Thursday, September 10, 2015

Cram Session - Week 2

Thursday, September 10

Pittsburgh at New England, New England favored by 7

This game is so much more intriguing to me now that Tom Brady will start instead of Jimmy G. The Patriots are the reigning, defending Super Bowl champions and the Steelers are the team that many think can take that title this year. Offensively, you look at New England and you sort of just crinkle your nose and wonder how they tend to be so prolific. I couldn't tell you who will be their starting running back tonight with LaGarrette Blount suspended and aside from Rob Gronkowski, the Pats receiving options of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola don't strike a ton of fear in defenses. However, you look at the Steelers offense, the talent jumps off the page. However, they will be missing some of that talent as La'Veon Bell is suspended for this game for the season reason that his former teammate Blount is. Maybe they can share a bowl and commiserate during the game. The Steelers are also without Martavis Bryant who is suspended four games for not being able to pass up on the sticky icky. They do still have Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown though and with the Patriots no longer having Revis Island, I would expect Brown to be in for a big night.

The Patriots have a lot of new pieces in their secondary as they look to replace Darrell Revis and Brandon Browner. I think their secondary could be in for a long night trying to slow down the Steelers passing attack. The Steelers defense was mediocre at best last season, as evidenced by the fact that 100-year old James Harrison was one of their better players on that side of the ball. I would expect that even with this being the first game and some rust being evident, a lot of points will be scored. Home teams rarely lose in these Thursday night openers and I trust for that to remain the case with old dependables Brady and Bill Belichick leading the Patriots.

Prediction: New England 35, Pittsburgh 27

Games That Matter To Me

South Alabama (1-0) at Nebraska (0-1)

It doesn't get much more of a kick in the nuts than losing a game on a Hail Mary. Nebraska was on the right end of that type of ending against Northwestern a few years ago. Unfortunately, last Saturday they ended up on the wrong end of things against BYU. The Huskers were seconds away form a come from behind victory despite having almost no rushing game to speak of. The Huskers were winning on the back of their passing game, something Nebraska fans aren't used to seeing. This weekend against South Alabama should hopefully serve as a confidence booster for the team and allow them to get on the winning side of things.

Nebraska went with a running back by committee approach last week and no one was able to stand out. Terrell Newby led the team in carries with 10 and scored a touchdown so maybe going forward he will take on a greater load. It was very promising how well Tommy Armstrong played, completing 75% of his passes and throwing three touchdowns. Jordan Westerkamp had a big day at receiver and appears poised to step up and replace the departed Kenny Bell's production.

I know next to nothing about South Alabama but it appears they have a pretty decent running back in Xavier Johnson who rushed for 121 yards on 7 carries in the Jaguars win versus Gardner-Webb last week. Their passing game doesn't look to be all that good, and stopping the pass is where the Huskers struggled against BYU. I expect another strong game from Armstrong and I am hopeful one of the running backs can step forward and start to take over as the number one back. Next week brings a road trip to Miami, so it is imperative the Huskers have a strong performance Saturday and can feel good about themselves going into that game.

Prediction: Nebraska 44, South Alabama 17

Top 10

Hawaii (1-0) at #1 Ohio State (1-0)

Besides a rough second quarter, the Buckeyes went out and dominated Virgina Tech as I expected. What I didn't expect was that Cardale Jones would be the man leading Ohio State. At least for now, he has won the starting quarterback position over J.T. Barrett. It does seem that Barrett will still see action from time to time. What proved to be a smashing success was former starting quarterback Braxton Miller at wide receiver. The Hokies had no answers for his speed and moves and if he can continue at the pace he showed last Monday, Miller switching to a receiver/H-back might be the best career choice he has made. The Buckeyes schedule is a joke so the next few months present plenty of opportunities for the Buckeyes trio of quarterbacks to put up big numbers and score lots of points, with Hawaii being the next sacrificial lamb.

Prediction: Ohio State 49, Hawaii 14

Middle Tennessee (1-0) at #2 Alabama (1-0)

As expected, Bama showed against Wisconsin that they aren't rebuilding, they are reloading. New quarterback Jake Coker and especially new running back Derrick Henry had big days and the Crimson Tide cruised to victory over Wisconsin. This week's game is all about getting out of it healthy and prepping for their SEC opener against Ole Miss next week, as the Tide look to avenge their loss to Mississippi from last season.

Prediction: Alabama 42, Middle Tennessee 9

Stephen F. Austin (0-1) at #3 TCU (1-0)

TCU had a national spotlight on them last Thursday night and underwhelmed against Minnesota. The score was closer than the game ever really was, but the media was unimpressed and slid the Horned Frogs behind the Crimson Tide in this week's rankings. This week's game against Stephen F. Austin can't really help TCU's national standing, but another poor performance could hurt it. I expect QB Trevone Boykin to lead the Horned Frogs to a dominating victory against an overmatched opponent.

Prediction: TCU 45, Stephen F. Austin 10

Lamar (1-0) at #4 Baylor (1-0)

The Bears struggled at times with SMU but still put up 56 points and pulled away for a 35-point victory. I expect them to break 60 this week against poor Lamar.

