Pigskin Picks: Kelly Bryant fever; Gamecocks bounce back; split on Duke-UNC, MSU-UGA
CLEMSON – It’s way, way too early to anoint Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Let’s wait at least eight more days for that.
But if the personable junior from Calhoun Falls continues to match two-time Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson’s excellence with little nuggets like 6-of-9 passing on third down in a 316-yard passing performance at Louisville — including one across-the-body, off-one-foot strike to Hunter Renfrow — Clemson will defy all kinds of college football odds.
Including the unwritten rule that says most programs slip off the national contender map when a great quarterback leaves.
But consider that Florida hasn’t been the same since Tim Tebow left in 2009. Florida State has slumped since Jameis Winston departed in 2014. Oregon faded off the national scene after Marcus Mariotta’s last season as a Duck in 2014. Auburn got back into the national championship game once post-Cam Newton but it seems sort of fluky in the grand Gus Malzahn context.
Clemson has Alabama-like support around Bryant but if he’s more than a game-manager, the Tigers buck a trend — all the way to a third College Football Playoff appearance. And with bluechip recruit Hunter Johnson in the wings and high school star Trevor Lawrence on the way.
Warren Peper hasn’t skipped a beat either, on a Pigskin Picks roll and pulling away in the season standings. But we differ on four games this week for Week 4:
Boston College at Clemson
The Eagles probably won’t win an ACC game this year. The Tigers should get a lot of field goal opportunities for Alex Spence, the next man up after Greg Huegel’s knee injury this week.
Gene Sapakoff pick: Clemson, 44-3
Warren Peper pick: Clemson, 40-17
Louisiana Tech at USC
Dangerous game for the Gamecocks, even if they had star wideout Deebo Samuel and top blocker Zack Bailey in the lineup. Big game for offensive coordinator Kurt Roper after last week’s Kentucky debacle.
Sapakoff pick: South Carolina, 24-21
Peper pick: South Carolina, 27-17
Point at Charleston Southern
The Point is, CSU (0-2) is badly in need of a victory and the NAIA Skyhawks of West Point, Ga., are just the remedy for a Bucs team smarting from a 19-17 loss at Elon.
Sapakoff pick: Charleston Southern, 42-14
Peper pick: Charleston Southern, 28-14
Western Illinois at Coastal Carolina
The Fighting Leathernecks with their “Fight to the Finish” motto are 2-0 and coming off a 38-20 win at Northern Arizona in which Max Norris led the way with 103 yards rushing.
Sapakoff pick: Western Illinois, 27-24
Peper pick: Coastal Carolina, 28-20
N.C. State at Florida State
Irma cancellation of the UL Monroe game and postponement of Miami game gave Jimbo Fisher a unique September Camp experience to get backup quarterback James Blackman ready to replace injured Deondre Francois.
Sapakoff pick: Florida State, 35-14
Peper pick: Florida State, 30-24
Duke at North Carolina
The reeling Tar Heels are 1-2 preparing for 3-0 Duke and just lost three starters for the season (tackle William Sweet, wideout Thomas Jackson, linebacker Andre Smith).
Sapakoff pick: Duke, 31-21
Peper pick: North Carolina, 35-30
Mississippi State at Georgia
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen has been reminding people all week that while quarterback Nick Fitzgerald deserves lots of credit for last week’s 37-7 romp over LSU, running back Aeris Williams (23 carries for 146 yards) was the most critical part.
Sapakoff pick: Georgia, 28-27
Peper pick: Mississippi State, 34-28
Florida at Kentucky
Hmm … The pointspread has gone down from 5½ for the Gators to 1½. A lot of people think Florida’s 30-year win streak over Kentucky will end. It dates to 1986, the autumn that the Mets beat the Red Sox in the World Series and Vinny Testaverde won the Heisman Trophy.
Sapakoff pick: Florida, 24-21
Peper pick: Florida, 20-17
Wake Forest at Appalachian State
Clemson isn’t the only ACC Atlantic Division first-place team with a 3-0 record. The Deacons’ fast start includes a 34-10 road win at Boston College.
Sapakoff pick: Wake Forest, 28-24
Peper pick: Appalachian State, 27-21
Arkansas at Texas A&M
The best hope for South Carolina: Arkansas upset, another Texas A&M trustee flying off the social media handle and more discontent in College Station next week.
Sapakoff pick: Texas A&M, 31-21
Peper pick: Texas A&M, 40-28
Warren Peper 8-2, Gene Sapakoff 6-4
Warren Peper 24-5, Gene Sapakoff 21-8
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff