Weekend Predictions: Falcons win opener, Georgia routs Ball State

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

After Deion Sanders saved a relatively boring opening weekend of college football, the NFL is here to entertain us. Weekend Predictions did enjoy Week 1 of college football. It was good for my picks and for laughing at coaches who annoy me.

LSU-FSU provided synergy: I picked the Seminoles to win, so it was fun watching Brian Kelly’s increasingly pained expressions as his Tigers were routed. Unfortunately, I couldn’t fully enjoy Dabo Swinney’s downfall at Duke because I stupidly backed Clemson. It’s not 2019 anymore in Death Valley.

I settled for a 4-3 start to the season. My Georgia Tech pick lost when the Yellow Jackets scored a garbage-time touchdown against Louisville to cover the spread. I couldn’t be too mad about that because the game didn’t go at all like I expected. The Jackets blew it, but they proved they can score points.

I worry about Tech’s defense if the issues leak into this weekend’s game against South Carolina State (no consensus point spread for FBS vs. FCS, so no pick from me). Tech is at Ole Miss after that. Lane Kiffin will have no mercy.

Panthers (+3½) at Falcons

Drake London seems to have two jobs: Falcons wide receiver and Desmond Ridder’s hype man. London is talking up Ridder like he’s, well, Matt Ryan. London also predicts that coach Arthur Smith’s offense will be “something special.” Ah, to be young and full of optimism before reality crushes the spirit.

Speaking of that: Bryce Young isn’t at Bama anymore. In Tuscaloosa, the Heisman Trophy winner played behind great offensive lines and distributed the ball to multiple playmakers. In Carolina, he’s got an OK line and skill players who are dime-a-dozen by NFL standards. Carolina’s defense is good enough to keep it close. Falcons win, but Panthers cover.

Ball State (+42) at No. 1 Georgia

After Georgia’s lackluster offensive performance against Tennessee-Martin, some Bulldogs noted that the Skyhawks may be an FCS team, but they’re a good FCS team. Now Kirby Smart is hyping Ball State’s Marquez Cooper, who rushed for 92 yards against Georgia last season when playing for Kent State. I suppose the Bulldogs are just as bored as everyone else.

First-year Bulldogs starter Carson Beck missed some simple throws against Tennessee-Martin. I’m writing that off to nerves. More concerning was Georgia’s touted offensive line being unable to dominate smaller foes. The Bulldogs will sort out both issues and light up the scoreboard. Georgia covers.

Other college games of interest

No. 11 Texas (+7) at No. 3 Alabama

Reporters asked Texas coach/ex-Alabama assistant Steve Sarkisian about Nick Saban’s 28-2 record against his former aides. “What’s the record for all the guys who aren’t former assistants against Nick Saban?” He makes a good point. Per the OddsShark database, Bama has been favored by a touchdown or less at home only once since 2011. The Crimson Tide were favored by six when they beat Georgia 41-24 in 2020. Texas nearly beat top-ranked Bama in Austin last season, but it’s hard to believe Sarkisian’s Longhorns can do better than Smart’s Bulldogs in Tuscaloosa. Bama is the pick.

No. 20 Ole Miss (-7½) at No. 24 Tulane

Rebels coach Kiffin told reporters that his team’s 73-7 victory over Mercer is an “evaluation game.” I like it. Sounds much better than “cupcake game” or even “guarantee game.” Kiffin said Tulane’s talent makes this matchup like a ninth SEC game. That comment caused Vanderbilt to look around nervously at the conference realignments. Tulane covers.

No. 23 Texas A&M (-4) at Miami

The Jimbo Fisher/Bobby Petrino show got off to a good start when the Aggies scored 52 points against New Mexico. Petrino told ESPN that he likes not running the whole show: “I heard Jimbo say, ‘I’m tired of being the bad guy,’ and you do get tired of being like that when you’re the head coach.” Imagine how much of a jerk Petrino would be if he enjoyed it. Miami’s defense is much better than New Mexico’s, so I’m taking the ‘Canes and the points.

Auburn (-6½) at California

Auburn’s Hugh Freeze era began with a lopsided victory over Massachusetts. Cal running back Jaydon Ott isn’t impressed. “There’s a lot of focus on the name ‘Auburn,’ but what I’ve seen on film is not really in comparison to what their name is,” Ott told reporters, adding that the Golden Bears would focus on not “getting too big-headed after we do get the (win).” That’s big talk from a guy who plays for a bottom-tier Pac-12 team, but Ott is good enough to back it up. I like Cal with the points.

Other NFL games of interest

Titans (+3) at Saints

The Saints are the default favorite to win the NFC South because they’re the only team with a good, proven quarterback (that is unless you still believe in Baker Mayfield). Derek Carr had a down year for the Raiders in 2022, but that organization was a dysfunctional mess. He’s an upgrade over Jameis Winston. Saints running back Alvin Kamara is serving a three-game suspension, and wide receiver Michael Thomas has fallen off. Titans are the pick.

Buccaneers (+5½) at Vikings

The Bucs don’t have Tom Brady anymore – I double-checked just to make sure he’s really gone – and took their salary-cap medicine this past offseason. At least they got a Super Bowl out of it, unlike the Falcons. Tampa Bay still has some decent playmakers around Mayfield (Kyle Trask could eventually be the starter) and good players on defense. The Bucs are underrated, and the Vikings are overrated. I’m taking Tampa and the points.

Packers (+1) at Bears

Jordan Love replaces Aaron Rodgers as Packers QB. That means the end of Chicago’s nightmarish experiences with Packers quarterbacks. Of course, the Bears probably thought the same thing when Rodgers replaced Brett Favre. He was 22-10 versus Chicago. Rodgers was 25-5, including a victory in the 2012 NFC Championship game. Love has a lot to prove, and Bears QB Justin Fields will make a big leap in Year 3. Chicago covers.

Last week: 4-3 (4-3 season).

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez