And we’re back! Fans are back, non-conference schedules are back, college football at its best is back, and it is back with a bang. A huge slate of week one games ushers in the much anticipated 2021 season, and we couldn’t be more excited!
Of course, with a full season anticipated, our simulations and predictions will have something they did not last year: the benefit of side-by-side, real time comparison. We are excited for the challenge and for the added level of analysis this will open to us. But we should clarify one thing before we get started. Our prediction posts will be with respect to our simulated season, and therefore don’t necessarily apply to the actual games being played each week. That being said, you can expect plenty of analysis and comparison between our season and the real one!
With that out of the way, let’s get to the predictions!
Games of Note:
Boise State @ UCF
Scott- Two of the highest profile Group of 5 teams (and possible Big XII expansion candidates?) face off on Thursday night to set the tone for two brand new coaches. Andy Avalos takes his alma mater south to hot, humid Orlando to try to slow down the Gus Bus. I think the Knights’ talent and speed wills them past the Broncos. UCF 34, Boise State 31
Gavin– Coming off a shortened 2020 season which did not go the way they had planned, UCF will open this new season with renewed hopes. The first test will be a solid Boise State team with high expectations of their own. This game is poised nicely and I think it goes down to the wire. But UCF has the talent to get it done in the end. UCF 24, Boise State 23
#19 Penn State @ #12 Wisconsin
Scott- This is a massive game in the heartland as two teams are trying to bounce back from disappointing 2020 seasons. Penn State is looking for a huge step forward from Sean Clifford to try to improve their program’s trajectory back to where they want to be: contending for the Big Ten East. Graham Mertz is getting lots of hype as the Badgers’ QB1, and they are looking to return to the Big Ten title game as well. This game sure feels like it should be played in November, but Week 1 will serve as a major tone-setter for both programs. I like Wisky to break the Lions’ four game winning streak versus the Badgers. Wisconsin 27, Penn State 17
Gavin- It may only be week 1, but doesn’t it just feel like there is so much on the line here already. Not only are these teams looking to get off to a good start to the new season, but they are trying to keep from falling behind in the all important conference division races. Penn State needs no reminder of the importance of both of those things. Last season’s disastrous start doomed the Nittany Lions to a losing season for the first time under James Franklin. Wisconsin’s 2020 season was also a bit of a disappointment. Not only did Covid hit the Badgers hard, Wisconsin couldn’t put up points in the big games. The good news is that 2021 is a new season, and a chance for both these teams to put last year behind them. In such an important early-season matchup, I like the home team to come out on top. Wisconsin 28, Penn State 21
#1 Alabama vs. #14 Miami
Scott- The Tide defend their title in a familiar place. Alabama seems to be playing in one of the season-opening neutral-site showdowns every season. In Atlanta, I would have to imagine a massive showing for the Alabama faithful. Bryce Young has a pretty tough challenge in the Hurricane defense to start his college career. Miami is hoping Heisman contender D’Eriq King is back to full strength, because they will need a superhuman effort from him to try to pull this upset. I think Bama’s defense shuts down King and company and starts its title defense with a victory. Alabama 41, Miami 13
Gavin- Another year, another stacked Bama team. Will this be the time they can finally defend their title? I don’t know. What I do know is that a revamped Miami will feel like they are primed for a major upset on this wild opening week. Unfortunately for them, Alabama is still Alabama. Alabama 35, Miami 17
#17 Indiana @ #18 Iowa
Scott- Yet another Big Ten conference game to start off the season, and this time, it’s the Hoosiers, fresh off their fantastic 2020 season starting the season ranked for the first time since 1969! Iowa is much more familiar with the preseason poll, and has one of the nation’s top defenses to boot. Michael Penix against the Hawkeye defense will be the X-factor in this one. This game will have massive implications on the momentum for both teams going forward. I like the Hawks to hold their opponent under 25 for the 23rd consecutive game. Iowa 28, Indiana 14
Gavin- The Hoosier hype is as big as it’s been for an Indiana football team. But the Hawks have a really good team in Iowa City. The defense should once again be elite, and Tyler Goodson will lead a potential rushing attack. The one question mark for Iowa is the play of their second year starter at QB, Spencer Petras. The young QB was inconsistent at best last year, and how much improvement he has made over the off-season could be the difference between a BIG West title or just an average season for the Hawks. I like him to pass this early test. Iowa 34, Indiana 24
