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Friday, 23 August 2019

College Football Week 1 Picks 2019 (August 24-September 2)

It has felt like we have been waiting a long time, but just like that the 2019 College Football season is ready to get underway.

This has the makings of an interesting season as most look to see if Trevor Lawrence can continue his path towards almost certainly being the Number 1 Overall Pick in the NFL Draft in 2021 when he is eligible to move up a level. The performances to take Clemson Tigers to another National Championship has certainly whet the appetite of those hoping to be able to be in a position to Draft Lawrence when he declares himself available, but the positive for Tigers fans is they are likely to see their Quarter Back for two more seasons when they are arguably favourites to win the National Championship again.

A lot of eyes will also be on the Alabama Crimson Tide who were embarrassed in the National Championship Game and who have rarely allowed negative results like that to fester. Both Alabama and Clemson are rightly huge favourites to reach the Play Offs again, but the make up of the final four looks open when it comes to deciding the other two places.

Jim Harbaugh at Michigan has led his team to 10 wins in three of the four years he has been Head Coach there, but the four straight losses to Ohio State means they have yet to play for the Big Ten Championship. This season feels like the one in which Michigan have as strong a team as any in Harbaugh's time here, while the Buckeyes certainly don't look as good as in previous years and so the Wolverines may just make the Play Offs for the first time under this Head Coach.

The Oklahoma Sooners have lost Kyler Murray to the NFL, but the arrival of Jalen Hurts, a very experienced Quarter Back who has won the National Title with the Alabama Crimson Tide, should mean the loss of the Number 1 Overall Draft Pick is not as devastating as it usually would be. Defensively I would expect the Sooners to be a lot better than 2018 and they may still be able to edge out a number of good looking rivals in the Big 12 and return to the Play Offs too.

It remains the toughest Conference out there, while the Pac-12 will need to have a team run the table to really offer a chance of earning a Play Off spot. There are a couple of potential Play Off teams in the Pac-12 North, but I think the four Play Off teams will come out of the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten this season.

So what of Notre Dame who reached the Play Offs last season? The schedule looks like going against them this season and I would think there is more chance of two teams coming out of one of the four Conferences I mentioned above than seeing the Fighting Irish return to the Play Offs barring a special season for Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish will get into the Play Offs if they are unbeaten as that would mean leaving with wins from Georgia, Michigan and Stanford and there is a real potential of at least two of those teams being Conference Champions.

In the current format of the Play Offs it is unlikely that a team out of the Power 5 Conferences is going to be given a shot to compete barring something fairly disastrous happening. A one loss team from those Conferences will always edge out an unbeaten team from the American Athletic, Mountain West or MAC Conferences and so the focus has to be on the big name schools playing in the big name Conferences.

My choices for the Play Offs are thus these teams: Clemson Tigers, Alabama Crimson Tide, Oklahoma Sooners and Michigan Wolverines.

These could look foolish by the end of November, but that is why College Football games are played on the field and not on paper. I would be stunned if Clemson and Alabama are not making up half of the four teams in the Play Offs, but I am less confident about Oklahoma and Michigan simply because they have much tougher paths and are less proven than the former two.

I also believe Alabama and Clemson have a touch more room for error with even one loss teams likely to be heading up Committee choices, whereas single losses for Michigan and Oklahoma do leave them vulnerable to being edged out.

Last season was a good one for the College Football Picks with a winning record produced over the 2018 season. I had made some adjustments to the way I was making selections and hopefully that will kick on into the 2019 season which begins this weekend.

Week 1 of the season is spread over a number of days and actually covers two weekends so all of my selections will be placed in this one thread. Like last season, I will break down a few of the selections I have to give you an insight into my reasoning, but the remainder of the Picks will simply be added to the thread.

Here's good luck for the long season ahead and hopefully one that is a profitable again.

Miami Hurricanes v Florida Gators Pick: The 2019 College Football season could not have asked for a much better game to kick off the new year as two in-State rivals meet for the first time since 2013. The Florida Gators finished with a 10-3 record in 2018 and will be looking to show they are the team to beat in the State having crushed Florida State at the end of last season and now facing the other big school from The Sunshine State.

