Observer Roundtable 2021 Week 1: Top-3 NCAA games of the week predictions
Observer Sports Staff | Wednesday, September 1, 2021
Back for its third season, The Observer is thrilled to announce the return of The Roundtable. Our season predictions are in, and with that here at the Roundtable, we will be giving our predictions for three college football games and three NFL games when the season returns. It is time; College Football is back!
NCAA Games of the Week
No. 19 Penn State @ No. 12 Wisconsin
No. 1 Alabama @ No. 14 Miami
No. 10 UNC @ Virginia Tech
The Penn State Nittany Lions take on the Wisconsin Badgers, and while this is two ranked teams going against one another, it is a game I feel will be a snooze fest, especially with some of the other matchups we are getting this weekend. Neither team has been to the College Football Playoff in the last two years, nor will they this year. Graham Mertz is a better QB than Sean Clifford by a mile, which is not saying much, and though PSU has the advantage in head-to-head matchups, I am going with the more polished team in this scenario.
Give me Wisconsin 27, PSU 14.
The reigning national champions open up at Miami this weekend and honestly, I am not sure if they are going to dominate as they have years prior. After losing their big three, the Crimson Tide are now relying on Bryce Young to guide them to success. However, Miami is a team I believe is going to surprise a ton of people. D’Eriq King is a potential Heisman candidate and will be a first or second-round draft pick when he declares for the NFL at the end of the season. While the Crimson Tide will not be upset this week, the game will be closer than most people think.
Bama 35, Miami 28
Sam Howell is my dark horse pick for the Heisman this year and opening up against unranked Virginia Tech is going to get him off on the right foot. Despite the Tar Heels losing their star running backs, I have full faith that Howell is going to be just fine. Virginia Tech’s offense disappointed and while Braxton Burmeister is set to return, the former Oregon Duck is going to be terrorized by the Tar Heels defense. Hokies fans are going to be leaving the stadium disappointed after this one.
North Carolina 42, Virginia Tech 21
After two very disappointing seasons last year, it’s understandable to look at this game and be unimpressed. However, during his appearance on the Dan Patrick show, Kirk Herbstreit said that the winner of this game could “have a legitimate shot to get up into the top 10 pretty quickly.” So, anticipate seeing Wisconsin in the top 10, with the credit going to a great defense against a young Penn State offense.
Penn State 17, Wisconsin 28
Easily the best game on the schedule, the defending National Champions will take on the Canes at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. While I fully expect Alabama to win the game, I think Miami will cover the spread. Why? Alabama is a young team taking on a Miami squad that is much more seasoned. The last time that occurred was when no. 5 ranked Alabama opened the season by playing, then ranked no. 7 Virginia Tech, and Tech kept it close, losing 24-34. This one should be close early, but for Alabama to pull away in the second half.
Alabama 35, Miami 24
Despite some skepticism here at The Observer, when North Carolina faces down Virginia Tech, I expect the Heels to take home the victory. UNC will miss RBs, Javonte Williams and Micheal Carter, but they added transfer Ty Chandler at RB and have WRs Khafre Brown and Beau Corrales. Though this roster may have a lack of chemistry, I think they will be fine. VA Tech has a defense that ranked 83rd and 108th against the rush and pass, respectively, last season. I see no signs of that improving. And while UNC doesn’t have the world’s most impressive defensive unit, I still expect the Hokies to struggle to move the ball.
UNC 35 VA, Tech 24
Ranked 19th and 12th, respectively, Penn State and Wisconsin are two teams that seem to me as if they are ranked way too high. Both teams will have fantastic defenses, but with weak running games on both sides, a lot of pressure will be put on the two quarterbacks, neither of whom I trust very much. When it comes down to it, I trust Wisconsin’s Mertz more than Penn State’s Clifford. Expect a physical, low-scoring, classic Big 10 game dominated by the defenses.
