Jim McElwain is under a lot of pressure at the beginning of his third season. He has to deal with the pressure of starting quarterback Feleipe Franks, a redshirt freshman who’s never thrown a pass in a college football game. He also has to deal with the pressure of going up against Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines without his star running back, Jordan Scarlett, and star receiver, Antonio Callaway, who have been suspended for disciplinary issues.
But all of that is nothing compared to the pressure of the alligatorSports picks column, which makes its 2017 return today.
Eight Gators writers will pick eight games — some relevant, some less relevant — against the spread and see who comes out on top.
Before we meet our competitors for this season, writers Dylan Dixon and Matt Brannon will debate the much-anticipated matchup between Coastal Carolina and UMass 7 p.m. Saturday on ESPN3.
Coastal Carolina (+2.5) will win because…
The Chanticleers were almost perfect in 2016, notching a 10-2 record with both losses coming by only one point.
A promotion to the FBS this fall will likely keep them from repeating that success again this year, but Saturday’s season opener against Massachusetts shouldn’t be much of an issue.
Senior wide receiver Chris Jones is back in Conway, South Carolina, for one final season at CCU looking to build off his career stat line of 62 receptions, 1,024 yards and six touchdowns.
Given the fact that he’s going up against a UMass defense that ranked 106th out of 128 FBS teams at defending the pass last season, expect Jones to have a field day.
The Chanticleers also possess one of the best names in all of college football in their starting running back, Osharmar Abercrombie. Abercrombie, a 5-foot-9, 210 pound senior, is unproven averaging only 6.4 carries per game over the course of his career.
But after finally earning a starting role this fall, Osharmar is ready to show the world what he’s made of. Look for the speedy runner to cut through the Minutemen defense like butter this Saturday on the way to a decisive Chanticleer victory.
- Dylan Dixon
UMass (-2.5) will win because…
The Minutemen already have their first regular-season game under their belt. While they lost their season opener to Hawaii this past Saturday, they played well enough to hold a lead over a solid Division I team and only lost because of a fourth-quarter comeback. UMass’s offense also has a chance to shred Coastal Carolina’s defense with the help of star tight end Adam Breneman. Against Hawaii, Breneman had nine receptions for 179 yards, the third best game of any tight end in school history.
Does anyone really think UMass will have a harder time against Coastal Carolina? No way. If you’re forgetting how formidable UMass is, take a look at their first game from 2016. The Minutemen played the Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, one of the most hostile environments in college sports, and were only down by three points going into the fourth quarter against one of the nation’s best defenses.
UMass may have gone on to lose, and finish their season with a 2-10 record, but they fought tooth and nail against top-tier opponents in the process. They scored 35 points in a loss to Mississippi State, another formidable SEC school, and South Carolina only beat UMass by six points a few weeks later. And Dylan’s picking them against the Chanticleers? Come on, Dylan. I know you don’t know what a chanticleer is. You know how long Coastal Carolina will last against the Minutemen? About a minute, man.
- Matt Brannon
Now, onto the picks!
First up is sports editor Matt “Lover of all things folk music“ Brannon, who proudly wrote that Old Crow Medicine Show is his favorite band in a recent discussion post for his sports management class. We like you Matt (most of the time), so we’ll let that one slide. But for future reference, that’s probably a fact about yourself you should keep private if you want to make a good first impression on your classmates.
Second is the Alligator’s own Dylan “I spent hours researching old picks columns for ideas because I’m not creative” Dixon. Dylan started out the 2017 picks column by choosing a school that wasn’t even in the FBS last season. There’s that genius insight in action. Just like his genius habit of shutting down and re-opening Adobe InDesign every time he proofreads a story.
Next is staff writer Ethan “I wish I had a blue check mark next to my name“ Bauer, whose application to become verified on Twitter this summer was swiftly and emphatically rejected. Don’t worry Ethan. Keep your chin up. You can boost your self-worth in other ways, like trying not to finish dead last in our fantasy football league again this year.
After Ethan, we have staff writer Ian “Smells like matzo ball soup” Cohen, who doesn’t actually smell like matzo ball soup. He just frequently likes to remind everyone of his Jewish heritage, so we poke fun at his expense. He’s a good sport about it. You still bringing in latkes to the next Alligator staff meeting, Ian? We’re all counting on it.
Coming in fifth is the Orlando Sentinel’s Edgar “I’m terrified of tiny, white balls” Thompson, who nearly s--- his pants at a baseball game this summer when a line drive ricocheted up into the press box. Edgar, we know you’re still scarred from your days of middle school dodgeball, but that line drive landed one row and four seats away from you. Do us a favor next time and keep your shrieks of terror to yourself.
Next is Graham “I can’t be burned” Hall, who writes for the Gainesville Sun and writes out of therapeutic necessity. That’s right Graham, you can’t be burned. Just like how a pile of garbage can’t get dirty. If you didn’t know, Graham is a hardcore Cavaliers and Panthers fan despite not living near either city. “I have family from there,” he says. I didn’t realize that’s how sports fandom works. No wonder I was so happy Germany won the World Cup. I think one of my cousins lived there once. Come on Graham, that’s lazy. Just like your parents naming you after the dorm in which you were conceived.
Following Graham is Nick “My hat is surgically attached to my skull” de la Torre. Nick writes for GatorCountry, which is like the third-world equivalent of a normal Gators outlet. Much like someone from an actual third-world country, Nick was once gifted a $7 baseball cap and treats it like a senior citizen treats his life alert button. We get it Nick, you’re old.
Last, and without a doubt least, Thomas “All my questions are about drugs” Goldkamp, who writes for 247sports, the only site that requires reporters to upload a story every hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Thomas asked McElwain if wide receiver James Robinson will play Saturday despite a marijuana citation, and McElwain said something like “Of course he won’t, dummy.” A few days later he asked if running back Mark Thompson will play despite a similar citation, and McElwain said something like “Of course he will, dummy.” Geez Thomas, isn’t this stuff obvious?
Matt Brannon, Dylan Dixon, Ethan Bauer, Ian Cohen, Graham Hall, Nick de la Torre, Edgar Thompson and Thomas Goldkamp pick the winners of eight college football games.