Past season openers for which I’ve been at the helm of Off Tackle Empire have been exhausting and overwhelming—you have seven Closing Arguments just randomly being finished on the last day of the summer as you’re trying to put out Final Record Predictions and also Power Poll and hey look Infographics and everything else.
And yet, for some reason, I’ve been at peace with it all.
Maybe I don’t care anymore. Maybe it’s because RockyMtnBlue, absolute stud that he is, is now handling all the nitty-gritty of the picks and leaving me to bore you with my words.
Oh fuck, there are already 3200 words in this picks piece and I haven’t entered mine?! Better get to it.
All times CDT because
reasons shut up RMB it’s because it’s God’s Time Zone.
Thursday, Sept 2
POSTPONED: Date, Time, TV TBD | Rutgers -14.5 | O/U 51.5
Straight-Up: Rutgers, 12-1
Against the Spread: Temple, 7-6
RockyMtnBlue: I believe in you, Rutgers! (but not enough to give the points)
Thumpasaurus: I think Temple might not be very good? Rod Carey’s NIU legacy is...complicated. Temple went 1-6 last year, and I don’t think it’s safe to assume they’re Matt Rhule Temple anymore. I expect more competence from The ‘Gers this year.
Kind of: First thought: Temple’s probably good enough to hang around. Second thought: Schiano will probably put the pedal down if he can. 34-17 sounds about right.
MaximumSam: I have a hard time getting too excited about Rutgers, given their general ineptitude. But Schiano has them moving, and they have another year in their offensive system. So...Rutgers beats the spread?
BuffKomodo: How improved are the ‘gers? I guess we’ll find out soon enough. After that dipsy-doo-dunker-forward pass last year, I’ve gained respect for you guys. I’m taking you guys to win and cover. Don’t mess it up.
BRT: I’m going to go with Rutgers— I can’t believe in my own team anymore, so now I’m picking Rutgers. Ohhhhh, this is bad.
misdreavus79: Rutgers looked relatively competent last season under Greg Schiano’s second go-around, and Temple looked, well, not that. Two touchdowns and a half is a lot, but these are not Matt Rhule’s Temple Owls (they’re not even Al Golden’s Owls).
MNW: They’ll always be Steve Addazio’s Owls to me.
Welcome, misdreavus! It only feels appropriate that the first game you have to pick as an OTE writer is Rutgers-Temple. It doesn’t get any better from here.
Temple brings in Ra’Von Bonner from Illinois and a big transfer QB from Georgia (he’s like 6’6”) as part of an offensive attack that’s running behind an experienced O-line, so we’ll find out really damn fast how good the Knights’ rush defense is. Corner Cam Ruiz is a Northwestern transfer for the Owls who I’m hoping sees time, too. Temple doesn’t have the defensive pieces to hang, Rutgers pounds out an ugly one. Knights, 21-13.
This poll is closed
Rutgers wins, Temple covers
7:00pm | FOX | Ohio State -14.5 | O/U 64.5
Straight-Up: Do you really need to ask?
Against the Spread: Ohio State, 9-4
RockyMtnBlue: Last year Minnesota opened the season at home against a terrible Michigan team and got routed. What do you suppose happens to them this year against Ohio State?
Thumpasaurus: 14.5? Holy shit, thanks for the free money. Ohio State rolls.
Kind of...: Fine, I’ll give Minnesota a chance to make me look stupid, but there’s a lot of offensive talent coming back for the Gophers. Any early-season hiccups for OSU, and Minnesota can stay in contact. OSU never in danger of losing, but won’t breathe easy until late TD.
MaximumSam: I tend to think Minnesota will be kind of good this year. They have a strong line, a great back, and good quarterback, the defense should be better. They are at home. This has all the makings of a fits and starts game where both teams struggle to look right. OSU probably wins in the end, but I don’t feel confident they will beat the spread.
Buffkomodo: I basically believe that I must choose Ohio State to violate every team they play until October 23 and we have an unbeaten showdown in Bloomington. Also, if Minnesota gets creamed, I feel a little better knowing that, at worst, we have a game in the back half we can win at home. It’s a win/win for my mental state. That said, I will salute you if you manage to bullseye a womprat in your T-16. May the odds be ever in your favor.
