The Play Off implemented in College Football means the regular season is more important than ever before and teams have figured that out judging by some of the non-Conference games on slate for the biggest teams.
Week 1 has some great match ups which includes USC-Alabama, Texas A&M-UCLA, LSU-Wisconsin and Houston-Oklahoma.
These are potential tie-breakers when it comes to the Play Offs in December and I have to say this is going to be a popcorn kind of weekend catching up with some of these games.
Of those mentioned, Alabama, LSU, UCLA and Oklahoma will all believe they are capable of making the final four and all four are in for some significant tests. Three of those teams are double digit favourites this weekend and only UCLA are an underdog with a true road game at Texas A&M.
Other teams expecting to challenge for the Play Off spots have very difficult games in Week 1 with Clemson Tigers going to the Auburn Tigers and Florida State Seminoles heading on the road to SEC Ole' Miss Rebels.
Once Week 1 is in the books we will already see which teams are perhaps going to be underachieving this season and which are already behind the pack with a loss on the slate and I am looking forward to the next four months to start figuring out which team is going to be standing above all others.
Last season was a good one for the College Football Picks, although the Championship Games in Week 14 did make a dent in what was strong totals before then. A winning season is important though, but I am looking for more consistency in the coming season.
Rice Owls @ WKU Hilltoppers Pick: The first pick from the College Football 2016 season will come from a Conference USA game between two teams who will be expecting to contend in their respective Divisions. The WKU Hilltoppers and Rice Owls have both been tipped to fall short in the Conference USA East and West respectively, but a win in Week 1 can start producing some momentum to take them into the Championship Game.
Last season it was the Hilltoppers who blew away Rice on the road, but they have lost their star Quarter Back Brandon Doughty who had over 12,000 career yards at WKU. Unsurprisingly there is expected to be a drop off from the 44.4 points per game averaged last season, but WKU are returning eight starters on the Offense and I do think the Hilltoppers will be able to run the ball against Rice.
There should also be an opportunity for the Hilltoppers to throw the ball against a Secondary that is much more experienced, but who were lit up last season. With one of the tougher Defensive units in the Conference, WKU should be able to have enough joy forcing Rice to punt the ball back to them or creating turnovers to start putting themselves in a position to not only win this game, but cover what is a big number on first glance.
WKU have won 12 straight Conference games and they are 7-3 against the spread as the home favourite under Jeff Brohm. The Hilltoppers are 4-1 against the spread covering double digit spreads as the home favourite, while Rice have slipped to 2-5-1 against the spread as the road underdog in the last couple of seasons.
It does have to be said that Rice don't usually get double digit starts in Conference USA games, but their one time in the last couple of years in that position saw the Owls fail to cover. This might be an improved team that will close to Bowl eligibility, but I think the Hilltoppers are still the stronger team overall and they can cover this number in a home opening win.
South Carolina Gamecocks @ Vanderbilt Commodores Pick: It is going to be strange to see the South Carolina Gamecocks being Coached by anyone other than Steve Spurrier who retired last season. The last two seasons have seen the Gamecocks underachieve significantly and their 3-9 record from 2015 was a huge disappointment.
Will Muschamp only surpassed seven wins once in four years with the Florida Gators but he has been given another chance in the SEC East as the new Head Coach of South Carolina. He does deserve some credit for recruiting the players that helped the Gators to the SEC East title last year, but there is plenty of work to do at South Carolina.
Muschamp needs to bring all of his Defensive experience to help on that side of the ball as South Carolina have allowed at least 27 points in each of the last two seasons. His Florida Defenses were solid units, but this is a transitional year for South Carolina, while the Offense has question marks at almost every level.
Even with that in mind, I think South Carolina might be getting too many points in Week 1 as they open SEC play against Vanderbilt Commodores. The Commodores are in the third season under Head Coach Derek Mason and they have improved in terms of wins in each of the first two seasons, although their combined seven wins is still less than the nine wins achieved in James Franklin's last season as Head Coach.
There is plenty of experience in this Vanderbilt team but there are questions about the Offensive unit which has produced just 17.2 and 15.2 points per game in the last two season. The key for Vanderbilt in this game will be to establish Ralph Webb who had over 1000 yards on the ground last season and will be running behind a more effective Offensive Line.
Vanderbilt have struggled to pass the ball though and they only put up 10 points against a struggling South Carolina Defense last season. The Commodores Defense has been the strength of the team and was much improved again last season which makes them a tough team to beat, but this has all the hallmarks of a tight game.
The Commodores are just 2-4 against the spread as the home favourite in the last two years under Mason while Muschamp will have his team fired up as the underdog. In his last three years with Florida, the Gators were 6-2 against the spread as the road underdog, while South Carolina have beaten Vanderbilt seven times in a row.