Dan Mullen is entering his second season as the Head Coach of the Gators, but much has changed for the Miami Hurricanes who disappointed with a 7-6 record in 2018. Mark Richt surprisingly quit as Head Coach and abruptly retired after Miami were battered in their Bowl Game by the Wisconsin Badgers, but Manny Diaz was able to return to the school despite signing to take over as the Head Coach at Temple.

Diaz has history with the players having been the Defensive Co-Ordinator for the last three years and the hope for the Hurricanes is that this enables them to have a smooth transition from the Richt era to the Diaz one. He does have 12 returning starters to call upon with 6 on both sides of the ball, but the Hurricanes will be turning the Offense over to Jarren Williams at Quarter Back who has surprisingly won the job ahead of Tate Martell.

Williams has the opportunity to throw to some talented Wide Receivers, but the challenge for the Quarter Back may come in operating behind an inexperienced Offensive Line. It may seen an increase in the number of Sacks being taken as an inexperienced Quarter Back also looks to cut his teeth at this level, while Miami have lost their stand out Running Back from 2018 (Travis Homer was Drafted by Seattle of the NFL) which may mean more pressure on the Quarter Back if the Hurricanes do have some early issues trying to run the ball.

The Miami Offensive Line is certainly going to be tested by the Gators Defensive unit which is bringing back 8 starters from 2018. This is a Florida team who are experienced on that side of the ball and who made large improvements in 2018 from 2017 and I do think they are going to give the Hurricanes plenty to think about considering the new look of the Offensive Line Miami will be sending out onto the field.

Florida had 14 more Sacks in 2018 compared with 2017 and they should also be improved when it comes to stopping the run having allowed 4.3 yards per carry last season. The Gators will certainly believe they can force Williams to beat them through the air, but that is going to be a big test for the young Quarter Back as Florida bring back all of their Defensive Backs from 2018 that was amongst the best in the nation.

Dan Mullen will know his team are only bringing back 5 starters on the Offensive side of the ball, but importantly one of those is Feleipe Franks who had almost 2500 passing yards and 24 Touchdown passes last year with just 6 Interceptions thrown. The new Head Coach helped Florida score almost 13 points per game more in 2018 compared with 2017 and the Gators managed at least 35 points in their last four games which is a big reason they come into 2019 as the Number 8 Ranked team in College Football.

Like Miami, Florida are rebuilding the Offensive Line but they have a decent Running Back committee which should help Franks at Quarter Back. Running the ball against the Hurricanes Defensive Line is going to be very difficult though and Franks will have to be ware of the pressure that the Hurricanes generate on them with the pass rush that produced 40 Sacks last season.

The Hurricanes will be used to the Manny Diaz voice which should aid their Defensive development, but the Corner Backs and Safeties are perhaps going to have the sharpest of the learning curves. Feleipe Franks will be looking to take advantage, especially with his Receiving corps coming back largely intact and I think that is going to help Florida earn the edge in this one.

Both teams will believe their Defensive units can get the better of the day, but Franks being the more experienced Quarter Back compared with Jerron Williams will be important to separate these teams. The Hurricanes are 1-8 against the spread in their last nine neutral site games and they were blown out by a team from the SEC in their opener in 2018.

Miami are also 1-4 against the spread over the last three seasons when set as the underdog and I do think there are more question marks about their team, especially going into Week 1. Jimmy Johnson was able to speak with the coaching staff at Miami and that will be a boost for the team, but I am not sure it will be enough here and I do like the Gators to cover even though the spread has moved over the key number 7.

I will not be surprised if Florida take a step back from 2018 and fail to reach double digits in terms of wins over the coming months, but they come in with momentum and can produce a big win to open the 2019 season. Covering won't be easy, but I like the Gators and I will look for them to just about get over the line with a couple of Interceptions helping them turn the screw.