BRT: This seems like a really weird line. I suppose it’s possible that OSU comes out lethargic, but I’ll be very surprised if Minnesota can keep it that close.
misdreavus79: Ohio State is winning every Big Ten game until proven otherwise. That said, a Minnesota team that returns almost everyone, on the road, is probably not the most ideal of opponents for your brand new quarterback to start the season with.
MNW: Holy shit, I took Minnesota against a 14.5-point line? Only explanation is that I believe in the Gophers’ offensive line.
Nah, can’t be that. Vegas just suckered me with that hook. Shit. Buckeyes, 38-24.
This poll is closed
Gophers cover Nuts
Gophers beat Nuts
This was all a mistake
Friday, Sept 3
8:00pm | ESPN | Northwestern -3.5 | O/U 44.5
Straight-Up: Northwestern, 8-5
Against the Spread: Michigan State, 9-4
RockyMtnBlue: MSU was pretty terrible last year. The Purple Nerds won their division. The game is in Evanston. Logic suggests this is an easy pick for the kitties. Logic is overrated. MSU wins this game because that’s what will make me sad.
Thumpasaurus: MSU was pretty terrible last year. The Purple Nerds won their division. The game is in Evanston. Should be an easy pick for the cats, right? MSU wins this game because most Northwestern games are unmoored from our earthly concepts of reason and logic, but this is especially true of their games against Michigan State.
Kind of...: Purple Nerds? Heh. Can we shorten that? Purds? Perd! Perd Hapley! Aw, now I’m happy. Sparty outright.
MaximumSam: I won’t believe in Sparty until I see it. Northwestern by 10.
Buffkomodo: Dear god. I picked Northwestern to win and Sparty to cover on 3.5. Sparty was bad last year, but they managed to beat the division champs of the west. It’s at Northwestern, and Peyton Ramsey isn’t playing anymore. I guess go Sparty?
BRT: Ew. Well, let’s hope that for Sparty’s sake, they’re looking a bit more alive to start the season than they were last year.
misdreavus79: It’ll be interesting to see if “conference game Northwestern” overpowers “early season Northwestern.” As per Michigan State, I mean, they’re a brand new team at this point, so your guess is as good as mine.
MNW: I won’t and you can’t make me.
...fine. I don’t know whether it’ll be Payton Thorne’s rock-hard nipples or gun-slinging former Temple Tuff Man Anthony Russo throwing the ball, but I don’t trust a retooled Northwestern defensive line to get up to speed quickly enough in the first game—ready for you to prove me wrong, Samdup Miller.
On the offensive side, I mean...who the fuck is left? I had planned on a Ryan Hilinski-to-J.J. Jefferson pitch-and-catch connection, and instead Hunter Johnson is throwing the ball to Bryce Kirtz, Berkeley Holman, or Kansas transfer Stephen Robinson, Jr.
A KANSAS TRANSFER, YOU GUYS.
This poll is closed
This poll is closed
Saturday, Sept 4
11:00am | BTN | Nebraska -42.5 | O/U No Line 55.5
Straight-Up: Nebraska, 12-1
Against the Spread: Fordham, 9-4
RockyMtnBlue: I thought about it and really jNebby wasn’t as bad as it seemed last week. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t good. But they had only 5 penalties and one turnover on the road in the first game of the season. I think they were more unlucky than bad. They’ll be better in week 2 with anger to work out.
Thumpasaurus: Nebraska was confused by a 4 man front on Saturday. Damn near half of the rushing yards for Nebarkas were gained on the one big blown assignment Illinois had.
That being said, Adrian Martinez might find himself more at home in a level of competition more suited to his talents: playing Patriot League teams. If I lived with Scott Frost, I wouldn’t trust him to do the dishes. That’s an awfully big spread.
What I know for sure is that nobody will be happy.
Kind of...: Nebraska isn’t good, but they’re not 0-12 bad, either. And even if Fordham was coached by an advanced AI robot who knew just what front to run against Scott Frost, it won’t matter.
HWAHSQB: I don’t really think Nebby will lose, but I also feel a little dumb about picking them in the Survivor Pool so I’m hedging my bets here. Plus, I would absolutely love the Frosty presser if they did lose.
Buffkomodo: Nice opening schedule for Scott Frost to schedule three
wins games before getting a chance to knock off get killed by Oklahoma. Hopefully it’s win number 1 on the board. Because if it’s not, might just start packing Scotty.
