NCAA Football

Washington Huskies vs. Hawaii Warriors Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

The Washington Huskies begin the Chris Petersen era and hope he can lead the team to the type of 92-12 mark he achieved at Boise State in the previous eight years...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Ohio State Football: Kirk Herbstreit on Impact of Braxton Miller's Injury

ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit has teamed up with Allstate to give fans nationwide the chance to attend two of the biggest games of the college football season. As part of a season-long celebration of the 10th anniversary of its “Good Hands” field-goal nets, Allstate is launching the It’s Good Sweepstakes, featuring an ultimate prize package of $100,000 and a trip with three friends to the 2015 Allstate® Sugar Bowl.®

The grand prize also includes a trip to Arlington, Texas to watch the first-ever College Football Championship Game alongside Herbstreit. Fans can enter the sweepstakes at allstatecfb.com.

On the morning of Aug. 18, ESPN college football analysts were required to provide their national champion and Heisman Trophy predictions for the upcoming season. Kirk Herbstreit—perhaps the sport's most prominent pundit—opted to stay close to home with his picks, choosing Ohio State and Braxton Miller to sweep college football's two most prestigious trophies.

A homer pick? Perhaps. But the former Buckeyes quarterback had his reasons.

Playing in a still-rebuilding Big Ten, Ohio State had arguably the easiest path to the first-ever College Football Playoff. And with a quarterback as experienced and talented as Miller, it was not far-fetched to think that the Buckeyes could win it all.

"The light had finally gone off for him as far as really understanding defenses and his offense and how to attack," Herbstreit told B/R. "I think he was ready to have a big year. The overall athletic ability around him was at a whole different level. I think he was going to flourish."

But just hours after Miller downplayed Herbstreit's bold prediction—"He said that," Miller reminded reporters—both Ohio State and its senior signal-caller were sacked with a season-altering moment. A simple seven-yard throw in the Buckeyes' afternoon practice session resulted in Miller's right shoulder falling out of place, a torn labrum that will sideline him for the entirety of the 2014 season.

Unsurprisingly, Herbstreit revised his predictions, forecasting Florida State to repeat as national champion and UCLA's Brett Hundley to win college football's most prestigious individual award. As the Centerville, Ohio, native explained, Miller's injury is simply too much to overlook in Columbus, given what the two-time Big Ten MVP meant to the Ohio State offense.

“Oh yeah. They have to," Herbstreit responded when asked if expectations for the Buckeyes changed with Miller's injury. "This would be like Florida State losing Jameis Winston or UCLA losing Brett Hundley or Oregon losing Marcus Mariota or Baylor losing Bryce Petty. He’s at that level.

"To sit here in August and say, ‘Oh, no problem, next guy up, they’re still going to have the same year,' I mean, you’re talking about one of the elite players in the country and a four-year starter. So obviously it’s going to be a hit."

How much of a hit for Ohio State will it be? Herbstreit admits that's something that remains to be seen. Noting that the Buckeyes will still likely be favored in 11 of their 12 scheduled games this season, Herbstreit believes that OSU could still be in line for a special third season under head coach Urban Meyer, but it will all depend on what it gets from Miller's replacement.

And while that player appears to be redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, Herbstreit's not so sure. It may be Barrett who's currently listed atop the Buckeyes depth chart at quarterback, but the former Ohio State signal-caller expects both he and redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones to see significant snaps when the Buckeyes take the field for their season opener against Navy on Saturday.

"My guess is Ohio State plays both quarterbacks early to figure out, ‘OK, now we know, whoever it is—'J.T.’s definitely the guy or wow, Cardale is playing well,’" Herbstreit said. "It’s one thing to announce that [Barrett's] the backup to Braxton Miller. But to announce that he’s a starter—that’s a totally different thing. I’m expecting them to play both guys and find out if one of them takes a big step when the bright lights are on and the game is real.”

Like Meyer and OSU offensive coordinator Tom Herman have done this week, Herbstreit described the Buckeyes' new quarterback's role as that of a "distributor." And although Herbstreit praised Ohio State's skill position players—singling out sophomore H-back Dontre Wilson and freshman running back Curtis Samuel—he also noted that he wouldn't be surprised to see the Buckeyes experiment with a Wildcat attack in order to replace what they lost in Miller's running ability.

"These two quarterbacks, neither one of them are real threats running the ball," Herbstreit said of Barrett and Jones. "It wouldn’t shock me to see a Jalin Marshall or somebody incorporated in a package to run the ball from that zone-read look. Jalin Marshall was an outstanding high school quarterback at Middletown."

But regardless of who it is behind center or what outsiders—like himself—are saying, Herbstreit pointed out that he doesn't see the expectations inside the walls of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center changing for the upcoming season. Well-versed in the pressures of playing at Ohio State, the 1992 Buckeyes captain knows that it's championship or bust in Columbus, no matter who's on the field.

“I still feel like in their minds, despite the loss of Braxton Miller, I still think a successful year is a Big Ten championship," Herbstreit said. "The fact that they’ve won so many games since Urban has been there, for them to say, ‘Hey, a successful year would be 9-3 or 10-2 and let's get to a Jan. 1 bowl game,’ you’ll never hear that out of Columbus. A successful year is always winning a Big Ten championship and trying to make a run at a national title.”

Will that even be possible without No. 5 at quarterback for the Buckeyes? Maybe. But it will certainly be a lot more difficult.

After Meyer got off to a 24-2 start with the players that he inherited from Jim Tressel, he now has arguably the most talented team that he's possessed since arriving in Columbus. Whether or not it's capable of reaching its potential will depend on the play of Ohio State's new quarterback—whoever it is—which is something that even Herbstreit himself knows that he can't project.

And given his most recent track record with predictions when it comes to his alma mater, that may be for the better for the Buckeyes.

"Before Braxton’s injury, I thought this was the year based on the recruiting and having a four-year starting quarterback. I would’ve thought they could’ve had a shot to win a national title," he said. "Now I think they have a shot to have a really, really good year. It’s impossible to predict how these quarterbacks for Ohio State will play. We’ll know more in the next few weeks."

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Bruins vs. Virginia Cavaliers Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

The UCLA Bruins have been recharged under head coach Jim Mora, winning 19 games and a division title over his first two seasons with the program.

They've also been making some good money, going 17-10 against the spread under Mora, including 6-2 ATS as double-digit favorites. UCLA falls into that category again when it opens this season with a cross-country trip to Charlottesville to take on the Virginia Cavaliers Saturday afternoon.

 

Point Spread: UCLA opened as 24-point favorites; the total was 58 at Scott Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark Computer Prediction: 38.9-13.7 Bruins

 

Why UCLA Can Cover the Spread

The Bruins come back loaded this year, with 17 starters back from a team that won 10 games last year. Nine starters are back on offense, including Heisman candidate QB Brett Hundley (24-9 TD-INT ratio, 700 yards rushing as a redshirt freshman last year) and four along the offensive line.

