Tailgate Pick ‘Em is back this year with predictions for key matchups in the earliest part of the 2019 college football season. The season will kick off with a sunshine state clash between rivals of Florida vs Miami. We also have two other rivalry games on the slate, with Utah vs BYU, and Colorado vs Colorado State. Our panelists for the season are Steen Kirby, Lukas Weese, John Bava, and Yesh Ginsburg.
#8 Florida vs Miami (Saturday 8/24 in Orlando, FL)
Line: Florida by 7.5
Lukas: Florida’s defense is one of the best in the nation. They will get some takeaways off the Miami offense and win the field position battle. Florida 24, Miami 10
John: The past few years have seen the college football season get started a week early, something that’s referred to as Week 0. It’s no different in 2019 as there are two games forthcoming this weekend, including two perennially powerful in-state programs facing off in Orlando. This is a fairly evenly matched series historically with the Canes owning a slight 29-26 edge. But they’ve dominated recently, sporting a 5-1 record vs the Gators since 2000.
Expectations for UF are high in year two of the Dan Mullen era. They surprised a lot of people by going 10-3 last year, culminating in a dominating win over Michigan in the Peach Bowl. Quarterback Feleipe Franks won MVP honors in that game and should be more familiar with Mullen’s system heading into 2019. Meanwhile, Miami is in year one of Manny Diaz’s tenure as head coach after Mark Richt decided to retire. And already there are question marks at quarterback as there’s talk that Ohio State transfer Tate Martell might switch positions. Advantage Gators. Florida 31, Miami 17
Yesh: We don’t know what Miami will look like under Manny Diaz. The hype is certainly there, but it’s there even more for Florida. The Gators have a ton of talent across the board, and they might even have a strong quarterback. Ultimately, Miami has a ton to improve on from last season. It won’t all have been fixed by now. Florida 34, Miami 24
Steen: Miami vs Florida is one of the great matchups in college football and it’s great to see it back on the calendar as a Sunshine State native. Miami, now under the leadership of Manny Diaz, a local boy and fan favorite who certainly knows the culture of the school and the region, continues to try to find a way to return to the top of college football. Florida thinks they have found the man to do that for them in Dan Mullen, now in year 2 as the Gators head coach. Mullen has assembled one of Florida’s most talented rosters in recent years, and they will certainly be aiming to reach the SEC Championship this year. Playing this game at a neutral site will benefit Florida. The Florida offense is better and that will be the difference in what should be a nervy contest. Florida 27, Miami 17
UCLA at Cincinnati (Thursday 8/29 in Cincinnati, OH)
Line: Cincinnati by 3.5
Lukas: I like UCLA’s ability to move the chains on offense through the air. They are facing a good defense in Cincinnati but I think the Bruins pull off the upset. UCLA 30, Cincinnati 24
John: Last year marked the first-ever meeting between these two programs with Cincinnati notching a 26-17 win in the famed Rose Bowl. It was the beginning of what turned into one of the best seasons in program history as the Bearcats ultimately went 11-2 and defeated Virginia Tech in the Military Bowl. They appear poised to continue that success as they return 14 starters on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Desmond Ridder who threw the fewest interceptions among AAC signal-callers who accounted for at least 2,000 yards passing last season.
The Bruins should improve upon last year’s dismal 3-9 campaign, Chip Kelly’s first as head coach, which was their lowest win total in a season since 1989. They return a whopping 19 starters including 10 of 11 on defense. They also added Wilton Speight who was a grad transfer from Michigan even though Dorian Thompson-Robinson will likely be the Week One starter. That said, UCLA has struggled mightily away from the Rose Bowl recently and will find it difficult to get a win at what should be a raucous Nippert Stadium. Cincinnati 34, UCLA 23
Yesh: What has Chip Kelly done in the last 12 months? Cincinnati won this game last year, is even better now, and gets to play at home. Expect this to be one of the most anticipated games in Nippert in a decade. Cincinnati 35, UCLA 17
Steen: UCLA’s status in college football has fallen hard, as they are underdogs to an unranked Cincinnati after a 3 win season in 2018. Last year’s result in the Rose Bowl was considered an upset by some, but Cincinnati earned a lot of respect last season and should take care of business at home in this one. UCLA will get better, they have to, but this is not a game they look set to win against an experienced signal caller for Cincy. Cincinnati 28, UCLA 21
#14 Utah at BYU (Thursday 8/29 in Provo, UT)
Line: Utah by 4.5
Lukas: Utah boasts a very good defense. BYU will hang with Utah early but I think the physicality and ability to rush the quarterback will lift this talented Utah team to victory. Utah 35, BYU 17
John: It’s hard to believe that Utah has only had one head coach, Kyle Whittingham, since Urban Meyer departed for Florida after the 2004 season. It really does cement Utah’s status as one of the most stable programs in the nation and is a testament to what Whittingham has built there. 2019 might be his best team yet and it includes a defensive unit that should emerge as among the most stout in all of FBS. The Utes gave up 10 or fewer points six times last year, including their 10-3 loss to Washington in the Pac-12 title game.
