Thursday, August 28, 2014

Cram Session - Week 1

The BCS era is dead and 2014 marks the beginning of the creatively titled College Football playoff era. Instead of people fighting about how the third and fourth ranked teams got screwed, we can now argue about how the fifth and six ranked teams got screwed. A selection committee will select four teams who will compete in the playoffs. My favorite teams, Notre Dame and Nebraska, are not likely to be one of the final four teams selected. Both start the season in the Top 25 but no one is picking them to be left standing at the end of the regular season. However, if both could make an upper tier bowl game, I would consider that a successful season.

Games That Matter To Me

Rice at #17 Notre Dame

An academic scandal has rocked Notre Dame for the second consecutive offseason. Last year it was QB Everett Golston getting caught cheating and having to sit out the season. This year, WR DaVaris Daniels, DE Ishaq Williams, LB Kendall Moore, and CB KeiVarae Russell are all likely out for the season and perhaps kicked off the team for good after apparently having a tutor write papers for them. The Irish defense had already lost some really good players in Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, as well as have a new defensive coordinator and now are without even more. Golston is back this season and is still undefeated in the regular season after having to sit out last season. With both TJ Jones and Daniels gone, a new receiver will have to step up for Notre Dame. The Irish couldn't seem to find a bell cow to run the ball last year, but if I had my say that guy would be senior Cam McDaniel. Not only does McDaniel take a great picture in the midst of being tackled, he produced best when Kelly fed him the ball often.

Rice are the defending Conference USA champions but are starting new this year at quarterback and  have to replace their best running back. Driphus Jackson is the new leading man for the Owls and he does have the Owls leading receiver from a year ago back, Jordan Taylor. Rice was a pretty good defensive team last season, finishing 42nd in the nation in points allowed. However, history is not on their side. The Owls have lost 21 straight games against ranked opponents and typically it has been in blowout fashion.

The Irish defense will be a work in progress all season and I also expect Golston to have to shake off the rust a bit after not playing in a real game in a year and a half. I think in the second half, Golston will get more comfortable, and eventually the Irish will manage to hold off the Owls.

Prediction: Notre Dame 34, Rice 20

Florida Atlantic at #22 Nebraska 

The biggest story of Nebraska's offseason has been how badly they have been hit by the injury bug, especially on the defensive side of the ball. They lost two key defenders in nickel back Charles Jackson and LB Michael Rose to season-ending injuries, and DT Kevin Williams is hurting. The defense made strides towards regaining their Blackshirt status last season, after a horrific 2012. However, with these injuries the defense may struggle, which puts the onus even further on the Cornhuskers best player, RB Ameer Abdullah. Sophomore Tommy Armstrong Jr. is the new starting quarterback. He gained valuable experience last year as a freshman when Taylor Martinez went down, but still has a steep learning curve. He had trouble with accuracy and threw too many interceptions in limited time this season. Opposing defenses are going to try to load up the box and stop Abdullah, but Abdullah doesn't seem to have a problem still producing, even when he is the focal point of a defense. The Huskers lost leading receive Quincy Anunwa but do return Kenny Bell. Bell saw his yards and touchdown slip last season from 2012, but with him being the number one target now, he has a chance to regain that form.

This game was added to the schedule for a chance for the Pelini brothers to coach against each other. However, Carl ruined that by getting busted smoking the sticky icky. The Owls are coming off a 6-6 season in Conference USA. They had a pretty good defense last season and return more than half their starters on both offense and defense. The player to watch will be their quarterback, Jacquez Johnson. Johnson is a threat to both pass and run the ball. WR William Dukes was the Owls leading touchdown receiver, securing 6 of them last season.

Nebraska started last season off with a disappointing and way too close victory at home against Wyoming last season. They are hopeful to get off to a much stronger start this year and I think they will.

Prediction: Nebraska 41, Florida Atlantic 17

Top 10

Thursday, August 28

#21 Texas A&M at #9 South Carolina

This is the only game this weekend that features a Top 10 team facing a ranked opponent. Unfortunately, I probably won't see much or any of it because it is on the new SEC Network which DirecTV does not have yet. This game might be making more news for the players that won't be in it, versus the ones that are. Texas A&M starts life without Johnny Manziel, as they hope to stay nationally relevant. Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin will be looking to prove that he can coach up his team no matter who the quarterback is. Sophomore Kenny Hill is the Aggies new starting quarterback. He saw mop up duty action in four games last season, but will get hit with quite the test playing at South Carolina to start his college career. Texas A&M also lost stud offensive lineman Jake Matthews and wide receiver Mike Evans to the NFL. The new pieces on offense will have to get up to speed fast because the Aggies figure to have another porous defensive unit like they did last season.

South Carolina moves on in life without DE Jadaveon Clowney, and also has a new starting quarterback in Dylan Thompson. Thompson has quite a bit of experience on his side so it should be a pretty smooth transition for him taking over Connor Shaw. The Gamecocks do return their leading rusher Mike Davis and I expect to see a heavy dose of him in tonight's game. While Clowney is gone from the defense, the Gamecocks still expect to be strong on that side of the ball. Darius English is replacing Clowney and the coaches have been raving about his ability.