Hundley rates third currently in Heisman Trophy odds, so he is motivated to start quickly here to keep up with Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.

And eight starters are back on defense, including LB Myles Jack and the entire secondary. UCLA is 8-4 both straight up and ATS on the road for Mora, and last year it won its opening road game at a ranked Nebraska by 20 points.

This team has big goals this season and is hoping to get off to a running start.

The Bruins face a Virginia squad that has been outscored 128-31 in its past three games against Pac-12 programs, according to the Odds Shark database.

 

Why Virginia Can Cover the Spread

The Cavaliers also have 17 starters back this year from a team that underachieved last season. Eight starters return on offense, including 1,000-yard rusher Kevin Parks and three along the offensive line, and nine starters are back on defense, including the entire back seven.

Virginia got blown out a few times last year, sure, but it also lost several games that had a chance to go either way.

The Cavs averaged just 20 points per game last year while giving up 33 PPG, but they have a good chance to improve on both of those figures this season.

 

Smart Pick

UCLA comes in as the big favorite, with the big-time quarterback and the preseason hype, but it's a long trip from Southern California to the Commonwealth. Meanwhile, Virginia might be playing this season for head coach Mike London's job.

If the Cavs can get their running game going—they did average 157 yards per game on the ground last year—and get some stops on defense, they could make this one interesting. And despite an initial glance at this matchup, that seems possible. So the pick for this one is with the home dog.

 

Trends

  • UCLA 6-1 SU, 5-2 ATS as road chalk since 2008
  • UCLA 7-2 ATS past nine as double-digit favorites
  • Virginia ended 2013 on nine-game losing skid
  • Virginia outscored 128-31 past three games vs. Pac 12
  • Virginia is 3-12-3 ATS in its last 18 games at home

 

All point-spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, and all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line-move updates, and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Week 1: Top 25 Upset Alert

Week 1 of the 2014 college football season is underway with some big-time matchups just around the corner.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer breaks down some potential upset alerts this week. Which programs will get upset in Week 1?

Watch the video and let us know.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Baylor Bears vs. SMU Mustangs Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

With a point spread nearing five touchdowns and the betting public continuing to pound the heavily favored Baylor Bears, there should be plenty of interest in a potentially high-scoring affair between them and the SMU Mustangs when the two Texas teams square off in a nationally televised matchup.

The Bears led the nation in scoring last year with 52.4 points and 619 yards per game, and oddsmakers could not make totals high enough for them in their first four games, when they scored 70 points or more three times and averaged 70.5.

 

Point Spread: Bears opened as 30-point favorites; the total was 74 at McLane Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark Computer Prediction: 58.1-25.4 Bears

 

Why Southern Methodist Can Cover the Spread

Whenever a team like Baylor enjoys as much offensive success as the school did last year, opposing defenses eventually tend to catch up and figure out a way to at least contain it.

That’s exactly what happened at the end of last season, when the Bears suffered both of their losses in the final four games, averaging 32.5 points, including a season low in a 49-17 setback at Oklahoma State.

The big question: Can SMU’s defense do the job here? Maybe so, as the Mustangs surrendered more than 28 points only once in their last five games to close out 2013 with the under cashing four times. If SMU can hold Baylor in check, a cover is definitely possible.

 

Why Baylor Can Cover the Spread

Conversely, an offense like the Bears can score points like crazy and knock out an opponent from the start. Even though they failed to cover three of their last four games, Baylor started the year on fire, beating the spread eight times during a season-opening nine-game winning streak.

Half of those covers had lines of 30 points or more, showing just how lethal the Bears can be when their offense is running on all cylinders. As home chalk of 10 points or more, the Bears have rewarded backers with 13 trips to the payout window in 14 tries, according to the Odds Shark NCAA football database.

Baylor also returns quarterback Bryce Petty for his senior year, which can only help fuel head coach Art Briles’ offensive machine.

Petty could follow in the footsteps of former Bears QB Robert Griffin III as the school’s second Heisman Trophy winner (he currently rates as a 12-1 shot) if he gets off to a good start here and nearly puts up better numbers than last season.

 

Smart Pick

Going against the grain is not a popular way to bet in a game like this, especially with Baylor’s offense expected to get even more hype heading into the season opener. As the public continues to move the total even higher leading up to kickoff, sharp bettors should get an excellent opportunity to bet below a bigger number in taking the under.

The Mustangs saw a total as high as 80 last year on the road against Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M, resulting in a 42-13 loss that obviously fell well below the closing number. Watch for a similar outcome in Waco.

 

Trends

  • Southern Methodist is 4-1 ATS in its last five games
  • Baylor is 15-2 straight up in its last 17 games
  • Baylor is 13-1 ATS as double-digit home favorites since 2010
  • SMU is 3-13-1 ATS vs. Big 12 since 2002

 

All point-spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, and all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line-move updates, and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Will Ohio State Buckeyes Prove They Are the Best Defense in the Country vs Navy?

The Ohio State Buckeyes take on the Navy Midshipmen in Week 1 of the college football season.

There are some questions surrounding the defense leading into the 2014 campaign for head coach Urban Meyer. Has he created a dominant squad? 

Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson and Ben Axelrod discuss the Buckeyes defense in the video above.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Rice Owls Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

The resurgent Rice Owls are 7-1 against the spread in their last eight games as underdogs on the road. Meanwhile, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are just 1-6 ATS the last seven times they've been favored by double digits at home.

So the betting trends will not be with the Golden Domers when they host Rice Saturday afternoon in Week 1 of the college football season.

 

Point Spread: The Fighting Irish opened as 24.5-point favorites; the total was 51.5 at Notre Dame Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark Computer Prediction: 28.8-28.5 Owls

 

Why Rice Can Cover the Spread

The Owls have 12 starters back this season, balanced out with six on each side of the ball. They've got some holes to fill, after the losses of their starting QB, leading rusher and top two tacklers, but enough talent remains in place for a run at a third straight winning season. Two years ago, Rice had only 10 starters back and won seven games.

The Owls are 17-10 straight up and 16-10-1 ATS over the last two seasons, which includes covers at plus-21 at Tulsa two years ago and at plus-28 at Texas A&M last season. Rice is probably not going to win this game, but it has shown it can cover on the road.

 

Why Notre Dame Can Cover the Spread

The Irish may not have everybody they thought they'd have available for this contest, but they're very happy to have back the QB who took them to the national championship game two years ago then sat out last year on suspension.

Everett Golson went 10-1 as a starter in 2012, hitting on 59 percent of his throws, compiling a 12-6 TD-INT ratio and just generally making things happen.

Notre Dame also returns last year's top rusher and three along the offensive line. If Golson can shake off the rust and the defense can limit the Rice running game, the Irish could cover the number.

