David Manion’s College Football Week 1 Predictions


We are on the brink of one of the greatest opening weekends in the history of college football. This is as good of a time as any to get my predictions started. My friends at Impact know that I have a knack for supporting the underdog and making some of the craziest predictions you will ever see. Unlike my buddies, I will be able to turn you guys into believers. Anyways, let’s get to work.

No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 15 Houston–NRG Stadium, 12 p.m. ET Saturday, ABC:

Oklahoma key players: QB Baker Mayfield, RB Samaje Perine, CB Jordan Thomas

Oklahoma is determined to reclaim a spot in the College Football Playoff after losing to Clemson in last year’s semifinals. The high-powered offense that tallied 43.5 points per game makes an encore with gunslinger Baker Mayfield at the helm, accompanied by shifty Samaje Perine at tailback.

The Sooners secondary will be the focal point of the defense, headlined by Jordan Thomas.

Houston key players: QB Greg Ward, WR Chance Allen, LB Steven Taylor

Don’t sleep on Houston. The Cougars are flying high with momentum after upsetting Florida State in the Peach Bowl, 38-24. Alongside Deshaun Watson of Clemson, senior dual-threat quarterback Greg Ward was the other quarterback who exceeded 2,500 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards last season. Ward’s go-to guy is the do-it-all senior Chance Allen.

The Cougars may have to rebuild their entire backfield, but they are stacked at linebacker behind the senior trio of Steven Taylor, Tyus Bowser and Brandon Wilson.

Why No. 3 Oklahoma wins:

Oklahoma defensive end Charles Walker and company slow down Ward on the ground while the Mayfield-to-DeDe Westbrook combo torches the Cougars’ vulnerable secondary through the air. Houston’s passing game will be on point with Allen rising to the occasion. The Sooners will triumph because they will overpower Houston at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

No. 18 Georgia vs. No. 22 North Carolina–Georgia Dome, 5:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN:

Georgia key players: QB Greyson Lambert, RB Nick Chubb, FS Dominick Sanders

The Bulldogs, winners of the TaxSlayer Bowl, have one of the best offensive lines in the country. They will be heavily relied on to protect senior quarterback Greyson Lambert and to open running lanes for the junior tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.

UGA was the best in the business in pass defense last season, yielding only 1,753 yards while collecting more picks (11) than yielding touchdowns (nine). Senior Dominick Sanders is the face of the deep defensive backfield that returns all but one starter.

North Carolina key players: RB Elijah Hood, WR Mack Hollins, CB MJ Stewart

UNC will be looking to rebound after an atrocious performance (surrendered 645 rushing yards) to Baylor in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Elijah Hood is a workhorse at running back. On top of that, 6-foot-4 Mack Hollins and 6-foot-5 Bug Howard are dangerous weapons that may cause problems for UGA’s smaller defensive backs.

Similar to the Bulldogs, the Tar Heels’ secondary is their greatest strength. The heart and soul of the defense revolves around MJ Stewart and Desmond Lawrence, who each had 14 swats.

Why No. 18 Georgia wins:

This one will come down to which front seven will stop the run first. The run defense woes for UNC will continue, however, as Chubb will gobble them up. The Tar Heels will have an answer as well, leaning on Hood to carve up the Dawgs’ inexperienced front seven. But UGA’s linebackers will strike first, forcing new quarterback Mitch Trubisky to irk the daunting secondary.

No. 11 Ole Miss vs. No. 4 Florida State–Florida Citrus Bowl, 8 p.m. ET Monday, ESPN:

Ole Miss key players: QB Chad Kelly, DE Marquis Haynes, CB Tony Bridges

Ole Miss sent out its seniors on a high note, downing No. 13 Oklahoma State 48-20 in the Sugar Bowl. Now, the Rebels are aiming to reach the CFP. And why not? They have been the only regular season team to take down reigning national champion Alabama in back-to-back seasons.

It’s all on the arm of standout quarterback Chad Kelly to guide the Rebels to the CFP. He’s an elite quarterback who has pinpoint accuracy and is a tremendous decision maker.

The defense consists of several playmakers that will keep Ole Miss in the game. Marquis Haynes will anchor the D-line while Tony Bridges will be patrolling the backfield.

