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Saturday, 26 August 2017

College Football Week 1 Picks 2017 (August 26-September 4th)

It feels like only yesterday I was watching the National Championship Game and just like that College Football is back on our television screens with Week 1 just about to get underway.

You can't deny it is a strange Week 1 with the games spread out over two weekends and I am not entirely sure what the reasoning is behind that. Some teams, Hawaii for example, are actually playing twice in the time period, but essentially the next two weekends are all a part of the same stretch of games.

Unsurprisingly it is Alabama who come in as the favourites with defending Champions Clemson losing key starters from the team that won it all. The Crimson Tide are probably still wondering how they managed to lose the National Championship and most will be expecting them back in the Play Offs and likely making amends with better experience at the Quarter Back spot.

However Lane Kiffin has moved on as Offensive Co-Ordinator having been dropped from that role before the National Championship Game and the SEC continues to be one of the toughest Divisions to negotiate.

That may give teams like the Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines and Florida State Seminoles to take advantage and I have no doubt how good this season is going to be. Quality teams around the nation will be desperate to make the College Football Play Offs and it will all begin over the next two weekends with some big non-Conference games set up for the fans to watch.

The NFL is also just two weekends away as we get set for six months of brilliant sporting drama.

The College Football Picks for Week 1 will all be collated here. I will have this post as the 'featured post' from Saturday 2nd September for the two days remaining of Week 1 and picks will be added throughout the week. 2016 proved to be a difficult season for the College Football Picks, but I am looking to bounce back in 2017 as I have the year after poor seasons previously.

South Florida Bulls @ San Jose State Spartans Pick: College Football is back on Saturday and this is a genuinely interesting game even though it is a non-Conference game. The South Florida Bulls have some big expectations in the comings season under new Head Coach Charlie Strong, while San Jose State Spartans also have a new Head Coach although mainly because they underachieved last season.

Strong comes in after a disappointing tenure with the Texas Longhorns and will be looking to rebuild his reputation as he takes over a team who have had a winning record in each of the last two seasons and South Florida finished 11-2 last season. Having 16 starters back from last season means plenty of experience and the Bulls only had a vacancy because Willie Taggart's success saw him offered the job with the Oregon Ducks.

There is room for improvement on an 11-2 record and that is by winning the American Athletic Conference as South Florida missed out on the Conference Title Game because of their loss to the Temple Owls, who did go on to win the Conference. The schedule also looks to be kind enough to give Strong every chance of heading up a team that runs the table and the goal for South Florida is to earn a spot in one of the big Bowl Games at the end of the season.

South Florida have 7 returning players on the Offense including Quarter Back Quinton Flowers, but matching the totals of last season is going to be a real test for them with their top Running Back and Wide Receiver from the 2016 season now playing in the NFL. Working with a new Offensive Line Coach makes things a little tougher for the Bulls too when it comes to match 2016's 43.8 points per game, but Flowers has the experience to guide them.

The Offensive Line will be key for the South Florida Bulls over the course of the season and they can get off to a good start against the San Jose State Spartans who have a new Head Coach in Brent Brennan who takes on this role for the first time in his career. The Spartans finished 4-8 last season for their third straight losing season, but they bring back 8 starters from the Defensive unit last season.

However this is a team that has struggled to stop the run in the last four seasons and the Bulls should be able to gain enough yards on the ground to open up the rest of their Offense. Brennan is going to be on a learning curve too and the first year under the new Head Coach has all the makings of a difficult one despite the returning starters on both sides of the ball.

Brennan will likely use more of his own recruits where possible and the Spartans are not really up to the level of the South Florida Bulls anyway. A lack of experience at Quarter Back could be an issue for San Jose State in 2017 and that certainly looks to be a problem for them in this opening game of the season against a South Florida Defensive unit that are expected to be significantly stronger than a season ago.

The Bulls are expected to field a Defensive Line that is able to shut down the run and that is going to put pressure on San Jose State especially as the Offensive Line is seen as a strength on that side of the ball. Whoever takes the ball under Center will be inexperienced and San Jose State struggling to run the ball will make life very difficult for the Quarter Back to have a lot of success in this one.

