After months of off-field mischief, it’s time for the games to begin!


Photo by Getty Images | Matt Barkley might lead the Trojans to the national championship, just don’t count on him and USC starters sticking around very long in their opener.

Let’s see, there was the Jerry Sandusky/Joe Paterno scandal at Penn State … the Bobby Petrino debacle at Arkansas … the academic fraud scandal at North Carolina … the Heisman Trophy finalist (Wisconsin’s Montee Ball) who got jumped by five guys near campus for no apparent reason … and another Heisman finalist (former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu) who entered rehab for an “addiction” to pot (this is like a surfer entering rehab for an addiction to the ocean). Of course, Mathieu was just the poster child for abhorrent behavior, one of dozens of players to be suspended or dismissed from their teams in the offseason. (During a recent radio interview, a college football insider quipped, “At this point, it’s easier to name the guys who didn’t get in trouble.”)

Thankfully, college football’s offseason has finally given way to the actual season. Throw in the fact that the NFL will be here in a matter of days and the kids are back in school, and all seems right in my world—well, except for that whole dwindling bankroll thing. Nothing quite like starting a football season with about half the resources you had when the last one ended. (About the only thing more depressing is walking into a strip club with an empty wallet—err, so I hear.)

Seems like the only Americans under more pressure to deliver over the next few weeks are named Romney and Obama. Too bad I don’t have their war chests.

On to your Labor Day weekend selections (note that all point spreads are as of Aug. 28) …

$220 on Hawaii +40 at USC: Pitted against his coaching colleagues, USC’s Lane Kiffin might win a beauty pageant—his wife certainly would!—but he’d be bringing up the rear in an IQ contest (remember, this is the guy who as Oakland Raiders head coach called for a 73-yard field-goal attempt). That said, Kiffin is at least smart enough to realize two things about his 2012 depth chart: 1) It’s loaded with national championship-caliber talent at the top; and 2) Beyond the first string, he’s got serious depth issues. Thus I can’t imagine Kiffin putting his meal tickets at unnecessary risk by leaving them on the field late in a blowout—especially when he needs to get his backups some playing experience.

And while Hawaii is in a state of transition, breaking in a new head coach and a new quarterback, that coach is Norm Chow, a well-respected offensive mastermind. When the Trojans’ scrub defense is on the field late, Chow will keep his foot on the gas offensively, leaving the back door wide open—even if USC is up by 50.

$110 on Miami (Ohio) +23 at Ohio State: The Buckeyes find themselves in the same position USC was in a couple of years ago: a new coach (Urban Meyer) who has some promising young talent but big-time numbers problems (because of scholarship reductions resulting from NCAA sanctions). After a disappointing 6-7 season under an interim coach last year, Ohio State will be much better with Meyer in charge. But like Kiffin at USC, Meyer has to get his reserves on the field in non-conference games like this one to see who can and can’t play. That makes the Buckeyes a very dicey team to support as a big favorite early on—especially against a veteran Miami (Ohio) squad that returns 16 starters from a team that lost its final three games last year by a total of 13 points. Note that the Redhawks cashed in six of their final eight games in 2011, and they’re 7-3 against the spread in their last 10 road contests.

$88 on Oklahoma -30½ at UTEP: Kudos to Sooners coach Bob Stoops for doing something many of his contemporaries refuse to do: go on the road to open a season. Then again, going to El Paso, Texas, to play UTEP isn’t exactly the same as waltzing into Baton Rouge to battle LSU. UTEP limped to the finish line last year, dropping four of its last five games (0-5 ATS), a freefall many perceive as a sign that the players have tuned out head coach Mike Price. Admittedly, the Sooners didn’t exactly deliver as a big chalk last year (2-5 ATS when laying 14 points or more), but they’re loaded this season (especially on offense). Also, Oklahoma has been a solid bet lately in non-conference play (five consecutive covers) and in September (14-6-1 ATS in its last 21).

BEST OF THE REST: Michigan +13½ vs. Alabama ($66); Auburn +3½ vs. Clemson ($55); Navy +16½ vs. Notre Dame ($55); Penn State -6 vs. Ohio ($33); Wyoming +30 at Texas ($33).

PENDING PICKS: Aug. 30: BYU -13½ vs. Washington State; UNLV +9½ vs. Minnesota; Vanderbilt +7 vs. South Carolina; Louisiana Tech +7½ vs. Texas A&M. Aug. 31: Boise State +7 at Michigan State; Boise State-Michigan State UNDER 50; Tennessee -4 vs. North Carolina State.

Bankroll: $3,766.