No. 9 Auburn vs. No. 6 Washington
This game has massive implications as it pertains to the College Football Playoff. For Washington, a signature win versus a respectable SEC opponent would be a nice feather in the proverbial playoff cap. Duly, Auburn would love to take down the prohibitive favorite in the Pac-12.
The long offseason will test Chris Petersen’s preparation abilities. Washington does not see this type of funky, hybrid triple-option offense in the Pac-12. Auburn loves to exploit mismatches on the perimeter, and also will run you to death with zone-read looks.
With that said, there are a number of factors in Washington’s favor. For one, the Huskies have arguably the best secondary in the country. Byron Murphy is a star in-the-making, and safety Taylor Rapp may be a first day selection in next year’s NFL Draft. Auburn’s passing attack will be limited with the absences of injured starters Eli Stove and Will Hastings. Both suffered ACL injuries, and likely won’t be available for this contest.
Secondly, the Huskies have arguably the most underrated running back in the country in Myles Gaskin. Gaskin has rushed for at least 1,000 yards in three-straight years. He’ll help to pace the offense for Washington — as well as take pressure off of senior QB Jake Browning.
Washington will not be in awe of playing what many are considering to be a virtual road game. The crowd will likely be 80-90 percent pro-Auburn. With that said, the Huskies have the better skill players in this contest, as well as the better coach. Look for them to come away with the win in a hotly-contested game.
Prediction: 24-20 Washington
Tennessee vs. No. 17 West Virginia
The Jeremy Pruitt era is alive and well in Knoxville. There’s not much in the way of expectation — at least in this contest. Tennessee has virtually no depth, and will be breaking in a new quarterback, a pro-style scheme, and a defensive switch to a 3-4.
Pruitt is a vaunted recruiter. He’ll certainly have Tennessee back on the right track, though it will take some time for that to happen. Remember, the Vols are coming off a season in which they finished 4-8.
With Will Grier coming back to Morgantown, West Virginia is a sneaky pick to make some noise in the Big 12. Grier has proven the ability to beat opponents with both his arm and his legs. Both of West Virginia’s top receivers (David Sills V, Gary Jennings Jr.) are back this season. Sills V caught 18(!) touchdown passes last year, and Jennings Jr. hauled in 97 passes for over 1,000 yards.
While Tennessee may have more talent collectively, West Virginia has the experience edge — particularly at quarterback. As such, the Mountaineers will be victorious in this contest.
Prediction: 35-17 West Virginia
No. 14 Michigan at No. 12 Notre Dame
This contest isn’t getting nearly the amount of attention it should be. Notre Dame and Michigan are two of the most iconic programs in college football history. There’s also been a very fun rivalry between the two sides for decades.
Now in Year 4 of the Jim Harbaugh Project, this may be the best team he’s had in Ann Arbor. Despite two seasons with 10 wins, Harbaugh has yet to get Michigan over the proverbial hump — particularly when squaring off versus rivals (Ohio State, Michigan State). Michigan will be relying on highly-touted QB transfer Shea Patterson. Atypical of the traditional statue-esque Harbaugh pocket passer, Patterson’s versatility and mobility will afford the Wolverines to use him in creative ways.
Notre Dame returns 15 starters from last year’s 10-win team. Once again, the Fighting Irish will have a very good offensive line. QB Brandon Wimbush has continued to grow — and should yet again have a solid senior campaign. Keep an eye out for rising senior TE Alize Mack. A big-time recruit out of Las Vegas, Mack could be in line for a breakout season.
This game is a virtual toss-up. Michigan looks to hold an edge on the defensive side of the ball — whereas Notre Dame’s offense should be superior (particularly with the Wolverines recently losing top receiver Tarik Black). Ultimately, Michigan’s ability to get after the quarterback with the likes of Rashan Gary, Chase Winocivh, and Michael Dwumfour will be the difference.
Prediction: 28-24 Michigan
No. 8 Miami vs. No. 25 LSU
In case you’ve been living under a rock, “The U” is back as a threat to make the College Football Playoff. Head coach Mark Richt has done a great job of building the culture back up in Coral Gables. The Hurricanes once again have speed all over the field, and an aplomb on the defensive side of the football.
Miami returns all three starting linebackers from a season ago, as well as four starters in the secondary. There’s talent littered all over the defense — starting with linebackers Michael Pinckney and Shaq Quarterman. The offense should be highly productive as well. Experienced signal-caller Malik Rosier will once again command the offense. He’ll be buoyed by three running backs (Travis Homer, DeeJay Dallas, Lorenzo Lingard) with sub-4.4 speed.
LSU is in transition yet again under embattled head coach Ed Orgeron. While the defense should be loaded, the offense is a major question mark. Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow will start under center. He’ll be tasked with learning a new offense — as will the rest of the team in the wake of losing last year’s offensive coordinator (Matt Canada). To make matters worse, LSU will be replacing both Darrel Williams and Derrius Guice in its backfield.
This will be a low scoring game. LSU’s defense is far too good to be blown out. Similarly, Miami has the ceiling of a top-10 defense themselves. Ultimately, Miami’s returning experience on offense will be the main difference in this contest.
Prediction: 17-9 Miami
No. 20 Virginia Tech Hokies vs. No. 19 Florida State Seminoles
Though it’s only Week 1 of the regular season, this is massive game for both Florida State and Virginia Tech. In a sense, we could be seeing a preview of the eventual ACC Championship Game at the end of the year.
Virginia Tech and Florida State are most likely the second-best teams in their specific divisions (behind Miami and Clemson, respectively). This is the first time since 2012 in which the two teams have locked horns with one another. Florida State had a bear of a time protecting its quarterback last year. With Deondre Francois now back as the starter, it will be interesting to see whether the Seminoles can indeed keep him upright.
As for the Hokies, Justin Fuente’s team is flying under the radar. Quarterback Josh Jackson — an excellent dual-threat option — is back commanding Virginia Tech’s offense. He accrued 26 touchdowns and over 3,000 yards of total offense a year ago.
This game will come down to how well Virginia Tech can stop Florida State running back, Cam Akers. The Hokies had an elite defense a year ago (No. 13 nationally). Despite losing multiple guys to the NFL, the defense will return quite a bit of talent (and pedigree). Should Virginia Tech put the clamps on Akers, it will give itself a great chance at pulling the upset.
FSU is breaking in a new scheme, and could have some kinks on the offensive side of the ball. Plus, Virginia Tech has more continuity across the board — and a coaching advantage with Fuente over Willie Taggart (who has a career record of 47-50 as a head coach). The Hokies will come away with a narrow victory on the road.
Prediction: 26-23 Virginia Tech
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