The first Saturday of the 2014 college football season brings us a limited slate of games, but we'll still try to tickle out a few winners for our free NCAAF picks. So without further ado, here's our take on three games for Saturday.
UCLA -21 vs. Virginia
The Bruins head cross-country to open their season against the Cavaliers in Charlottesville. Both these teams have 17 starters back this season. UCLA gets back nine starters on offense, led by Heisman candidate QB Brett Hundley and four along the offensive line, and eight starters on defense from a team that went 10-3 last year.
Virginia, meanwhile, has eight starters back on offense, led by thousand-yard rusher Kevin Parks and three along the offensive line, and nine starters on defense, from a team that went 2-10 last year. The Cavs averaged just 20 points per game last year, while giving up 33 PPG, but they have a good chance to improve upon both those figures this season.
Virginia is coming off a very disappointing 2013, and while head coach Mike London had great success at the FCS level, his seat is hot entering this season.
This is UCLA's first game in the Eastern time zone since they won at Tennessee back in 2009. This game will kick off at 9 am Bruins home time.
The Wahoos should be much improved this season, and with the home-time zone advantage should have enough to keep this one within three touchdowns.
Free College Football Pick: Virginia
Auburn -19 vs. Arkansas
The Tigers and Razorbacks jump right into SEC play when they meet at Jordan-Hare. Auburn has 14 starters back, eight on offense, including QB Nick Marshall and four along the offensive line, and six on defense, from the team that almost won the national championship last season.
Arkansas, meanwhile, has 14 starters back, seven on each side of the ball, from a team that went 3-9 in its first season under new head coach Bret Bielema last year.
The Hogs struggled epically last year, finishing with their worst record in 60 years, and winless (0-8 SU, 3-5 ATS) in SEC play. But Arkansas finished last season by covering two of its last three games, including a tough loss to LSU, so they did get a little better as the season went along.
Auburn beat Arkansas last year 35-17 but only out-gained the Hogs that night by 20 yards.
The Tigers have covered the spread 11 games in a row, and that's tough to do. So in thinking Auburn can't continue its ATS run forever, and that the Hogs should be able to run the ball and control some clock, we'll take the points with the road dog as our college football pick.
Free College Football Pick: Arkansas
LSU -4 vs. Wisconsin (in Houston)
The Badgers upgrade their non-conference schedule with a tough test against the Tigers at that place they now call NRG Stadium in Houston.
Wisconsin returns just 10 starters this season from a team that went 9-4 last year; seven of those are on offense, including Heisman candidate RB Melvin Gordon and four along what should be one of the best offensive lines in the country. But only three starters return on defense for the Badgers.
LSU gets back 12 starters; five are back on offense, including four along the offensive line, but the Tigers have to replace QB Zach Mettenberger, last year's top rusher and top two receivers. And seven starters are back on defense.
LSU has won 45 straight regular-season games against non-SEC foes. It also beat a Big Ten entrant in the Outback Bowl last year, topping Iowa 21-14.
The Badgers beat the Hawkeyes last year 28-9.
Wisconsin comes back inexperienced on defense, but LSU is young on offense. The Badgers will try to grind out drives with Gordon and company, in an attempt to win the time-of-possession battle. And we give them a decent chance of doing so. So we'll go with Bucky plus the points in the college football odds, and won't be surprised if they win this game outright.
Free College Football Pick: Wisconsin