Seventh Day Adventure
Football Outsiders' weekly preview for people who like their football played on Saturdays

Seventh Day Adventure: Week 1

Clemson Tigers QB Trevor Lawrence
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ian Boyd

No one was totally sure this day would come, but college football is beginning to have weekend slates with familiar teams taking to the gridiron. It'll still be a couple more weeks before we start getting bigger showdowns between conference teams, and most all of the exciting non-conference battles have been canceled.

Texas at LSU? Not happening. Oklahoma at Tennessee? Gone. Alabama vs. USC in Dallas? Lost in time, like tears in rain.

We even lost what looked like it would have been the highlight of this week, TCU vs. SMU, because positive tests and contract tracing devastated the Horned Frogs' capacity to run practice in preparation for the game and they chose to postpone.

But college football is happening, and with every successful week and declining numbers in positive COVID cases, the chances for a full season and playoff increase. Our Week 1 for Seventh Day Adventure this season will include a few Group of 5 games with intriguing matchups and closer point spreads as well as a contests with some of the bigger, more prominent squads in college football. You can watch Notre Dame, Clemson, Texas (if you have the Longhorn Network), and Oklahoma (if you have pay-per-view) this weekend.

Before we get to this week's games, Football Outsiders didn't run its usual staff predictions for college football because of the weird timing of this season's games. But I've made my own picks, and I'll share them here for discussion.

TEAM MOST LIKELY TO BEAT ITS F/+ PROJECTION

I'll go with Texas here, who I think will be able to just barely edge out the Sooners and other Big 12 squads for the elusive Big 12 championship. Sam Ehlinger is now a senior and fourth-year starter playing with some top-ranked recruiting classes that are finally arriving at maturation. The defense is expecting to make considerable improvements after converting to a simplified 4-2-5 scheme that will put star linebacker Joseph Ossai on the edge. Ossai played there just once in 2019, in the bowl game against Utah, where he had three sacks in a Longhorns blowout victory.

TEAM MOST LIKELY TO FALL SHORT OF ITS F/+ PROJECTION

Is it cheating to say TCU? Gary Patterson's squad was already starting over at a lot of positions on offense after an offseason missing bowl practices or spring camp. Then they lost quarterback Max Duggan for an unspecified amount of time when a COVID-related screening caught another previously undetected health issue. They're now starting over at quarterback for the third time in three years and are opening with a walk-on (Matthew Downing) at the helm.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL FINAL FOUR

Florida, Clemson, Georgia, Texas. I think the SEC East is actually the better division in 2020, and if Georgia can deal some losses to the West contenders in the regular season, the East could sneak both Cocktail teams into the playoff. With the Big 10 out of the picture it's a virtual lock that two SEC teams will be in the playoff. Clemson is always a virtual lock. Notre Dame or the Big 12 champion is likely to be the fourth entry; I'll give a slight edge to Texas here over the Fighting Irish and Sooners. The Clemson-Notre Dame game and the Big 12 title game could be de facto play-in games this season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL CHAMPION

Clemson Tigers. Hard to bet against contract-year Trevor Lawrence after he rallied the players to ensure this season would happen.

HEISMAN TROPHY WINNER

Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson. He hasn't won the trophy yet and it'll be an obviously appealing story for the voters. Plus he'll get a boost from a schedule that includes a late road trip to Notre Dame that will have every eyeball in the country.

AND NOW, BACK TO WEEK 1

This will be Year 2 in which Seventh Day Adventure will offer picks against the spread developed by the FEI model, made by Football Outsiders' Brian Fremeau. I'll also add my own humble picks. FEI went 46-40 last year in the regular-season games highlighted in this column and then went 18-21 in the bowl games and playoff. I was 43-43 for the regular season but managed to go 23-16 in the bowl games and playoff.

Let's kick off another year with a week that should serve as a nice introduction to the ACC, which opens up conference play.

All times are listed as Eastern.

