SPORTS

College Football Pickem: Lines And Odds

09/01/2011 08:14 am ET | Updated Nov 01, 2011

September is a beautiful time of the year for sports fans. Most notably, it means the start of football. For many, it also means helplessly managing three fantasy teams, chasing down 6.5 point spreads and of course, hoping that fresh new recruit is the answer to your team's problems. Since you can get your NFL fix just about anywhere else, I figured why not become your go-to source for college football pick'em. The season hasn't yet started and we already have two massive controversies with Ohio St. and Miami, not to mention Texas A&M leaving the Big 12 for the SEC. These are good omens.

Every Thursday during football season, I will release my eight picks of the week to a). entertain you at work while you count the seconds until kickoff and b). perhaps make you some extra money to buy your better half something nice, or buy yourself that brand new plasma TV.

Odds courtesy of Bodog

UNLV @ Wisconsin (-35.5), Thursday, 8pm ET on ESPN

I'm interested in this matchup for two reasons. Firstly, it's the opening game of the year, a beautiful thing in itself. More importantly, it marks the debut of Russell Wilson at quarterback. Wilson was a stellar player at NC State before transferring and opting not to pursue baseball. The Badgers don't typically get this caliber of athlete though, especially at the quarterback position. Wilson is the ultimate dual-threat player who could legitimately take Wisky to a national championship. Monta Ball and James White may just be the best 1-2 running back punch in college football, which doesn’t hurt either. But -- ah yes, there's always a but -- I'm hearing Wilson has struggled a bit picking up the offense and, the Badgers are perennially slow starters. It was in Vegas, but UNLV stuck around last season when these teams played. The Rebels have a litany of issues, but Wisconsin is 1-5 ATS its first three games the past two seasons. Expect a big Bagder win, but not quite enough to cover.

PICK: UNLV

TCU (-5) @ Baylor, Friday, 8pm on ESPN

With two straight BCS bowl game appearances and no regular-season losses since 2008, TCU has entered the elite of big time college football. Both offenses here are explosive, but the real question is whether or not the Horned Frogs can sustain such firepower with the loss of All-American Andy Dalton. Baylor meanwhile, has Robert Griffin III, a Russell Wilson type in that he's extremely capable of beating you through the air and the ground. TCU beat up on the Bears 48-10 last season though, and is retaining a ton of talent, including linebacker Tank Carder, the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year last season. Baylor is good enough to be a weekly upset threat in the Big 12, but I think TCU wins by a touchdown in Waco.

PICK: TCU

Miami (-5) @ Maryland, Monday, 8pm on ESPN

The 'Canes thrive under two things: adversity and playing under the lights. With Jacory Harris ineligible, they will thrive even more. Akin to Jordan Jefferson, Harris is an interception-in-waiting. He makes poor decisions, forces throws and isn't willing to use his legs. His replacement, Stephen Morris, isn't the next John Elway, but one thing he won't do is force throws. Luckily, this is a pretty bad Maryland team with equally bad uniforms. Randy Edsall will get this program up and running again, but it won't be Monday night. I like The U to run away with it.

PICK: Miami

UCLA @ Houston (-3), Saturday, 3:30

I don't know why, but the Bruins have somehow developed a Pac 12 sleeper following these past few weeks. Kevin Prince has been named the starter at QB almost by default, and with safety Akeem Ayers gone to the NFL, the defense will struggle even more against the pass. Houston isn't a big name program, but the Cougars are super dangerous this season. QB Case Keenum is back for a sixth season and has proven to be one of the most lethal throwers of the past decade. The Bruins are in deep trouble here. I wouldn't be surprised if this isn't close.

PICK: Houston

South Florida @ Notre Dame (-10), Saturday, 3:30 on NBC

Notre Dame has lofty expectations this season and rightfully so. Dayne Christ is relatively effective; Manti Te'o leads an improved defense; and Brian Kelley has had a full offseason to prepare. Ten points is a sizable spread though. South Florida is my sleeper in the Big East with B.J. Daniels at the helm. While he struggled last season, he has the arm and wheels to be prolific. The biggest problem defensively for the Irish last year was a lack of team speed, or, in other words, containing dual-threat quarterbacks. Remember the Michigan game? Further, 5'8", 165-pound receiver/kick returner Lindsey Lamar was the team leader in all-purpose yards as a sophomore, and his kickoff returns for touchdowns against Syracuse and Louisville made him the coaches' choice for Big East Special Teams Player of the Year. In the return of Skip Holtz to South Bend, Notre Dame wins, but only by a touchdown.

PICK: South Florida

Boise St. (-3.5) @ Georgia, Saturday, 8pm on ESPN

Kellen Moore is back and looking to help Boise avenge the embarrassing 48-13 loss to Georgia back in 2005, but that affair was in Athens. The Broncos face an improving Georgia team with head coach Mark Richt on the ultimate hot seat. Sophomore QB Aaron Murray threw for over 3,000 yards last year, but much of that was to A.J. Green. Boise meanwhile lost a pair of stud receivers to the NFL in redzone threat Austin Pettis and Titus Young, who was perhaps the best deep threat in the country last season. This game (played in the Georgia Dome) may as well be a home game for the Bulldogs. It will be very close, but I like the upset here. The national title talk for Boise is to be derailed earlier than expected in 2011.
PICK: Georgia To Win

GAME OF THE WEEK

Oregon @ LSU, Saturday, 8pm on ABC

This is going to be a phenomenal game. Why ESPN put it up against Boise St.-Georgia makes no sense. Jordan Jefferson is out of the lineup which means fifth-year senior Jarret Lee gets the call. Even though he was named the starter, Jefferson has been a turnover machine throughout his tenure at LSU and Lee -- not exactly a walking clean sheet either -- should be more efficient. With Darren Thomas back along with Heisman candidate LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner all back, Oregon returns its core three back on offense. The problem I foresee here is reminiscent of the national title game. The Ducks have a smallish line on both sides of the ball, and LSU -- like Auburn -- has a slew of monsters. Thomas hasn't shown me enough to submit 100 percent faith against such a violent and athletic defense and James, as dynamic as he is, may get swallowed up again by the beef of the Tiger front. In Dallas, I have to go with "The Hat," Les Miles in a close battle.

Oregon averaged 303.8 yards rushing in its first 12 games last season, but was held to 75 yards on the ground against Auburn, which was a defense that struggled for much of 2010. The Tiger defense led the SEC with 32 forced turnovers last year. While it loses Thorpe and Bednarik award winner CB Patrick Peterson to the NFL, defensive coordinator John Chavis believes this might be the fastest defense he’s ever coached.

PICK: LSU To Win

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