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College Capper: College Football Picks for Week 1

Greg Vara

Vara is the lead golf writer at RotoWire. He was named the 2013 FSWA Golf Writer of the Year. In addition to producing the weekly preview and the bulk of the draft kit content, Vara participates in Yahoo!'s "Experts Picks" where he routinely dominates. He also picks college football games against the spread in his "College Capper" article.

Welcome back to another year of the College Capper. Is it just me, or is the hype machine a little slow to start on this college football season? Perhaps the absence of proven superstars is playing a part. After all, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy have moved on. Sure, there is plenty of talent out there, but nothing close to the level that we had entering last year. That's not to say this season won't be as exciting as last year, it's just that the established talent isn't there – yet.

Less is known entering this season than perhaps any season over the past decade. The big questions surround Alabama's ability to defend their title and Boise State's ability to crash the BCS Championship. On a lesser level, the Heisman race is wide-open. Can Terrelle Pryor take the momentum from the end of last season and turn into college football's next mega-star? Can Kellen Moore make a run if his team goes undefeated? There are certainly more questions than answers at this point, and that's exactly how it should be. Now, without further adieu, I will again attempt to answer some of those questions, one week at a time.

The basic premise of this column will stay the same this season. As a refresher, I've highlighted the different sections you'll see on a weekly basis.

The avoid list:

To recap; this is where you are going to find teams that I am avoiding due to inconsistency or a general rut I seem to be in with a given team. Obviously since there have been no games played yet, no team is on my poop list – yet.

On the radar:

This space is reserved for teams that I am having trouble with, but I've yet to give up on them. Same goes for this list, no games yet, no one is on the radar.

Weekly recap: In this section I will recap my ATS record from the previous week. I will include the previous weeks' record and units won/lost along with season to date record and units won/lost.

Record: 0-0

Record YTD: 0-0

Units: 0

Units YTD: 0

Best Win: This section will contain the best win of the previous week. It might be the easiest win or it might be the one where I felt I was really fortunate to win.

Worst Loss: This will generally contain the toughest loss of the week, not necessarily the largest margin of defeat.

Take a Note:
This section will contain my general thoughts on the previous week and the state of college football in general. I'll often have insights into teams in here that might come in handy down the road.

Before we get started, I want to note that since we are dealing with a new season here, there isn't much to work on. During the opening week I'll pay more attention to the line rather than the teams. Sure, we can use certain things such as how a team finished last year, but unless the bulk of the starters are back, it doesn't mean much. How the line sits, may be your best chance to cash in during week one.

Week One:


Southern Mississippi at South Carolina: Two teams known to play some defense and the classic “offense ahead of the defense” scenario make for a nice under play here. The number is in that dangerous mid-40s range, which I usually steer clear from, but considering it's week one, I'll give it a try.

Total: under 46 (1)

Marshall at Ohio State: This line opened at 28.5 and it hasn't moved. That leads me to believe the odds makers are steering us towards the dog. There's something about that hook on a 28-point spread that makes it hard to pull the trigger on the favorite, which is all the more reason to take the Buckeyes here. It's the home opener for what should be a great season at OSU, under the lights, the Horseshoe will be jumping.

Side: Ohio State -28.5 (1)

USC at Hawaii: In a preseason full of questions, perhaps no team will be more of a mystery than the Trojans this year. A new head coach in the mix and the loss of bowl eligibility this season could make this team extremely unstable. A trip to Hawaii to open the season could prove disastrous if these kids don't have their heads on straight. USC is capable of covering this large line, but will take a solid effort from beginning to end. One thing about Lane Kiffin's teams over the past few years, they always bring the effort, which was proven time and time again last year at Tennessee. In the end, a solid running game and a mismatch in the trenches will lead to a lopsided opening affair.

Side: USC -21 (1)

Minnesota at Middle Tennessee State: Two weeks ago I was salivating over this one. I was all over Middle Tenn. State and there was no turning back. Then they lost a small piece to their offense, their quarterback and now everything has changed. What was to be a coming out party for the Blue Raiders has turned into an almost impossible task. For starters, the Gopher players have to be a little peeved that they were dogs in the first place. Sure, the Gophers aren't the cream of the Big-10 crop, but this is Middle Tennessee State. Now, throw in a new QB and you have a situation where the Gophers cannot afford to lose. In the end this game boils down to this: the Gophers have a fifth-year starter behind center this week and the Blue Raiders have a kid that up until last week, had no idea he'd be playing this week.

Side: Minnesota – 3 (1)


Arizona at Toledo: With many key starters returning on offense, there's a good chance Arizona picks up where it left off last season. Toledo on the other hand would like to forget last season and start anew. Unfortunately for the Rockets, their defense struggled last year and it looks like they'll also pick up where they left off. I'm not sure the Wildcats are the type of team that can lay more than two touchdowns on the road, but I am confident that they'll get their on the offensive side of the ball. Toledo will have trouble stopping the Wildcat attack, but the Rockets should also be able to move enough to stay competitive, for a while anyway.

