College football season has finally returned and with it comes all the requisite fan excitement about how many games the Hoos will win this year. While these enthusiastic times can be enrapturing it’s important that we remember a universal truth: Virginia is going to be fighting an uphill battle against expectations this year. The sooner we can accept that there will be more than a few losses for the Hoos this year, the sooner we can move on to the real joy of college football: gambling. While a slew of FBS v. FCS games leave us with a short slate of games from which to pick, that’s no excuse to take the week off and we’ve got just the guide you need to start the season on a winning note.
Friday, September 1
Gametime: 9:30pm, CBS Sports Network
Spread: Boston College -2.5
Breakdown: Did you know BC actually won a bowl game last year? Seriously. It was called the Quick Lane Bowl and they played Maryland and everything. I was amazed too. Even more impressive, they made a bowl game without ever scoring more than 21 points in ACC play. In their eight conference games last year the Eagles scored: 14 (L), 0 (L), 10 (L), 20 (L), 21 (W), 7 (L), 7 (L), and 17 (W) en route a 2-6 ACC record. If possible, this BC team may actually be worse offensively as they lost their starting quarterback from last year and have yet to name a replacement. Meanwhile, Northern Illinois is coming off of a 5-7 disappointment, but the Huskies won four of their final five games and Head Coach Rod Carey has led them to at least eight wins in his other seasons at the helm. Add in home field advantage and this looks like the recipe for an upset.
The Pick: Northern Illinois +2.5
Saturday, September 2
Gametime: 12pm, ESPN
Spread: Clemson -39.5
Breakdown: No one has any idea who actually plays for Clemson anymore. Deshaun Watson? Gone. Mike Williams? Gone. Jordan Leggett, Cordrea Tankersely, Ben Boulware, Wayne Gallman, Artavis Scott? All gone. With that much roster turnover and the inherent complacency that could come with winning a national title, expect the Tigers to start a little slow before cruising to victory in the second half. Clemson wins, but not by 40.
The Pick: Kent State +39.5
Gametime: 12:20pm, ACCN
Spread: North Carolina -11.5
Breakdown: Mitch Trubisky has left Chapel Hill for what will likely be a miserable season in Chicago, and in his place steps senior transfer Brandon Harris. Harris was a top-100 recruit coming out high school before spending the past few seasons languishing in LSU’s unimaginative offense. While he’s failed to live up to his potential of yet, his incredible athleticism should be a great fit for Larry Fedora’s up-tempo system. New California coach Justin Wilcox has a defensive background, but he’ll have his hands full in his first game in charge and a noon start for a west coast team doesn’t help.
The Pick: North Carolina -11.5
Gametime: 7:30pm, FOX
Spread: Louisville -25
Breakdown: Technically this is a neutral site game as the two teams will take the field at the Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis but Purdue fans should be able to establish a home-field advantage, if there are any of them left. The Boilermakers would probably need to have about half of those fans on the field with them though to have an actual chance in this contest. Purdue lost their final seven games last season and haven’t won more than three games since 2012!!! Louisville, on the other hand, still has Lamar Jackson. He won the Heisman. This could get ugly.
The Pick: Louisville -25
#3 Florida State Seminoles vs. #1 Alabama Crimson Tide
Gametime: 8pm, ABC
Spread: Alabama -7
Breakdown: This is by far the marquee matchup of the weekend and probably one of the three to five best games we’ll see all season. The Seminoles enter the contest as the clear favorites in the ACC and legitimate national title contenders. Florida State will rely on preseason Heisman hopeful Deondre Francois on offense and possibly the country’s most talented defense anchored by All-American safety Derwin James and three highly-touted starters from the state of Virginia in Josh Sweat, Derrick Nnadi, and Levonta Taylor. Despite all that, Bama remains Bama. The Tide have their own talented true sophomore quarterback in Jalen Hurts, the nation’s hardest-hitting running back in Bo Scarborough, and no team starts a season faster than a Nick Saban team. In their past five season openers Bama beat USC by 46, Wisconsin by 18, West Virginia by 10, Virginia Tech by 25 and Michigan by 27. UVa might not have five wins that impressive in program history. Don’t bet against the Tide.
The Pick: Alabama -7
Sunday, September 3
#21 Virginia Tech Hokies vs. #22 West Virginia Mountaineers
Gametime: 7:30pm, ABC
Spread: Virginia Tech -4
Breakdown: Ugh. Add in the fact that this game is being played in the state of Maryland and there really are zero redeeming factors. In a matchup between two high-powered offenses from low-quality towns I’ll take the team with the more experienced QB. Virginia Tech is starting a true freshman while West Virginia trots out a redshirt junior in Florida transfer Will Grier, who threw for 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions with the Gators in 2015. Mountaineers it is.
The Pick: West Virginia +4
Monday, September 4
Gametime: 8pm, ESPN
Spread: Tennessee -3
Breakdown: College football’s opening weekend comes to a close with two teams who know how to infuriate a fanbase. Georgia Tech’s methodical triple-option style has made them a perennial bowl participant and ACC contender, but failed to really elevate them to college football’s upper echelon. In contrast, Tennessee may be the most talented team in the country that can never win its own division. Even when everything seems to line up perfectly for the Vols, as it did last year, they find a way to blow it with inexplicable losses to the likes of South Carolina and Vanderbilt. The triple-option may not be flashy but it works and it’s a pain to prepare for, especially early in the season. Georgia Tech prevails.
The Pick: Georgia Tech +3
Games with No Spread
Wake Forest vs. Presbyterian
Syracuse vs. Central Connecticut
Virginia Cavaliers vs. William & Mary (please, please, please don’t lose this)
#18 Miami vs. Bethune-Cookman
Pittsburgh vs. Youngstown State
Duke vs. North Carolina Central