It will take time for the Aggies to gel on offense and with a leaky defense that won't be able to carry the team, asking them to go into South Carolina and win seems like a pipe dream.

Prediction: South Carolina 28, Texas A&M 17

Friday, August 29

Jacksonville State at #8 Michigan State 

The Spartans have clearly leapfrogged the Michigan Wolverines in the battle for top football team in the state of Michigan. They are coming off of a stellar season, where they win the Big Ten Championship and the Rose Bowl. The Spartans play excellent defense, but are replacing half the starters on that side of the ball this year. What to watch for in this game, is how inspired the Spartans play against Jacksonville State, knowing that they are probably already game planning for their trip to Oregon next weekend.

Prediction: Michigan State 37, Jacksonville State 9

Saturday, August 30

#1 Florida State vs. Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas

The Seminoles begin the defense of their national championship, and Jameis Winston begins the defense of his Heisman trophy. The Seminoles lost a ton of talent to the NFL but like any great time, they have recruited and bring back more than enough talent to offset those losses. The Cowboys on the other hand lost a ton off of their team from last year, and expectations are lowered because of that. With less than half their starters on offense and defense returning, it could be a rude awakening for a lot of guys Saturday night. I expect the Seminoles to blast Okie State and send a loud message to the rest of college football.

Prediction: Florida State 42, Oklahoma State 16

West Virginia vs. #2 Alabama in Atlanta, Georgia

The Crimson Tide are anxious to get the bitter taste out of their mouths with how their 2013 season concluded. They lost their chance at playing for the national title and a perfect season on that ridiculous play against Auburn, and then were demolished by Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. The AJ McCarron era is over and coach Nick Saban has been very coy about who his new starting quarterback is. That means we could see both Jake Coker and Blake Simms get playing time at the position. The Mountaineers are coming off a dreadful season and Mountaineer fans that used to complain about Bill Stewart winning 8 games a season probably feel pretty foolish right now.

Prediction: Alabama 38, West Virginia 14

South Dakota at #3 Oregon

If only the Ducks could avoid playing Stanford. The last few seasons the Cardinal have spoiled the Ducks dream and dominated Oregon's high-powered offense. QB Marcus Mariota is the front runner for the Heisman and his campaign should get off to a rip roaring start against South Dakota. The goal for Oregon will be to get their starters out as quickly as possible and begin prepping for the Spartans.

Prediction: Oregon 66, South Dakota 7

Louisiana Tech at #4 Oklahoma

The Sooners are feeling pretty good about themselves coming off how they ended the 2013 season. They dashed their rival Oklahoma State's hopes of winning the Big 12 and then dominated Alabama. QB Trevor Knight was outstanding in that game and is receiving a lot of hype coming into the season. Louisiana Tech looks woefully over matched for this game, having won just four games last season and starting a new quarterback.

Prediction: Oklahoma 53, Louisiana Tech 13

#5 Ohio State vs. Navy in Baltimore, Maryland

The Buckeyes were dealt a major blow last week when it was learned that Braxton Miller would miss the entire season with a shoulder injury. Already considered at a disadvantage of being a playoff team because of having to play in the weak Big Ten, now just about everyone has written off the Buckeyes national championship hopes without Miller. Whereas last season they had the experienced Kenny Guiton available to play when Miller is injured, this year they have to turn the reigns over to J.T. Barrett who is a redshirt freshman. Cardale Jones, Barrett's backup could also see some time at quarterback. The Buckeyes better not overlook Navy, who has a history of giving the big boys fits when they play them. The Midshipmen have the highly athletic Keenan Reynolds at quarterback and like to pound defenses into submission by using run after run after run. I expect a very tight football game, but don't think Navy quite has the horses to pull off the upset.

Prediction: Ohio State 27, Navy 20

Arkansas at #6 Auburn

The Auburn Tigers are eager to start the season after the heartbreaking finish to last season. They had the highest of highs after how they beat Alabama but then felt the lowest of lows after blowing a huge lead against Florida State in the national championship game. Their quarterback Nick Marshall got in trouble for having pot, so he is not going to start this game and the question is how long coach Gus Malzahn will have him sit. While Marshall serves his "suspension", Jeremy Johnson will be the Tigers starting quarterback. Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema is looking for his first SEC win after a winless campaign in his debut season as Arkansas coach last year. However, those dreams will have to wait.

Prediction: Auburn 37, Arkansas 21

#7 UCLA at Virginia

The beginning of Brett Hundley's march to the national title and Heisman begins in Charlottesville on Saturday. Many people believed that Hundley could potentially turn pro, but he wanted to come back to UCLA because he believes they can compete for a national title. To really make a statement they need to blow out what was a very bad Virginia team last season. Virginia does return 17 of 22 starters but is that really a good thing when you went 2-10 the previous season?

Prediction: UCLA 49, Virginia 14

No comments: