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

WMU’s Zach Terrell claims prestigious ‘Academic Heisman’ honor

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 02:  Zach Terrell #11 of the Western Michigan Broncos throws a first half pass while playing the Ohio Bobcats  during the MAC Championship on December 2, 2016 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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It’s been one helluva year for the football program in Kalamazoo.

Not only is Western Michigan undefeated at 13-0, the Broncos are on their way to a New Year’s Six bowl as the Group of Six’s representative. Now Tuesday, one of the biggest factors behind that success has been honored for his individual academic accomplishments.

At the 59th annual National Football Foundation Awards Dinner in New York City Tuesday night, the William V. Campbell Trophy was presented to WMU quarterback Zach Terrell. The Campbell Trophy, often referred to as the “Academic Heisman,” recognizes “an individual [who is] the absolute best in the country for his combined academic success, football performance and exemplary community leadership. ”

Terrell is the first-ever Campbell Trophy winner from WMU.

“Zach and his fellow members of the 2016 NFF National Scholar-Athlete Class represent more than just the standout athletic ability seen on the field,” said NFF chairman Archie Manning. “Their academic achievements and their contributions as leaders in the community send a powerful message about the young men who play our sport. They have taken full advantage of the educational opportunities created by college football, and they have created a compelling legacy for others to follow.”

Oklahoma’s Ty Darlington was the 2015 winner of the Campbell Trophy.

Terrell was one of 12 finalists for this year’s award. Below are those dozen players, with their GPAs and majors for good measure:

Chris Beaschler, LB, Dayton, 3.72, Mechanical Engineering
Tim Crawley, WR, San Jose State, 3.78, Business Management
DeVon Edwards, S, Duke, 3.35, Psychology
Brooks Ellis, LB, Arkansas, 3.82, Exercise Science
Carter Hanson, LB, St. John’s (Minn.), 4.00, Business Leadership
Taysom Hill, QB, BYU, 3.45, Finance
Ryan Janvion, S, Wake Forest, 3.53, Business Management
Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina, 3.56, Communications
Cooper Rush, QB, Central Michigan, 3.86, Actuarial Science
Karter Schult, DL, Northern Iowa, 3.87, Exercise Science
Tyler Sullivan, QB, Delta State (Miss.), 3.68, Biology
Zach Terrell, QB, Western Michigan, 3.66, Finance

Paul Hornung Award goes to Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers

ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 28: Jabrill Peppers #5 of the Michigan Wolverines eludes the tackle of Gareon Conley #8 of the Ohio State Buckeyes in the first half at Michigan Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Jabrill Peppers is the most versatile player in college football.  Not surprisingly, an award that rewards versatility will soon be sitting on the Michigan standout’s shelf.

Wednesday morning, the Louisville Sport Commission announced that Peppers has been named as the winner of the 2016 Paul Hornung Award.  The award is handed out annually to the nation’s most versatile college football player.

There were three other finalists for the award: Stanford running back and 2015 Hornung winner Christian McCaffrey, USC defensive back Adoree Jackson and Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook.

“It means a lot to me to win this award,” said Peppers in a statement. “You definitely want to do as much as possible, and you want to do it as well as you can. I think there are a lot of guys who could have won this award, so it’s just a tremendous honor to be the winner and to represent the Paul Hornung Award. I’m just going to keep to trying to get better, keep working on my faults and do whatever I have to do to help my team.”

Peppers, the first Wolverine to claim this honor, played 933 snaps in 12 games this season — 726 on defense, 53 on offense and 154 on special teams. Most impressively, Peppers played those 933 snaps at 15 different positions.

Earlier this week, Peppers was named as one of five Heisman finalists. It’s expected Peppers will leave Michigan early for the NFL, where he’s widely projected to be one of the first 10 players selected in the April draft.

Charlie Strong, Lane Kiffin candidates at USF

AUSTIN, TX - SEPTEMBER 6: Head coach Charlie Strong of the Texas Longhorns encourages his team in warmups before playing the BYU Cougars on September 6, 2014 at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
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USF appears to have lost its head coach, but there are some big names being bandied about as potential replacements.

Wednesday morning, multiple reports surfaced that Willie Taggart has left as USF’s coach to take the same job at Oregon.  Not long after, potential candidates to replace Taggart at a school in the midst of very fertile recruiting territory.

Two of those have been head coaches at schools that were Power Five programs while they were there — Strong at Texas, where he was just fired earlier this year, and Kiffin at Tennessee and USC. Schiano, one-time head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was the head coach at Rutgers prior to the Scarlet Knights’ move to the Big Ten.

Schiano was also mentioned as a candidate for the Oregon before it went to Taggart.  Kiffin is in play for the Houston job, although that program could be leaning toward Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.

Strong, though, might end up being the best option for the Bulls.

Strong served four different stints at the University of Florida totaling 14 years. He has deep and extensive ties to the state both when it comes to coaches and recruiting. While his tenure at Texas has been deemed a failure, the USF job could be the perfect one for both sides, if for nothing more than to help Strong rehab his image while continuing to build upon the foundation laid by Taggart.

Report: QB Shane Morris to leave Michigan as grad transfer

Shane Morris
Associated Press
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With Wilton Speight seemingly holding down the quarterback position for the foreseeable future, Shane Morris has decided his time at Michigan should come to an end. Reportedly.

According to ESPN.com‘s Tom VanHaaren, Morris is planning to pursue a graduate transfer from UM. Should Morris leave the Wolverines in such a manner, he’d be immediately eligible to play at another FBS school in 2017.

He has one year of eligibility remaining.

Morris came to Ann Arbor with significant hype, a four-star 2013 recruit rated as the No. 3 pro-style quarterback in the country by 247Sports.com. In four years with the program, he started a total of two games.

The first start came at the end of his true freshman season, with an injury to Devin Gardner opening the door for Morris to start the bowl game that year. His second was memorable as well.

Morris shot to the epicenter of what became a national debate over concussion protocols after his apparently concussed self was reinserted into a mid-October game in 2014. The situation brought significant criticism on the football program, but also led to the Big Ten adopting a conference-wide standard for concussion treatment.

In 2015, Morris not only lost out on the starting job to graduate transfer Jake Rudock but also fell behind Speight on the depth chart. Spight then beat him out for the starting job this season.

Both Speight and John O’Korn, who served as the primary backup in 2016, will return for the 2017 season.

During his time at UM, Morris completed 47 of his 92 pass attempts for 434 yards, zero touchdowns and five interceptions. In mop-up duty this season, he went 4-5 for 45 yards.