 

Smart Pick

Both teams have holes to fill, but Rice has one at quarterback and Notre Dame doesn't. However, the Irish are likely to be missing those three projected starters, two on defense, who are waiting to hear about an investigation into academic shenanigans.

Two years ago, with Golson at QB, Notre Dame covered numbers like minus-14 against Navy, minus-14 against Miami and minus-24 against Wake Forest. But it couldn't cover minus-14 against Purdue, minus-13 against BYU, minus-17 against Pitt or minus-20 against Boston College.

So despite their offseason losses, the pick for this one is the Owls plus the points.

 

Trends

  • Rice is 14-7 ATS in its last 21 games
  • Notre Dame is 20-5 SU in its last 25 games
  • Rice 7-1 ATS past eight as road underdog
  • Irish 1-6 ATS past seven as double-digit home favorites

 

All point-spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, and all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line-move updates, and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Which Offensive Weapons Will Step Up for Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Rice Owls

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are starting Week 1 against the Rice Owls.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down who will be a big part of this offense. Who do you think will make an impact this week?

Watch the video and let us know. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Central Florida Knights Betting Odds, Prediction

The Penn State Nittany Lions seemed to be on the upswing under former head coach Bill O’Brien, and now James Franklin inherits a team that will be out for revenge early Saturday in Ireland.

The Nittany Lions face a Central Florida Knights squad that upset them as 4.5-point underdogs in Happy Valley last year.

While Central Florida closed out last season on a nine-game winning streak, the team’s offense will have a new look without former star quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson, both of whom graduated to the pros with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

Point spread: The Nittany Lions opened as three-point favorites; the total was 48 at Croke Park Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 37.9-27.9 Knights

 

Why the Penn State Nittany Lions can cover the spread

The Nittany Lions should have an edge offensively without having to deal with Bortles (288 passing yards and three touchdowns) and Johnson (117 rushing yards and two TDs overall), who connected on the first score of the last meeting and rarely looked back until a late Penn State rally fell just short in a 34-31 victory for the Knights.

Penn State sophomore QB Christian Hackenberg stayed true to the school despite risking fallout from the Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky controversy, and he played well against Central Florida last year with 262 yards and one TD.

Hackenberg was recently named the first sophomore captain in school history. Senior running back Zach Zwinak also ripped up the Knights run defense to the tune of 128 yards and three TDs, and he should become Franklin’s main bell cow this year in the offensive backfield.

 

Why the Central Florida Knights can cover the spread

Central Florida has covered its last six non-conference games, including that early road win against the Nittany Lions in Week 3 of last season. While Bortles and Johnson are gone, the Knights are led by a very experienced head coach in George O’Leary, who signed a new four-year deal to stay at the school following a successful 12-win campaign capped by a wild 52-42 win over Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl as 17-point underdogs.

Central Florida started last season by covering its first four games along with six of seven, with big wins coming against Penn State and Louisville during that stretch. The Knights also snapped a seven-game losing streak against Big Ten opponents with the win over the Nittany Lions, which should help their confidence.

UCF also snapped its seven-game losing skid versus Big Ten schools last year and would like to make it two in a row.

 

Smart Pick

Both teams are traveling a long way for this nationally televised ESPN2 matchup, and although O’Leary may have Irish roots, he will likely need some luck to beat Penn State two years in a row. Hackenberg is on the verge of becoming a star, and he could end up helping his draft stock the same way Bortles did last season.

Franklin called coaching the Nittany Lions his "dream job" when he was introduced as O’Brien’s replacement in January during a news conference. He helped lead Vanderbilt to four covers in his last five games there, including a 41-24 win over Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

Look for Penn State to get even for last year’s home loss by beating Central Florida this time.

 

Trends

  • UCF snapped a seven-game losing skid versus the Big Ten last year.
  • The total has gone UNDER in four of Central Florida's last six games.

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates and get the free odds-tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Still in Search of Legacy Lost in Wake of Appalachian State Upset

The details of that blue-sky day seven years ago are still seared into Phil Callihan's mind like a first kiss gone awry, a gut-wrenching event he can't stop replaying on the grainy film of his memory, no matter how hard he tries.

Callihan, 44, a Michigan alumnus and a Wolverines fan down to the marrow of his bones, believes that the afternoon of Sept. 1, 2007—the one that featured the greatest upset in college football history—was the moment that everything changed for Michigan football.   

And he's right. The Michigan program, put simply, hasn't been the same since precisely 3:40 p.m. CST on that September day, when the scoreboard at The Big House froze with numbers that now live in college football lore: Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32.

"I remember so clearly walking out of the stadium that day thinking, 'This is the end for Lloyd Carr,'" recalls Callihan, who lives in Ann Arbor and writes for the Michigan fan site, GoBlue.com. "The national championship that Carr won in 1997 seems like a lifetime ago. The spiral can really be traced to Appalachian State."   

In the 124 games before the Mountaineers rolled into Ann Arbor in '07—a rematch that will be reprised on Saturday at Michigan Stadium—the Wolverines were 96-28 (a winning percentage of 77.4). Since then Michigan is 49-41 (54.4). The Big Blue Nation has endured the category–five disaster of the Rich Rodriguez era, who never had a winning record in Big Ten play in any of his three seasons, and the ho-hum tenure of Brady Hoke, who, entering his fourth season in Ann Arbor, has a 15-9 conference record. No, they haven't exactly stirred the ghosts of Yost and Schembechler.

For the true believers like Callihan, it's been an exhausting seven years. And today, on the eve of the rematch, when he closes his eyes he still can travel back to the hour of the unraveling…

Michigan athletic director Bill Martin was desperate. Needing an opponent to fill out its '07 schedule, Martin was running out of time as the calendar flipped from December '06 into the New Year. He eventually a cut a deal with a Division I-AA team from Boone, N.C.: For a payout of $400,000, Appalachian State, coming off two straight I-AA national titles, would travel to Michigan for the Wolverines' season opener. In the narrative of the time, the Mountaineers were to be chum fed to the shark.

The Wolverines, it appeared, were loaded. They had started the previous season 11-0 and came within three points of playing for the national title. They had a senior quarterback, Chad Henne, who had an NFL arm, and an experience-laden offensive line, led by tackle Jake Long, a one-man mauling machine who would become the top pick of the '08 NFL draft. The Wolverines were ranked No. 5 in the nation. Hopes for a national championship were high.

But even before kickoff, the contest was freighted with history: It was to be the first live football game to be carried on the freshly launched Big Ten Network.

Michigan had lost only one season opener in the Carr era, which dated back to 1995. Las Vegas sportsbooks didn't put a betting line on the game because they thought it was such a colossal mismatch, and indeed most observers believed this would be little more than a glorified scrimmage for mighty Michigan. They were the 18-wheeler blasting down the interstate at 80 mph; Appalachian State was the bug about to meet its splattered fate on the windshield. 