Syracuse at North Carolina (-22.5) -- Saturday 12 p.m. (ACCN)

Overall Syracuse North Carolina
Proj. F/+ 86 24
Proj. FEI 76 37
When Syracuse has the ball Offense Defense
Proj. FEI 85 58
2019 FEI 102 58
2019 S&P+ 89 44
2019 IsoPPP+ 58 58
2019 Rushing S&P+ 106 64
2019 Passing S&P+ 93 82
When North Carolina has the ball Defense Offense
Proj. FEI 74 32
2019 FEI 74 30
2019 S&P+ 75 25
2019 IsoPPP+ 118 17
2019 Rushing S&P+ 106 42
2019 Passing S&P+ 96 9

North Carolina was one of the big surprises of 2019, nearly defeating Clemson early in the year and finishing 7-6 after crushing Temple 55-13 in the Military Bowl. For those who are hoping that the ACC will be a little more competitive this year with the inclusion of Notre Dame and the emergence of some non-Clemson contenders, North Carolina is one of the better bets.

Mack Brown assembled an exciting staff of rising coaches when he took over in 2019, culling defensive coordinator Jay Bateman from Army and Air Raid guru Phil Longo from Ole Miss to run the offense. Longo decided to start a freshman quarterback out of the gate in Sam Howell, who shocked the nation with 3,641 passing yards at 8.6 yards per attempt and 38 touchdowns to seven interceptions. Longo's offense included heavy doses of RPOs with receivers running adjustable vertical routes while Howell picked targets and threw them open behind a big offensive line executing run blocks.

Dazz Newsome had 72 catches for 1,018 yards and 10 touchdowns in this system while Dyami Brown added 51 catches for 1,034 yards and 12 more touchdowns; both return with Howell in 2020, along with 1,000-yard running back Michael Carter. This offense has the ability to unload a ton of points on overmatched opponents, of which Syracuse is likely to be one.

The Orange are basically along for the ride this season. Their depth chart for this game included a tight end lining up as the left guard due to COVID opt-outs, and the running back room took a serious hit with two different competitors for the starting job also opting out. The Tar Heels are certain to target that left guard (Chris Elmore), who's listed at 6-foot-0 and 288 pounds, with linebacker Chazz Surratt, who had 15 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks a year ago in Bateman's blitz schemes.

Syracuse does return 2019's starting quarterback Tommy DeVito after he threw for 2,360 yards at 7.0 yards per attempt with 19 touchdowns and five interceptions a year ago. His top receiver Trishton Jackson is moving along, but speedy slots Taj Harris (559 yards in 2019) and Nykeim Johnson (565 yards in 2018) are back.

The Syracuse defense was a weak spot in 2019 and not likely to be much better after a particularly rough offseason up in New York, particularly opening against an offense with the firepower of North Carolina. Whether accurately or not, this game could serve as an introduction to North Carolina as an ACC contender in 2020. Hopefully it also results in more viral videos of Mack Brown dancing with his team in the locker room.

Watch for:

  • Sam Howell and the explosive North Carolina passing game attacking Syracuse.
  • North Carolina to dial up the blitzes and look to attack a depleted offensive line.
  • The Mack Brown postgame celebration.

FEI Outright Pick: North Carolina by 11

Louisiana at Iowa State (-11.5) -- 12 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Louisiana Iowa State
Proj. F/+ 54 26
Proj. FEI 64 24
When Louisiana has the ball Offense Defense
Proj. FEI 36 39
2019 FEI 14 43
2019 S&P+ 15 25
2019 IsoPPP+ 54 34
2019 Rushing S&P+ 6 59
2019 Passing S&P+ 48 27
When Iowa State has the ball Defense Offense
Proj. FEI 91 23
2019 FEI 51 22
2019 S&P+ 66 42
2019 IsoPPP+ 16 29
2019 Rushing S&P+ 93 82
2019 Passing S&P+ 43 19

It's remarkable that we got a game of this caliber in the reshuffling of non-conference schedules. The primary reason for the matchup was the cancellation of the fall Big 10 season, which prevented the Cy-Hawk rivalry game between Iowa and Iowa State, and the cancellation of MAC football, which forced the Cyclones to look to the south to find an opponent. They found a real one in Sun Belt contender Louisiana, a team led by an up-and-coming coaching prospect in Billy Napier. Some regard Napier as something like the next Matt Campbell, the current coach of the Iowa State Cyclones.

