by Ian Boyd
College football has arrived! After a sloppy but exciting "Week 0" opening featuring Florida and Miami, the real appetizer has arrived for college football fans. Week 2 will bring more marquee matchups, but Week 1 has a few high-profile games as well as a couple of fascinating contests between top-25 teams and strong Group of Five programs that could realistically challenge them.
Most top programs dislike taking on other top programs in Week 1 for reasons that were clear watching Florida play Miami. Teams are often sloppier in Week 1 and coaches haven't always smoothed out all the creases in their team in fall camp without the benefit of watching them play a real game. However, that can lead to surprisingly good contests when the Group of Five programs that are scheduled for Week 1 prove to be better than expected.
This year Seventh Day Adventure is going to be featuring a new metric for picking against the Vegas spreads. The FEI model developed by Football Outsiders' Brian Fremeau will now take the lead in offering the picks followed by my own humble subjective predictions (although I was 64-57 last year). Here are some of the most intriguing games and lines from our opening week to the 2019 season.
All times are listed as Eastern.
Wisconsin (-13.5) at South Florida -- Friday 7 p.m. (ESPN)
|When Wisconsin has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|2018 Rushing S&P+||3||90|
|2018 Passing S&P+||80||51|
|When South Florida has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|2018 Rushing S&P+||59||59|
|2018 Passing S&P+||58||95|
South Florida has had a fairly rocky transition from Willie Taggart to Charlie Strong. The Bulls went 10-2 in Year 1 (2017) with Strong thanks in large part to star quarterback Quinton Flowers. The signal-caller threw for 2,911 yards and ran for another 1,078 for Strong in his final year in Tampa. Then the Bulls went 7-6 in 2018 as former Alabama quarterback Blake Barnett threw only 12 touchdown passes to 11 interceptions.
The Bulls were running an Art Briles-inspired "veer and shoot" offense in Years 1 and 2 with Strong, coordinated by Sterlin Gilbert, who left after the conclusion of the season to be the head coach at McNeese State. Strong replaced him with a former player, Kerwin Bell, who's bringing a pro spread system to Tampa. Somehow Barnett still has eligibility left and offers the Bulls an experienced leader behind center who has been in three different programs under four different offensive coordinators. His goal will be to operate a matchup-oriented offense that includes pro-style tight end Mitchell Wilcox (540 receiving yards in 2018), leading rusher Jordan Cronkite, and some talented young receivers. The South Florida defense hasn't yet put it all together yet under Strong, but will now be in Year 3.
The Bulls offense should be a good test of how Wisconsin's offseason rebuild on defense has gone. The Badgers lacked production at outside linebacker in 2018 and had some struggles in the secondary as well. Their 2019 lineup on the back end will be fairly young with several first-time starters, but up front their defensive line got healthier with the return of Isaiahh Loudermilk and Garrett Rand, and Zack Baun is now healthy and ready to lead from outside linebacker. Chances are good that Wisconsin will be back on form on defense this year and ready to throw difficult blitzes at South Florida's retooling offensive line.
Perhaps the most interesting thing to watch in this game will be the Wisconsin offense, which is reported to be more shotgun-oriented this season to feature new dual-threat quarterback Jack Coan. The Badgers put Coan at starter for the 2018 Pinstripe Bowl and he led them to a 35-3 victory with a humble 73 passing yards a rushing touchdown. Wisconsin will be integrating more quarterback read game into their rushing attack this year while still featuring running back Jonathan Taylor, who ran for 4,171 yards and 29 touchdowns over the last two seasons.
- Will Blake Barnett have the experience to guide South Florida's new pro spread offense?
- How does Wisconsin's rebuilt and healthier defense look against talented South Florida skill players?
- Wisconsin's shotgun-option rushing attack.
FEI Outright Pick: Wisconsin by 12.3.