BRT: I did the optimism thing last week, so we’re over that now. Well, not completely - I couldn’t quite bring myself to pick Fordham. But as Thump says, it’s hard to envision a way this game ends that makes me feel encouraged about where things are at. I think the best thing about this game is that it’s supposed to be a lovely morning on Saturday. So it’s got that going for it.
misdreavus79: You don’t think Nebraska’s going to take out their frustrations on Fordham on Saturday? Yeah 42 points might be too low.
MNW: That Fordham logo:
Cover the 42.5?
This poll is closed
11:00am | FOX | Wisconsin - 5.5 | O/U 50.5
Straight-Up: Wisconsin, 7-6
Against the Spread: Penn State, 9-4
RockyMtnBlue: This could be the best game in the conference this year. PSU keeps it close, but Madison is a tough place to win as a visitor.
Thumpasaurus: Shaky 2020 seasons for ordinarily steady programs leave some questions, but Penn State has some more. They’re certainly the more volatile of the teams here, and with the Badgers at home, I like them by 7-10.
Kind of...: Vegas is giving enough that they seem to think UW is the better team overall. Okay. Fine. I won’t over-analyze this and think about reverse jinxes or anything. Nope. Time to move on. Next game.
MaximumSam: So excited for this game. I’m a believer in the Badgers, and at home I think they get the win...by four.
BuffKomodo: Penn State shouldn’t be as bad as they were last year. Wisconsin should be...better? If they’re the same, Penn State rolls. Wiscy was pretty mediocre last year to be honest. Hopefully that offense fixed itself over the summer.
BRT: This is an intriguing game. If I don’t head to Memorial Stadium, I have a guess I’ll switch over to this one at some point.
misdreavus79: Neither of these teams winning a close one says much about them, or the rest of their seasons. If one of them manages to blow out the other, however, the loser is going to be in for a world of hurt (or maybe the winner is really good). How’s that for non-commitment?
MNW: Everything in my head says “Take Penn State”. Better quarterback, better running back, better coach...
...but it’s just gonna be the same Camp Randall shit as ever. Fuck I hate this. Badgers, 27-24.
This poll is closed
badgers win, do not cover
11:00am | ESPN | Michigan -16.5 | O/U 67
Straight-Up: Michigan, 12-1
Against the Spread: Michigan, 9-4
RockyMtnBlue: I’ve determined in my advancing years that life is short and I shouldn’t inject stress into it when unnecessary. So years ago I adopted the policy that I only watch Michigan football live if I’m fairly confident we’ll win*. This year the list of games I’m planning on watching is:
1. Northern Illinois
On a related note, WMU at +600 is a great value bet if you’re into that sort of thing.
*like the MSU game last year. /sigh
Thumpasaurus: Jim Harbaugh is worlds better than Scott Frost. His worst loss at Michigan (2020 MSU) is still to a Big Ten team. It would be hilarious, but it would be absolutely stunning if Michigan lost this game. This version of Western, helmed by former QB Tim Lester, is pretty reminiscent of Bill Cubit WMU, which means if you’re the kind of Big Ten team destined for Detroit, they’ll move the ball and make you sweat. Michigan has too much talent in the secondary to be torched by the Broncos passing attack, and they should be able to simply bowl them over on offense.
Kind of...: Harbaugh sounded insane from 2015-2018 and comatose the last two years. Sounds relatively normal recently, and there’s talent. I’ll take Michigan. [Apropos of nothing, I remember Tim Lester as WMU QB. Run away before I ramble much further.]
MaximumSam: Western Michigan actually finished higher than Michigan in the fancystats last year. WMU returns a ton. Michigan is figuring things out. Good chance WMU covers here.
BuffKomodo: I mean....Michigan has to win...don’t they? Like literally every game is a must win. So...it’s a win here?
BRT: I think that Michigan wins this one, fires up the “Well, maybe Harbaugh can do it...” train again, before it derails.
misdreavus79: I won’t claim to know the intricate details of Western Michigan’s roster slash coaching situations, but they did go 4-2 last season, so maybe they won’t be a pushover? That said, I think Michigan should still be able to win comfortably.
