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

UNC banned Miami’s turnover chain creator from contact with Tar Heels

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With the Miami Hurricanes roaring up the rankings, much attention has been directed at their new signature, the turnover chain. The turnover chain has had its own feature stories written about it in recent weeks, and the creator of that new signature sideline piece of art has become more well known because of it. According to a report from The News & Observer, however, that same jewelry artist has also been banned from having any contact with players from UNC.

According to the report, Anthony John Machado was contacted by the University of North Carolina in 2010 to request he disassociate with any Tar Heel player. The timing of the letter is not coincidental, as the university was under investigation for alleged violations within the football program connected to alleged improper benefits.

UNC on Oct. 25, 2010, sent a letter of disassociation to Machado addressed to his store, A.J.’s Jewelry, in Cutler Bay, Fla. In the letter, Dick Baddour, who was the UNC athletic director at the time, wrote that Machado’s “involvement with one of our student-athletes has led to the NCAA declaring one of student-athletes permanently ineligible.”

The school at one point returned some jewelry provided by Machado to an unnamed student-athlete. The investigation conducted that led to the request to Machado was also the one that led to the dismissal of former Tar Heel Marvin Austin, who had commented on a party lifestyle in Miami that caught the attention of the university.

The expiration date on that request to not have contact with UNC players has since expired, although it is unknown if any UNC player has been in contact with Machado at any point since 2010.

Kansas State WR Dalton Schoen to miss Oklahoma State game

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Still with a chance to make some rumblings in the Big 12 title hunt, Kansas State will be down a wide receiver as they look to challenge Oklahoma State this week. Dalton Schoen will miss the Oklahoma State game with a reported broken collarbone.

The original report from The Wichita Eagle, the sophomore wide receiver broke his collarbone last week in a game against West Virginia. The injury, if accurately reported, would very likely be a season-ending injury. the chance of returning to a bowl game is unknown.

Schoen has caught 23 passes for 470 yards and three touchdowns this season.

Idaho prepares Kibbie Dome for FBS swan song

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On Saturday, the Idaho Vandals will host their final game as an FBS member in the Kibbie Dome, the lovable little domed stadium that had a bit of a cult following. With the Vandals preparing to make an unprecedented move down to the Football Championship Subdivision, the Kibbie Dome is not going anywhere, but the chance to appreciate it for its quirkiness as an FBS stadium is now or never.

What makes the Kibbie Dome unique is it was actually originally constructed as an outdoor stadium. The concrete structure became the home to Idaho football in October 1971 over the site of the school’s previous football stadium. After the 1974 season, however, the stadium was enclosed with a rood that mimics the look of an aircraft hanger. That led to quite a unique atmosphere that trapped the sound inside the stadium and made the gameday scene fell more compact. The stadium only ever held 16,000 fans for football, although it set a record with nearly 20,000 fans for a home football game against Boise State in 1989.

The Kibbie Dome was Idaho’s version of Syracuse’s Carrier Dome, in that it served multiple purposes. In addition to football, the Kibbie Dome has hosted basketball and other sporting events like track and field and tennis. Unlike the Carrier Dome, however, the Kibbie Dome was designed to let in natural sunlight. Some more modern dome stadiums with a larger budget have incorporated similar lighting features in more recent years, which suggests the Kibbie Dome was actually ahead of its time in one way.

For years, the Kibbie Dome has been the smallest stadium in the FBS. That is no longer be the case, courtesy of Idaho’s opponent this weekend. The new title of smallest FBS stadium will belong to Coastal Carolina. Brooks Stadium currently has a seating capacity of 15,000, although Coastal Carolina’s jump up to the FBS will lead to eventual stadium upgrades and renovations that should increase the capacity to some degree.

Farewell, Kibbie Dome. It was fun while it lasted. May the memories continue in the FCS.

Boise State losing one-time starting corner Reid Harrison-Ducros to transfer

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For the third time since the 2017 season kicked off, Boise State is losing a player to transfer.

The father of Reid Harrison-Ducros (pictured, No. 27) confirmed to the Idaho Press-Tribune that his son has left the Broncos football team and will transfer. The cornerback met with Bryan Harsin Thursday morning to inform him of the decision to move on, with the head coach granting him a release from his BSU scholarship.

“This tears me up,” Gary Harrison-Ducros told the Press-Tribune. “We love everything about Boise, the faculty, geography, and oh my gosh the community and fans. However, Reid wants to be on the field and he believes he has to pursue that goal somewhere else.

“We will follow and support BSU always. I am keeping my tattoo and we’ll always bleed blue, we’re just expanding the HD family to another campus.”

A three-star member of the Broncos’ 2016 recruiting class, Harrison-Ducros played in 10 games as a true freshman. After starting the first four games of the 2017 season, he lost his starting job and has played sparingly since.

Previously, a pair of little-used wide receivers, Julian Carter and Bryan Jefferson, parted ways with the football program as well.