to see just how off things appear to be.

If I’m way off, that means one of two things: 1) I need to recalibrate the initial thoughts on the teams or 2) there’s a wacky market imbalance just begging to get exploited.

There’s one big difference, though, between this year and past seasons of doing this. The opening weekend of the 2016 campaign might be the greatest in the history of college football with way too many awesome showdowns.

Be savvy, take the easy chances that make sense, and it’s Christmas in May – if you’re into that sort of thing.

Lines coming from

California vs. Hawaii, Aug. 27 in Sydney, Australia

The start of the Nick Rolovich era at Hawaii isn’t going to bring the instant offense. Cal will crank up the Goffless attack early, the Rainbow Warriors will bomb away to keep this interesting, and the Aussies will be treated to a ton of offense – and a big Bear win.

Line: California -24
Way Early Prediction: California 48, Hawaii 27

South Carolina at Vanderbilt, Sept. 1

First one to score wins? The two defenses are going to be stifling with turnovers and field position meaning everything. I’m a Muschamp believer – the offense will grind out just enough to slip by in the type of war only SEC die-hards are going to love.

Line: South Carolina -3
Way Early Prediction: South Carolina 16, Vanderbilt 10

Oregon State at Minnesota, Sept. 1

Gary Andersen is too good a head coach to let his Beavers be that bad again defensively, but it’ll be the zone-read offense that’ll be the problem. The OSU run D will keep the Gophers in check, but Mitch Leidner will show that this is a different year and a different Minnesota team. It’s going to be just efficient enough and effective enough to pull out a close thriller.

Line: Minnesota -6
Way Early Prediction: Minnesota 27, Oregon State 23

Kansas State at Stanford, Sept. 2

How fast did Stanford reload? The guess – before looking at the line – is that the market will way overlove the Cardinal since the last time everyone saw them was the Rose Bowl. Kansas State might not have too much in the way of firepower, but the defense should be able to hold up against a Stanford O that has to replace almost everyone who matters. Bill Snyder and staff have a whole summer to prepare for Christian McCaffrey.

Line: Stanford -18.5
Way Early Prediction: Stanford 30, Kansas State 17

Colorado vs. Colorado State, Sept. 2, in Denver

This might be a nasty rivalry game and it might always be a huge moment for Colorado State to show up its neighbor, but the Buffs have too much experience. The Rams will be interesting, but they have to reload a bit and could use a tune-up game they’re not going to get. This won’t exactly be a coming out part for Colorado, but it’ll be a statement.

Line: Colorado -6
Way Early Prediction: Colorado 31, Colorado State 17

Boston College vs. Georgia Tech, Sept. 3, in Ireland

This will get forgotten about in the swarm of all the amazing September 3rd games, but it’s an ACC battle and it should be fascinating. Boston College had the No. 1 defense in college football last year, but it lost defensive coordinator Don Brown to Michigan. Most of the key parts are still in place, though, and with an entire summer to prepare for the Yellow Jacket option attack, the Eagle D should keep this tight. It’ll be a fight, but Georgia Tech wins in the first step back to prove that last year’s disaster was a fluke.

Line: Georgia Tech -2.5
Way Early Prediction: Georgia Tech 20, Boston College 17

Clemson at Auburn, Sept. 3

Welcome to the Auburn defense that’ll be frothing at the mouth. Clemson might be the preseason No. 1 team, but it’s going to run into the second-best atmosphere of the opening weekend – LSU vs. Wisconsin in Lambeau gets the top nod. Jordan-Hare will be insane, the Auburn offense will actually click, and the SEC Tiger defense will be ramped up several levels. And then Deshaun Watson will happen. It’ll take about three quarters to adjust, and then Clemson will go off with two key late drives to pull it out.

Line: Clemson -9.5
Way Early Prediction: Clemson 27, Auburn 23

North Carolina vs. Georgia, Sept. 3, in Atlanta

You think the Kirby Smart era is going to kick off with a dud? It had better not. New year, new teams, new parts on both sides, but the Bulldog coaching staff will be drooling over the Baylor rushing performance on the Tar Heels in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Georgia won’t crank out 645 rushing yards like the Bears did, but the offense will hammer away, the defense will stone the Tar Heel O, and Jacob Eason will get his first of many wins as the Bulldog starting quarterback. Nick Chubb won’t play, but Sony Michel will come away as the big story out of the opening weekend rumbling for over 200 yards.

Line: Georgia -4.5
Way Early Prediction: Georgia 38, North Carolina 13

Oklahoma at Houston, Sept. 3

This is it, Group of Five fans. This is your chance to start championing the cause of one of the true possibilities to bust through the system and get everyone talking about the possibilities. Houston will be outstanding with the crowd going out of its mind from the start and the offense cranking up a few big early scoring drives. And then everything will settle down, and the Oklahoma running game will kick in. The Sooners will have heard for months about how it’s going to lose this game – don’t think they’re not thinking about sticking it to Houston mayor, Sylvester Turner, who predicted a Cougar blowout.