Vanderbilt have also lost their last two home openers under Mason and I am taking the points in this one as I look for Muschamp to inspire South Carolina enough to keep this close against an improved SEC East opponent.
Kansas State Wildcats @ Stanford Cardinal Pick: There are a number of games between teams from the Power 5 Conferences which could have major Play Off implications at the end of the season during this Week 1 of the College Football season. This is one of those games as the Stanford Cardinal host the Kansas State Wildcats out West, but if we are being honest then you have to say that the Wildcats would be a huge surprise if they were to make the Play Offs final four.
Kansas State are not likely to be a contender in the Big 12 Conference this season having finished just 6-7 in 2015 and now returning 12 starters from that team. Bill Snyder is a Head Coach that gets every ounce out of his players and he has been a success on his return to the sidelines for the Wildcats who has a 57-33 record in the last seven years here.
Many times Snyder has gotten his players to overachieve but last season was the first losing season since the year before Snyder returned as Head Coach. However there is a feeling the Wildcats can bounce back this time around as long as they can show improvement in the Offensive and Defensive Lines.
There is now a more veteran presence at Quarter Back for Kansas State with Jesse Ertz likely to start after sitting with an injury in 2015. However the pressure might be on Ertz, or whoever is taking the snaps at Quarter Back, by a Stanford Cardinal Defensive unit returning 6 starters from last season. They are looking like they will be especially improved at the Defensive Line spot which means Stanford should be able to trim the yards per carry they allowed from last season (4.3 YPC, worst under Head Coach David Shaw) and also improving the Sack totals.
It looks like it will be difficult for Kansas State to establish the run, but Stanford have one of the leading contenders for the Heisman Trophy, Christian McCaffrey, running the ball for them. Controlling the Running Back is going to be a big task for Kansas State who have steadily declined in rushing numbers over the last three seasons and who have lost a lot of starts from the Offensive Line.
McCaffrey is also a danger catching the ball out of the backfield and I can see Stanford leaning on him as they break in a new Quarter Back to replace Kevin Hogan. He could be the difference maker in this one as Stanford look stronger on both sides of the ball and who are facing a Kansas State team who have not been good in non-Conference games against the spread.
Stanford are 9-4 against the spread as the home favourite in the last two seasons and they are also 5-3 against the spread in non-Conference games. I respect what Bill Snyder has done with his Kansas State team in underdog spots as they are 15-7 against the spread in road games as the dog, but only 3-4 over the last two seasons and I will back Stanford to cover more than two Touchdowns to win this game.
Houston Cougars v Oklahoma Sooners Pick: The Play Off picture is going to make life difficult for any team coming out of the Big 12 to earn a place without a Championship Game. While that Conference is making changes to give their teams the best chance, including creating Divisions and the Championship Game in the years to come, for now the Oklahoma Sooners are trying to earn their way back in after losing out to the Clemson Tigers in the Semi Final last year.
The opening game of the 2016 season could certainly have been much easier for the Sooners who take on the Houston Cougars, a team that went 13-1 last season. Houston truly believe an upset in the opener on a neutral field will give them a chance to run the table and earn a berth in the final four Play Off so there is plenty on the line for them and Oklahoma, who won't be able to overcome a loss in Week 1 in my opinion.
It is the Sooners who are returning more starters from a year ago with Baker Mayfield a leading Heisman contender at Quarter Back. He is going to be backed by a strong running game and this is an Offense that put up huge numbers a season ago.
With the Offensive Line looking experienced and likely to improve on the 5 yards per carry they helped the Running Backs earn last year, Mayfield might not be asked to do as much early in the season. That is because Oklahoma are breaking in some new faces at Wide Receiver and have lost Sterling Shepard to the NFL where he will be playing with Odell Beckham this season.
This does mean that the Sooners Offense does not match up well with the Houston Defense with the strength of the latter in the front seven rather than the Defensive Backs. The Cougars shut down the vaunted Florida State run game in the Bowl last year and they have improved their rushing yards per game in each of the last three years. Granted they don't face the likes of the Sooners rushing Offense too often, but the performance against the Seminoles will give Houston confidence as they try and force Mayfield to throw from third and long to new faces.
If Houston are to make a game of this, their Offensive Line has to win the battle with the Oklahoma Defensive Line which looks the key to the entire game. Both the Cougars and Sooners will feel they can win this battle, but having a mobile Quarter Back like Greg Ward will help Houston.
Oklahoma might only have 6 starters back on the Defensive side of the ball but they are talented and have produced consistent results the last few years. They are sure to be given a test by Houston who showed they can run and throw the ball effectively last year and have key pieces back to produce again.
