The unprecedented feels familiar.
It’s like when Michael Scott boarded a plane and left Scranton, or like when Dylan McKay rode his motorcycle to anywhere but 90210. The shows went on, when it didn’t feel right. But even as the subpar episodes and cringeworthy scenes piled up, many fans continued watching.
And so shall those who love college football, even without the Big Ten and Pac-12, even with a Heisman Trophy race and playoff chase that will feel like reproductions of boycotted Olympics.
How much we’ll be able to enjoy remains uncertain.
As of Wednesday, nine games scheduled for this weekend had been postponed due to COVID-19 outbreaks. More are certain to come. Too many college presidents and administrators invited students back to campus, where kids proceeded predictably to act their ages. Soon, the weather will get colder. Keeping everyone healthy will only become harder.
So, enjoy every slate of games you get (home teams in CAPS):
NORTH CAROLINA (-23) over Syracuse: The Tar Heels closed last season with three victories by a total of 122 points, clinching a winning first season for Mack Brown, who inherited a team coming off a two-win campaign. North Carolina will be even more explosive this season, led by sophomore quarterback Sam Howell, a future Heisman candidate. The Orange won’t be able to keep up, with four offensive linemen returning from a unit that ranked third-worst in the country in sacks allowed.
Louisiana-Lafayette (+11½) over IOWA STATE: The Cyclones could be on upset alert again after being taken to overtime in last year’s season opener by Northern Iowa. The Ragin’ Cajuns bring back the core of an 11-win team — which ranked eighth in the nation in total offense — including senior quarterback Levi Lewis (26 touchdowns, four interceptions).
Charlotte (+16¹/₂) over APPALACHIAN STATE: The 49ers went 12-36 during their first four seasons in the FBS. Coach Will Healy, 35, needed just one season to produce the school’s first-ever winning season and bowl game appearance. After opening 2-5 last year, Charlotte closed by winning five of six games, and will be even more comfortable in Healy’s system now. Appalachian State, which won last year’s meeting, 56-41, will be without coach Eli Drinkwitz, who departed for Missouri.
Louisiana-Monroe (+20½) over ARMY: In the past three weeks, the Warhawks have seen their defensive coordinator resign, their team suffer a coronavirus outbreak and their community struck by Hurricane Laura. It’s no surprise more than 70 percent of bettors are backing Army, which is coming off a 42-0 win over Middle Tennessee. It also should be no surprise that I’m fading the public.
NOTRE DAME (-19¹/₂) over Duke: Daniel Jones isn’t walking through that door. After an upset over the Fighting Irish with the future Giants quarterback in 2016, the Blue Devils suffered a 38-7 home loss last year. This year, Notre Dame will be even better, with star quarterback Ian Book still protected by one of the country’s best offensive lines.
Georgia Tech (+12½) over FLORIDA STATE: Seniors on the Seminoles are playing under their third head coach. Though Mike Norvell will benefit from being able to clear the historically low bar set by predecessor Willie Taggart, an irregular offseason will make the team’s adjustment to a new system and staff take longer.
Utsa (+8) over TEXAS STATE: The Bobcats have earned the overwhelming support of bettors because of their effort in a 31-24 loss to SMU. The Roadrunners, however, have won both head-to-head matchups since 2017, have covered their past four road games and should see an improved offense with New Mexico transfer quarterback Josh Adkins.
Arkansas State (+10½) over KANSAS STATE: Home-field advantage will be largely negated, with tailgating prohibited and no more than 12,500 fans allowed in Bill Snyder Family Stadium. The Wildcats’ talent advantage will be reduced, too, with the team likely shorthanded at wide receiver and offensive line, due to positive COVID-19 cases.
Clemson (-33½) over WAKE FOREST: If there’s one team that should be immune from the effects of a chaotic offseason it’s the top-ranked team in the country. Coming off his only college loss, Trevor Lawrence will lead the Tigers to their 12th straight win in the series. The past two have come by an average of 54.5 points.
SOUTH ALABAMA (+7½) over Tulane: After spending their entire existence playing home games nine miles from their Mobile, Ala., campus, the Jaguars open the nearly $80 million Hancock Whitney Stadium, following a season-opening road win at Southern Mississippi. The 25 percent attendance limit doesn’t hurt as much when capacity is only 25,000.
LOUISVILLE (-11¹/₂) over Western Kentucky: Doak Walker Award candidate Gaej Walker was limited to 41 yards on 14 carries in a 38-21 loss to Louisville last year. The Hilltoppers are in for another long day in the trenches.
Utep (+42¹/₂) over TEXAS: Even if Tom Herman propels the Longhorns back to prominence in his fourth year, the talented team isn’t likely to be at its best right off the bat. In two of three season openers at Texas, Herman’s team has suffered upsets.
KANSAS (-6¹/₂) over Coastal Carolina: Last year, the Jayhawks opened with a 12-7 loss to the Chanticleers. Should it happen again, Kansas should be subject to relegation.
Best bets: Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Notre Dame
2014-19 record: 772-756-13
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