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Picks Trying Not to Suck: Week One

Last year Homerism won the coveted chocolate martini in the popular sibling rivalry of Picks Trying Not to Suck. Despite the heartburn it caused him last year, The Skinny lobbied for the same ground rules this season, including the Lee Greenwood Special for our men and women in uniform. The stakes remain the same, a Christmas day choco-tini, with the added twist of The Skinny's pride being on the line as well.

WEEK One--The Skinny

Skin won’t be attending this weekend’s game between OU and BYU. My absence is a protest against Jerry Jones and that ego-driven monstrosity he built in Texas. I despise that whole “everything is bigger and better in Texas” attitude. I've been to Texas many times, and in case you were wondering, it sucks.

OK, actually, I would sell out and go in a heartbeat, but I would rather save my football trips for the Red River Shootout.
Advice of the Week: If "regularity" is an issue for you, forget Jamie Lee Curtis' laxative of choice, Activia. Try GNC herbal remedy ColonClenz instead.

Oregon at Boise St. (-4.5)

A contest between two legit top 25 teams is not a bad way to kickoff the season’s slate of Thursday night games. I still have a personal vendetta against Oregon for robbing my Sooners in 2006, but you have to give them credit for scheduling this game. There aren’t many schools who are lining up to open the season with a night game in Boise. It is really a no-win proposition for Oregon. If the Ducks are in contention for a BCS spot in December, win or lose on Thursday night, they won’t receive the credit they deserve. Despite Boise’s recent success, how will the pollsters view this contest in early September, as opposed to a game against Texas, Alabama, or even Oklahoma State? Give the Ducks extra credit for scheduling mid-majors this season. Oregon also plays Utah on September 19.
As for the game, I think this should be a fun matchup featuring a lot of offense. Oregon junior quarterback Jeremiah Masoli accounted for nearly 2,500 yards of total offense last season, despite only taking half of the team’s snaps under center. Masoli’s supporting class is a bit green, losing last season's leading rusher and top two receivers to graduation. Historically, Oregon has not been a good defensive team. It hasn’t needed to be with an offense that has averaged 40 points per game over the past three seasons. The D needs to improve if the Ducks want to be in Pasadena in January.

Boise St. has become the premier mid-major program in the nation. Over the past eight seasons, the Broncos are 54-2 against WAC opponents and have won the conference title seven times. As a freshman, QB Kellen Moore threw for 3,500 yards, completing 70 percent of his passes with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. It is clear the Broncos’ coaching staff is expecting big things from Moore this season. Believe it or not, running back Ian Johnson actually exhausted his eligibility after last season. Maybe it’s the countless number of times I have been subjected to Johnson’s game-winning TD in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, but it seemed like he played at least nine seasons for Boise. More than any other mid-major program, Boise has proven it can compete with BCS conference teams, and the Broncos will be fired up for this opportunity to play Oregon at home.

The Skinny says: I see this game as a toss-up. Expect a high-scoring, back-and-forth contest. I will take Oregon with the points.

Nevada at Notre Dame (-15)

Pardon Skin if he thinks Lou Holtz's national championship game prediction for the Irish is a bit optimistic. The last time I saw ND play--somehow the Hawaii Bowl was left out of my Christmas Eve activities--it lost at home to Syracuse. I do believe ND will be improved this season. The Irish have played a lot of freshmen and sophomores over the past two seasons, and that should pay dividends as they become upper classmen.
For the first time since Rocket Ismail, it seems the Irish have some legitimate playmakers at receiver. Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, and Duval Kumara are players that will concern opposing defenses. Jimmy Clausen is the guy everyone loves to hate, Skin included, but he has the ability to get the ball to his playmakers. He needs to cut down on his mistakes, though (17 INTs in 2008). The Irish also have a trio of capable running backs, and the offensive line should be improved with another year of experience.

Almost everyone returns on an ND defense that needs to beef up a bit against the run. In one of the stranger offseason nuggets I have read, it appears Charlie Weis and Albert Pujols struck up a friendship after a random encounter on a beach in Puerto Rico. That couldn’t have been a pretty site for Pujols, although it's a pretty funny mental image for me. I see Weis dressed like John Candy in Summer Rental: sunblock-covered nose, under the shade of three umbrellas, mustard smudges around his mouth from that last corn dog he took down at the all-inclusive resort, out of breath from that long walk to the beach. You get the idea.

Many of the experts think Nevada could be this season’s Utah or Boise St. To be perfectly honest, I know very little about Nevada other than the Pistol offense and sophomore QB Colin Kaepernick. That's it. Last season, the Wolfpack offense put up over 3,000 yards in both rushing and passing. That is production Notre Dame would kill for, even against WAC opponents.

Skin says: I think the Irish will win the game, but Nevada will put up points and keep the game closer than the line. With all the soft schedule talk around South Bend this offseason, I don’t think the Irish are taking Nevada as serious as they should be.