MNW: Mentally I’ve made Michigan under Harbaugh into a spread-covering non-conference juggernaut, except...that’s not true at all. Granted, most lines (2019 Middle Tennessee, to wit, at -36) were also a lot bigger than I remember them being, so what do I know?
...no, I’m seriously asking. Michigan, 41-21.
This poll is closed
Win, no cover
NOT ROW THE BOAT BUT, UH, BRONCO UP OR SOMETHING
2:30pm | BTN | Iowa -3.5 | O/U 44.5
Straight-Up: Indiana, 9-4
Against the Spread: Indiana, 9-4
RockyMtnBlue: I seriously don’t know how to go with this one. I’m terrified of Kinnick but Iowa frequently sucks early in the year. What the hell, UPSET CITY.
Thumpasaurus: It’s 2021 and nothing will fundamentally change. Iowa wins because we can’t have fun.
Kind of...: I was Iowa right up until about 5 minutes ago. Indiana’s defense is for real, and I can see them creating issues for the Hawkeyes. And it’s not really a B1G season unless Iowa fans are second-guessing their experienced, but uninspiring, QB, right?
MaximumSam: Tough pick. It’s at Kinnick - Iowa should roll. It’s early season Iowa, who could suck. Call this one a pick’em for me.
BuffKomodo: I signed up to be an Indiana writer/hype man, not to give an unbiased opinion of what I think will happen. Until #9Windiana is out of the cards, I will continue to hype up what should be the best football season in school history. You want that unbiased shit, go check out ESPN.
The defense is tough. The offense is erect. I made a picture of Chuck kicking stupid head Gary Barta’s face. I’ve been waiting 9 months for redemption since that Ole Miss loss. I got the Hoosiers sending a big statement against a good Iowa team that historically stumbles early. Go Hoosiers!
BRT: I think Iowa will win. But I still picked Indiana, because I’m hoping for the best. Stupid, silly, hope.
misdreavus79: Iowa should win. The question is who will be scoring the safety that will lead to the Iowa-like scores we’re used to seeing.
MNW: Someday Michael Penix will prove wrong my hot take that he’s not a very good quarterback, and I eagerly look forward to that day. It will not come in Kinnick Stadium in front of a horde of unmasked inbreds braying for blood to atone for the fact that they spent all of 2020 not learning a single goddamn lesson.
Anywho, Penix gets roughed around a bit by a Kirk Ferentz/Phil Parker defense, no one has any fun at all. Hawkeyes, 19-10.
This poll is closed
2:30pm | ESPN | WVU -2.5 | O/U 57.5
Straight-Up: West Virginia, 9-4
Against the Spread: West Virginia, 9-4
RockyMtnBlue: This isn’t the first time Maryland has been a home dog to a mediocre big12 team. Do what you do, Terps!
Thumpasaurus: West By God is quietly a solid defensive team under Neal Brown. This team wants to control the clock, keep everything in front of them and play mistake free football. It’s the polar opposite of Mike Locksley and Ron Zook.
2008 Illinois went 5-7. ‘Neers win.
Kind of...: Neal Brown is the better coach, but Maryland has talent and is at home. I’m taking the Terps.
MaximumSam: On paper I like Maryland a lot. Then I see Mike Locksley and throw the paper in the trash. WVU by 7.
BuffKomodo: Rocky road...take me home...were the Terps...fake all along? All I ever hear is Maryland is so much better now, and every year they go 5-7, 4-8. Or they win 2 games against poorly judged opponents, get ranked, and face plant. They should be a 6-6 or better team this year. Do something about it Terps. I’m picking WVU out of spite.
BRT: I know nothing about Maryland, and am certain I didn’t watch a single game featuring them last year. Same goes for West Virginia. Maryland finished low on the Power Poll this week, so I’m translating that into a loss for them. Sorry Terps.
misdreavus79: Early non-conference game against an opponent from a power 5 conference? Maryland rolls.
MNW: I love you for doing all this, RMB, but I also love when you forget to click out of the cell before screenshotting the picks. Mountaineers, 34-28.
This poll is closed
6:00pm | FS1 | Purdue -7.5 | O/U 67.5
Straight-Up: Purdue, 11-2
Against the Spread: Oregon State, 10-3
RockyMtnBlue: OSU is bad at football. (Not that OSU. Not that OSU, either.) Purdue can’t possibly lose this game, right?