During the week, Carr told reporters that Appalachian State "would enjoy the experience" of playing before more than 100,000 fans. He was almost patting the lads from North Carolina on the head.

Meanwhile, deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains, a summer heat wave gripped the town of Boone. In the week of practice leading up to the Michigan game, the Appalachian State players worked on their no-huddle, spread-option attack in triple-digit temperatures. Mountaineers coach Jerry Moore would play only 27 players against the Wolverines—an astounding seven players from that '07 I-AA squad would be selected in the NFL draft—but they were in the best shape of their young lives. And when Moore found out that the game-day forecast in Ann Arbor called for a sun-drenched afternoon, he couldn't have been happier. He was hand-on-bible certain that his players would be in better shape than the bigger, stronger and faster Michigan players.

Game time—12:07 p.m. CST—arrived. The press box was only two-thirds full, many regional media members opting to attend other games. No national writers were in attendance. At first, it seemed that this was going to be another giant feasting on a cupcake. After receiving the opening kickoff, Michigan's offense breezed down the field, like a machete through tall prairie grass. Running back Mike Hart, another one of the team's talented seniors who opted to return to school rather than enter the NFL draft, ran into the end zone to cap a 66-yard drive. The rout appeared on.

But then, moments later, Appalachian State wide receiver Dexter Jackson got behind the Wolverines defense and scored on a 68-yard touchdown reception. In the second quarter Jackson hauled in a 20-yard pass for another score. The Mountaineers were ready for battle and held a 21-14 lead after 20 minutes. For the first time, an oh-my-heavens silence fell over the blue-clad masses, all 109, 218 of them.

The halftime whistle blew. Michigan trailed 28-17. As the Wolverines jogged to the locker room, boos rained from the crowds like lead balloons. Several Michigan players gazed up in wonder, as if living in a fog-like haze, as if they were as confused by the scene as the fans. Carr, his face already ashen, looked like a man being led the gallows as he disappeared into the concrete catacombs of the stadium and the locker room.

But the Wolverines fought back. Led by Hart's 188 rushing yards, Michigan held a 32-31 lead late in the fourth quarter. They faced a 4th-and-6 on the Appalachian State 26-yard line. If Carr had opted to go for it and the Wolverines had converted, the game likely would have been over. But instead, he decided to try a field goal. It was blocked.

With no timeouts, the Mountaineers drove more than 60 yards in just over 60 seconds. Then, with 26 seconds left to play, Julian Rauch kicked a 24-yard field goal to give Appalachian State a 34-32 lead. The exits were jammed with fans when Henne completed a desperation 46-yard pass to Mario Manningham with six seconds to play. The Wolverines lined up for a 37-yard field goal attempt, but safety Corey Lynch blocked it. For the first time in history an FCS team had beaten a ranked FBS opponent.

Carr appeared bewildered in the post-game press conference, almost dazed, in shock. He stammered on about how much all losses hurt and how he felt his team was prepared. What was left unsaid—because it couldn't be understood at the time—was that this marked the end of something in Ann Arbor.  

The upset was the lead story on SportsCenter. It made the cover of Sports Illustrated—even though the magazine didn't have a writer in the state when the final whistle blew. Michigan dropped out of the Top 25, which was the first time that had ever happened to a Top 10 team after a loss. And the next week Oregon traveled to Ann Arbor and spanked the Wolverines 39-7, its worst home loss since 1968.

"The Appalachian State game still hurts, even to this day," Callihan says. "But at least I saw something historical."

Yes he did. And in the pantheon of great upsets—that most seductively alluring aspect of sport—Appalachian State over Michigan now lives alongside N.C. State over Houston, Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson and USA over Russia.

There's only one unknown remaining from that afternoon in '07, a question that haunts the sleep of fans like Callihan: Will Michigan ever be the same?

 

Lars Anderson is the author of the new book The Storm and Tide, the story of how the efforts of Tuscaloosa, Alabama to recover from a tornado that left 53 dead in 2011 helped forge a bond with the Crimson Tide and gave rise to Nick Saban's Alabama football dynasty. Lars previously covered college football and NASCAR for Sports Illustrated and will be doing the same for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @LarsAnderson71. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Creating the Ultimate College Football Fantasy Team for Week 1

Have you set your college fantasy football team yet for Week 1?

Odds are you don't actually have such a team, since fantasy sports at the college level isn't nearly as prevalent as the pro football version. But there are leagues available for those interested in adding even more excitement to their college football-viewing experience, so it's time to get your players locked in for the opening week of play.

Unlike the NFL, where there is a fixed amount of games each week pitting a finite number of teams, in college you have 128 teams to choose players from. And that's just the FBS level. To look even further down the line and set an FCS- or Division II-based team involves real passion.

Another way college football fantasy differs from the NFL version is in how star players get used. Blowouts and lopsided results are a much more common occurrence in college because of the prevalence of mismatches scheduled between power-conference teams and lower-division opponents, and that often leads to standouts getting pulled late in the first half or early in the second half of games.

While Peyton Manning isn't likely to still be slinging passes in the fourth quarter of a 56-0 game in the NFL, he's also not going to sit out the entire second half if that's the halftime margin.

With all that in mind, here are our choices for the players who would make the ultimate Week 1 fantasy lineup in college football, taking into account their opponents and the potential stats they're likely to put up.

Begin Slideshow

Houston's First Game at TDECU Stadium Looms Large for Program

The University of Houston will open a brand new stadium on Friday, September 29, when it hosts the University of Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners at 8 p.m.

TDECU Stadium was constructed at the site of the Cougars' former home, Robertson Stadium, over the course of the last two years and should provide the program a boost in 2014.

The Cougars played all their home games last year at various places around the nation's fourth largest city, Houston. 

In 2013, Houston played five games in NRG Stadium, home of the NFL’s Houston Texans, and two games at BBVA Compass Stadium, home of MLS’ Houston Dynamo.

Houston has put together various marketing packages to help pack fans into the new stadium.

The Cougars have won five of their last six season openers.

Fans and students are affectionately dubbing TDECU Stadium "The Cage" because of its metal design.

Houston fans have high hopes for the 2014 season, the Cougars' second in the American Athletic Conference.

Last year, the Cougars rode the arm of true freshman quarterback John O'Korn and a stifling defense to a winning season and a bowl game appearance. Houston finished 8-5 after a 41-24 loss to Vanderbilt in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

The Cougars were 5-3 in conference play.

All four regular-season losses were close by a total of 20 points. Houston fans hope improved depth and a real home field, TDECU Stadium, will help the Cougars turn close losses into wins.

Houston’s current depth chart includes 15 underclassmen and 29 upperclassmen, including just 12 seniors. It’s a change from 2013, when 23 underclassmen dotted the Cougars depth chart for the season opener. 