Both coaches are looking for big seasons to continue to propel their careers. Iowa State has had a fantastic rise under Campbell but they stalled at 7-6 in 2019 with multiple one-possession defeats. Their star quarterback Brock "Pump Fake" Purdy is back again, now as a junior with two years of Big 12 shootouts under his belt. The "flyover defense" model created by the Cyclones, which includes a 3-down defensive front and three deep safeties playing back before the snap (although often shifting into different alignments), is still running strong in Ames despite being borrowed now all around the country.

The Cyclones also took a step forward in their vision for having a tight end-driven offense in 2019. They could play as many as three at a time, but the main weapon was Charlie Kolar, a 6-foot-6, 260-pound dual-threat tight end who had 51 catches for 697 yards and seven touchdowns. Where Iowa State struggled in 2019, which was manifested in their season opener against Northern Iowa, was in lacking high-level athletes on the perimeter on either offense or defense. Their outside receivers struggled to make use of the space created by Kolar's gravity inside and the defense lacked lockdown corners or a premier pass-rusher after star defensive end JaQuan Bailey was injured. They figure to improve, perhaps dramatically, in this regard in 2020.

Louisiana blew up in 2019 under Napier after finishing 7-7 in his first season in 2018. They went 11-3 and won the West division of the Sun Belt before going down to Appalachian State in the championship game. Napier's offense is somewhat similar to their rival's over at Appalachian State -- they emphasize the run game from pistol formations with tight ends and a heavy dose of pro-style wide zone blocking schemes. The right side of their offensive line was named to the second-team preseason All-Sun Belt team thanks to returning starters O'Cyrus Torrence (6-foot-5, 332-pound guard) and Max Mitchell (6-foot-6, 300-pound tackle), and they return two of the three running backs that ran for at least 800 yards in 2019, headlined by Elijah Mitchell. Even quarterback Levi Lewis is back after throwing for 3,050 yards at 8.1 yards per attempt with 26 touchdowns to four interceptions in his first year as a starter in 2019.

On defense, star outside linebacker Joe Dillon is back as a fourth-year starter. The Ragin' Cajuns have a lot of size and knowhow in Napier's system returning in the middle of the field, negating the sorts of advantages a team like Iowa State would normally have over Sun Belt competition.

For Iowa State, this game is a great test of whether they've been able to upgrade their athleticism at outside receiver and in the pass rush enough to overcome a smaller school. Louisiana's roster is no joke; if the Cyclones can out-athlete them on the perimeter that would bode well for their chances to break through in the Big 12. Louisiana is looking to make a statement with a big win out of the gate before coming for the Sun Belt crown.

Watch for:

  • Louisiana's big, physical offensive front going to work against Iowa State's unique "flyover defense."
  • Has Iowa State been able to upgrade their athleticism on the perimeter enough to overmatch a Sun Belt contender?
  • Tight ends! Both teams use tight ends heavily; Louisiana does so in the run game, while Iowa State has a pro-style approach with the position in the passing game.

FEI Outright Pick: Iowa State by 11.4

Duke at Notre Dame (-20) -- 2:30 p.m. (NBC)

Overall Duke Notre Dame
Proj. F/+ 64 11
Proj. FEI 60 11
When Duke has the ball Offense Defense
Proj. FEI 94 11
2019 FEI 109 5
2019 SP+ 112 22
2019 IsoPPP+ 127 3
2019 Rushing S&P+ 110 43
2019 Passing S&P+ 118 4
When Notre Dame has the ball Defense Offense
Proj. FEI 36 16
2019 FEI 37 25
2019 SP+ 36 20
2019 IsoPPP+ 72 34
2019 Rushing SP+ 54 44
2019 Passing SP+ 24 39

This game may serve mostly to introduce everyone to the 2020 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who are emerging as a potential playoff team if the field is downsized by the exclusion of the Big 10 and Pac-12. Beyond that, Notre Dame is effectively the only major midwest program competing in football this year, so it's possible they may draw increased interest.

