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College Football Week 1 - Games to Watch And Predictions

Ryan Cole, Salomon Fuentes, Jeremy Fuster, Mike Piellucci, Omar Shamout |
August 30, 2012 | 12:07 p.m. PDT

Staff Writers

Mike Leach debuts for Wazzu. (Wikimedia Commons)
Mike Leach debuts for Wazzu. (Wikimedia Commons)
The 2012-13 college football season begins today, and Neon Tommy has pigskin junkies covered once again with the return of our staff picks for the week's big matchups.

Week 1 has some enticing non-conference games to keep fans entertained until the start of league play in a couple weeks, so let's dive right in and see who among our writers was bold enough to pick a huge upset:

Washington State at BYU

Ryan ColeWashington State 30 - BYU 21: The Pac-12 wants to prop itself into being one of the premiere conferences in the nation. Wazzu goes to Provo and gets a solid Pac-12 out-of-conference victory with a big performance from its star WR Marques Wilson. 

Salomon FuentesWashington State 35 - BYU 28: There is no greater curiosity in the Pac-12 than Mike Leach, who comes to Washington State after having his reputation sullied in Lubbock. He put Texas Tech back on the map. Can he do the same for Wazzu? He'll have to decide whether senior Jeff Tuel or sophomore Connor Halliday will be the man behind center first, and with a threat like receiver Marquess Wilson, there's no telling how good this offense can be.

Jeremy FusterBYU 38 - Washington State 21: New head coach Mike Leach's "Air Raid" offense will complement WSU's pass-heavy offensive unit, which ranked 9th in the nation with 322 yards per game. However, the defense is not nearly as strong. BYU, on the other hand, is ready to end their rebuilding period and charge towards a BCS berth. After some depth chart juggling last season, QB Riley Nelson is ready to take full control of the offense after helping the offense reach an average of 37.5 points per game in the eight games he started last year. BYU also has a history of taking advantage of home cookin', winning 33 home games in the last five seasons.

Mike PiellucciBYU 33 - Washington State 21: Sooner or later Washington State will come to embody everything and anything we became accustomed to from Mike Leach at Texas Tech - the Air Raid offense, pinball numbers from Jeff Tuel under center, even more pinball numbers from the chronically underappreciated Marquess Wilson, comically bad defense, etc. It's tough, however, to imagine all of that coming as soon as this weekend against a BYU team coming off a 10-win season, playing in Provo, and Riley Nelson back under center.

Omar ShamoutBYU 34 – Washington State 30: Mike Leach will entrust senior quarterback Jeff Tuel to find all-conference receiver Marquess Wilson and freshman Gabe Marks throughout the game. However, B.Y.U. will field a senior quarterback of its own in Riley Nelson, along with many of the starters on defense that ranked 13th in the nation last year. Since it is the first game of the season, both teams will make mistakes, and it should be a fun opening-day shootout.

Marcus Lattimore leads the Gamecocks' attack. (Ianmccor/Wikimedia Commons)
Marcus Lattimore leads the Gamecocks' attack. (Ianmccor/Wikimedia Commons)
No. 9 South Carolina at Vanderbilt

ColeSouth Carolina 24 - Vanderbilt 17: South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier has big expectations for the Gamecocks this year. They go to Vanderbilt and start their 2012-2013 season with a victory over the Commodores behind inspired play from one of the more impressive defenses in nation. Expect a big game from Gamecocks running back Marcus Lattimore, a sleeper candidate for the Heisman Trophy.

FuentesSouth Carolina 31 - Vanderbilt 10: There are those in Nashville who would love nothing more than to watch early-season upset. No chance. The Gamecocks simply have too much talent on both sides of the ball, especially when you factor in a healthy Lattimore. Jordan Rodgers may be Aaron Rodgers' brother, but it would take the elder Rodgers being on the field for Vandy to win against the Gamecocks defense.

FusterSouth Carolina 21 - Vanderbilt 13: The difference in this matchup is in the defense. South Carolina brings back seven returning starters from a squad that ranked third in the country last year.  Their new defensive coordinator, Lorenzo Ward, plans to use a more aggressive playing style, with defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor blitzing as much as possible. Vandy's defense, on the other hand, has lost many of its leaders from last year, including Casey Hayward, who made seven interceptions last season.

PiellucciSouth Carolina 27 - Vanderbilt 13: We're nine games into the Conor Shaw era for South Carolina and the jury's still out on how much the Gamecocks can depend on his arm to beat SEC defenses. If he can, Steve Spurrier's crew can win the conference; if not, it'll be yet another close-but-not-close-enough campaign for the perennially underachieving program.

ShamoutSouth Carolina 21 - Vanderbilt 20: If you had to guess who the top returning rusher in the SEC this season, your first answer might not be Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy, but it’s absolutely true. With the dismissal of Michael Dyer from Auburn earlier this year and Marcus Lattimore's time on the sidelines in 2011, Stacy has earned that title. But Lattimore is back, and ready to show the conference what he can do once more. Look for this one to be tight – Vandy simply cannot be taken lightly this year. 

No. 22 Boise State at No. 13 Michigan State

ColeMichigan State 37 - Boise State 27: The Broncos will be playing without QB Kellen Moore for the first time in four years. Though the game will be competitive, expect new Boise State starting quarterback Joe Southwick to struggle. It should be an exciting game and competitive for a few quarters, but Michigan State's defense will wear Boise out in the 2nd half. 

FuentesBoise State 24 - Michigan State 17: Both of these teams have lost their starting quarterbacks from the year before with Kellen Moore and Kirk Cousins moving onto the NFL. The more things change at Boise State, the more head coach Chris Petersen has learned to adjust. His Broncos beat Georgia to open last season in Atlanta and bested Virginia Tech in Maryland the year before. The Spartans do feature one of the Big Ten's best defenses and running back Le'Veon Bell is sure to pick up major yardage against BSU.

FusterMichigan State 28 - Boise State 7: The post-Kellen Moore era begins for the Broncos, and it's not going to start pretty. A grand total of seven returning starters are left for Chris Petersen, and it would be an incredible feat for him to lead this mostly green team to an upset in East Lansing. Granted, the Spartans have some rebuilding to do as well, particularly in their passing game, but they do have junior RB Le'Veon Bell, who amassed 13 touchdowns last year. Expect the Spartans to silence Boise State's offense and ground n' pound their way to victory. 

PiellucciMichigan State 31 - Boise State 27: The well-coached Broncos have shown up ready for battle in their previous three season openers in which they bested Oregon, Virginia Tech and Georgia in convincing fashion. You can expect the same gusto this time around, too -- just not the result. MSU boasts seven offensive linemen with starting experience, bruising tailback Le'Veon Bell, along with soon-to-be household names in Andrew Maxwell and Tennessee transfer De'Anthony Arnett. Expect Friday to be the first milestone in a special season for Sparty.

ShamoutMichigan State 27 - Boise State 16: After four seasons as Boise State’s starting quarterback, Kellen Moore is almost as much of a fixture in Idaho as potatoes. His 43 touchdown passes will be hard to replace, but that’s the task facing new signal caller Joe Southwick. To make matters worse for the Broncos, they’ll be heading into East Lansing to face last year’s 10th-ranked defense without running back Doug Martin, who like Moore now plies his trade in the NFL.

Always keep an eye on Tajh Boyd. (Parker Anderson/Creative Commons)
Always keep an eye on Tajh Boyd. (Parker Anderson/Creative Commons)
No. 14 Clemson at No. 25 Auburn

ColeClemson 20 - Auburn 17: On Saturday, Clemson will be without arguably their best player, wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Watkins’ absence will have an impact on the game, but it won't hinder the high-powered Clemson offense led by QB Tajh Boyd. However, this Auburn team will be a tough opponent as they try to get back into cementing themselves a powerhouse in the SEC.

