Thursday, September 3, 2015

Cram Session - Week 1

The 2015 college football season is here! The 2015 playoffs produced some exciting moments while also continuing the tradition of controversy started by the BCS. The Buckeyes snuck into the fourth slot on the last weekend, but proved the committee right by dominating Alabama and Oregon on their way to a national championship. This season, they return all their key players from the team and because of that were unanimously voted as the preseason #1 by the Associated Press.

My favorite teams Notre Dame and Nebraska come in with completely different expectations this season. I don't agree with it but many publications have picked Notre Dame to be a playoff team. The Huskers have begun the Mike Riley era. His hiring was met with consternation as he is in his 60s and while had a modicum of success at Oregon State, he doesn't appear to be much of an improvement from the fired Bo Pelini. The Huskers aren't even ranked in the preseason Top 25, so Riley might benefit from the lowered expectations this season.

Games That Matter To Me

Saturday, September 5

Texas at #11 Notre Dame

The Malik Zaire era at quarterback begins for the Irish under the lights against Charlie Strong's Longhorns. One of the biggest problems Notre Dame had last year offensively was they couldn't settle on a running back. That led to Everett Golson having to try to do way too much and him becoming a turnover machine. They have said all the right things this offseason about Tarean Folston being the go to guy at running back, but Brian Kelly has always loved to pass the ball and if the run games starts off shaky in this one he may go back to his instincts. Zaire played well in the bowl game win against LSU last year but I think it would be to his benefit if the Irish try to settle him into the game on Saturday.

For Notre Dame to even come close to living up to expectations they will need their defense to bounce back after a disappointing season last year. Injuries helped to derail them on that side of the ball last year and they have already started creeping up as a problem this year. The secondary in particular was not good last year and gave up way too many long bombs and big plays.

Texas has low expectations this year as they are one of the youngest teams in the nation. However, I don't expect their young players to be awestruck by playing at Notre Dame Stadium in primetime. Most of these kids played high school football in Texas which is just as big an atmosphere as big time college football. Too many years I have seen the Irish get hyped up only to struggle. Based on that history, I think the Longhorns are going to keep this game close and make me nervous throughout the three and half hours of watching this. In the end, I think the offense will make enough plays to make the difference but I don't expect this game to be a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination.

Prediction: Notre Dame 27, Texas 21

BYU at Nebraska

Nebraska usually has scheduled what was intended to be a cakewalk for their season opener in years past but that won't be the case this season. Nebraska hosts BYU on Saturday and if the Cougars come in and beat Nebraska myself and many others will not be surprised. Tommy Armstrong is back at quarterback for Nebraska but the Huskers will have a new bell cow at running with Ameer Abdullah moving on to the NFL. Terrell Newby will be making his first start on Saturday. Newby has 121 carries in his career and has averaged almost 5 yards a carry. Husker fans are hopeful that if he becomes the lead back, those numbers can get even higher with a consistent workload. Imani Cross is the other running back expected to see a lot of time in the Huskers rushing rotation. One area the Huskers offense desperately needs to improve upon is turnovers. They have fumbled the ball way too much in recent years putting a ton of pressure on their defense. One of the areas where Nebraska had started to slip was defensively, which was always supposed to be a strong part of a Pelini led team. Riley brought over his defensive coordinator, Mark Banker to serve as the defensive coordinator for Nebraska. Banker's defenses were usually pretty average at Oregon State but he will be dealing with a whole new set of expectations in Lincoln.

His defense will receive quit the test from BYU quarterback Taysom Hill. Hill has had to deal with injuries throughout his career but when he is on the field BYU has been a much better team. Hill is a rushing threat but some have argued his penchant for running has lead to his injuries. With that in mind, the talk has been for him to throw the ball more this season. He had completed over 66% of his passes before getting hurt last season, so its not like he can't do it.

I expect both Armstrong and Hill to make some spectacular plays and for the offenses to control the tempo of this game. This game should come down to the wire and I think the Huskers will just barely edge out a victory to get the Riley era started off on the right foot.

Prediction: Nebraska 31, BYU 30

Top 10

Thursday, September 3

#2 TCU at Minnesota 

The Horned Frogs are still smarting from being left out of last year's college football playoff. They took out their anger on Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl, trashing them 42-3 and now find themselves the second ranked team in the nation. They open the season under the lights against the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis. Horned Frogs QB Trevone Boykin is back along with nine other starters on offense so naturally expectations are even higher for what was already a high powered offense last season. The atmosphere might contribute to a slow and rocky start for TCU but after that they will kick into gear and wipe out Minnesota.

Prediction: TCU 42, Minnesota 21

Friday, September 4

#5 Michigan State at Western Michigan

Senior QB Connor Cook is a Heisman trophy candidate and the main reason why people believe Michigan State is the only team capable of preventing an Ohio State undefeated season. The Spartans should also be strong on the defensive side of the ball, which has been the case for most of the Mark D'Antoni era. It's not often you see a lower tier team like Western Michigan get to host a big name program, so I expect a lively atmosphere for this game. In typical Sparty fashion, Michigan State will look ugly at times but I expect them to easily win.

Prediction: Michigan State 38, Western Michigan 21

#4 Baylor at SMU

The Bears have arrived as a year in and year out upper echelon program. You can tell that not just from their high preseason ranking, but the national media scrutiny they have begun to receive. Baylor will be employing a new quarterback this season, as Bryce Petty has moved on to the NFL. Seth Russell is the new starting quarterback, but Baylor is hopeful the transition will be smooth as he has been in the system for a few years. It doesn't get much smoother than opening your season with SMU, as the Mustangs were an atrocious 1-11 last season.

