Week 1 of the 2013 college football season is typically pretty easy to pick as it’s a warm-up for most teams. However, a couple of schools are facing make-or-break matchups right out of the gate.
With much still uncertain at the start of the season, that makes picking these games even more tricky. You have to really dig deep and do your homework to get it right.
Luckily we’ve done all that for you. Here’s a breakdown and prediction for three of the higher profile contests of opening weekend.
North Carolina at No. 6 South Carolina
The two neighbor-state rivals will open things up at 6 p.m. on Thursday night in Columbia, S.C. After kickoff, college football will have finally returned. While the Gamecocks earned their No. 6 preseason ranking with two straight 11-2 finishes, the Tar Heels haven’t been too far behind. They are looking for their sixth consecutive winning.
Who's your pick: North or South Carolina?
But if North Carolina wants to pull off an upset, they’ll have to change recent history. In the last 11 seasons, South Carolina hasn’t lost an opener. Coach Steve Spurrier’s game-planning and preparation are second-to-none, which makes the chance of a surprise ending even more unlikely. The Gamecocks are 8-0 since Spurrier’s arrival in Columbia and the coach is 22-1 all-time to begin the season.
Offensively, the Tar Heels have their work cut out for them. Heisman contender Jadeveon Clowney is a terror for opposing quarterbacks. However, the Gamecocks lost all of their starting linebackers and will return just five defensive starters from a season ago. North Carolina QB Bryn Renner will face a secondary returning three of its four starters, though.
If the Gamecocks can contain Renner, who threw for more than 3,300 yards and completed 65.4 percent of his throws with 28 touchdowns and just seven interceptions last season, the Tar Heels won’t be able to keep up. Expect Clowney and the rest of Spurrier’s defense to make things difficult throughout, but the game to end close as the Gamecocks’ Connor Shaw-led offense will have a hard time putting up points as well.
Prediction: No. 6 South Carolina 28, North Carolina 17
No. 5 Georgia at No. 8 Clemson
This year’s signature opening-week matchup features two preseason Top 10 favorites from the South. With two BCS favorites squaring off early, ESPN’s College GameDay responded accordingly:
We are heading to Death Valley to see Clemson take on Georgia! pic.twitter.com/5gT3snVQPw— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) August 6, 2013
The primetime Saturday night affair will feature two of the best quarterback prospects in the nation in Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Georgia’s Aaron Murray. Both are expected to finish the season high on NFL draft boards, but they’ll need to prove it once again on the gridiron in 2013 first.
Matchups like this are the games NFL executives are going to look back at when evaluating each prospect’s merits. The stakes couldn’t be higher for either quarterback with so much on the line. Of course, losing early in the BCS won’t end a team’s hopes for the season but it's not a desirable way to begin a campaign.
The biggest question heading into this game is whether or not Clemson has the firepower to contend with a team like Georgia offensively. Losing running back Andre Ellington and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the NFL hurts, but Boyd’s play may be able to overcome it. Sammy Watkins is also a very potent receiving threat, but the team will need other options.
The Bulldogs should be able to score points thanks to the arm of Murray and the legs of star running back Todd Gurley. But can their new young defensive players step in and perform under the lights in hostile territory in their first significant taste of action? Don’t discount Boyd and the home team and the pressure they will put on Georgia’s young defense.
Prediction: No. 8 Clemson 34, No. 5 Georgia 27
No. 12 LSU vs. No. 20 TCU (Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, TX)
What will LSU’s defense look like once they take the field on Saturday night against TCU? That’s the biggest question for Les Miles’ team as they prepare to begin another hopeful SEC season. A score of defenders moved on to the NFL during the offseason, but the team doesn’t have a lack of competent players still around.
LSU’s biggest concern will be containing TCU quarterback Casey Pachall, who is making his return to the field after undergoing substance abuse treatment last season. The 6’5” signal-caller boasts NFL arm strength and the accuracy to back it up.
However, receiver Josh Boyce—Pachall’s biggest weapon—left for the NFL during the offseason. Running the ball will also prove to be difficult against the dominant interior presence of the Tigers, so the quarterback will likely be throwing often on Saturday night.
Defensively, the Horned Frogs boast a competent secondary, but their pass rush took a big hit when standout sophomore defensive end Devonte Fields was suspended for the first two games of the season. LSU holds a clear advantage at the line of scrimmage and should be able to control the tempo of the game as a result. If TCU opts to stack the box with defenders, it will be up to Zach Mettenberger to deliver against their stingy secondary.
Dominating the line of scrimmage might not be enough to secure a blowout, but it should be enough for the Tigers to pass their first test of the season. Miles’ team will be prepared and has the talent needed to survive this potential early-season upset.
Prediction: No. 12 LSU 23, No. 20 TCU 20