College Football Week 1 Picks: Wisconsin vs Alabama, Texas at Notre Dame, Arizona State vs Texas A&M, Louisville vs Auburn, Plus More

September 4, 2015

By Brad Carroll

 

Finally, Saturday football is back, and all fans of the college game can rejoice knowing the sport we love will be around into the new year. We've already had a bunch of big games leading into the first Saturday of the season, and you can check out our Thursday preview and picks here and our Friday version here, but we all know this is the day that truly marks the arrival of college football.

 

For Saturday's openers, our four college football experts preview and pick against the spread No. 21 Stanford at Northwestern, Louisville vs. No. 6 Auburn, Virginia at No. 13 UCLA, BYU at Nebraska, Penn State at Temple, No. 15 Arizona State vs. Texas A&M, Texas at No. 11 Notre Dame and No. 20 Wisconsin vs. No. 3 Alabama. We'll be back Monday for the big Ohio State-Virginia Tech matchup as well, so make sure to bookmark the website and check us out often for news, analysis and picks. And it never hurts to follow us on Twitter, and to celebrate the college football season opening, we'll follow everyone back who follows us. It's win-win.

 

Now, on to the games.

 

No. 21 Stanford at Northwestern, 12 p.m., ESPN

The Spread: Stanford -12; Northwestern +12

 

Brad's Analysis: The Big Ten had an up-and-down opening day of the college football season Thursday night, as Michigan lost to Utah on the road while Minnesota had the ball with a chance, albeit a slim one, to upset No. 2 TCU at home before falling 23-17. Certainly the Michigan loss was disappointing, but Minnesota proved the middle-of-the-road conference teams won't be pushed around by outside leagues this year. That should give pause to those who see Stanford in this game as the easy pick over a Northwestern team playing at home. Northwestern, however, has lost the momentum it had built after reaching five straight bowl games, going 5-7 in each of the past two seasons. The Wildcats have a strong running game, led by Justin Jackson, who had almost 1,200 yards on the ground last year. The running game will be big as Northwestern will be starting a freshman at quarterback, Clayton Thorson. Stanford lost a lot of its momentum last season as well, going 8-5 after winning at least 11 games and reaching the Rose Bowl the previous four years. The Cardinal did win the final three games a year ago and are obviously hoping that carries over to the new season. Quarterback Kevin Hogan is back as starter yet again, his third year under center, so that steadying force will help Stanford. The Cardinal run a smash-mouth style on offense, NFL-like, and that should beat down the Northwestern front, with Stanford getting a touchdown late to win by two scores.

Brad's Score: Stanford 31, Northwestern 17

Craig's Score: Stanford 30, Northwestern 17

Glenn's Score: Stanford 38, Northwestern 20

Matt's Score: Stanford 34, Northwestern 20

 

Louisville vs. No. 6 Auburn at Georgia Dome, Atlanta, 3:30 p.m., CBS

The Spread: Louisville +11; Auburn -11

 

Brad's Analysis: First, it's impossible to root for Louisville coach Bobby Petrino. From his embarrassing resignation as Atlanta Falcons coach midway through his first season to take a job at Arkansas, to his affair with an office worker that led to his dismal from the Razorbacks, to surprisingly getting rehired at Louisville, which he left to coach Atlanta, the guy is as slimy as they come. On the field, Louisville is an ascending team, going 9-4 a season ago and looking to reach double-figure wins this season. The media did pick the Cardinals to finish third in the ACC Atlantic Division, however, so expectations still aren't great. Louisville hasn't named a starting quarterback, with three players vying for the job, and the offense as a whole will be a question mark, leading to the less-than-lofty preseason pick in the ACC. The defense was the sixth best in the nation last year, but has lost seven starters, so that's another area of concern. For Auburn, when expectations are high, like they are this season, the Tigers generally don't do as well when they have little to no hype. They won the national championship two years ago after not even being ranked to start the year. Last year, Auburn started with a No. 5 ranking and finished a disappointing 8-5. The Tigers will try to buck that trend this season with quarterback Jeremy Johnson, who has received some hype as a possible Heisman candidate, despite only starting twice in his career. This game against Louisville is in Atlanta, but Auburn should have a slight home field advantage. With or without that, Auburn is going to start with a big victory on the big stage.

