Don’t Call It A Comeback

College Football season is nearly upon us once again and you know what that means—the return of everyone’s no one’s favorite weekly column, Don’t Call It A Picks Competition! While we know that we set the bar incredibly high last year, we promise the new season won’t be nearly as horrific of a disappointment as Season 2 of Friday Night Lights. (Although Matt Saracen was as dreamy as ever.)

While we stopped counting after the last week of the regular season because I’m lazy and no one else really cares about this, if I recall correctly Bob won narrowly over a very respectable Matt while my picks finished about as well as Fernando Torres. (NEW THIS YEAR: SOCCER ZINGS!) But with a new season, comes new hope and with new hope comes redemption! Or, better yet, in the age of #HASHTAGANDCAPITALIZEEVERYTHING (for those of you too lazy to parse out those words, that says, “Hashtag, fuck you, I worked hard on this. You can interpret that. Also, sorry Mom, but I use that language because of how you raised me.”), with new hope comes #REDEMPTION! And like the University of Miami football team, I must have a stupid marketing slogan to attempt to distract attention from my relatively pedestrian ability.

So what is this? If you were around last year, you certainly need no explanation and we sincerely appreciate your readership. Seriously, the support and readership for this column blows us away and means a lot. Thanks. If you’re just coming on, welcome! This is a weekly picks competition that posts every Thursday where Matt, Bob and I pick five college football games and try to publicly humiliate each other as much as possible. Each week, we’ll pick the games for each of our schools (Illinois, Northwestern and Miami, respectively) as well as two national games. If one of our teams is off, we’ll substitute a national game for it. You are invited to play along in the comments and we’ll post the standings each week.

We also have some news this year! Since we last wrote for you, Matt and I have both jumped on to real sports blogs. He writes about the Illini over at The Champaign Room and I talk Miami at Canes Warning. And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Bob’s great weekly columns for the Daily Northwestern.

Aside from the picks, each edition includes a column-type thing that mostly involves me making a bunch of highly offensive and stereotypical jokes (some of which have caused confrontations with multiple close relatives, yep seriously) that Matt and Bob cringe at knowing they will be associated with them. [ED Bob: Yep.] [ED Matt: Yep.] Here’s what you can expect this season:

  • Ohio State’s schedule and people’s reactions to their easy wins is going to piss me off to no end.

Seriously, look at this stupid thing. Yeah, they lost their extremely overrated quarterback, but they’ll be just fine because of who they play and we’ll have all the idiots coming out of the woodwork saying they’re better than Baylor and Oregon for much of the season just like last year. [ED Bob: Okay, I agree with the horribleness of the schedule, but let’s see how they play before calling them out for being overrated. Unfortunately, it’s not their fault that 1) the Big Ten has hardly any depth right now, and 2) they happened to receive an easy slate, which rotates annually.]

  • The SEC network is going to piss me off to no end.

I tried watching it for five minutes last week and wanted to kill myself after one commercial break when three straight ads labeled the SEC as “America’s premier conference.” In what, exactly? Naming your kids Jefferson Davis? Top to bottom, it’s hard to say the SEC is better than the Pac-12 in football and it’s certainly not the premiere conference academically or culturally. Pass the moonshine; I’m going to need a lot of it to get through ESPN constantly pushing this backwater channel down my throat. And by the way, Tim Tebow sucks as an analyst even if his hair is still magnificent.

  • Backdoor covers are going to piss me off to no end.

Not nearly as much as it would piss off a native Alabaman who found out that their dear twin boys Jefferson Davis Williams and Bear Bryant Williams support gay marriage though. [ED Bob: See last paragraph of the column portion.]

  • People arguing about who should make the four team playoff after Week 4 are going to piss me off to no end.

We addressed this last year, but people love to have the stupid argument over who belongs in the playoff with like eight games left on the schedule. It would be great if everyone could just cool it and let the games play themselves out, but I’m not holding my breath. [ED Bob: But we can already say Ohio State doesn’t deserve to be there, right?]

