Choosing an upset is no easy task. Finding that delicate balance between choosing your picks with the perfect combination of both head and heart can at times be gut wrenching. Here at pigskinpress.com, we’ve been putting the prognostication hat on every season since 2008 with mixed results. Take last season for example, when we went 13-17 (43%). Some picks were not even close (see Pitt vs. Miami) while other picks were spot on (see all of our Mountain West selections). Regardless, we here at the “press” soldier on as we aim for our magic number of 45% accuracy. Enough talk, here are this year’s picks by week.
0 Week (August 26th)
Colorado State vs. Colorado- Can you say shootout? Coming off of a week-one victory at home against Oregon State, the Rams, led by Senior Wideout Michael Gallup will use their high-powered offense to outscore Colorado in one of the highest scoring Rocky Mountain Showdowns in history. The Buffs have won 64 of the previous 88 meetings, but losing eight starters on defense will take a toll early on for the Buffs. Don’t forget, the “0” week game will give CSU an extra week to work out the kinks! Take Mike Bobo and company in this one.
Boston College vs. NIU-We hemmed and hawed about picking this upset for week one. This is a premier home game for NIU, who has a terrific running game and a stellar secondary. The issue that gives us pause is NIU’s QB situation. Ryan Graham, who has had shades of solid play, has been named the starter for the Huskies. The real battle will be between Huskie LT Max Scharping and DE Harold Landry. Landry will get his licks on Graham, but the BC offense, outside of RB Jon Hillman, is not good. This will be a low scoring affair with many punts, but we think NIU pulls the minor upset to start the season.
Cal Poly @ SJSU-San Jose State is looking at a rough year. QB Kenny Potter is gone, and all that’s left is a mediocre cast of supporting characters. The Spartans welcome new head coach Brett Brennan to a program that is in desperate need of some consistency in the win column. Nestled between potential beatdowns at the hands of USF and Texas is FCS Cal Poly. The Mustangs are ranked 23rd in the preseason FCS polls and return 1,300 yard rusher Joe Protheroe. Add in an earlier practice schedule due to a “0” week game, and you’ve got yourself an upset.
Cal Poly 23
Ball St. @ Illinois-Lovie Smith has got his work cut out for him in Champaign in 2017. QB Wes Lunt is gone and the defense is a huge question mark. While Toledo, WMU and Miami are getting all the MACcolades, don’t sleep on Ball State...at least not in this game. RB James Gilbert (1332 yds/12 tds) is the best MAC RB nobody is talking about and QB Riley Neal is primed for a breakout junior season. Neither of these teams is going to make a lot of noise in 2017, but the Cardinals will grind this one out for the upset victory.
Ball State 28
Troy @ Boise-It’s hard to pick against Boise State at home, but plain and simple, Troy is really good. Remember, this is a 10-win team that lost at Clemson by six points, cracked the top 25, and returns every playmaker on offense from a year ago. Boise is good too, but they have questions on defense as well as in the running game. Put this game any other week of the year, and I take the Broncos, but Troy’s experience gives them the “rhythm” edge early, and the strong, experienced secondary will be the difference.
Houston @ UTSA-Here’s a fact: Houston is better than UTSA in every sense of the word. That being said, since when does talent rule the day in college football? UTSA is a strong up-and-coming program and Houston is notorious for losing winnable games (see Navy, SMU, and UConn in 2015). Yes, Folks, it’s gonna’ happen! UTSA returns all the right parts in all the right places including the deadly pass rush trio of Josiah Tauaefa, La’Kel Bass and Marcus Davenport (17.5 sacks combined). The Roadrunners are a dangerous team, and they catch Houston in week one at home in front of raucous crowd. UTSA is confident more experienced and hungry. Take the ‘runners!
Vanderbilt @ MTSU-You gotta’ love Middle Tennessee. They’ve racked up 37 wins over the past five years and put up 40 points per game in 2016. If you haven’t had the chance to see dynamic duo QB Brent Stockstill (3233 yds/31 tds) and WR Richie James (101 rec/1625 yds) you better hurry. Both of these guys could declare for the NFL draft next season. Vandy returns the terrific RB Ralph Webb, but with no pass rush, look for Stockstill to James to be a common theme as MTSU avenges last year’s meltdown in Nashville.
