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College Football Picks 2018: Week One

Donovan Peoples-Jones, Michigan
(#14) Michigan Wolverines @ (#12) Notre Dame Fighting Irish
College football is finally back, and with it comes one of the best rivalries in the sport: Michigan against Notre Dame. Both teams enter 2018 with plenty to prove: Michigan wants to prove last year's 8-5 record was simply a fluke and they have a legitimate Playoff-caliber team on deck, while ND is entering the year hoping for their first back-to-back double-digit win seasons since the early 1990s. Michigan will trot out one of the game's best defenses, led by a defensive front that includes All-American candidates Chase Winovich, Rashan Gary and Devin Bush. That front seven will counter an Irish ground game that was superb a season ago but must make do without leading rusher Josh Adams. With that in mind, Irish QB Brandon Wimbush is going to have to step up as a passer if ND wants to have any success moving the ball. Wimbush does have a strong arm and very capable receivers but Michigan DC Don Brown is an expert at making quarterbacks uncomfortable, and the Irish O-Line is rebuilding. If the offense does indeed struggle to put up points, the Irish hope they can fall back on their defense, which has plenty of its own talent. However, they are breaking in a new coordinator (former LBs coach Clark Lea) and its reasonable to expect some slight transition period for that unit. Wolverine fans are hopeful their own offense will find rhythm after having one of the Big Ten's least explosive groups last season. Shea Patterson has been receiving all the hype since arriving from Ole Miss, and he has talent to work with outside. If this offense can't get it going, its fair to wonder if any group under Harbaugh in Ann Arbor can. This is going to be a fun game between two pretty evenly matched opponents. Rivalry games are always interesting, but I think Michigan comes out and takes it. They have the defense to put them in good position every single game, and I really do think the offense will live up to the hype. A road victory against the nation's 12th team gives Harbaugh and the Wolverines a major Playoff boost right away.
The Pick: Michigan, 30 Notre Dame, 20

(#6) Washington Huskies vs. (#9) Auburn Tigers (neutral site)
While Michigan-Notre Dame will be huge, the biggest game of the weekend has to be the Chick-fil-A kickoff between the Pac-12 favorite, Washington, and an Auburn team with lofty expectations of their own. The Huskies have all the pieces back offensively to be absolutely potent on that side of the ball but it will be interesting to see which Jake Browning comes out at quarterback. Browning was a little bit off a year ago but if he returns to his 2016 form, UW is every bit a legit National Title threat. Running back Myles Gaskin will take some pressure off Browning as will a good offensive line, but he will still have to face off against an Auburn D-Line that is loaded with talent and getting better. The Tigers defensively still are vastly underrated, and they should be able to hang with Washington in that aspect. On the other side of the ball, Auburn signal-caller Jarrett Stidham goes up against a Husky secondary with all four starters back, namely shutdown corner Byron Murphy and game-changing safety Taylor Rapp. That will be a stiff challenge for the second-year starter, but he does have the advantage of a veteran receiver corps to throw to. An interesting part of this game to watch will be the coaching duel. Chris Petersen and Gus Malzahn are two of the best in the business, but Petersen is breaking in a new defensive coordinator and Malzahn may have some tricks up his sleeve for the opener. This is a huge, huge game for not only Washington but all of the Pac-12; a loss here and the conference's Playoff hopes become seriously diminished, no matter what the Huskies do the rest of the way. Petersen is usually a good bet for a win in an opener, but this game is right in Auburn's backyard and they should be motivated following a stunning loss in last year's Peach Bowl. I like the Tigers in a close, back-and-forth thriller.
The Pick: Auburn, 31 Washington, 27

(#8) Miami Hurricanes vs. (#25) LSU Tigers (Sunday, neutral site)
The fun doesn't simply end Saturday, as we will see college football on Sunday and Labor Day this year, and some really good football at that. Miami hopes to have a big encore for last season's breakthrough that saw the "Turnover Chain" become one of the biggest phenomenons in the sport. They will look awfully similar to that 2017 team in this opener, with veteran QB Malik Rosier leading the offense, although a healthy Ahmmon Richards at receiver will be huge. Rosier is an interesting player to watch here. The senior has the talent to be a top-end quarterback but he still struggles with turnovers and he'll be facing a feisty LSU secondary that includes my projected Jim Thorpe Award winner, corner Greedy Williams. Miami's average ground game must also deal with a very strong LSU defensive front, which includes tackling machine Devin White. Even so, Mark Richt is a great coach and Miami is a balanced, skilled offense. They should find ways to put up points on the scoreboard. That will be the challenge for the Tigers, whose longtime offensive woes are once again the X-factor for this season. Head coach Ed Orgeron is hopeful Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow can be the solution at quarterback, but he doesn't have his usual star tailback to fall back on as senior Nick Brossette, who is untested, is the slated feature back. With that being said, LSU may have their best receiver group since Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry were on campus, and the Hurricanes' secondary is recovering from some losses in the off-season. I've gone back and forth on this one, but I'll stick with Miami to get the job done in this neutral site duel in Arlington. LSU has the talent to be a Top 10 team and the defense won't give the 'Canes any thing easy but Burrow will have to adjust to this offense, and the Miami defense is no pushover.
The Pick: Miami, 24 LSU, 17

Other Picks
(#20) Virginia Tech @ (#19) Florida State: FSU, 28 VT, 23
Louisville vs. (#1) Alabama (neutral site): Alabama, 38 Louisville, 20
Oregon State @ (#5) Ohio State: Ohio State, 45 Oregon State, 13
(#17) West Virginia vs. Tennessee (neutral site): WVU, 38 Tennessee, 24
BYU @ Arizona: Arizona, 35 BYU, 22

Current Picks Record: 0-0

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