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

USC reportedly inks OC Tee Martin to multiyear extension to remain with the Trojans

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USC may look a lot different on offense without quarterback Sam Darnold, leading rusher Ronald Jones and star receiver Deontay Burnett on the field but the man calling the plays will still be around Troy in 2018.

According to both ESPN and Sports Illustrated, the Trojans have signed offensive coordinator Tee Martin to a multiyear extension that will keep him in Los Angeles for the foreseeable future sporting the cardinal and gold.

“I’m just excited to be here at USC, where the future is so bright, and working for somebody the caliber of Clay Helton,” Martin told ESPN. “There were some other opportunities, but you don’t leave USC for a lateral move. I want to help us get to that next level, and everything is in place here to do that.”

While Martin was expected to get into the mix at his alma mater of Tennessee when that job opened up this offseason, nothing serious ever happened with the former Vols quarterback who won the first ever BCS national championship some 20 years ago. He did however interview to become the Oakland Raiders head coach several weeks ago despite the team hiring Jon Gruden in the richest coaching deal in the sport’s history.

Martin has been with the program since 2012 when he was hired by Lane Kiffin. This will be his third season at USC as offensive coordinator, where he also serves as one of the team’s top recruiters. The Trojans are coming off a Pac-12 title last year that saw their offense average 484.1 yards per game and rank 13th in total offense among the FBS ranks.

Texas becomes first $200 million athletic department after record-setting 2017

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One of the lasting impacts of former Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds was a now infamous quote when he quipped that the Longhorns were not just keeping  up with the Joneses, UT was the Joneses of college athletics. While some may take offense to that characterization, there’s no denying it when you look at the program’s bank account.

USA Today obtained Texas’ financial report to the NCAA for the 2017 fiscal year and not surprisingly the 40 Acres reeled in the most money (and spent it) in the country. Just how much did the cash cows bring in? Well, the Longhorns became the first department to cross the $200 million threshold in both operating revenue and operating expenses and setting a new benchmark in the process.

The report stated that UT brought in nearly $215 million in annual operating revenue last year and had total operating expenses of $207 million, big increases from 2016 when the school had “only” $188 million in revenue. Despite all that cash, the department actually had a deficit in 2017 though. While you may be incredulous at that fact given the figures involved, turns out the reason is because the athletic department made a $10.3 million transfer to the university proper that put them in the red instead of the black.

Technically, Big 12 rival Oklahoma State reported $241 million in revenue back in 2006 to be the first to cross the $200 million barrier but that was mostly the result of accounting practices that involved what USA Today describes as nearly $165 million in gifts from booster T. Boone Pickens for facility upgrades at the school.

Some other interesting figures from the report via the paper:

  • Ticket revenue was up $11.6 million to a total of $72.5 million, a figure that is more than any other school by nearly eight figures.
  • $42.4 million of the revenue was attributed to football (up from $37.4 million in 2016).
  • Severance pay at the school increased $5.7 million to a total of $9.2 million. $7.1 million of that latter figure was the result of Charlie Strong being fired by the school and his and his staff’s associated buyouts.

Pretty impressive to see all that burnt orange turn into green last year. Now just imagine how quick that cash register will be ringing if Tom Herman can guide the football team to a season that finishes better than 7-6.

Staffer-attacking Alabama LB one of four FBS players to officially transfer to FCS Tennessee State

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One of the more infamous figures from this year’s national championship game has officially found a new home.

Earlier this week, it was reported that linebacker Mekhi Brown, who drew a personal foul for punching a Georgia player in the title game shortly before going after a ‘Bama staffer on the sidelines, would be transferring to Tennessee State. Friday, the FCS school confirmed that Brown is one of four transfers from FBS programs who have been added to its football roster.

Prior to his departure, Brown had appeared in 12 games in 2017 as a redshirt sophomore for the Crimson Tide.

The other three FBS transfers added are linebacker Christion Abercrombie (Illinois), quarterback Demry Croft (Minnesota) and defensive back John Robinson IV (UConn).  As TSU is an FCS program, all four players will be eligible to play immediately in 2018.

Brown’s nationally-televised outburst notwithstanding, Croft is actually the most noteworthy of the additions.  In his last year with the Gophers, Croft started the last six games of the regular season.  Perhaps the most noteworthy moment of his Gophers career, though, was posting a negative quarterback rating in a mid-November loss to Northwestern two weeks before he decided to transfer.

Croft will have two seasons of eligibility left.

Abercrombie, who has three years of eligibility, played in 11 games in 2017 for the Fighting Illini.  Robinson played in five games last season for the Huskies, and he too has three seasons of eligibility at his disposal.

After leaving Miami, Darrion Owens lands at Houston

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Nearly three weeks after leaving Miami, Darrion Owens has found himself a new college football home.

Friday, Houston confirmed that it was officially added Owens to second-year head coach Major Applewhite‘s roster.  As the linebacker joins the Cougars as a graduate transfer from The U, he can immediately bolster UH’s defense in 2018.

This coming season marks the Florida native’s final season of eligibility.

Owens joined the Hurricanes as a three-star 2014 recruit.  247Sports.com had him rated as the No. 30 outside linebacker in the country.

After playing in 12 games as a true freshman, Owens opened 2015 as a starter but suffered a season-ending ACL injury in Week 2.  The past two seasons, Owens played in 25 games. In 13 games in 2017, he was credited with 35 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss.

In announcing Owens’ transfer from The U, head coach Mark Richt stated that, after the two had talked, “he informed me that he feels his best opportunity to get the most playing time would be at another school.”