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College Football Predictions: 10 Key Games in Week 1

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College football kicks of this weekend with a full slate of games. Here's a look at 10 of the top games on the Week 1 schedule.

10 Biggest Games of Week 1

Alabama (-13.5) vs. Michigan (at Arlington)
Denard Robinson, one of the nation’s most dynamic offensive players, will face his stiffest test of the season in Week 1. The Alabama defense will have a new look — only four starters return — but the Crimson Tide will no doubt still rank among the top defenses in college football. Robinson has struggled throwing the ball against elite defenses — he completed 9-of-24 against Michigan State and 9-of-21 against Virginia Tech last season — and Alabama will make the man called Shoelace prove that can he move the ball by throwing it down field. There is one school of thought that says that it’s best to play Alabama early, especially with so many new starters on the defense. That’s probably true, but the Tide defense should be more than ready to slow down the Wolverines.
Alabama 27, Michigan 13

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Boise State (+7) at Michigan State (Fri.)
Boise State has won six straight games vs. BCS conference teams, with its last loss coming at Washington, 24­–10, in Week 2 of the 2007 season. Three of those wins have come on the opening weekend of the season — vs. Oregon in 2009, Virginia Tech in ’10 and Georgia in ’11. This year, the Broncos head to East Lansing to face a Michigan State team that has few weaknesses. Much of the focus will be on the first-time starters at quarterback, Joe Southwick for Boise State and Andrew Maxwell for Michigan State, but the key matchups will be on the line of scrimmage. Michigan State will look to attack Boise State’s inexperienced defense — only one full-time starter is back — with a heavy dose of tailback Le’Veon Bell. The 6-2, 244-pound junior will run behind a veteran offensive line that returns four starters. It could be a tough night for the Broncos’ defense.
Michigan State 28, Boise State 14

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South Carolina (-6.5) at Vanderbilt (Thu.)
The college football season kicks off Thursday night in Nashville. South Carolina has had some struggles against Vanderbilt over the past five years. The Gamecocks lost twice in that span, in 2007 and ’08, and have averaged only 15.8 points in the five games. Vanderbilt, though, has only averaged 6.7 points in the past three games and has scored only one offensive touchdown in that span. Last year, the Commodores managed a total of 77 yards in a 21­–3 loss in Columbia. Don’t expect such offensive ineptitude from the 2012 Dores, however. This Vanderbilt club features arguably the best collection of skill players the school has had in the past two decades, with all-conference-caliber talent at running back (Zac Stacy) and wide receiver (Jordan Matthews) and a veteran quarterback who has played well in big spots (Jordan Rodgers). The key for Vanderbilt, though, will be on the other side of the ball. The Commodores must slow down All-America tailback Marcus Lattimore, who is playing in his first game since injuring his knee last October vs. Mississippi State. If Lattimore fails to hit the 100-yard mark, Vanderbilt has a legitimate chance to win this game.
South Carolina 28, Vanderbilt 24

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Tennessee (-3) vs. NC State (Fri.)
It’s always dangerous to put too much stock in one game, but Tennessee coach Derek Dooley could really use a win to begin his third season in Knoxville. Dooley is 11–14 overall, and only one of the wins (vs. Cincinnati in 2011) came against an FBS team that ended the season with a winning record. Recently, much has been made about the dismissal of All-SEC wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers, but the focus for Tennessee has to be on the running game. Last season, the Vols ranked last in the SEC in rushing and averaged an anemic 2.3 yards per carry vs. conference foes. That simply has to improve. It’s very difficult to beat good teams if you can’t run the ball — no matter how potent you might be in the passing game. NC State, too, is searching for offensive balance after ranking sixth in the ACC in passing and 11th in rushing in 2012. It’s a good bet that the team that runs the ball better will win this game.
Tennessee 34, NC State 27

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Clemson (-3) vs. Auburn
Two new high-profile (and highly paid) defensive coordinators will making their debut at the Georgia Dome Saturday night — Brent Venables at Clemson and Brian VanGorder at Auburn. Venables’ arrival at Clemson received more pub nationally (likely because he was taking over a defense that gave up 70 points in its bowl game), but VanGorder was arguably the most important coordinator hire in the nation. The one-time coordinator at Georgia inherits a unit that ranked 11th in the SEC in both scoring defense and total defense and gave up an average of 41.6 points in its five losses. The Tigers, however, have been accumulating some solid talent on defense, especially along the line. Don’t be surprised if this unit is vastly improved in 2012. But also don’t be surprised if the Auburn defense struggles in Week 1, even though Clemson is missing All-America wideout Sammy Watkins. The Tigers still have weapons.
Clemson 30, Auburn 20

