Thursday, September 5, 2013

Cram Session - Week 2

Starting this week I will begin Cram Session with my pick for the Thursday night NFL game.

Thursday, September 5

Baltimore at Denver, Denver favored by 7 1/2 

The NFL is back! Normally, the defending Super Bowl champion opens the season at home. This year things are different as the Baltimore Orioles and MLB weren't willing to accommodate the Baltimore Ravens and move their home game to a different time. A lot of people thought that was selfish of the Orioles, but logistically it wasn't that simple and the NFL can't win every battle. This game is being billed as the rematch from the best playoff game we saw last season. The scene will be the same, but while the Broncos appear mostly intact, the Ravens will look quite different. They have seen some changes on offense and a massive overhaul on defense. One of the big questions Baltimore will begin to answer tonight, is how will the offense move on without Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta. Boldin was traded to the 49ers, while Pitta was lost for the season to an injury during training camp. That leaves Joe Flacco with not nearly as many weapons to throw to, and puts a new found pressure on Torrey Smith at receiver. It also means that Jacoby Jones will have to step up. Jones was one of the key players in the Ravens win over Denver in the playoffs, catching the game tying touchdown. Ray Rice is still there and he may be leaned on more than ever has in his career, not just running the ball, but also as a receiver out of the backfield. The Broncos defense will be without star LB Von Miller, suspended the first six games of the season, and also possibly without Champ Bailey. Smith would actually probably be upset if Bailey can't go, since he torched Bailey in the playoffs last season. The Broncos offense is mostly the same, except for a change at running back with Willis McGahee cut loose. Ronnie Hillman, Knowshon Moreno, and rookie Montee Ball should all see some carries, with the Broncos hoping that one of the backs can seize control of the job. Peyton Manning's options at receivers are even more fearsome with the addition of Wes Welker to go with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. One of the Ravens new defensive players is former Bronco Elvis Dumervil. Dumervil will be chomping at the bit to stand out against his former team. This will be a great test for the Ravens revamped secondary, no longer having one of the best safeties in the history of the game, Ed Reed. If you read my previews you know that I am down on the Ravens, while I expect the Broncos to finish with the best record in football. I think those predictions will bear themselves out in this game. The Ravens can keep it close for a half or so, but Manning will eventually begin to carve up a defense that still needs to learn to play together. Things will be a struggle for Flacco and company, as they start to realize just how much they will miss Boldin and Pitta.

Prediction: Denver 27, Baltimore 16

Games That Matter To Me

#14 Notre Dame (1-0) at #17 Michigan (1-0)    

Despite what Irish coach Brian Kelly might think, this is one of the best rivalries in college football. Unfortunately, after next season when it will return remains unknown. This will be Notre Dame's last trip to Michigan in the current incarnation of the series. I can't say I mind that too much, especially with how heartbreaking the Irish's last two visits to Michigan ended. Each time the Irish led the game late, and then allowed Michigan to score the winning touchdown at the end of the game. Notre Dame had a nice star to the season with a dominating 28-6 win over Temple. Most impressive was the play of quarterback Tommy Rees. Rees was accurate and threw 3 touchdowns. Rees really isn't that bad, his biggest problems in the past was his penchant for turnovers. While the performance against the Owls was reason for optimism his competition will step up considerably against the Wolverines. WR TJ Jones seemed to announce his arrival as the Irish's best receiving weapon, catching 6 passes for 138 yards. DaVaris Daniels also announced his arrival on the scene with 2 touchdown catches. The running game followed the by committee route most expected with Amir Carlisle and Cam McDaniel sharing carries.

The Irish defense picked up where they left off last season as far as allowing points but they struggled a bit slowing down the Temple passing attack. The quarterback they will face this week, Devin Gardner is known for both his arm and his legs. Gardner's play left a bit to be desired last week against Central Michigan. He rushed for 2 touchdowns but also threw 2 interceptions. With an offensive line that is breaking in three new starters, he may be running for his life Saturday night. This game will really come down to that battle between the Michigan offensive line and how much they slow down Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix. The Wolverines also employ a running back by committee with freshman Derrick Green and senior Fitzgerald Toussaint.

I believe that Notre Dame is better than Michigan both offensively and denesively, but am scarred by the recent experiences at The Big House. I worry about Rees avoiding turnovers, which plagued him in his last start at Michigan two years ago. This will be a defensive battle, but somehow Michigan will once again find a way to break Notre Dame's hearts.

Prediction: Michigan 20, Notre Dame 17

Southern Miss (0-1) at #22 Nebraska (1-0)   

Nebraska opened their season with a 37-34 victory over Wyoming but it might as well have been a loss. No one expected the Huskers to struggle to that level with the Cowboys. Even worse the fears of a porous defense proved themselves to be true, as Nebraska gave up 602 yards of offense to Wyoming. With Southern Miss coming to Lincoln on a 13-game losing streak it would seem they would be the right opponent for Nebraska to get back some of the confidence they lost. The Golden Eagles run a spread offense, just like Wyoming. Their quarterback is Allan Brigford, who completed barely over 50% of his passes and threw two picks in a loss to Texas State last week. The Golden Eagles appear to have no running game, as they rushed for just 23 yards against Texas State. Senior receiver Rickey Bradley had a strong game, catching 7 passes for 193 yards.

