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College Football Picks 2019: Week Two

Current Picks Record: 6-2 (0-1 Upset)
(#6) LSU Tigers @ (#9) Texas Longhorns
Joe Burrow, LSU
There is not a bigger non-conference game in the 2019 season (with the exception of the postseason) than this early September matchup between LSU and Texas. Both teams have very legitimate Playoff aspirations, and are coming off dominant showings in their opener, with UT stomping Louisiana Tech 45-14 and LSU manhandling Georgia Southern 55-3. That 52-point victory by LSU included a superb showing from QB Joe Burrow, who tossed for nearly 300 yards and five touchdowns. That type of performance is something we aren't quite accustomed to from the former Ohio State transfer, who has long been viewed as a "game manager" type. Yet, with the talent the Tigers have at receiver, this could be a scary aerial attack if Burrow can continue to make smart decisions. Squaring off against a fantastic Texas secondary will be an interesting challenge for the veteran, and he'll have to play smart to avoid throwing turnovers to a pair of ball-hawks in Caden Sterns and Brandon Jones. That likely means LSU will turn to the ground more this weekend than they did against Georgia Southern, when they had just 122 yards. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, John Emery Jr. and Chris Curry form a powerful trio of runners that should be able to find success against a rebuilding Longhorns' defensive front. Can the 'Horns front seven handle a physical LSU offensive line? They did a good job handling that SEC-level physicality in last year's Sugar Bowl win against Georgia, but the youth in the defensive front is concerning. Texas doesn't really want to turn the game into a shootout, because it doesn't seem like this is an LSU defense you can manage too many points on. Not only can they get after the opposing QB as well as anyone, they have the best secondary in the nation, which includes likely All-Americans Grant Delpit and Kristian Fulton. That isn't to say that Texas can't move the ball themselves, spearheaded by QB Sam Ehlinger (who just happens to be my 2019 Heisman pick). Ehlinger is the type of physical, fearless quarterback that you want going up against an SEC defense, but he'll also need help. While Texas has loads of talent at receiver, their ground game has a lot of questions and UT has made it clear they don't want Ehlinger running as much as he did last fall. The good news is that Ehlinger can not only elevate his plays around him with his energy and talent, but the Longhorns are playing in their home in Austin. That's obviously a major advantage, but will it really matter against LSU? This is a team full of veterans who are used to playing in the most raucous environments college football has to offer, and they won't be intimidated. With that in mind, along with the questions I have about the Texas defense, I'm sticking with the favorite, LSU, in a close one.
The Pick: LSU, 27 Texas, 23

(#12) Texas A&M Aggies @ (#1) Clemson Tigers
After coming within a field goal of upsetting Clemson last season, Texas A&M and Jimbo Fisher get another shot in 2019. It is obviously a tall task to take down a Clemson squad that has won 16 straight, particularly on the road, but don't overlook the Aggies chances in this one. I was shocked to see the Aggies were three-touchdown underdogs in this matchup, as a team that ended last year on absolute fire and has an experienced piece running the show at QB. That veteran signal-caller just happens to be junior Kellen Mond, who picked apart the Clemson defense a year ago to the tune of 430 yards and three touchdowns. He has to feel confident going up against the Tigers defense once again, particularly when considering that they don't quite have the fearsome pass rush they did in 2018 (at least not yet). The Tigers are going to need that pass rush to not only step up, they'll need their leaders in the defensive backfield to play up to their potential. Corner A.J. Terrell is an All-American talent, while safeties Tanner Muse and K'Von Wallace have proven themselves time and time again. They can help their NFL Draft stocks even more by shutting down a dynamic and deep group of A&M wide outs, which includes Jhamon Ausbon and Quartney Davis. You have to imagine defensive coordinator Brent Venables is going to want to force Texas A&M to run the ball as much as possible, even with a relatively inexperienced front seven. While the Aggies ran for 246 yards in their opener against Texas State, this is still an inexperienced running back group that surely still misses longtime feature back Trayveon Williams. On the other side of the ball, A&M will obviously have their hands full with the wide array of weapons Clemson can throw at you. Not only do you have to deal with possibly the best QB in the nation in Trevor Lawrence, you also have to stop one of the best running backs (Travis Etienne) and top two receivers (Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross). Now, the Aggies' defense has taken major steps forward since the dark days of the Kevin Sumlin era, but it is still a unit prone to letting up the big play. They are going to not only have to be ready to stop any type of offensive look, they also are going to have to tackle very well in open space. Getting pressure on Lawrence, who was a little underwhelming in the opener, will also need to be of top priority for Fisher and DC Mike Elko. Sure, A&M played Clemson tougher in 2018 than just about anybody, with the possible exception of Syracuse when Lawrence went down. However, its important to realize that game was before Lawrence was full-time starter, and was in College Station. I think they have a chance to play the Tigers tight again, but an upset just doesn't seem likely, unless the defense is able to somehow dominate and Mond plays lights out again.
The Pick: Clemson, 38 Texas A&M, 28

Army Black Knights @ (#7) Michigan Wolverines
Throughout much of the off-season, Army-Michigan has been circled by many around college football as the annual big-time September upset. And, while Army didn't look great in a 14-7 win over Rice to open 2019, it still stands as a major upset alert for a Michigan team with Playoff hopes. The Wolverines' defense has been practicing all week to defend the Black Knights' vaunted triple-option scheme, but it still is going to be a unique challenge for Don Brown and this unit. Brown is well-known around the country for his blitz-heavy, disciplined defenses, but the triple-option is a whole different animal. He will need a skilled front seven to contain all the different rushers, as well as the secondary to fill holes and make plays going downfield. Expect Michigan to also have a spy on Army QB Kelvin Hopkins the entire game. Hopkins is a dangerous playmaker that really makes this Black Knights' offense hum. He had 80 yards in the opener on the ground, while also adding a score through the air. He was one of eight people who got carries last Saturday for Army, which allows them to stay fresh and energized. The Wolverines are going to have to utilize their depth on defense in order to contain that energy. Army also presents a terrific defense, that held Rice to 243 yards in their opener. They're especially strong in the back-end, where corner Elijah Riley and safety Jaylon McClinton are some of the best in the entire nation. They'll challenge Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson, who was up-and-down in UM's victory over Middle Tennessee. The good news for Patterson is that star receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones is back and ready to go after missing the opener. He'll join fellow wide outs Tarik Black and Ronnie Bell in Josh Gattis' new look, spread, up-tempo offense. That offense, which was the talk of the off-season in Ann Arbor and around Big Ten country, looked good enough for Wolverines fans to feel excited about what they can do going forward. However, the rushing attack is going to have to step up as well, as a group missing 2018's leading rusher and without the suspended Chris Evans. Youngsters Zach Charbonnet and Christian Turner are going to have opportunities against this Army defense, and I wouldn't be surprised if one of them has a real coming-out party. No matter what else happens in this 11 AM kickoff, one thing should be clear: don't bet the over. Not only does Army hog time of possession as well as anybody, the Wolverines are still going to run the ball and slow things down when needed. In that vein, I expect a low-scoring finish between these two and think things could be close down the stretch. Yet, I'll stick with Michigan here, as Army just didn't look ready to take down a Top 10 team in their first action of 2019.
The Pick: Michigan, 24 Army, 14

Other Picks
Cincinnati @ (#5) Ohio State: Ohio State, 35 Cincinnati, 30
(#25) Nebraska @ Colorado: Nebraska, 33 Colorado, 27
(#23) Stanford @ USC: Stanford, 27 USC, 21
Upset: Maryland, 31 Syracuse, 28
Double Upset: Fresno State, 24 Minnesota, 21

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