SEC football? Sure, fine, whatever. The Big 10? Booooooring. Pac-12 After Dark? Zzzzzzzzzz.
Give me MACtion. Give me the Fun Belt. Give me AACtion. (Not sure if that last one is a thing but it should be.)
Granted, last year was weird, but the one sustainable thing we can takeaway from it is that there are several Group of 5 teams that can hang with anyone in the nation. The rise of teams like Coastal Carolina, Louisiana, and Liberty as well as Cincinnati going toe-to-toe with Georgia in the Peach Bowl proved that. Whether it is sustainable or not has yet to be determined, but they at least provide some intrigue leading into the season.
Disclaimer: I am making educated guesses as far as who would be favored in a game. So Coastal Carolina is likely to be favored over Kansas, therefore that’s not, by its very definition, an upset. Neither is Cincinnati vs…anyone. They play Indiana and Notre Dame, and sure they may be underdogs in one or both of those games. But let’s be real, they are a Top 10 team. Them beating anyone outside of Alabama/Ohio St./Clemson should not be considered an upset. Beyond that, if you think I am playing too fast and loose with the term “upset” then go ahead and @ me.
10. Ball St. at Penn St. (Sept. 11): This might honestly be a pander to a couple BSU alums that I know (Chirp, Chirp) but last year’s MAC Champs bring an all-conference quarterback in Drew Plitt and a very good receiving corps to Happy Valley for a game that Penn St. has sandwiched between the season opener at Wisconsin and at home against Auburn. Penn St. should be better than they were last year, but if Bad Sean Clifford shows up against what was an opportunistic secondary last year, the Cardinals have a chance.
9. Mississippi St. at Memphis (Sept. 18): Another Power 5 team I expect to be much improved from last year is Mississippi St. Year Two under Mike Leach expects to go better than Year One, especially if quarterback Will Rogers continues his development from last season and the defense (which I think is severely underrated) plays like it did last year. But Memphis is no slouch (though they are breaking in a new quarterback, likely Arizona transfer Grant Gunnell) and this is a road game for the Bulldogs. Being married to a MSU alum, I am legally obligated to say I think Mississippi St. will win, but it could be interesting.
8. Appalachian St. at Miami (Sept. 11): This is mostly a “right place at the right time” opportunity for App St. I think Miami has more talent, but they will be coming off what is likely to be a bloodbath at the hands of Alabama. They may be looking to take out some aggression on Appalachian St. On the other hand…maybe Miami just isn’t that good. Their defense is suspect and App St. has a pension for punching above their weight. (Hello Michigan fans.)
7. Western Michigan at Michigan (Sept. 4): Speaking of Michigan, they open their season at home against an in-state foe who averaged over 40 points a game last season while they break in a new defensive coordinator, a new quarterback and a ton of pressure on Jim Harbaugh to succeed. That doesn’t sound fun at all.
The best quarterback on the field plays for Western Michigan (Kaleb Eleby) so that gives them a chance in this and pretty much any other game they play this year. Seriously, between Ball St., Buffalo, Kent. St and Western Michigan, the MAC is going to be real fun this year.
6. South Carolina at East Carolina (Sept. 11): This is the part where I might sound out of my mind, but I am weirdly high on East Carolina. (As opposed to just being high.) The offense averaged 30 points per game last year and I think quarterback Holton Ahlens is a legit pro prospect. If the defense comes around, there is no reason they can’t make some noise in the AAC.
They host a South Carolina squad that is undergoing a major transition from Will Muschamp to Shane Beamer. Beamer seems to really embrace Gamecock culture and I think over time they are going to improve. They may be ripe for the picking in Week Two. Maybe South Carolina using stud RB Kevin Harris to pound on the Pirate defense will be enough for a Gamecock victory. But if it’s a shootout, I don’t like their chances against anybody.
5. Indiana at Western Kentucky (Sept. 25): I wrote at length about how I would take the Under on Indiana this year and that assumes a victory over WKU. While that is still likely, I will simply point out that:
A. WKU brought in a coach and quarterback from Houston Baptist University, a high-scoring outfit last year, and
B. This game is at Western Kentucky and sandwiched between games against Cincinnati and at Penn St.
I’m just saying….maybe take the over and the points. Indiana is much improved, but not so much that they can just dismiss a team like Western Kentucky. A 38-35 type of game is definitely not out of the question.
4. Utah St. at Washington St. (Sept. 4): This is more a pick against Washington St. than it is for Utah St. I’m not sure the Aggies are going to be real good necessarily, as they bring in former Arkansas St. head coach Blake Anderson and quarterback Logan Bonner and will have a bit of an adjustment period. But the Cougars also have a track record of laying the occasional non-conference egg. This year they are breaking in a new quarterback (Tennessee transfer Jarrett Guarantano) so there will be an adjustment period. And this is Week One so…
3. SMU at TCU (Sept. 25): SMU is another team I am high on if you have read previous posts, while TCU is a team that I am not as high on as a lot of people. So this is kind of a personal perfect storm. I could be way off, but is TCU consistent enough that they couldn’t lose to the likes of SMU, West Virginia or Kansas St.? I’m not so sure. I don’t really think there is much of a home field advantage as the two schools are neighbors. This is mostly a gut feel as I am so high on SMU.
2. Nevada at California (Sept. 4): While it would be easy to just put “See Utah St. vs. Washington St.” I will just say that those Mountain West vs. Mediocre at Best Pac-12 matchups on Week One are always dangerous. And Nevada is a pretty good football team returning a possible first-rounder at quarterback in Carson Strong and 1,000-yard receiver Romeo Dobbs. Cal has a good quarterback of their own in Chase Garbers, I just don’t know enough about their supporting cast at this point to say definitively they are better than the Wolf Pack.
1. Louisiana at Texas (Sept. 4): I’ll be honest, I think Texas is going to be very good this year, but here are a couple “Week One” observations from years past:
A. Louisiana beat a ranked Big 12 team last year in Week One (Iowa St.) so will not be fazed going against the Longhorns.
B. Texas lost to Maryland the first game of the season twice in a row, so they aren’t exactly fast starters. And have a new coach and quarterback this season.
Like I said, I do think if the Longhorns run Bijan Robinson as much as they should, then they will win the game. But much stranger things have happened.