Ohio @ Purdue-I really hate Purdue. Nothing personal, it’s just everytime I call for the upset they don’t pull it off. I must be a glutton for punishment because I’m doing it again. Ohio is solid, and Frank Solich is a good coach, but new Purdue front man Jeff Brohm is perfectly suited for this job. Brohm won 75% of his games at WKU and more importantly knows how to get production from QBs. He has a good one to work with in Jr. David Blough. His upside combined with a couple of high-end transfers will vastly improve the offense to go along with eight returning starters on defense. Ohio on the other hand has an identity problem and has for many years. The offense is mechanical and faceless and has relied on Solich to win games through game management more than dynamic execution. WR Papi White is solid, but not the game-changer that many broadcasters and Bobcats fans make him out to be. This will be the year that Ohio makes its slow descent down the MAC East rankings and it starts with Purdue.
Eastern Michigan @ Rutgers-The fact that EMU HC Chris Creighton looks like Henry Rollins makes EMU easy to cheer for. That being said, the Eagles are unpredictable to say the least. After last year’s 7-6 resurrection, the Eagles have high expectations for 2017. They return 8 starters on both sides of the ball and are stacked at the skill positions. Rutgers will come into this week-two matchup limping after being roughed up by Washington in their opener. Adding Louisville transfer Kyle Bolin will pay dividends for the Scarlet Knights eventually, but pound-for-pound, I’m putting my money on EMU QB Brogan Roback who was mature and timely in his 2016 campaign. Roback can make the impossible pass and is a solid runner when he needs to be. This will be a nice win for the MAC.
New Hampshire at Georgia Southern-Georgia Southern really screwed up a good thing. For some odd reason, HC Tyson Summers started tinkering with an offense that didn’t need tinkering. GASO will go back to their flexbone, but they won’t get to have a heyday on #13 FCS New Hampshire. UNH has terrific receivers in Malik Love and Neil O’Conner. Add in a young but strong secondary to reinforce the D-Line and UNH is primed for the upset. The offense can be schizophrenic at times, but they have the ability to put up big numbers (see vs. #20 Stony Brook and #15 Lehigh in 2016). Take the Wildcats.
Miss. State at La. Tech- Skip Holtz is a terrific coach. He knows how to compete in big games and the Sept. 9th home tilt with Mississippi State will be no exception. Recruiting numbers aside, Miss. St. is always game for a potential upset as evidenced by last year’s loss to South Alabama and near miss against Miami (OH) in the St. Petersburg Bowl. QB Nick Fitzgerald’s strength is scrambling and running which La. Tech is more than equipped to handle behind a terrific linebacking corps headlined by Jr. Jaylon Ferguson (14.5 sacks). With 25,000 plus fans in attendance, look for La. Tech to manufacture a late comeback win at home.
Miss. State 31
La. Tech 33
Iowa State @ Akron-Were big fans of Adam Sandler, err, Matt Campbell, but ISU doesn’t have the players yet to fight off upsets like the one they will run into when they visit Infocision Stadium in Akron. Terry Bowden’s Zips are the real “Second Chance U” and they have a laundry list of transfers to prove it: RB Warren Ball (tOSU), DE Jamal Davis (Pitt), LB James King (Miami), etc..On top of that, the Zips can score points and QB Thomas Woodson is due for a breakout senior season. The Cyclones have issues on both the offensive and defensive lines. Take the Zips in a turnover laden affair.
Iowa State 24
Cincy @ Miami-It’s a MAC double dip in week three as the Redhawks continue their resurrection by upsetting Cincinnati in Oxford.Remember, Miami only lost by a TD at Cincy last year and the 2017 edition of the Redhawks is better and WAY more confident. QB Gus Ragland has late round NFL material and Miami has experience coming out the ying-yang! 9 returning starters on offense and 8 on defense, including the underrated Heath Harding, will make it tough for the Bearcats to outscore the Redhawks. Cincinnati is a shell of what Brian Kelley once built back in the Orange Bowl years. Bearcat QB Hayden Moore is inconsistent, and the running game is a mess. Were jumping on the Miami, OH, bandwagon!
Hawaii @ Wyoming-We love Wyoming QB Josh Allen and his underdog story as much as the next guy, but Hawaii is going to surprise some people- Especially in Laramie on September 23rd! Hawaii has a potent, and now experienced offense. RB Diocemy Saint Juste is strong for his small stature and will break the 1200 yard mark this season. The offensive line is the strongest it’s been in a decade behind UCLA transfer Fred Ulu-Perry and the conferences best tackle in Dejon Allen. QB Dru Brown will take much better care of the ball this year. Wyoming has got to establish a running game, and an inexperienced tandem of Milo Hall and Kellen Overstreet is not going to be enough to open up the passing game early in the season for Allen. Wyoming will go bowling again, but they’ll get caught sleeping in this one.
