Zach: Rice over Notre Dame
It's going to be a weird opener for Notre Dame. The grass is out, and Field Turf is in. Adidas uniforms are gone, and Under Armour is in. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and his perfect hair are gone, replaced by Brian VanGorder and his 3-4 scheme. Tommy Rees is finally gone, and Everett Golson is somehow back. Offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock is still out at the moment recovering from surgery, his return still to be determined. And none of this is counting the four players now gone and the cloud of uncertainty and speculation that replaced them.
Rice quarterback Taylor McHaurge is gone, replaced by the electrifying Driphus Jackson. The dual-threat junior is more of a threat on the ground than through the air, but thankfully the bulk of the Owls' wide receiving corps is back to speed the progression along. Admittedly, Rice's combined 96 points allowed to Texas A&M and Mississippi State last season don't inspire a lot of confidence in the Owls' ability to defend major conference spread attacks, but this wouldn't be an upset prediction if the paper favored Rice.
Doug: Utah State over Tennessee
I'm going big with my upset pick going with a Mountain West program over an SEC school. When was the last time that actually happened?
One of the major reasons behind my pick is my confidence in Matt Wells and his staff entering year two in charge. Coach Wells' first season at the helm in Logan saw him pick up where Gary Andersen left off, guiding the Aggies to their third straight bowl game for the first time in school history, and picking up 9 wins while going 7-2 in conference play. That included quality wins over Air Force (a 32 point blowout) and Northern Illinois, and narrow losses at USC (14-17), and Fresno State (17-24) in the Mountain West title game.
With do-everything quarterback Chuckie Keeton back in the fold after missing eight games of the 2013 season with a knee injury I think Utah State is primed for a few upsets this year, starting with Tennessee. Inspiring even more confidence in this pick is the fact that the Aggies have ranked in the top seven in scoring defense for the past two seasons, and if you want to go into Neyland Stadium and knock off the Vols, it's going to start with a solid defense.
Scott: Cal over Northwestern
Reminder for next week...don't volunteer to go third when picking upsets. Truth be told, I agree with Zach's choice of Rice as the best possible major upset,and love Rice plus 21 points against the spread. (I disagree with Doug, though. Give me the Vols over Utah State.) After that, I just don't have much faith in many other straight up "upset" winners. With the points, I really like North Texas (plus 24 over Texas) and would probably take Southern Miss (plus 30.5 over Mississippi State as well); but we're pickin'em straight up here...so I'm going with Cal over Northwestern. The players have another year under their belt in Tony Franklin's offense and I'm anxious to see what Art Kaufman does with the guys on the defensive side of the ball. I see this as an important game in getting the players to believe in the system. Northwestern is an 11 point favorite for a reason; but I can see Cal pulling the upset.