But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and college football is the sun. Arise, fair fall, and kill the envious summer, who is already sick and hot with grief that thou, its shadow far more fair than she.
That’s what Shakespeare would have said about the college football season’s first rays had he lived long enough to see the sport. Beautiful stuff. And it is beautiful, this time of year, thanks in no small part to the return of picks against the spread.
Your fearless prognosticator has a 56 percent success rate over the past two years and hopes to get that even higher in 2018. Come with me, now, as we dive into the fattest, juiciest picks of the first harvest.
NOTRE DAME (-1) vs. Michigan:Jim Harbaugh brings a stifling defense into South Bend to face Brandon Wimbush, who completed less than 50 percent of his passes last year. Wolverines defensive coordinator Don Brown, a fearless blitzer, has Rashan Gary and Devin Bush to fall back on. Points will be at a premium. If Shea Patterson is to be the savior, he’ll need to hit the ground running. Thing is, I don’t think he will. The Irish are stout and motivated and the Wolverines have question marks on the offensive line. An inability to get the ground game going will mean more on Patterson’s shoulders. No Tarik Black out wide will make it even harder. A late Te'Von Coney interception sets up a game-winning field goal and a million Notre Dame Is Back reactionary pieces. Notre Dame 17, Michigan 14.
VANDERBILT (-3) vs. Middle Tennessee: Derek Mason is coaching for his job this season and desperately needs to take care of business in winnable games. This would certainly qualify. The Commodores easily dispatched the Blue Raiders, 28-6, in last season’s opener. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur was brilliant, going 20-for-28 with 296 yards and three touchdowns. Vandy should have the advantage in the trenches as well and, barring something weird like a major turnover deficit, will roll. Vanderbilt 31, Middle Tennessee 15.
IOWA (-10.5) vs. Northern Illinois: There’s always danger in taking a plodding, punt-inclined Kirk Ferentz team laying double-digits. And Northern Illinois is a tough-nosed MAC team, led by Sutton Smith at linebacker. But Iowa’s Nathan Stanley has not yet met his passing potential, and he has all-everything tight end Noah Fant as an option. There is also less pressure this year around Kinnick with Wisconsin as the odds-on favorite in the Big Ten West. Expect the home team to play loose and free while turning in a bullying effort. Iowa 34, Northern Illinois 17.
West Virginia vs. Tennessee (OVER 61): OK, this isn’t rocket science. West Virginia has arguably the most lethal quarterback-receiver combination in Will Grier and David Sills. The Volunteers’ defense did a convincing impression of a turnstile last season and has yet to answer any of the lingering questions. Dana Holgersen will be looking to make a statement as the Mountaineers are a fringe national title contender and a big, blowout victory helps the bottom line. Rocky times for Rocky Top. Same as it always was. West Virginia 44, Tennessee 21.
PURDUE (-2.5) vs. Northwestern: All indications are that Wildcats quarterback Clayton Thorson is showing no ill effects from offseason ACL injury. But Northwestern will miss running back Justin Jackson mightily. And the mood in West Lafayette is so much different than it’s been in a long time, thanks to Jeff Brohm. This is Purdue’s chance to show that things are truly different. A stand-alone spotlight game is exactly what they need. Sure, all the metrics suggest NW is the right side. If you can’t occassionally go with your gut, though, why even wake up in the morning? Purdue 28, Northwestern 24.