Turnovers might ultimately be the reason why the team covering the spread does so, but I like the underdog Cougars here. All the pressure is on Oklahoma and even though this is a neutral field game, Houston are likely to have the louder support with the game being much nearer to them.
The Sooners are just 0-4 against the spread in their last four neutral site games and they are 0-5 against the spread in their last five neutral site games as the favoured team. On the other hand, Houston are now 10-0-1 against the spread in their last eleven games as the underdog and this is a team that will want to prove they can hang with any in the nation, so I am taking the points in this one and look for them to hang with Oklahoma even if Houston can't pull the upset.
Missouri Tigers @ West Virginia Mountaineers Pick: When the Missouri Tigers moved into the SEC, not many were expecting them to challenge for the SEC Championship without a settling in period. After having a tough time in their first year in the toughest Conference in College Football, Missouri surprised many by not just making it to one SEC Championship Game, but consecutive ones in 2013 and 2014.
2015 was a disappointing year for Missouri as Gary Pinkel announced his retirement as Head Coach, while they were never going to win the SEC East for a third consecutive season behind an Offense that averaged just 13.6 points per game. However the Defensive unit continued their strong play and have cut the points per game in each of the last few seasons.
It won't surprise that Missouri promoted Defensive Co-Ordinator Barry Odom to the role of Head Coach following Pinkel's departure. The Defensive unit will likely be the strength of the team again this season having allowed just 16.2 points per game in 2015 and they are returning 8 starters from that side of the ball and the more experienced Defensive Line is likely to get the Sack totals back up closer to the 2013 and 2014 levels.
The Tigers Defense should provide West Virginia Mountaineers a real test in this first game, especially if the Offensive Line continues to struggle in pass protection. Skyler Howard had a huge Bowl game for the Mountaineers at Quarter Back and they are bringing in their top Wide Receivers from last year, but the question is whether the Offensive Line can give Howard the time to make plays.
It won't be easy as the Missouri front seven are likely to shut down any run game West Virginia try to generate and that means Howard making plays under pressure from the Tigers Defensive Line. The Tigers didn't give up much through the air last year and are returning their best Corner Back in Aarion Penton which makes it seem like it could be a tough day for the West Virginia Offense that averaged 480 yards per game in 2015.
The bigger question for Missouri is whether they can find improvements in the lacklustre Offense from 2015. There are question marks over the Offensive Line, but Missouri have brought in some playmakers that have transferred from the likes of Alabama and Arkansas. Improved experience at Quarter Back will also help and they might find some joy against a West Virginia Defensive unit with just 4 starters back from a year ago.
The numbers have improved on that side of the ball in three straight years for West Virginia, but they could slip in 2016 as they try to replace Linebackers who are now in the NFL and inexperienced Defensive Backs. With Missouri expected to be improved Offensively, I think the Tigers can surprise in this one.
It certainly looks like a lot of points to be giving to a team that will likely have some of the best Defensive numbers again this season. The Tigers look more balanced on both sides of the ball this year and even getting up to 17 points should be enough to make these points count.
West Virginia are just 9-15 against the spread as the home favourite under Dana Holgorsen, while the Tigers have managed to remain competitive with a 12-5 record against the spread as the road underdog in recent years. The Mountaineers have a strong record straight up when hosting non-Conference opponents, but Missouri can make the points count even in a losing effort.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights @ Washington Huskies Pick: The Pac-12 Conference has been dominated by the likes of Stanford and Oregon in recent years, but it has been suggested that the Washington Huskies are the next Champions of the Conference. Chris Peterson is in his third year at Washington having been very successful at Boise State but this still looks a lot of points for his Huskies team to cover.
Jake Browning does look one of the better players in the Pac-12 at Quarter Back for Washington. However he is playing a Rutgers team that does give the best teams some issues.
I do think Rutgers are underrated in this game because there have been enough pundits to back Washington to win this game and also cover the spread. I personally think it is a big number for a team that played well in College Football and i will back the Scarlet Knights to cover in this one.
MY PICKS: WKU Hilltoppers - 16.5 Points @ 1.91 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
South Carolina Gamecocks + 4 Points @ 1.95 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)
Stanford Cardinal - 12.5 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Houston Cougars + 12.5 Points @ 1.91 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Missouri Tigers + 9.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Rutgers Scarlet Knights + 26.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Penn State Nittany Lions - 22 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Georgia Bulldogs - 3 Points @ 1.91 Stan James (1 Unit)
Kentucky Wildcats - 6.5 Points @ 2.00 Bet365 (1 Unit)
New Mexico State Aggies + 9.5 Points @ 1.95 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
Alabama Crimson Tide - 12 Points @ 1.95 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Season 2014: 75-82-2, - 13.39 Units (172 Units Staked, - 7.78% Yield)