College gameday heads to Columbus, Ohio this week for a top-five matchup between Notre Dame and Ohio State. Notre Dame is entering its first season under new head coach and former defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman. The Irish lost a decent bit of talent to the NFL draft this offseason including all-world safety Kyle Hamilton and stud running back Kyren Williams. Additionally, Notre Dame will be led under center by new starting quarterback Tyler Buchner with the graduation of last year’s starter Jack Coan. Buchner is a former 4-star recruit with very good mobility and overall athleticism. Buchner will have the benefit of throwing to potential 2023 first-round pick TE Michael Mayer. Mayer is in the discussion for the top tight end in college football this year along with Brock Bowers from Georgia and projects to be Buchner’s top target in 2022. Despite losing Hamilton to the draft, the defense for the Irish should be very solid with another potential high draft pick in edge rusher Isaiah Foskey. The addition of Northwestern transfer safety Brandon Joseph provides Freeman with a versatile player to work with as well.
On the other side, the Buckeyes should be in for another strong season with CJ Stroud at the helm and Jaxon Smith-Njigba returning at wide receiver. Smith-Njigba put on a clinic last year against Utah in the Rose Bowl with a record-setting 15 receptions for 347 yards and 3 touchdowns. Even with the loss of two first-round receivers in Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave and third-round tight end Jeremy Ruckert, the Buckeyes have plenty of weapons on offense. Along with Smith-Njigba, leading rusher TreVeyon Henderson returns after an outstanding freshman campaign where he averaged a staggering 6.8 yards per carry. The defense was not great last year but should take a step forward in 2022 with former Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles taking over the same role for Ohio State. There is talent on the Ohio State defense with highly touted recruits everywhere and Knowles just coached one of the nation's top defenses at Oklahoma State in 2021. The safety group for Ohio State should be very strong with hard-hitting Ronnie Hickman returning and Josh Proctor back from injury. The addition of nickel corner Tanner McCallister from Oklahoma State provides experience in the system also. That being said, the makeover of the defense will take more than one offseason and the offense will definitely be the strength of the team this year. I think the Buckeyes win this one in the Horseshoe but Notre Dame makes it a close game with a big performance from Michael Mayer.
My pick: Ohio State wins (-800) Notre Dame covers (+17) Full game under (59)
#11 Oregon at #3 Georgia (-17) - September 3rd, 2:30 pm ABC
Oregon, in its first season under Dan Lanning, travels to Athens this Saturday to take on the defending national champ Georgia Bulldogs. Kirby Smart has a ton of talent to replace on both sides of the ball with a record 15 players selected in the 2022 NFL draft. The Dawgs lost 5 first-rounders from the defense including number 1 overall pick, Travon Walker, star DT Jordan Davis, and do-it-all safety Lewis Cine. However, the defense is still stacked with projected first-round picks on the D-line in potential top 5 pick Jalen Carter at DT and Nolan Smith on the edge. Speedy corner Kelee Ringo is also projected to go day 1 next year as arguably the number 1 corner in his class. The Mailman Stetson Bennett is back to lead the offense and will have the benefit of the best tight end group in the country. Brock Bowers, as previously mentioned, is in the conversation for the top tight end in college football. Darnell Washington provides an excellent red zone target with a super wide catch radius standing 6’7” and is a solid blocker when needed as well. WR/TE Arik Gilbert represents one of the more intriguing players in college football as a former top 5 overall recruit in his class. Gilbert started his career at LSU in 2020 and showed flashes of dominance before transferring to Georgia. Gilbert has an incredibly high ceiling and a breakout season would immensely boost Georgia’s chances at winning back-to-back natty’s.
Oregon lost its Head Coach Mario Cristobal to Miami this offseason along with top 5 draft pick, edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux. Starting quarterback Anthony Brown graduated and Bo Nix transferred in from Auburn to replace him. Teams last year started to load the box to stop the run as they did not have to worry about being beat over the top by Brown. Nix should add another dimension to the Oregon offense as a threat to extend and make plays happen down the field. The Ducks also lost their top two rushers in CJ Verdell to graduation and Travis Dye to the transfer portal and will be looking for Byron Cardwell to take over as the lead back. Cardwell did well filling in when Verdell went down with an injury, averaging a strong 6.8 yards per carry and should be aided by the running ability of Bo Nix. The defense projects to be very strong with a great linebacking core of potential first-round pick Noah Sewell and very talented Justin Flowe, who has had his last two seasons cut very short due to injury. Colorado transfer Christian Gonzalez looks to be a lockdown corner with great top-end speed for the Ducks in the secondary.
My Pick: Georgia wins (-900) Georgia covers (-17) Full game under (53)
West Virginia at #17 Pitt (-7.5) - Thursday, September 1st, 6:00 pm ESPN
The Backyard Brawl returns with West Virginia and new quarterback JT Daniels traveling to face a Pitt team coming off of their most successful season in recent memory. Neal Brown could very well be coaching for his job this year for the Mountaineers and could use a win over a top 25 rival on the road. Pitt will move from first-round pick Kenny Pickett at quarterback to former USC Trojan Kedon Slovis. Slovis should be a very solid quarterback for the Panthers but is a step down from 2021 Heisman Finalist Pickett. Slovis will also not have the luxury of throwing to the 2021 Biletnikoff winner, Jordan Addison, who ironically transferred to USC in the offseason. This feels like the game that makes college football feel truly back with a weird, high scoring, Thursday night upset for West(ern) Virginia.
My pick: West Virginia wins (+240) West Virginia covers (+7.5) Full game over (51)
Group of Five Showcase
#24 Houston (-4) at UTSA - Saturday, September 3rd, 2:30 pm CBSSN
Following arguably the best season in team history with a Conference USA championship, Jeff Traylor leads the Roadrunners into a matchup with a top 25 Houston team that went 12-2 in 2021. Traylor gets his starting quarterback Frank Harris back for his senior season along with their top two receivers in Zakhari Franklin and Joshua Cephus. Dana Holgorsen also returns his starting quarterback from a year ago in Clayton Tune along with their leading rusher Alton McCaskill and receiver Nathaniel Dell. Houston was the runner up in the AAC last year, losing to Cincinnati in the championship game and projects to be at the top of the conference again this year. This should be a very good one with two electric offenses and a fun atmosphere in the Alamodome.
My pick: Houston wins (-190) Houston covers (-4) Full game under (62)
Others Receiving Votes
#23 Cincinnati at #19 Arkansas (-6.5) September 3rd, 2:30 pm ESPN - Head coach Luke Fickell looks to put together another magical season for the Bearcats after a trip to the playoffs in 2021. KJ Jefferson and the Razorbacks try to take the next step in the SEC back into the conversation with the heavyweights.
#7 Utah (-3) at Florida September 3rd, 6:00 pm ESPN - The Utes travel to the Swamp to try and secure a big time non conference win before trying to defend their Pac-12 title. The Billy Napier era of Florida football starts with Anthony Richardson at quarterback.
Penn State (-3.5) at Purdue September 1st, 7:00 pm Fox - Penn State travels to the perennial trap game stadium for Big 10 Teams on a weeknight on national television. Sign me up.