Prediction: Baylor 63, Lamar 17

#7 Oregon (1-0) at #5 Michigan State (1-0)

Easily the best game of the week as for the second straight season these teams meet early in the year, ranked in the Top 10. The scene moves from Eugene last season to East Lansing this year. Oregon is also led by a new quarterback this season, Vernon Adams Jr. Adams is a transfer from Eastern Washington so this will easily be the biggest game he has ever taken part in while in college. Primetime, under the lights with a loud crowd, it will be interesting to see how he responds. That is where he will need his supporting cast to take some pressure off of him. As usual, the Ducks have a sick array of weapons at running back and receiver. Royce Freeman is a threat to score every time he touches the ball and Adams himself is able to break out in open space and be hard to catch. Dwayne Stanford and Byron Marshall are Adams primary receiving targets. The Ducks have shown they can score against the Spartans tough defense, but the question is, can their own defense which gave up 42 points last week, do enough on the road to keep Oregon in the game?

Michigan State had an uneven performance in their Week 1 win at Western Michigan. QB Connor Cook completed less than 50% of his passes and aside from receiver Aaron Burbridge, no one on Sparty's offense really stepped up. That can work against a MAC school, it won't work against one of the better programs in the country. As I mentioned, the Ducks don't have a very good defense, so opportunities figure to be there for Sparty. I expect LJ Scott and Madre London to see some more carries than they did in last week's game. Physical toughness has always been a big question about the Ducks and they have shown many times that they can be pounded into submission by a power running team.

I am not sure either of these teams are truly top 10 teams at the moment, but we will know more after they face off. I think Oregon is the more talented team but the homefield advantage will make the difference in this game. Also, a major factor will be Adams inexperience in a game at this magnitude. I expect that to lead to some mistakes and turnovers that will force the Ducks to play catch up.

Prediction: Michigan State 28, Oregon 27

Jacksonville State (1-0) at #6 Auburn (1-0)

Auburn jumped out to a 24-0 advantage against Louisville but seemed to get complacent, and had to hang on to a 31-24 victory. Complacent or not, the Tigers should have a pretty easy go of things with Jacksonville State this weekend. Their players better savor it as their SEC schedule begins next week when they travel to Baton Rouge to take on LSU.

Prediction: Auburn 52, Jacksonville State 7

Idaho (0-1) at #8 USC (1-0)

Almost no one on the east coast saw it, but not surprisingly USC killed Arkansas State. Things figure to be even easier this week against Idaho. Weeks 3 and 4 appeared to be tough matchups a week ago with USC hosting Stanford and then travling to Arizona State. But both Stanford and Arizona State were whipped by unranked teams in Week 1, and it appears that USC may not have a real challenge until they travel to Notre Dame Stadium on October 17.

Prediction: USC 66, Idaho 14

#9 Notre Dame (1-0) at Virginia (0-1)

Notre Dame put forth perhaps the strongest statement of any team in Week 1, decimating Texas 38-3. Time will tell if that result was because Notre Dame is that good or if Texas is that bad, but the performance certainly had me buying more into the hype that surrounded Notre Dame in the preseason. One major blow though was the loss of RB Tarean Folston for the season as Folston was expected to anchor the Irish rushing attack. C.J. Prosise ended up stepping in and reeled off 98 yards on 20 carries and seemed to be Brian Kelly's choice to be the new starter. I am happy that Kelly turned things over to Prosise instead of going to that running back committee mess he had most of last season. QB Malik Zaire was excellent, completing 19 of 22 passes for 313 yards and 3 touchdowns. If he keeps up performances like that, he will start getting some Heisman publicity. The defense was also excellent, never letting the Longhorns get into rhythm. Again though, it is hard to know yet whether that says more about the Irish or the ineptness of the Longhorns offense.

The Cavaliers football program is in disarray and their season started by getting shellacked at UCLA. Their fans with their dress clothes and popped collars figure to be out in full force for this game and should give the team an emotional lift. QB Matt Johns was serviceable against UCLA but he isn't a dynamic player and shouldn't be someone the Irish have too much trouble dealing with. RB Taquan Mizzell was his best receiver last week, so the Irish defenders will be watching a lot of film on him this week to see how UVA hides him from the defense and gets him out into open space. Mizzell was ineffective running the ball last weekend and if he struggles against Notre Dame that will just exacerbate UVA's offensive issues.

Notre Dame has a real tough game next week at home against Georgia Tech but they have to remain focused on the task at hand, as a road environment can always lead to upsets. I don't expect quite as dominating a performance as we saw last Saturday, but this game should be another strong win for the Irish.

Prediction: Notre Dame 30, Virginia 16

#10 Georgia (1-0, 0-0) at Vanderbilt (0-1, 0-0)

The Bulldogs kick off their SEC schedule at Vanderbilt. The SEC has ten teams in the Top 25 and Vanderbilt is one of the teams missing from that list. The James Franklin era seems so long ago for the Commodores. As far as the Bulldogs go, this should serve as further fine tuning before Georgia's schedule kicks into high gear next week when they host South Carolina.

Prediction: Georgia 31, Vanderbilt 12

Last Week: 11-1
Overall: 11-1

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