The long wait is over, football season is officially here, with the first big weekend of college football kicking off this weekend, and the NFL just around the corner. One of the residual effects of the four team College Football Playoff has been a trend in which more teams are willing to play at least one marquee out of conference game early in the season. The game helps in the strength of schedule arguments, and a four-team playoff provides a bigger (but still fairly minuscule) margin for error if teams lose a game.
So this season, we have some fantastic first weekend games that will have big ramifications on the 2018 season. Washington is carrying an entire conference's pedigree into its game with Auburn. Ed Orgeron's possible death march to unemployment begins against the Miami Hurricanes. And we get Michigan versus Notre Dame for the first time in about half a decade.
You're gonna have to peel me off the couch this Saturday, I say! Oh, and I will be invested in these games, no doubt. Let's get gambling season started with these six picks....
Houston -25 over RICE
Technically, Rice is 1-0 and undefeated under new head coach Mike Bloomgren. Good for the Owls! They've ensured they will not go backwards from their 1-11 finish last year. OK, now, for the reality — they needed a comeback and last second field goal to beat FCS foe Prairie View A&M at home on Saturday. The game is at Rice Stadium, but I'm guessing there will be more Coogs there than Owls. Major Applewhite begins his second season as the UH head coach with D'Eriq King as his unquestioned starter at quarterback, and Ed Oliver ready to win about 20 different trophies. The game is being played right in the middle of the day, too, so add in the "wear down" factor, and the Houston backups keeping the foot on the gas pedal against the Rice backups. I love Houston here.
Texas-MARYLAND UNDER 56.5 points
Until I see evidence that Tom Herman is going to be able to crank up an offense like he had at UH, or before that at Ohio State, I'm going to assume this is a Texas team that will win with defense. Maryland, meanwhile, has had to deal with the distraction of a teammate dying and their head coach being put on paid administrative leave. This smells like an ugly, let's-just-get-out-of-here kind of game that I think stays well under 56.5.
NOTRE DAME +1 over Michigan
This game actually started with Notre Dame as a touchdown favorite early in the offseason, and it swung all the way to Michigan -2 in some places. It's settled in at around a PICK EM, but I was able to get the Irish at +1 over the weekend. Irish head coach Brian Kelly is a much safer bet in September than he is late in the season, and last year the Irish were a really good home team, going 6-1 with just a one point loss to Georgia as the only blemish. A lot of the confidence in Michigan is centered around starting QB Shea Patterson, who transferred from Ole Miss this offseason. While Patterson is better than anything Jim Harbaugh has trotted out there at QB, is he SO good that he can win at night in South Bend against a pretty good Irish defense? Keep in mind, he started ten games in all while at Ole Miss. There's a ton of pressure on Patterson's Irish counterpart Brandon Wimbush, but I think the Irish find a way here.
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Miami (FL) -3 over LSU
Mark Right has the Hurricanes moving in the right direction again, while LSU has.... Ed Orgeron. I'll be honest, this is one of those matchups where I'm just going to fade Coach O because I have zero confidence in his ability to win a game like this one. I'll even start a hashtag, if I win: #FadeCoachO.
Auburn -1.5 over Washington
Auburn was one of the more enigmatic teams last season, as they actually defeated both of the national title game participants during the regular season, but faltered down the stretch, losing to Georgia in the SEC title game, and then to UCF in the Peach Bowl. (In a weird schedule quirk, this is Auburn's third straight game in Atlanta's Mercedes-Benx Stadium.) The quarterback battle should be fun here with Auburn's Jarrett Stidham and Washington's Jake Browning among the best in the nation. I'll take the SEC speed and pedigree, and what I think will be a de facto home field for the Tigers.
Oregon State +38 over OHIO STATE
Last season, the Buckeyes were 5-7 against the spread, as Vegas hung big numbers on them nearly every week. Such is life when you're a college football blue blood with NFL talent all over your roster. Last season, in the first month of the year, they were 1-3 ATS, and the only cover was the opener against Indiana (OSU -20), a game the Buckeyes trailed at halftime. Oregon State is terrible, make no mistake, and their head coach is a first year alum, former Beaver QB Jonathan Smith. However, the distractions of the Urban Meyer suspension combined with a gigantic number lead me to take the 38 points, and hope Oregon State scores a touchdown or two.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.