The 2020 Irish have an awful lot of veterans on offense, which is likely to define their approach. Quarterback Ian Book returns as a third-year starter. After taking over the job in 2018 and leading Notre Dame to the playoff, his encore in 2019 included throwing for 3,034 yards at 7.6 yards per attempt with 34 touchdowns to just six interceptions and adding 546 rushing yards for an 11-2 team. What might have otherwise been a green wide receiver room added grad transfer Ben Skowronek from Northwestern to hold down their boundary "W" receiver position. Skowronek had 644 yards in 2017 and 562 in 2018 for Northwestern before missing most of 2019 with an injury. At 6-foot-3 and 224 pounds, he's a big, precise target who does his best work bullying defenders at the chains or in the end zone.

Within that vein, the Irish also have receiving tight end Tommy Tremble back -- he caught four touchdowns in 2020 -- and a host of younger receivers who will be battling to prove their ability to stretch the field opposite Skowronek in the boundary. The offensive line returns all five starters from 2019, making this overall one of the most experienced interior cores of any team in college football. The Irish need to find new weapons at running back, where sophomore Kyren Williams seems poised to take over, and at outside receiver, where they have youngsters such as Javon McKinley and Braden Lenzy emerging. Some of those are unknowns, but this team's ability to block, distribute from the quarterback, and move the chains throwing into the boundary to a big, veteran target are all pretty well established.

The Duke defense tasked with stopping them has always been solid under head coach David Sutcliffe and has some of the better pieces back from 2019. In particular, defensive ends Chris Rumph and Victor Dimukeje, who combined for 15 sacks, are both back to help anchor the defensive line and help the Blue Devils' 4-2-5 defense concentrate on corralling the Irish passing game. This game should provide a great test of whether Notre Dame's passing game skill is close to the point where they can take over games or if the Irish will need to rebuild their run game.

Sutcliffe's offense is starting over at receiver, multiple parts of the offensive line, and also at quarterback. They took in Stanford offensive tackle Devery Hamilton to help shore the lineup (he'll play right tackle) and they also won the Chase Brice sweepstakes, which could be huge boon to their season. Brice was the backup to Trevor Lawrence in 2019 and was pretty impressive in spot duty, making him a hot commodity in the grad transfer market for the 2020 season. Duke's pro-spread offensive system will also supply him with tight end Noah Gray, who had 51 catches for 392 yards and three touchdowns a year ago.

Notre Dame's defensive backfield is expected to be a strength for the team, in part because of the safety tandem of Kyle Hamilton and Shaun Crawford. Hamilton exploded onto the scene in 2019 as a true freshman with four interceptions and will now slide into the boundary while longtime nickel corner Crawford takes over the field safety job. Crawford will be playing behind returning starter Jeremiah Owusu-Kormoah at their "rover" nickel linebacker position; he had 5.5 sacks while tying with returning middle linebacker Drew White for a team-leading 80 tackles. There's a lot of talent and experience at the second and third levels of this defense; if they can find a top corner from a group that includes surging freshman Clarence Lewis, junior TaRiq Bracy, or North Carolina State grad transfer Nick McCloud then this unit could be quite good.

Their defensive line had a few struggles in 2019 starting over at tackle but now returns their starters at both positions. The big, missing ingredient is a dominant edge rusher at weakside end. Redshirt senior Adetokunbo Ogundeji will get first crack after getting three sacks in 2019; fellow Michigander Ovie Oghuofo will be pushing him.

