by Mike Ivcic
Welcome to the newest feature at the Ultimate Capper this season – our weekly college football column “Six Plus One,” where we look at the six biggest games featuring ranked teams and one more game involving two unranked schools, just as a nice little added bonus. So fire up the band and get tailgate going – it’s time for another season of NCAA football!
North Carolina at 6) South Carolina
Thursday, 6:00pm, ESPN
Line: South Carolina by 12
It’s the first game of the year between a traditional ACC underachiever and a traditional SEC underachiever – which actually does quite a good job of juxtaposing the difference between the two conferences. South Carolina seems to be a perennial contender, yet always loses a game they shouldn’t. This, however, won’t be that game this year. The Gamecocks are just too good, and they have the best player in all of college football in Jadaveon Clowney, so they’ll win the home opener against a good, but certainly not great, Tar Heels team.
Pick: South Carolina 31, North Carolina 10
1) Alabama vs. Virginia Tech (Atlanta, GA)
Saturday, 5:30pm, ESPN
Line: Alabama by 20
The title defense for Nick Saban’s group begins against a program that has fallen off a bit from being one of the nation’s elite teams. Even just three years ago it would have been unfathomable to think of Virginia Tech beginning the season unranked, but such is life in Blacksburg now for Frank Beamer. That said, this is a team that will certainly be well-prepared, and I’m actually expecting the Hokies to keep this game rather close for at least a couple quarters, if not into the fourth. So, even though it may not seem like the smartest call, I’m taking a Virginia Tech cover against the defending champs in the opener.
Pick: Alabama 27, Virginia Tech 14
8) Georgia at 5) Clemson
Saturday, 8:00pm, ABC
Line: Georgia by 2
There’s no question that this is the marquee game of the weekend. Both of these schools are potential national championship contenders, and the winner will certainly have a marquee win to impress voters – an especially important point for Clemson, which will have to overcome the weak impression of the ACC. Still, a look back at the beginning of the seasons for these two schools would dictate a Clemson win. Typically the Bulldogs drop a game early and then make their push mid-to-late-season, while the Tigers are always an undefeated candidate for a good portion of the year before losing a game they shouldn’t. I think home field plays enough of a factor here that Clemson earns a big-time victory.
Pick: Clemson 24, Georgia 20
12) LSU vs. 20) TCU (Arlington, TX)
Saturday, 9:00pm, ESPN
Line: LSU by 4
No matchup on the docket for the first weekend has elicited more verbal sparring than this spelling-bee game. Come Saturday night, whether or not Les Miles allowed his players to vote for a teammate’s reinstatement will be irrelevant, as will Gary Patterson’s opinion as to whether that was an acceptable thing for Miles to do. On Saturday, all that will matter is whether or not LSU has managed to replace enough talent from a defense that two years ago was arguably one of the best units ever assembled to stop a typically explosive TCU offense. If Miles has done his job recruiting and that defense is up to LSU standards, this could get lopsided. But if the Horned Frogs can expose some flaws or weaknesses in the Tigers defensive unit, they could actually pull off the upset. They should have the fan base on their side, and LSU’s offense is always a bit of a question mark, so I’ll at least pick a cover here, but I still think the Tigers take this one with a full summer to prepare.
Pick: LSU 20, TCU 17
19) Boise State at Washington
Saturday, 10:00pm, FOX Sports 1
Line: Washington by 3.5
Boise State deserves a lot of credit for what they’ve done with their program. Instead of complaining about a lack of respect from voters, they went out and upgraded their conference affiliation while simultaneously scheduling as many difficult games – on the road – as they possibly could, often against BCS schools. This game is their only shot at a marquee win this year, though, as the other non-conference games on the slate are FCS-school Tennessee-Martin, Southern Miss, and BYU. On the flip side, Washington desperately needs a good start to their season before conference slate, where three of the top four schools in the Pac-12 rankings (Oregon, Stanford, and Oregon State) all reside in the North. I actually think the Huskies may be the better team, but I’ve also learned not to count out the Broncos, at home or on the road, and I think Boise takes this one.
Pick: Boise State 21, Washington 17
11) Florida State at Pittsburgh
Monday, 8:00pm, ESPN
Line: Florida State by 10
As a welcoming present from the ACC, Pittsburgh got what has been the most tradition-rich program in conference history – albeit at home – in the very first game of their inaugural season. There’s reason to be hopeful for the Panthers, whose conference move should help the team keep players from a typically talent-rich area closer to home with the guarantee of a better schedule, more nationally televised games, and ultimately a better path to a national championship. That road won’t be an easy one, nor will it be a short one, as Pitt is about to find out. The Seminoles may not have E.J. Manuel anymore, but the roster is still stocked with enough talent – especially on defense – that if they can pull off a major coup and win both of their marquee road matchups (10/19 at Clemson, 11/30 at Florida) there’s a very good chance for this group to be playing for a national title at the end of the season.
Pick: Florida State 32, Pittsburgh 14
Syracuse vs. Penn State (East Rutherford, NJ)
Saturday, 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2
Line: Penn State by 8
The reason I find this game intriguing is for how Penn State will look as they begin year two post-Paterno. Bill O’Brien did a phenomenal job of rallying not just the team, but the entire campus and alumni base in year one, but his job will be significantly more difficult in year two. With a good bit of the emotion that drove last year’s group now fading, the Nittany Lions will now have to focus on actually executing on the field in order to be successful. A neutral side opener in the New York metropolitan area should be a good way to showcase the growth of this team in front of a national audience, especially against a Syracuse team that will be playing game one under new coach Scott Shafer. Just be forewarned that there is a good chance that the Orange could pull off the upset here if Penn State can’t summon that mental toughness – which would be a terrible sign for a program that needs all the hope and good feelings they can get.
Pick: Penn State 23, Syracuse 17
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