#23 Louisiana @ #21 Texas
Scott- This one has been hyped up all offseason as an upset special. Steve Sarkisian walks into a bit of a lose-lose situation. Yes, the mighty Longhorns should beat the Ragin’ Cajuns handily, albeit a ranked squad. So a potential victory may not look as impressive as it should. And a loss? Oh boy that would be deadly. Levi Lewis should keep Lafayette close, but I like the potential chemistry between highly-touted freshman Hudson Card and Sark. Texas picks up a much-needed victory to start off this regime. Texas 33, Louisiana 20
Gavin- There is a new coach in Austin, and he will want to get off to a fast start as he attempts to revive a program that has struggled of late. But a scrappy Louisiana team has proven to be tough to beat. No, they are not one of the SEC powerhouses Texas is so desperate to face, but the Cajuns should give Sarkisian a good game in his debut. I think Texas scores late to earn a much needed win. Texas 27, Louisiana 20
#5 Georgia vs. #3 Clemson
Scott- In an absolute massive showdown, two rivals go at it in what should be an unbelievable matchup. Is this finally the year for Kirby Smart and Georgia? It sure looks like it could be, but standing in the way is a massive test in Charlotte. Two elite defenses lead the charge for both squads and Dabo Swinney expects a much improved defense against Heisman hopeful JT Daniels. Freshman quarterback DJ Uiagalelei will have a massive test as well, as Clemson is reloading with their offensive weapons. These teams have played amazing matchups in the past, and I believe this one will be no different. I’ll take the Dawgs in a nail biter. Georgia 35, Clemson 31
Gavin- How often do we get to open up a season with a matchup like this? Both of these teams are popular playoff picks, and a win here will prove to be an important asset when we consider resumés at the end of the season. This game should be an instant classic. I give the edge to Dabo and the Tigers. Clemson 31, Georgia 24
#16 LSU @ UCLA
Scott- UCLA is already 1-0, but has quite a tougher test this week than the Rainbow Warriors of last week. In come the Tigers to Pasadena, who are looking for a much better 2021. The jury is still out on Coach O’s bunch, but they are ranked 16th for a reason, so there is some potential there. UCLA’s running back core of Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown should provide a challenge for the LSU front. Max Johnson is now the full time QB for the Bayou Bengals and this will be a quality road test. Regardless of what happens here, we should learn a lot about both teams. I like this one to go down to the wire, but I’ll take LSU. However, a UCLA win would do wonders for the Pac-12. LSU 38, UCLA 35
Gavin- LSU has a lot to prove following a disappointing rebuild year in 2020. They come into the season ranked 16th, and have a plethora of talent. This opening matchup will provide a solid early test for the Bayou Bengals. Slowing down UCLA’S rushing attack will be essential. I think LSU will find a way to do just that, and UCLA has no answer for LSU on the other side of the ball. LSU 38, UCLA 23
#9 Notre Dame @ Florida State
Scott- A 1990’s dream matchup, the Seminole fanbase is starving for a return to national relevance. A win against a top 10 Irish squad would help that cause for sure. Will it be McKenzie Milton or Jordan Travis for FSU at quarterback? I think Notre Dame’s defense will be an amazing challenge. ND will have Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan at the helm following Ian Book’s departure. Doak Campbell will be rocking for an insane environment Sunday night, but I believe Brian Kelly’s team makes a statement and reminds everyone they should not be forgotten about in this year’s playoff chase. Notre Dame 42, Florida State 17
Gavin- Could this be the year Florida State finally puts the pieces back together? Can Notre Dame get back to the top? Neither of these questions will be answered this weekend, but we can get an idea for how the season might go for each of these teams. While I am not a firm believer in the Irish, I also don’t think FSU is back. We’ll say Notre Dame takes it in a relatively close one.
Notre Dame 28, Florida State 20
Scott– Stanford vs. Kansas State
In a bit of an odd kickoff game at JerryWorld, two physical football teams face off in the Cardinal and the Wildcats. I think K-State has a pretty decent ceiling this year, led by running back Deuce Vaughn. I’m not too sure about Stanford’s identity this season and I’m not high on the program’s current direction. I like the Cats to outpace the Cardinal in a lower-scoring affair. Kansas State 27, Stanford 19
Gavin- West Virginia @ Maryland
Maryland could be a sneaky team this year. While they won’t make too much noise in a loaded BIG East division, Taulia Tagavailoa leads what I think has the potential to be a formidable offensive attack. Maryland 35, West Virginia 28