  • Some people reading this aren’t going to get that my absurdly bitter humor is over the top on purpose and be offended by it.

While you may try, you can’t please everyone. I don’t even bother trying. In fact I try the complete opposite, which is to offend everyone with my ignorance and incompetence so no one will read this. Somehow people only seem to read more closely. Maybe that’s why so many people still listen to President Obama?

With that, let’s get to the picks. All game times are eastern. New this year, all lines come from Pinnacle. There are some tasty games tonight, but we’ll still to Saturday ones (and Miami on Monday night) because we want to make sure everyone has time to get their picks in and Creed Tucker has time to write his paragraph of humorous analysis that we enjoy reading so much.

Youngstown State vs. Illinois (-20.5)*; 12:05 pm, BTN

This is a football game that real human beings will choose to watch on television or even attend in person. Maybe people who vehemently argue that free will is inherently bad are on to something.

[*We made this one ourselves. Seems like the sports books are shying away from creating spreads for games against FCS opponents. Can’t say I blame them.]

California vs. Northwestern (-10.5); 3:30 pm, ABC/ESPN2

I would say the same thing about this game, but I can’t be sure anyone will actually attend because Northwestern doesn’t start this year’s fall quarter until December 21, 2019. [ED Bob: Hey, I can take five more years of vacation.]

#16 Clemson vs. #12 Georgia (-7.5); 5:30 pm, ESPN

Both teams will be breaking in new quarterbacks in another classic #ACC4Lyfe statement game where I can make a bunch of facetious statements about conference pride and all that if Clemson wins. Except that SEC fans actually deeply care about their conference winning these games beyond basic SOS purposes for reasons unclear to people with IQs above a third grade level.

#14 Wisconsin vs. #13 LSU (-5) in Houston, Texas; 9 pm, ESPN

Wisconsin and LSU, two programs with awesome home stadiums and atmospheres, are playing a home-and-home-ish thing in Houston and Green Bay. Why? In other news, LSU’s Brandon Harris will be one of three true freshman starting quarterbacks in the Big 5 conferences this season, joining Wake Forest’s Tyler Cameron and…

Miami vs. Louisville (-3.5); Monday, 8 pm, ESPN

…Miami’s Brad Kaaya! I know my ability to talk myself into Miami winning games is pathetically impressive, but a true freshman going into a hostile environment against a good defense in front of a huge national TV audience is going to be a tough one.

Harry’s Picks

YSU-ILL: As you read above, we had to make this line ourselves, so that further complicates a difficult pick. Let’s start with the obvious: Illinois will win this game pretty easily. Will they do it by three touchdowns? Not even the best prognosticator could tell you with certainty. As always with these FCS games, the major conference teams will likely keep schemes very vanilla to avoid giving their future opponents scouting tape and only push down on the throttle in specific moments. Because of that, I think Illinois wins by 14-20, even though they could beat this spread if they really wanted to. Youngstown +20.5

CLEM-UGA: This is where I throw my hands up and say I have no idea. Both teams are replacing quarterbacks and both teams should be pretty good anyway, though overshadowed by juggernauts in their respective conferences. Last year, Georgia nearly won in Death Valley despite losing Todd Gurley for much of the game and some wonky special teams play. I don’t like giving up more than a touchdown, but I can’t help but feel that the ‘Dawgs should win relatively comfortably in front of their awesome home fans. However, this is easily my least confident pick of the week and in all honesty I have no clue. If I were betting with real money, I would stay the hell away from this game. Georgia -7.5

CAL-NU: Cal should be improved from last year’s 1-11 debacle in their first year under a new head coach and quarterback Jared Goff is poised to make the freshman-to-sophomore leap. Northwestern lost players at key positions on both sides of the ball from a year ago and last year’s 44-30 victory over the Bears in Berkeley was a lot closer than the score indicated. I only hesitate because Northwestern is such a streaky team at times so they could run Cal off the field, but I’ll go with the Bears here. For the record, I do think Northwestern will win the game. Cal +10.5