The Nebraska offense is hoping for a better performance from Taylor Martinez. Martinez did throw for 3 touchdowns but also had a pick and only had 129 yards passing. The running game was on fire though, with both Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross rushing for over 100 yards. Nebraska needs to come out and make a statement in this game. Things get considerably tougher next week when they host the UCLA Bruins. They need to be going into that game feeling good about themselves. I have faith that the defense will play well enough to take advantage of an overmatched opponent, and the offense will do its thing, leading to the blowout win Nebraska should have gotten last week.

Prediction: Nebraska 45, Southern Miss 17

Top 10

#2 Oregon (1-0) at Virginia (1-0)    

The Ducks take their offensive show on the road to Charlottesville, Virginia. This will be Oregon's first true test of the season, since Nicholls State doesn't really count. Virginia isn't a juggernaut but they at least have a pulse and if the Ducks beat them up on the road it will be impressive. The Ducks defense looked impressive last week, and has a chance to again this week. The Cavaliers struggled to do anything offensively against BYU in Week 1.

Prediction: Oregon 44, Virginia 17

San Diego State (0-1) at #3 Ohio State (1-0)    

Ohio State rolled in Week 1 against Buffalo, but did show some lapses during the game when they allowed the Bulls to keep it interesting. The Aztecs were destroyed by Eastern Illinois, but are hopeful that things will improve this weekend with the likely return of top rusher Adam Muema. His presence won't be enough to make this game interesting.

Prediction: Ohio State 47, San Diego State 14

South Carolina State (0-1) at #4 Clemson (1-0)    

The Tigers are the talk of college football following last week's win against Georgia. That game should prove to be great for recruiting. It not only spotlighted that the Tigers are capable of winning big games, but ESPN showing their entrance to the stadium is getting a ton of publicity. They will get to build on that momentum this week with a sure victory against South Carolina State.

Prediction: Clemson 56, South Carolina State 20

San Jose State (1-0) at #5 Stanford (0-0)

Stanford was one of the few teams not in action last weekend. The Cardinal have major expectations a year after winning the Rose Bowl. Kevin Hogan is back at quarterback, but they will be replacing Stepfan Taylor at running back, and have new starters at tight end and receiver. The offense should be given time to get, because their awesome defense returns 9 of 11 starters from last season. San Jose State shouldn't be a complete pushover and might make this game interesting for a bit.

Prediction: Stanford 34, San Jose State 20

#6 South Carolina (1-0, 0-0) at #11 Georgia (0-1, 0-0)

It is not often that you face a must win game in just the second game of your season, but those are the realities of being a big time college football program coming off a loss in its opener. The Bulldogs have to run the table to have any chance of winning a national title. They now face their second top 10 opponent of the season as they welcome South Carolina to Athens. In addition to wanting to save their season the Bulldogs want to avenge an embarrassing 35-7 loss at South Carolina last season. Aaron Murray gives Georgia the advantage at quarterback, but his success hinges on the ability of his lineman to keep Jadeveon Clowney out of his face. He will be without his top receiver Malcolm Mitchell who infamously tore his ACL when leaping to celebrate a Todd Gurley touchdown. Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw is a dual threat player, and his running ability gave Georgia fits last season. Sophomore Mike Davis appears ready to carry the load at running back, coming off an impressive performance against North Carolina. Georgia did lose to Clemson but it seems like it was just a case of two good teams matching up and one being a little bit better. I am not entirely sold on the South Carolina offense and Shaw and think that the road atmosphere could cause them trouble. I think the Bulldogs will get the season saving win that they need.

Prediction: Georgia 24, South Carolina 20

Sam Houston State (1-0) at #7 Texas A&M (1-0)

For only playing a quarter and a half of football, Aggies QB Johnny Manziel created quite a stir. Manziel looked spectacular in his limited playing time, but the talk was more about his antics after plays. There will be no sitting out in this game against FCS opponent Sam Houston State. The Aggies have a huge home game against Alabama next weekend, so I am sure coach Kevin Sumlin has been pounding it into his players head that they can't be caught looking ahead. As seen last week, not all FCS teams are pushovers, so the Aggies better be ready to play.

Prediction: Texas A&M 48, Sam Houston State 27

Eastern Kentucky (1-0) at #8 Louisville (1-0)

Teddy Bridgewater was spectacular in the season opener against Ohio and heightened talk of him being a strong candidate to win the Heisman trophy. The Colonels of Eastern Kentucky should provide him with even more opportunity to put up video game like numbers.

Prediction: Louisville 42, Eastern Kentucky 16 

UAB (0-1) at #9 LSU (1-0)   

LSU saw some positive signs that their offense will be improved under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. QB Zach Mettenberger avoided any turnovers, although his completion percentage of 50 percent still needs a lot of work. The Tigers also had two players, Terrence Magee and Alfred Blue almost rush for 100 yards in the win against TCU. They may also even have back RB Jeremy Hill for this game. The LSU defense looked as strong as ever and the Tigers look like once again they will be national title contenders. This week they play a terrible UAB team that should present no challenge at all.

Prediction: LSU 41, UAB 10

Last Week: 8-1
Overall: 8-1

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