Nick Saban

Predictions 101 — Week 1

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Here we go!

It’s been 33 long weeks without college football games to keep us occupied and the offseason was generally one that we’d like to forget.

Thankfully, the best season in sports is finally upon us and we’re digging right in.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thur. Aug. 30 thru Mon., Sept. 3)

1) No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 2 Alabama at Arlington, Texas
Sat., 8 p.m. ET, ABC

Thanks to Brady Hoke, Michigan got back to being Michigan last year, but three starting defensive linemen are not back this season. That doesn’t bode well for the Wolverines in this matchup versus the defending BCS champs.

Led by Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones and three other returning starters, the Crimson Tide offensive line is the best in the country and it’s looking for more ways to prove it.

Alabama averaged 5.5 yards per rush last season, but the offense generated just 13 plays that went for 40 or more yards. Nick Saban is looking for new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to add more explosiveness to the passing game led by junior quarterback A.J. McCarron.

Michigan’s offense suffers from no such lack of explosiveness. Senior quarterback Denard Robinson is a powder keg and has been a particularly strong performer out of the gate in September. However, opening against Alabama is a different ballgame.

Someone with a penchant for throwing interceptions might be in for a long night against a Crimson Tide defense that shouldn’t fall off much from last year’s showing that saw it allow only 3.3 yards per play and permit third-down conversions at a stingy rate of 24.5 percent.

Michigan’s corresponding numbers from last season were 5.2 and 36.4 percent. Take nothing away from Wolverine defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who did a masterful job last season, bringing Michigan’s defense out from the muck, but this is too tough a task.

Trent Richardson is gone and his replacement, Eddie Lacy, is nursing knee and ankle sprains, but that doesn’t mean the Tide will be searching for answers at running back. If Lacy is limited or ineffective, expect to see true freshman T.J. Yeldon show his considerable stuff.

Opening point spread: Alabama -11

The pick: Alabama 26-19

2) No. 24 Boise State at No. 13 Michigan State
Fri., 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

This will be the fourth consecutive time that the Broncos open the season against a ranked foe from a BCS automatic qualifying conference. Oregon, Virginia Tech and Georgia were each previously victimized. However, this is a bit different because it’s the first of the four played on the opponent’s home field … and the first played without Kellen Moore available to take snaps.

Thankfully for Boise State, both teams are starting new quarterback eras. Like Moore, Michigan State hero Kirk Cousins will be remembered for a long time at his alma mater.

Quarterback Joe Southwick won’t be the only new starter for the Broncos. Most of the skill positions around him will be manned by newcomers, as well as all but two spots on defense. Wow.

We keep hearing that Boise State has become one of these schools that reloads instead of rebuilds. Amazing.

Chris Petersen is indeed a miracle worker, but rolling into East Lansing where the Spartans have eight starters returning from a defense that allowed less than 280 yards and 19 points per game is a mighty tough task with a new signalcaller.

After this trip, the Broncos likely will fall out of the AP Top 25 for the first time since September of 2008. That’s nothing to mourn … rather something to marvel.

Opening point spread: Michigan State by 7 1/2

The pick: Michigan State 31-20

3) No. 14 Clemson vs. Auburn at Atlanta
Sat., 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

The last time we saw Clemson, the Tigers were being humiliated by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.

Reportedly Brent Venables, who came over from Oklahoma to be Clemson’s new defensive coordinator, hasn’t watched all the footage of that 70-33 debacle. We wouldn’t either. It would not only be depressing, but also barely relevant as he reworks what remains from that unit into his favored 4-3 alignment.

Similarly, the last time these two Tigers were on the same field a year ago, the ones representing Auburn surrendered 624 yards of total offense on their way to a 38-24 defeat that snapped a 17-game winning streak. At one point, Auburn inexplicably allowed Clemson to convert on 10 consecutive third-down attempts. Ouch.

Unlike Venables’ situation, that tape is something new Auburn defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder needs to take a long look at.

With Gene Chizik recently announcing that sophomore Kiehl Frazier will start at quarterback, the Auburn defense might need to hold Clemson under 19 points to win the ballgame. The future is bright for the young dual-threat signalcaller, but we aren’t sure how he’ll perform on such a big stage this early in the season. He’ll also be working with a new coordinator (Scot Loeffler, who takes over for Gus Malzahn) and without suspended starting center Reese Dismukes.

Even though suspended wideout Sammy Watkins isn’t available to lean on, we’ve got more confidence in Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, who was 30-of-42 for 386 yards and four touchdowns in last year’s matchup. And tailback Andre Ellington and receiver DeAndre Hopkins are ready to roll for the defending ACC champs.

Opening point spread: Clemson by 7 1/2

The pick: Clemson 27-19

4) Georgia Tech at No. 16 Virginia Tech
Mon., 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

There’s lots of hype around jumbo quarterback Logan Thomas being the “next Cam Newton.” He has the size and some of the tools, but we just need to see if his young supporting cast compliments him well enough to get the job done each week.