Florida Atlantic at Ohio State (-27.5) -- Saturday 12 p.m. (FOX)
|Overall||Florida Atlantic||Ohio State|
|When Florida Atlantic has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|2018 Rushing S&P+||76||30|
|2018 Passing S&P+||62||36|
|When Ohio State has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|2018 Rushing S&P+||72||54|
|2018 Passing S&P+||81||5|
Ohio State is a fascinating team to watch in 2019. Their ceiling if some of their big transitions break positively is obviously high, but said transitions are no small matter. Urban Meyer is no longer running the show, having stepped down and handed his crown to offensive coordinator Ryan Day. The defensive staff has also been overhauled with longtime Michigan defensive coach Greg Mattison calling the plays and Jeff Hafley brought in from the NFL to rebuild the pass defense. Day made all those hires himself and also recruited transfer quarterback Justin Fields, a former five-star recruit from Georgia, who arrived in Columbus in time for spring practice and was granted an immediate eligibility waiver by the NCAA.
How quickly Fields' massive talent can be realized by Day's coaching will set the ceiling for how good the Buckeyes can be this season. Their floor will likely be determined by their improvements on defense. The 2018 Ohio State defense fell apart in crucial moments and ranked an abysmal 118th in IsoPPP due to their propensity to give up the big play. A mishmash defensive staff that included Greg Schiano and now-Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch struggled to build a cohesive unit. The Buckeyes tried to mix aggressive slanting and mugging up front with the defensive line and linebackers with single-high man coverage on the back end, which often conspired to leave Ohio State without a second level to their defense and no one to clean plays up if the ball broke through the initial, aggressive wave. The Buckeyes return 10 starters from a year ago on defense, so building a cohesive and fast unit that can execute base schemes was a likely and promising objective for the new staff.
Florida Atlantic might be a tougher test than expected if they can get back to the form they had in 2017 when they went 11-3 and star running back Devin Singletary ran for 1,918 yards. Head coach Lane Kiffin struggled to rebuild the offense last year with a freshman quarterback (Chris Robison, who transferred from Oklahoma) and young offensive line. Singletary has moved on to the NFL now, but the Owls are older and better now in the "infrastructure positions" such as the offensive line and quarterback and also return star tight end Harrison Bryant.
There's some higher-end talent across the Florida Atlantic roster if they can get solid blocking up front and consistent performances across the unit. If Ohio State is struggling to adjust to their new zone coverages on defense, the Owls should be more than capable of punishing assignment busts or mistakes. The Owls' defense lacks size and talent though, particularly up front, to do much to resist the Ohio State offense if the Buckeyes get their run game rolling early in this contest.
- Is Chris Robison ready to lead Florida Atlantic back to relevance at quarterback?
- How will outstanding quarterback talent Justin Fields look in Ryan Day's Ohio State offense?
- Is the new-look Ohio State defense ready to be tested by Lane Kiffin's offensive gameplanning?
FEI Outright Pick: Ohio State by 29.4
Northwestern at Stanford (-6.5) -- 4 p.m. (FOX)
|When Northwestern has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|2018 Rushing S&P+||118||65|
|2018 Passing S&P+||84||90|
|When Stanford has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|2018 Rushing S&P+||18||107|
|2018 Passing S&P+||78||8|
The "Nerd Bowl" will feature a pair of teams that had similar 2018 seasons in Stanford and Northwestern, but for Stanford going 9-4 prevented them from winning the Pac-12 North and playing for a conference championship. When Northwestern went 9-5, they were able to claim a Big 10 West title and play for the Big 10 championship.
To win nine games or win the Big 10 West again will require that Northwestern effectively replace four-year starting quarterback Clayton Thorson. The two contenders are former 5-star prospect and Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson, who redshirted and learned from Thorson last year, and redshirt senior T.J. Green, son of former NFL quarterback Trent Green. The rest of the Northwestern roster is in place to maintain their pace from 2018. The defense returns seven starters from a very solid unit, and star receiver Bennett Skowronek and running back Isaiah Bowser will both be there to help the new quarterback.
