The Swami

CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: 12-Pack of Top Games


In 17 days — 16 if you’re a degenerate like me who counts Abilene Christian at Georgia State the day before — the 2014 college football season kicks off, with all eyes focused on Texas A&M, playing its first game without Johnny Manziel under center since 2011, traveling to Columbia to face what could very well be the best team Steve Spurrier‘s had in what will be his 10th season at South Carolina.

As we have been and will continue doing throughout the month of August, CFT trudges on with previews of the upcoming season, with the 12 games that could have the biggest impact on both key conference races and the national landscape.  Said national landscape will include, for the first-time ever, a College Football Playoff.  Of course, the reality once we get into the season can change greatly from the preseason perceptions — see: 2013 Auburn Tigers — but the following 12-pack should form some sort of solid guide through what’s certain to be yet another eventful season in the great game of college football.

So, without further ado and for your reading pleasure, here’s a sampling of some of the top games on the 2014 slate.  And, as always, you can whine/bitch/moan in the comment section that your team was snubbed…

LAST MEETING: First meeting
THE SKINNY: This contest has a handful of firsts going for it.  Most importantly to the business side of the conference, it will be the first-ever football game televised on the fledgling SEC Network, a network that’s expected to drop tens of millions of dollars annually into the coffers of each conference member.  Additionally, as noted above, it’s the first-ever meeting between the two football programs.  And finally, both the Aggies and Gamecocks will be breaking in new starting quarterbacks for the first time in two and two-plus years, respectively, with the former going with (Kenny Hill or Kyle Allen) and the latter Dylan Thompson.  While neither Hill nor Allen have started a game at the collegiate level, Thompson at least has some experience in that capacity — he’s 3-0 in his career as a starter replacing Connor Shaw, and has thrown passes in 20 of the games in which he’s played the past three years.  Even as the Aggies will face a deficit in experience at the most important position on the field, it’s not their most pressing concern as Kevin Sumlin could probably throw you or I in at quarterback and still put up 30-plus per game.  Rather, it’s the defense that should cause the most consternation, especially facing a running back as talented as Mike Davis.  A defense that was suspect throughout 2013 is even more so in 2014, with attrition via dismissals, graduation, etc.  This game could be the beginning of an uneven season in College Station, which would be the first since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012.
THE WAY-TOO-EARLY PREDICTION: South Carolina 41, Texas A&M 27

LAST MEETING: Sept. 30, 1972, a 27-7 LSU win in Baton Rouge
THE SKINNY: Any time teams from the Big Ten and SEC meet it’s a big deal, especially when it’s two programs that have been at or near the top of their respective conferences for the past few years.  At least football-wise, this game is the dictionary definition of unstoppable force vs. immovable object: the Tigers will bring their always-stout run defense ( 35th nationally, third in SEC in 2013) into the neutral site affair against a Badgers football that thrives on running the football (8th in rushing offense) and would much rather take a pair of steel-toed boots to the groin than pass it (93rd in passing offense).  Perhaps most importantly, especially as far as fans are concerned, this game will give the winning league bragging rights until bowl season as this marks the only marquee match-up between the Big Ten and SEC during the regular season.

LAST MEETING: Sept. 2, 1999, a 27-20 Michigan State win in East Lansing
SERIES RECORD: Tied at 2-2
THE SKINNY: There might not be a game this season featuring a pair of teams that are such extreme polar opposites of one another.  The Spartans’ 2013 success was predicated on a physical, dominating defense complemented by a methodical and productive rushing attack, with the passing game managing games and putting up big numbers when necessary.  The Ducks are the antithesis of the Spartans.  UO is a balls-to-the-wall, pedal-mashed-to-the-floor offense that is equally adept — and deadly — at running or passing the football.  Oh, and the Ducks can play some defense as well, as evidenced by the fact that they finished 13th nationally in scoring defense last season (MSU was third).  This game has the potential to be one of the more fascinating matchups for the upcoming season, and it’s probably the non-conference game that I’m looking at with the most anticipation — even as I foresee a blowout in Eugene for the East Lansing boys.
THE WAY-TOO-EARLY PREDICTION: Oregon 48, Michigan State 27

LAST MEETING: Sept,. 7, 2013, a 41-30 Georgia win in Athens
SERIES RECORD: Georgia leads 47-17-2
THE SKINNY: After being unceremoniously shoved to the side by Missouri last season, the Bulldogs and Gamecocks are once again expected to be the cream of the SEC East crop.  And, because of that, this game will go a long way in determining just who will represent the division in the SEC championship game against their West counterparts.  USC has won three of the last four in the series, with the lone blemish being the 11-point loss in Athens last season.  This year, and as is the case throughout the conference, both teams will be breaking in new starting quarterbacks.  The Gamecocks’ situation is a little different from most, though, as Dylan Thompson is a very seasoned backup with nearly two dozen games played and three starts. Hutson Mason, meanwhile, got a taste of what it’s like to be a starter in the SEC as he took over under center for the injured Aaron Murray the last two and a half games and performed well, throwing for over 800 yards and four touchdowns in that stretch.  The good news for both is that they will have very talented and accomplished running backs at their disposal, Mike Davis for the Gamecocks and Todd Gurley for the Bulldogs.  How those two go, so should their respective teams as this game could be a rarity these days: one that’s determined in large part by the running game.
THE WAY-TOO-EARLY PREDICTION: South Carolina 34, Georgia 21

LAST MEETING: Nov. 23, 2013, a 38-33 Arizona State win in Tempe
THE SKINNY: For everything that Oregon-Stanford is as far as the Pac-12 North is concerned, Arizona State-UCLA is fast becoming the same for the South.  Like 2013 when ASU tripped up UCLA to help stake its claim to a spot in the conference championship game, 2014 should be no different.  Both teams will feature very experienced and extremely talented quarterbacks, Taylor Kelly for the Sun Devils and Brett Hundley.  Both could, or even should, be in the thick of the Heisman chase when this game rolls around, which would be a testament to both their individual performances and their team’s success.  The Bruins, though, easily return the most talent with 18 starters (eight each on offense and defense to go along with both kickers) coming back while the Sun Devils return just 10, including a paltry two on the defensive side of the ball.  Is that advantage, along with being at home this around, be enough to put the Bruins back in the title game?  Time will tell, although USC may have a little something to say about the latter before it’s all said and done.

LAST MEETING: Oct. 26, 2013, a 42-14 Oregon win in Eugene
THE SKINNY: Depending on how things play out, this very well could be a preview of the Pac-12 championship game.  The Bruins’ loss to the Ducks last year, the second of back-to-back conference losses, all but handed the South division to Arizona State.  Getting UO in Los Angeles should make the task a little less treacherous, but not much as the Ducks are expected to be the class of the league and the odds-on favorite to represent the Pac-12 in the College Football Playoff.  Last season’s win was Oregon’s fifth straight in the series; a sixth straight could further push the Ducks toward their ultimate postseason goal, while snapping that skein would go a long way in helping the Bruins get back to the top of the conference — and perhaps climbing back on to the national stage for the first time in a very, very long time.

LAST MEETING: Nov. 7, 2013, a 26-20 Oregon win in Stanford
SERIES RECORD: Stanford leads 43-30-1
THE SKINNY: In all three years of the Pac-12 championship game, either the Cardinal or the Ducks have been the North’s representative — 2012 and 2013 for the former, 2011 for the latter.  That’s not expected to change in Year 4 as both teams are, once again, the class of the division.  UO, in fact, may end up being the class of college football at year’s end.  Both teams return a ton of starters, 15 (nine on offense) coming back for the Ducks and 14 (seven on defense) for the Cardinal.  Four of the starters who don’t return to The Farm, however, come from the offensive line, so David Shaw and his offensive staff have to hope the new players plugged in have gelled into a cohesive unit by the time this game rolls around.  Even if that happens, can the Cardinal keep pace with a high-powered offense triggered by Heisman front-runner Marcus Mariota?  The answer was resounding “hell yes!!!” in 2013; whether that’s the case in 2014 will go a long way in determining which team takes this game — and which team likely punches its ticket to another conference championship game.
THE WAY-TOO-EARLY PREDICTION: Oregon 41, Stanford 27

LAST MEETING: Nov. 9, 2013, a 38-17 Alabama win in Tuscaloosa
SERIES RECORD: Alabama leads 48-25-5
THE SKINNY: This one of those games where, when the schedule comes out, you always check to see when it will be played.  For all of the hype it receives, however, it’s been a bit lopsided of sorts of late, at least results-wise.  The Tide was won three straight in the series, including the BCS title game following the 2012 season and a blowout win last year.  There are very few certainties in college football, but here’s one you can just about chisel in stone: there won’t be many points scored when the two teams clash in Tuscaloosa in early November.  Thanks to what’s ofttimes a pair of suffocating defenses, just once has a team scored more than 30 points — the Tide in its 38-17 win last year — in the last eight meetings.  In the last thirteen meetings, one or both of the teams failed to score at least 20 points a whopping 10 times.  The microcosm of the series?  The 9-6 Battle of the Kickers in 2011 that was the epitome of the defensive duels between the two SEC West programs.  As both teams reload their respective defenses the way most people change their underwear, and both offenses will be manned by first-year starters at quarterback, it should be lather, rinse, repeat on the defensive front once again.

