David Payne writes for Covers Experts' Ben Burns
College football is developing into a year-round sport. We go from bowl games into recruiting, then right into to spring practice.
We’re still four months away from the opening week, yet top 25 rankings are popping up everywhere. The preseason magazines will follow shortly and then early point spreads on the biggest games of the opening week will be posted. Basically, it’s never too early to start prepping.
Let’s take an early look at three of those highlight games from the first week’s card and try to get ahead of the oddsmakers with some projected lines.
Pittsburgh at Utah, Thursday, Sept. 2
Dave Wannstedt’s Panthers are the favorites in the Big East. Sophomore Tino Sunseri takes over at quarterback for Bill Stull and has a pair of NFL-caliber weapons at his disposal in running back Dion Lewis and wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin. The offense, however, struggled in the spring.
Utah returns quarterback Jordan Wynn, a sophomore who won the starting job midway through last season. Wynn passed for 338 yards and three touchdowns in the Utes’ bowl win over Cal. The Utes slipped into Sports Illustrated’s preseason rankings at No. 25, one of only two Mountain West teams in top 25.
Pittsburgh will be the higher-ranked team, but traveling across the country for a Thursday night game in what will be a raucous environment won’t be easy.
LSU vs. North Carolina, Saturday, Sept. 4
With 19 returning starters, including a defense loaded with NFL talent, UNC is going to come into this game with a lot of hype. But the Tar Heels have quarterback concerns. Senior T.J. Yates was unable to win the starting job outright from redshirt freshman Bryn Renner in the spring.
LSU has question marks on both sides of the ball: only four returning starters on defense and an unsettled quarterback situation. Junior Jordan Jefferson enters his third season as Tiger QB, but coach Les Miles has hinted that backup Jarrett Lee also could see action.
The aura of the vaunted SEC might make LSU the favorite, even though UNC will enter the game as the higher-ranked team. The game will be played at the Georgia Dome, where LSU has had a lot of success lately, including a convincing Peach Bowl win over Georgia Tech in 2008.
Boise State at Virginia Tech, Monday, Sept. 6
This is a biggie, with both teams expected to be ranked in top 10, maybe even in the top five.
Virginia Tech returns a ton of offensive firepower, led by quarter Tyrod Taylor and running backs Darren Evans and Ryan Williams. Only five starters return on defense, but coordinator Bud Foster rarely has any problems getting his unit to play at a high level.
Boise State, of course, is everyone’s sleeper national title pick, and for good reason. The Broncos return a whopping 19 starters from last year’s 14-0 squad. Included among those starters is three-year starting quarterback Kellen Moore and explosive receiver Titus Young.
The game will be played at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C., so you have to give the homefield advantage to the Hokies.
“There is a significant Virginia Tech alumni base in the Washington metropolitan area,” said Washington Redskins Chief Operating Officer Mitch Gershman in a press release when the matchup was announced.
Virginia Tech -3