Conferences in the Cross Hairs: ACC, Pac-12 picks

Ken Cross

August 29, 2017 at 1:14 pm.

Jan 2, 2017; Pasadena, CA, USA; USC Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold (14) throws a touchdown pass against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the first quarter of the 2017 Rose Bowl game at Rose Bowl. Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 2, 2017; Pasadena, CA, USA; USC Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold (14) throws a touchdown pass against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the first quarter of the 2017 Rose Bowl game at Rose Bowl. Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

It’s here! It’s here! I can’t believe it! It’s here! Those sentiments echo across the country at home, at work or in most any domain that embraces the game of football as Week One of the college football season is finally ready with some star-studded openers.  Here’s a look at some key matchups in the ACC and the Pac-12.

Week 1


No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 3 Florida State – Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga. – The Crimson Tide have been licking their chops for the new season since Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson wore their talented defense out in the fourth quarter of the national championship loss in January.  The Seminoles offensive line has been in transition and that is not a good problem to have when you play Alabama and its active front-7. The key matchup in the game could be Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick against Nyqwan Murray, the most experienced wide receiver in the Seminoles’ arsenal.

Crimson Tide (-7) 34, Seminoles 27

Kent State at Clemson – Junior speedster Kelly Bryant is the heir apparent to Watson as the Clemson signal caller, while Deon Cain, Ray-Ray McCloud and Hunter Renfroe look like the reinforcements who will rise at wideout to replace Artavius Scott and Mike Williams. Christian Wilkins and Van Smith will anchor a Tigers’ defense that returns seven starters and is deep across the board.  Kent State, off a 3-9 season in 2016, lacks depth at skill positions and needs a big year from quarterback Nick Holley.

Tigers (-40.5) 49, Golden Flashes 7

Louisville at Purdue – Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson wants to prove all the naysayers wrong after many said they wanted their votes back as the Cardinals lost their last three games in 2016.  He will operate against an outmanned Boilermakers defense with two speedsters on the outside in Jaylen Smith and Traveon Samuel and a hard-nosed runner in Jeremy Smith who averaged 6.7 yards per carry last season. Purdue coach Jeff Brohm opens his tenure against his alma mater having very few weapons with which to battle.

Cardinals (-26) 51, Boilermakers 16

South Carolina vs. NC State – Charlotte, N.C. – Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley came into his own last season as he pulled South Carolina into the Birmingham Bowl where it lost to South Florida. The Wolfpack enter what has been termed a crossroads season for coach David Doeren in Year Five as he has had three straight 3-5 ACC campaigns after going 0-8 in the league in his first season.  The strength of the Wolfpack is the defensive front where they boast a deep line and linebackers in Airius Moore and Jerod Fernandez, who play in their opponents’ offensive backfield.

Wolfpack 23, Gamecocks (+6) 19

West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech – Washington, D.C. – The quarterback matchup is intriguing as Florida transfer Will Grier steps under center for the Mountaineers, while Virginia Tech introduces Michigan native Josh Jackson, who was the 2015 Ann Arbor News Player of the Year.  Jackson is a speed quarterback with a rocket arm who will enjoy finding star receiver Cam Phillips as the top weapon in his arsenal. The key may come down to two secondaries with lots of playmakers.  The difference?  Grier may have a few more options.

Mountaineers (+4.5) 37, Hokies 34

Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech – Atlanta, Ga. – The Labor Day offering took a hit when Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson dismissed his most talented and experienced running back, Dedrick Mills.  The Yellow Jackets’ one-dimensional offense needs to see running back KirVonte Benson grow up and fast.  Tennessee starts Quinten Dormady at quarterback as he follows Josh Dobbs.  Then, Josh Kelly, who averaged 6.4 yards per game, returns at running back as he supplants Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. Lack of offensive weapons for the Jackets makes this an easier game plan than expected for new Volunteer defensive line coach Brady Hoke. The key is staying home and controlling your gaps on defense against Georgia Tech’s misdirection offense.

Volunteers (-4) 27, Yellow Jackets 10


Colorado State at Colorado – If Colorado coach Mike McIntyre turned on the TV and saw the Colorado State Rams’ 58-27 domination of Oregon State on Saturday, he might want to reschedule for later in the year.  Rams quarterback Nick Stevens completed 26 of 39 passes for 344 yards as he used a plethora of receivers plus the 1-2 punch of Izzy Matthews and Dalyn Dawkins in the backfield.  The Buffaloes come off a dream season when they won the Pac-12 South and made an appearance in the Pac-12 title game where they lost to Washington. As CU breaks in new quarterback in Steven Montez, it would not be surprising to see the Buffaloes try to control the clock with a short passing game and heavy doses of star running back Phillip Lindsey.

Rams (+8) 38, Buffaloes 31

Cal at North Carolina – The Justin Wilcox era begins as he leads the Bears across the country to face a reloading Tar Heels squad who breaks in a new quarterback in LSU transfer Brandon Harris.  The Bears were 127th in the nation in total defense a year ago as Wilcox, who steered Wisconsin to seventh in the nation on defense, will need time to rebuild that side of the football.  Harris will make quick friends with wide receiver Austin Proehl in the passing game, as well as tight end Carl Tucker, who could be in for a breakout year at tight end.

Tar Heels (-11) 35, Bears 24

Washington at Rutgers – The Huskies boast an offense behind Heisman candidate Jake Browning that can strike from anywhere on the field with Dante Pettis, who registered 822 receiving yards, as the go-to receiver and Myles Gaskin, who rushed for 1,373 yards and 10 touchdowns.  Defensively, the Huskies lost three defensive backs, but have the speed and depth to retool that position.  Although across the country, an outing at Rutgers is a good starting point for the Pac-12 North favorite.

Huskies (-31) 48, Scarlet Knights 13

Western Michigan at USC – The return to glory of the USC Trojans could be at hand this season as they and the Huskies could threaten the BCS Final Four and assert the underrated Pac-12 in a most palatable manner.  Sam Darnold had one of the greatest years in the history of the game as a freshman quarterback in leading USC to nine wins in a row and a thrilling Rose Bowl victory over Penn State.  Darnold to Deontay Burnett is a passing combination that will ring throughout the nation in 2017.  Tim Lester takes over the Broncos as P.J. Fleck left for Minnesota.  WMU has to replace several key offensive players and will rely on defense in most games.

Trojans (-27.5) 42, Broncos 7

New Mexico State at Arizona State – The Sun Devils were an injured outfit in 2016 that seemed to see key players go down each week as 34 players missed a combined total of 184 games.  The running attack of Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage is going to be a tough game plan for most defensive coordinators. N’Keal Harry will catch quarterback Manny Wilkins’ passes as he had 58 catches for 659 yards last season.  The Aggies had the third worst scoring defense in the BCS last season and will struggle with the dynamics of a healthy Sun Devils offense.

Sun Devils (-23) 47, Aggies 15

Texas A&M at UCLA – The losing coach in this game is needlessly on the hot seat as both Kevin Sumlin and Jim Mora meet again this season after the Aggies took a 31-24 win in College Station a year ago.  The Aggies have a decision to make at starting quarterback with senior incumbent Jake Hubenak facing stiff competition from redshirt freshman Nick Starkel and true freshman Kellen Mond.  It is the fifth quarterback battle in six years.  Josh Rosen enters his junior year as the Bruins’ starting quarterback after an injury-filled 2016 season that saw him still pass for 1,915 yards. Soso Jamabo and Bolu Olorunfunmi are a nice two-cringed rushing attack.

Bruins (-3) 34, Aggies 30

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