LAST MEETING: Dec. 7, 2013, a 34-24 Michigan State win in Indianapolis (Big Ten title game)
SERIES RECORD: Ohio State leads 28-14
THE SKINNY: This will easily be the most anticipated Big Ten game of the year, with the Buckeyes looking to avenge a double-digit “upset” loss to the Spartans in the Big Ten championship game.  A loss, incidentally, that both ended No. 2 OSU’s 24-game losing streak and knocked the Buckeyes out of a likely spot in the BCS title game against Florida State.  As was the case last season, one key in this year’s game will be MSU’s stifling defense’s ability to contain Braxton Miller.  While the OSU quarterback did rush for 142 and a pair of touchdowns, he was held to a paltry 8-of-21 passing for just 101 yards.  Connor Cook, on the other hand, riddled a porous Buckeyes pass defense for 304 yards and three touchdowns.  Throw in Jeremy Langford‘s 128 yards rushing, and MSU was able to flip a 24-17 deficit late in the third quarter to a 10-point win that propelled the Spartans into the Rose Bowl.  So, yes, “revenge” will be a key storyline heading into this game — along with MSU looking to prove yet again that it belongs on the national stage.  And one more tidbit: thanks to the additions of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten and subsequent shifts in the divisions, this game will now likely be a contest for East supremacy and a spot in the conference championship game.  Just a little bit on the line in this game, in other words.
THE WAY-TOO-EARLY PREDICTION: Ohio State 27, Michigan State 24

LAST MEETING: Nov. 7, 2013, a 41-12 Baylor win in Waco
SERIES RECORD: Oklahoma leads 20-2
THE SKINNY: The Sooners have absolutely owned the Bears for the whole of the series, but the tide is certainly shifting.  After losing the first 17 meetings to OU — all but three by 12 points or more, and 11 by 20-plus points — BU has won two of the last three.  Included in that total was last year’s evisceration, a 29-point beatdown in early November that signaled the  Bears were the team to beat in the Big 12.  Can that trend continue?  If it does, it’ll do so with some new pieces in place.  The Bears must replace seven starters on the defensive side of the ball, including a pair of first-team All-Big 12 performers and three members of its secondary.  Bryce Petty is still Bryce Petty and Art Briles‘ offense is still Art Briles’ offense, so the Bears will maintain the ability to outscore most of the defensive liabilities it may possess.  On the flip side, the Sooners return 14 starters, including quarterback Trevor Knight.  Whether that’s a positive or a negative remains to be seen as no one knows which Knight will show up: the one who struggled to hold on to his job throughout the season or the one who strafed Alabama’s defense in the Sugar Bowl.  The answer to that question will go a long way in determining who wins this game and, as a result, who controls the Big 12 and a likely spot in the College Football Playoff.
THE WAY-TOO-EARLY PREDICTION: Baylor 38, Oklahoma 35

LAST MEETING: Nov. 30, 2013, a 34-28 Auburn win in Auburn
SERIES RECORD: Alabama leads 42-35-1
THE SKINNY: The annual Iron Bowl grudge/hate match would make this type of list year-in and year-out.  After last year?  This one comes in at or near the top of the 2014 version of these lists.  Of course, I’m referring to the most memorable play of the 2013 season, “The Kick-Six” at Jordan-Hare that stunned the Tide and propelled the Tigers into the SEC championship game and, ultimately, the BCS title game.  The questions entering the season for AU are twofold: one, can they replace 1,800-yard rusher Tre’ Mason and, two, how many more miracles does Gus Malzahn & Company have tucked into their hip pockets?  The Tide has its own questions to answer as well, not the least of which is just who will replace three-year starter AJ McCarron under center.  The knowns, though are that AU will have Nick Marshall, who’s expected to do nothing but get better in his second season as a starting quarterback, while UA will have what’s become an annual twin tradition under Nick Saban: a punishing rushing attack with its stable of backs to go along with a physical, suffocating defense.  This year’s version may not match the drama of last year’s, but it’s still compelling, must-see TV.