There's much to like about Houston in 2014.

Houston returns 19 starters from last season, including O'Korn, who led all true freshmen nationally last season with 28 passing touchdowns. O'Korn's top target, Deontay Greenberry, also returns. Greenberry is a talented receiver who averaged over 100 yards per game last year.

Speedsters Daniel Spencer, Markeith Ambles and Greg Ward should provide the sophomore quarterback even more ways to get the ball down the field in a hurry.

The Cougars' top two rushers from last season are back, too. Running backs Ryan Jackson and Kenneth Farrow are fire and ice, but they make for a nice backfield tandem. The shifty Jackson was the Cougars' fourth leading receiver last season, and the bruising Farrow averaged almost five yards per carry.

The Cougars led the nation last season in both turnover margin and turnovers gained. Houston has forced multiple turnovers in 20 of its last 21 games.

Ball-hawking junior safety Trevon Stewart will help lead the charge. Stewart led the nation in 2013 by collecting a combined 10 turnovers. Stewart totaled six fumble recoveries and four interceptions. His six fumble recoveries led the nation and also set a single-season school record.

Despite all the positives, Houston's high hopes will be dashed unless it can break in TDECU Stadium the right way. A win over UTSA on Friday will go far towards making the Cougars' new home part of a winning tradition.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Preseason Polls and College Playoff Predictions

Congratulations, America. You finally made it to the start of the 2014 college football season. 

After an offseason of debates over amateurism, stolen crab legs, band scandals, devastating injuries and much more, it’s time for the actual games to begin. We didn’t even have a new version of EA Sports’ NCAA Football franchise to pass the time.

This year, the games are all directed toward the initial College Football Playoff, when a selection committee will choose four teams to battle for the title. While the Associated Press Poll and Coaches Poll will not directly influence that selection committee, they are still worth looking at and arguing over.

Here is a glance at the two preseason polls before we dig into a prediction for the four playoff teams.

 

 

Predicted College Football Playoff Teams

Florida State 

Let Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports break down why Florida State will be so difficult to beat this season:

Despite losing a bunch of quality players, the defending national champions are still the most talented team in the country. There are no weak units. And the Seminoles are in a relatively weak conference. They could well stay No. 1 all year in the polls, but may not be able to afford a loss and still make the final four.

While there may not be any weak units, the strongest one is certainly quarterback thanks to the return of Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Winston threw for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns last year and led his team to a national title as a redshirt freshman.

Beyond the offense and Winston, Florida State is loaded with elite talent on the defensive side of the ball. Players such as Eddie Goldman, Ronald Darby, P.J. Williams, Jalen Ramsey and Mario Edwards Jr. could all be in the NFL one day and will lead a stout unit this season.

The talent is clear, but what makes the Seminoles an even bigger threat to make the College Football Playoff is the schedule. They destroyed Clemson last year with Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd, Louisville lost Teddy Bridgewater, Notre Dame is caught up in a cheating scandal and Florida finished an abysmal 4-8 last year. 

There just aren’t a lot of reasonable losses on the slate for this powerful Florida State team. It is as close to a sure bet as you can get for a postseason team this year.

 

Michigan State

No team except for the defending champion Seminoles enters the 2014 season with more momentum than Michigan State.

The Spartans ended Ohio State’s 24-game winning streak in the Big Ten title game and controlled the Rose Bowl in a victory over Stanford. What’s more, they won every Big Ten game by double digits, finished with the third-best scoring defense in the country and could have been in the national title game if the officials didn’t get flag-happy in a loss to Notre Dame.

Unfortunately for Michigan State, that momentum will come to a halt when it suffers an early loss this year. The good news is that it will still find a way to reach the College Football Playoff.

The Spartans are breaking in seven new defensive starters and have to travel to Oregon in the season’s second game. That is simply the wrong offense and wrong environment to find yourself in if you are still developing young talent on the defensive side.

However, coordinator Pat Narduzzi will make sure his team recovers from those early growing pains. With a strong defense and an offense that features quarterback Connor Cook and 1,400-yard rusher Jeremy Langford, Michigan State will emerge unscathed from the Big Ten. 

Contests against Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska are all at home, and the loss of Braxton Miller makes that showdown with the Buckeyes much less daunting. The Spartans’ improvement over the course of the year will impress the selection committee, which will result in a spot in the postseason.

 

Alabama

Alabama received another break from the SEC scheduling gods and missed South Carolina and Georgia from the East division. That’s not the main reason the Crimson Tide will reach the playoffs, though.

Nick Saban will have his team completely motivated after losing in heartbreaking and stunning fashion to Auburn and then dropping the Sugar Bowl to Oklahoma.

Sure, Alabama is unsettled at quarterback, but T.J. Yeldon and company will power this offense to a productive season. Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake will keep Yeldon’s legs fresh, while Amari Cooper leads a receiver group that is deep and talented.

Saban also added another loaded recruiting class that was pegged as No. 1 overall by 247Sports’ composite rankings and has a deep and loaded defensive line that features A’Shawn Robinson.

What’s more, Alabama’s contests at Mississippi and at LSU both come after bye weeks, so Saban has additional time to prepare for the two difficult road games on the schedule. Motivation, talent and a manageable schedule is a terrifying combination for the rest of the SEC and the nation. 

The Crimson Tide will make the College Football Playoff.

 

Oregon 

Oregon has consistently finished among the nation’s best, but it hasn’t quite gotten over the hump yet to win a title. ESPN Stats & Info provided the details:

That Michigan State win we predicted will loom large when the Spartans run through the Big Ten. Throw in the fact that the Ducks don’t have to play USC or Arizona State and get home games against Washington and Stanford, and they could probably afford a slip-up at UCLA and still make the Pac-12 championship game.

Marcus Mariota is a surefire Heisman candidate and may have led his team to an undefeated record last year if he didn’t tweak his knee. His head coach, Mark Helfrich, discussed the signal-caller, via Adam Jude of the Seattle Times:

He’s 100 percent true. He’s 100 percent dedicated to the team. He’s 100 percent credible. A lot of guys talk a good game. Everything that guy does is gospel. If I’m the backup guard and I see that guy forgo what he could have made...that’s huge. I think it speaks to the type of guy he is. 

Mariota and that up-tempo attack will once again wreak havoc on opponents, and newcomers Royce Freeman and Devon Allen will give it even more speed. The rest of the Pac-12 is officially on notice.

 

Follow me on Twitter:

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Trey DePriest Suspension, Malzahn's Rival

Trey to Play or Not to Play?

The offseason is a glorious time when players finally get some precious free time, which is always needed to recharge the batteries after the season, spring practices and classwork. Unfortunately for coaches, it also provides ample time for players to make a mistake and violate one of the NCAA's rules found in its 391,048-page (estimated) rule book.

