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College football picks: Predicting the winners of 2017’s ‘Week 0.5’

The weekend before the big opening weekend includes a handful of FBS games. Here are picks and a few things to watch.

NCAA Football: Colorado State at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The college football season doesn’t begin in earnest until next Thursday, but there will be real, honest-to-goodness college football on your television this weekend. That means we’ve got some picks to make.

Granted, a couple of what we’re calling Week 0.5’s biggest games are of the FCS variety — No. 3 Sam Houston State hosts No. 7 Richmond, while No. 6 Jacksonville State plays No. 12 Chattanooga in Montgomery, Alabama — but there are still some legitimately interesting FBS games, at least as long as you define “legitimately interesting” rather loosely.

As for why these teams are playing this weekend, the answer partly involves Hawaii; teams that play at UH can schedule a 13th game, so some of them stretch their seasons out in order to keep a bye week. BYU and San Jose State are doing this, while Colorado State has given itself two bye weeks by starting early.

S&P+ picks

My S&P+ system of ratings can be found at Football Outsiders. It is a tempo- and opponent-adjusted measure of efficiency, explosiveness, and the other factors that go into winning football games.

Below are this week’s S&P+ projections for FBS games.

Week 0.5 S&P+ picks

Game Projection Pick
Game Projection Pick
Ore. St. at Colo. St. CSU by 5.7 CSU -4
Portland St. at BYU BYU by 36.4 N/A
Hawaii at UMass UH by 0.2 UH +2
USF at SJSU USF by 11.9 SJSU +22
Stanford vs. Rice STAN by 36.3 STAN -30.5

Most interesting game of the week: Oregon State at Colorado State

Both the Beavers and Rams are candidates for serious improvement this year under their third-year head coaches (Gary Andersen at OSU, Mike Bobo at CSU). I listed CSU as a potential top-30-caliber team thanks to a dynamite skill corps that includes quarterback Nick Stevens distributing the ball to 1,200-yard receiver Michael Gallup and a three-headed running back corps of Dalyn Dawkins, Izzy Matthews, and Marvin Kinsey Jr.

Oregon State has running backs for days, too, though. Junior Ryan Nall and sophomore Artavis Pierce combined for 1,474 yards in 2016 (6 per carry), and big former Idaho quarterback Jake Luton has an experienced receiving corps to work with. This game will not define either team’s season, but it will be a nice proving-ground game.

On top of that, this game marks the debut of Colorado State’s sexy, on-campus stadium.

Will this play a role in the national title race? Of course not, but this is an exciting game.

What else will we learn?

  1. How’s BYU’s passing game? Granted, the Cougars are going to show as little as possible against Portland State, with a huge game against LSU seven days later. But we’ll still learn a little bit about the brand new receiving corps at quarterback Tanner Mangum’s disposal.
  2. What does USF’s defense have to offer? The Bulls have big plans and a reasonably easy path toward the G5’s major bowl bid, but first-year head coach Charlie Strong’s got a lot of work to do on defense. USF ranked eighth in Off. S&P+ but 110th in defense. You can win a lot of games solely with this offense, but winning the AAC will require improvement into at least the 70s.
  3. Same question, but for Hawaii. The Rainbow Warriors’ offense got pretty exciting last year once Dru Brown took over at quarterback, but the defense was still hit or miss. UMass has a few big-play weapons to replace, but Mark Whipple’s Minutemen should still be able to puncture the Hawaii defense if the Warriors haven’t improved.
  4. Hey, Stanford. Honestly, we’re not going to learn much in what should be a Stanford romp over Rice. But we might still glean something from how sharp the backfield of quarterback Keller Chryst and running back Bryce Love performs. And if the Cardinal defensive front isn’t clicking, Rice could be tricky enough to score some points.
NCAA Football: Oregon State at Stanford
Bryce Love
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports