Hard to believe that game week is finally here! Time to make make picks!
South Carolina at North Carolina- It's worth mentioning that the underdog visitor wins the majority of Thursday night games. The Gamecocks are holding on to a 2.5 point line, which means this game is a special team play away from a Tarheel win. Switzer had 5 punt returns for TDs as a freshman in 2013 before having none is a sophomore slump. Marquis Williams has a 65% completion ratio at home. He had 21 passing TDs and 9 INTs in 2014 while rushing for 788 yards and 13 more TDs. If he makes any strides as a passer, he could have a breakout game on Thursday night. The Tarheels have been among the very worst on defense, but they made a giant hire with former Auburn DC and head coach Chizik. All he has to do is cut down one TD to make this a very good team. South Carolina has been very quiet aside from some Spurrier one-liners. Aside from P Cooper, there seems to be a lack of playmakers on offense. The same can be said about the defense, which was dreadful in 2014, especially against the pass. I'll take North Carolina.
Vandy vs Western Kentucky-Doughty put up 4,830 yards and 49 TDs in 2014. When playing as a visitor, he has a significantly lower completion percentage of 62%. He threw all 10 INTs in away games in 2014. He has an 80% completion percentage in season openers in the last two years with no interceptions. Vandy was near the very bottom with 13 total takeaways and sacks in 2013 with a group that returns 9 players. While the Western Kentucky defense isn't any better, the match up heavily favors WKU in all cases. Vandy opened as a slim favorite but late movement has them as 2 point dogs. I'll take the Hilltoppers and the points.
Texas A&M vs Arizona State-Many would say that one of these teams is going to make a major statement by winning this game. I'd say that one team will prove they aren't what we thought they were. You can throw out any and all defensive stats from TAMU. Though pundits believe the Chavis hire was over-hyped, one can't discount that all these Sumlin teams were 1 touchdown from being 12-win teams, if only their defense could have made a stop. The secondary is going to continue to be a mess, but TAMU is going to be much improved in the front 7. TAMU only returns 10 starters on both sides of the ball, but keep in mind that the over-all talent level of the new starters will be higher than previous years. TAMU is going to have an incredible offense, especially in the beginning of the year before teams can watch film. TAMU has the best group of WRs in the country. They may not be as flashy as Baylor's group, but they are more physical. Arizona State returns 9 starters on a defense that was 103rd against the pass and 81st overall. That's cause for concern in and of itself. On the flip said, Becovici takes over as the starter after filling in admirably in 2014. In his 4 starts away from home, he has been slightly worse in completion percentage, but he has thrown more TDs and less INTs away from Sun Devil stadium. Some moves in the off-season sent versatile DJ Foster to WR, which could be a move to watch in fantasy land, but in this game for sure. DJ is the kind of guy who can take quick passes to negate the front seven on defense and torch the TAMU secondary. Indeed, Foster catches more passes in away games as he does in home games, making him the perfect safety net for Bercovici. TAMU is a 3-point favorite in Houston. While the Aggie defense won't be whatever everyone thinks it will be, it will be better than previous units. Additionally, the Aggie offense will be markedly better than it's mid and late-season form (think: SCAR game last year). On the flipside, I do think that ASU will put up a lot of points and Foster will have a career day. But, the Sun Devil D is just.....bad. I'll take Texas A&M and the points.
Alabama vs Wisconsin-Though the question at who will start for Bama at QB has been the reoccurring story all throughout the off-season, my question that pertains to this game is how will the coaching turnover (3 in 4 years) affect a program that was the embodiment of stability. Paul Chryst has been to a lot of places in recent years where he has had to mold a game plan around existing players. This year will be no different. Stave was dreadful in the Outback bowl and one has to wonder how long of a leash he will have in 2015. Away from home, he has thrown 3 TDs and 7 INTs. 3 of those in neutral site games (all 3 against Auburn). Unlike the Big 10, running the ball 60 times a game won't work against Alabama, unless you are Auburn. Alabama was 5th best in the nation against the run. Keep in mind that this Wisconsin line has been rebuilt over last year's unit. On the flipside, Alabama has potentially the best front seven in all of college and Saban's tenure. I don't but that quite yet considering that the line wasn't as productive in 2014 as many would think. Alabama's soft spot is the secondary, which won't be an issue against the Badgers who don't have a QB and don't have a returning premier deep threat, which has been the bane of the Saban secondary. While some off-site openers have been closer than they should, Saban hasn't lost one yet. The Badgers blew a massive lead to a very similar LSU team last year. The line has held steady around Alabama -10. I'll take Alabama and the points.
Auburn vs Louisville- I called the Bill King show this morning to weigh in on this game. I am honestly concerned about this game as I wrote about on TrackEmTigers. Nobody brought in better defensive talent than Grantham and the Louisville staff. They are absolutely stacked and looking to repeat the INT and sack-happy defense of 2014. They were especially good early in the year before closing out the year ranked 11th in the country. What concerns me the most is the 3-4 system and the affect on Auburn's first-time starting center, whoever that may be. Unlike a 4-3, he will now be hit every play from the 0 or 1 technique. Auburn has held steady as a 10-point favorite. That sounds about right, but the margin of error will be razor thin. Don't be surprised it this game is knotted up at half time thanks to a bad snap and 3 sacks. On the other side of the ball, there are few coaches in college that scare me when given all this time to prepare. Petrino is one such coach. Though a starter at QB hasn't been named, multiple RBs graduated, and Parker off the NFL, don't sleep on the Cards offense. Additionally, Muschamp may be the biggest hire of the year, but don't be surprised to see old faces playing their old games early. While I appreciate the work McKinzy and Frost have put in, ultimately I don't think they are the best fits and might be phased out. I'll take Auburn straight up for the win