My love of the college football season can be partially described in the rough debut to the 2018 Saturday Six-Pack. We spend months, from the moment the national championship is awarded until Week 1 kickoff, analyzing every facet of rosters. Just when we believe we have everything figured out, games are played and prove we know nothing.
College football’s unpredictability is part of its magic. The annual (if not weekly or even daily) debate over which sport is more enjoyable, NFL or college football, picked up volume in the wake of a sluggish NFL opening night. The NFL’s lack of variety in scheme renders it inherently less diverse than the college game, which certainly contributes to me enjoying the latter more.
However, the fact that the NFL is indisputably played by superior athletes makes college the better game. NFL has a razor-thin margin error; any mistake, like opting to call a pass play for Tom Brady, can result in cataclysmic failure.
Mistakes are less detrimental to the college game — hell, Les Miles won a national championship — and can even add to the unpredictably.
WEEK 1 RECORD: 2-4; 2-4 ATS
SEASON RECORD: 2-4; 2-4 ATS
SATURDAY’S SIX-PACK: Sierra Nevada Hazy Little Thing IPA
In honor of the hazy picture college football offers us through one week, I recommend my favorite new beer. Unlike this column’s picks at times, Sierra Nevada offers nothing but winners. Hazy Little Thing takes its name from the cloudy look, a byproduct of the brewery packaging and distributing it as-is.
It’s an unfiltered IPA — unfiltered much like the blemishes of college football that make the game beautiful.
No. 18 MISSISSIPPI STATE at KANSAS STATE
Kickoff: Noon ET/9 a.m. PT
Line: Mississippi State -7.5
This was one I had penciled in before the season for high upset potential. I’m a fan of Joe Moorhead, and the new Mississippi State head coach inherited a lineup capable of putting up big points in his offense-friendly system. However, I’m always hesitant to buy the Bulldogs when they start to gain national hype. Obviously, these aren’t the players from past seasons, but the weight of past failure can and has become the burden of present athletes.
On the flip-side, Kansas State under Bill Snyder is the picture of consistency. When the Wildcats don’t emerge to win 10-plus games and compete for the Big 12 Championship, they’re settled into a solid 8-win mold with the capacity for springing at least one huge upset.
I’ll admit that K-State’s Week 1 struggles against South Dakota have me wavering a bit. The Wildcats defense stiffened when it needed to in the second half, so I anticipate talented dual-threat quarterback Keytaon Thompson facing some resistance. But that K-State offense, woof.
Quarterback play has remained an issue since Heisman finalist Collin Klein’s graduation, but Alex Delton and Skylar Thompson were especially off in Week 1. Delton can run enough that working in tandem with running back Alex Barnes can move the ball some, but I’m not certain I trust it to be effective enough to capitalize on any opportunities the K-State defense creates.
PREDICTION: MISSISSIPPI STATE 31, KANSAS STATE 24
No. 3 GEORGIA at No. 24 SOUTH CAROLINA
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT
Line: Georgia -10
The above Six-Pack entry referenced a cosmic force with no tangible bearing on future results with regard to Mississippi State’s past failure. Again, this is one of those psychological things that might influence my decision-making for the worse, but I can’t help it: I was ready for a South Carolina upset of Georgia, until picking the Gamecocks become the en vogue choice for pundits looking to tab a shocker for college football Week 2.
Don’t get me wrong, South Carolina’s strong influence to 2017 impressed me. For the first time in his head-coaching career, a Will Muschamp team showed genuine potential on offense. And indeed, Jake Bentley completed 75 percent of his pass attempts with four touchdowns in Week 1. Rico Dowdle and Ty’Son Williams also added a nice one-two punch in the run game, which could give a Georgia defense replacing Roquan Smith some headaches.
Even as I write this, it’s difficult not talking myself into pulling the trigger on a talented home underdog scoring a monumental upset that shifts a conference’s entire balance of power before autumn even arrives. And yet…
Question marks remain as to how Georgia replaces Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Kirby Smart and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney played it close to the vest in Week 1, giving six different players at least three carries, but none more than eight. While there’s no apparent combo ready to divvy up the carries split between Michel and Chubb, Georgia’s not lacking for talent, and thus options.
I expect a rowdy Williams-Brice Stadium to have its air deflated quickly. The highest potential for a divisional loss on Georgia’s docket gets an immediate response akin to any number of overly hyped Alabama games in recent years.
PREDICTION: GEORGIA 38, SOUTH CAROLINA 17
IOWA STATE at IOWA
Kickoff: 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT
Line: Iowa -3.5
Iowa State let opportunities to beat rival Iowa slip away last season, but the indicators that Matt Campbell was turning the program in a positive direction were evident. David Montgomery’s performance against an always-stout Iowa defense pointed to some offensive punch, which Iowa State has long lacked.
Similarly, coming into this year’s matchup, Iowa’s recent reversal of misfortune at running back buoys the Hawkeyes offense. Toren Young ripped off more than 10 yards per carry in Week 1, against a good Northern Illinois defense. Quarterback Nate Stanley struggled in the opener, but as last season’s shootout with Iowa State suggests, Stanley can deliver. He threw five touchdowns without an interception against the Cyclones a season ago, and absolutely decimated Ohio State late in the season.
