Welcome, isportsweb readers, to the Tailgater series. For the last several years, our trio of writers has been expressing its love of college football with a variety of weekly posts offering previews and recaps of key games. This season we’ve migrated the Tailgater to isportsweb, and we hope that you’ll come along for the ride.
It’s been a long and arduous offseason, waiting for the greatest sport in the world to return. But as of last night (Thursday), we are officially back in business.
Because the first few weeks of each season offer an array of horrifically lopsided affairs, we’ll be covering only selected matchups. As conference seasons get under way, the Tailgater expands to offer all kinds of opinions (justified and absurd) on all your favorite teams.
As always, I’m joined by John Mitchell and Zach Bigalke.
Week 1 Picks
College football’s opening weekend gives us a few marquee matchups right out of the gate. #2 Alabama hosts #8 Michigan while the Wolverines’ rival Spartans (#13) welcome Boise State (#24) to East Lansing. #14 Clemson heads to Auburn, trying to provide some reassurance that this year will finally be the year Dabo and company can live up to the hype. #16 Virginia Tech kicks off ACC play against Georgia Tech, and to the north, an in-state rivalry continues as #25 Louisville tangles with Kentucky.
Here’s what the Tailgater crew is predicting for these tilts. Rankings are according to the AP Top 25 poll. All picks are against the spread as defined by Yahoo! Sports’ final lines.
Friday, 8:00pm. East Lansing, MI
Boise State Broncos @ Michigan State Spartans (-7)
Strobl: I’m a big believer in Boise’s talent, but losing Kellen Moore leaves a big unanswered question. MSU knows not to underestimate the Broncos; preparation and a boisterous home crowd should help Sparty cover in a close one. PICK: Michigan State
Mitchell: Boise State lost a lot from last season’s 12-win team including QB Kellen Moore, but they return a stout offensive line and Chris Petersen is still on the sideline. Sparty may very well win this game, but I think Boise State covers the spread. I’ve been burned too many times in the past by picking against Boise State. PICK: Boise State
Bigalke: No team returns fewer starters than the Broncos, who lose the majority of the roster that was instrumental in winning 50 games the past four years. But the Spartans have some replacing to do of their own, and this is likely to be lower-scoring than you might have hoped. In a close contest, I’m looking to Boise to cover. PICK: Boise State
Saturday, 7:00pm. Atlanta, GA
Clemson Tigers @ Auburn Tigers (+3.5)
Strobl: Clemson is the NCAA’s perennial disappointment. Every year we here about how great the Tigers will be and every year they seem to fall just short of expectations. Who knows what 2012 has in store long-term, but for this week I expect the “visitors” to be the victorious Tigers. PICK: Clemson
Mitchell: This is a toss-up. I think Clemson is the better team, but being without playmaking wide receiver Sammy Watkins will be tough. However Auburn’s loss of center Reese Dismukes for the game may be a bigger blow. At 3.5, this spread isn’t big enough for me to worry about who covers, so I’m treating this like a straight pick. Clemson has fewer question marks right now than Auburn. PICK: Clemson
Bigalke: Forget the suspension of Sammy Watkins for a moment. Unless Auburn manages to find another year of eligibility to bring Cash-Back Cam back to the Plains from Carolina, the ACC version of the Tigers should breeze. This line is residual SEC love more than it is logical. PICK: Clemson
Saturday, 8:00pm. Arlington, TX
Michigan Wolverines @ Alabama Crimson Tide (-14)
Strobl: This is a tricky spread considering the overall talent level and the “neutral” site. But while Michigan comes in with an explosive offense, the Crimson Tide have a defense that’s more than equal to the task of containing Denard Robinson. PICK: Alabama
Mitchell: This game will come down to the play in the trenches. Alabama boasts the best offensive line in the nation and they should wear down the Wolverines over the course of the game. Alabama’s defense will contain Denard Robinson and force him to be a pocket passer, and I don’t think he can beat the Crimson Tide with his arm. Pick: Alabama
Bigalke: Everyone expects an Alabama romp, it seems. But Michigan’s defense isn’t as bad as it was in the recent past, and the Tide are thinned out from championship level. Does that mean Bama won’t win in Arlington? Not necessarily… but I do think Denard Robinson will do enough to beat the spread. PICK: Michigan
Sunday, 3:30pm. Lousiville, KY
Kentucky Wildcats @ Louisville Cardinals (-13)
Strobl: Last season the Cards topped Kentucky 24-17 in Lexington. I think Louisville wins again in this opener, but a 13-point line should afford UK the chance to cover. Louisville sneaked into the Top 25, but let’s not have delusions of grandeur just yet. PICK: Kentucky
Mitchell: Charlie Strong has made waves at Louisville and with QB Teddy Bridgewater back, the Cardinals are the favorite in the Big East. Kentucky, on the other hand, may have the worst team in the SEC. It’s a rivalry game, and that should be factored in, but Louisville shouldn’t have much of a problem against the Wildcats. PICK: Louisville
Bigalke: Louisville is the favorite in the Big East. Kentucky is the doormat of the SEC. That probably makes them better-matched rivals from the Bluegrass than they’d like to admit. The last time either team won by more than a touchdown was back in 2008… that streak should be extended to a fifth straight close game. Louisville wins, Kentucky covers. PICK: Kentucky
Monday, 8:00pm. Blacksburg, VA
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets @ Virginia Tech Hokies (-7.5)
Strobl: VT comes into the season at #16 despite losing some talent after last season. This is an immediate opportunity for the Hokies to give themselves an edge in the ACC Coastal. Frank Beamer should have yet another solid defense ready to go up against Paul Johnson’s option attack. PICK: Virginia Tech
Mitchell: Virginia Tech is the better team, and should win, but I think this will be very close. Georgia Tech returns senior QB Tevin Washington and a veteran offensive line that will make their triple-option tough to stop. Virginia Tech wins, but Georgia Tech covers. PICK: Georgia Tech
Bigalke: Everyone has been high on the Hokies this season, despite Frank Beamer’s squad losing all but three of its offensive starters. That’s because the defense returns nine starters from a unit that was 10th in total yards allowed and 7th in opponent scoring in 2011. They won’t be fooled by a triple-option they’ve beat each of the past two years. PICK: Virginia Tech
Picks of the Week: Our Favorite Point Spreads
Bigalke: Ohio (+6.5) over Penn State