That is the way I feel this opening game will go for both teams with the South Florida Bulls having the better consistency with the ball in their hands. I will look for the Bulls Secondary to step up at key times and perhaps even help win the turnover battle and allow South Florida to pull away in the second half.

Charlie Strong's reputation may have taken a significant knock at Texas, but his teams have been decent at covering the spread as the road favourite and I will look for South Florida to win this by around twenty-seven points.

Stanford Cardinal @ Rice Owls Pick: The 2016 regular season ended in the same way as the 2017 season will open up for the Rice Owls and Stanford Cardinal. The only difference is this game will not be played in the United States, but the two College teams have been sent to Australia to open the season.

There is so much to like about Stanford who have not missed a beat with David Shaw as Head Coach who took over from Jim Harbaugh. The team won ten games in 2016 to win double digit amount of games for the fifth time in six years under Shaw as Head Coach. This year they have got 16 returning starters with 8 on both sides of the ball and that could make up for the loss of their two best players in Christian McCaffrey and Solomon Thomas who have both been Drafted into the NFL.

Even with McCaffrey gone, the Offense looks like it may have more overall success than they did in 2016. They will be looking to establish the run with one of the stronger Offensive Lines in the nation and a Running Back in Bryce Love who has had experience playing for Stanford in relief of McCaffrey and also has produced some really strong yards per carry.

Stanford crushed Rice on the ground when they met at the end of 2016, but this time Rice feel they are much more experienced and will be stronger up front. That will be tested by Stanford who look like they will be able to run the ball effectively throughout the season, and could be the key to the entire outcome of this game.

David Bailiff is hoping the teething problems for the younger players in a 3-9 season will help Rice develop this season. There is plenty of experience here and Rice will be another team who will look to run the ball efficiently enough to open things up for Sam Glaesmann who is making his debut at Quarter Back for the Owls.

Anything other than a Stanford win will still be a surprise though and this is all about whether they have enough to cover what looks a big spread. With both teams looking to run the ball, the game may be a quicker one and that may mean Stanford are not given the time to really pull away by as many as people think they might.

The Owls have a Defensive unit that is returning 8 starters from 2016 and, like other units on the team, they do look stronger all around. Matching one of the best teams in the nation is going to be a huge challenge for them but Rice should be able to give themselves a chance to hang with Stanford for long enough to make the points count.

A long journey to Australia is a tough factor to weigh up, but neither should have much of an advantage there. Importantly Rice kept things close enough to get within this number when travelling to Stanford at the end of 2016 and having that much more experience should give Rice the chance to cover.

Rice have a decent record against the spread when facing non-Conference opponents and I think they will do enough here.

Ohio State Buckeyes @ Indiana Hoosiers Pick: They made the College Football Play Offs without winning their Conference last season, but there are even bigger expectations of the Ohio State Buckeyes coming into the 2017 season. Even Head Coach Urban Meyer has alluded to that by talking about the comfort going into the new season with 15 starters returning from the team that went 11-2 last season.

This time last year the Buckeyes were coming into the season with the least experienced team so having 8 starters back on the Offensive unit and 7 back on the Defensive unit is a huge boost for the team. It also means there is some pressure on Ohio State to bounce back from a humiliating College Football Play Off loss to the Clemson Tigers with the fans looking for another place in the final four.

The Big Ten East is a tough Division with the Penn State Nittany Lions and Michigan Wolverines coming in with big expectations of their own. Even the Indiana Hoosiers are a team more than capable of playing spoiler, although they do have a new Head Coach in Tom Allen who is taking over a team that has not had a winning record since 2007.

Indiana have room for improvement Offensively with a team who have 6 starters returning and will Allen being an internal promotion it does mean that the systems are all the same for the players. Richard Lagow has plenty of experience at Quarter Back in his second season as the man under Center, but he has to avoid the Interceptions that blighted what would have been a good first year as the starting Quarter Back.

