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MC&J: Georgia-Clemson headlines a spicy Week 1 college football national slate

The matchup between College Football Playoff contenders takes center stage on Saturday night.

Georgia Spring Game Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Last season ATS: 89-84-4 (63-59-2 National, 26-25-2 B1G)

If you missed any of this week’s Big Ten picks, you can find them here.

National picks (All games Saturday unless otherwise noted):

No. 10 North Carolina (-5.5) v. Virginia Tech - Friday 6:00 PM EST - ESPN

This sort of feels like Justin Fuente’s last stand at Virginia Tech. After going 10-4 and 9-4 in Fuente’s first two seasons in Blacksburg, the Hokies are just 19-18 over the last three years. Once a place that seemed impossible for opposing teams to come in and win at, Lane Stadium is now just a loud place that plays Enter Sandman a lot.

North Carolina comes in with sky-high expectations, as the Tar Heels are ranked 10th in the country. Mack Brown’s team has a path to head into the ACC Championship Game undefeated, with their toughest test coming at Notre Dame at the end of October. While Sam Howell will be in the Heisman Trophy conversation, he will have to get used to some new pieces on offense.

As long as North Carolina can survive the initial punch from Virginia Tech, the Tar Heels should be fine. Braxton Burmeister and the Hokies will put up some points on North Carolina, I just don’t think they have enough firepower to match what Howell and the Tar Heel offense will throw at them. This is a tight game for 2-3 quarters, but North Carolina creates a little separation late and wins by double digits.

North Carolina 44, Virginia Tech 34

No. 1 Alabama (-19.5) v. No. 14 Miami (FL) - 3:30 PM EST - ABC

Alabama is rarely challenged in these season-opening neutral site games. At least Miami will throw a little more at the Crimson Tide than Duke and Louisville had to offer recently. There’s no question that Alabama is the cream of the crop. The Crimson Tide do seem a little bit more beatable at least right now though since they are having to adjust to life after Mac Jones, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, and a number of others.

Let’s not get it twisted, Miami isn’t beating Alabama on Saturday afternoon. I do feel like the Hurricanes can at least keep it a little competitive. Miami not only has some athletes, they also have quarterback D’Eriq King, who has strong in his first season at “The U”. There are some questions about King’s knee after he suffered a knee injury in Miami’s bowl game, but it shouldn’t take him too long to get back into the swing of things. Alabama winning by 10-17 points sounds about right.

Alabama 38, Miami 24

No. 23 Louisiana v. No. 21 Texas (-8) - 4:30 PM EST - FOX

I really, really want to pick the Ragin’ Cajuns to upset Texas here. Even though I’m not going to be that bold, Louisiana will give Texas all they can handle. Louisiana has pretty much all their team back from a team that went 10-1 last year, beat Iowa State, and only lost to Coastal Carolina by three points.

The Ragin’ Cajuns will have their hands full with Texas running back Bijan Robinson, who is an absolute bowling ball. Louisiana can’t allow Robinson and Texas control the ground, and keep their defense on the field. While there is plenty of optimism with Steve Sarkisian as the new head coach in Austin, I don’t think we see huge results immediately. By the end of the year the Longhorns might be closer to being “back”, they’ll just have to sweat out some results earlier in the year.

Texas 35, Louisiana 31

No. 5 Georgia v. No. 3 Clemson (-3) - 7:30 PM EST - ABC

Did Justin Fields and Ryan Day break Dabo Swinney and Clemson? I don’t know if I’d go that far, but they did provide opponents with a blueprint on how to attack the Tigers. Even though Trevor Lawrence is now in the NFL, Clemson still has a dangerous quarterback in D.J. Uiagalelei, as well as wide receiver Justyn Ross returning from injury.

Even though Ohio State gave teams the blueprint on how to beat Clemson, does Kirby Smart even know what to do with it? Since this is a game that doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, the Bulldogs will probably make a statement here and then do something stupid like lose to Tennessee later in the year. A loss doesn’t sink either team in the playoff race, so I’ll go for Georgia winning here since watching Dabo lose is never not funny.

Georgia 27, Clemson 24

No. 16 LSU (-3) v. UCLA - 8:30 PM EST - FOX

I feel like LSU might have peaked when they won the 2019 national title. I know a lot of people love Ed Orgeron, but I really just think he is bayou Clay Helton. Coach O just got lucky because Joe Burrow got some of that Ohio State winning pedigree on him before heading to Baton Rouge. Even though the Tigers have plenty of talent, they also do have plenty of questions surrounding them ahead of this season.

UCLA does have a bit of an edge since they already have a game under their belt. Funny what leaving Ann Arbor can do for a player, as Michigan transfer running back Zach Charbonnet ran for 106 yards and three touchdowns in a 44-10 win over Hawai’i. While quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s performance left a lot to be desired, things should be cleaner in the second game.

Not that college football teams haven’t been thrown for a loop the last few years, LSU has had to deal with Hurricane Ida’s effects on game week preparations this week. It’ll be fun to see LSU play in the Rose Bowl, I just think UCLA makes their trip to Pasadena a bit of a nightmare. Chip Kelly shows he has the UCLA program on the rise with a big upset.

UCLA 34, LSU 31

No. 9 Notre Dame (-7.5) v. Florida State - Sunday 7:30 PM EST - ABC

Florida State has been one of the laughing stocks of college football over the last few years. The Seminoles made the wrong hire after Jimbo Fisher left when they brought in Willie Taggart. For a while it looked like they might have missed with Mike Norvell as well. I think Norvell has righted the ship, and while it is still going to take some time for Florida State to get back closer to the elites of college football, the team is putting in the work.

Notre Dame had an incredible season last year. The problem is they lost so much talent from last year’s team that made the College Football Playoff. Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan takes over for Ian Book, and he’ll have Kyren Williams to hand the football off to. Other than that, the Fighting Irish will be welcoming in a bunch of new starters.

This might be my spiciest pick of the week. Doak Campbell will be rocking in primetime in the first game played there since the passing of legendary coach Bobby Bowden. Norvell will have his team amped up to play in tribute to Bowden. Even though I think Notre Dame is the better team, the heart Florida State will display will allow them to earn the upset.

Florida State 28, Notre Dame 24

Louisville v. Ole Miss (-10) - Monday 8:00 PM EST - ESPN

Between this and head coach Lane Kiffin saying his team is 100% vaccinated, it’s hard not to be rooting for Ole Miss here. There should be so many points in this game, I just think the Rebels have too much for Louisville to handle.

Ole Miss 51, Louisville 38