Thankfully, the Hokie offense won’t be overly pressed to produce since the Virginia Tech defense, which has a host of experience at every level, will keep the majority of its opponents significantly under wraps.

Last year, the Hokies put the clamps on the Yellow Jackets in the fourth quarter of a 37-26 victory in Atlanta.

With Georgia Tech severely inexperienced at the receiving positions, it’s hard to picture the Ramblin’ Wreck keeping pace in this crucial Coastal Division showdown in Blacksburg.

Opening point spread: Virginia Tech by 7 1/2

The pick: Virginia Tech 27-17

5) No. 9 South Carolina at Vanderbilt
Thurs., 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Gamecocks surpassed all expectations last year, winning a school-record 11 games. What’s even more amazing is that they played nearly half the season with All-Everything tailback Marcus Lattimore on the sidelines.

With his recovery from knee surgery complete and Connor Shaw solidified at quarterback (if back spasms don’t get in the way), South Carolina is dreaming big.

Vanderbilt, however, doesn’t give a hoot about all this and there is some danger looming in Nashville as second-year head coach James Franklin has the Commodores feeling good about notching back-to-back bowl seasons.

Of course, good times in the opener will last only as long as quarterback Jordan Rodgers (Aaron’s little brother) remains upright while facing South Carolina’s skyscraper defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney (6-6) and Devin Taylor (6-8).

Remember how poorly the Gamecocks played in last season’s lid-lifter against East Carolina?

This will be tight.

Opening point spread: South Carolina by 8

The pick: South Carolina 24-23

RIVALRY GAME OF THE WEEK

Notre Dame vs. Navy at Dublin, Ireland
Sat., 9 a.m. ET, CBS

How could we pass up the longest continuous intersectional rivalry in college football? And this time it’s a season opener in Ireland!

Newly named starting quarterback Everett Golson has that electric quality to him, but he also won the confidence of Brian Kelly by displaying good decision making in practice. According to Kelly, he was intercepted just one time in his first 126 attempts of fall camp.

Following that sort of trend was the bright side of the offseason for Kelly, who spent (and continues to spend) considerable time getting tough with his misbehaving players.

Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo has been laying down the law regarding another kind of toughness, the physical kind. He and his Midshipmen feel that’s what was missing as they slipped to a 5-7 mark last season and missed out on a bowl game for the first time in eight years.

Navy has only 11 returning starters and is particularly inexperienced in both trenches. After losing its entire starting defensive front, it’s frightening to think of how punchless the Midshipmen pass rush will be after barely generating any penetration and pressure a year ago.

Opening point spread: Notre Dame by 14

The pick: Notre Dame 28-16

UPSET SPECIAL OF THE WEEK

Washington State at BYU
Thurs., 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

We like Mike Leach. We admit it. We don’t like pirates. We don’t like Pullman. But we like Leach. And, guess what, his act and attack is going to work up in the Palouse.

Like the oddsmakers, we realize that Wazzu has no business waltzing into Provo thinking that they’ve got this won. But once the bullets start flying, BYU will know that it’s in for a 60-minute shootout against Leach and his senior triggerman Jeff Tuel.

Of course, BYU quarterback Riley Nelson, a seventh-year senior, is capable of grabbing a hold of the game and not letting go, especially against Washington State’s limp defense, but at least the experienced Cougar secondary has been there before against similar attacks.

Maybe it’s not a moneyline play, but there’s a lot to like.

Opening point spread: BYU by 12 1/2

The pick: Washington State 31-30

2011 regular season record: 121-43
2011 bowl record: 20-15

Stanford WR Francis Owusu to miss game against Washington with concussion

PASADENA, CA - NOVEMBER 28:  Running back Francis Owusu #6 of the Stanford Cardinal carries the ball against the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl on November 28, 2014 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Stanford will be without one of their top weapons ahead of a Pac-12 showdown with Washington.

Cardinal head coach David Shaw announced on Monday that receiver Francis Owusu suffered a concussion last week against UCLA and he will miss the team’s upcoming game on Friday in Seattle.

“He’s doing much better,” Shaw told ESPN. “If it was up to him, he’d play next week, but that’s not up to him.”

Owusu took a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit from defensive back Tahaan Goodman late in Saturday’s comeback win over UCLA. The play was reviewed but not considered targeting by Pac-12 referees, something that Shaw told reporters he would ask conference officials about.

“I know that Francis Owusu was not technically a ‘defenseless player,'” said Shaw. “But knowing the era we’re in — where we’re in the mode of trying to make this game safer, trying to take helmet hits out of the game, and trying to protect the players who play this wonderful, physical sport — in the spirit of where we are in the football world right now, you should throw a flag. It should be penalty. The initial contact was helmet-to-helmet.”