They’re certainly a favorite to make a repeat appearance and some have the Utes as a dark horse to make the CFP. But in order for that to happen, they must prevail in what should be a highly entertaining opener in Provo against hated rival BYU. Kalani Sitake is in his fourth season with the Cougars and brings back plenty of experienced players. His side is currently in the midst of an eight-game losing streak to the Utes but only one of those losses was by more than seven points. They should put up quite a fight but ultimately, Utah prevails. Utah 24, BYU 16
Yesh: Utah is criminally underrated. Meanwhile, BYU fans seem to love Kalani Sitake more and more the more he struggles. This program took a sharp downward turn as soon as he took over, and I’ve yet to see anything from him to give me confidence that this has changed. Utah 41, BYU 0
Steen: Utah are PAC-12 title contenders, while BYU will be hunting for a bowl. This is always a gritty contest and many of the players have known each other for years on, and off the field, but Utah is clearly the better team in terms of talent and coaching. Home field advantage will keep BYU in it for at least a half, but the Utes should pull away late. Utah 24, BYU 14
#19 Wisconsin at South Florida (Friday 8/30 in Tampa, FL)
Line: Wisconsin by 13
Lukas: Wisconsin is a team that likes to move the chains on the ground. Their ability to power run the football will lift the Badgers over USF. Wisconsin 33, South Florida 17
John: Wisconsin is somewhat used to going to Florida for the postseason, having played in 11 bowl games in the Sunshine State. This time, they open the season down there against a South Florida team that started last season 7-0 then proceeded to lose their last six games. It marked a step back for head coach Charlie Strong in his second year with the program after he went 10-2 in year one. This game marks the start of a rough opening stretch to the 2019 campaign as they play Georgia Tech on the road in Week Two.
Both teams return a plethora of well-known starters, the most prominent of which is Badger running back Jonathan Taylor. He’s certainly among those expected to contend for the Heisman Trophy this year. Wisconsin should be able to get things done against the Bulls. But given that they’re breaking in a new quarterback in Graham Mertz, expect a closer than expected contest. Wisconsin 30, South Florida 21
Yesh: Two years ago, this would have been an exciting matchup. The Bulls are talented, but the incredible collapse last year was something to behold. It doesn’t give me much confidence in Charlie Strong having his team ready to pull an upset over a Wisconsin team that wants to erase last year’s struggles. Wisconsin 35, South Florida 21
Steen: USF has made changes to avoid another collapse like they had last season. This is a talented team with an offense that can put up points and hang with the Badgers, especially if it’s a muggy night in Tampa. Wisconsin has a game changing weapon in RB Jonathan Taylor though, they should slip past this trap game and keep themselves in the top 25. Wisconsin 27, South Florida 24
Colorado State at Colorado (Friday 8/30 in Denver, CO)
Line: Colorado by 12.5
Lukas: Colorado averaged over 300 passing yards per game last season. I sense a similar pattern in the opening game, utilizing their dominant passing to generate lots of offense. Colorado 45, Colorado State 21
John: This will be the 91st edition of the Rocky Mountain Showdown with these two programs having first met all the way back in 1893. Not surprisingly, Colorado has a fairly significant advantage with a 66-22-2 all-time record. That dominance has extended into recent years with the Buffaloes winning seven of the last nine. It included a 45-13 blowout win of the Rams last season.
Both these teams are coming off disappointing years. The Buffs began the 2018 season 5-0 and made it to 19th in the AP poll. Then the bottom fell out as they dropped seven in a row to close out the year, resulting in the dismissal of head coach Mike MacIntyre. In comes Mel Tucker who was Georgia’s defensive coordinator for the last three seasons. For the Rams, their lackluster 2018 campaign was more related to lack of experience more than anything. The pressure will be on Mike Bobo to get the Rams back to where they were during his first three seasons in charge. Though they should keep this one close, the Buffs should be able to get their new head coach a victory right off the bat. Colorado 27, Colorado State 17
Yesh: This rivalry game is always a good one. Colorado’s collapse last year made South Florida’s look tame, and it’s hard to know how the team will start out this year. Meanwhile, Colorado State has fallen far from its glory days under Jim McElwain. You’ve got to think that this is Mike Bobo’s final chance to turn things back around. Colorado 31, Colorado State 21
Steen: Both teams whiffed at making a bowl last year and Colorado begins a new era under coach Mel Tucker. Colorado is better in the trenches and has better skill players than their in-state rivals however and should extend their fantastic record in this rivalry game. Colorado 38, Colorado State 21