FuentesClemson 21 - Auburn 7: Clemson finally bested Auburn last year and it looked to be the beginning of a special season for coach Dabo Swinney and his players. But the team's national championship hopes completely fell apart, ending by getting blown out in the Orange Bowl. QB Tajh Boyd returns with more experience under his belt and will have DeAndre Hopkins, who may be just as dangerous a threat down the field as Watkins. Auburn QB Kiehl Frazier, is very inexperienced and trial by fire against one of the ACC's best teams won't do him any favors.

FusterClemson 38 - Auburn 28: Auburn will look to take advantage of Clemson's young linemen, which holds three new starters on both the O-Line and D-Line, so expect a run-heavy offense featuring RB Onterio McCalebb. But it still won't be enough to keep up with Clemson. Tajh Boyd and DeAndre Hopkins will be able to produce on a consistent basis for Clemson to pull away.

PiellucciClemson 35 - Auburn 14: Fun fact: Take out the Cam Newton-powered 14-0 season in 2010 and Auburn is a pedestrian 30-21 over the past five seasons. That's before taking into account Gene Chizik replacing both of his coordinators as well as breaking in a new QB in Kiehl Frazier. Clemson, meanwhile, brought on Oklahoma defensive whiz Brent Venables following their 70-33 shellacking at hands of West Virginia in this year's Orange Bowl, and boasts an array of weapons at Tajh Boyd's disposal to carve up the Auburn defense.

ShamoutClemson 34 - Auburn 17: Despite winning the ACC championship last year, Clemson are hoping they don’t start the 2012 the way they finished the last one (that 70-33 blowout in the Orange Bowl at the hands of WVU) The SEC-based Tigers have multiple question marks heading into the season, and Clemson just brings too much firepower to the table. The ACC's big cats will roar louder than the SEC's -- at least on this day.

No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 2 Alabama (Arlington, Tex.)

ColeMichigan 23 - Alabama 20: This will most definitely be the premier game of the weekend, but Alabama should be on upset alert. Michigan is back in the national spotlight as a pre-season top-10 team. They want to make sure they belong there by becoming the first out-of-conference team to beat Alabama since 2008. Michigan QB Denard Robinson will have a fantastic game on the national stage against an Alabama defense that is vulnerable having lost so many playmakers to the NFL.

FuentesAlabama 14 - Michigan 10: It's only fitting that massive Cowboys Stadium hosts the week's biggest matchup, which will either see Alabama continue its defense of their national championship or Michigan ascend into contender status. The Crimson Tide lost tons of standouts to the NFL including Trent Richardson, Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick and Dont'a Hightower in the first round alone. To his credit, head coach Nick Saban appears to have done a great job of keeping the talent pipeline flowing, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

FusterAlabama 28 - Michigan 14: And now the main event. Having lost four of their top players to the NFL, Bama looks to reduce the drop off against Ann Arbor's Heisman hopeful, and they will succeed. Without Michigan RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, who pleaded guilty on Thursday to a DUI charge, Robinson cannot hold up the offense on his own. Alabama's front seven has reloaded quickly and possess a strong defensive line that will gobble up a Wolverines backfield that lost one of its main options.

PiellucciAlabama 38 - Michigan 16: Forget the impressive export of talent from Alabama's record setting 2011 defense to the NFL. Forget Denard Robinson's electricity on broken plays. Forget the ESPN hype machine surrounding this game. Instead, ask yourself one simple question - what does Michigan do better than Alabama? The answer is nothing at all. No need to speculate on the result; this one won't be close. But if you want to wager on Robinson's interception total, the over/under is 2.5.

ShamoutAlabama 27 – Michigan 10: The Crimson Tide return four upperclassmen on the offensive line, including Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones at center, so they should be able to cope with an inexperienced Michigan defensive front four and allow the backfield trio of Dee Hart, Jalston Flowler and T.J. Yeldon to eat up the clock and keep Michigan's Denard Robinson off the field for large chunks of the game.



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