Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
Football is back, and so are the Fernley Reporter’s weekly picks column. I will be joined again this season by Jim Vallet, although since he only bets pro football, I’m flying solo this week and he will join the fray with some picks, analysis and humor next week.
While last year’s chaotic COVID-19 season led to some wild unpredictability, and unfortunately, my worse season ever as a college football bettor, the lingering pandemic and the after effects of its impacts on last season are leading to some interesting dynamics this season.
First of all, last year didn’t count against eligibility for players who played last season and chose to return this season, which leads to teams having a bevy of “Super Seniors.” Of course, that’s great in terms of experience, but the truth is, any player who was a senior last season and is back in college this season means he wasn’t good enough to be drafted, which further means that at the highest levels of competition, he isn’t likely good enough to be a difference making player. So, beware of hype about teams who are loaded with Super Seniors. That experience is likely fool’s gold.
At the other end of the spectrum, that extra year means a lot for younger players. For example, Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler, who is considered one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy, is the first third-year redshirt freshman I’ve ever heard of. Or, I should say, he was the first I’d ever heard of, but then I realized that every redshirt freshman from last year is a third year redshirt freshman this year. Teams who have a host of those guys are teams that should be primed to make significant leaps forward.
Hopefully we are done with the random cancellations that marred last season, and, more importantly, with tuning into a game only to find out that 15 players from one team are being held out for contact tracing.
Regardless, it’s college football opening weekend. Or, for me, my version of Christmas Day.
East Carolina (+10) over Appalachian St.: Two of my favorite college football programs, both located in rural North Carolina, square off in Charlotte. Appalachian St. is a recent media darling because of its penchant for big upsets, which it’s had several of the past few seasons. But I expect East Carolina to be one of the most improved under-the-radar teams this season. I’m a huge fan of ECU coach Mike Houston, and the Pirates made great strides in the second half of last season. I especially like quarterback Holton Ahlers and a talented crew of young running backs, and I expect this one to be close.
Duke (-6 ½) at Charlotte: Laying a touchdown on the road with a team that was 2-9 last season seems like folly, and maybe it is. But then again, in order to win, you have to find undervalued commodities, and I think Duke is just that. The Blue Devils somehow managed to turn the ball over 39 times in 11 games last season, but 22 of those were by quarterback Chase Brice, who threw 15 interceptions and lost seven fumbles. But this season, Brice is at Appalachian St. In his place comes sophomore Gunnar Holmberg, who is actually in his third season on campus, but remains a sophomore because the NCAA isn’t counting last season against players who returned to school. Holmberg is a good athlete and throws with a quick release, and should be familiar with the offense. Charlotte is likely fired up to get an ACC foe at home, but even with all their problems, Duke beat Charlotte 53-19 last year and with a soft September schedule, the Blue Devils a chance to be a surprise team this season.
West Virginia (-3) at Maryland: I’ve been watching college football a long time, and the only coaches I’ve ever seen who did as bad a job as a head coach as Mike Locksley did at New Mexico were Buddy Teevens at Stanford and John Blake at Oklahoma. But both Teevens and Blake had success elsewhere. Locksley managed to rehab his reputation as the offensive coordinator at Alabama, but his Maryland teams have looked every bit as ill-prepared against competent foes as his New Mexico teams did. When Locksley said in his introductory press conference at New Mexico that the university would need to add a third digit to its scoreboard, he neglected to say it’s because his defense would give up touchdowns by the bushel. Meanwhile, West Virginia is most certainly a competent foe, but more importantly a well coached one, and I’m willing to bet that Neal Brown will have his team more prepared than Locksley.
Oregon St. (+7) at Purdue: One of the tried and true axioms I’ve followed with great success over the years is to bet on any underdog that has an offense that the favorite can’t stop. Oregon St. averaged 29 points per game last season and returns 10 starters on offense, although one of them, quarterback Tristan Gebbia, won’t play here, But even though he was the returning starter, Gebbia hadn’t clearly beaten out Colorado transfer Sam Noyer, who will start here. Purdue, meanwhile, has given up 30 points per game both of the last two seasons, and I see this game being a shootout that Oregon St. has a live chance of winning outright.
Clemson (-3) over Georgia: These are two teams that enter the season with realistic hopes of making the College Football Playoff. Clemson is obviously without its two biggest starts from last season, quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne. But D.J. Uiagalelei threw for 439 yards against Notre Dame, and Clemson hasn’t had any trouble restocking its shelves at the skill positions. Georgia hasn’t shown enough offense in recent years when it’s played powerhouse opponents, and I’m not buying last year’s late resurgence with quarterback J.T. Daniels, because it came against the soft part of Georgia’s schedule.