Minnesota(-6) at Syracuse
In week one, all the teams on the board are an unknown quantities, some more so than others. And then there is Syracuse, which not only has a new coach but a starting quarterback who was at Duke the last four seasons playing basketball. Transfer Greg Paulus is definitely an unknown quantity. For most programs that is a bad thing, but it might be just what the ‘Cuse needs.

After all, everything else we know about Syracuse is bad. It is hard to imagine that a guy who hasn’t put on pads in 5 years--against a high school opponents, mind you--will have much success, but I am willing to give him the slightest chance. At least he was pretty good in high school. I am searching for a glimmer of hope for the Orange this season, and all I can find is that the team’s leading receiver, Donte Davis, who had all of 312 yards receiving last year, is back. Oh, and the Orange were a perfect 25/25 in PATs when they did find the end zone last year. Paulus and first-year head coach Doug Marrone might be able to breathe some life back into the program, but they aren’t miracle workers.

Tim Brewster has done a respectable job at Minnesota the past two seasons, and the Gophers will finally have a home field this season at the newly built, on-campus TCF Bank Stadium. Junior QB Adam Weber returns after throwing for 2,700 yards and 15 TDs last season. However, look for the Gopher’s to work in prized recruit Moses Alipate this season. Alipate is a dual-threat quarterback and could be a nice change of pace for Brewster. Senior wide receiver Eric Decker is one of the better players you have never heard of, catching 84 passes for over 1,000 yards in 2008. Defensively, Minnesota gave up a lot of passing yards, even in the run-happy Big 10.

The Skin says: I think Minnesota is the better team and I like their advantage at quarterback. I'll take that experience in week one.

LSU (-17.5) at Washington
Something seems fishy with this line. Sure, LSU was down last year, but Washington couldn’t stay within 17 points of anyone last season. OU could have beaten the Huskies last season with my fashionista friend MoMo playing quarterback. (Does Prada make a football cleat?) You have to wonder if Vegas insiders see something we don’t.

Washington has better talent than they showed last season. They should have beaten a good BYU team in their opener. Then they were trounced by Oklahoma, like everyone except UT and Florida, in the second game. At that point it seems like the Huskies simply gave up on Willingham. Sarkisan’s arrival will pump new blood into the team this season, and Jake Locker, who only played in four games last season due to injury, is a talented quarterback.
LSU’s defense was bad last season, giving up an average of 38 PPG in the Tigers' five losses. Will bringing in a new coordinator be enough to fix LSU’s defensive woes? Plus, LSU still doesn’t have a proven quarterback. Add all that together with the fact this game is in Seattle, which is a long way from Baton Rouge, and the oddsmakers see a closer game than most expect.

Personally, I have a bit of a different take. I think LSU, despite recent troubles on defense, has a level of talent that is better than Washington across the board. The Tigers have a ton of experience coming back on defense, which may not be a good thing considering how they have performed over the past two seasons. John Chavis is a good coordinator, however, the defense will be better this season. While I am uncomfortable with the situation at quarterback, I think Les Miles will see better play out of that position this season. If freshman sensation Reuben Randle or one of the other young receivers can provide a solid number-two option behind Brandon Lafell, the offense should be better this season.

Skinny says: I expect Washington to be better this season under Sarkisian, but he is unproven as a head coach. Willingham left the cupboard pretty bare. Forget all the talk of the distance LSU has to travel. It doesn’t matter… LSU rolls.

Georgia at Boone Pickens University (-5.5)
I have struggled with this game all weeks. Boone Pickens University should have one of the best teams in school history. The Corporate Raiders have as good an offensive attack as there is in the country, outside of maybe a couple other schools in the Big 12 South. Defensively, though, BPU was not great last season. I think new defensive coordinator Bill Young will improve that side of the ball.

Georgia lost a considerable amount of NFL talent off last year’s team including, Moreno and Stafford. The Raiders are at home, and for those of you who don’t understand the psyche of BPU fans, they are desperate to be relevant on the national level. Expect “The Pick” to be rocking for this game. All the factors add up to the Raider’s winning this game, and maybe winning big.

The Skin says: I am just having a hard time convincing myself that BPU can win this game. The Raiders are notorious for blowing these kinds of opportunities. But I am going to believe! The Raiders will win this game, but not by 6 points. I will take UGA with the points.

(Now if only Boone Pickens can find a way to recover the $65 million he “gave” his alma mater to build “the finest athletics facilities in the country.” In one of the most impoverished states in the nation, Pickens “gave” the largest monetary gift ever to a public university. Not one penny went to educate students or provide financial assistance to students. This is a school that desperately needs it. I hope you enjoy beating Georgia.)

UPDATE: Rumor has it Zac Robinson might not play in this game, and if he does, he won’t be 100 percent. Robinson has been dealing with a hamstring issue all summer, but it now looks to be more serious than we were first led to believe. UGA wins outright!

