Finally! The long-awaited college football season is upon us as the first games of the year will get underway today. Of course, as there always are early in the schedule, many of the games should be fairly lopsided contests, but here are two games you certainly won’t want to miss out on watching or betting for Thursday.
#9 South Carolina at Vanderbilt
Expectations are high for the Gamecocks in 2012, as they enter the opening game with their highest preseason ranking in school history at number nine. South Carolina had its best season ever a year ago as it finished 11-2 and with Marcus Lattimore, arguably the nation’s best tailback returning, there’s no reason to think that the Gamecocks can’t compete for an SEC title this year.
However, there is concern regarding Lattimore’s health. He missed the final six games of last season due to a knee injury, which is the kind you don’t want as a running back. To dismiss this concern, head coach Steve Spurrier told ESPN that Lattimore will be ready to go and he intends to get him the ball 25-30 times in the opener.
Vandy is coming off a 6-7 season and will be at home against South Carolina. The Commodores will be hungry for an early season upset and they know it’s possible because they’ve done it before. Vanderbilt beat the Gamecocks in both 2007 and 2008. South Carolina was ranked 6th in the country at the time of the 2007 loss.
I can see Vanderbilt hanging tough in this one during the first half, but South Carolina should pull away late and cover the -7 point spread. If Lattimore is back to top form, like Spurrier claims, then expect him to wear down the Commodore defense on the way to a double-digit Gamecock road win.
Washington State at BYU
BYU, a team that won 10 games last year, at home against a team that went 4-8 in 2011 seems like a pretty easy call, but not so fast. Washington State has been a team with a lot of buzz this summer and is on many people’s lists as a potential surprise team in 2012. With a new head coach with a history of success in Mike Leach, the WSU Cougars are expected to come into the opener with a new offensive philosophy focused on the air attack, a similar offense he employed as the head coach at Texas Tech.
The concerns for Wasu are pass protection and defense. Washington State gave up 38 sacks last year, so if it wants that air-raid offensive to be effective, that’s something it will have to reduce. The defense is also a question mark, as the Coug defenders allowed over 30 points per game in 2011.
That will be the side of the ball BYU will look to exploit with returning quarterback Riley Nelson. Nelson has 19 career touchdowns to seven INTS in 12 games as the starter for Brigham Young University. BYU’s other strength is in pass coverage, as the team only allowed 13 passing touchdowns (one per game) last season. If BYU can hold Wasu to only one TD toss today, that will spell trouble for the visiting team.
This isn’t the highest profile game of the day or the weekend, but it’s one that makes for juicy betting action. The spread currently favors BYU by 12 points and although I like BYU to win this one in a shootout, I think Washington State will make things closer than that. Look for Washington State to at least cover the +12 spread and possibly even win outright against the moneyline.