Breaking news, rankings, predictions and analysis all in one place.

College Football Picks 2023: Week One

Jordan Travis, Florida State

 (#5) LSU Tigers vs. (#8) Florida State Seminoles (Orlando)

Line: LSU -2.5

O/U: 56.5

The best game of 2023's opening weekend happens to be on Sunday night, as LSU and Florida State square off in a rematch of one of last year's most exciting games. Both enter with legitimate National Title aspirations and the neutral site matchup with a major resume-boosting opportunity.

LSU will be led once again by quarterback Jayden Daniels, who found his rhythm in the latter half of 2022 and now enters as one of college football's premier quarterbacks. Daniels wasn't overly impressive in this matchup a season ago but has had a whole year to acclimate himself to this offense and adds a dangerous element with his rushing ability. The key for the Tigers will be finding enough support around him to move the ball against the Seminoles. While Malik Nabers has evolved into one of the SEC's best, LSU has a bunch of unproven weapons beyond him in the receiver corps, although dynamic tight end Kole Taylor helps make up for it. The Tiger running back situation is also a bit unsettled; it's likely Brian Kelly will deploy a committee approach once more this fall, but could Notre Dame transfer Logan Diggs emerge as the feature option by the end of this one? Just as important will be how the LSU offensive line handles a ferocious Florida State pass rush that includes arguably college football's top edge rusher in Jared Verse. Sophomore tackles Emery Jones and Will Campbell were both extremely impressive as true freshman last fall, but they'll be facing off against a front seven stocked to the brim with future NFL talent. Campbell is likely to see Verse early and often, which could give him a chance to make quite an impression among the NFL personnel that are undoubtedly going to be flocking to Orlando.

Florida State also features a proven commodity under center in Jordan Travis, who went for nearly 300 all-purpose yards against the Tigers last season. The growth of Travis over his FSU career has been a joy to watch; he's developed into a competent, confident passer and has always had his legs to extend plays and open up this offense. There are a lot of people around the Florida State program that believe this opener could set the stage for a potential Heisman campaign. Around him, the 'Noles boast a deep and dynamic running back and have one of the top receiver combos in the country with Johnny Wilson and newcomer Keon Coleman. Wilson is a pain for opposing defenses, using his blend of size (6'7", 240 pounds) and soft hands to overpower smaller defenders. But, it's Coleman that could be the secret sauce for Florida State this fall, as the Michigan State transfer flashed serious potential with the Spartans and has potential to be a potent deep threat. With all those weapons, it's no question the Seminoles are going to move the ball, but I am curious to see what LSU defensive coordinator Matt House comes up with on the other side of the ball. He's got star-power at every level, including an elite linebacker duo of Omar Speights and Harold Perkins, that gives him versatility to draw up nearly anything. With that being said, LSU will be without a key piece up front in Maason Smith, who is suspended for this game, and is also breaking in plenty of fresh faces in the defensive backfield. Are they going to be ready to stop an aggressive Florida State aerial attack?

Although this may be an SEC-ACC matchup, it's going to have the feel of a physical SEC game between two power programs looking to prove themselves on a national stage. Both teams are going to duke it out in the trenches and are going to bully each other for the entire four quarters. I don't see either one having a clear-cut advantage and this line feels right heading in. But, I actually like Florida State to win straight up. I have less questions about their offense than LSU's at this point and feel as though they should be able to take more shots down the field than the Tigers. It will be another tight one, but I'm taking the same result as we saw in 2022.

The Pick: Florida State, 28 LSU, 24

Florida Gators @ (#14) Utah Utes

Line: Utah -4.5

O/U: 44.5

Last season, Florida's season-opening victory over Utah at "The Swamp" was supposed to be the beginning of a special debut season for Billy Napier and company. Instead, it was one of the few highlights for the Gators in 2022 as they sunk to below .500, while the Utes went on to win their second straight Pac-12 Title and play in the Rose Bowl. The two collide again on Thursday night, this time in Salt Lake City.

