TJ’S PICK 3 OF 2022 WEEK 1
West Virginia @ Pitt (Pittsburgh, PA) Pitt -7.5 O/U 51.5
West Virginia Head Coach Neal Brown announced on Monday that Georgia transfer quarterback JT Daniels will be the starter for the opener at Pitt. Daniels spent the past two seasons at Georgia, winning a National Championship with the Bulldogs last year. He was hurt early in the season and lost his starting job to Stetson Bennett and is now playing for his third collegiate team. His first stop was at USC where he was coached by new WVU offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, who was brought in to revamp the Mountaineer offense. Harrell is an Air Raid specialist and Daniels’ skills fit the Air Raid, provided he can stay healthy. WVU’s leading rusher and receiver are both gone but they have decent replacements. Junior running back Tony Mathis rushed for 312 yards last season. The downside for the WVU rushing attack is that none of the returning backs scored a rushing touchdown last season. Senior wide receiver Sam James and junior wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton each had 42 catches. All five starters from the offensive line are back, which should provide continuity for the WVU offense. Last season’s Mountaineer defense was good, finishing 37th in the country in overall defense. The defensive line should be a strength while the linebackers and secondary saw a lot of turnover between the Transfer Portal and graduation. Coach Brown knows this is a make-or-break season for him and beating hated rival Pitt would go a long way in keeping his job.
Pitt, like WVU, returns all five starting offensive linemen. However, they lose star quarterback Kenny Pickett and reigning Biletnikoff award winning wide receiver Jordan Addison. But, in my opinion, the biggest loss for Pitt was offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. Pitt scored big wins in getting USC transfer quarterback Kedon Slovis and Akron wide receiver Konata Mumpfield. But they whiffed in the hiring of offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, Jr. Head Coach Pat Narduzzi wants to establish the run game and control the clock more which is why Whipple is gone and Cignetti is in. Not sure why you’d want to dump the style of offense that won you the ACC Championship last season but hey, I’m not Pitt’s coach. The Pitt defense, however, is STACKED. The Panthers return their top two leaders in sacks from last season in senior defensive end Habakkuk Baldonado, who had nine sacks and Preseason All-American defensive tackle, junior Calijah Kancey, who finished with seven sacks. These two stud d-linemen anchor a defensive line group that is arguably in the top five in college football. Senior linebacker SirVocea Dennis returns and was Pitt’s leading tackler in 2021 with 82. The secondary is experienced but will need to be better than their 115th overall ranking in pass defense from a year ago if the Panthers are going to be successful.
Prediction: THE BACKYARD BRAWL! When rivalry games like this die due to conference realignment it hurts college football. I’m glad the people at Pitt and WVU agreed not only to a four-year series but to add four more years to play a total of eight games. This game should at least be played every other year, if not every year. Both offenses are going to be breaking in a new offensive coordinator and quarterback. Pitt has experience in the run game with Israel Abanikanda & Rodney Hammond but it’s the defense that separates the Panthers from the Mountaineers. I can’t see a way WVU wins this game unless Pitt’s offense completely falls flat and makes mistake after mistake. The only thing I can see keeping WVU close is if they get their passing game rolling. But that will be tough to do with Pitt’s d-line wreaking havoc. I think it will be closer than the spread, but Pitt comes out with the win. Pitt: 23 WVU: 17. Take WVU getting the points and take the under.
Notre Dame at Ohio State (Columbus, OH) OSU -17.5 O/U 58.5
Notre Dame lost head coach Brian Kelly to LSU and hired from within, promoting defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman to the head coach position. In doing so, the Irish, and Freeman, were able to keep a lot of the coaching staff from last season, including offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. Rees will have his third different starting quarterback in as many years as sophomore Tyler Buchner has been named the starter. Four starting offensive linemen return and should be a strength for the Irish offense. Preseason All-American tight end, junior Michael Mayer returns as well and provides Buchner with a monster target in the passing game. Freeman hired former Temple and Miami head coach Al Golden to be the Irish defensive coordinator. Golden brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to a solid Irish defense. Preseason All-American junior defensive end Isaiah Foskey led the Irish with 11 sacks and the leading tackler, junior JD Bertrand, is also back. The secondary loses star Safety Kyle Hamilton to the NFL but brings in All-American and Northwestern transfer, junior Brandon Joseph. Although depth in the secondary may be a concern.
