Nick Saban

Predictions 101 — Week 1

41 Comments

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

Arkansas loses RBs coach to NFL for second straight year

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - SEPTEMBER 5:  Head Coach Bret Bielema of the Arkansas Razorbacks talks with a official during a game against the UTEP Miners at Razorback Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The Razorbacks defeated the Miners 48-13.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Whatever the reason, the big boy league of football has taken a shining to one particular position on Bret Bielema‘s Arkansas coaching staff.

On Instagram Friday night, Jemal Singleton confirmed that he will be leaving Bielema’s football program.  While he didn’t specify it in his post, the running backs coach will be leaving for the same job with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts.

The 40-year-old Singleton had spent just one season coaching that same position with the Razorbacks.

A photo posted by coachsings (@coachsings) on Feb 5, 2016 at 5:23pm PST

//platform.instagram.com/en_US/embeds.js

This marks the second straight year that Bielema will be forced to replace a running backs coach to the NFL.  Almost a year to the day, Joel Thomas left Fayetteville for the same position with the New Orleans Saints.

Thomas owed the university $50,000 as part of his buyout last year; Singleton will owe $100,000, per the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.  If Singleton had waited until Feb. 16, that buyout figure would’ve been halved.

Unlike the post right before this one, there were signs of an impending on and around National Signing Day earlier this week.

He was notably absent from a signing day event at Walton Arena on Wednesday, and he did not attend another event to discuss the signing class Thursday in Little Rock, fueling speculation he was being courted by another program.

Singleton’s job with the Colts will be the Air Force graduate’s first at the NFL level.

Nebraska ‘parts ways’ with DL coach Hank Hughes

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 5: Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Mike Riley points out a missed call during their game against the Brigham Young Cougars at Memorial Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Surprisingly, Mike Riley has a self-made hole on his Nebraska coaching staff.

In a move that wasn’t on most if any radars, Hank Hughes will not return in 2016 as NU’s defensive line coach, Riley revealed Friday.  No reason was given for the the departure of the assistant.

“I want to thank Hank for his hard work and contributions to our football program over the past year,” Riley said in a statement. “We continue to build our program with the pursuit of championships always at the forefront of everything we do, and we will look for a great coach, teacher and recruiter to enhance our defense.”

Regardless of the reason or reasons — and the fact that Riley made certain to note that a replacement would be “a great coach, teacher and recruiter” points to at least a couple — it wasn’t an expected development. From the Lincoln Journal Star:

There was no sign of such a move Thursday night, with Hughes present at the Big Red Bash that celebrated the 2016 recruiting class.

Hughes had just completed his first season with the Cornhuskers. Additionally, it was his first season as an assistant on a Riley-led coaching staff.

As the Journal Star notes, Hughes was in the midst of a two-year deal that was to pay him $300,000 annually.

Surgery will KO UGA LB Roquan Smith for spring

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 12:  Darrius Sims #6 of the Vanderbilt Commodores is tackled by Johnathan Abram #25, Natrez Patrick #6, and Roquan Smith #3 of the Georgia Bulldogs during the first half at Vanderbilt Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

If Roquan Smith is to win a starting linebacking job as some project, he’ll have to do so coming from behind.

Georgia confirmed in a press release Friday that the linebacker underwent successful surgery last month to repair a damaged wrist.  As a result, Smith (pictured, No. 3) will be sideline for all of the 15 spring practice sessions that will commence next month.

The good news is that, according to UGA director of sports medicine Ron Courson, “[a] full recovery is anticipated and he [is] expected to fully participate in summer workouts.” Additionally, there should be no limitations placed on Smith’s participation in summer camp that will kick off the beginning of August.

Smith was a four-star member of the Bulldogs’ 2015 recruiting class, rated as the No. 6 outside linebacker in the country; the No. 9 player at any position in the state of Georgia; and the No. 77 recruit overall according to Rivals.com. He was one of the highest-rated players in UGA’s class.

As a true freshman, Smith played in 12 games. He was named as one of the football program’s five Newcomers of the Year following the 2015 season.

Boston College adds former Syracuse and UConn head coach Pasqualoni to staff

Connecticut head coach Paul Pasqualoni reacts during an NCAA college football game against Massachusetts in East Hartford, Conn., Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
AP Photo/Jessica Hill
Leave a comment

As the assistant coach shuffle continues in college football, Boston College is welcoming back a familiar face to the sidelines. Paul Pasqualoni has officially been added to the assistant coaching staff as a defensive line coach. Pasqualoni spent the 2015 football season working as a defensive line coach for the NFL’s Houston Texans. He brings plenty of coaching experience with a 43-year career in the football coaching world, including head coaching stints with Syracuse and UConn.

“It is a great thrill for me to announce the addition of Paul Pasqualoni as the defensive line coach at Boston College,” Boston College head coach Steve Addazio said in a released statement. Addazio started his coaching career as an assistant on Pasqualoni’s Western Connecticut State coaching staff. “His experience, passion for the game, high integrity and knowledge of Boston College and of New England football will be a tremendous asset to our program and to this university.”

Boston College also announced the addition of Rich Gunnell, a former Boston College wide receiver, as a wide receivers coach. Gunnell graduated from Boston College in 2009 after registering 181 receptions for 2,459 yards and 18 touchdowns and serving as a team captain during his college career. He joins BC after two years as a high school head coach in Framingham, Massachusetts.

“It is a dream come true to coach at the school that I played for, was a captain for, did my graduate assistant work at and will work with the exact position that I played,” Gunnell said. “I couldn’t be happier and I feel like I am back at home. Boston College is a small, close-knit community. This place helped mold me into the person that I am today and many of the people who were there when I was in school are still here today. I am just excited to be back around the same people.”

Addazio made a couple of other internal coaching moves with his staff as well. Tight ends coach Frank Leonard has been promoted to assistant head coach and Al Washington will move from special teams coordinator to defensive line coach.