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College Capper: Picking Games 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. I decided to change the format this year. As someone who often scourers the Internet for information on the weekly college football slate, I know that most often the best articles are the ones that get to the point and offer information and opinions on as many games as possible.

With that in mind, I am scrapping the lists, radar, best win, worst win and cutting to the chase sections from last year's Capper. More games each week, sometimes with less analysis, but more insight in total. Hopefully, you'll find the change beneficial.

Before we get to the picks this week, I need to explain how the games will be organized. The games will be broken into three sections. The first will be labeled, the "cream of the Crop," as you can probably guess, these will be my best picks for the week.

The second section will be labeled, "The Best of the Rest." These are games that I have an opinion on, but hypothetically, if I were laying down money myself, I wouldn't necessarily put my money where my mouth is.

The final section will be labeled, "PASSing Thoughts." No, that's not a typo. The emphasis is on the word PASS, and you can probably figure out why. These are games I would avoid under normal circumstances, but they might be of interest to the masses. Typically, this section will feature games that involve top-25 teams that I just don't have a good read on.

As you might expect, Cream of the Crop picks will include more analysis, while the PASSing Thoughts will usually contain just a short blurb.

I'll track the records in all three categories all year, however, which should be interesting.

Without further adieu, let's get this party started ...


Cream of the Crop


Wisconsin vs. UNLV:
The hype is strong on the Badgers this season, and with good reason. Not only do they return a strong running attack, but they've added Russell Wilson as the signal caller. The Badgers have thrived over the past 15 years with system quarterbacks, but now they've got one who makes plays himself. Look for an early season statement here as the Badgers get off to a rousing start.

Side: Wisconsin -35.5

Mississippi State at Memphis:
Mississippi State closed last season with a brutal beating of the Michigan Wolverines in the Gator Bowl, and the Bulldogs will look to pick up where they left off last year when they face the Memphis Tigers on Thursday night. Although MSU was pretty impressive last season it remained under the radar until its bowl win over Michigan. That was months ago, however, and with all the preseason hype on Georgia, LSU and Alabama, the Bulldogs are again under the radar, which is exactly where I like them. Memphis is coming off a bad year and it doesn't look like it will get any better this year. Mississippi State isn't about to slip up in this spot and blow all the momentum from its bowl win last season.

Side: Mississippi State -28.5


Miami, Ohio at Missouri:
Smoke and mirrors, that's how Miami, Ohio, got through last season. Trust me, I watched this team play many times last year, and it rarely impressed me. The wins came in bunches late last season, but almost all were close and those results have a way of balancing out over time. These two teams met last year and the Tigers crushed the Red Hawks. Look for the same result this year.

Side: Missouri -19

South Carolina at East Carolina:
In case you forgot, East Carolina is the team that couldn't stop a Pop Warner football squad last year. The Pirates defense was non-existent, and though they've probably addressed some of their issues from last season, I doubt they've done enough work to prepare for what's coming their way this week. South Carolina is loaded this season, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Gamecocks put up a 50-spot this week.

Side: South Carolina -20.5
Total: Over 61

Boise State vs. Georgia at Atlanta:
I know it was many years ago, and I know that it should have no bearing on this game, but I can't get the image of Boise State's last trip to Athens out of my head. For those who don't remember, Boise State took a pretty good squad into Athens a few years back and got thumped. The Broncos have certainly come a long way since, but this might be their toughest test to date. It's one thing to take on a BCS conference team in a bowl game, it's another when the crowd heavily favors the home team as it will at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta for this one. Georgia has aspirations of an SEC title this year, and losing to a team from the Mountain West to open the season would signal this team isn't ready to take the next step.

Side: Georgia +3.5

Best of the Rest


North Texas at Florida International:
With the exception of a short stretch at season's end last year, North Texas was an absolute mess. Complicating matters for the Mean Green this season is that the man leading the team during that stretch is now gone. FIU, on the other hand, continues to improve each year and returns plenty of starters from last season, so expect a strong start. FIU went to North Texas last season and won, 34-10. Considering these two teams have gone in different directions since, expect a similar result, if not more lopsided in favor of FIU.