WISC-LSU: Aside from the Miami game, this is the one I’m most looking forward to in Week 1. In last year’s Outback Bowl, LSU struggled (although ultimately won) against an Iowa outfit that wasn’t as good as Wisconsin will be this year. In addition, like I mentioned before, LSU is breaking in a true freshman quarterback to replace NFL talent Zach Mettenberger. To further tilt things away from the Tigers, this game will be played in Houston, which should provide LSU with a fan advantage, but certainly nothing close to the suffocating atmosphere of Death Valley. All of this adds up to a very close game that will be difficult to predict. Because of that, I’m not comfortable giving up five points either way, so I’ll take the Badgers. Wisconsin +5

We cut it out with the unnecessary capital letters in this section this year -500,000,000

I have a better record than I did in 2013 -250

I finish second out of the three of us in the final standings -210

Brett Hundley wins the Heisman Trophy 12/1 (Yep, that was actually a real pick with real odds in this section)

OVER 89.5 people I piss off this year with my unnecessarily snarky and offensive columns

MIA-LOU: On the surface, this is an easy pick. [ED Matt: Yeah.] These same two teams played in last year’s Russell Athletic Bowl and Louisville destroyed Miami in a 36-9 romp that really was just as bad as the score indicated. On top of that, the game took place in geographically-friendly Orlando in front of an overwhelmingly pro-Miami crowd. Now, the ‘Canes must go on the road in a raucous, black-out environment against the same Cardinals. Blowout, Round II, right? Answer: probably not. Miami should take a step back at quarterback this year after losing up-and-down senior QB Stephen Morris to the NFL and replacing him with stud freshman Brad Kaaya. However, the weapons around him get much better with the return of arguably the best running back in the country, Duke Johnson, who missed the second half of the season last year with a broken ankle. Additionally, you could make the case that Miami has the second-best set of receivers in the ACC behind Florida State. The defensive side of the ball should be significantly improved as well, with what appear to be actual defensive tackles in place this year instead of eminently blockable potato sacks dressed in orange and green and a solid defensive secondary. (I’d rather not talk about the linebackers outside of awesome future-NFLer Denzel Perryman.) Furthermore, Louisville loses a guy you may have heard of named Teddy Bridgewater and has their top receiver (incredible player DeVonte Parker) and running back (former national title winner at Auburn Michael Dyer) are out with injuries. They’re also breaking in a (kind of) new coach after Charlie Strong bolted to Texas. Anyway, what I’m trying to say through that longwinded tangent is that this game will not be another 27-point landslide and I think it will be fairly close throughout. There’s even a decent chance Miami finds a way to win. That said, I still think you’d be a fool to pick Miami while only getting three-and-a-half points. Louisville -3.5

Last week: 0-0

Season: 0-0

Bob’s Picks

YSU-ILL: I don’t know anything about Illinois football yet this season and know even less about Youngstown State, so I took my talents to The Champaign Room, the world-famous [ED Matt: We got a view from Kazakhstan once.] blog for which my colleague Matt writes, to learn a thing or two about these schools. First, I learned that the boys from Youngstown State are known as the Penguins. Then, I learned that the Penguins upset Pittsburgh two years ago and lost to Rose Bowl winners Michigan State 55-17 last year. The Pens lose nine starters from last season’s 8-4 campaign but retain star running back Martin Ruiz. Basically, it’s hard to know what to expect from these guys. Are they polar penguins who will get blown out or equatorial penguins who will keep the scoresheet balanced? If you recall from last year, I don’t like giving up big points, especially in week one, so I’ll take the Penguins. Youngstown State +20.5

CLEM-UGA: Harry put this one pretty well, but I’m going to make the opposite conclusion. Both teams start new quarterbacks in place of last season’s campus studs (Cole Stoudt for Tajh Boyd and Hutson Mason for Aaron Murray, who is only famous because his brother just won The Bachelorette). Interestingly, both of the new starters are seniors who spent years behind their successful predecessors. Clemson also loses star playmaker Sammy Watkins, while Georgia returns key offensive threats Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall, and Michael Bennett. As Harry said, both these teams should be pretty good this year despite some key personnel losses, and they looked even last year in Clemson’s 38-35 victory. I love Gurley and Marshall, but I can’t lay more than a touchdown in a game between two teams who appear to be equals. Clemson +7.5

