Big Game Hunting: What’s new, Alabama and Clemson? Who’s the real deal, Big Ten?
The picks are in for Week 1 of college football, which brings you the successors to Mac Jones and Trevor Lawrence as well as enticing Penn State-Wisconsin and Indiana-Iowa matchups.
Let’s set aside, for the moment, the subject of players making money off their names, images and likenesses. Let’s do likewise on the matters of inevitable College Football Playoff expansion and the recent alliance formed by the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12. Oh, and let’s also pretend COVID-19 isn’t still an elephant in every locker room.
Because all that is just so easy to do, right?
Today, let’s keep it delightfully simple and focus on Week 1 games. And you should want that, too, because (obnoxious brag alert) ‘‘Big Game Hunting’’ was 70-24 straight-up and 56-37-1 against the spread last season. You’re welcome, America.
Here’s your biggest on-field storyline, folks: new starting quarterbacks at superpower programs. Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud — Justin Fields’ successor — handled his business in a 45-31 victory Thursday at Minnesota. Now comes Alabama’s Bryce Young, who’s standing in the shoes of Patriots rookie starter Mac Jones, followed by Clemson’s D.J. Uiagalelei, the lucky dog who gets to replace Jaguars No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence, in a Ch. 7 doubleheader beginning at 2:30 p.m.
Like a perfect pork butt pulled from the smoker, No. 1 Alabama (-19½) vs. No. 14 Miami in Atlanta and No. 3 Clemson (-3) vs. No. 5 Georgia in Charlotte, North Carolina, arrive to enormous anticipation. And that’s largely because of sophomores Young and Uiagalelei, who were the top two players in the Class of 2020. These two co-own 247 Sports’ highest rating for a quarterback recruit, along with — guess who? — Lawrence and Fields. And here’s the really cool part: They were high school rivals in Southern California, each beating the other once en route to a state title.
Young and Uiagalelei share the Week 1 stage — in a manner of speaking — while 250 miles apart. One only can assume they eventually will share it for real. Alabama and Clemson have made the seven-year-old playoff six times each and combined for five championships. Just imagine a setting like that for these QBs’ rivalry three-match.
First, however, we see what the Tide look like without Jones and fellow 2021 first-round picks Jaylen Waddle, Patrick Surtain II, DeVonta Smith, Alex Leatherwood and Najee Harris. Former NFL and Penn State coach Bill O’Brien is Nick Saban’s new offensive coordinator and will play chess with Hurricanes coach Manny Diaz, who has taken the reins of his team’s defense. Miami has a big-time quarterback in D’Eriq King, but some things never change. Roll Tide, 45-17.
Clemson’s game is much tougher for two reasons, namely Georgia’s always-great run-stopping ability and its always-deep stable of running backs. Shootouts against the Bulldogs don’t happen. There’s so much riding on the 6-4, 250-pound Uiagalelei’s giant shoulders. Tigers, 27-23.
OTHER WEEK 1 PICKS
No. 19 Penn State (+5½) at No. 12 Wisconsin (11 a.m., Fox-32): Two fine teams, no doubt, but the Badgers are getting ready to hold a bunch of defensive meetings in the Nittany Lions’ backfield. Bucky by 10.
No. 17 Indiana (+3½) at No. 18 Iowa (2:30 p.m., BTN): Hoosiers QB Michael Penix Jr. is back after a serious knee injury — and he’s terrific — but what a grueling way to get started. Hawkeyes, 24-17.
No. 23 Louisiana (+9) at No. 21 Texas (3:30 p.m., Fox-32): The Ragin’ Cajuns are an offensive machine. Overlook the Ragin’ Cajuns at your own risk. Ragin’ Cajuns, Ragin’ Cajuns. Man, that’s fun to say. Longhorns by 14.
UTSA (+5) at Illinois (6:30 p.m., BTN, 890-AM): Sincerely, an upset might happen here — and what a downer that would be after the Illini’s opening victory against Nebraska. Roadrunners running back Sincere McCormick is one of the best in the country. Oof — upset.
Northern Illinois (+18) at Georgia Tech (6:30 p.m., ACC, 560-AM): Tech doesn’t do the triple-option thing anymore, if you were wondering. Huskies lose but cover because of the impossibly great name of their quarterback, Rocky Lombardi.
No. 9 Notre Dame (-7) at Florida State (6:30 p.m. Sunday, Ch. 7): QB Jack Coan is not as talented as predecessor Ian Book, but he’s tough and experienced. We’ll have to wait and see whether that’s enough in the long run. Hey, anybody else remember when the Seminoles were good? Irish, 24-20.
My favorite favorite: No. 16 LSU (-2½) at UCLA (7:30 p.m., Fox-32): This is Chip Kelly’s best UCLA team, they all say. It’s Year 4, and he hasn’t had a winning season yet. One would hope it’s his best team. Kelly’s record falls to 11-22.
My favorite underdog: Oregon State (+7½) at Purdue (6 p.m., FS1): Receiver David Bell can strike at any moment, George Karlaftis is a heck of a defensive player and . . . we’re out of compliments for the Boilermakers. Beavers in overtime.