Lean Florida State & 'Under' In Week 1 Finale vs. Ole Miss

Matthew Jordan

Sunday, August 28, 2016 8:06 PM UTC

Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016 8:06 PM UTC

For the first time in years, there are four Top-25 matchups on the opening weekend of college football season. And the last of them is Sept. 5 between No. 11 Ole Miss and No. 4 Florida State in Orlando. Let's preview this game for NCAAF picks.

Game Background
This is being called the Camping World Kickoff, which apparently is the name now of the renovated Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando. It's the first time a SEC team will play a regular-season game in Orlando since 1991 when Florida routed Mississippi State. Ole Miss has never played in Orlando. It's the sixth game for Florida State all-time in Orlando and it has had success, beating Memphis State (1990), Notre Dame (1994), Duke (1995) and Wake Forest (1996) while tying Stetson (1952).

These big-time neutral-site matchups on opening weekend have gained in popularity in recent years. Orlando is now joining Atlanta, Arlington, Texas, and Houston as planning to do this annually.

Ole Miss and FSU have played once and it was back in 1961 as the Rebels rolled 33-0 at home. The Seminoles will be the home team here and surely will have a fan advantage. Ole Miss and Florida State are two of the nation's five programs that have earned back-to-back New Year's Six bowl berths in the first two years of the College Football Playoff.


Rebels Have Best Returning QB In SEC
If you watched the first round of this year's NFL Draft, you know the story that night was of Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil sliding from the potential No. 1 overall pick to No. 13, where he was selected by the Miami  Dolphins. Tunsil was shown in a social media video during the draft smoking marijuana while using a gas mask as his bong (it was an older video). And then there were text messages released on social media that appeared to show Tunsil talking about getting payments from some members of the Ole Miss football staff to pay random bills, etc. When Tunsil was finally interviewed by the press that night, he was sweating profusely and admitted he had taken cash at Ole Miss.

I  mention Tunsil because the Ole Miss program has been accused of several major violations by the NCAA and starts this season under a huge cloud. Coach Hugh Freeze has accepted responsibility but called them mistakes. The school self-imposed some penalties, including forfeiting 11 football scholarships. That's not going to cut it. It's possible the NCAA drops the hammer during the season and that Ole Miss isn't even eligible for a postseason game this year. In fact, I would venture to guess that if Ole Miss struggles this season and is invited to a minor bowl that will impose a one-year ban on itself (if the NCAA hasn't ruled yet) like Miami did a few years ago.

Ole Miss returns just nine starters, the fewest of any team in the SEC, and among Power 5 schools only Ohio State brought back fewer. But one of those back is starting quarterback Chad Kelly. Last year as a transfer in leading the Rebels to a 10-3 record and Sugar Bowl rout of Oklahoma State, Kelly completed 65.1 percent of his passes for 4,042 yards and 31 touchdowns. Those latter two numbers led the SEC. He was the first Ole Miss QB to lead the Rebels to wins over Alabama, Auburn and LSU in the same season as well as to five wins over Top 25 teams overall.

Last week, Ole Miss announced that running back Jordan Wilkins was declared academically ineligible for this season. Wilkins, a redshirt junior, rushed for 379 yards and four touchdowns in 2015 and was expected to be a co-starter this season Akeem Judd (421  yards, three TDs last year). Meanwhile, second-team junior strong safety C.J. Moore, who has played in all 26 games during his career, could be out for the season following surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle.

Ole Miss was 8-5 ATS on college football odds last year and 4-9 O/U.


Seminoles' Hopes Ride On Freshman QB
Florida State was one of the nation's most inexperienced teams last year and finished 10-3 following a 38-24 loss to  Houston in the Peach Bowl. The Seminoles were due to bring back every single offensive starter from that team, a huge rarity, but quarterback Sean Maguire will not be under center on Monday night. He broke a bone in his foot in mid-August. It's possible that Maguire is back by the second or third game. Maguire actually lost a battle with Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson for the starting job  to begin last season but Maguire ended up starting five games. It's not a sure thing that the senior would have beaten out redshirt freshmen Deondre Francois as they were even in fall camp. Francois is from Orlando to add to the intrigue.

FSU was my pick to play for the national title this year, but I'm not as confident in that now until I see Francois in action. During Florida State's spring game, Francois completed 20 of 33 passes for 246 yards with two touchdowns but also two picks. Of course, the last time Florida State opened the season with a Labor Day night game with a redshirt freshmen under center, it worked out pretty well. A kid by the name of Jameis Winston completed 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns in a blowout of Pittsburgh. Winston would win the Heisman that year and lead FSU to the national championship in the final year of the BCS. Francois was a touted recruit but not quite as Winston's level.

The focal point of the offense will surely be tailback Dalvin Cook, a Heisman Trophy candidate. The junior rushed for 1,691 yards (a whopping 7.4 yards per carry) and 19 touchdowns in 2015 and will likely be a first-round draft pick next year if he declares.

FSU was 8-5 ATS last season on college football picks and 5-8 O/U.


Final Analysis
Neither Ole Miss nor Florida State can afford a loss here and have a great shot at the playoff as the Rebels have a murderous SEC schedule and FSU has to visit Louisville and Miami and host North Carolina, Clemson, and Florida. Thus it's tough to see either school run the table after Monday. But I like FSU here and the 'under.' The 'under' is 4-0 in Ole Miss' past four neutral-site games and 17-5 in FSU's past 22 vs. the SEC.  


Free NCAAF Picks: FSU -190 & Under 57 -105 
Best Line Offered: FSU -190 at 5Dimes & Under 57 -105 at Heritage 

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