LAST MEETING: Nov. 30, 2013, a 42-41 Ohio State win in Ann Arbor
SERIES RECORD: Michigan leads 58-45-6
THE SKINNY: Regardless of the records or prospects of either or both teams, The Game is and always will be a destination event for college football viewers.  While the Wolverines have owned the overall series, it’s the Buckeyes who’ve owned That School Up North this century as OSU has won (on the field) nine of the last 10 and 11 of the last 13.  Both teams will enter the season with question marks littering the offensive line, with the Buckeyes needing to replace four starters while the Wolverines, which had significant issues in that group last year, must replace an All-American tackle and the starter on the other side as well.  Where this game may be won or lost is at the quarterback position, which bodes well for OSU.  Braxton Miller, the reigning two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, returns and looks to take his game to the next level as a senior, while the Wolverines will go with either the inconsistent, turnover-prone Devin Gardner or the unproven Shane Morris.  Decided advantage, OSU.  If the Buckeyes can cure its secondary woes, woes that are directly to blame for its two-game losing streak to end last season, they should have little problem in dispatching their bitter rivals and possibly continuing on a Big Ten/CFP title run.
THE WAY-TOO-EARLY PREDICTION: Ohio State 45, Michigan 31

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Boise State survives five turnovers to beat rival BYU and remain undefeated

BOISE, ID - OCTOBER 20: Defensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi #90 of the Brigham Young Cougars gets a piece of a field goal attempt during first half action against the Boise State Broncos on October 20, 2016 at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho. (Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images)
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Boise State did just about everything they could to give the game away. BYU did their best to take it too.

In the end the Broncos survived a whopping five turnovers and blocked a last second field goal to escape with a 28-27 win over their regional rivals.

Tailback Jeremy McNichols scored on the third play of the game on his way to a 140 yard, one touchdown night on the ground to go along with an impressive 109 yards and a touchdown through the air. Wideout Thomas Sperbeck had 109 yards and a score as well and became the school’s all-time leading receiver while doing so.

Quarterback Brett Rypien put up some big numbers with 442 yards passing and three touchdowns but did throw two pick-sixes as part of a wild second quarter that kept BYU in the game.

That stretch also included a potentially disastrous fake punt from the Cougars own end zone on 4th-and-19. The attempt was stuffed at the goal line but the defense held Boise State to a field goal attempt that was eventually shanked to cause no harm on the scoreboard.

BYU was without the services of tailback Jamaal Williams, who became the school’s all-time leading rusher last week against Mississippi State but was held out with an ankle injury he aggravated during warmups. In his place, Squally Canada ran for 88 yards on 21 carries.

Quarterback Taysom Hill had a rough night passing (21-of-42 for just 187 yards) but nearly rallied his team for a game-winning score with under two minutes left.

The win keeps Boise State undefeated and in the driver’s seat for the lucrative Group of Five bid to a major bowl game at the end of the season. While a loss would not have completely derailed their chances at making to the New Year’s Six, it would have made things interesting given the number of other candidates for the spot.

After a turnover-filled outing and nearly blowing a second half lead for the second week in a row, you can bet that the Broncos will look to regroup over the coming days and get back on track ahead of their trip to Wyoming.

Pac-12 fines, reprimands Washington State coach Mike Leach for comments about Arizona State

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 27: Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach protests a call during the first half of a football game against the Washington Huskies at Husky Stadium on November 27, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
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The Pac-12 has reprimanded and fined Washington State coach Mike Leach a whopping $10,000 for his comments this week about Arizona State stealing signs.

“Conference rules prohibit Pac-12 member institutions from disparaging each other and discrediting other institutions,” commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement. “Information or accusations relative to rule violations must be handled by institutions filing those concerns with the Conference office through a formal process, and institutions must refrain from discussing those concerns publicly.”

Leach accused the Sun Devils and head coach Todd Graham of stealing signs last season and brought the subject up again at his Monday press conference ahead of the Cougars trip to Tempe this weekend.

“We’ll have to keep an eye on it. That’s certainly the reputation. And I think they have a certain amount of technology and expertise on the subject which if they ever go to a different conference or something I’d certainly like them to share it with us,” Leach said. “You’ve got to keep an eye on it because they’ll steal signs and they’re pretty clever about it. And it’s like breaking the enigma code with them… I think they ought to do a full on investigation to see how they’re doing it and make sure it’s within the rules.”

The Pac-12 noted that it is not against NCAA rules to observe an opponent’s signals but a school cannot use any audio or video equipment to record them.