Stanford returns a lot from 2018 as well, quarterback K.J. Costello in particular. The Cardinal drastically overhauled their offense to make the most of Costello last year, and he finished with 3,530 passing yards and 29 touchdowns to 11 interceptions the year after Stanford featured running back Bryce Love rushing for 2,118 yards. The 2018 Stanford offensive line and overall blocking wasn't there, and Love's injuries held him to 739 rushing yards and 4.5 yards per carry the year after he averaged 8.1 yards per carry. But Stanford made out OK by throwing the ball to a strong receiving corps led by J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who had 1,059 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns.
Stanford is losing a fair chunk of that receiving corps, although they do return tight end Colby Parksinon (485 receiving yards and seven touchdowns), but they will also be without Love in the run game. It should be fascinating to see if head coach David Shaw attempts to get back to their "ogre-ball" approach when they have put extra offensive linemen on the field to run block or if they stick with their pro spread style from 2018.
The Stanford defense has struggled in recent years to get the caliber of linebacker play that defined their best teams of the decade. The 2019 team hopes that new starters like redshirt freshman Ricky Miezan or returning and healthier players such as redshirt senior Casey Toohill, can get this unit back on track to dominating football games.
- Who replaces Clayton Thorson at quarterback for Northwestern and can he guide them to another Big Ten West title?
- Will Stanford get back to a "ground and pound' offensive style or keep airing it out with quarterback K.J. Costello?
- Can this Stanford defense control the middle of the field with their linebacker corps in the 3-4 defense?
FEI Outright Pick: Stanford by 5.6
Oregon vs Auburn (-3.5) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington -- 7:30 p.m. (ABC)
|When Oregon has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|2018 Rushing S&P+||63||17|
|2018 Passing S&P+||44||15|
|When Auburn has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|2018 Rushing S&P+||64||76|
|2018 Passing S&P+||74||34|
Auburn is facing a pretty climactic 2019 season under head coach Gus Malzahn. The Tigers have struggled to maintain the expectations that were set by Malzahn's success as the offensive coordinator when they won the national championship in 2010, or during his first year as the head coach in 2013 when they returned to the National Championship Game but lost to Florida State. There are a lot of pieces in place for the Tigers to improve from a year ago and also a new quarterback. But for once the Tigers will be relying not on a transfer or junior college player at the position but a true freshman, Bo Nix, the son of former Auburn great Patrick Nix.
Whether or not Nix will be ready to guide Auburn to the kind of season that would protect Malzahn's job status is likely to be a popular topic around the program this season, which is quite a lot of pressure for a true freshman. The season starts with a rematch of the 2010 National Championship Game that Malzahn won with Cam Newton, against the Oregon Ducks. The quarterback lining up for Oregon will be Justin Herbert, who is widely regarded as a potential first-round NFL draft prospect once this season resolves. Everyone has a lot of pressure on them and a lot at stake for a Week 1 contest.
Based purely off experience from playing in big games, you'd give Oregon a big edge in this one. The Ducks will have Herbert at the helm behind an offensive line with five returning starters and throwing to all of the same receivers save for 2018's No. 1 target Dillon Mitchell. The Oregon defense continued to struggle in 2018; they hired Andy Avalos from Boise State in the offseason to coach up their 3-4 scheme. They have several starters back, including linebacker Troy Dye. Since coming in as offensive coordinator in 2017 and taking over the program in 2018, head coach Mario Cristobal has aimed to build Oregon into a program like Alabama that can control games in the trenches, and this will be his biggest and best unit yet.
Auburn is the perfect test for whether or not the Ducks have come close to that standard. The Auburn offensive line returns five starters and their defensive line has three, headlined by big defensive tackle Derrick Brown. From their geographic location in eastern Alabama, Auburn regularly recruits massive and athletic talents across their defense (and on the line in particular) from within the state and from nearby Georgia. They played well on defense in 2018 and have been excellent on that side of the ball for the last few years since defensive coordinator Kevin Steele simplified the scheme to emphasize sound, pattern-matching defense from a 4-2-5 concept.
On offense, Auburn's offensive line returns all five starters. Over the course of 2018 they eventually found a running back in Jatarvious Whitlow who was a good fit for their power-spread run game. Nix's job will be to spread the ball around on the perimeter to emerging targets like Seth Williams or Eli Stove in order to create space for the line and Whitlow to pound downhill at teams.
It's possible that Auburn's talent level and the successful marriage of their strategies and 2019 roster could make a leap that produces a team that can still stay above Oregon. If they have any early jitters or struggles, the Ducks have the experience to capitalize.
- Can Oregon's veteran offensive line control the game against Auburn's monstrous defensive front?
- Auburn freshman quarterback Bo Nix playing in prime time within Cowboy Stadium for a coach on the hot seat.
- Will Justin Herbert be able to build a Heisman or NFL draft resume against the NFL talent on Auburn's defense?
FEI Outright Pick: Auburn by 8.3
Houston at Oklahoma (-23) -- Sunday 7:30 p.m. (ABC)
|When Houston has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|2018 Rushing S&P+||24||57|
|2018 Passing S&P+||30||89|
|When Oklahoma has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|2018 Rushing S&P+||88||1|
|2018 Passing S&P+||96||2|
It was downright embarrassing how badly Houston played on defense last year given that the starting point for their unit was nose tackle Ed Oliver, arguably the most dominant player in the country. Oliver eventually threw in the towel on the season to prepare for the NFL and then Houston fired head coach Major Applewhite and hired Air Raid master Dana Holgorsen fresh off an 8-4 season at West Virginia. Holgorsen was the offensive coordinator at Houston back in 2008 and 2009 before leaving for Oklahoma State and then quickly taking over at West Virginia. He should be able to live his best life in Houston recruiting spread offensive talent from local high schools to plug into his schemes.
You have to go back a little further in Holgorsen's career, back to 2007 when he was an assistant at Texas Tech, to find the last occasion in which he was on the winning side in a game against Oklahoma. The Sooners bedeviled his West Virginia program and presented a climb the Mountaineers could never scale. He may have his best shot, though, in this 2019 season opener.
The Cougars will have to rebuild their defense but Holgorsen brought in a few transfers, headlined by former TCU defensive end Isaiah Chambers and Ole Miss safety Deontay Anderson. Holgorsen also hired Arkansas State defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen to install a four-down defense in Houston to get after opponents more aggressively up front. On offense, Holgorsen inherited a treasure trove of spread talent from predecessors Major Applewhite and Tom Herman before him. Running back Patrick Carr ran for 868 yards at 5.7 yards per carry last year, wide receiver Marquez Stevenson is back after a thousand-yard season, the offensive line has returning starters at center and both tackle spots, and they have quarterback D'Eriq King for one more season.
King is an explosive dual threat who ran for 674 yards last season, threw for 2,982 more, and scored 50 total touchdowns with only six interceptions. He accumulated all of those gaudy stats despite missing two games with injury. King will be the priority for the Oklahoma defense, which is overhauling their entire scheme under new coordinator Alex Grinch. The Sooners are transitioning to a 3-3-5 concept that will aim to mix in more zone-matching coverages after years of playing man coverage under Grinch's predecessor Mike Stoops. They'll also be slanting and moving up front after years of Stoops' two-gapping techniques. Those are all big changes, and they'll have to be precise in executing it all against Houston's team speed.
On offense, Oklahoma is welcoming Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts as a grad transfer to take over the position that has been manned for the last four years by either Baker Mayfield or Kyler Murray, both of whom won Heisman trophies. Hurts was a much more limited passer at Alabama than either of the Sooners signalcallers, but he has had the full offseason to grow under Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley's tutelage. He has a loaded cast of receivers to throw to, led by CeeDee Lamb (1,158 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns in 2018).
The Oklahoma offensive line will have talented sophomore and returning starter Creed Humphrey anchoring things at center, and then two new starters to both his right and his left. The Sooners recruit and develop along the offensive line as well as any program in the country, but it will be a very tall challenge to turn such a young and inexperienced group into as strong a group as Oklahoma is accustomed to fielding. There's a good chance that this is an exciting shootout and perhaps the most enjoyable of the season openers.
