2018 NCAAF Week 1 Weekend Preview

August 30, 2018

Hi. Allow me to reintroduce myself.

Sup, readers? My name’s K Becks. I’m the lead writer at Around The Corn, baby.

I still like to write, despite my lack of posting for the last six months. Life comes at you fast, right? No. I don’t have a child. I still have time to do this.

Now that college football is back, I’ve gotten the itch I can’t help but scratch. I missed the window to publish conference previews this year, but who actually reads those anyway? They’re long and the predictions normally end up being way off. Those familiar with the blog (And who am I kidding? If you’re reading this it’s only because you know me personally.) know that the college football weekend previews have been a staple of the site since its inception almost a decade ago.

That won’t change. But some things will. You may see plugs for a new podcast this season. I haven’t decided yet. But it sounds interesting, right?

Seriously, let me know.

To kick off the season, my brother, who for some reason would like to be known as “Versatile Willy” now, will be making picks and trying to put me in the hole from the get-go.

I’m just hoping that he’s not nearly as good at predicting college football games as he is at rapping (you’re welcome, shameless plug to Soundcloud).

We’ve got a lot of fun ahead of us for the next four months. Let’s take a look at the big ones for Week 1.

5 Games to Watch this Weekend

#6 Washington vs. #9 Auburn [game in Atlanta] (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

Interestingly enough, the top game of the weekend will be kicking off in the 3:30 PM ET time slot. Both teams are coming off of a solid 2017 campaign and have real aspirations of making the College Football Playoff this season. Unfortunately, the loser of this game will be in a tough spot. For Washington, the perceived strength of the Pac-12 could hurt its chances of climbing back into contention. For Auburn, the SEC West poses significant challenges as usual.

Each of these squads has areas where it is extremely experienced, which is an important factor in a season opener that also happens to be against a top team. Fortunately for the viewers, these strengths will be lining up opposite one another. Washington’s offensive line is massive and returns three starters. Auburn’s defensive line is similarly large and features three players that you’ll likely see playing on Sundays someday. The Huskies can move the ball at will through the air or on the ground, but would prefer that senior signal-caller Jake Browning returns to his form from two seasons ago. If he does, Auburn’s inexperienced secondary could be in trouble. Given that Browning had to deal with a lot of injuries to his wideout corps last season, the likelihood that he bounces back in 2o18 seems high.

Auburn is a bit shakier at the quarterback position, but Jarrett Stidham is extremely talented and can do just as much as Browning if allowed. Auburn’s offensive line is a question mark coming into the year, however, and Chris Petersen does a masterful job of exposing weaknesses of the opponent. Although Auburn has the ability to trade jabs with Washington on the scoreboard, I think that Petersen will use the experience he has on both sides of the ball to prevent this one from turning into a shootout.

My Pick: 28-17 Washington

Versatile Willy’s Take: Auburn 28 Washington 17

Tennessee vs. #17 West Virginia [game in Charlotte] (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

Early believers that the Mountaineers can contend for the Big 12 title and perhaps a College Football Playoff spot are probably laughing that this is on the “5 Games to Watch” list. While the cupboard isn’t bare, Tennessee is expected to replace a lot, especially on the defensive end, where the Volunteers struggled mightily in 2017. Fortunately for fans in Knoxville, new head coach Jeremy Pruitt is a terrific defensive mind and may have the chops to shock Dana Holgorsen’s offense with new looks.

In order to shock West Virginia, the Volunteers will have to score. Not having a starting quarterback named heading into this one probably doesn’t give the Tennessee faithful a warm and fuzzy feeling about scoring a lot of points, however. Fifth-year graduate transfer Keller Chryst would be my choice, as the former Stanford signal-caller has the ability to lead an offense without much pizzazz down the field efficiently. Tennessee doesn’t have the ability to score at will and as quickly as the Montaineers can, but West Virginia’s defense is a potential issue for Coach Holgorsen. Keeping the West Virginia offense off the field with methodical drives that more often than not end in points will be Tennessee’s best approach in this one.

From a neutral fan’s perspective looking to a see a close game, hope that Tennessee’s defense takes a big step forward under Pruitt and Will Grier & Co. come out a bit rusty. Otherwise, this one may get ugly quickly. While I do think the Mountaineers won’t be firing on all cylinders, they’ll still win.

My Pick: 34-24 West Virginia

Versatile Willy’s Take: Tennessee 35 West Virginia 28

#14 Michigan at #12 Notre Dame (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET)

Sorry to all of the Wolverines and Fighting Irish fans out there (you both fall near the bottom of my list), but despite College Gameday being at South Bend this weekend, the Top 10 battle in Atlanta is the most intriguing game on the Saturday slate. This rivalry has produced a lot of exciting moments in the past, however, and given the amount of question marks on both sides, it’s difficult to tell how this one will shape up. As much as trying to predict who will win this game, the majority of college football fans are wondering “how good are these two teams, really?”

Now that Shea Patterson has officially won the starting job as Michigan’s quarterback, the expectations about what Jim Harbaugh should accomplish with him at the helm will dominate the opinion columns in Ann Arbor. That’s a tough shake, all things considered. The Ole Miss transfer will be without one of Michigan’s top receivers, the injured Tarik Black, and hoping that a questionable offensive line pans out. As much as Patterson is being touted as the piece Michigan needed to contend for a Big Ten title, he might have to be bailed out by the Wolverines defense for much of this game. On the other side, Notre Dame is hoping that junior Brandon Wimbush can harness his obvious talent and become a more accurate passer this season. Despite departures on the offensive line, the Fighting Irish are still strong up front and will provide Wimbush with time to work in the pocket as well as room to run.

