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College Football Picks 2023: Week Two

Quinn Ewers, Texas

Current Picks Record: 6-3

Upset: 1-0

Superdogs: 0-1

Locks: 1-0

(#11) Texas Longhorns @ (#3) Alabama Crimson Tide

Line: Alabama -7

O/U: 54

Two of college football's most identifiable brands collide in one of the biggest non-conference games of the year, with Alabama and Texas running it back after a thrilling game in 2022. Alabama came out on top by one single point in Austin last fall, and now returns to Bryant-Denny Stadium to face a Longhorn team aiming for a program-defining victory.

We didn't get much of an impression from either team during Week One, as both rolled over weak non-conference foes. Alabama pummeled Middle Tennessee, while the Longhorns handled in-state opponent Rice by nearly four touchdowns. It also didn't give us much of an opportunity to answer the questions that remain present for each program as they head into a pivotal weekend. For Alabama, that's the quarterback situation, which has hung around the program since Bryce Young played his final collegiate game. Jalen Milroe took hold as the starter in the opener and showcased his impressive running ability, but the Longhorns are going to have a gameplan dedicated to him this year. We still aren't completely sure how effective of a passer he is, and it wouldn't be shocking to see either, or both, of Tyler Buchner and Ty Simpson. That means the Tide are going to keep it on the ground early and often with Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams, set to operate behind a powerful Alabama offensive line. It will be quite a test for a Texas defensive front that has all the tools to be great, but has too often disappointed. These are the types of games that will tell us a lot about how ready Texas in general is for an SEC jump; they outplayed the Tide for most of the contest a year ago and matched up well at every spot. But, how they handle the Tide's physicality and toughness will go a long way in determining the outcome.

The Longhorn offense took a bit of time to get rolling this past Saturday against Rice, but seemed to hit their stride in the second half and now face a stiff challenge in the mighty Crimson Tide. Quarterback Quinn Ewers is the X-factor; his injury in this game a season ago was the major force that swung it in Alabama's favor, which is likely to give the second-year starter a feeling of unfinished business. Ewers' mullet may be gone, but he's still known for his bold and fiery play-style, which is a sight to behold when it's working, but can go the other way just as often. You do wonder how he is going to handle the raucous environment that Tuscaloosa has to offer, but having an elite support system should help. Texas is loaded with elite pass-catchers, including Xavier Worthy, Adonai Mitchell and Jordan Whittington, while tight end Ja'Tavion Sanders presents a matchup problem. Yet, we still don't have a great understanding of the Longhorn run game at this early juncture in the season. Jaydon Blue and Jonathon Brooks, who are the "veterans" in the room, finished as the leading rushers in the season-opening win, but will that be the case moving forward? I believe Texas has to have some semblance of balance if they are to topple the Tide, but there are certainly questions here. Fortunately for Texas, the Alabama defense still has some things to work out on their end under new coordinator Kevin Steele and despite a fearsome pass rush, there may be some opportunities for big plays to abound.

Even though they ultimately came up short, Texas proved a lot of detractors wrong by going toe-to-toe with Alabama over four quarters last fall. One of them being me, who envisioned it to be a comfortable victory for the Tide, even on the road. And the thing is, I really like this Texas team. The passing attack has a chance to be special, they've bolstered their play in the trenches, and there's the usual collection of star-power throughout the roster. Yet, it feels impossible to get a read on the Longhorns each and every week and I'm still not sure what to expect in 2023. Pair that with the fact this game is in Tuscaloosa, I think the smart money remains on the Tide.

The Pick: Alabama, 35 Texas, 30

(#20) Ole Miss Rebels @ (#24) Tulane Green Wave

Line: Ole Miss -7.5

O/U: 67

Although the preeminent game in the South this weekend is unquestionably Texas-Alabama, the mid-afternoon duel between Tulane and Ole Miss shouldn't get lost in the shuffle. Ole Miss goes on the road to New Orleans to prove their worth as an SEC contender, while the Green Wave held off an upset bid by South Alabama in the opener and looks like a Group of Five favorite again.