Texas @ Iowa State-Texas head coach Tom Herman is a master of the upset. Or shall we say getting upset. In 2015, on the road, his 10-0 Houston Cougars lost at lowly UConn, while still getting to the Peach Bowl. In 2016 it was on the road at Navy, taking them out of the running for the Cotton Bowl, which eventually went to Western Michigan. Yes, the Longhorns are more talented than the Cyclones, and yes, they bring 10 back on defense, but that same defense gave up 31.5 ppg. Iowa State is no prize pig, but they’re good for one good upset. This will be a Thursday night affair, with the Cyclones and Longhorns coming off a bye week. ISU will control the clock behind the vastly underrated RB duo of Mike Warren (559 yds) and David Montgomery (563 yds). If ISU transfer QB Jacob Park (Georgia) is going to make a name for himself, it will be in Matt Campbell’s first signature win in Ames on national TV.
Iowa State 24
USC @ Wazzu-You guessed it, We’re going with the Pirate in an epic Friday night upset in Pullman! Mike Leach and the Cougars open the season with five games at home culminating with this Friday night tilt with the Trojans. The Cougars have a great QB in Luke Marks, and as always, lots of firepower on offense. The Wazzu defense has improved each of the last two seasons, and with 10 returning starters, will be able to hold off USC and Sam Darnold. Never bet against the Pirate!
Eastern Michigan @ Toledo-Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you. Eastern Michigan is on the upset list! EMU had a breakthrough season, making a bowl game in 2016, but to get back there in 2017 they will need to pull a couple shockers. This will be one of them. Toledo is coming off a brutal 3-week stretch against Nevada, Tulsa, and Miami followed by a bye-week when Eastern Rolls in for their homecoming game. This homecoming slight feeds right into EMU’s “it wasn’t a fluke/us against the world” mentality. EMU RB Ian Erikson and Shaq Vann are vastly underrated, and the Eagles secondary can keep Toledo stud WR Cody Thompson in check. Toledo is strong, especially at linebacker, but they always find a game to choke in, and this one is it!
Pitt @ Syracuse-Homecoming in upstate New York, experienced offensive line, and no James Conner to shut down- this has all the makings of an upset. Last year, these two teams combined for 137 points (Pitt won 76-61)! Pittsburgh’s defense is in rebuilding mode this year, while Syracuse’s offense should flourish under Dino Babers system in year number two. Orange QB Eric Dungey is a true dual threat and moving TE Ravian Pierce (6’3” 234 lbs) over to WR is going to give Pitt’s defense fits all day. Syracuse won’t win a ton of games, but I like them in this one.
Northwestern @ Maryland-Coming off off back-to-back big games against Wisconsin and a huge homecoming tilt against Penn State, Northwestern could find itself sleep walking a bit as they head into college park to take on the Terps’. The offense was bad at times in 2017, but has upgraded at quarterback in the form of Caleb Henderson and Kasim Hill. Speedster DJ Brown also returns against a Northwestern pass defense that was the worst in the Big 10, and yes, that includes Rutgers. Justin Jackson will get his yards on the ground for Northwestern, but Maryland will score their first conference win of the season against Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats.
UNLV @ Air Force-UNLV is so overdue for a breakout season they can taste it….or maybe that’s the after-burps from the Rio Buffet. Regardless, Air Force will enter this game as a home favorite, but by week 8, UNLV’s talented offense led by Devonte Boyd and the no-longer-injured Kendal Keys will be in full swing and its inexperienced defense will be ready to contribute. Air Force is disciplined, but their defense is even more inexperienced than UNLV’s, and after a disappointing road loss at Navy in week 6, the Cadets will have a hard time matching the Rebels point-for-point. UNLV will double up the academy in this one.
Air Force 21
App State @ Idaho-Don’t sleep on the Vandals. It’s a shame that just when Paul Petrino breathes a little life in the program, they whimper down to FCS. App State is a terrific program, and probably not long for the Sun Belt either, but for different reasons. QB Matt Linehan is a late round NFL pick and it doesn’t matter that his top three targets are gone, he was the reason for their success, and will make deliver plenty of balls to whoever lines up at wide out. App State QB Taylor Lamb is also a great QB, but takes a lot of hits and could start losing steam at this point in his senior season. The Kibbie Dome is an unusual place to play, and with the long flight, this could be a game where the Mountaineers stub their toe.
App State 38
Fresno State @ SDSU-I’m a bit surprised at how little love Fresno State is getting in 2017. No, they will not win the MWC, but they will not be nearly as bad as their 3-3 record will indicate when they head to SDSU on Oct. 21st. The offense could be spectacular with 10 returning starters, and Jeff Tedford and the talented Kalen Deboer taking over the playcalling. SDSU has four new starters on the line, and as much as they want to believe so, RB Rashaad Penny is not going to put up numbers like Donnel Pumphrey did as the primary running back. Their pass rush will not be as potent and in typical MW fashion, the parity between these two teams is closer than it looks on paper. Mark this one as Fresno’s return from the dead.
