College football was officially back last Friday in Sydney, Australia, as the California Golden Bears took care of the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. When I think of college football, though, I think of a full slate of action from multiple conferences across the country. Thursday night will be the first day for that, with sixteen games on the schedule. The night will end in Las Vegas, as Jackson State takes on UNLV. The chase for the college football playoff is going to be a pretty interesting one this season. Pundits and commentators love to say every year that it’s wide open, anybody can make it, even when the main contenders are pretty clear cut.
I think more than ever, this season is actually wide open, and there are at least ten teams that have a legitimate opportunity at reaching the college football playoff. I will be keeping a close look on Houston and Michigan. Michigan to a greater extent, because Houston, who is a very good team, might run into trouble in Week 1. Houston doesn’t have a creampuff to open the season, as they will play the Oklahoma Sooners. The Sooners are reeling from their loss against Clemson in the college football playoff. But they should be loaded again this season, notably, the return of quarterback Baker Mayfield will propel them through the Big 12. I am skeptical of Big 12 quarterbacks in the NFL, rightfully so, but he should make quick work of his college football opponents in 2016.
Our first pick of the college football season features one of the first games on the schedule Thursday night. The Charlotte 49ers will travel to Kentucky to face the Louisville Cardinals. The 49ers are newcomers to the college football circuit, only fielding a team in 2013. They went between 1948 to 2013 without a football program.
Understandably so, the 49ers have gone through some growing pains. That much is expected with a new program when they’re starting with a clean slate. Recruiting, at least initially, can be an uphill battle against other established programs. In their first season in 2013, the 49ers went 5-6, which is respectable for a new team. It wasn’t against the stingiest of opponents: Campbell, Chowan, Presbyterian, Gardner-Webb, and Morehead State.
They did the same in 2014, but when pitted against decent teams, including Kentucky, Rice, FIU, Temple, and Southern Mississippi they were steamrolled. Their only wins came against Georgia State and Presbyterian, a 2-10 season. Louisville should be their stiffest test yet in their fourth season. They opened their last three campaigns against Georgia State and Campbell twice. Louisville will prove to be a different kind of test right of the block. We’ll see how they handle it on Thursday night.
Charlotte 49ers vs. Louisville Cardinals NCAAF Betting Odds:
vs. Louisville -39(-110)
Odds provided by Bovada.lv
Charlotte vs. Louisville Pick:
The last dynamic, standout quarterback Louisville had was Teddy Bridgewater. That wasn’t that too long ago, so there aren’t any hard feelings about the Cardinals not finding their next Bridgewater. But in 2016, keep your eyes open for the guy taking snaps for Louisville. He is going to be a playmaker and get this offense motoring at a high level. Louisville finished 8-5 in 2015, including a 27-21 win over Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl. The poor 0-3 start did them in from the start. However, they were close, winnable games against three good teams: Auburn, Houston, and Clemson.
I feel that quarterback Lamar Jackson is going to put Louisville on the map in 2016, improving off their 8-5 season a year ago. Jackson came onto the scene against A&M in that bowl game, gashing the Aggies for 4 touchdowns with his arms and legs. Jackson is your prototypical dual-threat quarterback who can run the option with the best of them in college football. His arm isn’t quite on Bridgewater’s level, yet at least, but he is more dangerous than Bridgewater was on the ground.
Jackson was only a freshman in 2015, passing for 12 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, including 11 touchdowns rushing. I expect much bigger things from him in his second season, now that he is the fulltime starter. Jackson split time as the starter a year ago. Look out for a breakout campaign from Lamar Jackson.
The Louisville offense will definitely be dangerous. Note that nearly the entire offense is back, too. Defensively they went into 2015 with plenty of question marks. However, they held up considerably well, and ultimately fielded a defense that ranked in the top-25 of college football by seasons end. They needed to replace plenty a year ago, and if that was their rebuilding year, it went especially nicely. Now that they have some more experience on that side of the ball, I expect the defensive unit to be improved as well.
Is Charlotte going to be able to keep up with the Louisville offense? The Charlotte offense should continue to improve as the season progresses. The 49ers bring over Miami transfer, Kevin Olsen, to Charlotte to run the offense at quarterback. Yes, he is the younger brother of Carolina Panthers’ tight end, Greg Olsen. No way was Olsen going to unseat Brad Kaaya, who is a Heisman hopeful and future prospect in the NFL. Olsen, a junior, got limited playing time at Miami.
There is one huge problem for the Charlotte offense in this game. Their offensive line is putrid and is not ready to compete against a quality ACC defense. The Cardinal defense is going to routinely blow up plays behind the line of scrimmage. The offense is going to find it extremely difficult to move the ball on Louisville. This game is going to be a showing for Louisville, after starting so slow a year ago, they show the country that they’re here to be contenders in 2016. I expect Louisville to flirt with the top-10 by bowl season. It starts tonight, in a game which should spell out a 59-10 or so final score.
PICK: LOUISVILLE -39 (-110)