Watch for:

  • How does Notre Dame's offense look with mostly new skill players but old vets at quarterback and on the offensive line?
  • Can Duke's retooled offense keep pace with the Irish on the scoreboard?
  • Does Notre Dame have the explosive athletes at wide receiver, cornerback, and edge rusher to turn a veteran team into a national contender?

FEI Outright Pick: Notre Dame by 18.5

Georgia Tech at Florida State (-12.5) -- 3:30 p.m. (ABC)

Overall Georgia Tech Florida State
Proj. F/+ 68 31
Proj. FEI 79 42
When Georgia Tech has the ball Offense Defense
Proj. FEI 88 25
2019 FEI 100 39
2019 SP+ 117 61
2019 IsoPPP+ 88 23
2019 Rushing SP+ 81 16
2019 Passing SP+ 105 55
When Florida State has the ball Defense Offense
Proj. FEI 71 53
2019 FEI 96 67
2019 SP+ 71 49
2019 IsoPPP+ 55 24
2019 Rushing SP+ 96 97
2019 Passing SP+ 81 54

This game will be a big, initial proving ground for Florida State's new head coach Mike Norvell, who's coming off a tough initial offseason. The players didn't respond to him initially and the program has had major issues with culture and quality along the offensive line that doomed Norvell's predecessor Willie Taggart just nine games into his second season as head coach and saw him fired.

Georgia Tech is also undergoing a big transition after replacing legendary flexbone coach Paul Johnson in 2019 with Geoff Collins of Temple. Collins brings a very different approach as a defensive-minded coach and had the Yellow Jackets running a standard, spread offensive system in Year 1. He brought Dave Patenaude with him from Temple to install a similar system and while they tried to make the most of the mobile quarterbacks Johnson left behind, particularly James Graham, the team struggled to move beyond the triple option focus of yesteryear. None of their receivers reached 400 receiving yards and the run game came along in spits and sputters.

Collins' main claim to fame is defense; he made his name coaching a strong unit at Mississippi State for Dan Mullen and then following him to Florida for a year before taking the Temple job. His defense returns many of the key pieces in the backfield, including top corner Tre Swilling and leading tackler David Curry at linebacker. Given Collins' emphasis on playing fast, fundamentals-based defense from "bend don't break" schemes, the return of so many starters is definitely a major plus for Tech.

The Yellow Jackets have declined to offer up a depth chart for this game but virtually all of the main contributors from 2019's squad return to the roster. The biggest public question is whether James Graham will continue to be the quarterback or if the Yellow Jackets will turn to four-star freshman Jeff Sims. Another key question will be how much the offensive line improves in Year 2 of blocking traditional spread schemes like inside zone or pass protection as opposed to the triple option system they'd been executing for years prior.

Florida State will need to clean up their offensive line play as priority one. Norvell's Memphis teams were defined by tight end-extensive spread run schemes that were used to open up opportunities to throw RPOs and play-action outside. They could generate major run/pass conflict headaches for opponents, which would result in big numbers for the top receivers and running backs. The Seminoles' offensive line has been dreadful in recent years and the prognosis is a bit rough once more. From left tackle to center, the Noles are playing three second-year players, including redshirt freshmen at left tackle (Darius Washington) and center (Maurice Smith). Assuming that crew can put it together, James Blackman will give things another go at quarterback and hope to benefit from the arrival of Texas A&M transfer running back Jashaun Corbin. They also need a big start from tight end Camren McDonald, who will be needed in the blocking game to execute the Norvell offensive playbook.

There's still a lot of talent in Tallahassee, more than you'll tend to find at Georgia Tech in a given year, and this is an easier opening to their season than Boise State, who beat Florida State in 2019. They need to fit a lot of pieces together to start to leverage that talent into a better shot at the ACC title.

Watch for:

  • Can Florida State's young, retooled offensive line and tight end block Mike Norvell's RPO offense and open up space?
  • How is Georgia Tech looking on offense in Year 2 of their transition away from triple option, flexbone football?
  • The Seminoles still have a lot of NFL-caliber athletes on the roster, will that be apparent or obscured?

