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2022 College Football Picks: Week One

Chris Tyree, Notre Dame

(#5) Notre Dame Fighting Irish @ (#2) Ohio State Buckeyes

Spread: Ohio State -17

O/U: 59.5

Week One matchups don't get much better than Ohio State and Notre Dame, two of the sport's greatest brands, squaring off in a Top 5 matchup at "The Shoe". The Buckeyes have National Title expectations, with an offense led by Heisman frontrunner C.J. Stroud, but don't expect Marcus Freeman and the Fighting Irish to go down softly. 

Stroud leads an Ohio State offense stocked full of weapons. Tailback TreVeyon Henderson is a leading candidate to take home the Doak Walker Award as the nation's best running back and the receiver corps is the best in the country, with Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Julian Fleming, Marvin Harrison Jr., and more. The offensive line should also be solid, even as they say goodbye to a pair of program staples, Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere. The Buckeyes also have a distinct advantage facing a brand new Notre Dame defensive coordinator, former Miami head man Al Golden. With all that being said, the Irish defense has consistently been a strong unit over the past half-decade and I don't suspect much drop-off. Marcus Freeman may have moved from defensive coordinator to head coach, but his fingerprints will remain all over this Irish defense and this is a program that is very physical at the line of scrimmage. They boast an All-American candidate at defensive end in Isaiah Foskey and plenty of gap-shooters in the front seven who could make life difficult for Henderson and company. The secondary will be without superstar Kyle Hamilton, but the cornerbacks actually match up fairly well with this loaded receiver corps. Last year, it took the Buckeye offense some time to really get rolling in the opener against Minnesota and it wouldn't be a shock if that's the case once again, even if the talent on the field is overwhelming.

Even if Notre Dame is able to hang on the other side of the ball, they're going to need their offense to create some big plays if they are to spring an upset in Columbus. Tyler Buchner has officially won the quarterback competition and has shown flashes in his short Irish career up to this point, but the environment will be raucous. Expect the Irish to lean on their ground game, chiefly speedster Chris Tyree, as well as steady tight end Michael Mayer, my preseason John Mackey Award winner. The Irish are also strong on the offensive line and should be able to create some holes against a Buckeye defensive front that is awfully talented, but relatively short on proven products, at least yet. However, at the end of the day this game may come down to whether Notre Dame's receivers are able to make plays happen on the perimeter. While this program has become incredibly consistent, one of the most stable in the entire country, the lack of proven playmakers on the outside has doomed them in numerous big games. With veteran Avery Davis sidelined for the entire season with a torn ACL, the pressure is on for the other pieces in this receiver corps. Could youngsters like Lorenzo Styles or Deion Colzie step up and have a big game? Certainly, but I also suspect Ohio State's secondary to be vastly improved from the products they've put on the field over the last two seasons. I fear Notre Dame's offense is going to be bogged down if they can't open things up down the field, putting them in a nearly impossible position against the Buckeye offense.

I was a bit surprised how comfortably Ohio State is favored in this game, even as my preseason National Title pick and despite the fact they're playing at home. Notre Dame is going to give them a fight to open up the year, but the smart money remains on the Buckeyes. At the end of the day, they simply have too many weapons to face off against for a team like Notre Dame that is figuring out life post-Brian Kelly.

The Pick: Ohio State, 35 Notre Dame, 24 (Notre Dame cover)

(#11) Oregon Ducks @ (#3) Georgia Bulldogs

Spread: Georgia -17

O/U: 53

Georgia's National Title defense begins in Atlanta as they square off against their former defensive coordinator, Dan Lanning, and the Oregon Ducks. The game will feature two of the most talented rosters in the sport, but don't be shocked if it's a low-scoring affair. Both defenses should be awfully strong once again 2022, and the quarterback battle of Stetson Bennett vs. Bo Nix doesn't inspire much confidence that this one is going to be full of big plays.

Like most teams coming off a National Title, Georgia was hit hard by NFL defections, mainly on a defense that will go down as one of the best in college football history. The front seven in particular was gutted, with key pieces such as Jordan Davis, Nakobe Dean, Quay Walker, Travon Walker, and more moving on. Even so, the Bulldogs are set to reload with blue-chip recruits up and down their roster and still boast several elite defenders. Jalen Carter appears set to be the next great Georgia defensive linemen and should challenge the veteran-laden Duck offensive line on the interior, while Nolan Smith wreaks havoc off the edge. The secondary also has a chance to be really good, with corner Kelee Ringo entering the year as a prime Jim Thorpe candidate and plenty of experience on the back-end. It's an awfully stiff challenge to begin the season for an Oregon offense that is still figuring out their identity as they replace a bunch of new faces. Not only are they breaking in a fresh new signal-caller, Nix, but also breaking in a new tailback in Byron Cardwell, but plenty of young pieces at receiver. Cardwell is the type of running back that could bust things open on offense, but how much success is he going to have against a stout Georgia defensive front? This is likely going to be a game where Oregon leans on defense and special teams to put them in strong field position and hope that Nix and company can engineer some magic.

On the other side of the ball, Georgia has a chance to be improved, particularly because they are much healthier than in 2021. At this point, we know who Bennett is as quarterback; he's a solid college QB who won't hurt your team, but won't necessarily win you a game. Fortunately, he won't have to, assuming the Bulldogs can get improved production from their receiver corps. Tight end Brock Bowers is the big name among the pass-catchers, but fellow tight ends Darnell Washington and Arik Gilbert will be matchup nightmares, while Adonai Mitchell and Arian Smith create down-the-field. There's more questions at running back than UGA is used to, but that doesn't mean there isn't talent. It wouldn't be shocking if either Kendall Milton or Kenny McIntosh use this opener as a coming-out party after having to sit behind Zamir White last fall. Oregon does feature proven stars at just about every level of defense, including Brandon Dorlus and Noah Sewell up front, plus the secondary should also be healthier from a year ago. But, can they create enough turnovers necessary to help swing the tide? For all his faults, Bennett is not a quarterback that turns the ball over very often, a tough break for a Duck team that will need some things to go their way if they are to go into the state of Georgia and pull an upset.