CAL-NU: While it’s easy to look at the losses of the perpetually injured Kain Colter and Venric Mark and conclude that Northwestern has lost a sizable portion of its roster, the Wildcats actually don’t have a ton of turnover from last year’s squad. The loss of Damien Proby hurts the defense, but Colin Ellis will slide into the middle linebacker role and more than fill the void. The biggest scares are the recent injuries of number-one receiver Christian Jones to a season-ending ACL injury and stud defensive tackle Sean McEvilly, who will miss the entire season with a still-undisclosed injury. Beyond these guys, Northwestern returns just about everyone else, including the Trevor Siemian-Treyvon Green tandem that we saw a lot last season as well as the entire secondary, which added top freshman Parrker Westphal. [ED Harry: Just for the record, the second “r” in Parrker is not a typo. Names, man.] Anyway, my gut is telling me to pick against my school, as picking them almost every week last year was the only thing keeping me from getting every pick right, but Cal sucks. They had one win last season, against apparently-they-have-a-football-team Portland State. Northwestern -10.5

WISC-LSU: This game is going to be awesome. Such a high-profile non-conference matchup will play a crucial role if either of these teams want a case at the playoff. This could really go either way, but I’m going to lay out a couple quick statements that lead me to my conclusion. First, despite their 10-3 record, LSU was not actually that good last year. They beat just one respectable team, and that was in Johnny Manziel’s college game that most resembled what he’s going to look like in the NFL (awful). The offense that lost Zach Mettenberger, Odell Beckham, and Spencer Hill will be spearheaded by a running back facing a strong defense in his first collegiate game and OH SHIT WE STILL DON’T KNOW WHO’S EVEN QUARTERBACKING THIS TEAM. Although they faced a cupcake schedule, Wisconsin impressed me throughout last season, including and especially in a narrow loss to #4 South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl. Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement are studs, and I’m a fan of converted safety Tanner McEvoy at quarterback. It’s tough to pick against the SEC in a non-conference game, but I’ll gladly take the Badgers and the points. Wisconsin +5

Harry continuing to steal my random prop bet section from last year, but that’s okay, I respect it -210

Harry’s introduction actually being pretty funny despite what I said in my snarky edits +180 

Marcus Mariota for Heisman because he’s really good but more because of alleged rape, crab legs, impossible expectations, and voter fatigue 15/2 (Seriously, where can I make this bet?)

MIA-LOU This line is only three-and-a-half points?? In Louisville?? As legendary FOX soccer commentator Eric Wynalda says way too often, “Wow.” [ED Harry: Just laughed out loud in the library.] Duke Johnson is an exceptional running back, and the key addition of Miami’s new jerseys may make you want to pick Miami in this game. However, this true freshmen quarterback (who’s probably pretty good, but I don’t actually know because Harry just wants him to rush his fraternity) versus a solid Louisville defense, on the road, in primetime scares me a little. Something to look out for: Miami is projected 7th in the nation in offensive F/+ this season, which Johnson largely contributes to, but we shall if Brad Kaaaaaaaaya can live up to that projection. Louisville -3.5

