For someone such as myself who gives opinions about sports for a living, there are few more unsettling feelings than making an opening week prediction during college football season.
We spent seven months last year hyping No. 1 Alabama vs No. 3 Florida State. Bama did what Bama does in a 24-7 snoozer.
New coaches flop (Tom Herman vs. Maryland). Heisman candidates bow out (FSU’s Deondre Francois). No-names introduce themselves (South Carolina’s Jake Bentley).
To quote the great accordion-wielding philosopher Weird Al Yankovic, “Everything you know is wrong.”
Opening weekend is equally terrifying as it is exhilarating. And No. 8 Miami vs. No. 25 LSU is that feeling on speed. I’ve spent my entire life around LSU football and have never seen a season that produced this wide of a gap of expectations.
Just this week, ESPN’s Football Percentage Index predicted LSU to finish 5-7 while Kyle Koster of “The Big Lead” thinks LSU and Alabama will meet in November as unbeatens.
I’ve been asked if LSU is a playoff contender on the same day that I’ve been asked if Ed Orgeron will make it through October.
As is true with most things in this life, the answer is likely somewhere in the middle. Here’s what you need to know before we embark upon this journey together Sunday in Arlington, Texas.
Miami is a 3.5-point favorite, with the over/under set at 48.
>> All odds as of 8 a.m. ET Friday. Download The Action Network App to get real-time college football odds and track your bets
When LSU has the ball
Ohio State graduate transfer Joe Burrow was formally announced this week as LSU’s starting quarterback. As I indicated in my season preview earlier this week, LSU lost basically every playmaker on offense from a season ago.
So Burrow has the unenviable task of breaking in Steve Ensminger’s new offense with green skill players against one of the nation’s most opportunistic defenses from 2017.
Manny Diaz’s Miami unit was fourth in the FBS with 44 sacks and tied for third with 31 takeaways. The Turnover Chain masked some deficiencies, which resulted in the Canes being ranked 38th in total defense and 28th in scoring defense.
The Tigers ran the ball on 65% of their snaps a year ago under Matt Canada, but Orgeron has expressed his desire to be closer to 50/50.
If Burrow does pass the ball more on Sunday, he will be attacking Miami’s strength. The Canes lost three key members from last year’s defensive line but return All-American candidates in safety Jaquan Johnson and cornerback Michael Jackson.
Basically, don’t expect much from the LSU offense but hope to be pleasantly surprised.
When Miami Has the Ball
Just as LSU has questions under center, so does Miami, but for a very different reason. Senior Malik Rosier returns but had to battle to keep his job after an erratic three-game losing streak to end 2017. Rosier’s 3,120 passing yards and 26 touchdowns from last year are impressive. His 14 interceptions are concerning.
His struggles were magnified against the best defenses, as he completed fewer than 50% of his passes in five games.
Even the best offenses in football will likely struggle to move the ball against Dave Aranda’s defense. LSU made him the highest-paid coordinator in football this offseason, and he has proved to be worth every penny.
Linebacker Devin White and cornerback Greedy Williams are projected Top 10 picks in next year’s NFL draft. OLB K’Lavon Chaisson appears to be next in line of LSU’s freakish pass rushers, following Barkevious Mingo and Arden Key.
And Orgeron has said this is the deepest rotation of defensive linemen he’s had during his time at LSU.
Whichever quarterback makes fewer mistakes will likely lead his team to victory. So, for some prognosticators, it’s a question of the devil you know versus the devil you don’t.
Why do so few people talk about the kicking game? For a game that will feature two defenses and questions at quarterback, it sure does make sense for Orgeron and Mark Richt to play field position and try to gain an advantage with special teams.
Michael Badgley left Miami as the school’s leader in field goals and scoring. Whoever Richt runs out there Sunday will have never attempted a collegiate field goal.
Unknowns in the kicking game can be terrifying. Ask Orgeron, who saw LSU last year doink its way to its worst year kicking the ball since 2005. He was so concerned about the position that he signed grad transfer Cole Tracy from Division II Assumption College. Tracy received the 2017 Fred Mitchell Award for being the best kicker outside Division I.
He’s made many big kicks, but he did so in a stadium that wouldn’t hold the LSU and Miami bands. Still, the edge has to go to LSU here, which is why I’m picking the Tigers by— you guessed it — a field goal.
With merely an ounce of confidence: LSU 20, Miami 17
I would avoid this game altogether, but the total at 48 seems too high, considering how stellar these two defenses are and the uncertainty on offense. If you must, play the under.
Editor’s note: The opinion on this game is from the individual writer and is based on his research, analysis and perspective. It is independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.