There was no better feeling than the end of the 2017 football season, as I claimed the Pigskin Picks championship for the fourth time.
However, the higher the mountaintop, the greater the fall. The 2018 season was not as kind as Jerome Murphy led from pretty much wire-to-wire and nobody was able to challenge him. I finished second, seven games back and 24 games off my first-place effort the year before.
But a new season brings a new opportunity — and new competition.
Yes, mainstays Dan Basso and the Murf are still here, as is Josh Champlin. Joining the fray are Greyson Steele and Brad Minor from the news department.
Tim Robinson is back, too, but for how long we are not sure. He’s moving on to other endeavors after Labor Day. He’s going to continue helping out in a limited capacity until we find a replacement, but after that who knows? Maybe we’ll just flip a coin.
On to the games.
Owosso at Lansing Eastern
Eastern has lost 38 straight dating back to 2014, going 0-9 four straight times. Owosso hasn’t fared much better, producing three wins since 2013. In other words, something’s gotta give here. The Trojans, however, bring back a senior-laden team that includes brothers Colton and Hunter Blaha, along with quarterback Brett Hudecek. Maybe playing against similar-sized schools in the Flint Metro League Stars Division will bring better results in 2019 as well. Pick: Owosso.
Hemlock at Corunna
The Cavaliers say they expect to be much better this fall. They’ve got some good pieces to back up that claim, like quarterback Peyton Norton, receiver/defensive end Nick Steinacker, and linebackers Porter Zeeman and Scout Jones. A big offensive line that returns four guys, helps too. However, they are going to be challenged right out the gate against Hemlock, a team that went 8-2 in 2018 and returns quarterback/linebacker Brady Devereaux. Pick: Hemlock.
Morrice at Kingston
Morrice’s Shane Cole must feel a little lonely — he’s the only returning starter, offense or defense, from Morrice’s state title team. Jack Nanasy, who had 60 tackles a year ago, is expected to miss most of the season with a broken leg. That said, a team that’s only had one losing season since switching to eight-man football five years ago deserves the benefit of the doubt, and Morrice definitely has the coaching staff to rebuild on the fly. Pick: Morrice.
Laingsburg at Perry
For me, this comes down to Perry’s Brodie Crim. He’s returning under center for the Ramblers after a knee injury derailed his 2018 campaign. Laingsburg is trying to break in new signal-caller Doug Matthews — a transfer from Perry, no less. Pick: Perry.
Ovid-Elsie at Portland
Portland went 13-1 and reached the state title game, but they return only three starters on defense and no offensive linemen.
The Marauders have good running back tandem of Cooper Beard and Shayne Loynes, but they’re thin along the offensive line and replacing some key guys on defense. Do they have enough to beat the Raiders? Potentially, but O-E lost twice to Portland last year and hasn’t won this matchup since 2009. Pick: Portland.
Benzie Central at Chesaning
Benzie beat the Indians 22-21 last year at home and now pays a visit to Orra C. Morningstar Field. Both teams are replacing some key players — most notably for the Indians, Coley Higley at quarterback and Jacob Turnwald at receiver. This game’s a tossup for me, so I’ll take the Indians for some revenge.
Capac at Durand
These teams met in Week 1 last year, with Durand winning by a touchdown. While Capac eventually limped to a 2-7 record, Durand had a bounce-back year, winning four games after going 0-9 in 2017. They bring back a ton of guys as well, led by Eastern Michigan-bound right tackle Evan Egan and 1,000-yard rusher Brock Holek. The Railroaders are also switching from the spread to a full-house T formation on offense — which would seem to bode well for a team with two 300-plus pound offensive linemen. Pick: Durand.
Williamston at Byron
The Eagles slipped into the playoffs at 5-4 the past two years and have another brutal schedule ahead of them. Their slate includes two state semifinalists (Williamston, Montrose) a state champion (New Lothrop), and Ovid-Elsie, a playoff team in its own right. Byron will win its share, but getting a ‘W’ tonight will be tough. Pick: Williamston.
New Lothrop at Lake City
The lone Friday game this week is a rematch of last year’s Division 7 semifinals, won by eventual champion New Lothrop. Aidan Harrison is at Missouri now, but quarterback Avery Moore — the 2018 Argus-Press Player of the Year — will lead an offense that returns several players at the skill positions. The biggest question is going to be the offensive line, as the Hornets must replace four starters. If New Lothrop figures that out, they’ll be one of the favorites in Division 7 again. Pick: New Lothrop.
Tulsa at No. 18 MSU (-22.5)
MSU’s defense will likely be good again with the return of Kenny Willekes and Joe Bachie. The question is whether new offensive coordinator Brad Salem can fix quarterback Brian Lewerke. The good news is Tulsa likely won’t put up much of a challenge. Pick: MSU 27, Tulsa 7.
Middle Tennessee at No. 7 Michigan (-33.5)
Michigan’s best weapons will be on offense with quarterback Shea Patterson and a talented receiving corps led by Donovan Peoples-Jones. Losing Devin Bush and Rashan Gary on defense, though, is no small subtraction. There’s some pieces coming back like Lavert Hill, Josh Mettellus and Khaleke Hudson — and don’t forget about highly touted freshman Dax Hill. Michigan’s a trendy Big Ten pick, but I’ll believe it when I see it. I think Michigan -34 points out the gate is a little high, even against MTSU. Pick: Michigan 40, Middle Tennessee 10.
No. 11 Oregon at No. 16 Auburn (-3.5)
Oregon’s ranked higher, but Auburn’s the favorite at home. I’ll take Justin Herbert and the Ducks. Pick: Oregon 35, Auburn 30.