Lee Greenwood Special: Navy at Ohio State (-21)
In the LGS, heart counts. Never underestimate the tenacity and the fortitude of the football teams at our service academies. Ohio State will experience this firsthand this weekend. As for the Buckeyes, I am not sure I am buying them as a top-five team this season. I think Terrelle Pryor will be a great player with Vince Young-esque talent. But beyond that I am not sure what the Buckeyes have. They lost a lot of key pieces from a team last year that was very underwhelming. It seems like OSU always struggles with “cupcakes” in September. Navy isn’t your typical cupcake--at least when it comes to heart.

The Skin says: Navy scores a last second touchdown to keep this one within the spread!

WEEK ONE--Blatant Homerism

Homerism has been putting in Wolverine-like time this offseason crunching numbers and talking to my cadre of informants and associates across the country to bring you the very best in college football handicapping this season. Most importantly, Homerism and his lady have spent the last month catching up on countless hours of 2008 replays down in the depths of the digital cable channels--CBS College, Fox College Sports South, Big Ten Network, etc. "Romantic Saturday night" in Homerism's house = Air Force-New Mexico circa 2007.

Anyway, know that these opening week picks come with some of the most thorough analysis available, all for free. Eat your heart out, Jim Feist.

Virginia Tech (+6.5) vs. Alabama
*Georgia Dome (Atlanta)

Homerism singled out this game months ago without even seeing the line, and actually knowing the number has done nothing to dissuade me.

By the end of 2009, I bet 'Bama will be playing some great football. For a team that lost some key pieces from last season's 12-2 team, though, this is a really tough way to get the party started. With a stout defense leading the way, the Crimson Tide O won't need to produce too many points in this game to bring home a win. Unfortunately for Nick Saban's crew, that's still asking too much of new quarterback Greg McElroy. Even though the 'Bama faithful will pack the joint, look for the first-time starter to struggle away from Tuscaloosa. (Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that a Tide defensive end got shot this week. There's also the matter of the swine flu scare in the 'Bama locker room.)

A typically strong--and opportunistic--Hokie defense awaits, so watch for a Va. Tech defensive score to be the difference here.

Homerism says: Beamerball, outright.

Central Michigan (+14) at Arizona
Mike Stoops appears to have done just enough to hang on in Tucson after last year's 8-5 finish. Whether or not the Wildcats can stay on the upswing is another matter altogether.

Losing a home opener to a mid-major certainly wouldn't help, and the Wildcats enter this Saturday's matchup with the Chippewas facing plenty of questions. For one thing, Stoops has yet to name a starting quarterback to replace departed veteran Willie Tuitama. Stud tight end Rob Gronkowski's status remains up in the air as well.

Across the way, CMU star QB Dan LeFevour leads a battle-tested bunch into the desert, featuring a defense with 10 returning starters. I love how this sets up for coach Butch Jones' Chippewas--a solid, experienced mid-major taking on an unsettled BCS-level program in its first game of the season. The only potential landmine Homerism can see here for CMU is next week's date with in-state rival Michigan State.

Homerism says: 'Zona will need to bear down to pull this one out. CMU covers, and a money line play for both the first half and the game look promising.

Maryland at California (-21)
At first glance, this seems like a ton of points. Three touchdowns is justified, though.

This game sets up very similarly to the Golden Bears' recent home-and-series with Tennessee in 2006-2007. Cal went to Rocky Top in '06 and got blasted, then did some blasting of its own in Berkeley the following season. Given how the Terrapins beat down Cal last season in that bizarre early kickoff in College Park, Jeff Tedford's team should be out for blood this time around, and this time it's Maryland making the cross-country trek. What could be Fridge's final season gets off to an ugly start.

Homerism says: Cal, 40-14.

San Jose State (+33.5) at USC
Pete Carroll's choice of Matt Barkley as his starting quarterback grabbed headlines across the country for the fact that it's the first time in recent memory that a true freshman has started the season opener for such a highly regarded team. Presumably, however, it caught the attention of wiseguys in Vegas who were hoping it wouldn't drive the spread down too far. The Trojans should win this game handily, but Barkley's going to make some of the rookie mistakes. Savvy veteran coach Dick Tomey likely will have some defensive tricks up his sleeve to bait Barkley into a trap or two.

With a trip to Ohio State on the horizon, 'SC should treat this one as tune-up. Plus, it's tough to see Carroll pouring it on Tomey.

Homerism says: USC by 28.

Illinois (-7) vs. Missouri
*Edward Jones Dome (St. Louis)

On his podcast with Ivan Maisel this week, Beano Cook carried on about how much he loves this interstate rivalry. It's crying a shame that it looks like it's headed to the scrap heap soon, according to Cook. Homerism would guess Cook is the only person outside of Columbia and Champaign who feels that way. Who cares?

Earlier this summer, the Golden Nugget had Illinois giving a point in this game. How often do you see a line move six points? The smart money should make a killing here. Mizzou is in for a long season, starting Saturday.

Homerism says: Double-digit Illini victory.


LGS: Navy (+21) at Ohio State
The service academies are always focused. Ohio State has a big game with USC next week. Enough said.
Homerism says: Ohio State, 30-17.