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Thursday, 3 September 2015

College Football Week 1 Picks 2015 (September 3-7)

It feels like it has been an extremely long wait and the NFL fans still have another week to go before that begins, but College Football is back for the second season which ends with the four team Play Off.

You have to have enjoyed the Play Offs last year, especially the fairytale run that the Ohio State Buckeyes went on to win the National Championship despite being reduced to their third string Quarter Back. All three Quarter Backs return for the Buckeyes this year, although Braxton Miller is going to be moved to Receiver with JT Barrett the likely starter.

Cardale Jones will come in for plays by all accounts, but Barrett looks to be the starter at that position.

The week has been a busy one for me and the hours haven't been kind to me so this is a short first week post. I plan to have my Conference picks up for the Week 2 Picks and will also have a running 'Play Off Ranking' every week trying to pick the potential four team Play Offs.

I can still pick that for this week and my current four teams are:

1. Ohio State Buckeyes

2. Stanford Cardinal

3. Georgia Bulldogs

4. TCU Horned Frogs

Looking In: Florida State Buckeyes, USC Trojans, Alabama Crimson Tide, Baylor Bears

Week 1 Picks
Oklahoma State Cowboys @ Central Michigan Chippewas Pick: In recent years the Oklahoma State Cowboys have been one of the top teams in the Big 12, but last season they didn't have many starters returning. All of that experience in going 7-6 means they now have a much more ready team in a tough Conference, including Mason Randolph at Quarter Back.

It will still be tough for the Cowboys to compete in the Big 12, but they can get off to a positive start against the Central Michigan Chippewas who have a less experienced team than the one that went 7-6 last season with only five returning starters on both sides of the ball.

The Chippewas have given some non-Conference teams a tough time at home, but their last two visits from the likes of Syracuse and Michigan State have resulted in heavy losses. Oklahoma State haven't been the most trustworthy team to trust as a road favourite in recent years, but their experience level has improved and I think they can take that into the opener and record a healthy win.

It was the Cowboys Defense that didn't really contribute enough last year, but that is a unit that will look to show how much they have improved and I can see them being a little too dominant for Central Michigan. This is a big number that will give Central Michigan a chance if the Oklahoma State Defense is not as improved as many expect them to be, but I like the Cowboys to cover a big spread in Week 1.

Michigan Wolverines @ Utah Utes Pick: The biggest story from this game is going to be Jim Harbaugh making his triumphant return to his alma mater as Head Coach of the Michigan Wolverines. Harbaugh had success with the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL, but his magic touch had seemingly deserted him last year, although some have suggested the attitude he uses as being easier to work with College players rather than the professionals.

Harbaugh was a huge success at the Stanford Cardinal prior to the move to the NFL and Michigan fans everywhere will expect him to turn around a team who have 20 wins in the last three seasons since going 11-2 in 2011. He has a good chance to have a successful season with the Wolverines, but most will expect it to take time especially with the Ohio State Buckeyes in the same Division although I do expect a winning season following a 5-7 year last season.

15 returning starters will be looking for revenge in their opening game having been beaten easily by the Utah Utes at home last season. That didn't stop one publication describing this as a 'cupcake' beginning for Michigan and I fully expect all the Utah coaching staff to make their 14 returning starters aware of that.

The Utes are 20-4 in their last 24 home games straight up, while Kyle Whittingham has them 11-3 against the spread in their last four years of non-Conference games. For all of Jim Harbaugh's famed motivation skills, his Stanford team weren't a great road underdog against the spread in his four years there and Utah will be looking to pound the ball down his throat in this one.

Travis Wilson is an experienced Quarter Back who should be able to lead this Utah team and I just think the Harbaugh factor is not enough to get Michigan to upset the Utes on the road. It might be a low-scoring game, but Utah can win by at least a Touchdown.

TCU Horned Frogs @ Minnesota Golden Gophers Pick: They slipped into last season under the radar, but this time around the TCU Horned Frogs won't be surprising anyone with their 15 returning starters and a potential Heisman winner in Trevone Boykin. Only 5 of those players are on the Defensive side of the ball, but Gary Patterson has regularly helped get the best out of that unit and the Horned Frogs come in as a National Championship contender.

Of course negotiating the Big 12 is going to be a really difficult part of the season, especially as that Conference still doesn't have a Championship Game to sway voters. Last season TCU and Baylor both shared the title and both were over looked for the Play Off and an outright winner is the only way this Conference will have a participant in the four team Play Off.

Going unbeaten is important too, and this is the one non-Conference game that TCU have to try an impress the voters later in the season. The Minnesota Golden Gophers are unlikely to contend in the Big Ten but they are good enough to play spoiler under Jerry Kill. Minnesota have won eight games in each of the last two seasons and they are a very strong home underdog under Kill against the spread.

There are just 12 returning starters for the Golden Gophers, but they make sure they protect home field against non-Conference opponents (9-0 straight up over last three seasons), but none of those are of the power of TCU. The Golden Gophers will look to control the clock by running the ball and keeping this potent Offense off the field, but I expect the Horned Frogs will have the consistency from 10 returning Offensive starters to be kept off the scoreboard for too long.

