It’s great to be back.
It’s great to look forward to the dream of a 15-0 week, the satisfaction of a 10-5 slate, the motivation from a 5-10 setback. It’ll be great to end every Saturday night and Sunday morning out West, to curse out college kids from my couch, to explain to Kid Profit why the “football men” are hugging.
I expect the elites to crowd the playoff again and continue making the case for expanding the postseason field. I believe the season will end with the SEC on top again. I just don’t believe it will be the team most expect it to be.
Two years ago, an SEC program (LSU) with perennial championship aspirations and stars at every position but under center finally found a quarterback (Joe Burrow) to kill its demons and end Alabama’s chokehold on the conference. JT Daniels can do the same at Georgia. Limited to four games in his first season in Athens, the USC transfer showed that he can remove the ceiling from the annual SEC East favorite and erase the need for the defense to carry the Bulldogs.
He isn’t quite as talented as Clemson’s D.J. Uiagalelei, but Daniels will have more help in one of the most anticipated season-opening matchups ever. The best front seven in college will cause problems for a shaky Clemson offensive line. A loaded Georgia backfield will bring back memories of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Then, Daniels will hurt the Tigers deep, utilizing a weapon long absent from Kirby Smart’s arsenal.
Clemson will still run the table in the ACC and reach the playoff, but Georgia (+3) will have an even easier postseason path after a thrilling season-opening win.
OKLAHOMA (-31.5) over Tulane
The line jumped four points after Hurricane Ida forced the game to be moved from New Orleans to Norman. The spread would be even higher if the game was originally scheduled for Oklahoma.
Penn State (+5.5) over WISCONSIN
In a defense-first affair, take the more experienced and versatile quarterback (Sean Clifford). In three games against winning teams last season, Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz completed less than 56 percent of his passes, with one touchdown and five interceptions.
Temple (+14.5) over RUTGERS
I get that it’s a new era under Greg Schiano, but the Scarlet Knights haven’t earned the right to this much respect yet, especially after going 0-5 at home last season.
Fresno State (+20.5) over OREGON
Former Washington quarterback Jake Haener leads a strong Bulldogs offense, which destroyed UConn, 45-0, last week. The Ducks’ season-defining battle against Ohio State the following week will only help steal the favorite’s focus.
Miami (+20) over Alabama
Only Alabama could rebuild its championship offense, return as the nation’s top-ranked team and be favored by 20 points against a top-15 team. Even if the Tide still are the best team in the country, they are getting too much love. Nick Saban has never lost a season-opener, and few of those neutral-site games have been competitive, but Miami dual-threat QB D’Eriq King — entering his sixth year — represents the Achilles’ heel of previously impenetrable Tide defenses. Alabama quarterback Bryce Young is making his first start behind a reconstructed offensive line and new offensive coordinator. It will take time before the champs look like they did in January.
Miami (Ohio) (+22.5) over CINCINNATI
It’s not right that the Bearcats are out of the playoff race already. Their No. 8 preseason ranking means as much as commissioner Mike Aresco’s claims of the AAC as a sixth power conference. At least when Oklahoma and Texas join the SEC, he can shoot for No. 5.
Indiana (+3.5) over Iowa
After their best season in 30 years, the Hoosiers hold a preseason ranking for the first time since 1969. Last season, Indiana’s best performances came in its toughest games, and the return of its offensive core hints at a similar start this season.
UL Lafayette (+8) over TEXAS
Why is Steve Sarkisian any different? Fellow former Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin lit up the country in Tuscaloosa, but went 5-5 in his first season at Ole Miss. Mike Locksley was named the nation’s best offensive assistant at Alabama, but is 5-12 in two seasons at Maryland. Sarkisian has already underwhelmed at Washington and USC, and now has a starting quarterback who has never thrown a college pass. The Cajuns, which just went 10-1 and opened last season with a 17-point win over Iowa State, return more production than any team in the nation.
San Jose State (+14) over USC
The Trojans have covered just four of their past 16 September games under Clay Helton, while the defending Mountain West champions are already in rhythm. Sixth-year senior quarterback Nick Starkel — formerly of Texas A&M and Arkansas — threw for 394 yards and four touchdowns in last week’s 31-point win over Southern Utah.
Lsu (-3) over UCLA
A more interesting wager would be: Which coach gets fired first? Since I don’t see that being offered, I’ll take the Tigers in the Pasadena atmosphere that every visitor relishes and most home fans fail to trek to. Another talented LSU roster will rebound from last year’s championship hangover, and Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson will be lucky to complete 55 percent of his passes.
FLORIDA STATE (+7.5) over Notre Dame
Even Brian Kelly can’t be sure what he’ll see Sunday night. Ian Book, the winningest quarterback in program history, is gone, along with 13 other starters, plus the defensive coordinator of last year’s playoff team. The Seminoles hung around for much of last season’s meeting in South Bend — and displayed their potential in a home upset of North Carolina — and have more upside in coach Mike Norvell’s second season.
Louisville (+10.5) over Ole Miss
At least the Rebels won’t be forced to forfeit. Props to Kiffin for helping Ole Miss become the first team to achieve a 100 percent vaccination rate despite residing in the state with the lowest vaccination rate in the country.
Best bets: Oklahoma, Fresno State, UL Lafayette
2014-20 record: 904-866-15