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Ohio (+5.5) at Penn State
The Bill O’Brien era begins Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium when the Nittany Lions host Ohio, one of the top mid-major programs in the nation. Ohio is fresh off a 10-win season and features one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the nation, junior Tyler Tettleton. A true dual-threat, Tettleton threw for 3,202 yards and 28 touchdowns (with only 10 INTs) and added 658 yards on the ground in 2012. In his only game vs. a BCS conference team, he completed 23-of-36 for 339 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 38–26 loss at Rutgers. And keep in mind that the Scarlet Knights ranked ninth in the nation in pass defense last season. Tettleton will have to be at his best against Penn State. The Nittany Lions have some concerns in the secondary, but the front seven should be stout. Ohio will have trouble moving the ball on the ground; if the Bobcats aren’t sharp in the passing game, they will struggle to score points.
Penn State 21, Ohio 13

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Notre Dame (-16.5) vs. Navy (at Dublin, Ireland)
Notre Dame won 43 straight vs. Navy from 1964 through 2006 but proceeded to lose three of four from ’07 through ’10. The Irish got back on track last fall, rolling past the Midshipmen with ease, 56–14, in South Bend. The storyline this season — other than the fact that the game is being played in Ireland — is the debut of redshirt freshman Everett Golson at quarterback for Notre Dame. Golson is far from a finished product, but he is an outstanding athlete who has taken care of the ball — a huge focus for the Irish this season — in scrimmages. Notre Dame won’t have tailback Cierre Wood (suspended), but the Irish have plenty of capable ball-carriers. Don’t be surprised if George Atkinson III has a huge day.
Notre Dame 34, Navy 14

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Miami (Fla.) (-2) at Boston College
I realize expectations aren’t high at Miami this fall, but it’s got to be a bit alarming that the Hurricanes are only favored by two points over a Boston College team that is picked by most to finish in last place in the ACC Atlantic — even behind Maryland. It’s worth noting that BC beat the Canes 24–17 in Miami in the 2011 season-finale. Still, Miami is the better team, even with its issues at quarterback and on the offensive line. Junior Stephen Morris, who played down the stretch as a true freshman in 2010, beat out Ryan Williams for the starting assignment. Boston College will counter with junior Chase Rettig, who has started the last 20 games. Boston College will be without two of its top skill-position players; projected starters at tailback Rolandan Finch (705 yards in 2012) and wide receiver Bobby Swigert (44 catches, 470 yards) are out with injury.
Miami 24, Boston College 20

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Kentucky (+14) at Louisville (Sun.)
Establishing a running game is always important, but it takes on extra meaning in this intra-state rivalry. Consider the following: The team that has won the rushing battle has won the last 13 Kentucky-Louisville games. UK ranked 90th in the nation and 11th in the SEC in rushing last season, but the coaching staff believes the 2012 Cats will be much-improved on the ground thanks to the return of veterans CoShik Williams, Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George. Louisville, too, struggled to run the ball in ’11, ranking 93rd in the nation with a 121.5-yard average. The Cardinals have yet to settle on a feature back, so expect as many as four tailbacks to get touches on Sunday afternoon. Louisville is the popular pick for two main reasons — the Cards have a decided edge at quarterback and are playing at home.
Louisville 30, Kentucky 20

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Georgia Tech (+7.5) at Virginia Tech (Mon.)
Georgia Tech is 1–3 against Virginia Tech since Paul Johnson took over in 2008, but the Yellow Jackets have had success moving the ball. They have averaged 378.3 yards in those four games, including 294.0 on the ground. Last year, Georgia Tech had no answer for the Hokies’ offense, allowing 208 yards passing (on only seven completions) and 267 yards rushing en route to a 37–26 loss in Atlanta. With David Wilson now in the NFL, Virginia Tech’s running attack figures to be a work in progress early in the season, but quarterback Logan Thomas is a dangerous weapon who is capable of taking over a game. This is a key early season battle in the Coastal. Conventional wisdom suggests that Virginia Tech should have the edge because the Hokies have had ample time to prepare for the option attack.
Virginia Tech 24, Georgia Tech 17

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by Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch on Twitter)

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