Ole Miss came out and dropped 73 points in their opener against Mercer, punctuated by 524 yards through the air. Quarterback Jaxson Dart looks like he'll be the guy once again, but the Rebels also used both of the other signal-callers on the roster in Spencer Sanders and Walker Howard in the opener. Granted, that's not much of a surprise in a blowout over an FCS opponent, but this quarterback situation remains worth watching. Sanders in particular has plenty of experience at the Power Five level and will likely remain a factor in the offense all season long. Yet, I envision Lane Kiffin and staff will lean more on their ground game this week against the Green Wave. Lane always seems to have an elite running back on the roster and this year it's Quinshon Judkins, although others like Ulysses Bentley IV and Matt Jones are also going to get their touches. They face a Tulane defense that was elite a season ago, but is still in a bit of a transition as they replace several key pieces, both on the staff and on the field. They looked the part in the opener by holding South Alabama to just 265 yards of total offense, but the Rebels are a whole different animal and Lane always seems to have some tricks up his sleeve.

The Green Wave offense is also going to be led by their man under center, as Michael Pratt is one of the top Group of Five quarterbacks in the nation. Actually, scratch that, he's one of the best quarterbacks in the country, period. The veteran signal-caller tossed four touchdowns against a quality South Alabama defense in the opener and will have his opportunities against the Rebels. Jha'Quan Jackson was the big-play option in the first game and looks like he has a chance to be special, while Lawrence Keys II is a former Notre Dame transfer who is the type of talent you don't always see at the Group of Five level. They have a chance to blow things up against a shaky Ole Miss secondary, but this Rebel defense is an interesting watch. For all the consternation Pete Golding created during his time at Alabama, I do think he's a good defensive mind and the Rebels hit the portal hard this offseason to address holes on the defense. How quickly those defensive pieces gel this year will be crucial, but it wouldn't be surprising if they're still figuring things out in this one.

I thought Tulane was firmly on upset alert in Week One, but they looked the part against South Alabama and should be ready to show their stuff against an SEC opponent here. The last time we see them face a Power Five team, the Green Wave came back and shocked Caleb Williams and USC and while I like their chances again, I still lean the Rebels. The roster is just deeper and this feels like a game where Lane is going to show what he can do as a play-caller against a tough defense. Yet, I'm not rushing to pick, or bet, this one and feel like this could be in coin flip territory.

The Pick: Ole Miss, 38 Tulane, 28

(#23) Texas A&M Aggies @ Miami Hurricanes

Line: Texas A&M -4

O/U: 51

Texas A&M and Miami were two of the most disappointing teams in college football a season ago, both lagging through ugly 5-7 campaigns that left a bad taste in the mouths of their fans. Yet, both programs are hopeful that they reversed their misfortunes over the offseason and set themselves up for success in 2023. The first notable challenge of the year should be an interesting barometer test as both prepare for the long haul of the fall.

A season ago, the most points the Aggies managed in one game came in the final game of the year, as they dropped 38 on an LSU team that was looking ahead to the SEC Championship Game. In one week with Bobby Petrino at the helm of the offense, they smashed that total, with 52 points in the opener. Granted, New Mexico isn't exactly top-tier competition, but it's still a good sign for the offense as they gear up for the Hurricanes. Quarterback Conner Weigman received plenty of attention over the offseason and looked the part in the opener, taking care of the football and finishing with five passing touchdowns. He's aided by one of the best receivers anywhere in college football in Evan Stewart and a healthy Ainias Smith should work wonders for this offense, as the do-it-all playmaker can line up anywhere on the field and bust open a big play. It's likely that this aerial attack is going to continue to play an outsized role, at least early on, as the Aggies figure out their ground game. Devon Achane is gone and it's an open competition to see who will replace him, with Amari Daniels, Le'Veon Moss, Rueben Owens, and sixth-year David Bailey hoping to all be in the mix. I suspect Owens will eventually win out, but the true freshman is still acclimating to the collegiate level, and this ground attack didn't look altogether too dominant in the opener, averaging 4.6 yards per rush. That is reason for concern; Miami is significantly more athletic and talented at every level than New Mexico and they feature real star-power on the back-end, notably safety Kamren Kinchens. This should be a good test for Petrino and this offense, which is still feeling each other out so early on after years of Jimbo Fisher operating as play-caller.

