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The Road to the College Football Playoff: Week One

NCAA Football: Louisiana State-Spring Game

The first college football Saturday of the 2014 has arrived. Some teams are looking to score a big win. Many are looking to bury a body bag game quietly amidst the general enthusiasm. This is not, on paper, the most appetizing set of games. But, as Kevin Sumlin and Kenny Football proved last night nothing is certain entering the season. Well, besides Wake Forest being useless.

Wisconsin plays LSU, offering the latest chance for the B1G to prove its regular season mettle. This will matter for more than pride and punchlines in 2014. “Strength of Schedule,” for the selection committee, will be mostly perception. Early blow out losses to LSU and Oregon would cripple the B1G chances for a playoff berth. No one cares about beating Notre Dame. The conference’s prized scalp can’t be Rutgers over Washington State. Gary Andersen has a history with upsets. Les Miles plus a young quarterback can be the opportune formula for craziness. But, it’s hard to overlook LSU’s advantage between the tackles against a rebuilt Badger front.

Georgia has a rematch with Clemson. Live opponents during the offseason suspension period have not worked out well for Georgia in the recent past. The Bulldogs lost to the Tigers last season and to both Boise State and South Carolina before regrouping in 2011. In 2012, the Dawgs scheduled Buffalo. With both teams replacing star quarterbacks with stopgaps, we’d anticipate a more defensive game than last year’s, which saw both teams combine for more than 1,000 total yards. The Bulldogs have had 17 games against big conference opponents come down to one score in recent years. That tally includes multiple classic shootouts, three last year against teams nicknamed “the Tigers.” Keep your depressant of choice at the ready. Be mindful of your delicate parts.

Alabama continues its grand non-conference tradition: playing one “marquee” conference opponent (Va Tech, Michigan, Penn State) not poised to offer an impediment. West Virginia is now seven years out from Rich Rodriguez and remote from even the halcyon early Holgorsen days. The Mountaineers have been competitive at times (against teams that aren’t Alabama), but have been outmanned in the tougher Big 12 and unable to lift a pervasive pea soup fog. The Tide are still trying to decide on a starting quarterback, as they were before the 2011 national title season. West Virginia named one who has some chutzpah, if nothing else. We don’t know the result. We do know where E. Gordon Gee will be living it up on the public dime.

Florida State plays Oklahoma State, in a matchup that would have been far more umami-filled last season. One should credit the Cowboys, based on a stupendous track record under Mike Gundy. But substantial turnover in every phase on offense and defense is seldom a harbinger of greatness, particularly in the first game against a mutant-stacked defending national champion. A seasoned OSU crew might have got the jump on a star-laden but reloading FSU defense, under its third coordinator in three seasons. But, it’s hard to see the 2014 edition doing much beyond holing up in shell craters, on both sides of the ball.

Michigan hosts Appalachian State, again. The first meeting was Michigan’s date that will live in infamy. The 34-32 upset was shocking in the moment. In retrospect, it marked the end of both the Carr and the Greater Schembechler eras. Michigan pressured Lloyd into retirement, hired and fired Rich Rodriguez and has barely held its head above water since. This could be the game that sinks Brady Hoke. It could be the game where Brady Hoke exorcises Michigan’s demons with his magical meat fists. Or, it could be a perfunctory, firework-free win by a 34-point favorite at home against a team that finished 4-8 in FCS the year before.

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Picks

Navy (+16.5) vs. Ohio State… The Buckeyes have not been special on the road under Meyer. Probable handbrake for the freshman QB on the road. The triple option should be a handful for a young defensive front that did a lot of bending against halfway decent rushing attacks last year. Kyle Koster called for the outright upset.

Hawaii (+17) vs. Washington… Hawaii tends to have a significant home field advantage, even while stinking it up under Norm Chow. Cyler Miles is suspended. Like Washington this season, not sure they drop the hammer in this game.

Virginia (+21) vs. UCLA… Virginia has talent. They bring back almost everyone from what was a very underrated defense last year. UCLA has been talked up all summer, and travels across the country for a 9am PT kickoff. The Cavaliers keep it reasonable.

Western Michigan (+10.5) at Purdue… Purdue barely beat Indiana State at home 20-14 for their sole win last season. That would be 1-11 FCS Indiana State that got beat 70-7 at home by Quincy the next week. Purdue, from that team, loses a lot up front on both sides of the ball. They have no business being a double-digit favorite against an FBS football team.

FAU (+21) at Nebraska… FAU improved dramatically over the course of last season (despite the Carl Pelini craziness) particularly on defense. Nebraska has a question mark at quarterback, an entirely new offensive line and is overhauling both the defensive line and the secondary. The Owls stay within range.

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