The time has come for weekly embarrassment yet again. I have few to blame but myself, as it was I who pitched the idea of an article on the best five games to watch every weekend (complete with predictions) just two years ago.
The college football season has at long last arrived, and with it, this weekly column. As we embark together on the journey that is the 2018 season, I hope to shed some light on the very best the NCAA has to offer on the turf.
Hopefully (knock on wood) I manage a .500 record as a prognosticator this season, and maybe we can collectively make some money on some of this season’s games. Here are your college five.
5 - Florida Atlantic Owls vs. (7) Oklahoma Sooners - Oklahoma the 21 point favorite
This game holds maybe the most compelling combination of quarterbacks facing off in week one. In the Owls corner, star of the Netflix show Last Chance U, De’Andre Johnson has returned to a crowded competition that includes freshman Chris Robinson and transfer Rafe Peavey. Johnson clocked a mere three attempts before his season-ending blood clot injury in 2017, giving Peavey and Robinson plenty of opportunity at the starting spot.
On the other side of the quarterback controversy, Oklahoma has Kyler Murray on loan from the Oakland Athletics. Murray looks to be the perfect fit for the Sooners system, but question marks at center for the Sooners could hobble their offense.
The wrinkle here, in a game between two souped-up offenses, is FAU’s sneaking good pass rush. The Owls tied for 16th with 38 sacks last season, a poor matchup for a Sooners squad still needing a definitive number one center.
Prediction: Oklahoma wins 45-36
4 - (14) Michigan Wolverines vs. (12) Notre Dame Fighting Irish - Notre Dame the 1 point favorite
A coin flip game will be decided right where these teams love to play: in the trenches. Michigan can bully the Irish with returning studs Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich, who recorded a combined 14 sacks and 30.5 tackles for loss last season.
In a clash devoid of inspired quarterback play the offensive standouts also sit on the Michigan sideline. Karan Higdon and Chris Evans are a perfect one-two punch that tallied 18 total scores in ‘17. Michigan can outlast the Irish in a physical, smashmouth outing.
Prediction: Michigan wins 24-19
3 - Louisville Cardinals vs. (1) Alabama Crimson Tide - Alabama the 24.5 point favorite
Do not buy into the significant number; this is about to be a tight game. The Cardinals return a top level receiving corps in Jaylen Smith, Dez Fitzpatrick and Smith Dawkins (they combined for 147 receptions in ‘17) to surround quarterback Juwan Pass, who will face down an Alabama defense missing eight starters from last season.
Bama will also be playing co-starting quarterbacks in Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa. Clearly, the Tide will be working out some kinks on offense and defense against a Louisville machine that ranked 3rd in total yardage.
Prediction: Alabama wins 35-24
2 - (8) Miami Hurricanes vs. (25) LSU Tigers - Miami the 3.5 point favorite
The perfect matchup for a wild contest; the Turnover chain meets Death Valley’s finest. The opportunistic Hurricanes defense should be able to grab a few turnovers against Ohio State transfer quarterback Joe Burrow, but the star power on LSU’s defense will be in the driver’s seat for this matchup.
Linebacker Devin White will anchor the middle with his 13.5 sacks from last season. The backend of Greedy Williams at cornerback and Grant Delpit at safety is the best defensive back duo in college football and accounted for 98 tackles last season. In front, Rashard Lawrence is a disruptive force to be reckoned with.
There are too many NFL players on this defense for Miami to contend with, and definitely enough to compensate for any offensive shortcomings from LSU.
Prediction: LSU wins 21-16
1 - (6) Washington Huskies vs. (9) Auburn Tigers - Auburn the 2.5 point favorite
Why is the hate for Jake Browning, signal caller for the Huskies, so visceral? Despite passing for over 2,500 yards every season and single-digit interceptions in the past two, the downside to Browning is the effect pressure has on his mental timer; forcing poor throws and early launches.
His tenuous production plays into how tantalizingly close this matchup could be, as Auburn pulled down quarterbacks 37 times in ‘17 and cold throw Browning into an early funk.
Browning could just as easily be off to the races after a finding a rhythm in the first drive against the Tigers. The X-factor will be running back Myles Gaskin who topped 1,000 yards last season. Finding a rhythm for him will give Browning easy throws off play-action. Gaskin’s smooth running sets the tone early for the Huskies.
Prediction: Huskies win 31-28