Apparently Alabama linebacker Trey DePriest did just that.

Head coach Nick Saban announced Wednesday that DePriest will sit out the season opener versus West Virginia in the Georgia Dome on Saturday after committing a "minor NCAA infraction," according to B/R's lead Alabama writer Marc Torrence.

A big loss? Sort of. 

Anytime you lose a first-team All-SEC linebacker for any reason, it's not a good thing. Plus, losing one to NCAA infractions—even minor ones—gives the NCAA a reason to ask questions, and no program wants that even if nothing else is there.

Alabama does, however, have plenty of depth and versatility at linebacker, as Torrence pointed out.

Trey DePriest goes down, so next two guys up? Top ILB of the 2012 class, top ILB class of the 2013 class. Rough go of it for Alabama.

— Marc Torrence (@marctorrence) August 28, 2014

DePriest was nursing a knee injury during fall camp, which allowed sophomore Reuben Foster to cross-train at "Mike" and "Will" linebacker in Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart's 3-4 scheme. Now Foster will step into DePriest's starting role at "Mike" alongside Reggie Ragland at "Will." Dillon Lee has played outside and inside linebacker throughout his career, and freshman Shaun Dion Hamilton will provide depth as well.

Against West Virginia, this is actually a blessing in disguise.

Now some relatively inexperienced players will get a few more game reps against an offense that, while not exactly fearsome, will at the very least give the Tide creative looks and give defenders valuable experience down the road.

 

Rivalry? Or Offseason Talking Point?

Arkansas will visit Auburn in the season opener on Saturday afternoon on the Plains, and most of the intrigue in this game exists on the sidelines. 

The Tigers are nearly three-touchdown favorites over the Razorbacks, according to VegasInsider.com, with the big draw being the difference in styles between the two head coaches. Auburn's Gus Malzahn is a proponent of the hurry-up, no-huddle system that has become all the rage in college football, while Arkansas' Bret Bielema is more old school and was one of the figureheads of the failed 10-second rule hubbub in February

Toss in Malzahn's Arkansas ties and the passive-aggressive war of words between the two last season during SEC media days, and this has all of the makings of a new rivalry in the SEC West.

Except that it isn't.

Bielema didn't take the bait when asked if—by saying he didn't have "anything hanging over his team" earlier in the week—he was taking a subtle shot at Malzahn's handling of quarterback Nick Marshall's suspension.

"Not at all. I think you're reading too much rhetoric," Bielema said. "As far as Gus and how he handles his team, he's obviously done a great job of it to win an SEC title, and (to) put himself in a national championship game speaks volumes about what that coaching staff is capable of doing and how talented they are."

Malzahn downplayed his role in this "budding rivalry" during SEC media days.

"I think it's real professional," he said. "I've got a lot of respect for Bret as a coach. When we're in meetings, we communicate. Like I said, I got a lot of respect for him. I know he's going to get that program where he wants it to be."

Do they love each other? Probably not. Name me one uptempo coach who doesn't want to keep his foot on the gas a little while longer if he gets the chance against Bielema. Can't do it? That's because that coach doesn't exist. On the flip side, Bielema probably would do the same to uptempo teams if he gets the chance. 

Malzahn's Arkansas ties make this game a little more spicy, but let's not try to make the rivalry bigger than it is. It's an SEC West battle that, in Saturday's case, just so happens to be one of the bigger games of opening weekend. 

That's big enough.

 

No Pressure, Kid

Fifth-year senior quarterback Hutson Mason is stepping in for a legend, literally.

Aaron Murray left Georgia as the SEC's all-time leader in passing yards (13,166) and passing touchdowns (121), but the cupboard is far from bare in Athens. Mason has weapons all around him, which should help him ease into the full-time starter's role and the leadership responsibilities that go with it.

"I think Hutson's doing a very good job, but I also think (center) David Andrews is," head coach Mark Richt said. "I think (running back) Todd Gurley has. We got (tackle) John Theus. We got a lot of guys who have good leadership skills—(tight end) Jay Rome, (running back) Keith Marshall, (wide receivers) Chris Conley and Michael Bennett. A lot of guys have been around the block and highly productive, and are totally bought into what we are doing. Hutson's got a lot of support."

That's not coach speak, it's the truth.

Mason is a veteran of the system and has established stars all over the place who can help take any pressure off of his shoulders early in his career. Clemson has a veteran defense that will certainly try to rattle him, but with the players he has around him and the poise he showed in his two starts last season, Mason will be fine.

 

Musical Quarterbacks

Sophomore Anthony Jennings or freshman Brandon Harris?

That's the question facing LSU head coach Les Miles, and it appears that both will play in Saturday night's game versus Wisconsin in Houston.

"We're going to do those things that we feel will benefit both quarterbacks," Miles said on the coaches teleconference. "We're going to play them appropriately. It's not something without conception. We understand it. It's just not something I'm going to reveal. I don't think there's any tremendous magic to it. We like both guys. Both will play."

But who will finish the game as the No. 1 guy?

My money is on the true freshman Harris. The 6'3", 188-pounder from Bossier City, Louisiana, is accurate downfield, more of a threat with his legs and has more upside than Jennings.

In a battle where both contenders are relatively inexperienced, having a guy like Jennings going in as the starter against a tough opponent like Wisconsin will allow the team to get into a flow early. Once that happens, expect both to play but for Harris to show his potential early and often, leaving no doubt who the No. 1 quarterback should be.

 

Vols Getting Creative

Recruiting is a contact sport, and the way teams make contact with prospects is getting more and more creative.

From handwritten notes stating "I love the way you ball" to hand-drawn portraits, creating unique pieces of literature to show off to recruits is rapidly becoming the trend in college football.

Tennessee took it to the next level.

The Vols sent Shy Tuttle, a 5-star defensive tackle in the class of 2015, a Photoshopped Rolling Stone cover, complete with a fake headline of why Beyonce wants Tuttle on Rocky Top.

😂😂😂😂😂 they snapped with this pic.twitter.com/dSCeiTInho

— Shy Tuttle (@KingTut_90) August 26, 2014

Over the top? Not at all. Programs need to stand out, and pairing Tuttle up with Beyonce—however fictitious that may be—will certainly resonate well with the 6'3", 315-pounder.