Fresno State 28
Tulsa @ SMU-Do not sleep on SMU! Both Tulsa and the Mustangs season’s both hinge on unproven passing games. SMU has potentially three QBs who who vastly improve their offense from 2016 (Rafe Peavey/Arkansas, DJ Gillins/Wisconsin). These two teams went to overtime last season, with Tulsa pulling it out by a field goal. What’s impressive about SMU is their pass rush and their secondary. LB Justin Lawler will be joined by Tennessee transfer Dimarya Mixon, who will compliment him well in the pass-rush scheme. Tulsa can’t hide behind point scoring anymore as SMU is now their true equal. Look for defense to be the difference in this one with a late SMU interception.
Old Dominion @ North Texas-Old Dominion played in one of the more entertaining bowls in 2016, beating Eastern Michigan 24-20 to cap off a 10-win season. UNT also went bowling, but only by default. This is an intriguing matchup as ODU will head to Denton as the favorite behind the nation’s most underrated RB in Ray Lawry. UNT on the other hand has RB Jeffrey Wilson, who quietly put up 936 yards and 14 TDs. The Mean Green have a chance to be this year’s Miami of Ohio and hit a late season stride and sneak into a bowl game at 6-6. UNT QB Mason Fine is going to cause havoc with his dual threat ability and having Notre Dame transfer WR Jalen Guyton could make them a dangerous combination that is currently under the radar. I Like UNT in a C-USA upset special in the first meeting ever between the teams.
Old Dominion 27
UCLA @ Utah-UCLA QB Josh Rosen has tons of talent, but makes tons of mistakes. Utah is a TOUGH place to play, let alone win. Troy Williams has been named the starter at QB for the Utes who upended UCLA and Rosen on the road last season. Utah’s front four will be healthy and spectacular-creating chaos for UCLA’s running game and flushing Rosen all day long. Couple that with Whittingham’s ability to manage the game and Utah will pull a late season upset.
Tennessee @ Mizzou-Call it the straw that partially breaks Butch Jones’ back. Tennessee fans are tired of Losing big games. Now they can add winnable games to their list. Mizzou brings back 10 on offense including last year’s freshman phenom, RB Damarea Crockett (1062 yards/10 tds). The Tigers catch a Tennessee team at home that says goodbye to all their playmakers from 2016 (Josh Dobbs, Alvin Kamara, Josh Malone). The Vols have failed to meet expectations any year of the Butch Jones era, and this year will be no exception. Expect Jones’ seat to get real hot after this misstep in Columbia.
Boise St. @ CSU-They don’t call it luck number seven for nothin’. Boise has never lost to the Rams, but the changing of the guard will happen on a chilly November evening in Ft. Collins. Boise State’s RB and WR corps are unproven at best. QB Brett Rypien, while putting up great numbers, makes his most crucial mistakes at the most inopportune times (watch last season’s Wyoming game). CSU has massive fire power in WR Michael Gallup, and RB Izzy Matthews. Boise will bowl, but a new stadium with a loud crowd and a CSU team that can actually go toe-to-toe for once will tip in the Rams favor.
Boise State 34
Middle Tennessee @ WKU-Rejoice MTSU fans! This is your year of redemption. After last year’s 44-43 loss, the game moves to Bowling Green for a nationally televised Friday night tilt. This will be a shootout for the ages! The difference this year is simple-MTSU’s two headed wide receiving duo of Richie James and last year’s Freshman phenom Ty Lee. WKU QB Mike White loses his top two targets in Tywan Taylor and Nick Norris. While WKU will have lots of firepower, MTSU has them covered this year...as long as they play solid special teams. The Hilltoppers Nacarius Fant is a dangerous punt returner. His speed can flip this upset if the Blue Raiders aren’t prepared. We think they’re up to the task. Take Rick Stockstill and company on the road.
USF @ UCF-This is the heartbreaker. We’re calling it now...in typical rivalry fashion, Scott Frost and Central Florida will beat USF and cost them a New Year’s Six bowl spot! USF is the sweetheart of the group of 5 this year, but losing RB Marlon Mack and WR Rodney Adams is not as easily fixed as some want to make it out to be. I would argue that Mack was a bigger reason for the Bulls’ success than Flowers in 2016. UCF on the other hand is loaded with big time recruits. RB Cordarrian Richardson has the ability to lead the AAC in rushing as a freshman if he can wrestle the majority of carries from incumbent Juwon Hamilton. These teams don’t like each other, and the Knights will have Flower's number and contain him in the run. This is gonna’ be a huge upset!
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