At long last, the college football season is here. Sure, we had two big FBS games last week, and while one of them featured Sunshine State rivals Florida and Miami, it was more of an appetizer than a meal. The real first weekend of the season begins on Thursday, and you know why this week is real and last week wasn’t? Because last week I didn’t write The Six Pack.
This week, your favorite college football picks column is back, and I hope you’re ready to #TrustTheProcess because it’s time to start making some money. We start the 2019 journey in Jerry World.
Games of the Week
No. 16 Auburn (-3.5) vs. No. 11 Oregon — Arlington, Texas: We’ve been a bit spoiled with huge matchups on opening weekend the last few years. This year, this is the only game between ranked teams we’re getting, but that’s fine. We’ll take it. We’ll also be taking the favorite. Oregon has received a lot of love this offseason, and I get it. Somebody in the Pac-12 has to win the conference, Mario Cristobal has increased the talent level and Justin Herbert could be the first quarterback taken in the NFL Draft next spring. All of those things could result in a Pac-12 title for the Ducks in 2019, but I don’t think it’ll result in a cover against Auburn to open the season.
Listen, we can talk narratives all we want, but I’m more interested in facts. And the fact is that, since the 2010 season, the SEC and Pac-12 have played 14 games against one another. The SEC is 10-4 ATS in those 14 games, including 6-0 ATS in games at neutral sites. One of those games happened to be Auburn’s win over Oregon in the 2010 national title game. That game has no bearing on this one, but until the Pac-12 shows it’s capable of performing better against SEC teams, I’m not going out on a limb for it. Auburn 31, Oregon 23
Louisville (+20.5) vs. No. 9 Notre Dame: The final game of the weekend will take place on Labor Day nigt in Louisville, where Notre Dame finds itself as nearly a three-touchdown favorite against the Cardinals. The Irish are coming off a terrific season that saw them reach the College Football Playoff, but my concern with them here is there are a lot of key pieces to replace on both sides of the ball. Louisville was nowhere near as good, but it’s an experienced team with 10 returning starters on the defensive side of the ball.
Now we can debate the merits of 10 returning starters from a defense that allowed 44.1 points per game last season, but there are other factors at play here. One being that, when your coach doesn’t seem to give a damn, it tends to affect your team’s performance, and there was a lot of that with Louisville. I think a home opener with a new coach in primetime against a major opponent will bring a jolt of energy to the Cardinals on Monday night. Not one big enough to pull off the upset, but enough to keep the Cards from being embarrassed. Notre Dame 34, Louisville 17
Lock of the Week
USC (-13.5) vs. Fresno State: I understand the hesitation about taking USC as a favorite after last season, but I worry we might be overthinking this line. Yes, Fresno State was good last season. In fact, it’s been good the last couple years, going 22-6 since Jeff Tedford (a coach who doesn’t get nearly enough credit) took over in 2017. But almost everybody from those two teams is gone. Fresno returns nine total starters this season, including only three on offense. Gone is Marcus McMaryion, and he’s joined by KeeSean Johnson, most of the offensive line and a considerable portion of the defense’s most significant contributors. Then there’s USC, a team that vastly underperformed last season but will be the most talented team on the field by far while debuting a brand-new offense. USC will look so good in this game that people will start claiming that it’s back come Sunday morning. USC 38, Fresno State 17
Thursday Night Game of the Week
UCLA (+2.5) at Cincinnati: I’ll start by saying that if you want to take UCLA on the money line to win straight up, I don’t think it’s a bad play at all. I’ll take the lesser payout and the better odds of the cover, however. Whatever way you want to go, the Bruins are being overlooked. Chip Kelly’s first season was terrible, and it included a loss to these same Bearcats, but the Bruins coach was starting over with a program that needed a reboot. This UCLA team is very talented, and while Cincinnati went 11-2 last season, advanced metrics suggest it was a team playing above its head. I think we see things begin to level out on Thursday night. UCLA 31, Cincinnati 27
Over of the Week
Ole Miss at Memphis (Over 67.5): Last year, Ole Miss allowed 36.2 points per game. Memphis checked in at a slightly more respectable 31.9 points per game. Neither played a whole lot of defense nor have they played much the last few years. They’ve done a whole lot of scoring, however, as the Rebels finished with 33.9 points per game on offense and the Tigers scored 42.9. These are two good offenses combining with two bad defenses on what should be a hot day in Memphis that sees defenders huffing and puffing. I’m surprised this total isn’t in the 70s, but since it isn’t, let’s take advantage. Ole Miss 38, Memphis 35
Under of the Week
Boise State at Florida State (Under 53) — Jacksonville, Florida: It’s always possible I’m misreading the situation, but when I saw the total, I did a bit of a double-take as it just felt too high. I see this game being more of a 24-21 type of slugfest than a capable display of offense. Florida State’s defense should improve this year, and while Boise State has most of its offensive line back, it replaces a lot of key skill guys, including its QB. On the other side of the ball, I would hope that FSU’s OL improves in 2019, but I’m not ready to rely on it to move the ball consistently. All of which leads me to believe this will be a close, ugly affair. One that’s too close to judge on the spread, but not against the total. Florida State 24, Boise State 21
SportsLine Pick of the Week
Houston at No. 4 Oklahoma: Our Sunday night game takes place in Norman, where the defending Big 12 champion Sooners find themselves as 23-point favorites against Dana Holgorsen and Houston. I have a play available for this game, and if you want to find out what it is head over to SportsLine.