Game of the Week: #16 Clemson at #12 Georgia
Georgia is a 7.5-point favorite in their opener, in a rematch of last year’s 38-35 Clemson win in Death Valley. This year the game is in Athens, which should give the Bulldogs a home-field advantage. Georgia will be led by RB Todd Gurley, who nearly rushed for 1,000 yards a year ago despite missing multiple games with injury. He will be going up against a tough defensive front led by DE Vic Beasley, but expect one of the best backs in the country to have a good showing. Under center, this game features a battle of two QBs taking over for tenured starters. Hutson Mason got a couple of starts a year ago for Georgia after Aaron Murray’s injury, including the Gator Bowl against Nebraska, which gives him the slight edge over Cole Stoudt, who is making his first career start in a tough environment after garbage time duty last year under Tajh Boyd. Georgia is the slightly better team, and playing at home should be able to make a statement.
Georgia 31, Clemson 24.
Big Game Guarantee: #21 Texas A&M at #9 South Carolina
As has become custom over the last few years, South Carolina is part of the action on the opening Thursday night. South Carolina hasn’t lost an opener since 2000, hasn’t lost an opener at home since 1994, and hasn’t lost one under Steve Spurrier, and Spurrier is 23-1 all-time in openers, with his only loss to, ironically, South Carolina in 1989 while he was at Florida. The game marks the first game for of the Kenny Hill era at QB for the Aggies, who takes over after Johnny Manziel left for the NFL, and he travels into a hostile situation in Columbia to face a good Gamecocks defense. The A&M defense is not very good, after losing talent from a defense that gave up 28 or more in every conference game last year, and gave up 40+ points four times. That defense will face QB Dylan Thompson, who inherits the program from the graduated Connor Shaw after starting occasionally for the last two years during Shaw injuries, and RB Mike Davis, who is probably the second best back in the SEC. The Gamecocks are favored by 10, and I expect them to cover the spread.
South Carolina 35, Texas A&M 21.
Another Big Game Guarantee: #14 Wisconsin vs #13 LSU
The Advocare Texas Kickoff in Houston features two fairly even teams, both coming off good but not great seasons. Wisconsin lost four games last year, including the Capital One Bowl to South Carolina, while LSU lost three, to Georgia, Ole Miss, and Alabama (all on the road), and won the Outback Bowl. This is the fourth time in five years the Tigers have opened the year with a “kickoff game” at a neutral site, and the third time in four years it has been in Texas (they’ve lost only one of the previous games). LSU’s offense completely changed gears last year under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, although the Tigers lost QB Zach Mettenberger to graduation and have not named a starter. Neither have the Badgers, and there is a potential we will see four quarterbacks play in this game. The Badgers, though, will lean on RB Melvin Gordon, while LSU’s Leonard Fournette will make his collegiate debut after a sensational high school career, and is one of three RBs (Terrence McGee, Kenny Hilliard) who should see significant carries for the Tigers. All-time, the SEC is 80-54-2 against the Big Ten, and LSU is just slightly the better team, so they should win a close game, and they are 5-point favorites.
LSU 24, Wisconsin 17.
Another Big Game Guarantee: Boise State vs #18 Ole Miss
Ole Miss is a 10-point favorite in this game tonight, being held at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, at a “neutral site” is anything but, as Ole Miss is expected to bring a large crowd from Oxford while Boise State travels across the country. The Broncos have lost coach Chris Petersen, who left to coach at Washington, and has been replaced by Bryan Harsin. Boise State is a well-recognized name due to recent success, but the last couple of years since the Kellen Moore days they haven’t been top 10 material. Ole Miss, on the other hand, is a program on the rise and could be a sleeper in the loaded SEC West. QB Bo Wallace has a shot at breaking some of Eli Manning’s school passing records this season, and the Rebel defense has one returning All-American (safety Cody Prewitt), and multiple potential All-American-type players returning for this year. Boise State is 6-2 against ranked teams since 2009, but here they’re just overmatched.
Ole Miss 27, Boise State 13.
Upset of the Week: Penn State vs UCF
This will be the first game of the day on Saturday, as it is in Dublin, Ireland and will be played at 8:30 ET on Saturday morning. James Franklin takes over as Penn State coach after Bill O’Brien’s departure for the NFL, and has a good set of players to work with, despite the NCAA sanctions still hovering over the program after the Sandusky scandal. Among these is QB Christian Hackenburg, who threw for 20 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 yards a year ago as a freshman. He is a year older now, although he will be facing a strong UCF defense that ranked 17th nationally last year as a very young group. The question for the Knights is on offense, where they lost QB Blake Bortles to the NFL. No one knows how Justin Holman will play, and he certainly has very big shoes to fill, stepping in for one of the best QBs in the nation a year ago. UCF is favored by 2, but I expect Penn State to come out strong in Franklin’s debut and beat the defending Fiesta Bowl champion Knights.
Penn State 20, UCF 16.