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College Football Start Up In The Air: NCAAF Picks and Game Predictions

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Ian Book #12 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images/AFP

Remember when we were discussing the mixed signals being sent by colleges about their football teams a week ago? Well, if you were hoping the matter would soon be cleared up as I was, we could be in for a disappointment.

If anything, the waters are even muddier after recent statements from the Pac-12, along with NCAA president Mark Emmert straddling the fence and not offering much. Among the ideas being floated in the Pac-12 is limiting teams to purely a conference schedule. Emmert is being pressured to set a start date for all teams to begin practices but has yet to do so since there are varying restrictions currently from state to state.

If the Pac-12 did go ahead with a plan to limit its teams to just conference play, that would knock out a couple of the biggest games on the Week 1 slate. Alabama, a +500 pick at Bovada to win the College Football Playoffs, is scheduled to take on USC in Arlington on September 5, while Washington is set to host Michigan that same day. The Crimson Tide are expected to be in excess of 2-TD favorites against the Trojans in what would be a rematch of their 2016 season opener in Arlington, a game Alabama coasted to a 52-6 final as 13½-point chalk.

Some states and regions are taking steps forward and attempt to coexist with the virus, and we’re beginning to see sports such as Major League Baseball make attempts to return. It could go conference-by-conference, however, and here are three Week 1 games that we think do have excellent chances of being played right now. The records shown are from the 2019 season.

Notre Dame (11-2 SU, 9-4 ATS) vs. Navy (11-2 SU, 10-3 ATS)

Saturday, August 29, 2020 – 02:00 PM EDT

Opening Line: Notre Dame -14 (-120) at 5Dimes

We can start with the notion this game will not be played in Ireland as originally scheduled. Still, we fully expect the Fighting Irish and Midshipmen to get together somewhere for the 92nd time in the rivalry, and for Notre Dame to be a double-digit favorite.

Chip Kelly and the Irish run 25/1 to 40/1 on college football futures, good enough to put them in the top 10. There’s a lot to like about the team which returns QB Ian Book and all five starting offensive linemen from last season. Book will be looking for a new go-to target downfield, and Notre Dame has to improve the ground game that ranked 45th a year ago. The defense also lost some key contributors, but should still be a solid unit save for some mysteries at cornerback.

Ken Niumatalolo is looking for a new signal caller for the Midshipmen after talented Malcolm Perry ran out of eligibility. Navy will also be breaking in new faces in its front 7 on defense, with that side of the football vastly underrated in 2019.

Notre Dame’s new corners shouldn’t be much of an issue against Navy’s option game, while the offensive front for the Fighting Irish should wear down the Midshipmen. Whether or not it’s enough to cover the expected 16-18 point spread remains to be seen.

Head coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images/AFP

Clemson (14-1 SU, 11-4 ATS) at Georgia Tech (3-9 SU, 3-8-1 ATS)

Thursday, September 03, 2020 – 01:00 PM EDT

Opening Line: Clemson -23 (-120) at 5Dimes

Clemson is everyone’s favorite in 2020 after falling just a game shy of consecutive College Football Playoff Championships a season ago. Dabo Swinney’s Tigers are priced +225 at Intertops to win it all, and one thing we do know is if there is a college football season, this ACC matchup with Georgia Tech will be played.

Led by Heisman favorite Trevor Lawrence, the Tigers are heavy favorites to win a sixth consecutive conference title and should be chalked by at least a touchdown in every game. Clemson did lose a few key pieces on defense, but continue to score each year on the recruiting trail to make it easier to find replacements.

Things are looking up for Georgia Tech as Geoff Collins enters his second season running the show. But the Yellowjackets are still a year away from just getting back into contending for a bowl. As they have done the last five meetings, Clemson rolls in this one and covers a spread that could exceed four touchdowns.

Head coach Lane Kiffin. Joel Auerbach/Getty Images/AFP

Ole Miss (4-8 SU, 7-5 ATS) vs. Baylor (11-3 SU, 9-5 ATS)

Saturday, September 05, 2020 – 01:00 PM EDT

Opening Line: TBA

This contest has a couple of things in its favor given how the SEC and Big 12 seem to be pushing forward faster than other conferences, plus the easing of restrictions on all businesses that we’re seeing in Texas.

It’s also an interesting matchup since it has two head coaches in their first games for the respective schools. Lane Kiffin’s winding and the often contentious journey has him returning to the SEC to lead the Rebels, while Dave Aranda is taking the reigns in Waco after serving as defensive coordinator for LSU the past few seasons.

Kiffin is looking to rebuild an Ole Miss program that hasn’t gone bowling the past four seasons. Aranda will be trying to build on the success Matt Rhule had turning around the Baylor program. The contest pits the offensive-minded nature of Kiffin opposite Aranda’s defensive schemes, and early numbers suggest the Rebels will be favored by about a field goal. I would take the points and the Bears with my free NCAAF pick.