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

Auburn S Stephen Roberts arrested for unlawful gun possession, evading arrest

OXFORD, MS - NOVEMBER 01:  Stephen Roberts #14 of the Auburn Tigers celebrates with the Auburn student fans after defeating the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on November 1, 2014 in Oxford, Mississippi. Auburn defeated Mississippi 35-31.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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A Wednesday night traffic stop led to an arrest for Auburn safety Stephen Roberts. As reported by AL.com, a traffic stop just before 10 p.m. led to discovery of a handgun Roberts possessed without a permit to carry. Roberts bolted from the car in an attempt to evade arrest, but was apprehended and booked into Lee County Detention Center less than an hour later.

Auburn released a statement saying head coach Gus Malzahn was “aware” of the incident. “He is gathering all the facts and will handle the situation appropriately,” the program said.

Roberts appeared in all 13 games last season and was expected to start at free safety.

Malzahn offered praise to the junior less than a week ago.

“There’s no doubt Stephen Roberts, he was one of our better special teams guys last year,” Malzahn said last week. “He’s got experience at the safety position the second half of the year, had a very good spring. Just turning into one of those leaders of the defensive side that I know(defensive backs coach Wesley) McGriff has a lot of confidence in.

“He’s a savvy football player; he just understands football. He’s starting to develop into the player that we really expected when we recruited him and I’m proud of where he’s at right now. He’s got to go out there, he’s got to keep improving and all that but he’s a football player.”

Both charges are misdemeanors. The maximum sentences carry no more than a year in jail and $6,000 fines. He is due to appear in court Nov. 17.

TCU, Auburn, others name starting quarterbacks

COLUMBIA, SC - AUGUST 28: Kenny Hill #7 of the Texas A&M Aggies drops back to pass South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on August 28, 2014 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Game week is upon us, which means it’s time for those mired in quarterback derbies to declare a winner. At least for Week 1.

A number of announcements have come down the pike of late, so we funneled them all into one post here.

First, TCU announced that Texas A&M transfer and short-lived Heisman favorite Kenny Hill has beaten Alamo Bowl hero Foster Sawyer to win the Horned Frogs’ starting role next Saturday against South Dakota State.

“He’s in as good a shape as I’ve ever seen him,” TCU head coach Gary Patterson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Stronger, faster than he was coming out of high school. I mean, he’s done a great job of re-doing himself.”

Auburn has the unenviable task of opening against college football’s best quarterback in Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, and the player charged with that task will be Sean White. The one-time Tiger starter reclaimed his role by beating former Florida State quarterback and Last Chance U. star John Franklin III and incumbent Jeremy Johnson.

“It feels really good,” White told Auburn Undercover. “I feel blessed to be in this position, and I feel responsible to lead this team against Clemson. I’m happy coach put this responsibility on me and my teammates believe in me. I feel like they have a reason to believe in me. We’ll be ready to go come Saturday.”

At Wisconsin, Bart Houston will lead the Badgers on the field as they open against LSU at Lambeau Field. In what may be a savvy karma play, head coach Paul Chryst selected Houston, a fifth-year senior named after Packers legend Bart Starr, over redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook. “I felt like Bart did everything he needed to do and earned the right to get the start,” Chryst said in a release.

At Virginia Tech, new head coach Justin Fuente tabbed Jerod Evans as his starter over fifth-year senior Brenden Motley and true freshman Josh Jackson. A Dallas native and Trinity Valley College transfer, Evans is the first JuCo transfer to ever win the Hokies’ starting gig. Fuente indicated more than just Evans will play in the Hokies’ opener opposite Liberty.

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Fuente said, via the Roanoke Times. “We have a lot of development, a lot of coaching, a lot of mentoring left to do with all three.”

Finally, Fresno State selected redshirt freshman Chason Virgil over Ford Childress and Kilton Anderson to start as the Bulldogs open at Nebraska. For Virgil, the announcement comes at the end of a sordid saga after Mississippi State pulled his scholarship offer late in the recruiting process.

“He earned the job. It wasn’t that we’re just selecting somebody,” Fresno head coach Tim DeRuyter said of Virgil, via the Fresno Bee. He clearly separated himself. If you look at the statistics, he had over twice the throws and less than half of the interceptions of any of the guys that were close to him. The longer we were in the system, the clearer it became.”

Baylor DB Travon Blanchard to miss season opener with knee injury

WACO, TX - AUGUST 31:  Matt Davis #4 of the Southern Methodist Mustangs runs the ball against Travon Blanchard #48 of the Baylor Bears at McLane Stadium on August 31, 2014 in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Baylor defensive back Travon Blanchard will miss the Bears’ opener after undergoing knee surgery to mend a minor meniscus tear, the Waco Tribune-Herald reports. Senior Patrick Levels is expected to replace him in the starting lineup.

A junior, Blanchard earned Honorable Mention All-Big 12 accolades after starting all 13 games as the Bears’ nickelback, where he posted 83 tackles, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, three picks, six passes defended, two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss.

Baylor trainers will monitor Blanchard’s progress before approving him to return to the lineup for the Bears’ second game with SMU.

Baylor opens its season next Friday night against Northwestern State.

CFT Previews: Playoff Darkhorses

PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 05:  Quarterback Josh Rosen #3 of the UCLA Bruins throws a  pass against the Virginia Cavaliers at the Rose Bowl on September 5, 2015 in Pasadena, California.  UCLA won 34-16.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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How does one define a Playoff darkhorse?

Washington would have been a perfect example… eight months ago. The Huskies do have a good defense, a promising quarterback and a smart coaching staff, seemingly the building blocks of a team set to make a big jump in 2016. But eight months of people separately talking themselves into Chris Petersen‘s Huskies has congealed into a team coming off a 7-6 season now being overrated heading into the actual season.

So, no, in my book, Washington is not a playoff darkhorse. Not anymore. Neither is Houston. Or Tennessee.

Here’s a brief look at teams that could actually take us all by surprise this fall:

Florida: Remember how good the Gators were before Will Grier got suspended and everything fell apart? The Gators started 6-0 before a respectable 35-28 loss at LSU, then rebounded with a 27-3 thrashing of Georgia in the Cocktail Party before the offense spent November and December struggling mightily just to hit 20 points. But with another year under Jim McElwain, Florida should be deeper and much less Treon Harris-y. And then there is the fact that winning the SEC East places a team automatically just 60 minutes away from the Playoff.

Louisville: Bobby Petrino has his roster in a better position than anyone anticipated upon taking over for Charlie StrongLamar Jackson was a revelation at quarterback last season, and should only improve after a full off-season taking starter’s reps. Florida State comes to Louisville for an upset-ready noon kick on Sept. 17.

UCLA: No one’s going undefeated in the Pac-12, but an opening day win at Texas A&M would forgive an in-conference slip-up. USC, Arizona and Arizona State should be in transition years, and there’s a strong chance Stanford, Washington and Oregon beat each other up in the Pac-12 North. Jim Mora has done a nice job re-stocking the shelves in Westwood, starting with possible future No. 1 pick and Heisman darkhorse Josh Rosen.