 

Quick Outs

  • Don't expect Auburn to have a specific time in mind on when to bring back quarterback Nick Marshall from suspension against Arkansas. Jeremy Johnson will likely be Auburn's starter in 2015 when they open in the Georgia Dome against Louisville in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. Having Johnson prepare as the starter and execute the game plan in a big season opener is valuable experience for him moving forward. If Marshall is slated to be out one quarter, expect his suspension to be "one quarter-ish," and if Johnson is in the middle of a drive, the sophomore will be allowed to finish it off.
  • Alabama's offense might be sloppy, and it won't matter. With both Jake Coker and Blake Sims expected to play, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin might throw a lot at each of them to see how they handle things in a real game. Some of it may not work, and that's OK. Alabama always has the luxury of turning around and handing the ball to Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon when it needs to. The offense may be sloppy and look disjointed at times, and that will be good news because it will go a long way toward determining who the full-time starting quarterback will be.
  • Tennessee, be wary of Utah State and the Chuckie Keeton experience. There's an 80 percent chance of rain in Knoxville on Sunday, and the electrifying Keeton on a wet field against Tennessee's inexperienced front four should scare Vols fans.
  • Will Clemson upset Georgia? Nope. Don't be surprised if Georgia's defense takes a massive step forward against a Clemson offense that is full of question marks.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. 

Follow @BarrettSallee

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Under Armour Provides Navy with New 'Summer White' Uniforms for Ohio State Game

When Navy takes on Ohio State at MT&T Bank Stadium on Saturday, it's going to have a sharp new look.

The Naval Academy reached an agreement with Under Armour earlier this year, so the company will outfit all 33 of Navy's varsity teams. With a big game against the Buckeyes this weekend, Under Armour came up with a new "Summer Whites" uniform for the Midshipmen.

The helmets will definitely grab your attention.

Navy's new uniforms will have a unique feature. Each player's rank will be displayed on both the shoulder boards and the pants.

Here's how you will be able to identify a player's rank:

  • Freshman: anchor but no stripes
  • Sophomore: anchor with one diagonal stripe
  • Junior: anchor with two diagonal stripes
  • Senior: anchor with one parallel stripe
  • Captain: star and three parallel stripes

This football uniform may look somewhat familiar to you, and that's because it was inspired by the Naval Academy's Summer Whites military uniforms.

Like the military uniforms, the football team will wear all-white gloves and cleats. 

[Navy]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Navy Midshipmen Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

The Ohio State Buckeyes have already taken a hit this year, losing Heisman candidate quarterback Braxton Miller to injury.

And they enter this season on a two-game losing streak after tasting only victory in the prior 24 matches. How much trouble are they in for when they take on Navy's Midshipmen on Saturday in Baltimore?

 

Point spread: Buckeyes opened as 19.5-point favorites. It moved down six points after the Miller injury but is now back up to -16.5; the total was 55.5 at M&T Bank Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 50.3-37.6 Buckeyes

 

Why the Ohio State Buckeyes can cover the spread

The Buckeyes may have lost Miller, but there's still talent galore. That's especially true on defense, where seven starters are back to improve upon the 23 points per game the unit allowed last season. Ohio State is 24-2 SU, 14-12 ATS in two seasons under head coach Urban Meyer and figures to simply reload for this season.

The Buckeyes will have to pull back on the playbook without Miller, but that may just give the running game a chance to grind out drives on the Navy defense. Ohio State was favored in every game last year, but when favored by less than three touchdowns, the Buckeyes went 5-3 ATS.

 

Why the Navy Midshipmen can cover the spread

The Midshipmen return 15 starters from a team that went 9-4 last year. Eight starters are back on offense, led by QB Keenan Reynolds (who accounted for 39 touchdowns last year) and the entire offensive line; seven starters are back on defense.

Navy finished 10-3 ATS last season, 5-1 ATS as an underdog, 2-0 ATS when dogged by double-digits.

The Mids are also 4-1 ATS against ranked teams under head coach Ken Niumatalolo. If Navy can keep the chains moving with its option attack and avoid giving up the big plays, it could stay right in this one and extend its 7-1 ATS run.

 

Smart Pick

How much does Miller's absence mean to Ohio State and the betting odds? The Buckeyes were initially favored by almost three touchdowns for this game, but after the Miller injury the line dropped by a touchdown.

The last time these two programs met, back in Week 1 of 2009, the Midshipmen went into the Horseshoe as 22-point underdogs and gave OSU a scare.

They rushed for 186 yards and took a lead with six minutes to go before eventually succumbing 31-27. Could something similar happen Saturday? With Miller out, why not? Take the points with Navy.

 

Trends:

  • Ohio State is 9-1 SU in its last 10 games on the road.
  • Navy is 7-1 ATS in its last eight games.
  • The total has gone under in 10 of Navy's last 11 games at home.

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Southern Cal Trojans vs. Fresno State Bulldogs Betting Odds: Analysis, Pick

The USC Trojans are coming off a disappointing season that saw them finish strong despite some turmoil on the sidelines with head coach Lane Kiffin fired early on, winning six of eight games following his dismissal and going 5-3 against the spread.

Meanwhile, the Fresno State Bulldogs were USC’s final victim to close out last year. USC was just one of the two teams to beat the Bulldogs as Fresno State went 11-2 SU and 5-8 ATS in 2013.

 

Point spread: Trojans opened as 21.5-point favorites; the total was 58 at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 40.9-36.7 Bulldogs

 

Why the Fresno State Bulldogs can cover the spread

The Bulldogs will be out for revenge in this spot after getting blown out by the Trojans 45-20 as 4.5-point underdogs in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl last December 21. USC wide receiver Marqise Lee burned them for 118 yards and two touchdowns in that game, and he is now playing for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.

Fresno State has played well as a road underdog over the past few seasons, going 7-1 against the spread in that spot, including covers at Oregon and Tulsa during the 2012 season. The Bulldogs were favored in every game last year except for the bowl matchup with the Trojans, and they covered the previous two meetings in the series.

 

Why the Southern Cal Trojans can cover the spread

The Trojans had three different coaches last year, including Kiffin, interim coach Ed Orgeron and his replacement for the bowl game, Clay Helton. Orgeron did not want to coach the team after USC decided to bring back former offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian from Washington as the permanent replacement rather than retain Orgeron.

Through all of that mess, the players stuck together and delivered, especially returning quarterback Cody Kessler, who completed 22 of 30 passes for 345 yards and four touchdowns against Fresno State in the last meeting.

The junior performed admirably down the stretch considering the circumstances, and he gives the team a proven leader heading into the 2014 season.

 

Smart Pick

Despite the Bulldogs’ somewhat recent success as road dogs, they did not play well early last season, failing to cover their first four games, winning them by an average of less than six points when they were favored by double digits three times.

Fresno will also be without former star QB Derek Carr, who struggled against USC before heading to the NFL.

The Trojans should finally have stability with the hire of Sarkisian, and he was their QB coach when the Bulldogs nearly pulled off a monster upset in a 50-42 road loss back in 2005. Sarkisian will not take Fresno lightly in his return, and USC should fight on to a huge victory in Saturday’s season opener.

