It seems odd to talk college football when it’s 100 degrees outside, but that’s the norm for football in the South. I’m longing for the first cold front that will at least moderate the temps to the high 80’s. But here in Choctaw County, Hugo, Oklahoma we are still a long way from the crisp air of October. It may be hot, but it doesn’t take away from the excitement of opening weekend. This will be my 44th season of ranking college teams and I still have butterflies in my stomach just like I did in 1970. 2014 ushers in a new era in this sport, the playoff era as it will be known. I’m not sure a four team playoff is really even worthy of the “title” playoff, but it’s a good starting place I suppose. I wonder how long the four team format will last? My guess is, it won’t last as long as the 16 year of the BCS. I was very proud to be part of the Bowl Championship Series, truly honored, and I’m hopeful a playoff format will be good for college football. It will certainly generate a lot of fan support and media attention, but along with that will come a lot of controversy. This will also be a new beginning for myself and the College Football Research Center. As you can see, we made a few changes in the off season, including a new interface for the website and an opportunity for me to add some journalistic content along the way, something previously denied during the BCS era. I’ll be releasing rankings on Sundays and posting a weekly review/preview each Wednesday. Another new twist you will find is the addition of a third ranking, the Billingsley “Personal” poll, which will reflect how I would vote if I were on the college football selection committee. Should be fun. Every week there will be a short recap of predictions for each week’s top games, along with a link projecting winners and computer generated point spreads in every FBS vs FBS game each week. On to week one….
#23 Texas A&M at # 12 South Carolina – Thursday night football kicks off with a bang as Texas A&M travels to Columbia to take on the Gamecocks in the premier of the SEC Network (CH 611 for those of you like me who have DirecTV). This season the Aggies are somewhat a mystery to me with the loss of Manziel , but great coaching and a lot of talent makes A&M a very dangerous opening opponent for South Carolina. My sense is A&M will give the Gamecocks everything they want and then some, but I’m a big believer in Dylan Thomas, and even a bigger believer in Steve Spurrier. In the end I think the Gamecocks will survive. South Carolina 31 Texas A&M 24.
#25 Boise State vs #20 Mississippi – Atlanta, Georgia. A second top 25 match on opening Thursday night finds two teams in a must win situation right out of the box, both very hopeful for great seasons. Billingsley pre-season predictions have Ole Miss undefeated all the way to an October 4th showdown with Alabama. A win for the Rebels over the Broncos could generate enough momentum and confidence to spur Mississippi to an SEC West title. They are that good. But it all has to start here. A loss to Boise State could be a season spoiler for Ole Miss. A win for Boise could mean an undefeated season and a potential spot in one of the major Bowl Games (and an outside shot at one of the four playoff spots). This game is HUGE for both teams, and one of the hardest predictions I’ll make this year. I’m going with Ole Miss in a squeaker for two reasons, there will be a heck of a lot more Mississippi fans in Atlanta than Bronco fans, and Bo Wallace at QB for Ole Miss. Mississippi 28 Boise State 27.
#24 Central Florida vs #43 Penn State – Dublin, Ireland Get ready for some EARLY morning football Saturday as these two kickoff at 7:30 AM CT….Yikes! James Franklin was a great hire for Penn State. I was a huge admirer of his at Vanderbilt. Long term I think the Nittany Lions are headed toward greatness, but don’t be fooled into thinking Penn State will be dancing all over Dublin in this game because UCF is a very good team. The Golden Knights are one of the “Group of Five” teams (along with Marshall, Cincinnati, Houston, Boise State, BYU, Bowling Green and La. Lafayette) that I think are in competition for a major bowl. Tough game to call, but I’ll stick with my computer projection…..UCF by the hair of a Leprechaun’s chinny chin chin. Central Florida 27 Penn State 24.
#5 Alabama vs #77 West Virginia – Atlanta, Georgia. In the second game of Chick-fil-A’s double header we’ll find out just how mad Nick Saban was over the Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma. I wouldn’t want to be in West Virginia’s shoes. I’ll give the Mountaineers 8 minutes…..then it’s all Bama. Alabama 45 West Virginia 10.
#14 Clemson at #13 Georgia – This is THE GAME of opening weekend. What a shame either of these teams has to start out with a loss because ultimately I think they’ll both have exceptional seasons. Clemson lost a lot of talent, but Dabo Swinney has recruited very well. Georgia could be on the verge of greatness with Todd Gurley (a legitimate Heisman candidate) at running back and an overpowering defense. This game could go back and forth and down to the wire, but the Bulldogs eventually wear down the Tigers. Georgia 31 Clemson 24.
#10 LSU vs #15 Wisconsin – Houston, Texas. These early season neutral site games are awesome for the fans. LSU returns to familiar territory in the Bayou City after many long years of playing Rice (many of which I attended during my 25 years in Houston). Gary Andersen is another favorite coach of mine. Anyone who can build a championship caliber team at Utah State deserves everyone’s respect. Both teams have holes to fill, yet both still find themselves in the thick of their respective conference races. With their schedules, I doubt either team will go undefeated, but for national rankings, this game would sure be a great place to start. I rarely go against the mad hatter in big games. Bengal Tigers by a nose. LSU 31 Wisconsin 28.
Follow these links for computer projected point spreads on every FBS vs FBS game.