Philadelphia, PA – Welcome to a new season of college football prognostications. As a reminder to those people who forgot how this works, here is a simple guideline to follow along throughout the entire season.
The five-star plays are when my personal plays coincide with my power rating plays (games with at least a five-point differential between my line and the actual line). The three-star choices are my personal picks, the two-star plays are the games the power rating system picks, and the one-star plays are my personal secondary selections.
The top play of Week 1 is the game with the second-highest spread - Hawaii at USC. The top-ranked Trojans might have the most explosive offense in the country, led by quarterback Matt Barkley, but Hawaii's secondary is filled with former SEC players, including Mike Edwards and Tony Grimes.
Given that, the Trojans' best bet to run up the score is on the ground with Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd. However, the more USC runs the ball the more time ticks off the clock.
Hawaii will counter with quarterback Sean Schroeder, who takes over for David Graves. He'll be behind a revamped offensive line that is the one question mark for the Warriors. Still, if the unit can adequately protect the transfer from Duke, look for Hawaii to keep this one much closer than the spread.
Take the Warriors plus 42 points.
The other two Pac-12 plays are three-star selections.
Washington takes on San Diego State in the first contest while California hosts Nevada in the second one.
The Huskies, who have covered their last three home openers, catch a break as the Aztecs come into the new season without their two most productive offensive players. Gone are running back Ronnie Hillman, who rushed for over 1,700 yards, and quarterback Ryan Lindley, who threw for over 3,000 yards. The Aztecs also lost three starters from their offensive line, so don't expect San Diego State to match points with the Huskies.
Washington brings back quarterback Keith Price and a bevy of solid receivers, including Kasen Williams. Look for the Huskies to move the ball at will against a defense that lost its top two tacklers as well as players responsible for over 70 percent of the team's sacks.
Take Washington minus 14.5 points.
California is back at Memorial Stadium after a year playing at AT&T Park. However, it doesn't matter where the Golden Bears call home because they are an amazing 15-3 ATS in their last 18 games as home favorites.
Nevada has won just one of its last 16 road openers with the only victory coming two years ago at BYU - the fourth game of the season. This year's squad looks to be down a notch from last year's 7-6 club, especially with a very young and inexperienced defensive line.
Take California minus 11 points.
THREE OTHER FIVE-STAR PLAYS
Massachusetts makes its Football Bowl Subdivision debut on Thursday against Connecticut. Not only do the Minutemen have to replace their leading rusher, but they are down to their third-string quarterback, Mike Wegzyn, due to injuries to the top pair. Connecticut has a veteran defense that might hold Massachusetts scoreless.
In order for the Huskies to cover the spread, they just need to score about four touchdowns, which shouldn't be that difficult against a defense that gave up 45 points to Boston College a season ago.
Take Connecticut minus 22.5 points.
Michigan State had one of the better defenses in the country last season, especially against the run. This year's group returns 18 of the top 21 tacklers, which is great news heading into a matchup with Boise State. The Broncos have a new starting quarterback in Billy Southwick, and the junior will feel the pressure of the Spartans defense early and often.
Michigan State also sports a new signal-caller in Andrew Maxwell but he should produce better numbers than Southwick, particularly since Boise State's defense brings back just one of last season's top 10 tacklers.
Take the Spartans -6.5 points.
Finally, Florida is favored by almost 30 points against Bowling Green. That is a lot of points for a team to give, especially one that hasn't even decided on a starting quarterback. In addition, both signal-callers will alternate, playing a quarter each prior to halftime.
Bowling Green finished 5-7 last year, but four of the seven losses came by a touchdown or less. The Falcons bring back their top eight tacklers as well as their starting quarterback and running back. They also are 12-5 ATS in their last 17 games as road underdogs.
Take Bowling Green plus 28.5 points.
Go with Stanford -25 against San Jose State, Syracuse +2 hosting Northwestern, Boston College +2 against Miami (Fla.), Wyoming +31.5 at Texas, and Michigan +13.5 against Alabama.
Take Ohio +6 at Penn State and Georgia Tech +7.5 at Virginia Tech.
JEFF FRANK'S PRESEASON "DIRTY DOZEN"
1) Georgia, 103; 2-T) LSU, Alabama and USC, 102.5; 5) Oregon, 101.5; 6) Oklahoma, 100; 7) Florida State, 99; 8-T) Arkansas and Wisconsin, 96; 10) South Carolina, 95.5; 12-T) Michigan State and Michigan, 94.5
(The Top 12 is not a reflection of a given team's won-loss record. It is based on power ratings used to predict spreads for the upcoming week. At the beginning of the season, all 124 FBS teams are assigned a power number, which changes on a week-to-week basis depending on the results of the previous week.)