Graham defended his program earlier in the week from the accusations and denied that they used any equipment to record signals.

This isn’t the first time this subject has come up so you can bet that the pre-game talk — and post-game handshake — between the two head coaches might be a little chilly on Saturday given all the words flying back-and-forth between the two.

Boise State survives wild second quarter to take halftime lead over BYU

BOISE, ID - OCTOBER 20:  Boise State marching band member Nick Lopez howling during a pregame performance prior to the start of the game between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Boise State Broncos on October 20, 2016 at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho. (Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images)
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A late night game involving regional rivals BYU and Boise State on the blue turf figured to get weird.

That it did early — and often.

The Broncos quickly got out to a two score lead and saw the Cougars storm back in the second quarter on a series of fluke plays. Eventually the home team found some late magic just to hold on and take a 21-17  lead into the locker room at halftime.

Under the radar Heisman Trophy candidate Jeremy McNichols jump-started the scoring in the first minute of the game when he raced past a BYU linebacker to score from 76 yards out on a nifty catch and run. Quarterback Brett Rypien followed that up with a quick strike to Thomas Sperbeck on the ensuing drive in a game that looked like they were going to turn into a blowout.

That’s when the wheels started to fall off for Boise State however.

After entering the red zone and threatening to score another touchdown, the Broncos opted to kick a field goal, which was blocked by Dayan Lake and returned by Kai Nacua to midfield. That setup the Cougars’ first score on a field goal and seemed to flip momentum.

On the very next snap for Boise State, Rypien was picked off by BYU safety Fred Warner. He then returned it for a touchdown in one of the most incredible pick-sixes of the season as he tight-roped along the sideline for 59 yards.

Bizarrely, BYU followed that up by running a fake punt on the next possession from their own end zone — on 4th and 19 — and got crushed just steps away from the goal line. Luckily they came away unscathed after Boise State drew a personal foul to back them up 15 yards and then missed an ensuing field goal attempt.

As if that wasn’t enough, Lake then recorded the second pick-six of the ball game off of Rypien on the ensuing drive to give BYU an improbable lead.

Eventually the Broncos offense regrouped (and held onto the ball) as they drove 69 yards in 66 seconds to head to the locker room with a four point lead thanks to long touchdown pass. It was the only positive drive of the second half for the team and might have been something to build on going forward.

Makes you wonder what both teams have in store for the second half though given how many swings of momentum there was in the first.

Stingy defense and fullback Sam Rogers help Virginia Tech top Miami

BLACKSBURG, VA - OCTOBER 20: Running back Joseph Yearby #2 of the Miami Hurricanes is wrapped up by defensive back Chuck Clark #19 and defensive end Houshun Gaines #11 of the Virginia Tech Hokies in the first half at Lane Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Blacksburg, Virginia. (Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images)
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Virginia Tech turned up the pressure on defense and made an underutilized offensive weapon into the star of the show on Thursday night as they blasted Miami 37-16 to keep pace in the ACC Coastal race.

Fullback Sam Rogers had a huge game from out of nowhere to get the Hokies’ offense going with several big plays. His first came halfway through the second quarter when he snuck out of the backfield and rumbled 52 yards just short of the goal line to set up the first touchdown of the night.

He saved his best for the second half however as he actually threw a touchdown to all but seal the victory on a bit of trickeration, rolling right before finding fellow fullback Steven Peoples on a wheel route.

Quarterback Jerod Evans threw for 259 yards and two scores while rushing for 98 and a touchdown on the ground as well. Sophomore tailback Travon McMillian also chipped in 131 yards on the night for a lofty 7.3 yards a carry.

The story of the night for Miami was just how under siege the offense was as Bud Foster’s defense pressured quarterback Brad Kaaya on nearly every dropback and wound up with eight sacks. The Hurricanes signal-caller did throw for over 300 yards and two scores while tossing a few NFL-caliber passes but it just wasn’t enough with the game resting squarely on his shoulders. The ground game never got going as they rushed for under two yards a carry.

The win allows Virginia Tech to keep pace in the ACC Coastal as they pull even with North Carolina at 3-1 in the conference but take first place in the division on account of their head-to-head win. The Hokies remain in the driver’s seat for an ACC title game berth as they take on Pitt next week.

For Miami, the loss was their third straight on the year after dropping a heartbreaker to Florida State earlier in the month. The Hurricanes continue to deal with injures and lost several more players on Thursday as they head back to South Florida looking to regroup after a rough outing against the Hokies.