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MC&J: Week 1’s national college football action headlined by LSU-Florida State

The true college football season kicks off tonight with Florida-Utah and Nebraska-Minnesota.

LSU v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Week 0 ATS: 4-3

It’s hard to find any fault with leaving Week 0 with a winning record. We covered the picks for the Notre Dame and USC games, while one of our losses was because Ohio had quarterback Kurtis Rourke suffer a lower-body injury late in the first half against San Diego State. Also, UMass-New Mexico State and Florida International-Louisiana Tech are games I’d never normally pick, so I’ll give myself a pass on those games.

National games

Florida v. No. 14 Utah (-4.5) - Thursday 8/31 8:00 p.m. - ESPN

Over the past few months I thought that Utah could be a sleeper to possibly make the College Football Playoff. The Utes have won the last two Pac-12 titles and played in the Rose Bowl in back-to-back years. While Cam Rising is returning for another season in Salt Lake City, it is unknown when Rising will actually be able to play after suffering a knee injury in the Rose Bowl. As if that wasn’t enough for head coach Kyle Whittingham to deal with, backup quarterback Brandon Rose was injured in preseason camp and his status for tonight’s game isn’t clear.

Unlike Utah, Florida doesn’t have any questions about who will be starting at quarterback in the season opener, as the Gators brought in Wisconsin transfer Graham Mertz to replace Anthony Richardson. While Mertz definitely doesn’t have the athleticism or a cannon for an arm like Richardson, he does have experience playing in tough environments like Florida will face tonight at Utah.

This feels like it’s going to be a game like we saw last year in Gainesville that is going to come down to the wire. If Rising was going to start and there wasn’t any questions about his knee, I’d feel a little more confident in backing Utah tonight. While I still think the Utes will find a way to win, I don’t think they top the Gators by more than a field goal.

Utah 27, Florida 24

Colorado v. No. 17 TCU (-20.5) - Saturday 9/2 12:00 p.m. - FOX

After making the College Football Playoff and beating Michigan in the semifinal, TCU turned back into a pumpkin when the whistle blew at kickoff of the title game against Georgia. The Horned Frogs lost a ton from last year’s team, including quarterback Max Duggan. Stepping in for Duggan is Chandler Morris, who actually started last year’s game against Colorado before leaving in the third quarter because of a knee injury.

I have no idea if Colorado is going to be good or bad this year. What I do know is they are certainly going to be interesting after hiring Deion Sanders as their new head coach. Sanders not only is bringing his son to quarterback the Buffaloes, he also has five-star recruit Travis Hunter and a bunch of other transfers coming with him. What Sanders is doing at Colorado makes Mel Tucker’s transfer exploits at Michigan State a few years ago look like child’s play.

Both these teams might not come out all that sharp with so many new pieces on both sides of the football. I wasn’t all that impressed with TCU’s defense last year, and it doesn’t feel like the unit is going to be stronger this season. I don’t think Prime Time is going to start off his Colorado coaching career with a win, but I do think the Buffaloes hang around in Fort Worth.

TCU 35, Colorado 24

Boise State v. No. 10 Washington (-14.5) - Saturday 9/2 3:30 p.m. - ABC

Washington opens up their final season in the Pac-12 with a shot to put together one of the best seasons in school history. Not only will the Huskies be challenging for a conference title and a possible playoff spot, quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is one of the front-runners for the Heisman Trophy. To get to those places, Washington has to make the most of the games that aren’t on in the middle of the night on the East Coast. This is one of those games.

While Boise State isn’t quite as feared as they were about a decade ago, they are still a very strong team. Not only does quarterback Taylen Green returner, so does 1,100-yard rusher George Holani. It feels like what the Broncos will try and do is control the clock with their running game, which is what they did last year. Even though Boise State should have a stout defense, I just think the Huskies are too good on offense. Penix and company will jump out to a lead that will nullify Boise’s ground game and force Green to throw the football.

Washington 41, Boise State 21

No. 21 North Carolina (-2.5) v. South Carolina - Saturday 9/2 7:30 p.m. - ABC

This matchup might not be quite as sexy when it comes to rankings as we have seen recently on ABC on the Saturday night of Labor Day weekend, but this certainly could be a fun one. Not only do you have a battle between neighboring states, we also have a great quarterback matchup between North Carolina’s Drake Maye and South Carolina’s Spencer Rattler.

