College Football Week 1 Picks: 5 Ranked Teams on Upset Alert

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistAugust 29, 2012

College Football Week 1 Picks: 5 Ranked Teams on Upset Alert

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    It happens like clockwork, year after unforgiving year. Groups of unsuspecting fans watch as their team's season—their hopes, their dreams, their delusions of grandeur—goes up in a fulminating puff of smoke.

    Even if there's no Appalachian State in this year's bunch (though there's plenty of FBS teams playing ranked opponents), there's a cadre of unranked upstarts who could pilfer a win from a team with a 5-point-font number next to their name.

    And in the spontaneously combustible world of college football, one game is enough to derail an entire season.

    Here are five ranked favorites who should be on upset alert in Week 1 of the college football season. 

No. 9 South Carolina Gamecocks

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    Opponent: @ Vanderbilt

    Line: S. Carolina -6.5

    Expectations are even loftier than usual in Columbia, but the Gamecocks will have no time to ease into their 2012 schedule; if they aren't sharp at Vanderbilt, they'll start the season 0-1.

    Yes, South Carolina has a major talent advantage over the Commodores they'll share the field with, but it's still an SEC opponent Spurrier's squad will be facing. An SEC opponent whose fans will be even more amped up than normal, cherishing a point in their season where their team still has zero losses.

    With the Stephen Garcia era now blissfully in the distant past, South Carolina opens the season with far more stability than it's used to at quarterback. That should help the Gamecocks gain an advantage, but the Commodores' defense should be very hungry.

    Opening the season on the road, at night, against an SEC football team should put anybody on upset alert. Even a better SEC football team.

No. 14 Clemson Tigers

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    Opponent: @ Auburn

    Line: Clemson -3.5

    If opening on the road against an SEC team puts another SEC team on upset alert, it certainly does the same for an ACC team. Especially when the opponent in question is one year removed from a national championship.

    Clemson boasts some of the most impressive, exciting skill players in the country. Taj Boyd and Sammy Watkins are a dangerous combination, the likes of which can't be matched anywhere in the wide expanse of college football—but Watkins will miss this matchup due to suspension.

    But Clemson is still playing Auburn, though both sets of Tigers will meet in Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Kickoff in the Georgia Dome. Both teams are playing on the road, but still, the last time Clemson set foot on the gridiron, well....this happened.

    This battle of Tigers has a 3.5-point spread, but it could easily be a tossup.

No. 16 Virginia Tech

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    Opponent: vs. Georgia Tech

    Line: Virginia Tech -7.5

    Logan Thomas and the Virginia Tech Hokies head into the season in an unfamiliar position: underdogs to take home the ACC crown. If they wish to get off to a good start in their endeavor to prove the polls wrong, they'll need to be sharp against Georgia Tech.

    With Paul Johnson's peculiar, four-horsemen rushing attack, the Yellow Jackets are tailor-made to pull upsets. They can control the clock against anybody, often forcing opposing offenses to panic or rush.

    Virginia Tech also has a recent track record of starting slow. In 2010, the Hokies began 0-2 with losses against Boise State and James Madison. Two years before that, East Carolina upended them in a thrilling 27-22 upset.

    If they aren't careful, that trend could continue in 2012.

No. 17 Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Opponent: vs. Southern Miss

    Line: Nebraska -17.5

    Yes, Nebraska returns Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead to their All-American backfield. Yes, Southern Miss just lost QB Austin Davis—he who broke Brett Favre's school passing records—to the NFL. And yes, this game will be played in Lincoln, Nebraska.

    But the Huskers should be a little wary of this game just because of the program they're up against. The Golden Eagles fly a little under the radar (unlike their bald cousin) because of their lackluster conference, but they've quietly been one of the most consistent winners in college football. They're coming off a 12-2 season, which means most players on this team are used to—nay, expect to—win.

    Nebraska can run the ball against anybody in the country, but Taylor Martinez's well-documented throwing deficiencies have hurt the Huskers in the past. If Southern Miss forces him to make difficult throws, and he has an off game, who knows what could happen?

No. 25 Louisville Cardinals

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    Opponent: vs. Kentucky

    Line: Louisville -13.5

    The Louisville campus is abuzz with eager anticipation for Teddy Bridgewater's sophomore season, but if the Cardinals are not careful, they could have their hearts broken in Week 1.

    And no team can break a Cardinal's heart, regardless of sport, quite like the Kentucky Wildcats.

    The Kentucky football program is a far cry from its fellow basketball powerhouse, but it's still an SEC program with a phalanx of SEC-tested warriors. Louisville looks improved, but after being inured to the rigors of playing LSU and Alabama, Kentucky will come in undaunted and ready to compete.

    Bridgewater will need to bring everything he's got against the rival Wildcats. If he loses, it'll be a long time before the Louisville fans consider this disappointment Water under the Bridge.