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

Georgia raises ticket prices following Kirby Smart hire

ATHENS, GA - SEPTEMBER 28: A general view of the Sanford Stadium before the game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the LSU Tigers on September 28, 2013 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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Running a college athletics department is only getting more expensive, so attending a college football game will only get more expensive. Or, at least attending a Georgia game will.

Bulldogs president Jere Morehead and athletics director Greg McGarity revealed Thursday per-seat donations would rise an average of 17 percent for priority season ticket holders beginning in the 2017 season.

“It’s in anticipation of things that are ahead,” McGarity told the Athens Banner-Herald.

Cost-of-attendance scholarships bumped that line item up $766,000, and other costs across the department added an additional $5.3 million to the budget. All this while Georgia is building a new indoor facility and replacing Mark Richt and his staff while hiring Kirby Smart and his new staff.

“Those projects are going to be expensive,” Morehead said. “The cost of operating our athletic program each year continues to rise particularly as you look at the enhancements that are being provided to our student-athletes and to the support that we’re providing our student-athletes.”

The bump in prices will raise an extra $2.5 million for Georgia, and represents the first time Bulldogs fans have been asked to ante up since 2005.

“We wanted to be respectable in the increase to not price people out of a certain area but we did feel like we needed to make an adjustment,” said McGarity. “We want to continue to encourage people to come to games. We’ve got our work cut out to make sure (that happens).”

Ohio State to host Tulane in 2018

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 6:  The Ohio State Buckeyes kickoff to the Virginia Tech Hokies at Ohio Stadium on September 6, 2014 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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The Fighting Frites are heading to the Horseshoe.

Ohio State and Tulane announced a one-time game to be played in Columbus on Sept. 22, 2018.

“Tulane enhances and completes a non-conference schedule in 2018 that already includes Power 5 conference teams TCU and Oregon State,” Ohio State deputy AD Martin Jarmond said in a statement. “The Green Wave is part of a fine American Athletic Conference, which produced a New Year’s Day 6 bowl winner last year [Houston over Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl], so its first trip to Ohio Stadium should be exciting for our students and fans.”

The two teams have never met previously. Tulane last faced a Big Ten team on Sept. 27, 2014, a 31-6 loss at Rutgers. Ohio State last faced an American Athletic Conference program in the 2014 opener, a 34-17 Buckeyes win over Navy in Annapolis, Md.

We are excited for the opportunity to play Ohio State, one of the premier programs in the country,” Tulane executive associate athletics director Brandon Macneill said in a statement.  “Our coaching staff and players, along with our fans are eager to play against the very best and this should be a great game.  There will be a significant number of Tulanians from around the country joining us at the Horseshoe.”

Adding Tulane completes Ohio State’s 2018 non-conference schedule; the Buckeyes host Oregon State on Sept. 1 and visit TCU on Sept. 15. Tulane still lacks two games for 2018 but is slated to visit Georgia Tech on Sept. 8.

Georgia AD apologizes for giving Ludacris everything he demanded for spring game concert

Greg McGarity
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The University of Georgia paid Ludacris $65,000 to perform a concert at Georgia’s spring football game, and now the athletics director is apologizing for catering to every demand made by the artist.

In a meeting with the Georgia athletic board of directors, athletics director Greg McGarity offered an apology for giving in to a lengthy list of demands from Ludacris, which included condoms and alcohol.

“I do want to take this opportunity to apologize to our board for mistakes we made with certain aspects of the details of an entertainment agreement,” McGarity said, according to The Athens Banner-Herald. “Few things in my professional life have bothered me more than this situation. There are no reruns in life so we need to turn the page, learn from our mistakes and do everything we can to make sure errors of this nature do not reoccur.”

Georgia set a school attendance record for its spring game with an estimated total of 93,000 fans coming out for the first spring game under new head coach Kirby Smart. Of course, more than a few of those fans were encouraged to come out to see Ludacris perform, so it all worked out well for Georgia even if some people were not happy with the goods supplied to him during his stay.

“Some more than others as far as different age groups,” McGarrity said of the people expressing their displeasure with Georgia’s hospitality. “It was all over the map. I think there were a lot of things that came into play.”

Auburn RB Roc Thomas apparently heading to Jacksonville State

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 6: Running back Roc Thomas #9 of the Auburn Tigers runs the ball in for a touchdown as offensive linesman Jordan Diamond #76 of the Auburn Tigers blocks safety Forrest Hightower #12 of the San Jose State Spartans on September 6, 2014 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama. Auburn defeated San Jose State 59-13.  (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
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Auburn running back Roc Thomas is possibly looking to join one of the top programs from the FCS ranks. Reports today surfaced suggesting Thomas is looking to transfer to Jacksonville State, although another report says he has yet to ask Auburn for a request to transfer.

During a radio interview, Jay G. Tate of AuburnSports.com said Thomas is likely on his way to Jacksonville State…

As that message was spreading around the college football landscape, largely under the ominous storm cloud from Waco, Texas, SEC Country updated their report by saying Thomas has not yet made a request to transfer from Auburn. That may have been accurate, but may not suggest a transfer to Jacksonville State is off the table. It could just be a matter of semantics, where Thomas is set to join the Jacksonville State program but still must go through the formalities of transferring from Auburn.

Thomas does have two years of eligibility remaining.