Scully's Week 1 NCAAF picks: Uiagalelei will set the tone for Clemson
Last year was hectic and difficult to navigate, but the 2021 college football season will kick off with a sense of order, and I couldn’t be more excited.
Week 1 features a strong slate, including five games between teams ranked in the top 25, and none is bigger than Clemson's matchup with Georgia.
The top 5 showdown is one of three games I will preview.
Clemson vs. Georgia, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Sat, September 4 2021, 11:30 PM
In a matchup of terrific defenses, Saturday’s game will come down to quarterback play, and Clemson’s D.J. Uiagalelei will be the difference.
In two starts as a true freshman last year, Uiagalelei led Clemson back from an 18-point deficit against Boston College and threw for 439 yards at No. 4 Notre Dame.
His talented weapons include Justyn Ross, who is ready to roll after a lengthy absence, and Uiagalelei can make rivals pay by scrambling out of the pocket when pressured.
Uiagalelei is the total package, and he will set the tone for his Heisman candidacy in the opener.
JT Daniels, who is in his second season with Georgia, after a transfer from USC, also played well in limited time last season. He led the Bulldogs to a comeback win over Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl, but he won’t be flinging it all over the field like Uiagalelei. Georgia will continue to rely heavily on the ground game, which is very deep, in offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s second season.
After it ranked only 77th in total offense (424.1 yards per game) last season, Georgia should be more dynamic in 2021. The offensive line is arguably the best in the nation, but the receiving ranks have thinned, with the loss projected starters George Pickens (knee) and Arik Gilbert (personal reasons) during the offseason.
Georgia may wind up with a sizable advantage in rushing yards, and Daniels will stretch the field at times with his strong arm. However, Clemson remains formidable defensively (nine returning starters).
Clemson eventually will have too much firepower and edge away in the second half to cover.
NCAAF pick: Clemson -3
LSU vs. UCLA, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET
Sun, September 5 2021, 12:30 AM
With Chip Kelly’s system in place and playmakers all over the field, UCLA may be ready to take a leap forward in 2021, but LSU will provide an early season class check at home.
Twenty returning starters have provided a reason for optimism at UCLA, but the X factor is Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet, who put up 106 rushing yards and three touchdowns on six carries against overmatched Hawaii last week.
It didn’t work out for the five-star recruit in Ann Arbor, but Kelly’s system is built for Charbonnet to thrive. He has another favorable matchup against a suspect LSU defense, which allowed a school-record 34.9 points per game last year.
UCLA’s high-paced attack presents major problems for an LSU defense that will break in new faces, and the Tigers lost starting quarterback Myles Brennan to a broken arm in August. Replacement Max Johnson saw the field last year, but he was third on the depth chart before TJ Finley transferred to Auburn after spring practice.
To further complicate matters, Hurricane Ida interrupted recent preparations, which sent LSU to Houston to practice.
UCLA will make an early season statement and defeat LSU straight up.
NCAAF pick: UCLA +2.5
Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Texas, Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
Sat, September 4 2021, 8:30 PM
The line has dropped significantly, but it’s still too high. The Longhorns should be on upset alert in their first game under Steve Sarkisian, their third coach in six years.
The new quarterbacks (starter Hudson Card and Casey Thompson) are expected to split snaps in the opener, and Texas has playmakers on offense. However, the Longhorns must replace four of their top five tacklers from a defense that allowed 28.4 points (60th nationally) and 265.8 passing yards (106th) per game.
Billy Napier has built quite the program for his fourth season at Louisiana-Lafayette.
After they finished ranked 15th nationally, with a 10-1 record, the Ragin’ Cajuns will bring back nearly their entire squad, including all five starters and several backups from a highly ranked offensive line that allowed only five tackles for a loss in 2020.
Along with plenty of offense, Louisiana-Lafayette’s takeaway-prone defense should not be underrated. The secondary has a couple NFL prospects, and the Ragin' Cajuns are big up front.
The points are attractive in what should be a close game.
NCAAF pick: Louisiana-Lafayette +8.5