Week 1 picks: The Canes-Cards battle, UGA, LSU start hot and more
Editor’s note: Every Thursday of the season, Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel will be picking games against the spread.
Below are their selections for Week 1.
TEXAS A&M (+10.5) at SOUTH CAROLINA
Mandel: I’ll take the points, but I’m not picking against the Gamecocks, winners of 18 straight home games. Mike Davis is likely going to gash an A&M defense that ranked 111th nationally last season and lost several key players this offseason. New QB Kenny Hill and the Aggies’ receivers will keep it competitive and beat the spread. South Carolina 30, Texas A&M 21.
Feldman: Tough to pick a team with a dreadful defense that lost three first-rounders on offense, including its iconic star QB, going into a place where the Gamecocks have won 18 straight. But after spending a few days around the Aggies in training camp and seeing A&M’s re-stocked crew of wideouts and sturdy O-line, I’m tempted. Especially since South Carolina does have to replace most of its D-line and both corners. The A&M staff feels good about QB Kenny Hill’s ability to be cool under pressure, but this venue for his starting debut will be a severe test. A bigger test for A&M: Mike Davis, who I suspect will go for over 150. South Carolina 37, Texas A&M 35.
BOISE STATE (+10) vs. OLE MISS
Mandel: I’m all in on the Rebels. Hugh Freeze has upgraded their talent. Their defense in particular should be very good, thanks in large part to one of the nation’s top safeties, Cody Prewitt. Boise’s inexperienced offensive and defensive lines will be problematic in this matchup. Ole Miss 35, Boise State 20.
Feldman: The Rebels have a lot of speed and size and I expect to see a much-improved Bo Wallace after his time working with private QB coach/"rotational-athlete guru" Tom House. Robert Nkemdiche and an athletic D-line should overwhelm an inexperienced Broncos front. Ole Miss 31, Boise State 17.
PENN STATE (+2) vs. UCF
Mandel: Penn State’s got one thing going for it: Christian Hackenberg will be the best quarterback on the field what with Blake Bortles now in Jacksonville. But the Knights are big and athletic on their defensive front and may overwhelm a makeshift Nittany Lions O-line. UCF 17, Penn State 10.
Feldman: James Franklin inherits a gifted young QB in Christian Hackenberg and a bunch of talented tight ends. But he also inherits a patchwork O-line that needed to be rebuilt, which figures to be a problem early in the season, especially when facing an experienced Knights D with a good defensive front. UCF doesn’t have Bortles anymore, but it does returns its trio of talented big-play wideouts — Breshad Perriman, Rannell Hall and J.J. Worton: UCF 21, Penn State 17.
WEST VIRGINIA (+26) vs. ALABAMA
Mandel: Everyone’s obviously tuning in to see Alabama QBs Blake Sims and Jacob Coker, but the Tide do still have RBs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. Expect new OC Lane Kiffin to use them early and often but, with inevitable Week 1 kinks, ‘Bama may only manage a light demolition. Alabama 30, West Virginia 14.
Feldman: Whoever plays QB for the Tide will have the best collection of skill talent in the country to work with, but the Mountaineers have some weapons too with an underrated group of backs. Plus, WVU QB Clint Trickett will be much improved with a year in the system. Also, don’t be surprised if Dana Holgorsen has some answers for Nick Saban’s D. Alabama 28, West Virginia 17.
ARKANSAS (+20) at AUBURN
Mandel: Gus Malzahn is being coy about when QB Nick Marshall will enter the game (he’s not starting due to a marijuana citation this summer), which probably means he’s missing one quarter or less. Once he gets in there, Marshall will air it out to the Tigers’ deep stable of receivers. Auburn 45, Arkansas 20.
Feldman: Even without Marshall for the full game, the Tigers still have too much on offense for an undermanned Hogs squad, although I think Arkansas will keep it interesting into the second half with so much time to prep for Gus Malzahn’s system. Auburn 27, Arkansas 17.
CLEMSON (+7.5) at GEORGIA
Mandel: I’m high on both these teams. Vic Beasley and the Clemson D will get to Dawgs QB Hutson Mason and disrupt the passing game but won’t be so fortunate against running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. In a close game most of the way, Georgia pulls away at the end. Georgia 27, Clemson 17.
Feldman: I like the game-within-a-game showdown between Clemson OC Chad Morris and new UGA DC Jeremy Pruitt, but the Tigers’ inexperience on offense on the road I suspect will lead to a few too many mistakes and sloppiness. And for as talented as the Tigers’ front seven is, the UGA running backs, especially Gurley, are even better. Georgia 34, Clemson 24.
FRESNO STATE (+22) at USC
Mandel: The Bulldogs got crushed in last year’s Las Vegas Bowl, and that was before losing star QB Derek Carr. But USC will miss CB Josh Shaw against standout Fresno WR Josh Harper. The Trojans are also starting two true freshmen on the offensive line. It might be a sluggish start. USC 27, Fresno State 14.
Feldman: While the Josh Shaw story stole the college football world’s attention, I suspect the Trojans’ players, who coped with all of the turmoil last year, will handle this with little trouble. Look for the Trojans’ defensive front to dominate and their skill guys to hit a bunch of big plays for QB Cody Kessler. USC 44, Fresno State 17.
FLORIDA STATE (-17.5) vs. OKLAHOMA STATE
Mandel: The only mystery here is whether Jameis Winston does one of his early-interception slow starts or pours it on right from the beginning. Last year’s Oklahoma State defense might have stood a chance. This year’s, which lost nearly every key starter, is in trouble. Florida State 44, Oklahoma State 14.
Feldman: OSU returns only four starters on D and one of the guys missing was the Cowboys’ best player, CB Justin Gilbert. Expect Jameis Winston to light up OSU for three quarters and the Noles’ suffocating defense to shut down its Big 12 prey. Florida State 49, Oklahoma State 13.
LSU (-5) vs. WISCONSIN
Mandel: This one’s hard to pick because there’s so much mystery. Who will be LSU’s quarterback? How will the Badgers employ new dual-threat QB Tanner McEvoy? He and RB Melvin Gordon could form a dynamic tandem, but LSU’s defensive speed up front is too much. LSU 27, Wisconsin 20.
Feldman: Melvin Gordon’s terrific but the Tigers linebackers are as fast and talented as any group he’ll face. An even bigger problem for the Badgers is LSU’s collection of tailbacks, led by budding star Leonard Fournette, who will run through Wisconsin in the second half. LSU 34, Wisconsin 17.
MIAMI (+3.5) at LOUISVILLE
Mandel: ‘Canes true freshman QB Brad Kaaya must be the real deal to get the call over experienced journeyman Jake Heaps. And we know full well what stud RB Duke Johnson can do. I just don’t have faith Miami’s defense has improved enough to slow down a Bobby Petrino-coached offense. Louisville 28, Miami 20.
Feldman: Kaaya is a true freshman but UM coaches love his poise. They also love how accurate he is. The skill talent around him, led by Johnson and blazer Philip Dorsett, will be ready to avenge last year’s dismal bowl showing against the Cards, who also are breaking in a new QB in Will Gardner, and he will miss standout WR DeVante Parker. Miami 30, Louisville 27.
Utah State (+6) at Tennessee
Mandel: The Vols’ mass inexperience on both lines of scrimmage leaves them vulnerable to an upset. Matt Wells’ Aggies are so well-coached, particularly on defense, and won’t be fazed walking into a 100,000-seat stadium. Throw in the return of dynamic QB Chuckie Keeton and you get … Utah State 24, Tennessee 21.