Despite this game’s reputation, Iowa State’s revamped philosophy under Campbell and the presence of talented playmakers make for a potentially exciting rivalry contest. Kirk Ferentz and son Brian’s tinkering with multiple-tight end sets add some intriguing possibilities for passing plays against an undersized Iowa State defense. Six-foot-five, 250-pound T.J. Hockenson will make at least one big reception on the day.
PREDICTION: IOWA 34, IOWA STATE 28
No. 2 CLEMSON at TEXAS A&M AGGIES
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT
Line: Clemson -12
After losing every matchup from 2012 through 2014, Dabo Swinney’s Clemson teams returned the favor with a three-game winning streak against Jimbo Fisher’s Florida State squads. The last served as a crystallizing indicator of the power shift in the ACC, with the Tigers dominating a 31-14 contest.
Fisher left Florida State with the program in an apparent need for rebuilding, made even more apparent after the egg laid Week 1 against Virginia Tech. It’s unfair to characterize Texas A&M as being in the same situation as Florida State; though never reaching the heights administration and fans hoped after Kevin Sumlin’s 2012 debut, the program remained pretty consistently in the 8-or-9-win territory.
To that end, Fisher inherited a program with talent. Trayveon Williams kicked off 2018 with 240 yards rushing, and quarterback Kellen Mond has a ton of potential. But the challenge facing Texas A&M in its first year under Fisher is the same that vexed Sumlin for most of his tenure: Can the Aggies stack up against elite competition?
It doesn’t get much more elite than Clemson, particularly on defense. There are very few proclamations in the Saturday Six-Pack, beyond beer recommendations, that I will guarantee. Trayveon Williams not repeating his 240-yard output is an exception. Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Albert Huggins, Shaq Smith — they ain’t letting that happen.
Clemson faces some uncertainty on offense, but its defense is too imposing to allow A&M to hang around. Whether it’s Kelly Bryant or Trevor Lawrence behind center, Texas A&M’s best hope to spring an upset is that the 100,000-plus going wild in Kyle Field rattle the quarterback, and that the Aggies defense can generate some early turnovers deep in Tigers territory.
Otherwise, it’s going to be a long evening in College Station.
PREDICTION: CLEMSON 35, TEXAS A&M 17
No. 17 USC at No. 10 STANFORD
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT
Line: Stanford -6
Against San Diego State Week 1 was the most complete the Stanford offense has looked since hitting its stride late in the 2015 season — and that came in a game in which Bryce Love rushed for all of 29 yards.
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside’s dominant performance against a good San Diego State defense should give a lot of future Stanford opponents pause. Do you gamble on investing mostly in stopping Love, and hope that either K.J. Costello makes a mistake or your cornerbacks can handle the size of Arcega-Whiteside, Colby Parkinson and Kaden Smith? Do you risk giving Love enough leeway that he could spring one of those long runs that powered him to the Heisman Trophy?
If there was any problem most glaring about USC’s Week 1 win over UNLV, it was that that Trojans allowed the Rebels to score primarily on explosive runs. Lexington Thomas went 71 yards to pay dirt, the highlight of a nearly 300-yard effort from the Rebels.
Clay Helton cited the majority of UNLV’s long gains came on either trick or broken plays. Be that as it may, it doesn’t matter if it’s designed or not: Love can kill a defense with just one or two carries. Compounding that is the lack of depth in USC’s secondary. Iman Marshall is a veteran and has the size to contend with Arcega-Whiteside, but the absences of Bubba Bolden, Ykili Ross and the dismissal of Jack Jones all loom.
JT Daniels needs a faster start than he mustered in Week 1. He looked confident in the second half, however, and he has no shortage of worthwhile receivers. This should be an interesting chess match between two budding rivals.
PREDICTION: STANFORD 30, USC 23
No. 15 MICHIGAN STATE at ARIZONA STATE
Kickoff: 10:45 p.m. ET/7:45 p.m. PT
Line: Michigan State -5.5
Arizona State’s record against visiting Big Ten opponents is unblemished — though I’d imagine the conference’s last visitor to Tempe would like to add an asterisk.
Whether by hook or by crook, the Sun Devils have taken advantage of home field when a Big Ten team comes to town. Michigan State’s struggles against Utah State in Week 1 have to have some licking their chops more than a thirsty undergrad waiting for a pint of Kilt Lifter down at Four Peaks Brewing Company.
Sparty’s typical lock-down defense showed up, limiting Utah State to 25 rushing yards and forcing a couple of interceptions. They’ll need to replicate that production, as allowing Manny Wilkins and N’Keal Harry to start cooking is a recipe for trouble. Running back Connor Heyward added some electricity to the Michigan State offense, and Brian Lewerke has shown he can be more explosive than the typical Michigan State quarterback, but Arizona State’s not an opponent against which Sparty wants a shootout.
The Sun Devils have to find a way to establish Eno Benjamin on the run early. Arizona State’s offensive line is veteran and talented, but may be ultimately too overmatched against Kenny Willekes and Co. in the Michigan State front seven.
PREDICTION: MICHIGAN STATE 28, ARIZONA STATE 24