It's a similar story at Miami, who overhauled their offense after a disastrous 2022 and will be looking to show their new and improved look in this one. Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson is going to want to throw the ball all over the field and he has the optimal quarterback to do so in Tyler Van Dyke, but the Hurricanes still appeared to be finding their rhythm in the season-opening victory over Miami-Ohio. That's to be expected after such a major shake-up, but there are questions as to who will be the guy, or guys, out wide for Miami in 2023. A healthy Xavier Restrepo is huge and Colbie Young was the star of the opener, but this will be an intriguing watch as the season goes on. The good news is that the ground game looked sharp in the 38-3 demolition of the Redhawks and even though Dawson will look to be aggressive, the 'Canes will still look for balance. The main focus for me, however, is going to be the offensive line play. Miami was a complete disaster up front throughout 2022 and despite numerous offseason additions, this group still has issues to work out. You always wonder how a unit like this full of transfers is going to gel, and Texas A&M is not the ideal challenge so early on. The Aggies are loaded in their front seven with future NFL talent and they are going to come at the 'Canes for the entire four quarters. Whether Miami is able to keep Van Dyke upright and potentially open things up on the ground is likely to be the deciding factor. 

I think both these programs are due for a rebound year in 2023, but it wouldn't shock me if this is a bit of an ugly game. There are brand-new offenses in play here, both going up against strong defenses that boast loads of NFL talent. The over/under at 51 seems a tad ambitious to me, but I like the Aggies to win outright. I have a lot of trust in this defense, which has carried this team at times throughout the Fisher era, and the offense looked crisp in the opener. Again, you have to take everything with a grain of salt from Week One, especially this year, but I think there's enough here to take A&M.

The Pick: Texas A&M, 24 Miami, 20

Other Picks

(#10) Notre Dame Fighting Irish @ NC State Wolfpack -- Sam Hartman has looked like the quarterback Notre Dame desperately missed last season and even on the road, the Irish are balanced enough on both sides of the ball to survive an NC State upset bid.

The Pick: Notre Dame, 31 NC State, 17

(#12) Utah Utes @ Baylor Bears -- I don't believe we should overreact about Baylor after their shocking loss to Texas State over the weekend and the way college football works, this is prime upset territory. Yet, Kyle Whittingham should have his team ready to go for the road trip and I trust the Utes.

The Pick: Utah, 27 Baylor, 16

(#13) Oregon Ducks @ Texas Tech Red Raiders -- Much like Baylor, I don't want to overreact to Texas Tech's upset defeat at the hands of Wyoming in Week One. Lubbock is a tough place to play, but the Ducks have too much talent top-to-bottom to let this one slip away.

The Pick: Oregon, 45 Texas Tech, 35

Upset: Nebraska Cornhuskers @ (#22) Colorado Buffaloes -- Like I predicted, Deion and the Buffaloes got the big win of the first weekend and unsurprisingly, the media hype around this team borders on nauseating. This is college football, so they're bound for a come back to Earth moment against a Nebraska defense that looked legit in Week One.

The Pick: Nebraska, 27 Colorado, 21

Superdog (covers > 21 point spread) Kent State Golden Flashes (+38) @ Arkansas Razorbacks -- It was a rough debut for Kenni Burns at Kent State, as the Golden Flashes lost to UCF by 50, but I like their chances of covering this spread. Arkansas could keep it on the ground early and often, which should help close this line.

The Pick: Arkansas, 42 Kent State, 10

Lock of the Week: Iowa Hawkeyes (-3.5) @ Iowa State Cyclones -- Matt Campbell and the Cyclones got the monkey of their backs by defeating Iowa in the Cy-Hawk last fall. But, I have a feeling this Hawekeye team is much improved this fall and Kirk Ferentz has absolutely owned ISU.

The Pick: Iowa, 20 Iowa State, 10

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