Owusu has just two catches for 15 yards on the season but the senior is one of the Cardinal’s veteran options at receiver. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who caught the game-winner at the Rose Bowl on Saturday, and Jay Tyler are expected to fill Owusu’s shoes in the offense.

No. 7 Stanford takes on No. 10 Washington in a battle of Pac-12 unbeatens that could be for a spot in the conference title game and the College Football Playoff. If nothing else, the game should determine who wins the Pac-12 North in 2016.

LSU defensive end Davon Godchaux suspended after domestic battery arrest

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 08:  Davon Godchaux #57 celebrates a defensive stop with Kwon Alexander #4 of the LSU Tigers against the Alabama Crimson Tide during a game at Tiger Stadium on November 8, 2014 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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Ed Orgeron’s first order of business after being handed the interim head coaching title at LSU?

Suspending a starter.

The school announced on Monday that defensive end Davon Godchaux was suspended indefinitely after being arrested over the weekend as the result of an incident with his girlfriend.

NOLA.com reported that Godchaux was booked Monday morning by the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s office on charges of false imprisonment and domestic abuse battery/child endangerment. He was released after posting a $20,000 bond.

Godchaux is accused of getting into an altercation with his girlfriend and preventing her from leaving their apartment with their 10-month old child.

The defensive end has been responsible for two sacks on the season and 20 tackles over four games. Frank Herron is expected to take Godchaux’s place on the Tigers’ first-team defense.

Reports: Florida hires Mississippi State’s Scott Stricklin as new athletic director

FILE - In this Jan. 28, 2016, file photo, Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin congratulates Dominique Dillingham following the team's NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee in Starkville, Miss. A person familiar with the search says Florida has hired Stricklin as its new athletic director. Stricklin replaces Jeremy Foley, one of the most tenured sports executives in the country. Foley is retiring Saturday after 40 years with the Gators, including the last 25 in charge of Florida's athletic program. The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because Florida has an announcement and introductory news conference planned for Tuesday, Sept. 27. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle, File)
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One athletic director is making a rare intra-conference move to take the same position at a rival school.

As first reported by USA Today, Mississippi State’s Scott Stricklin is set to be announced as the new athletic director at Florida on Tuesday.

The move ends a lengthy search by the Gators to replace longtime AD Jeremy Foley, who officially retires at the end of the week but is remaining at the school to help fundraise.

The Florida athletic director’s job is considered to be one of the most plum in all of college sports. That may be the biggest reason why Stricklin, who graduated from Mississippi State in 1992, would make the rare move to leave his alma mater for another position in the SEC. He has been in charge of the Bulldogs since 2010 and also made stops at Tulane, Baylor and Kentucky before coming back to Starkville.

Stricklin is well-regarded in most circles for his moves to upgrade MSU facilities during his time as athletic director. The Gators recently announced plans for over $100 million in capital improvements so you can bet that the school’s new athletic director will hit the ground running starting on Saturday.

FSU’s Jimbo Fisher, Houston’s Tom Herman both deny being contacted by LSU

TALLAHASSEE, FL - SEPTEMBER 12: Head coach Jimbo Fisher of the Florida State Seminoles looks on against the South Florida Bulls in the first half at Doak Campbell Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Les Miles has barely been out of a job for 24 hours and already the rumors have begun connecting other head coaches to his old job at LSU.

Not surprisingly, one of the most prominent names being mentioned is former Tigers assistant and current Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher.

“I’m not talking about LSU. No I haven’t [had contact] and I’m not talking about it,” Fisher told reporters on Monday. “We’re talking about North Carolina.”

The 12th-ranked Seminoles play the Tar Heels on Saturday.

Fisher spent seven years at LSU and was the offensive coordinator for Nick Saban during the 2003 national championship season in Baton Rouge. He recently won a national championship at Florida State in 2013 and has 71-15 career record.  Many have labeled Fisher one of the Tigers’ top targets in their coaching search but he is far from the only prominent name that has been mentioned recently for the job.

Houston coach Tom Herman, who has seemingly heard his name come up for every major coaching opening the past 18 months, also denied being contacted by the school. A report had surfaced shortly after Miles was fired saying that said school representatives had already made contact with the Cougars coach.

“I can say unequivocally nobody has contacted me,” Herman said after practice, according to the Houston Chronicle. “I can spend my time getting upset and going on radio shows and tweeting things out and all that stuff, but at the end of the day it’s not going to stop. I just let them do and say whatever they want to say.”

Stanford head coach David Shaw also issued a strong denial about him potentially leaving the Farm for LSU as well.

With such a big time job opening up this early in the year, you can expect plenty of these types of reports linking somebody with LSU and then a prompt denial from said coach. It seems like it’s going to be a long season for the Tigers on the field and an even longer for those following the team’s coaching search.

It’s probably safe to say the only person who won’t deny any interest in the job or being contacted about the opening is LSU’s current interim coach Ed Orgeron, who was introduced at a press conference Monday afternoon.