Last Week: 0-0

Season: 0-0

Career in DCIAPC Competitions: 2-0

Matt’s Picks

YSU-ILL Every year, it’s nearly unavoidable. I’ve found myself able to last a bit longer than usual this year, but it has still crept up on me in an uncomfortable hurry. The unimpeachable Colbie Caillat herself once described this feeling in a most eloquent fashion: “It starts in my toes, then I crinkle my nose. Wherever it goes, I always know…I jussssssst mmm”. [ED Harry: Wherever…wherever…wherever you go.] Obviously, I’m referring to optimism. After months of saying “Five wins.” over and over, I now find myself fully on the bandwagon–Illinois has a really, really good shot to make a bowl game. I’m not too impressed with Minnesota and Penn State this season and Illinois would qualify for the postseason simply by winning those two home games. Northwestern on the “road” is another possibility. This Illinois team is improved from last year, certainly on defense and potentially on offense as well, and they should be able to compete for the fourth spot in the Big Ten West. Not very high expectations, but it’s better than their recent 1-15 streak in conference games. What does all of this mean with regards to my pick for this game? Absolutely nothing, but Bob and Harry used their picks as an excuse to talk about their teams so I felt obligated to join them. Illinois -20.5 (Illinois 45, Youngstown State 20)

CLEM-UGA Unlike my two partners-in-crime, I didn’t think very hard about this one. Georgia is at home, they should be better than last year’s injury-plagued squad, and Clemson is almost certainly worse this year. Seven-and-a-half points is quite a few to give up, but I like the home team to take this one by just a bit over the spread. Yes, not much hard-hitting analysis on this game, but nobody cares what you think, reader. This is my part of the column. I do what I want. Georgia -7.5 (Georgia 30, Clemson 20)

Cal-NW Northwestern has already had a plethora of injuries this year, all of which Bob detailed in his section. While these will hurt them quite a bit (Christian Jones was weirdly one of my favorite non-Illini in the Big Ten last year, he destroyed our secondary), they should still be able to get by on offense. I first mentioned this in my piece over at TCR on the B1G’s opening week, but I believe that Northwestern will compete in almost all of their games this year. They seem to be smack dab in the middle of the conference in talent and have had a tendency to play up/down depending on their opponent in the past. I expect to see a lot of close games, with just a few key possessions determining the overall fate of the team. All that said, this is not going to be one of those close games. Northwestern -10.5 (Northwestern 38, Cal 20)

WISC-LSU This is going to be an awesome game. Typically, I hate when ESPN and other major sports media outlets harp on and on about “SMASHMOUTH” football and say things like “THIS TEAM IS GONNA KNOCK YOU IN THE MOUTH” [ED Bob: If you didn’t read that in a Jon Gruden voice, you read it wrong] and other mouth-related metaphors for a physical game. BUT: These two teams barely have quarterbacks and they have some of the most intriguing running backs in the NCAA. The lines of both teams are of high quality. Thus, LSU and Wisconsin are very likely to just pound it down each other’s throats all day long (shout out to DP for inspiring this sentence) [ED Bob: Les Miles is going to Pound Town.] and I can’t wait to watch. As for who wins, I think it ends up being a fairly close one. While I don’t love Wisconsin as much as many others do this year (I’m a little worried about their defense, which was quite underrated last year), I do believe that this spread favors their side. Wisconsin +5 (LSU 24, Wisconsin 20)

I make sure we work at least one Champaign Room plug into every DCIAPC this year -565

You haven’t noticed that all of my losers are predicted to score exactly 20 points thus far -275

Bob is right about Marcus Mariota winning the Heisman 15/2

MIA-LOU I would never say this to Harry’s face, but I’m not sure Miami’s offense is going to be all that good this year. I believe a step back is a possibility, as is always likely when a team goes from a senior quarterback to a true freshman. Morris was always under appreciated by the Miami fan base, [ED Harry: Thanks for the plug! Worked it in very organically too.] and I think he did a lot more for the offense than people realize. Everything I’ve heard about Kaaya leads me to believe that he has oodles and oodles of talent, but you can never really count on a true freshman to have it all put together between the ears. I doubt Kaaya is able to thrive from the beginning and improve on an offense that ranked 12th in the NCAA last season (per Football Outsider’s FEI statistics). That, combined with a defense likely to remain average at best, doesn’t inspire too much confidence in the Canes’ ability to go to Louisville and keep this game within three points. I do think they will stay in it, however. Louisville -3.5 (Louisville 27, Miami 20) 

Last week: 0-0

Season: 0-0