If Wimbush plays well in this game, Notre Dame appears to have a solid enough cast on both sides of the football to win on home soil. Patterson’s cast is a bit more unknown, but all signs point towards this Michigan squad being the most talented and ready to break through of any during the tumultuous Harbaugh era. With everything going on in Columbus, OH recently, I think the ornery Wolverines coach sees an opportunity to pounce. Expect Michigan to play disciplined football on Saturday evening and steal one in South Bend.

My Pick: 27-24 Michigan

Versatile Willy’s Take: Notre Dame 31 Michigan 21

#8 Miami (FL) vs. #25 LSU [game in Arlington, TX] (Sunday, 7:30 PM ET)

With no regular season NFL games this week and a long holiday weekend to worth with, college football will take center stage on Sunday evening as well. The annual College Football Kickoff Game at Jerry’s World will feature Mark Richt’s talented Miami squad against an LSU team that some pundits think could turn the SEC West on its head this season. That is, if a tremendously difficult schedule doesn’t turn LSU’s season on its head. Neutral site affairs are normally difficult to pick, and with both schools being relatively close to the Dallas area, the atmosphere shouldn’t favor either side too heavily.

One of the reasons that LSU is being touted as a potential giant killer is because of the gift they received at the quarterback position earlier in the year. Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow gives the Tigers a presence behind center that can fully utilize the talent that LSU typically possesses on the outside. Burrow’s arm and ability to use his legs would work well in any system, but Ed Orgeron will need to let things happen. Burrow is better than anything the Tigers had in the cupboard prior to his arrival and a longer leash will be required to keep everyone happy. In this game, Burrow will go toe to toe with Miami’s Malik Rosier, who was great through the first 10 games of the 2017 campaign but was benchworthy in the last three. If Malik is a freak in the good sense of the word, he’ll put a lot of pressure on an LSU secondary that is only lockdown on one side of the field.

While Burrow gives the Tigers something they haven’t had in a long time, it remains to be seen whether Coach Orgeron will force a style offensively that doesn’t maximize his quarterback’s abilities. Meanwhile, Mark Richt gives his players every opportunity to prove themselves, so Malik Rosier should feel confident that his fate rests in his own hands. That kind of freedom is very helpful to players, especially a senior that has experienced success in the past. While I’d love to see a former Buckeye make the most of his shot, I see the Hurricanes being a bit too much for LSU in this one.

My Pick: 34-28 Miami (FL)

Versatile Willy’s Take: Miami (FL) 42 LSU 17

#20 Virginia Tech at #19 Florida State (Monday, 8 PM ET)

The somewhat toxic culture at Florida State that existed near the end of Jimbo Fisher’s tenure in Tallahassee seems to have subsided thanks to Willie Taggart’s infectious energy, but the jury is definitely still out on whether the man who has yet to spend more than four consecutive years at the same school is truly the right person for the job. A good indicator will be how Taggart’s Seminoles respond to playing a disciplined, albeit young Virginia Tech team that seems poised to develop well under Justin Fuente.

With talented running backs in Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick leading the backfield and the unpredictable yet supremely talented Deondre Francois behind center, Coach Taggart appears to have a ready-cast to run his preferred style of offense. Expect a heavy dose of the running game from Florida State even though Virginia Tech’s experience on a defense that was stout last season resides primarily on the line. This, coupled with a Virginia Tech offense that is green and may take some time to gel, should result in a low scoring game that could be decided by one or two missed assignments on defense.

One would think a defensive struggle would favor Virginia Tech, which has well respected defensive coordinator Bud Foster calling the shots on that side of the ball, but intangibles will play a role in this game as well. Although I’m not entirely sold on Willie Taggart as the long term answer at Florida State, I do like his intensity and positive attitude and he has quickly changed the culture there. There’s a true difference between “rah-rah” motivation and the kind of positive affirmation that actually makes players work harder for you, and I think that’s what you’ll see in this game. Florida State will hang on to win in Willie Taggart’s debut at home.

My Pick: 24-19 Florida State

Versatile Willy’s Take: Virginia Tech 35 Florida State 31

5 To Flip To

Mississippi vs. Texas Tech [game in Houston] (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

The Rebels are again bowl ineligible, but will take personal satisfaction in the little things. First on the agenda: putting Red Raiders head coach Kliff Kingsbury squarely on the hot seat after just one game.

#23 Texas vs. Maryland [game in Landover, MD] (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

Remember what happened when these two teams met in the season opener last year? Yea, well, it could happen again. And most people would be just as shocked.

Washington State at Wyoming (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

The Cowboys already have a game under their belt and Washington State has been known to seemingly not show up in a couple of games per year under Mike Leach. Wyoming have the ability to take advantage if this happens.

Louisville vs. #1 Alabama [game in Orlando] (Saturday, 8 PM ET)

Around The Corn isn’t really part of the mainstream media, so I’m not required to list this game as one of the “top to watch” this weekend. There’s a good chance this one will be a blowout and no one outside of the state of Alabama will be watching by the fourth quarter.

Navy at Hawaii (Saturday, 11 PM ET)

It takes a lot of discipline to travel to Hawaii and focus on anything other than the beaches, weather and general vibe of the island you’re on, which is one of the reasons Aloha Stadium used to be one of the tougher places in the country to win a football game as the visiting team. But if there’s anyone who can do that successfully, it’s the future leaders of our Navy.

In the past, I’ve asked readers to let me know if they’d like to be guests on Around The Corn to make weekly college football picks. And while that invite still stands (email kbecks@aroundthecorn.com or message me on Facebook or Twitter if interested), the truth is that I’m basically asking friends and family on a weekly basis. Writing is a passion of mine, as is commenting on sports. But sharing those two passions with others are what has always made this worthwhile. So tell me what you think of the site and let me know what could be done better, or what would make you come back without prompting. I’d really appreciate it.

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