- How does Jalen Hurts perform as a passer in Oklahoma's Air Raid passing attack?
- Is the revamped Oklahoma defense ready to corral Houston's dual-threat quarterback D'Eriq King?
- Can the new look Houston defense withstand Oklahoma's power rushing attack?
FEI Outright Pick: Oklahoma by 22.5
Notre Dame (-20.5) at Louisville -- 8 p.m. (ESPN)
|Proj. FEI rating||9||102|
|When Notre Dame has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|2018 Rushing S&P+||72||127|
|2018 Passing S&P+||23||113|
|When Louisville has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|2018 Rushing S&P+||21||42|
|2018 Passing S&P+||8||118|
Louisville was absolutely terrible in 2018, which is why they hired longtime Appalachian State player turned assistant turned head coach Scott Satterfield to overhaul the program. Satterfield first made his name as an offensive coach for the App State team that won back-to-back FCS titles and inflicted "the horror" on Michigan in the 2007 season opener. The key back then had been a spread offense that moved the focal point of the game away from the trenches, where the Wolverines had multiple NFL players, to the perimeter, where speedy receiver Dexter Jackson had a big day running circles around Michigan.
Since then, Satterfield has continued to zig while the rest of college football zags. His recent Appalachian State teams were defined by playing option football with tight ends on the field and aiming to control the ball and play keepaway when they faced bigger programs with more talent. That could play well with the roster left behind, which includes multiple tight ends and returning quarterback Jawon Pass, who should have been named Jawon "Run" in 2018 as he was running for his life much of the season. Pass is a big player at 6-foot-4 and 239 pounds, and he can run some in the option game and push the ball down the field on play-action.
The Cardinals will need to be able to run the ball in this game to have a chance for a fairly long list of reasons. One is to protect a defense that needs to be rebuilt after a horrible 2018 campaign from the Notre Dame offense. Another is that running the ball effectively is the primary aim of the Satterfield offense. The final reason is that the Irish just might be susceptible to it.
Notre Dame's 2018 playoff run was powered by two features. The first came as a result of the smart call by head coach Brian Kelly to replace struggling dual-threat quarterback Brandon Wimbush with Ian Book, who also had some dual-threat nature to his game but upgraded the passing attack. Once the Irish could maximize a receiving corps that included Miles Boykin, Chase Claypool, and Chris Finke, their offense became overwhelming for most opponents.
The other feature was a dynamic and experienced linebacker tandem of Drue Tranquill and Te'Von Coney. Tranquill was a converted safety who could play in the box as a linebacker but also offered above-average coverage ability that boosted Notre Dame's passing defense and gave them a lot of flexibility. Coney was a more traditional inside linebacker, but a very good one who had 123 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, and four sacks. Both are gone from the middle of the defense, along with star defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, and the Irish have a pretty young group looking to fill in behind them.
Both in order to mount another playoff run in 2019 and to safely defeat the retooling Cardinals, Notre Dame will need to find some quality answers up the middle of their defense.
- How will new head coach Scott Satterfield redeploy Louisville's struggling players?
- Will Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book be able to find a new top target to replace Miles Boykin?
- Can Notre Dame's rebuilt linebacker corps play sound, championship football against Louisville's new option- and sweep-heavy offense?
FEI Outright Pick: Notre Dame by 18.2
FEI PICKS: WEEK 1
|Favorite||Spread||Underdog||FEI Pick||FEI Pick
Against the Spread
Against the Spread
|Wisconsin||12||at South Florida||Wisconsin||Wisconsin||Wisconsin|
|at Ohio State||27.5||Florida Atlantic||Ohio State||Ohio State||Florida Atlantic|
|Notre Dame||20.5||at Louisville||Notre Dame||Louisville||Notre Dame|
Ian's Picks against the spread last year: 64-57