Florida State key players: RB Dalvin Cook, DE DeMarcus Walker, SS Derwin James

Florida State is out for blood after being upset by Houston in the Peach Bowl. They return a whopping 11 starters on offense alone. The stout offensive line will often get a great push to keep the ground game humming. Dalvin Cook has been the talk of the town for the Heisman.

The sturdy defense is back and better than ever, most notably DeMarcus Walker and Josh Sweat leading the charge on the defensive line. Safety Derwin James will prevent big plays downfield and help out in run support.

Why No. 4 Florida State wins:

There is a lot of concern regarding Mississippi’s thin offensive line. FSU’s Walker and crew will exploit the mismatches and apply constant pressure. This will force the Rebels to be one-dimensional with the pass-happy Kelly. Ole Miss will be too overwhelmed to attempt to shut down Cook, and Florida State will get the W because of their success off of play action passes.  

Upset Special: No. 20 USC vs. No. 1 Alabama–AT&T Stadium, 8:00 p.m. ET Saturday, ABC:

USC key players: RB Ronald Jones, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR/CB Adoree’ Jackson

Expert Phil Steele claimed USC’s offensive line to be the finest in the nation. The big boys will boost a downhill rushing attack for Ronald Jones (6.5 yard average). New starting quarterback Max Browne will scout for his popular target, JuJu Smith-Schuster.

The Trojans have a nice supporting cast on defense. Adoree Jackson is arguably the best athlete nationwide. His versatility has allowed him to play at wideout and cornerback.

Alabama key players: WR Calvin Ridley, DE Jonathan Allen, SS Eddie Jackson

Coming off of their fourth national title in the Nick Saban era, the Tide look to keep on rolling. Alabama doesn’t rebuild; they reload. The running game will break through with Bo Scarbrough. Receiver sensation Calvin Ridley will help quarterback Cooper Bateman settle into his role.

Eddie Jackson is the head honcho of the brilliant defensive backfield, while Jonathan Allen along with Tim Williams will constantly create nightmares for the opposing quarterbacks.

Why No. 20 USC wins:

The Alabama defense won’t have a solution for USC’s juggernaut offense. The Trojans will counter Bama’s pressure with several quick passes. Jones must earn moderate gains on early downs for the Trojans in order to have manageable third down situations. The top-notch offensive line will pave the way to victory.

Bonus Round: No. 5 LSU vs. Wisconsin–Lambeau Field, 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ABC:

LSU and Wisconsin are ready to square off in Round Two at Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers. The Badgers are currently on a two-game skid against SEC squads, including their late-game collapse to LSU in 2014. Will UW achieve vengeance?

Wisconsin key players: RB Corey Clement, LB Vince Biegel, LB TJ Edwards

Wisconsin bested USC 23-21 in the Holiday Bowl and looks to upgrade to a New Year’s Six bowl this season. The Badgers will ground and pound with the dynamic duo of Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale. They need to be on their A-game to have a chance to pull off the upset.

There’s a reason why the Badgers finished second nationally in total defense. The linebacker trio of Vince Biegel, TJ Edwards, and Jack Cichy will anchor the feared linebacking corps.

LSU key players: RB Leonard Fournette, DE Lewis Neal, SS Jamal Adams

LSU returns 17 members that contributed in the 56-27 drubbing of Texas Tech in the Texas Bowl. Heisman candidate Leonard Fournette will engineer the lethal offense. A stable offensive line will give senior quarterback Brandon Harris time to locate his favorite pair of targets in Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre.  

The secondary is definitely up on the list with Georgia. All-American Jamal Adams is the ballhawk of this group, while Tre’Davious White is the Tigers’ best cover corner. The defensive line will once again be scary good behind the strength of Lewis Neal.

Why No. 5 LSU wins:

LSU will give UW a taste of their own medicine by dominating in the battle of the trenches. The Tigers will be able to dictate the tempo with their balanced approach, keeping the well-rested defense satisfied on the sideline. The Badgers’ shallow play calling will make things easier for former UW and current LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, as he will stack the box and force Bart Houston to win with his arm. The Tigers’ abundant number of veterans will give them the leg up in the second half, as they will outhustle and outwork the Badgers to a win on opening weekend.