FEI Outright Pick: Florida State by 10.3

Tulane (-8) at South Alabama -- 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

Overall Tulane South Alabama
Proj. F/+ 73 119
Proj. FEI 70 119
When Tulane has the ball Offense Defense
Proj. FEI 67 97
2019 FEI 41 73
2019 SP+ 37 101
2019 IsoPPP+ 85 46
2019 Rushing SP+ 14 56
2019 Passing SP+ 52 108
When South Alabama has the ball Defense Offense
Proj. FEI 65 123
2019 FEI 67 120
2019 SP+ 56 124
2019 IsoPPP+ 86 101
2019 Rushing SP+ 75 124
2019 Passing SP+ 40 100

This game is getting prime-time treatment as an interesting clash between fairly close teams. The point spread started more heavily in Tulane's favor but has been moving toward South Alabama. The South Alabama Jaguars have a major leg up in this game for having already played last week, notching a win against Southern Mississippi 32-21. These early games are often pretty sloppy; the biggest leap any given team is prone to make occurs between Weeks 1 and 2.

South Alabama returned their top two receivers in Jalen Tolbert (27 catches for 521 yards and six touchdowns in 2019) and Kawaan Baker (35 catches for 574 yards and three touchdowns in 2019), and quarterback Desmond Trotter got a few starts a year ago and is now solidified as the main guy. He torched Southern Miss, throwing to both of those receivers along with Jalen Wayne and also adding 41 yards on the ground. Trotter also threw a pair of picks but averaged 11 yards per attempt and is helping the Jaguars to better unlock a fast group of receivers.

Tulane runs a triple-option style of offense under head coach Willie Fritz that hasn't quite taken hold in the tough American Athletic Conference. They rode that with quarterback Justin McMillan in 2019 to a 7-6 record, but now must replace McMillan, the second-leading rusher (McMillan was No. 1), and top receivers Jalen McCleskey and Darnell Mooney. Redshirt senior Keon Howard was the backup in 2019 and will now take over; he combines a similar dual-threat skill set and will need to find grad transfer wide receiver Mykel Jones, who has transferred in from Oklahoma.

The Green Wave relied on their defense a year ago as well and had a style that emphasized keeping the ball in front of them and tackling well. There weren't many havoc-creators across the front or particularly skilled cornerbacks on the back end, so their ability to match up with the South Alabama receiving corps looms as the major test of this game. Tulane will likely move the football on the ground with their zone-option rushing attack, but can their defense cover up the increasingly potent South Alabama passing game?

Watch for:

  • How does Tulane's new quarterback Keon Howard look in coach Willie Fritz's zone-option offense?
  • South Alabama's offense may have turned a page with quarterback Desmond Trotter and an explosive receiving corps.
  • Will Week 1 jitters and sloppiness doom Tulane against a South Alabama team that's playing their second game?

FEI Outright Pick: Tulane by 10.4

Clemson (-33) vs. Wake Forest at Truist Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. -- 7:30 p.m. (ABC)

Overall Clemson Wake Forest
Proj. F/+ 3 67
Proj. FEI rating 3 57
When Clemson has the ball Offense Defense
Proj. FEI 5 44
2019 FEI 5 52
2019 SP+ 5 69
2019 IsoPPP+ 7 85
2019 Rushing SP+ 1 77
2019 Passing SP+ 13 72
When Wake Forest has the ball Defense Offense
Proj. FEI 1 64
2019 FEI 1 61
2019 SP+ 4 61
2019 IsoPPP+ 10 45
2019 Rushing SP+ 8 109
2019 Passing SP+ 1 38

Much like two of our other Week 1 spotlight games, this is largely going to serve as an introduction to an ACC contender. In this case, THE ACC contender, Dabo Swinney's Clemson Tigers. This team had a very eventful offseason, losing star wide receiver Justyn Ross with a back injury and then seeing star quarterback Trevor Lawrence lead the players to organize and petition online for the season to be played amidst COVID concerns.