More important for Allen and the Hoosiers has to be the 9 returning starters on the Defensive side of the ball and this Indiana team do look capable of earning a winning record for the first time in a decade. There will be excitement for this opening game against the Ohio State Buckeyes, but that Defensive unit is in for a big test against a team that could be one of the strongest Offenses in the nation at this level.

If the Hoosiers Defensive Line can have a big game, they do have a chance against Ohio State, but the Offensive Line they face is as good as it gets. On the other side of the ball the Hoosiers are facing a really strong Defensive unit and all in all it does feel like the Buckeyes will be able to earn enough of an edge on both sides of the ball to pull away for the win.

A less experienced team could be a serious upset candidate, but that is not the case with the 2017 Buckeyes and I think they can win this one and cover the number. Ohio State have not been the best road favourite to back as they tend to be over-rated by the layers who know the money will come in, but this Buckeyes team looks to be one of the best in College Football and I think they can make a statement here.

There is also the added factor of Kevin Wilson- Wilson was fired at the end of the 2016 season as the Indiana Head Coach because of differences with the Athletic Director. He has since taken over as the Offensive Co-Ordinator of the Ohio State Buckeyes and his insight into a Hoosiers Defensive unit that has 9 starters returning should give the road team a significant edge in my opinion.

I don't doubt that Wilson will want to keep the scoreboard ticking over to make a point and his extra insight into the opposition is another reason I want to back the Ohio State Buckeyes to win and cover on the road.

New Mexico State Aggies @ Arizona State Sun Devils Pick: Back to back losing seasons is not what was expected from the Arizona State Sun Devils, but the struggles of 2016 could reap rewards in 2017. Injuries meant a lot of players earned some experience in 2017 and having the chance to bring back 13 starters on both sides of the ball gives Head Coach Todd Graham every chance of producing a winning record.

His seat may be feeling a little warmer going into the season though and Arizona State are in the tough Pac-12 South Division which is expected to be headed up by the USC Trojans. However the problems of 2016 should mean the Sun Devils have plenty of depth to call upon, while they also have an experienced Quarter Back in Manny Wilkins compared with twelve months ago.

The Offensive unit is never really a concern for the Sun Devils and they are expected to be one of the top scoring teams again this time around. That will be tested immediately by the New Mexico State Aggies who may not have the best Defensive unit, but bring back 9 starters this time around and are expected to make big improvements from 2016.

Arizona State will look to establish the run against the tougher New Mexico State Defensive Line that is expected to take to the field in 2017. The problems for the Aggies will always be in the Secondary which has struggled to stop the pass which has been amongst the weakest in the nation in back to back years.

It would be a surprise if the Sun Devils were not able to put up around 40-50 points in this one at home, but the big question for them will be how much have they improved Defensively. Last year Todd Graham's Defensive unit gave up the most points in his time as Head Coach, but the injuries contributed to that and they are expected to be almost a Touchdown better in terms of points per game in 2017 compared with 2016.

The 7 returning Offensive starters for the Aggies will test that out though with New Mexico State being able to call upon some veterans who have plenty of experience. The key to this game could be how effectively New Mexico State are able to establish Larry Rose and the running game against what looks like a strong Arizona State Defensive Line.

I do think the Aggies will have some success with their Offense looking like it could be a decent one at the SBC level, but this is a big step up for them to do that consistently. Tyler Rogers is likely to end the season as the career passing record holder at New Mexico State, but Interceptions have been an issue for him. However Rogers should have some success against the Arizona State Secondary which struggled in 2015 and 2016 and who have lost some key players back there.

Arizona State are 17-9 against the spread as the home favourite under Graham's guidance while they have won their last eighteen home openers by 32 points per game. New Mexico State have not been a great road underdog to back under Head Coach Doug Martin and I think the home team from the Power 5 Conference can earn a big win after a close first half.

I will look for the Sun Devils to pull away far enough to cover this big number and get 2017 off to a positive start for Todd Graham.

MY PICKS: South Florida Bulls - 21.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Rice Owls + 30.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Ohio State Buckeyes - 20.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Arizona State Sun Devils - 22.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)

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