I feel like the wrong team is ranked and favored here. Even though the Tar Heels have Maye, what else do they have? Their defense was awful last year, and it feels like Mack Brown’s teams at North Carolina have failed to live up to expectations during his second stint in Chapel Hill. I just think South Carolina is on the upswing with Rattler and head coach Shane Beamer, while North Carolina is trending in the other direction. The Gamecocks edge the Tar Heels in a tight game in Charlotte.

South Carolina 38, North Carolina 31

No. 18 Oregon State (-16.5) v. San Jose State - Sunday 9/3 3:30 p.m. - CBS

Oregon State is undoubtedly the better team in this matchup, especially after bringing in Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei. The Beavers closed the 2022 season with seven wins in the last eight games, including a blowout of Florida in the Las Vegas Bowl. If Uiagalelei is as good as some think he can be, Oregon State could end up making some noise in the Pac-12 since they get both Utah and Washington in Corvallis.

We have already seen San Jose State this year (well, maybe not “seen” since their loss to USC was on the Pac-12 Network). The Spartans were able to put some points up on the board against a terrible Trojans defense and cover the point spread. They’ll face a tougher test on Sunday against Oregon State’s defense, but at least they’ll be at home for this contest. I feel like Chevan Cordeiro will be sharp enough to keep the Spartans inside the number for the second straight week against a Pac-12 foe.

Oregon State 31, San Jose State 20

No. 5 LSU (-2.5) v. No. 8 Florida State - Sunday 9/3 7:30 p.m. - ABC

After last year’s thrilling 24-23 Florida State victory over LSU in New Orleans, the Seminoles and Tigers are going to run it back in Orlando. Unlike last year when there were questions about both teams heading into the opener, this year both teams are ranked in the top-10. LSU returns quarterback Jayden Daniels following a solid first year with the Tigers after transferring from Arizona State, while the Seminoles have Jordan Travis back at quarterback.

I’m still not totally sold on Florida State. Even though they bring back Travis, and have a number of exciting offensive transfers, I’m not quite ready to say the Seminoles are “back”. Aside from their win over LSU in Brian Kelly’s first game with the Tigers, what win by Florida State really impressed you last year? They had some alright close losses, but their wins were against a pretty soft schedule. With another offseason under his belt, Daniels outclasses Travis and helps the Tigers get a little revenge for last season.

LSU 28, Florida State 20

No. 9 Clemson (-12.5) v. Duke - Monday 9/4 8:00 p.m. - ESPN

Just how far has Duke football come? The Blue Devils getting a home game on ESPN at night on Labor Day should tell you everything. Duke is no longer a laughing stock when it comes to football, especially with Riley Leonard at quarterback. While it feels like Leonard is trying to follow in Daniel Jones’ footsteps, it is going to tough for him find any traction on Monday night against a really tough Clemson defense.

Over the last few years, the Clemson offense has gotten stagnant. That is about to change since Dabo Swinney brought in TCU offensive coordinator Garrett Riley to take the same position with the Tigers. Clemson fans had to be frustrated over the last few years to watch D.J. Uiagalelei and Cade Klubnik struggle to put points on the board. Klubnik does have an excuse though since he was only a freshman last year, and we should see him grow after working with Riley during the offseason. This feels like a rebound year for Clemson and they start their 2023 season off on the right foot by overwhelming the Blue Devils.

Clemson 34, Duke 17

B1G game:

Normally I’d put all the Big Ten games together, but since this one falls on Thursday I’m including it with the national picks and I’ll post the rest of the Big Ten picks for this week tomorrow.

Nebraska v. Minnesota (-7) - Thursday 8/31 8:00 p.m. - FOX

Following a failed attempt at being an NFL head coach, Matt Rhule brings his art smock back to college football. After rebuilding Temple and Baylor, now Rhule will try and resurrect Nebraska, who have become a laughingstock in the Big Ten West. Rhule is off to a good start, bringing in Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims and a number of other transfers. Unfortunately for the Cornhuskers, one of those transfers was suspended recently, as former LSU and Georgia tight end Arik Gilbert was arrested for felony burglary.

After being at Minnesota for what felt like a decade, Mohamed Ibrahim has moved on to the professional level. Replacing Ibrahim will be Western Michigan transfer Sean Tyler, but most of the time it feels like the Golden Gophers could put anyone in the backfield and they could put up big numbers.

Even though Minnesota has won the last four $5 Broken Bits of Chair trophies, the last three wins were only by a touchdown. While Nebraska has a new head coach and some new players, I feel like they are in a better place that they have been in at least the last five years. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Nebraska win straight up, but to be safe I’ll predict a close Minnesota win since the Cornhuskers will be on the road to open up the season.

Minnesota 21, Nebraska 17