Brad's Score: Auburn 41, Louisville 24

Craig's Score: Auburn 35, Louisville 21

Glenn's Score: Auburn 31, Louisville 27

Matt's Score: Auburn 35, Louisville 20

 

Virginia at No. 13 UCLA, 3:30 p.m., FOX

The Spread: Virginia +19.5; UCLA -19.5

 

Brad's Analysis: These two teams played each other last year, with the circumstances almost exactly the same, with UCLA being the big favorite against an unranked Virginia team. The result was a 28-20 UCLA victory that exposed the Bruins as more pretender than contender last year. The Bruins scored three defensive touchdowns to pull out the close win. Doing this column for 11 years now, you pick up on tendencies that will never appear in a scouting report, and one of those that sticks out is never trust UCLA giving up a ton of points. That's the case here in the Rose Bowl, with the superior Bruins favored by almost three touchdowns. So, I'll go over some of the key players and expectations in a bit, but here's a spoiler, I'm taking Virginia plus the points based on the above thought process. You'll recognize UCLA's best player right away, as Myles Jack is back to reek havoc on both opposing offenses and defenses, as he's used as a linebacker and running back. One player you won't recognize is new quarterback Josh Rosen, a freshman who takes over for the departing Brett Hundley. Virginia has an inexperienced quarterback as well, with Matt Johns making just his fourth start. The Cavaliers won't win this game, but they won't get blown out by the host Bruins, either.

Brad's Score: UCLA 31, Virginia 21

Craig's Score: UCLA 42, Virginia 21

Glenn's Score: UCLA 42, Virginia 24

Matt's Score: UCLA 42, Virginia 14

 

BYU at Nebraska, 3:30 p.m., ABC

The Spread: BYU +6.5; Nebraska -6.5

 

Brad's Analysis: Nebraska made the unsurprising decision to fire coach Bo Pelini after another disappointing season, for the Cornhuskers anyway, and then made the very surprising decision to make Mike Riley the new head coach, an uninspired choice that didn't make fans happy and had everyone outside the program shaking their collective head. Nebraska is trying its best to return to prior greatness, but it hasn't been easy, as the team hasn't won a conference title in 15 years. Riley's offensive philosophy goes back a bit to the golden years of Nebraska football, with a power running attack being the main focus. But the Riley era is already off to a rough start, as five players have been suspended for this game, with only one a starter, however. Tommy Armstrong Jr. returns as starting quarterback, although he was just pedestrian a year ago. Star running back Ameer Abdullah is in the NFL now, so the running game will start fresh. BYU poses a serious threat to upset the Huskers on their home field in the season opener, especially with quarterback Taysom Hill back running the offense. Hill is a dual-threat passer who could win a game on his own if he's at his best. BYU will suspend players for this game as well, after a brawl during last season's Miami Beach Bowl against Memphis, but won't announce which ones until after the game. It makes for what should be an exciting, close game that comes down to the final minutes.

Brad's Score: Nebraska 24, BYU 21

Craig's Score: Nebraska 28, BYU 13

Glenn's Score: Nebraska 28, BYU 17

Matt's Score: BYU 27, Nebraska 20 (upset pick)

 

Penn State at Temple, 3:30 p.m., ESPN

The Spread: Penn State -7; Temple +7

 

Brad's Analysis: Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg is going to be the "it player" this year, as he could be the top pick in the NFL draft next year, which obviously comes with a ton of hype. Hackenberg leads an offense that is still building under second-year coach James Franklin. The offense averaged around 20 points per game last year, so that will have to improve greatly if the Lions want to contend in the Big Ten. Penn State has owned this series against Temple, with a 39-3-1 overall record, including a 30-14 victory last November. The games is played at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Eagles and yes, the Owls, although the Nittany Lions might have the home field advantage. Temple was bowl eligible last season for the first time since 2011 and returns 10 starters on defense to try and handle Hackenberg. Owls quarterback P.J. Walker is a dual-threat player, which could pose problems for the Lions defense. But Hackenberg should have a big opening game and get NFL fans who need a quarterback excited about his possible arrival.

Brad's Score: Penn State 28, Temple 14

Craig's Score: Penn State 34, Temple 20

Glenn's Score: Penn State 48, Temple 13

Matt's Score: Penn State 34, Temple 13

 

No. 15 Arizona State vs. Texas A&M at NRG Stadium, Houston, 7 p.m., ESPN

The Spread: Arizona State +3.5; Texas A&M -3.5

 

Brad's Analysis: If you like offense and absolutely no defense, this is the game for you. Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici solidified his starting spot with a great finish to last season, including a five-touchdown game against USC. He could have a field day against a poor, but rebuilt, Texas A&M defense. A&M returns quarterback Kyle Allen, who had an up-and-down first season after taking over the starting job midway through. The Aggies will be pass happy in this game as well and will have the benefit of playing just 90 minutes away from home in Houston. Texas A&M typically begins new seasons with big victories, including last year's surprising beat-down of South Carolina on the road as an example, and will pull out a high-octane victory over an Arizona State team that has never beaten an SEC program (0-6).