 

Trends

  • Fresno State is 10-3 ATS in its last 13 games on the road
  • FSU 7-1 ATS past eight games as road underdogs
  • UNDER is 10-2 past 12 games when USC is home chalk

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted—check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Southern Cal Trojans vs. Fresno State Bulldogs Betting Odds: Analysis, Pick

The USC Trojans are coming off a disappointing season that saw them finish strong despite some turmoil on the sidelines with head coach Lane Kiffin fired early on, winning six of eight games following his dismissal and going 5-3 against the spread...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football Rankings 2014: Latest Look at Preseason Polls and Standings

Who wants to bet that none of the teams in the preseason college football rankings finish where they currently sit?

The trouble with preseason rankings is that they often carry too much weight. If you start No. 1 and go unbeaten, you're almost certainly going to finish the season No. 1, even if another team is clearly outplaying you.

With the new four-team playoff, the hope is that that no longer remains a problem. Teams will be graded more fairly with more emphasis on their results rather than their reputations.

With the 2014 season nearly underway, plenty of Top 25 teams will be looking to make a major statement.

 

Week 1 Breakdown

Since these are preseason rankings, it's a bit premature to get worked up about this team being overlooked by Associated Press voters or coaches while this other team is way too overrated. As long as nobody's putting Georgia Southern in the Top 25, it's all good.

What you can hone in on heading into the opening week is the spate of intriguing Top 25 clashes. None is bigger than South Carolina vs. Texas A&M tonight.

The Aggies have suffered some major losses to their offense in the form of Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews. Evans and Matthews were top-10 picks, while Manziel was the second quarterback off the board in the 2014 NFL draft.

Kevin Sumlin's a very good head coach, though, and he's brought in a couple of great recruiting classes over the last two years. You wonder if A&M would be better off if this game was later in the season, when the newcomers will have had more time to adjust to their roles.

Instead, Kenny Hill is being thrown right into the fire. He does have some help in the form of a strong running game featuring Tra Carson, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams. Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital believes that Hill shouldn't be saddled with too much pressure.

"The quarterback doesn’t have to go out there and win the game if you have an experienced line and running backs," said Spavital, per Kate Hairopoulos of The Dallas Morning News. "You’re able to feel comfortable with them … where you’re not telling the quarterback ‘go out there and beat South Carolina [on your own],’ the first game."

South Carolina is without Jadeveon Clowney, of course, but the Gamecocks still have a talented team in addition to home-field advantage.

With a win, Steve Spurrier's team could cement the transition from Capital One Bowl-caliber team to national title contender.

That's just one of the highly anticipated games involving one or more SEC teams. Many fans will also be focusing on Georgia vs. Clemson and Wisconsin vs. LSU this weekend.

Both games involve teams good enough to win their respective conferences, and they will serve as a barometer for how good the quartet are.

If Clemson goes into Athens and beats Georgia, the Tigers could be a very real threat for Florida State. Wisconsin could give the Big Ten a much-needed public-relations boost by beating LSU. The Tigers, along with Georgia, are hoping to jump ahead of Alabama and Auburn in the SEC pecking order:

The conference has no shortage of top-quality teams, so Georgia and LSU could set themselves apart from the pack.

Ole Miss is another of those SEC teams looking for a nice win this week. Although Chris Petersen has moved on from Boise State, the Broncos remain one of the best teams outside a Big Five conference this year. The Rebels can't afford to take anything for granted in this game.

Laquon Treadwell didn't get the memo, via Saturday Down South:

Boise State brings back its leading passer, leading rusher and top two receiving leaders. On paper, Ole Miss shouldn't win this one in a walk, so in the event it does, it would signify Hugh Freeze's team is ready to be a threat in the SEC.

Looking at the landscape outside the SEC, the defending national champion isn't resting on its laurels, with Florida State playing Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas, in another of the major nonconference battles. Give credit where credit's due, because this was the kind of early game missing on the Seminoles' schedule last year.

However, this has the potential of turning really bad really quickly. OSU gets only eight starters back from last year's 10-3 team. The Oklahoman's John Helsley wrote that the Cowboys will likely endure a rough 2014 in service of building for the future:

Still, anybody in or around the Oklahoma State football team would admit that the Cowboys are best built for 2015 and beyond, when the kids — and we do mean kids — will be past their Big 12 baptisms.

That’s when the buzz-worthy players collected from what Cowboys coaches believe to be their best recruiting classes can pair talent with experience.

Florida State has more than enough to mount another title campaign, but recreating that same magic is always hard to do.

Starting off with Oklahoma State will allow the 'Noles to see how hard the climb will be back to the summit of college football.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Colorado State Rams vs. Colorado Buffaloes Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

Despite recent struggles, the Colorado Buffaloes have maintained the upper hand in their in-state rivalry with Colorado State, winning and covering six of the last seven meetings with the Rams.

The Buffs are lined as field-goal favorites for the 88th edition of the Rocky Mountain Showdown Friday night at Mile High in Denver.

 

Point spread: The Buffaloes opened as three-point favorites; the total was 61 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 35.9-18.1 Rams

 

Why the Colorado State Rams can cover the spread

The Rams only have five starters back on offense this year, but they include senior quarterback Garrett Grayson (62 percent completions, 23/11 TD/INT ratio last year) and his top two targets, Rashard Higgins and Joe Hansley, who combined for 120 catches. And seven starters return on defense, including six of the back seven.

CSU went 10-4 against the spread (ATS) last year, exceeding expectations on a regular basis.

The Rams lost this rivalry battle last year 41-27 as three-point favorites, but they led late in the third quarter. That game was decided when Colorado State, with a chance to retake the lead with 11 minutes to go, had a fumble returned for a Colorado score.

 

Why the Colorado Buffaloes can cover the spread

Colorado won this matchup last year, outgaining the Rams by over 200 yards, holding the ball for over 33 minutes. This year, the Buffs get 16 starters back, including QB Sefo Liufau (59 percent completions as a true freshman last year), last season's top two rushers, three along the offensive line and eight on defense.

While Colorado only won four games last season, it also topped the weekly expectations, going 7-5 ATS.

Head coach Mike MacIntyre pulled off a turnaround at San Jose State, taking that team from 2-10 the year before his arrival to 11-2 in three seasons. Might he herd the Buffaloes down a similar path?

 

Smart Pick

Colorado owns the advantage in returning talent, and as mentioned above, even through the recent tough times, it's owned this rivalry. On top of that, Colorado State will miss running back Kapri Bibbs, who only ran for 1,700 yards and 31 scores last year, and the four starters it lost along the offensive line and the three starters along the defensive front four.

If Colorado wants to become bowl-eligible this season, it must get off to a good start, because the second-half schedule is rough. Give the points and back the Buffs to come through here, despite what the computer says.

 

Trends

  • The under is 5-1 in the past six meetings between these teams.
  • The Rams are 1-6 straight up and ATS in the past seven games against the Buffs.
  • The Rams are 6-1 ATS in their past seven road games.

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line-move updates and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages