College football opening week picks

Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter

After what was one of the newsiest offseasons in its history, college football arrives in full force this weekend with 87 of the FBS teams in action and no shortage of storylines. Deion Sanders at Colorado! Oklahoma and Texas in their last season in the Big 12! Their replacements, BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati already in the league this season. Arizona, Arizona St. and Utah joining them next year. USC, UCLA, Washington and Oregon heading to the Big 10. Everyone else scrambling to avoid being left out in the cold.

For year’s I’ve been predicting that eventually the top 40 or so programs in the country will either split from the NCAA or form a new division in the NCAA, separating what is now 135 or so teams in the FBS into two divisions. I’ve seen stories recently that speculate about 28, but I think it will be a little more than that.

Ultimately, that would be the best thing for the teams currently in the so-called Group of 5 conferences. There’s no way the bottom half of the FBS belongs in the same division with Georgia, Alabama, etc. If there was a middle tier somewhere between those top teams and the FCS, it would actually make it possible that every single program in that middle tier could win a national championship. It just makes too much sense not to do it.


Either way, it’s time to get some bets down and watch some kickoffs.

Last season treated me like Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry” (Kick ‘em when they’re up, kick ‘em when they’re down), with a final record of 24-33 in the NFL, and 21-35-1 in college, but I’m back to make amends this season. And, as he has the last three seasons, Jim Vallet will join the fray next week when the NFL kicks off.

The picks:

(Lines from William Hill as of Wednesday night)

Minnesota (-7) over Nebraska: Matt Ruhle will probably at least somewhat turn Nebraska around, similar to what he did at Temple and again at Baylor after the Art Briles scandals. But it won’t happen immediately. Minnesota is a steady, consistent program under PJ Fleck. Quarterback Aidan Kaliakmanis got several starts last season after Tanner Morgan was injured, so here we have a good team with continuity against a program that hit the bottom and is just starting the work to climb back up.

Texas-San Antonio (-2) at Houston: UTSA lost in triple overtime to Houston in the opening game last season. Knowing they’re playing Houston in the opener again this season, do you think there was a little urgency in the offseason workouts this summer in San Antonio? Of course, there needs to be more than motivation in order to win a game, and that’s where Frank Harris comes in. He threw for 32 touchdowns and 9 interceptions last year, with 4,063 yards, after 3,177 with a 27-6 ratio in 2021. He’s one of eight starters back on offense, with eight more back on defense.  Houston has to replace Clayton Tune, who might be starting next week for the Arizona Cardinals. UTSA is the more experienced team, with plenty of motivation, facing a team they obviously matched up well with last season. This time they should get to celebrate.

Liberty (-9 ½) over Bowling Green: New Liberty coach Jamey Chadwell comes over from Coastal Carolina, and he brought on board a bunch of Power 5 transfers. Bowling wasn’t good on offense last year, ranking 95th, and now they bring in Connor Bazelak at quarterback, after he was mediocre at Missouri and Indiana. Liberty’s program has been on a steady rise, and now they join Conference USA and they’ll be one of the contenders to win the league. I think they get off to a strong start here.

East Carolina (+36) at Michigan: Everyone knows Michigan is one of the most talented teams in the country. I’ve seen projections that the Wolverines could have 20 players drafted by the NFL next spring. So it’s entirely possible that I’m on the wrong side of an embarrassing loss here. But that’s not what I expect. Conventional wisdom is that after losing 5-yar starting quarterback Holton Ahlers, the programs third all-time leading rusher Keaton Mitchell East Caroline and top two receivers, that this is a rebuilding season for the Pirates. But this is head coach Mike Houston’s fifth year, and it’s the deepest and most talented team he’s had there. The names are unfamiliar to even many follow the team, but as Houston said to his team a couple weeks ago, “This room is full of dudes, but nobody out there knows that yet.” I think East Carolina will give Michigan a tussle for long enough to keep the score from reaching this spread.

North Texas (+7) over Cal: North Texas fired coach Seth Littrell despite making it to the Fisco Bowl last year, where they lost 35-32 to Boise St. New coach Eric Morris was the offensive coordinator at Washington St, last year, but before that he was head coach at Incarnate Word, where he brought that program to prominence in the FCS. He’s produced prolific offenses everywhere he’s been. Cal’s program has stagnated and wasn’t good on either side of the ball last season. Cal will be hard pressed just to win this game, much less win it by two scores.

Middle Tennessee at Alabama: I have no pregame pick on this one, but with a line of Alabama -39, there’s a possibility one of the more reliable patterns in college football could come into play. No coach has a more established M.O. than Nick Saban does when his team has a big lead at halftime against outmanned foes. In those cases, Saban will attack on the first offensive possession of the second half to try to deliver a knockout blow, then pull the reins and manage the clock the rest of the way. If Alabama gets off to a big halftime lead, a second half under bet, or an in-game under immediately after Alabama’s first possession of the third quarter, is in order.

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