This is surely Lawrence's last season at Clemson before he could go as high as No. 1 overall in the 2021 NFL draft. He'll be aiming to lead the Tigers to their third consecutive National Championship Game appearance and second title. Losing Ross hurts but Clemson does return slot Amari Rodgers and up-and-coming tight end Braden Galloway, and sophomore Joseph Ngata is next in line to be a top outside receiver. It's hard to bet against a Swinney-coached team to fail to have great play at wide receiver. Lawrence will also be well protected on the edge by returning left tackle Jackson Carman, who might have cost Ohio State's Chase Young some money with how he handled him in the playoff a year ago.

Inside, the Tigers have to replace all four starters to the right of Carman and are plugging in a diverse group of redshirted upperclassmen and younger players such as true freshman Will Putnam, who's slated to start at center. They'll need to gel before long because Clemson will aim to emphasize star running back Travis Etienne, who's also back for one more go after rushing for 1,614 yards and scoring 21 touchdowns in 2019.

Defensive coordinator Brent Venables has maintained great defenses in Clemson for years now and certainly has some star players that should help him repeat the feat. Defensive ends Justin Foster and KJ Henry are both former blue-chip players. Middle linebacker James Skalski is back after a big 2019 which culminated in him dominating the Ohio State offensive line as a run blitzer and then giving LSU fits before getting ejected for a targeting penalty in the National Championship Game. The Tigers have a deep rotation at cornerback and longtime veteran Nolan Turner holding things down at free safety. The biggest question mark is how they'll replace safeties Tanner Muse, K'Von Wallace, and the incomparable Isaiah Simmons in the middle of the field.

Wake Forest has much bigger questions, starting with the need to replace do-it-all quarterback Jamie Newman, who transferred to Georgia only to opt out of the season. Newman threw for 2,868 yards at 7.9 yards per attempt with 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, doing a lot of his work on RPOs to receivers Sage Surratt (1,001 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Kendall Hinton (1,001 yards, four touchdowns). Both receivers are now gone, leaving the Demon Deacons to rework their system with backup quarterback Sam Hartman and a new cast of receivers. Hartman had some skill and athleticism as well and played well in spot duty for Newman a year ago.

Wake Forest's defense struggled in 2019, but they do return big star defensive end Carlos Basham Jr. The 6-foot-5, 285-pounder had 18 tackles for loss and 10 sacks a year ago and will surely get some matchups against redshirt sophomore right tackle Jordan McFadden for Clemson. McFadden is a smaller tackle at 6-foot-2, 300 pounds, and may struggle to anchor and protect Lawrence against a power pass-rusher such as Basham.

Beyond that, if Hartman can find some new weapons their ability to attack Clemson's inexperience at safety with RPOs could allow them to make this an interesting Week 1 contest. If not, at least we can all watch Trevor Lawrence and a championship frontrunner for the first time this season.

Watch for:

  • Who's the next generation of major weapons for Clemson and Trevor Lawrence in the passing game?
  • Can Wake Forest's clever RPO offense attack Clemson's rebuilt secondary in a Week 1 matchup?
  • Will the retooled Clemson offensive line be able to handle Wake Forest star defensive end Carlos Basham Jr. coming for Lawrence?

FEI Outright Pick: Clemson by 23


FEI PICKS: WEEK 1

Favorite Spread Underdog FEI Pick FEI Pick
Against the Spread
Ian's Pick
Against the Spread
at Florida State 12.5 Georgia Tech Florida State Georgia Tech Georgia Tech
at North Carolina 22.5 Syracuse North Carolina Syracuse North Carolina
at Iowa State 11.5 Louisiana Iowa State Louisiana Iowa State
at Notre Dame 20 Duke Notre Dame Duke Notre Dame
Tulane 8 at South Alabama Tulane Tulane South Alabama
Clemson 33 Wake Forest Clemson Wake Forest Clemson

FEI picks against the spread last year: 46-40

Ian's Picks against the spread last year: 43-43

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