Oregon isn't built like your typical Pac-12 foe, as they have a physical nature and talent dynamic that reminds you more of an SEC foe than team from the Pacific Northwest. Yet, it's just hard to imagine them going cross-country and beating the reigning National Champions with so many new faces on the offensive side of the ball. I have a feeling this is going to be a low-scoring, defensive affair, but I still trust UGA more in that category.

The Pick: Georgia, 27 Oregon, 14 (Oregon cover)

(#23) Cincinnati Bearcats @ (#19) Arkansas Razorbacks

Spread: Arkansas -6.5

O/U: 52

The ND-OSU and Oregon-UGA games will dominate the attention on Week One, but don't forget about this intriguing battle between the Cincinnati Bearcats and Arkansas Razorbacks. Cincinnati broke through and made the CFB Playoff a season ago but like many, are replacing a bunch on both sides of the ball. Arkansas was one of the nation's biggest surprises in 2021, but was last year an aberration or the norm in Fayetteville?

Cincinnati will be without the winningest QB in program history, as Desmond Ridder is now on the Atlanta Falcons. Instead, the Bearcats will be rolling with either veteran Ben Bryant or untested, but talented, youngster Evan Prater. Bryant was the backup for several years before a one-year pit stop at Eastern Michigan, before coming back to UC. Prater is one of the highest-ranked recruits in school history, who has seen some action, but has never started at the collegiate level. Head coach Luke Fickell has yet to name an official starter, but my bet is that Bryant will be leading the first-team offense, at least to begin the year. Bryant's a solid college quarterback, but you do wonder how he'll fare against a well-coached, aggressive Arkansas defense. This isn't like the type of defenses he will see in the American Athletic, or what he saw in the MAC, Barry Odom has the 'Hogs flying all over the field. Tailback Ryan Montgomery will take some pressure off Bryant and the Bearcats do feature one of the nation's most underrated tight end combos in Leonard Taylor and Josh Whyle, but they are also breaking in a new OC in Gino Guidugli. I don't suspect they'll look much different than the group we saw under Ridder, a ball-control offense that was willing to take the occasional shot, but it is a difficult matchup to open up the year.

While Cincinnati is replacing a bunch of pieces, Arkansas had a fairly stable offseason, at least in the chaotic landscape of modern college football. Quarterback K.J. Jefferson is back under center and while he will miss Treylon Burks out wide, most of the other big names on offense return, as does play-caller Kendal Briles. The two-headed monster of Raheim Sanders and Dominique Johnson is a pain for any defense, even one as stout as Cincinnati, while Trey Knox is a problem at tight end. This could also be grounds for a breakout from Jadon Haselwood, once one of the nation's top recruits, and a player who battled through countless injuries while at Oklahoma. At some point, Haselwood's talent is going to shine through, and what better opportunity than against a Bearcat secondary that is losing both of their starting corners, including reigning Thorpe Award winner Coby Bryant. 

This feels like a game that could come down to K.J. Jefferson. I consider him one of the country's most under-appreciated signal-callers who could have a breakout season. He plays a Cincinnati secondary full of question marks and can also add an important element with his legs, which could be the spark Arkansas needs to overcome the Bearcats. It will be a tough, grind-it-out matchup, but I'm very high on the Razorbacks this year and have them coming out on top.

The Pick: Arkansas, 24 Cincinnati, 17

Other Picks

West Virginia @ (#17) Pittsburgh -- Two former USC quarterbacks (Kedon Slovis and J.T. Daniels) collide in the return of the "Backyard Brawl". Even though the game is in Pittsburgh, expect the WVU contingent to be rowdy, but the Panthers will be too much.

The Pick: Pittsburgh, 31 West Virginia, 17

Florida State @ LSU -- Brian Kelly's first LSU team is quite a mystery at this point, but one thing we know is that they'll be strong in the trenches. Expect them to overpower Mike Norvell's club, particularly in New Orleans.

The Pick: LSU, 24 Florida State, 14

(#4) Clemson @ Georgia Tech -- Could this Labor Day duel have upset potential? Unlikely, as the Clemson Tigers overpower one of the ACC's bottom-feeders.

The Pick: Clemson, 35 Georgia Tech, 13

Upset: Florida over (#7) Utah -- I'm clearly very high on the Utes this year, as I have them making the CFB Playoff field. But, going into "The Swamp" in early September is a disaster waiting-to-happen, particularly for a program not used to playing Southern schools. Plus, Anthony Richardson is the type of QB that could cause problems for the Utes.

The Pick: Florida, 28 Utah, 24

Superdog (covers > 21 point spread): Western Michigan (+22) @ Michigan State -- I don't envision a massive step-back for MSU in 2022, but they could be a bit slow out of the gate as they break in a new load of transfers. Western Michigan is a MAC frontrunner and people seem to forget they beat Pitt straight-up a season ago.

The Pick: Michigan State, 30 Western Michigan, 14

Lock of the Week (has to be a favorite): Boston College (-7) vs. Rutgers -- The Scarlet Knights may be feisty, but we don't know who their quarterback is going to be as they prepare to face a healthy Phil Jurkovec in Chestnut Hill.

The Pick: Boston College, 27 Rutgers, 17

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