Brad's Score: Texas A&M 56, Arizona State 49

Craig's Score: Arizona State 45, Texas A&M 35 (upset pick)

Glenn's Score: Arizona State 45, Texas A&M 28 (upset pick)

Matt's Score: Arizona State 34, Texas A&M 31 (upset pick)

 

Texas (+10) at No. 11 Notre Dame (-10), 7:30 p.m., NBC

The Spread: Texas +10; Notre Dame -10

 

Brad's Analysis: Based purely on program history, this matchup of Texas and Notre Dame can't be beat. The history, the uniforms, Touchdown Jesus and the backdrop of the iconic Notre Dame Stadium make this a huge matchup, whether it's the opening game of the season or a national championship. Notre Dame has the second most victories in college football history with Texas just one victory behind in third. Of the team's previous 10 meetings, however, the Irish have won eight between the two historic programs, and with a point spread in double-figures, that win total is likely to increase. Unfortunately, neither team is considered a favorite to qualify for the College Football Playoff this year, although the Irish are a whole lot closer than the Longhorns, who come into this game unranked. Both teams struggled last year, with Texas going 6-7 under new coach Charlie Strong, while Notre Dame went 8-5. Notre Dame will have Malik Zaire making his second career start at quarterback. In the Music City Bowl, Zaire rushed for almost 100 yards and totaled two touchdowns in a win over LSU. The Irish are also known for their great linebackers, and Jaylon Smith should be this year's playmaker on defense. Tyrone Swoopes is back at quarterback for the Longhorns after a rocky first season under center. The mobile Swoopes passed for 2,409 yards and 13 touchdowns in 12 starts last year, adding another four scores on the ground. But he did throw 11 interceptions. The Longhorns, as has been the case since Vince Young left, have been built on defense, which could make this game closer than many expect.

Brad's Score: Notre Dame 27, Texas 21

Craig's Score: Notre Dame 28, Texas 13

Glenn's Score: Notre Dame 38, Texas 27

Matt's Score: Notre Dame 24, Texas 3

 

No. 20 Wisconsin vs. No. 3 Alabama at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, 8 p.m., ABC

The Spread: Wisconsin +13; Alabama -13

 

Brad's Analysis: Say what you want about Alabama and coach Nick Saban, and I've done my fair share of criticism, but nobody can complain about the way the Crimson Tide have scheduled their season openers the past four years. In 2012, Alabama opened with and defeated Michigan. In 2013, the Tide easily beat Virginia Tech. In 2014, Alabama slipped past West Virginia. And now, in 2015, Alabama plays another big-time program in Wisconsin. For opening games, that's a pretty impressive slate. Of course, the Tide do play three cupcakes during the regular season, so the kudos hold for the opener. Alabama, of course, is one of the favorites again to qualify for the College Football Playoff. Even though they are one of the biggest programs in the land, it's still surprising Alabama has been favored now in 68 straight games. Last year, Ohio State stunned the Tide in the first ever tournament, losing 42-35 as big favorites. The Tide are losing nearly all of their playmakers from last season, including quarterback Blake Sims, running back T.J. Yeldon and wide receiver Amari Cooper. Of course, Alabama has endless talent waiting to step up. While Alabama is still choosing between three quarterbacks to take over the starting role, there is no debate the offense will go through the rushing talents of Derrick Henry, who should have a big season at running back. Wisconsin last year blew a big lead in the season opener against LSU and ended up losing by four. The Badgers lost the Big Ten championship game 59-0 to Ohio State but then bounced back to upset Auburn in the Outback Bowl, 34-31, in overtime. Gone is star running back Melvin Gordon, who had 2,587 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns last year. In is Corey Clement, who had 949 yards and nine touchdowns. He could get a rude welcome from a strong Alabama defense here.

Brad's Score: Alabama 34, Wisconsin 20

Craig's Score: Alabama 27, Wisconsin 20

Glenn's Score: Alabama 28, Wisconsin 27

Matt's Score: Alabama 28, Wisconsin 17

 

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