Line: Oklahoma -7.5
Way Early Prediction: Oklahoma 37, Houston 27

Missouri at West Virginia, Sept. 3

Does Missouri have any offense whatsoever? Does West Virginia have any defense whatsoever? The Mizzou defense should be terrific again, but the Mountaineer attack might just need to come up with a few early scores to put this away. The Tigers will get the ground game going to try keeping the high-powered West Virginia O off the field, but at home, this is a must-win statement moment for Dana Holgorsen, and he’ll get it.

Line: West Virginia -7
Way Early Prediction: West Virginia 27, Missouri 21

LSU vs. Wisconsin, Sept. 3, in Green Bay

About as cool as it gets. It’s not just a national title contender playing one of the Big Ten’s power programs on the road, it’s in Lambeau Field, it’s in Big Ten country, and it’s against a team in desperate need to prove to the world that it’s able to win a game like this. Yeah, yeah, yeah, winning the Holiday Bowl over USC was nice, and battling hard over the last two season openers against LSU and Alabama was impressive in its own way, but it’s time to come up with a really, really big moment.

It won’t happen.

Corey Clement and Leonard Fournette will each have rough days, but this will be when the LSU passing game shows up. Brandon Harris will look the part hooking up with his NFL-caliber receivers for a few big plays to break Badger hearts in a fantastic war of a game.

Line: LSU -10
Way Early Prediction: LSU 23, Wisconsin 17

BYU vs. Arizona, Sept. 3, in Glendale

It’s about as must-win as a Week One non-conference game can get for Arizona. It’s not a true home game, but it’s close, and it’s a shot to show that the Wildcats really and truly might be a factor in the Pac-12 South chase – if the defense shows up. It’s the opener for new BYU head coach Kalani Sitake, and he’s going to need this with the brutal schedule ahead with absolutely no relief in sight. It’ll be a fun shootout with no defense whatsoever – the RichRod O will come through late to bail out the porous D.

Line: BYU -1.5
Way Early Prediction: Arizona 45, BYU 38

UCLA at Texas A&M, Sept. 3

Has there ever been a battle at this level between two program with bigger names who’ve won absolutely nothing of substance for a long, long time? There’s no excuse for either program to not be a major player, but for all the talent, all the resources, and all the hype and all the attention, these two have underachieving down cold. UCLA will make more noise in the Pac-12 than Texas A&M will in the SEC, but after a tumultuous offseason and with all the pressure in the world to pull this off, the Aggies and Trevor Knight will slip past the Bruins in a fun fight.

Line: Texas A&M -3
Way Early Prediction: Texas A&M 31, UCLA 27

USC vs. Alabama, Sept 3, in Arlington

Be really, really careful with this line. Alabama might open openers, but so does USC. The Crimson Tide might have the defense to stuff the Trojan ground game, but USC has the athletes and the talent to keep the score low and make this a tough, hard-nosed battle until late. The USC secondary will get the job done against the Bama star receivers, and the rest of the Tide offense won’t work. Bama’s D will pick up the slack just enough to survive.

Line: Alabama -13
Way Early Prediction: Alabama 23, USC 17

Rutgers at Washington, Sept. 3

It’s the start of the Chris Ash era at Rutgers, and he’s going to bring a decent offense across the country to try pulling off a huge upset that would set a fantastic tone for the start of his era. Or Chris Petersen has reloaded after a transition season and will have Washington rolling from the word go. The Huskies will look fantastic.

Line: Washington -20.5
Way Early Prediction: Washington 40, Rutgers 14

Notre Dame at Texas, Sept. 4

National TV. The spotlight of the sports world all focused on Austin. Notre Dame coming into town. This will either be when Charlie Strong shows that he has Texas ready to be a factor again, or it’ll be a national showcase for those ready to find someone else to lead the Longhorns. The Fighting Irish embarrassed Texas in last year’s opener – how have things come a year later? Strong will get his moment with his team looking like the one everyone’s been waiting for.

Line: Notre Dame -6
Way Early Prediction: Texas 26, Notre Dame 21

Ole Miss vs. Florida State, Sept. 5, in Orlando

What kind of shape will Ole Miss be in three months from now? Will the Laremy Tunsil issues matter in any way – will they be a galvanizing force, a deathblow, or nothing at all? The bigger key on the field will be the Rebel defense that’ll have to stop Dalvin Cook from making an early Heisman case. Florida State’s quarterback situation will be the question mark right up until gametime, but the rest of the team is in place to come up with a special year with a bit too much on both sides for the retooling Rebels. Chad Kelly will be fantastic, but he won’t be enough.

Line: Florida State -10
Way Early Prediction: Florida State 23, Ole Miss 17