5 Things I Think: CFB Week 1!

It’s finally here — college football season. The first season of the playoff system for which so many of have been waiting. Everyone knows that the 13-person selection committee will select the four teams that will compete for the championship, but what is less commonly known is that the committee will also select the teams that will compete in a total of six bowls: Peach, Cotton, Fiesta, Rose, Orange, and Sugar. Under the BCS model, every bowl matchup, except the championship game, was determined by the bowls themselves. There will also be three new bowls this season, bringing the total number of bowls to a whopping 38. The Bahamas Bowl (Nassau, Bahamas), the Boca Raton Bowl (Boca Raton, FL), and the Miami Bowl (Miami, FL) will each make their debuts this season. No team from the Power 5 will participate in any of those new bowls, however, as they are each designated to Group of Five teams and/or Independents.

I am not a fan of preseason polls, so I don’t care about where teams are ranked in the Coaches or AP poll right now (however, the AP rankings will be listed below for those who do care) and those rankings will have no bearing on who I pick, or the strength or weakness of a win (or loss) in the next few weeks. I hope, too, that the selection committee doesn’t allow preseason rankings to be too big of an impact on their team assessments.

Alright, let’s dive in!

1. #21 Texas A&M at #9 South Carolina (8/28/14, 6pm EST, SEC Network): Both of these teams were charged with the task of replacing a dynamic player at quarterback as both Johnny Manziel and Connor Shaw have moved on to the NFL (and both to the Cleveland Browns). The Aggies are turning to sophomore Kenny Hill for now. I’m convinced freshman Kyle Allen will take over this job soon, but Hill has the job at the moment. He only has 22 pass attempts (16 completions) under his belt. However, behind him are a stable of running backs that not many teams can rival (perhaps Alabama, Oregon, and Georgia). He also has two receivers in redshirt freshman Ricky Seals-Jones and true freshman Speedy Noil and a tight end (Cam Clear) that are all big and fast on whom he can lean. Their defense, that started up to 7 freshmen at a time last season, is the biggest question. Surely a whole season and offseason will lead to improvement, but we’ll just have to see how much of an improvement that will be. The Ol’ Ball Coach will start senior Dylan Thompson. Thompson already has some game experience (Connor Shaw was injury prone) and even threw a game-winning touchdown in a bowl game. That particular bowl game is typically remembered more for a certain JaDeveon Clowney hit though. Clowney, fellow defensive lineman Kelcy Quarles, and leading receiver Bruce Ellington have left for the NFL (Texans, Giants, and 49ers respectively). However, an early Heisman candidate is in the backfield to carry the load in running back Mike Davis. Most spreads I’ve seen for this game have the Gamecocks favored by 10.5 points. It’s hard to predict games this early in the season because we don’t have on-the-field data to which we can refer, but I just don’t see South Carolina covering that spread. I think TAMU has a chance in this game but South Carolina will pull a win out. After all, the Gamecocks haven’t lost at home since 2011.

2. #5 Ohio State at Navy (8/30/14, 12pm EST, CBS Sports Network): Starting at quarterback for The Ohio State University, out of Wichita Falls, Texas, and wearing number 16: scarletshirt freshman J.T. Barrett! Many pundits flushed any chance of the Buckeyes being one of the last four teams standing down the toilet when Braxton Miller went down for the season. Let’s see what Barrett can do before we push down on the handle, shall we? There have been a few second-year freshmen over the past few years who have done pretty well for themselves and their teams. The Buckeyes do only return 1 starter on the offensive line (however, senior Chad Lindsey transferred over from Alabama), but Meyer has seemed optimistic even after Miller’s injury. He wants to play even faster now and has labeled Barrett a “distributor” early on; get the ball in the hands of all the speed the offense can put on the field and let them run. Navy is no pushover, however. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds tied for the most rushing touchdowns last season with an unbelievable 31 of them (six players had more carries than him). Navy runs a triple option and as we all know, that is a bit difficult to prepare for because it’s hard to duplicate in practice. The Midshipmen do pass it a little more than in years past (they actually had 6 games in which they had double digit pass attempts in 2013), and Reynolds has a pretty good arm. The last time these two teams played (2009), it was also to open the season and the Buckeyes were saved by intercepted (and returned) two-point conversion to hold on to a 31-27 win. I’ve seen spreads for this game favoring the Buckeyes by 16 or 17 points. However, given Navy’s time possession dominating style of play, I don’t know if there will be enough scoring opportunities in a 60-minute period to win by that many points. My Buckeyes win, but I think it’ll be closer to a 10 or 13-point margin.

3. West Virginia vs. #2 Alabama in the Georgia Dome (8/30/14, 3:30pm EST ESPN): I wasn’t going to choose this game in Week 1, but there’s something about it that intrigues me. It’s not because we’ll see two former Florida State quarterbacks (both of whom left because they weren’t going to beat out Jameis Winston) in Clint Trickett and Jacob Coker. It isn’t because Clint Trickett announced that Nick Saban’s daughter was his first kiss (via al.com); that wasn’t that big of a deal given the kiss happened as six-year-olds and both his dad and his brother have been on Saban’s staff — but it was funny that he mentioned it. This game shouldn’t interest me at all given Alabama is favored by 26 in most of the spreads I’ve seen. Vegas seems to think it doesn’t matter who plays quarterback for the Crimson Tide or that the defensive backfield is young and relatively inexperienced (except Landon Collins who is a beast). However, quarterback, for both teams, is actually one of three main reasons this game catches my attention. Like many, I want to know who stands out between Coker and Sims on the Alabama side, because whoever does will dictate the direction the passing game will go this season. Sims is not a great passer and it would be a shame to waste receiving threats Amari Cooper, Chris Black, Robert Foster, and O.J. Howard, but then it would mean there’d be more reason for T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry, and Kenyon Drake to get touches. Coker, it seems, would be able to use more of these weapons. I want to know how Clint Trickett will do in his second year in Dana Holgorsen’s up tempo, no huddle, offense and of course I want to see how Nick Saban will defend it given his seeming disdain for that style of offense. That dynamic is very intriguing to me after the offseason debate about these fast-paced offenses. Lastly, I want to see how Lane Kiffin will use the collection of four and five-star recruits at his disposal — yet within Saban’s naturally conservative scheme. I realize they won’t show a whole lot in the first game, particularly if the game goes the way Vegas thinks it will, but if Trickett and WVU can possibly put up some points, we may get a better show than even the “city that never sleeps” is ready for. Alabama wins, but doesn’t cover the 26.

4. #16 Clemson at #12 Georgia (8/30/14, 5:30pm EST ESPN): We have another matchup of two teams who lost their quarterbacks to the NFL. This one is a little different in that both Tajh Boyd (Jets) and Aaron Murray (Chiefs) were seniors and are now being replaced by seniors Cole Stoudt and Hutson Mason. The Tigers not only lost their star quarterback, but their top two rushers (one of which was Boyd) and their top two receivers from a year ago. On top of that, two offensive linemen who many thought would start (David Beasley and Isaiah Battle) are sitting out of this game due to the ever-popular “violation of team rules”. Defensively, I still can’t believe Vic Beasley forewent the NFL Draft and returned for his senior season as I think he’d have been a top ten pick. The defensive line is where Clemson will be strong this year and they’ll play hockey-style line changes much like Chip Kelly did at Oregon. Hutson Mason is a fifth-year senior who was able to get into five games last season due to Murray’s injuries. He started in the Bulldogs’ bowl game loss to Nebraska, but he played pretty well (21 for 39, 320 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT). That shows he can perform on a fairly big stage. Where Georgia is among the nation’s best this season is depth at the running back position. It starts with Heisman candidate Todd Gurley, who some think is the best back in the country. Keith Marshall (who teamed up with Gurley two seasons ago to make up one of the best tandems in the country) is back from injury. As if that weren’t enough, freshmen Sony Michel and Nick Chubb are good enough that Mark Richt will surely want to get them on the field somehow. I think Clemson is going to bring the house and make Mason prove he can beat them with a less-than-stellar group of receivers. Clemson will put up points (after all, it’s a Chad Morris offense), but I don’t know if they’ll be able to stop Georgia’s running attack. Clemson wins by a touchdown.

5. #14 Wisconsin vs. #13 LSU in NRG Stadium in Houston, TX (8/30/14, 9pm EST, ESPN): LSU may be playing the youngest roster in the country this year. Les Miles is playing two quarterbacks (sophomore Anthony Jennings and true freshman Brandon Harris) on Saturday, but I don’t expect that to be the situation for long as I expect Harris to win the job. If that is the case, we could soon see a true freshman at quarterback, a true freshman at running back (#1 overall recruit Leonard Fournette), and a true freshman at wide receiver (#1 wide receiver Malachi Dupre). Some people think Fournette could be the best freshman running back since Adrian Peterson burst onto the scene for Oklahoma in 2004. He appears to be a beast and he may well be the next big name and given the doors opened by Manziel and Winston, it’s quite possible he could make a run to be the first true freshman to win the Heisman (I think Peterson should have won it over Matt Leinart, but don’t get me started). Wisconsin is not starting the year as many people thought they would. Last week Coach Anderson named Tanner McEvoy the starting quarterback over Joel Stave (who started all 13 games last season). McEvoy played some safety for the Badgers last season. He was a third-string quarterback at South Carolina in 2011, transferred to a community college in Arizona, and ended up in Madison last year. He’s a better athlete that Stave and should add the mobility factor at quarterback Anderson was used to with Chuckie Keeton at Utah State. That may help keep defenses honest instead of stacking the box to stop running back Melvin Gordon (a Heisman candidate in his own right). The Badgers don’t have a corner who can match Dupre’s speed, but I’m sure they plan on putting as much pressure on Jennings/Harris as they can and make the Tigers beat them with their arm. The problem with that is the Badgers had to replace every starter on the defensive line and at linebacker from a year ago. This is a toss-up, which is why the lines seem to be settling around 5 in favor of Wisconsin. Vegas seems to be giving in to the idea that it’s a bit too early for LSU’s talent to overcome its youth. I tend to agree. Wisconsin wins a close one.

FCS over FBS pick: Bethune Cookman over Florida International. Bethune-Cookman won ten games (one of which was against FIU) last season and made the playoffs. FIU would have been winless last season if it hadn’t tipped a game-winning field goal attempt by Southern Miss at the line (and that gave Southern Miss THEIR 17th loss in a row).


  1. Good insights here, Chris. One thing I disagree with is saying “Lastly, I want to see how Lane Kiffin will use the collection of four and five-star recruits at his disposal.” Didn’t he have that as his disposal at USC? Are you saying he’s more suited to a coordinator role?

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