The new Defense is a question mark for the Horned Frogs and they haven't been a great road favourite to back in recent years, but they dominated Minnesota at home last year and look to have the talent edge. Style points will be important in every game TCU play this year to get in amongst the final four teams and I think they cover what looks a big number.

Michigan State Spartans @ Western Michigan Broncos Pick: The Western Michigan Broncos surpassed all expectations of them last season and they do have 16 returning starters for the new season. However, they didn't play a team of the power of the Michigan State Spartans who are the best College team in this State and will be looking to underline that point in the first week.

The opening game can be difficult for teams shaking out the rust, but Michigan State bring back a healthy number of starters on both Offensive and Defensive units as well as Connor Cook who looks a First Round Draft Choice for the NFL in the making.

Some of the playmakers have changed for Cook, but Michigan State have been a consistent top team in recent years and recruited well enough to fill in the gaps. The Spartans have at least 11 wins in four of the last five years but that doesn't mean this will be easy with Western Michigan looking to bloody the nose of their big brother.

PJ Fleck has got the Broncos playing above their level after improving their record from 1-11 in his first season to 8-5 last year. They have experience and gave the Virginia Tech Hokies a few problems in a road game last year. Western Michigan also played the Spartans tough when they visited them a couple of years ago so any kind of expectation from Michigan State that they merely need to turn up to grab the win simply won't happen.

I think this is tight for while, but Western Michigan have struggled to cover as a home underdog under Fleck (1-4 against the spread) and I believe Michigan State will take control in the second half and earn the cover.

Virginia Cavaliers @ UCLA Bruins Pick: Brett Hundley has moved to the NFL which means a Freshman Quarter Back will take over as the UCLA Quarter Back, but Josh Rosen should be benefited by having 10 returning starters on the Offense to aid his development. The main playmaker of note for the Bruins might be Paul Perkins at Running Back as the leading rusher in the Pac-12 last season.

The Bruins will likely lean on Perkins against a physical Virginia Cavaliers Defensive Line, but having a new Linebacker corps could make it difficult for them to repeat the excellent yard per carry this team produced last season.

It is a long trip out West for Virginia who might also be looking ahead to their first home game of the season against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. They are only returning 10 starters from last season and the Bruins are capable of making the fast start they want even if they haven't been a great home favourite to back against the number in recent seasons.

Auburn Tigers v Louisville Cardinal Pick: The Auburn Tigers have brought back an experienced Defensive unit that would have benefited from what they had seen last season. It is part of the season that they have been picked as the Number 1 team in the SEC West, but this is going to be a tough opener for them against the Louisville Cardinal despite the latter only having 9 returning starters overall.

Even with those limited returners, the Cardinal look like one of the stronger teams in the ACC and could perhaps surprise a few people this season.

The SEC dominance has also been broken the last couple of years and the way the SEC West teams have performed in the post-season would have removed some of the aura that has been built up in this Division. Of course I would still favour Auburn to come out on top, but they might be giving up too many points in this one against an under-rated opponent.

Auburn have performed well on neutral turf, but I like the Cardinal with the points in this one.

UTEP Miners @ Arkansas Razorbacks Pick: The Arkansas Razorbacks are bullish about their chances of competing in the SEC West this season having earned the same number of wins in 2014 as they had in 2012 and 2013 combined. They finally got back to winning games in the Conference and the Razorbacks are expected to make a dominant start to the new season.

They should have too much for the UTEP Miners, who will be looking to return to a Bowl Game having achieved that last season for the first time since 2010. There is some returning experience there, but the Miners have only 5 returning on the Defensive unit which takes on a very experienced Arkansas Offense.

The Razorbacks will look to pound the ball on the ground and wear down their opponents and I expect they will be able to do that. UTEP are 3-9 against the spread against non-Conference teams and Arkansas were 5-0 in these games last season and I expect they will be able to pull away in the second half.

UTEP have just struggled to compete with Power 5 teams on the road over the last couple of seasons under Sean Kugler and this is a difficult start for them.

Penn State Nittany Lions @ Temple Owls Pick: The Temple Owls are definitely going to compete in the AAC Conference this season as they bring back 19 starters from the team that doubled the win total in 2014 compared with 2013. Matt Rhule has got the team going in the right direction by a brilliant Defensive scheme and they will give Penn State Nittany Lions plenty to think about.

So much so that Temple have been pretty heavily backed by the 'experts' to stun the bigger football programme at home, but Penn State have plenty of returners back and a Quarter Back in Christian Hackenberg who looks primed to enter the NFL as a high Draft Choice.

Hackenberg has been described as being more relaxed by his Head Coach James Franklin, although he will be tested by a very tough Defensive team in the opener.

I do think the fact that Temple begin Conference play next week on the road against arguably the favourite for the AAC might see them hold something back for the visit to Cincinnati. They are also playing a strong Penn State Defense and I think the Nittany Lions can perhaps surprise as the favourite by covering a spread not many think they will.

Penn State weren't a great road favourite to back last season, but they can get off to a big start in a tight game that I like them to win by a Touchdown.

BYU Cougars @ Nebraska Cornhuskers Pick: It is a new era at Nebraska with Mike Riley taking over as Head Coach in place of Bo Pelini, but Riley might not have been able to ask for too many more difficult tests than hosting the BYU Cougars.

A new Head Coach means new Offensive plans for the Nebraska Cornhuskers and that is going to cause problems for the favourites as players find their feet in the system. All the practice in the world doesn't match competitive football and the BYU Cougars have an explosive Offense when they are healthy.

Taysom Hill was a dual-threat Quarter Back, but he has torn up his knee and unlikely to be asked to move around as much as he used to. However, he is joined by 7 other starters on the Offensive side of the ball and the BYU Cougars have every chance of earning the upset outright in this one.

Both teams have some questions to answer going into the new season, but I expect this to be a tight game and the points the road side are getting could be key.

UNLV Rebels @ Northern Illinois Huskies Pick: Tony Sanchez takes over as the UNLV Head Coach and he could have wished for a much more straight-forward opening game than the Northern Illinois Huskies who have won at least 11 games in five consecutive seasons.

The Huskies have an experienced Quarter Back and have a team that is in the third year of Rod Carey's guidance which should mean players are familiar coming into the team to replace starters that have moved on. Northern Illinois have not been good against the number as the home favourite under Carey which would concern me, but I think they are much stronger than the rebuilding Rebels.

Sanchez will get time with UNLV thanks to his record at a nearby High School, but the talent move up to College Football should mean a transitional period for them. There are only 10 returning starters for the Rebels and it might even be difficult for them to surpass 2014's two win season.

You'd expect UNLV to fight hard for a new Head Coach, but some players might look ahead to the big game against the UCLA Bruins next week and I like Northern Illinois to cover a big spread.

Alabama Crimson Tide v Wisconsin Badgers Pick: The myth of the SEC Division might have been destroyed by the way the Alabama Crimson Tide have been handled in their last couple of post-season games, but they have a chance to restore some faith in a big opening game of the season.

The Wisconsin Badgers are considered one of the better teams in the Big Ten, but they have had to go through a surprising Head Coach change after Gary Anderson left the programme. Paul Chryst returns to Wisconsin, this time as Head Coach, but he has only 11 returning starters on both sides of the ball, although that is more than Alabama who have sent another number of players to the NFL.

Jake Coker takes over as Quarter Back for the Crimson Tide and playmakers like TJ Yeldon and Amari Cooper will be seen on Sundays these days, but they still have a strong Defensive unit and will look for them to power them through games. Derrick Henry is a decent Running Back and Coker has experience so the Crimson Tide can put together a statement win in the biggest game of Week 1, on Saturday at least.

Wisconsin did give the LSU Tigers all they could handle in the opener last season, but I expect Alabama to wear them down and win this by covering the spread.

Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles @ Mississippi State Bulldogs Pick: The Mississippi State Bulldogs missed their window to compete for the National Championship last season and return just 7 starters overall this time around, although Dak Prescott is back at Quarter Back.

They are not likely to compete in the tough SEC West, but the Bulldogs can make a very positive start to the 2015 season by seeing off in-State Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles in this opener.

Southern Mississippi are improving under Todd Monken, but not quick enough to bridge the talent level between a team expected to be at the bottom of the Conference USA to one that is one of the weaker teams in the SEC West. Mississippi State beat Southern Mississippi by blowing them out last season at home and I think they are going to be too good for them again.

It will be closer than the 49 point win in 2014, but Southern Mississippi are 1-6 against the spread as the home underdog under Monken and I do like the SEC team to cover.

Arkansas State Red Wolves @ USC Trojans Pick: Arguably the best Offense in College Football belongs to the USC Trojans and I would expect they can show off what they have with Cody Kessler leading them from Quarter Back.

The Trojans have 7 returning starters on the Offense, but have playmakers everywhere and they can improve on their 4-2 record against the spread as the home favourite under Steve Sarkisian.

Arkansas State Red Wolves are one of the best teams in the Sun Belt Conference so they are unlikely to roll over, but they have lost their last 6 road openers by 23 points per game, although they have to be respected for going 4-1 against the spread in their road opener over the last five years.

The Red Wolves return 9 starters on an Offense that averaged almost 37 points per game last season and they will get their points so some supporters might think this is too big a number for them to cover. However, I think USC will score plenty against this Defensive unit and quick enough too so they can get above this number.

MY PICKS: Oklahoma State Cowboys - 23 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Utah Utes - 5.5 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
TCU Horned Frogs - 16.5 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Michigan State Spartans - 16.5 Points @ 1.95 Boyle Sports (1 Unit)
UCLA Bruins - 17.5 Points @ 1.90 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
Louisville Cardinal + 10.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Arkansas Razorbacks - 32 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)
Penn State Nittany Lions - 6.5 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
BYU Cougars + 6.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Northern Illinois Huskies - 21 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Alabama Crimson Tide - 10.5 Points @ 1.85 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Mississippi State Bulldogs - 21 Points @ 2.00 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
USC Trojans - 27.5 Points @ 2.05 Paddy Power (1 Unit)

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