We got some much-needed clarity about this matchup earlier in the week when it was announced that Utah QB Cam Rising and star tight end Brant Kuithe were unlikely to play in this one. Both are recovering from torn ACLs, with Rising still working his way back from the injury suffered in the Rose Bowl defeat. That means that it's likely time for Bryson Barnes at quarterback for the Utes, but I don't envision the offensive gameplan changing all that much. Utah is going to look to run the ball down Florida's throats with their deep stable of backs, and they should have plenty of success. Whether it's rising star Ja'Quinden Jackson or complementary pieces Micah Bernard and Jaylon Glover, the Utes can constantly rotate in fresh legs, and they face a Gator defensive front with serious questions. This unit already struggled a year ago, then watched numerous defections over the offseason, including their coordinator Patrick Toney, who took a job with the Arizona Cardinals. I'm not sure if the Gators are going to have enough to contain this ground game, and Barnes should be able to get enough opportunities in play-action to move the chains consistently. It's not going to be the prettiest offensive sight, but rarely have Kyle Whittingham teams played a flashy brand of football. That hasn't stopped the from being a consistent pain to play, especially in the friendly confines of Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Expect Florida to also pound the ball early and often with a quality running back duo of their own in Trevor Etienne and Montrell Johnson. Etienne may not have the top-end speed of his older brother Travis, but he proved he could be a workhorse option last fall and looks like a special breakout candidate in 2023, while Johnson has no issues playing bully ball. The problem for Florida is that their offensive line has serious questions throughout the unit, and they play a Ute front seven that always comes to play. In fact, few programs in college football are as consistent up front as Utah, even though they enter the season with a few more questions on their back-end. The reality is that if Florida is to go on the road and pull off the upset, they are going to need Graham Mertz to show up in a big way. The Wisconsin transfer has been a constant source of criticism, unable to ever match the magic of his first start during the 2020 season against Illinois. Perhaps he just needed a change of scenery, but he's not throwing the ball to a loaded receiver room, either. Beyond Ricky Pearsall, there's not really another proven pass-catcher on the roster. Tight end Keon Zipperer is their top returning receiver behind Pearsall, with 13 receptions for 177 yards a season ago. There are likely to be opportunities as Utah breaks in some new faces in the pass defense, but I just don't have a ton of confidence the Gators are going to be able to take advantage, especially playing in a raucous road setting.

As I said in my preview of this game last season, the environment is going to be a major factor. Florida had the advantage of playing at home last year and having experience playing in the humidity of Florida Augusts. But now, they have to travel across the country and play at altitude against a Utah program that is nearly unstoppable at home. I simply don't see the route for an upset, even with Rising unlikely to play. In fact, although this isn't my "Lock of the Week" I feel comfortably locking in Utah to win comfortably, particularly where this line is at.

The Pick: Utah, 27 Florida, 14

(#21) North Carolina Tar Heels vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (Charlotte)

Line: UNC -2.5

O/U: 64.5

North Carolina and South Carolina meet up for their 60th all-time meeting on Saturday evening, with both programs searching for different goals. The Tar Heels are under a bit of pressure as they look to recover from a dismal stretch to end 2022 and make the most of the Drake Maye era, while the Gamecocks have had two solid seasons of progress under Shane Beamer and are looking to evolve into a legitimate threat to Georgia's stranglehold on the SEC East.

For the Tar Heels, it truly is all about Drake Maye. In his first season as starter, he went for 4,321 yards and 45 total touchdowns, finishing tenth in Heisman voting. As he prepares for 2023, he's looking to not only build on those numbers but deliver a season that keeps him on the top of NFL Draft boards heading into next spring. He'll have to do so with some fresh faces around him, mainly at receiver, as North Carolina will miss Josh Downs and Antoine Green. There are still weapons, namely tight end Bryson Nesbit and potential breakout candidates J.J. Jones and Gavin Blackwell, plus the Heels feature an underrated running back room with Omarion Hampton and Elijah Green. Add in an experienced offensive line, I don't have any doubt that UNC is going to put up plenty of points, especially against a South Carolina defense replacing star-power at every level. Yet, scoring points has not been the problem for the Heels during the Mack Brown era, it's been stopping others from doing the same. All eyes will be on the Tar Heel defense, which faces a significant early test with the Gamecocks. 