Ohio State had the #1 scoring offense and overall offense in the country last year. The Buckeyes return preseason All-Americans at quarterback, CJ Stroud, running back, TreVeyon Henderson, and wide receiver, Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Having the core of this offense back should mean that Ohio State is going to put up a ton of points this season. The offensive line only returns two starters from last season, but that unit should be just fine. The defense…well, it wasn’t as bad as a lot of people made it out to be. There were games that were awful, but there were also games where they looked really good. However, with Ohio State having CFP aspirations that inconsistency doesn’t cut it. So, Head Coach Ryan Day brought in Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to right the defensive ship. There are some pieces in place from last season, and Day got a few transfers in, but Knowles’ ability to tighten the defense up will determine how far the Buckeyes can go this season. Getting Notre Dame in the opener will be a huge test as the Irish like to throw the ball while Ohio State was ranked #97 in passing defense last year.
Prediction: That’s a heavy spread for a week 1 game between two top-tier programs. There’s going to be some bumps in the road for Notre Dame, but the continuity of the coaching staff should limit those bumps. Ohio State’s offense is deadly and will put tons of points on the board. Picking up Knowles is great for the Buckeyes chances at getting back to the CFP. I think Ohio State wins but doesn’t cover that high of a spread. Ohio State: 41 Notre Dame: 34 Take Notre Dame getting the points and take the over for sure.
Oregon -v- Georgia (Neutral Site game in Atlanta, GA) Georgia -17.5 O/U 53.5
Oregon replaces former head coach Mario Cristobal with former Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning. The architect of one of the best defenses of this generation, Lanning brings a lot of knowledge and experience to Eugene. The Ducks needed a new starting quarterback, so they pulled Auburn transfer Bo Nix from the Transfer Portal. All five starting offensive linemen are back for Oregon which is going to be a strength of the offense. The running backs and receivers are young and will need to prove themselves. The tight ends are experienced, and you’d be hard pressed to find too many groups of tight ends in the country better than at Oregon. The defense is why Lanning is now a head coach and he inherits a solid group on that side of the ball. Super sophomore and preseason All-American Noah Sewell is one of the best linebackers in the country. The rest of the front seven is solid even after losing star Edge Kayvon Thibodeaux. Keep an eye on freshman cornerback Jahlil Florence. As the season wears on he may move into a starting role in the Ducks’ secondary.
Georgia fans, say it loud, DEFENDING NATIONAL CHAMPION Georgia Bulldogs! Dawgs fans waited 40 long years to finally say that again! Georgia had a record 15 players drafted into the NFL from that National Championship team. That’s a lot of production to replace, but Head Coach Kirby Smart is used to reloading his roster. Senior quarterback Stetson Bennett returns to lead the offense. On last season’s squad Bennett only needed to manage the games but in the instances that the Bulldogs needed him to make a play, more often than not he made it. Kriby likes to ground and pound with that running game, keeping his defense fresh. Senior running back Kenny McIntosh, the third leading rusher last season, is the leading returning rusher for Georgia. McIntosh figures to get the bulk of the carries. Preseason All-American tight end Brock Bowers is one of the two or three best tight ends in the country. And he’s only a sophomore! The kid is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Georgia’s defense is, well, Georgia’s defense. Kirby Smart has built one of the best defensive programs in the country. The defense alone had eight players drafted, five in the first round! But, again, this is Kirby Smart, Georgia is LOADED on defense. Junior defensive tackle Jalen Carter, senior linebacker Nolan Smith and sophomore cornerback Kelee Ringo are all back and all are preseason All-American selections.
Prediction: Dan Lanning is familiar with Georgia having been on their staff for the last four seasons. Bo Nix is familiar with Georgia having played at Auburn against the Bulldogs each of the past three seasons. Oregon has very good offensive and defensive lines. Georgia is replacing a lot of NFL talent, in most cases, with NFL talent. While this is a “neutral site” game this game is being played in Georgia’s back yard. I see a close game in the first half then Georgia pulls away in the second half.
Georgia: 33 Oregon: 13 lay the points with Georgia and take the under.