Prediction: Baylor 56, SMU 13

Saturday, September 5

Louisiana Monroe at #9 Georgia

Georgia has recently been both a quarterback and running back factory in recent years but this year the shine is all on running back Nick Chubb. Chubb emerged as a star when Todd Gurley went down with injury last season. The Bulldogs hopes of a playoff berth could hinge on how settled their quarterback position ends up being. Coach Mark Richt named Greyson Lambert the starter, emerging as the winner in a three person race. Lambert will be expected to gain some confidence playing Louisiana Monroe, so if he struggles in this game, Bulldogs fans might be gnashing their teeth.

Prediction: Georgia 49, Louisiana Monroe 13

Louisville "at" #6 Auburn in Atlanta, Georgia

You never can tell too much about a team from just one game, let alone the opening game of the season but Louisville should provide enough of a test to quickly learn how legit Auburn is as a preseason top 10 team. The Tigers limped down the stretch last season, finishing 3-5 after a 5-0 start. Most of the excitement for Auburn this season centers around QB Jeremy Johnson. He is being hailed as the perfect fit for coach Gus Malzahn's offense and is expected to put up big numbers this season. Louisville has a lot of new faces on both offense and defense, but you know they will be well coached by Bobby Petrino and because of that, I expect them to keep this game interesting.

Prediction: Auburn 34, Louisville 24

Eastern Washington at #7 Oregon

Last season's runner up, Oregon, begins a new era as Marcus Mariota is now a Tennessee Titan. Transfer Vernon Adams is their new quarterback and funnily enough will begin his Ducks career against his old team, Eastern Washington. He put up incredible numbers for Eastern Washington and inherits a Ducks offense that has many prolific pieces. It might take Adams a few games to fully integrate himself into the offense, which could spell trouble for Oregon in Week 2 when they travel to Michigan State. But for this week's purposes, his old team should provide a nice tune up.

Prediction: Oregon 41, Eastern Washington 23

#20 Wisconsin "at" #3 Alabama in Arlington, Texas

Paul Chryst makes his debut as Wisconsin coach, a job many assumed would be his three years ago when Brett Bielema left for Arkansas. As far as opening games, it doesn't get much tougher than having to face the Crimson Tide and Nick Saban. Alabama doesn't rebuild, they reload and even with new starters at quarterback, wide receiver, and running back, expectations are sky high in Tuscaloosa. Derrick Henry is the new starting running back for Bama, but the new starting quarterback appears like it will remain a mystery up until kickoff on Saturday night. Vying for the starting quarterback position are Jake Coker. Cooper Bateman, and Alec Morris. It wouldn't surprise me if we saw all three take snaps at some point on Saturday.

The Badgers are led by quarterback Joel Stave and running back Corey Clement will be attempting to step out of the shadow of former star running back Melvin Gordon. Both teams have their share of questions going into the 2015 season but where Alabama has a clear edge is with Saban. He has been the constant in the program for almost the past decade while Wisconsin is on their third coach in four years. Although Chryst did serve as the Badgers offensive coordinator before taking the Pitt job, most of his players are getting used to him. I expect the difference in coaching stability to show itself in this game.

Prediction: Alabama 34, Wisconsin 24

Texas State at #10 Florida State

The Seminoles are another big time program starting over at quarterback this season. A player I know well, former Fighting Irish quarterback Everett Golson is the new Seminoles starter. Golson was putting up Heisman like numbers to start the season last year, but then completely fell apart and became a turnover machine. It will be interesting to watch what kind of Golson will show up this year for Florida State and if he is capable of leading a national contending team week in and week out.

Prediction: Florida State 49, Texas State 14

Arkansas State at #8 USC

For a USC quarterback, Cody Kessler has stayed pretty under the radar. That figures to change this year as he enters his third season as the Trojans quarterback. USC would be happy if his play can steal the headlines from coach Steve Sarkisian, who made negative headlines for becoming way too drunk at a team function a few weeks ago. The first two weeks of the season should be stress free for USC, but then the Pac-12 season begins and things will kick into high gear.

Prediction: USC 47, Arkansas State 17

Monday, September 7

#1 Ohio State at Virginia Tech 

Ohio State had just one blemish on their record last season and it was an embarrassing home loss to Virginia Tech. That loss became even more mystifying as the season wore on and the losses mounted for the Hokies and the Buckeyes became the best team in college football. Now, the rematch happens at Lane Stadium under the lights on Monday night football. Playing at Lane Stadium might have meant something a few years ago, but while the Hokies still have a very vocal crowd, the team is not nearly as good and thus the atmosphere is not what it once was. Offense has been a problem for years for Virginia Tech, which has wasted the spectacular defenses that coordinator Bud Foster has produced year after year.

Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer still hasn't provided an answer as to who will be his starting quarterback. It is down to Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett, with former starter Braxton Miller now a wide receiver. Barrett ended up having a spectacular season last year before being injured against Michigan, but he was completely dreadful against Virginia Tech. He couldn't figure out what the defense was throwing at him and was inaccurate and flustered the entire game. Jones won the most important games for Ohio State, leading them to victories in the Big Ten championship and both playoff games. However, my gut says that Meyer is going to go with Barrett as his starter. Tech better not just be worrying about which quarterback they will face or Ezekiel Elliott will run for over 200 yards on them. Teams are motivated every game they play but revenge is a real motivating factor and I think Meyer is going to have his team so jazzed up for this game that Virginia Tech won't even know what hit them. Ohio State is going to take control of the game early and cruise to victory.

Prediction: Ohio State 45, Virginia Tech 14

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