Arizona Wildcats @ Hawaii Rainbow Warriors Pick: Kevin Sumlin was let go by the Texas A&M Aggies as Head Coach after failing to top 8 wins in a single season for four consecutive years. He was quickly appointed Head Coach of the Arizona Wildcats, but injuries did not help in 2018 as his team finished 5-7 and were beaten by a heartbreaking single point against rivals Arizona State to prevent them from making a Bowl Game last year.

There are 15 returning starters for the Wildcats in 2019 and the most important is going to be Khalil Tate who had a very difficult season in 2018. Big things were expected of the Quarter Back, but an ankle injury limited his effectiveness as a dual-threat which was very important to him the season before.

Now Tate is coming in looking much healthier and the expectation is that Arizona are going to be closer to the 41 points per game they averaged in 2017 rather than the 31 points per game of 2018. Khalil Tate will be playing behind a much stronger looking Offensive Line too which should see his running numbers improve significantly and this is a team that is expected to have a much improved record from last season.

We will get to learn plenty about Tate and the Wildcats Offensively in this opening game, although they will have to make sure they don't enjoy the occasion prior to the game being in 'Paradise'. There is also the matter of facing up to the Hawaii Defensive unit which is bringing back 9 starters from last season and who are expecting to have their best points per game from a Defensive standpoint since 2014.

The Rainbow Warriors do play in the Mountain West Conference so this is likely a step up in class compared to what they will face for much of the season, but Hawaii will believe their Defense does give them a chance to be competitive.

Hawaii are a team who will have plenty of backers considering they are also bringing back 9 starters on the Offensive side of the ball and plenty are high on Cole McDonald at Quarter Back. Last season the Rainbow Warriors finished with an 8-6 record which is the first winning record under Head Coach Nick Rolovich and this is a team that has the experience to build on the 2018 season as they look to reach back to back Bowl Games for the first time in over ten years.

McDonald and the rest of the Offense are going to have a difficult challenge in front of them as they face a Defensive unit that is bringing back 8 starters from last season. If it wasn't for injuries, Arizona might have had their best record on that side of the ball since the early days of the Rich Rodriguez era, but they can certainly do that with better health this season.

The key to the outcome of this game could be on that side of the ball- I expect Khalil Tate to help Arizona put up their points, but the battle between Cole McDonald and the Arizona Secondary which gave up 27 passing Touchdowns in 2018 is the one that will determine the spread.

My feeling is that Hawaii will be able to score enough points to make the start they are being given appealing enough to get behind. The Rainbow Warriors have not been a great home underdog to back, but Kevin Sumlin's teams have not always been the most effective in the road favourite spot either.

However the Rainbow Warriors have covered the spread in their last six home games against Pac-12 teams. With the amount of points being given to Hawaii I do think the home team can be backed in this spot on the opening weekend of the season. Hawaii have not exactly been a team that have impressed against the spread, but they can be a decent team when it comes to these non-Conference games on the schedule so taking the points looks the play I can get behind.

Texas State Bobcats @ Texas A&M Aggies Pick: Jimbo Fisher arrived with a big reputation at College Station and he led the Texas A&M Aggies to nine wins for the first time since 2013. The big issue for the Aggies is they play in the same Division as the Alabama Crimson Tide, the SEC West being loaded with some of the best teams in College Football but having 11 returning starters on both sides of the ball means they will be chasing double digits in terms of wins for the first time since going 11-2 in Kevin Sumlin's first season as Head Coach.

They are big favourites to get the 2019 season off to a winning start when they host the Texas State Bobcats who are looking like one of the weaker teams in the Sun Belt Conference. The Bobcats do have 19 starters back which is usually a very positive sign for a team who ended with a 3-9 record in 2018, but a new Head Coach is coming in which means new ideas and players who don't fit Jake Spavital's system are likely to be replaced by younger, inexperienced players who do.

Texas State have not won more than three games in a single season in any of the last four years so there is some real work for Spavital to do. This is also a learning curve for the new Head Coach who has never been in this position before and heading to College Station to get the 2019 season underway is a difficult position to be in.

Scoring points has been a problem for the Bobcats in recent years and Spavital's experiences as an Offensive mind could be a benefit for Texas State, but it is unlikely to be seen here. Even though they are facing an Aggies team that are only bringing back 4 starters on the Defensive side of the ball, Texas A&M have indicated they believe they are better than last year when they made a considerable improvement on that side of the ball despite having a new Defensive Co-Ordinator calling the plays.

This is a big spread though when you think the Bobcats have been pretty sound Defensively for the most part even though they have had poor records. This year could be a little different if the previous starters are not completely on board with the new directions that Coaches want the team to go in and that is where the Aggies have to show off some of their Offensive power.

7 starters are coming back on the Offensive side of the ball and that includes the starting Quarter Back from 2018, Kellen Mond Jr, while the majority of the Receiving corps also returns intact. Like many of the big schools, the Aggies have lost their starting Running Back and Tight End from the 2018 season to the NFL, but Jimbo Fisher is happy with the way his Offensive unit is put together and one that is playing behind a strong Line.

The Aggies scored plenty of points in their non-Conference games last season and Jimbo Fisher has been someone who has gotten his teams to play well against the spread in those games. In Week 2 the Aggies are facing the Clemson Tigers which could be a distraction, but I think most players will have been looking forward to Week 1 and it should mean a full effort is put into this one.

There is the chance that Fisher decides to make changes to his team in the second half to give others some playing time and that does leave Texas A&M open for a backdoor cover. The Aggies have been decent in recent home games and they have covered in their last eight non-Conference games and they are 5-1 against the spread in the last six as a home favourite.

Texas State have lost all five previous games against teams from the SEC and they were blown out in their last road game agains a school from that Conference. I am looking for Texas A&M to find a way to keep their foot on the peddle and produce a big win ahead of the revenge game against Clemson coming up in Week 2.

Kent State Golden Flashes @ Arizona State Sun Devils Pick: Herm Edwards was taking on just his third ever Head Coach role and the first in College Football as he was given the job at the Arizona State Sun Devils. A 7-6 record in 2017 was not good enough for Todd Graham as Head Coach, but Edwards will have been pleased with that record in 2018 when so many had tipped Arizona State to struggle under his watch in the first season.

Expectations will have increased substantially in 2019 after the way things turned out for the Sun Devils in 2018 and that despite coming in off a Bowl defeat to the Fresno State Bulldogs. Arizona State are bringing back 15 starters from last season which are split as evenly as possible with 8 on the Offensive side of the ball and 7 on the Defensive side of the ball.

There are a couple of significant changes that Edwards is going to have to deal with and that is a long-time starting Quarter Back and the Number 1 Wide Receiver both leaving the school. Both Manny Wilkins and N'Keal Harry are now playing in the NFL with the latter being a rare First Round Receiving selection for the New England Patriots, but Arizona State fans are still full of belief that their team will not drop off significantly from an Offensive point of view especially in the second year of the Herm Edwards era.

Arizona State will certainly have a very good chance of getting their Offensive rhythm going in this opening game when they face a Kent State Defensive unit that has allowed at least 35 points per game in back to back seasons. The Golden Flashes have only got 6 starters back on the Defensive side of the ball and even though there is expected to be some improvement over the course of 2019, I do think this is the kind of game that will be difficult to really work out how much improvement can be made.

Kent State are returning 9 Offensive starters and there is a feeling that this team can produce their most points per game since 2012 in the second year under Sean Lewis as Head Coach. As I said on the Defensive side of the ball, I don't think we are going to see how much of an improvement the Kent State Offense can make in this Week 1 game as they face a tough Arizona State Defense that is much more experienced than a year ago.

They only gave up 25.5 points per game in 2018 and Arizona State are looking to make an improvement in that number by the end of the season which could begin by showing off their talents in this game. The Sun Devils look very capable of opening the season with a couple of strong wins at home before the big road game at the Michigan State Spartans, and they were 2-1 against the spread in their three games as a home favourite last season.

The Sun Devils have won their last 19 home openers by an average of 32 points per game while Kent State have lost their last 11 road openers by the same margin. Last season the Golden Flashes did push the Illinois Fighting Illini in a road game to open the campaign, but Arizona State look much stronger than the Illinois team of 2018 and even the improvements that Kent State make are unlikely to be seen in a game like this one.

I have to respect Kent State for being a competitive non-Conference opponent last season for the likes of Illinois and Mississippi, but they were blown out at Penn State. My feeling is that the Arizona State Sun Devils are going to be improved again in 2019 compared with the 2018 edition even with the losses of Wilkins and Harry in mind, and I will look for Herm Edwards to guide them to a big win in Week 1.

Utah Utes @ BYU Cougars Pick: The Holy War opening up the 2019 season is a huge game for both the BYU Cougars and the Utah Utes who both have some big ambitions for the season. Injuries hurt the Utes throughout 2018, but they still managed to reach the Pac-12 Championship Game, although they were beaten in that game and also the Bowl Game which saw them finish up with a 9-5 record.

This season they go into the 2019 campaign as many experts picks as the team to beat in the Pac-12 and possibly even a Play Off contender if the Utes can get on a roll. Opening up with a win over a big rival will be a huge boost for Utah who have 14 returning starters with 7 on both sides of the ball.

Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss, the starting Quarter Back and Running Back from 2018, both missed a number of games through injuries but both are back in 2019 to give Utah the chance to be a powerful Offensive team. There is a real chance that Utah might have their best Offensive team for over a decade and the returning Offensive Co-Ordinator Andy Ludwig has only increased the expectations around a team who have had just one double digit winning season in the last eight, but who are looking to reach that level at the very least.

We are going to be learning plenty about Utah from the off as they are facing a BYU Cougars Defensive unit that has 8 returning starters from last season and this is a school that always produces strong Defenses. The Cougars should be tough to run against which could limit the impact Zack Moss can have, while they will be looking to put Quarter Back Huntley under pressure from their pass rush and dare him to throw into a Secondary that looks like it could improve on the 13 Touchdown passes and 9 Interceptions they picked up a year ago.

The Cougars finished 7-6 last season to bounce back from a four win 2017 but they have now gone seven years without a double digit winning season. A bigger concern for the fans turning up for this home game has to be the eight straight losses they have taken against their rivals Utah so there are two major ambitions for the season- one is to try and get back to ten wins, the other will be beating Utah and those may be linked with the Week 1 game offering the chance to build as much momentum as it would for Utah if they are able to win here.

BYU have 9 returning starters on the Offensive unit which moved from 17 points per game in 2017 to 27 points per game in 2018. The expected step up thanks to the experiences of 2018 will help the Cougars produce some strong Offensive numbers this season, but it might not be in this game against a Utah Defense which could be amongst the very best in College Football.

It looks like it is going to be very difficult to move the ball on the Utah Utes and even the likely improvement the Cougars are going to make may not be enough to break through them. The feeling is that this is going to be a decent Defensive game, but Utah look to have the superior Offensive unit and that may just show up on the day and give them the edge.

The Cougars are just 0-3-1 against the spread in their four games as the home underdog with Kalani Sitake as Head Coach. Three of the last five wins for Utah in this Holy War series have come by at least 7 point margins so this spread is just about within my comfort zone to want to back the leading contender in the Pac-12 to put a good, solid win on the board in Week 1.

I have no doubt this will be a good, close game, but Utah should have the edge overall and I expect that to show up on the scoreboard when double zeroes clock down at the end of the Fourth Quarter.

MY PICKS: Florida Gators - 7 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors + 11 Points @ 1.91 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Texas A&M Aggies - 32.5 Points @ 1.85 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Arizona State Sun Devils - 24 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Utah Utes - 6.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (1 Unit)

Season 2018: + 15.82 Units (118 Units Staked, + 13.41% Yield)

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