BCS preview, picks: Georgia/Clemson loser will be on BCS ropes

Johnny Manziel's off-field problems are finally in our rear view mirror (maybe) and we can now focus on the games.  There are several right away in week 1 that could impact the BCS.  All games Saturday unless otherwise noted.

North Carolina at South Carolina (-11.5), Thursday.  After a bunch of nonsense earlier from Steve Spurrier about Jadeveon Clowney possibly missing this game, Spurrier said Wednesday he's ready to go.  He's going to have to have highlight-reel games every week to have a shot at the Heisman.  With a very tough schedule ahead, the Gamecocks probably can't afford to lose a this one if they are going to have a realistic shot at a national title.  Pick: USC-East, win and cover.

Rutgers at Fresno State (-11), Thursday.  The Bulldogs are the pick of many to win the Mountain West, and possibly earn a spot in the BCS.  They'll have to run the table to make that happen, and the Knights are their best non-conference foe.  David Carr's brother, Derek, leads Fresno.  Pick: Fresno, win and cover.

Virginia Tech vs Alabama (-19.5).  Usually, the big SEC vs ACC games are at the end of the season, but we have a couple good ones right off the bat.  The defending champs aren't giving themselves an easy debut.  Despite the line, the Hokies are a pretty solid team that should prove a decent first test for the Tide.  For a little while, anyway.  Pick: Alabama, win and cover.

Georgia at Clemson (+1.5).  Clearly the blockbuster of the opening week, the loser of this game is in deep trouble before September even starts.  Georgia, at 12-1 and SEC champs, still has a decent shot at playing for the national title.  Clemson, as one-loss ACC champs, won't be as fortunate, so this game is much more important to them.  Pick: Georgia, win and cover

LSU vs TCU (+4.5).  There has been a lot of gamesmanship going on between coaches Les Miles and Gary Patterson.  Patterson has two QBs, won't announce a starter and said he might put both of them on the field for the first play.  This would be a big feather in the Horned Frogs' cap.  Some think LSU could be a sleeper in the national championship chase.  They'll need a good year from QB Zach Mettenberger for that to happen.  Pick: LSU, win and cover.

Boise State at Washington (-3.5).  The Broncos are ranked and I have them projected to a BCS bowl, but the Huskies are favored at their new home stadium.  Stopping Keith Price is the key for the Broncos.  Pick: Boise, win and cover.

Ohio at Louisville (-20.5), Sunday.  This is game two of my personal opening weekend doubleheader (at the Purdue-Cincinnati game Saturday also -- follow along on Twitter).  Teddy Bridgewater starts his Heisman campaign against one of the better teams in the MAC, and unfortunately for the Cards, likely the best team on their non-conference schedule.  A 12-0 season may not be enough to get them to the BCS title game.  They'll need style points every week, therefore... Pick: Louisville, win and cover.

Upset of the week: California (+6) over Northwestern.  The upset of the week is a team that is at least a 6-point underdog that I'm picking to win outright.  There aren't many good choices this week, but West coast road trips have been troublesome for Big Ten teams over the years, and not just in the Rose Bowl.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Jerry Palm started writing about sports on the Internet right after Al Gore invented it. He was the first to bring RPI out in the open and is one of the pioneers of predicting the March Madness bracket.... Full Bio

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