Thumpasaurus: Did you know Oregon State scored 21 or more in all 7 of their games last year? They also produced Jake Luton and Jermar Jefferson in recent years. Oregon State is actually a pretty fun offensive team. This game ought to be an absolute blast to watch. There’s a reason that O/U is so high. I’m gonna go against conventional wisdom here and go with the Beavs...because so far, brilliant playcallers that were great at G5 schools but have been on the wrong trajectory in the B1G are 0-1 this year.
Kind of...: Can’t follow Thump into taking the upset, but his analysis is spot on. [I really liked Jake Luton...he started an NFL game last year! Yes, for the Jags. Still.] This game screams 37-35 (there’s gotta be a missed PAT somewhere, right?), at a minimum. Let’s give Purdue a last possession win.
MaximumSam: I have completely lost faith in any sort of Purdue consistency. Oregon State ain’t great, but they will come in a put up a fight, and all I see is Purdue missing a field goal that wins them the game.
BuffKomodo: This feels like a game Purdue should win, but they usually lose. If they can’t beat a bad Oregon State team that is coming 3 time zones over (checks math again...yeah....it’s 3), then it’s gonna be a long season. I pick Purdue to win, but do something dumb and end up having the Beavers cover.
BRT: Is that really OSU’s logo? That’s... just awful. Wow. Makes Wisconsin’s WordArt look inspired. I think Purdue wins, but in an excessively stupid, stressful fashion.
misdreavus79: Oregon State is no longer the dumpster fire that it had been for quite a while, but Purdue should be able to win with relative ease.
MNW: Number one, BRT, how DARE you.
Number two, outside of knowing that Jonathan Smith coaches the Beavs, I have nothing here. I don’t trust Purdue in the slightest, but “at home” and “after dark” is enough for me to believe in a little Boilermagic. Purdue, 41-34.
This poll is closed
TRAIN WINS BY A LITTLE
BEAVER STOPS TRAIN
6:30pm | BTN | Illinois -5.5 | O/U 50.5
Straight-Up: Illinois, 11-2
Against the Spread: Illinois, 9-4
RockyMtnBlue: Great game for the Fighting Berts last week. The competition steps up this week, so they’ll have to step up with it. But it’s week 2 for Illinois and week 1 for UTSA so I have faith.
Thumpasaurus: I am much more worried about the Roadrunner rushing attack than Nebarkas. For one, Jeff Traylor has had a winning season at UTSA, and I think he might prepare for a 4-man front. More importantly, Sincere McCormick is the truth at RB, and they might have just enough juice in the passing game to keep the Illini guessing.
A loss is certainly possible, and I’d expect this one to be back and forth. UTSA’s defense doesn’t scare me, so it’s probably going to be a matter of mistakes and special teams. We have the best player in the country at punter, so a clean game should yield a victory.
HWAHSQB: Against Nebarkas, we saw the resistable rise of Artur Sitkowskui. But can we really expect to see that again? We all had big laughs about how every QB looked like a Heisman candidate against Lovie’s D, but maybe they aren’t the only team turning cromulent into competent. Consider that Brandon Peters completed 72% of his passes against Nebraska last year and in the other five games.....38% Given that Art completed 80% against Nebraska, I’m guessing he completes about 42% against everyone else. Womp, womp!
Kind of...: Nice game for Art, but it’s pretty clear Bert doesn’t want games riding on his shoulders. Love the under (but I’m a moron) and will take Illinois, but not by much. 24-20?
BuffKomodo: Illinois is a feel good story. I believe in you little buddies! Win this one, and you’re 1⁄3 the way to a bowl! Go you!
BRT: 2-0 Illinois, coming right up. Sigh.
misdreavus79: I know nothing about UTSA so I’ll believe everyone who keeps saying this game won’t get out of hand by midway in the second.
MNW: Thump’s not even joking about the Blake Hayes Effect, and after last week I can’t argue anymore. Even though punting’s winning, Illinois’s punting...like, damn, man.
Sincere McCormick faces some even-man fronts, the Illini hold UTSA in check, and Art Sitkowski doesn’t need to win this game with his arm. Illini, 30-17.
This poll is closed
Illini win, don’t cover
MEEP MEEP, BITCHES
That’s what we’ve got for you. Thanks for reading. Leave your picks in the comments.