Total: Over 60 (1)


Texas at Rice: This is strictly a line play. This line opened at 28 and it's moved north of 30. Rice is listed as the home team, but this game will be played at a neutral site, which in reality means Texas will have the advantage in the stands.

Side: Texas -30.5 (1)

Purdue at Notre Dame: With coach Brian Kelly at the helm, the Golden Domers are bound to be better this season. The question is, how much better? While some may think I am making a giant assumption that they'll be better, one only needs to look at Kelly's track record to see that he wins wherever he goes. With that said, I don't think he'll be restoring Notre Dame's program to the glory days in one year, but we should see an improvement. Purdue on the other hand could be in for a long year. The Boilermakers have lost a couple backs already and they are trying to break in a new QB this season. They might get it figured out before conference play starts, but I expect a tough road in the first few weeks of the season.

Side: Notre Dame -11 (1)

Connecticut at Michigan: A strange situation here as the Huskies enter the Big House as three-point dogs even though they are predicted by some to come out on top in the Big East. Sure, the Big East isn't quite as strong this year, but Michigan is a middle of the pack Big Ten team. The problem is that Michigan is extremely hard to predict. One week the offense resembles some of Rich Rod's best from years past at WVU, the next week they resemble Indiana. The Huskies are in a tough spot here as they rarely find themselves in an environment like the one they'll face this week, but their ability to run the ball and stop the run will take a lot of pressure off the other facets of their game and lead to an outright win. The heat is already on Rodriguez and a slow start on Saturday will have all 100,000 fans in an uproar, which will only make things more difficult on the field.

Side: UConn +3 (1)

Kentucky at Louisville: Louisville is once again under new leadership, but unlike the previous regime change, this time the new coach inherits a mess. Kentucky, on the other hand, was left in good shape for their new head coach and that will be the difference this week. Louisville will need a few weeks at minimum to put things together and although this is a rivalry game, and the Cardinals are at home, they just won't have enough to come out on top.

Side: Kentucky -3 (1)

UCLA at Kansas State: How much do you believe in Rick Neuheisel? UCLA has certainly improved under Neuheisel's leadership, but the Bruins are in a tough spot here. The program looks to be in good shape this year, but they've suffered some key losses up front already this season and that's something that will be hard to overcome in a tough environment like Manhattan, Kansas. The Wildcats aren't likely to be world beaters this season, but they'll have enough on Saturday to get the win. This game is also a line play in that it opened at UCLA -2.5 and it's moved to KSU -1.5.

Side: KSU -1.5 (1)

Washington State at Oklahoma State: Washington State is bound to be better this season than last, but then again, how could it not be? While the Cougars have some tools in place to improve this season, we likely won't see those results until they get into conference play. Oklahoma State should again be in the middle of the pack of the Big 12, but that's actually a pretty good spot. On talent alone, OSU has enough to cover this number, but factor in the weather, which is likely to be just a tad hotter than the kids from Washington are used to, and we have the makings of a run away in the second half.

Side: OSU -14.5 (1)

Oregon State at TCU: No one can dispute the success of the Horned Frogs over the past few years, and even though they're likely to be one of the best teams in the nation again this season, I don't think they are the type of team that can cover this number. TCU is capable of blowing out lesser teams, but Oregon State is no pushover. TCU will be in the lead most of the way, but Oregon State will stay in striking distance all day long..

Side: Oregon State +13.5 (1)


Boise State at Virginia Tech: It's rare to have a game during the opening week of the season that could have major implications on the entire college football season, but that's what we have here. If Boise State wins this game, there's a decent chance we'll see the Broncos in the National Championship game. This is without a doubt, the toughest test they'll have all year. A loss, however, and they're off the radar and won't be seen again this year. Virginia Tech on the other hand will have plenty of opportunities to bounce back throughout the season if they happen to slip up here. That doesn't mean the Hokies will be taking this game lightly though. This is a huge spot for both teams as the entire college football nation will be paying close attention.

For me, this game boils down to one question; how far have the Broncos come over the past five years? I use that time frame because it was five years ago that Boise State traveled to Georgia and got destroyed. That Boise State team was considered to be pretty strong, just like this one, yet when they were faced with a BCS conference power on the road, they crumbled. Since then, the Broncos have had their fare share of big wins, but the majority of those wins have come against other non-BCS conference schools. The reason this is important is that there's no way to tell if this Boise State team deserves to be ranked where they are. Their preseason ranking is due in large part to their win over a solid TCU program last winter - a solid, but non-BCS, TCU program. That's where we run into a problem. Just how good are these non-BCS teams? My gut tells me that without a bunch of factors in their favor, mainly teams overlooking them, the non-BCS teams would have little success against the BCS teams.

Although Boise State is clearly the class of the WAC, I don't like its chances against a very good Virginia Tech team, away from home. If this game were in Blacksburg, I'd have little to no hesitation in picking Virginia Tech. Since this game will be played at a “neutral” site, I'll give a slight advantage to the Hokies in this one.

Side: Virginia Tech +2.5