Spencer Rattler has been a controversial name in college football for years now and is maddeningly streaky, but he seemed to turn the corner down the stretch in 2022. He took care of the football and played with a confidence and poise that we saw at times during his Oklahoma tenure, but not often enough. This could be his shot at a shining moment, and he'll take on an especially large role with South Carolina breaking in new playmakers at the skill positions. Senior receiver Antwane Wells with a point of emphasis for the Tar Heels, but I' actually watching two newcomers with a closer eye. Tight end Trey Knox is going to be a security blanket in this offense as he comes over from Arkansas, but the most intriguing Gamecock on the field to me is true freshman Nyckoles Harbor. The dude is a freak, 6'5", 230 pounds who could play either defense or offense, but will most likely be used for his explosiveness offensively. New offensive coordinator Dowell Logains, who coached Knox as Arkansas TE coach, is going to be creative with how he gets Harbor the football, and I think he could cause real damage to this Tar Heel defense. With that being said, I'm not still entirely sure what type of UNC defense is actually going to end up showing up here. This unit looks the part when they walk off the bus and there's a bunch of NFL talent, but the program's Achilles heel for so long has been on this side of the ball. I think the front seven can give the Gamecocks challenges, but the secondary has real problems and could be in store for a rough one against Rattler and company.

I don't have a strong lean either way heading into this one, as both teams appear pretty evenly matched, feature quality quarterbacks, and should have ample motivation. I'll roll with the Gamecocks, mainly because Shane Beamer has this program riding a wave of momentum and I feel as though I have a better picture of what they will look like on both sides of the ball. Either way, points should come fast and furious in this one, so buckle up for a fun one in Charlotte.

The Pick: South Carolina, 40 North Carolina, 35

Other Picks

Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers -- The Matt Rhule era begins in the Twin Cities, with the Gophers aiming for their fifth straight victory over the 'Huskers. Both teams are featuring new quarterbacks, but Athan Kaliakmanis gained valuable experience last fall and has a deep receiver room; that should make all the difference at home.

The Pick: Minnesota, 21 Nebraska, 17

Boise State Broncos @ (#10) Washington Huskies -- The "Chris Petersen Revenge Tour" for Boise State, who turned a corner under Andy Avalos last fall. But, I simply don't think they have enough to keep up with Michael Penix and this high-flying Husky attack.

The Pick: Washington, 45 Boise State, 31

(#9) Clemson Tigers @ Duke Blue Devils -- Duke is my dark horse ACC pick this year and they do get Clemson at home, but the Tigers are simply too overpowering up and down this depth chart. The offense may take some time to find its groove, but I still believe they avoid the upset.

The Pick: Clemson, 35 Duke, 21

Upset: Colorado Buffaloes over (#17) TCU Horned Frogs -- I'm not even particularly high on Colorado this year under Deion Sanders. In fact, I have them finishing near the bottom of the Pac-12 at 3-9. Yet, something tells me they are going to get an early win and an overwhelming amount of hype, and what better way to do that then beating a TCU team with plenty of question marks of their own?

The Pick: Colorado, 34 TCU, 31

Superdog (covers > 21-point spread): New Mexico (+38.5) @ Texas A&M -- The Lobos shouldn't present too much difficulty for the Aggies in College Station, but I think there may be an early feeling out process for the A&M offense as Bobby Petrino takes over play-calling duties.

The Pick: Texas A&M, 38 New Mexico, 7

Lock of the Week: UCLA (-14) vs. Coastal Carolina -- We still aren't sure who will be taking snaps under center for the Bruins in this one, but this is an experienced and balanced roster who should be able to overcome Coastal Carolina at home.

The Pick: UCLA, 38 Coastal Carolina, 21

No comments:

Theme images by LUGO. Powered by Blogger.