It's back! Thanks to football season, you can expect at least three new columns per week produced between Kevin and I. As we did last year, Kevin and I will each pick 5 college football games against the spread every week from now until Bowl season, and I will put up a separate weekly piece in which I handicap 5 NFL games. What's on the line, you ask? Well, since last year's duel ended up in a pretty admirable stalemate (although I'd like to think I have the style-points edge for my Bowl picks column, but you be the judge), we really have no clue what's on the line because nobody won or lost - and thus nobody had to pay up. The stakes range from mere bragging rights to maybe a 12-pack of Guinness, but nothing's written in stone. Either way, it's just nice to be talking about football again (wait, I hardly mentioned football at all in that paragraph). Home teams in CAPS (and not because that's the way Bill Simmons does it, but because it just makes things easier).
NOTRE DAME (-10) over South Florida
I'm drinking the Irish Kool-Aid for now, largely thanks to the team's great 2010 finish and 16 returning starters. South Florida will be anything but wide-eyed going into South Bend, with former Irish player and coach Skip Holtz (son of Lou Holtz) leading them. The Bulls have proven themselves over the past 5 years to be no walkover and a perennial Big East dark horse (whether that's a real compliment or not, you can decide), but despite all the speed they have, they were 101st in the nation last year in passing. If Notre Dame gets out to a lead of 13 or more at any point, you may be able to shut the book on South Florida. Brian Kelly has too much to lose to drop this one at home, even with next week's much-anticipated date with Michigan in Ann Arbor looming ahead.
Oregon (-1) over LSU (neutral site)
Quite a few variables in this game. How will each team be represented in terms of fans at the annual Jerry Bowl, held at neutral-site Cowboys Stadium? Will LSU, in the wake of last week's bar fight, be playing with a full roster, most notably quarterback Jordan Jefferson? Will Oregon's fast-paced offense, which blistered its opponents through the regular season in 2010 but was held to 19 points in the BCS Championship Game, return to form? And what garish uniform combo will the Ducks be sporting? One of the only constants in this game figures to be Oregon RB LaMichael James, a Heisman finalist last year and an early favorite for this year's award. If he and Darron Thomas can get Oregon going offensively, I don't know that LSU will have the weapons (or at least, the experienced weapons) to keep up.
Marshall (+23) over WEST VIRGINIA
Our readers know that whatever college football loyalties do I have lie with West Virginia, but I expect the Mountaineers to struggle a little bit in this one. For Marshall, this is their Super Bowl, (if you're the type who likes to bet halves, I'd throw solid money down on Marshall in the first half) and in the past two years the Herd has given WVU all they could handle until the end. If Bill Stewart were still coaching the team, it would be easy to say that WVU will be ill-prepared for this in-state rivalry, as the Mountaineers under Stewart tended to look past lesser teams fairly often. However, I do think new head coach Dana Holgorsen is going to be out to prove that he's no Bill Stewart. The problem is that Holgorsen's spread out pass-heavy offensive system has a lot of moving parts and cannot be expected to go smoothly in its first go-round, despite Geno Smith's potential as a passer. Consider also the fact that the Mountaineers are unsettled at tailback for the first time in 6 years, so it wouldn't shock you if WVU has trouble sustaining drives. The public has bet this line up from an 18.5-point opening, and I think 23 points is just too many to lay here.
Georgia (+3) over Boise State (neutral site)
It's a de facto home game for the Bulldogs as they face Boise State in Atlanta. Can Georgia's young defense keep Kellen Moore from lighting up the Georgia Dome? If it gets to that point, Georgia may still have a puncher's chance in a shootout, as the silver lining to last year's 6-7 season was the development of now-Sophomore QB Aaron Murray (3,049 yds/24 TD/8 INT). Neither team has an experienced receiving corps, so such a shootout is no guarantee. A crowd-influenced big defensive play might have to be what wins it for Georgia, who cannot afford to waste time out of the gate. A rebound season is expected for the 22nd-ranked Bulldogs, and we will know immediately what they are made of - a matchup with South Carolina awaits after this one.
MARYLAND (+5.5) over Miami
The lines are all over the place for Monday night's game between the Terps and whatever half of the Hurricanes are eligible to play. Miami QB Jacory Harris is the most notable of the eight 'Canes serving a suspension in light of the booster gift scandal uncovered a few weeks ago. Does Maryland have enough, in the first game of the Randy Edsall era, to take advantage of Miami's depleted ranks? The Terps are going to have to grind it out on the ground to keep their relatively inexperienced defense off the field (even without Harris, Miami still figures to be able to run circles around Maryland on offense), so if senior RB Davin Meggett (yes, David's son), who averaged 5.7 YPC in 2010, is up to the task as the starter, this could be a pretty interesting game in front of what should be a pumped up home crowd.
Last Season: 40-30-5