Wisconsin 20, Penn State 16
Alabama opens the game against Miami as 18.5-point favorites. News flash: Miami is the 14th-ranked team in the country. Is Alabama really that much better than everyone else? They might be. But Miami is a good team with an elite quarterback in D’Eriq King, and Alabama’s sophomore quarterback Bryce Young has more NIL endorsements than passes attempted, so I think this game will be a lot closer than most people think. Alabama’s superior talent will prevent them from getting upset, but the Crimson Tide won’t cover.
Alabama 37, Miami 24
Virginia Tech has one of the best atmospheres in college football, and I am sure Lane Stadium will be rocking to “Enter Sandman” before kickoff, but I don’t expect the Hokies to be cheering when the fourth quarter ends. Yes, North Carolina has lost a lot – namely RBs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter and WR Dyami Brown – but they still have QB Sam Howell. This guy is good enough to win the Heisman, and if he wants to be in the conversation, he needs to start the season off on the right foot. Lots of offense in this one.
North Carolina 41, Virginia Tech 34
Following disappointing 2020 seasons, Penn State and Wisconsin start the year fast with a highly anticipated top-20 matchup. Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz came out firing last year, but after testing positive for COVID-19, he and the Badger offense couldn’t recover. I think Mertz will turn things around and make some big plays with a healthy receiving corps, although he’ll have to stay away from Nittany Lions’ star safety Jaquan Brisker. Penn State brings back quarterback Sean Clifford, but its poor offensive line won’t be able to handle a Wisconsin defense that should be one of the best in the country.
Wisconsin 27, Penn State 17
Even though Alabama tied the NFL record with six players selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Crimson Tide should be dominant this season. The offense lost many of its best playmakers, but quarterback Bryce Young and wide receiver John Metchie III should be very dangerous together. I’m excited to see Miami quarterback D’Eriq King return from his torn ACL, and his athleticism will create some issues for Alabama’s defense. The Hurricanes just can’t match the talent or depth of the Tide, however, and Alabama will roll its way to an easy victory.
Alabama 38, Miami 21
Despite the loss of most of their skill position talent, I still think the Tar Heels are going to be explosive on offense due to the return of quarterback Sam Howell. He has frequently appeared on preseason Heisman lists, and his NFL-level arm and playmaking ability should help his new receivers. Virginia Tech also struggled mightily on defense last year, and I’m not convinced they’ll be able to do much to stop the Tar Heels. The Hokies bring back two of their leading receivers in Tayvion Robinson and Tré Turner, but North Carolina’s deep secondary should keep them in check.
North Carolina 35, Virginia Tech 14
Both of these Big Ten teams are slightly overrated in my opinion based on the poor seasons they had last year. Wisconsin’s success this season depends on Graham Mertz’s ability to make plays and run the offense. The Nittany Lions will also need a lot more out of quarterback Sean Clifford if they are going to turn around from a disappointing season. Clifford threw for 9 interceptions and just 16 touchdowns last year, and he has to be better for the Nittany Lions. As far as this game goes, I expect the Badgers to use the energy from the home crowd at Camp Randall Stadium to get the job done. Mertz leads the Badgers on a game-winning touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter.
Wisconsin 27, Penn State 24
There is a lot of hype surrounding Bryce Young heading into this season, and he will finally have the chance to prove himself against Miami. The Canes return quarterback D’Eriq King, and he will look to spoil the start of the season for the Tide. I think Young will struggle for Bama at times, but the superior offensive line and defensive line will get the job done for Bama. Overall, Bama has so much more talent on both sides of the ball, and I expect the Tide to roll in this one.
Alabama 44, Miami 20
Although the Hokies have been struggling the last few seasons, they have shown that they can give good teams a tough game at home. Last year the Hokies challenged Clemson well into the second half before the Tigers pulled away. There are high expectations for Tar Heel quarterback Sam Howell this year, but I am interested to see how he responds to losing a plethora of options on offense. I think the Tar Heels are caught off guard in this one and a late Howell interception leads to a last-second field goal for the Hokies to secure the upset win.