#3 Clemson (-3.5) vs. #5 Georgia - September 4, 6:30 PM ABC
Two of the heaviest heavyweights battle it out in one of the most eagerly awaited season kickoff games in many years. The winner will have a direct path to the Playoff and the loser will
be eliminated …likely remain ranked in the top 10 and still on a direct path to the Playoff. While not actually a play-in contest in Week 1, this game will present incredible intrigue and set the national narrative for the entire season. After getting a glimpse of the future in 2020, DJ Uiagalelei now takes over from Trevor Lawrence at QB for the Tigers and is already a national brand NIL superstar. Georgia meanwhile was a contender in 2020 despite trotting out walk-on and walk-over QBs for much of the season. In 2021, JT Daniels steps in fully healthy and ready for the main stage. Outside of the high-caliber QBs, the field will be covered in NFL talent on both sides of the ball – in cases like this I tend to think the game will be a series of body blows with the attempt to wear down and outlast the opponent. It is possible Clemson is a tier ahead the Bulldogs and blows them off the field like we’ve seen from top teams in high-profile non-conference games in the past (and will likely see in Alabama-Miami on Saturday). However I’m going contrarian and siding with the underdawgs from Athens.
My personal molten lava piping hot take: neither of these teams make the Playoff.
My pick: Georgia wins (+148); Georgia covers (+3.5); Total Under 51.5
#19 Penn State at #12 Wisconsin (-5.5) - September 4, 11:00 AM, FOX
The Big Ten jumps right into conference play out of the starting gate, creating match ups with huge implications here in the opening week. National media will desperately search for a contender to step up and challenge Ohio State atop the B1G mountain. While every year that true challenger never really materializes, these two squads are the most likely to be propped up as the top candidates. The winner here will likely get lots of love in the polls and become the “Darkhorse Playoff” team du jour. Camp Randall is a treacherous place for traveling opponents, and with fans back expect the Badger faithful to be rocking, even with the early “Big Noon” start time. I have a soft spot for Wisconsin QB Graham Mertz, and I think it’s because he reminds me of Max Duggan: arrived as a highly touted prospect expected to be the leader of the future; that “future” came early and he got thrown into the fire due to injuries; performed well, if at a level below elite; now expected to be That Guy for a conference title contender. I’m concerned Mertz won’t live up to that pressure and takes a slight step back as a Sophomore, and the Badgers will take a step back with him. It’s also concerning that RB Jalen Berger, who was a breakout star in his Freshman campaign, has now been dropped down the depth chart, behind transfer Chez Mellusi – either Berger is getting disciplined, is hurt, or is not as good as widely believed. As for the Nittany Lions, everything sets up for a huge rebound campaign after 2020’s Season From Hell where Micah Parson opted out, Journey Brown medically retired, and Michael Penix was ruled in bounds for the first of five losses to open the season. But they won their final four games (albeit against cupcakes Michigan, Michigan State, Rutgers, and Illinois), bring in a new Offensive Coordinator, and return excellent skill-position talent to support Sean Clifford at QB. I am seeing a big bounce back season for Coach Franklin and Penn State, starting with a road conference upset.
My pick: Penn State wins (+178); Penn State covers (+5.5); Total Over 49.5
I’ve already given you two straight-up upsets, what more do you want from me!? Three more?! Ok, fine here are some more potential surprises:
- UTSA (+193) at Illinois (-6) – Bret Bielema’s return to the B1G was a resounding success, with a Week Zero win over Nebraska. However, the Illini lost their starting QB and a top WR and are stuck in a letdown-lookahead situation where they very well may overlook a pesky & talented Roadrunner squad, running themselves right off a cliff without realizing before looking down. Meep Meep.
- Florida State (+225) vs. Notre Dame (-7.5) – This is one of those “somebody knows something” lines. Although introducing a new QB, Notre Dame is coming off a Playoff appearance and brings in a top-20 recruiting class every year; FSU has been a non-competitive dumpster fire for years. How is this line not at least 2 TDs? Somebody knows something.
- Virginia Tech (+185) vs. North Carolina (-6) – Another curious line with a home underdog. If Sam Howell is supposed to win the Heisman and be the #1 overall NFL Draft pick and the Tar Heels are supposed to challenge Clemson atop the ACC…defeating the Braxton Burmeister-led Hokies by less than a TD, even in Blacksburg, is unacceptable. Since joining the ACC in the 2004 season, Virginia Tech has defeated UNC in 13 of the 17 meetings, including 4 of the last 5. Maybe Justin Fuente can extend his tenure as Hokies head coach by adding another notch in that belt
Nevada at Cal (-3.5) – September 4, 9:30 PM, FS1.
The top G5 game of the week was very clearly UCF vs. Boise State in the Bounce House last night, as the future conference rival Golden Knights can continue the quest for the G5 NY6 spot. While there aren’t many thrilling G5 vs. G5 match ups this week, we get several marquee G5 vs. P5 games where the minnows will look to put a scare into the sharks: Fresno in Autzen; WMU at the Big House; Nick Starkel at the Coliseum; Dustin Crum in Kyle Field; Ragin’ Cajuns in Austin; Holgorsen’s Cougs vs. TX Tech. These will be big opportunities for GFive-sman Trophy candidates to show out on the national stage. Of these games, the one I’ll be watching with most interest, at least until I drift off to sleep, is scouting Cal as they welcome the Wolf Pack to Berkeley. Cal gets to warm up for its Week Two game vs. TCU with a tough G5 test, pitting one of the nation’s most explosive offenses against a top defensive mind. Nevada QB Carson Strong has been getting some draft buzz and leads an offense with College Fantasy Football stars at every position. However, the Justin Wilcox Cal Defense returns most of its production and is loaded up to return towards the top of the unit rankings nationally; the Cal offense also is experienced and will do enough to escape this landmine ahead of its trip to Fort Worth.
My pick: Cal wins (-160); Cal covers (-3.5); Total Under 53