Side: FIU -14


TCU at Baylor:
TCU enters 2011 in an unfamiliar spot. The Horned Frogs won a BCS Bowl game to cap their 2010 season, and now they are the hunted instead of the hunters. Another problem is the team has been decimated by graduation. The Horned Frogs not only have to find a replacement for departed quarterback Andy Dalton, they also have to find replacements at several other spots. It might be a rough start to the 2011 season for the Horned Frogs. On the other side of the ball, Baylor enters 2011 with high expectations, well as high as they can be for a Baylor team. Although last season ended on a sour note, Baylor returns enough fire power, including all-world talent Robert Griffin III, which should lead to a fast start.

Side: Baylor +6

Minnesota at USC:
I was all over the Trojans in the match-up last year, and if not for Lane Kiffin attempting a two-point conversions after every score, I might have been on the right side. A different story this time around as the line is much bigger and the teams are a bit different. USC is probably better than it was a year ago, but the Gophers may be as well. They ended last season on a high note, and it looks like they've got a real coach on the sideline now. Expect the Gophers to hand tough in this one and pull out the cover.

Side: Minnesota +22.5

South Florida at Notre Dame:
The hype machine is in full force around South Bend this year. After a decent season, the expectations are higher for the Golden Domers. All signs point to a good year for the Fighting Irish, but I think Vegas may have set the number a bit high here. USF is a good team that looks to improve this year and is getting double-digits. USF has enough playmakers to keep this interesting for most of the game. If not, expect a back-door cover to get inside this number.

Side: USF +10

Colorado State at New Mexico:
New Mexico went 1-11 last season, but its record doesn't indicate just how bad of a season it was. There's no reason to think it will get much better this year, and Colorado State is laying less than a touchdown.

Side: Colorado State -6

Army at Northern Illinois:
The Huskies return nearly everyone from their offense this season, and Army is going to have its hands full this week. The Black Nights will need to put up at least 28 points to stay within this number, and I don't see that happening.

Side: Northern Illinois -10
Total: Over 54

PASSing Thoughts


Utah State at Auburn:
How quickly can the Tigers reload? Quickly enough for Utah State, but trouble lies ahead the following week.

Side: Auburn -21

Akron at Ohio State:
Is there a team more ready to get this season started than Ohio State? Akron finished the season 1-11 last year, and though the Zips stayed within the number five times last year, most of those ATS wins were in-conference.

Side: Ohio State -34

UCLA at Houston:
Case Keenum back in the mix, which makes all the difference in the world. This looked like a good spot for a bunch of points last season until Keenum went down early in the game. Expect the shootout that never was last year, to occur this year.

Total: Over 61.6

Rice at Texas:
This game marked the spot where people started to wonder about the Longhorns last season. Although they won the game, their inability to pull away from a bad Rice team was concerning. Don't expect a similar result this time around as the 'Horns should flex their muscles this week and get back to their old ways with a thrashing of the Owls.

Side: Texas -24

Tulsa at Oklahoma:
Although Tulsa returns a lot of starters from its 10-3 squad last year, the Golden Hurricane can expect to struggle this week in Norman. What concerns me about Tulsa is its lone trip into the Big 12 last season, which resulted in a 65-28 beating at the hands of Oklahoma State. Tulsa has an offense that will tear apart weaker competition, like it will see in C-USA, but it's a different story when facing a defense like it will see this week.

Side: Oklahoma -25

Oregon vs. LSU at Arlington, Texas:
Before all the drama in Baton Rouge, I was firmly on the side of the Tigers in this match-up at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Now I am not so sure. Still on the side of LSU, however, is the fact that the staff has had all offseason to prepare for the unique Oregon attack.

Side: LSU +1


Marshall at West Virginia:
Marshall went under in five of its final six games last season, and West Virginia had one of the best defenses in the country. Looks like an under to me.

Total: Under 51.5

SMU at Texas A&M:
A lot of distractions in College Station recently, plus a lot of hype for the Aggies. All of that could lead to a slow start. SMU keeps improving under June Jones, and the Mustangs have shown the ability to hang tough against better competition over the past couple seasons.

Side: SMU +16.5

Miami at Maryland:
You have to wonder how anyone on Miami can think about playing football right now. The program is in dire straights, and the starting quarterback is out for Week 1. Maryland, on the other hand, brought in coach Randy Edsall, which should bring some stability back to the program. Expect a solid efforts from the 'Terps in Week 1 and, at minimum, a cover.

Side: Maryland +5.5