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

Convicted of federal drug charge, former Arkansas RB Cedric Cobbs says he is dealing with CTE

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Former Arkansas running back Cedric Cobbs plead guilty to conspiracy to distribute oxycodone and other narcotics in a United States District Court on Thursday, but was granted a no-prison sentenced because Cobbs told the judge he is undergoing treatment for brain disease.

He was sentenced to three years of probation contingent upon continuing treatment for drugs and mental health counseling.

According to Eric Bolin of Arkansas News, Cobbs is a patient at The Crosby Center, an Escondido, Calif., treatment center that claims to be “recognized as one of the nation’s foremost sports treatment centers for helping athletes reclaim their lives.” Bolin writes Cobbs is battling CTE, which Boston University says may only be diagnosed posthumously.

Cobbs accumulated 3,018 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns as an Arkansas running back from 1999-03. He left school as the Hogs’ third-leading rusher and helped the club reach the 2002 SEC championship game. Cobbs won a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots and played for the Denver Broncos.

In addition to his 2014 indictment, Cobbs was arrested last July on a charge of first-degree promoting prostitution, where police found two meth pipes, meth and prescription pills in his car. Cobbs was also arrested in 2013 for prescription fraud and evading arrest. He was sentenced to probation for misdemeanor fleeing and drug fraud.

Substance abuse is a known symptom of CTE.

Les Miles issues statement on wreck that claimed lives of MSU, Nebraska punters, injured LSU’s kicker

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 08: Colby Delahoussaye #42 of the LSU Tigers kicks a field goal in the fourth quarter 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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A tragedy that struck the Michigan State and Nebraska football communities has also touched LSU’s.

On their way home from a kicking camp overnight, Nebraska punter Sam Foltz and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler were killed in a car accident in Wisconsin this weekend.  Additionally, LSU placekicker Colby Delahoussaye was injured in the crash that claimed the players’ lives.

Delahoussaye has since been released from an area hospital after sustaining burns to his legs and lacerations that required stitches.  LSU issued a press release revealing a couple of details surrounding the accident:

The car crash occurred at 11:43 p.m. on Saturday on Beaver Lake Road. According to the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department, the vehicle, which was driven by Sadler, lost control on a wet pavement and crashed into a tree. Foltz was sitting in the front passenger seat, while Delahoussaye was the lone passenger in the backseat.

A short time ago his football coach released a statement addressing the tragic situation.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of Sam Foltz and Mike Sadler. We grieve for them,” Les Miles stated. “This isn’t supposed to happen to young people who have so much to live for.

“We are so thankful that Colby will be able to return home to his family and friends.”

In 2013 and 2014, Delahoussaye, a senior walk-on with the Tigers, converted on a combined 24-of-29 field goal attempts.  He was replaced last season by Trey Domingue, who announced earlier this month that he was transferring from LSU after his scholarship wasn’t renewed before confirming this weekend that he’ll be continuing his collegiate playing career at Texas.

Nebraska P Sam Foltz, former Michigan State P Mike Sadler killed in car accident

PISCATAWAY, NJ - NOVEMBER 14:  Drew Brown #34 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers is congratulated by teammate Sam Foltz #27 after Brown kicked the extra point in the first half against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on November 14, 2015 at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Nebraska punter Sam Foltz and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler were killed in a car accident overnight in Wisconsin, both programs have confirmed. The pair were on their way home from a kicking camp, according to the Lincoln Journal-Star. LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye was also injured in the crash but is no longer under the care of Waukesha Memorial Hospital according to the Baton Rouge Advocate.

“Last night, we lost one of the best young men who I have ever had the honor to coach and who has ever worn the Nebraska uniform,” Huskers head coach Mike Riley said in a statement. “Sam was universally loved and respected by everyone he touched and on whom he had a positive influence each and every day.  His tragic loss is immeasurable to his family, his friends, his classmates, his teammates and his coaches and our thoughts and prayers are with all of them.  The young men in our football program are hurting but I know that their strength of character and resolve will bring us together and we will honor Sam every day moving forward.”

Kohl’s Kicking Camp director Jamie Kohl also released a statement on the pair’s passing.

Foltz, 22, was named the Big Ten’s punter of the year in 2015 and was named a First Team All-Big Ten performer. A three-year starter for the Huskers, Foltz earned a bachelor’s degree in agronomy in May.

Sadler, 24, occupied the Spartans’ punter position from 2011-14 and earned recognition as the first four-time Academic All-American in the history of Michigan State’s football program. A finalist for the William V. Campbell Award, college football’s highest academic honor, in 2014, Sadler ranked among the top six in Spartans history for punts, punting yardage and punting average.

Sadler announced in April he had been accepted to Stanford Law School. “So I woke up at 8 o’clock in the morning, just had nothing going on that day, so like any good nerd I started watching physics lectures online, because I had nothing else to do with my time, got through two separate ninety minute lectures um actually from Stanford on String Theory, so as soon as I was about to start the third ninety minute session, I get a call from a Palo Alto number and I’m thinking, there’s no way this has anything to do with law, this is the physics department saying get off our website ah but sure enough it was the dean of the law school telling me that I had gotten in and I was ecstatic at that point,” he told WLNS of learning his acceptance.

Nebraska has announced that it will not partake in Big Ten media days festivities this week.

Details of the crash are still oncoming from officials in Waukesha, Wisc.

Iowa DE says he was held at gunpoint while playing Pokemon Go

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Christian McCaffrey #5 of the Stanford Cardinal runs past Faith Ekakitie #56 and Cole Fisher #36 of the Iowa Hawkeyes in the 102nd Rose Bowl Game on January 1, 2016 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Iowa defensive lineman Faith Ekakitie (No. 56, above) nearly became a tragic combination of two of this nation’s hot button topics, according to a post on his Facebook page.

Ekakitie says he was in an Iowa City park playing Pokemon Go when officers approached him with guns drawn, suspecting him of being involved in a nearby bank robbery. Ekakitie wrote his profile — a large black man dressed in black clothes — led five Iowa City officers to approach him, but the Hawkeye defender did not hear their approach due to having headphones in his ears — which led the officers to draw their guns. Ekakitie wrote police searched him before letting him go.

“My pockets were checked, my backpack was opened up and searched carefully, and I was asked to lift up my shirt while they searched my waistband,” Ekakitie wrote. “Not once did they identify themselves to me as Iowa City Police officers, but with four gun barrels staring me in the face, I wouldn’t dare question the authority of the men and woman in front of me. This is what happened from my point of view.”

Sgt. Jorey Bailey confirmed Iowa City offers stopped Ekakitie, and an Iowa spokesman confirmed Ekakitie’s version of events.

“In this situation, what the media would fail to let people know is that the suspect had his headphones in the entire time the Police Officers approached him initially,” Ekakitie wrote. “The suspect had actually just pulled up to the park because he was playing a newly popular Game called Pokémon Go. The suspect didn’t realize that there were four cops behind him because his music was blaring in his ears. The suspect had reached into his pockets, for something which was his phone, but for all the cops could have known, he was reaching for a gun. The suspect could very well become another statistic on this day.

“I am not one to usually rant on Facebook or anywhere else, but with all of the crazy things that have been happening in our world these past couple of weeks it is hard to stay silent. I am thankful to be alive.”

A senior from Brampton, Ontario, Canada, Ekakitie recorded 13 tackles in 12 appearances last season.