CFT Cheat Sheet: What to know for Week 1

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A quick primer on who, what and where to look for/at as college football kicks off its first full weekend of the 2019 season.

WEEK 1 STORYLINES

  • On Nov. 6, 1869, with a young Bill Snyder in attendance, Rutgers beat Princeton 6-4 in what is considered the first “modern” game of college football.  A century and a half later, the sport is one of the most popular in the country and this 150th anniversary will be celebrated throughout the 2019 season.  The sesquicentennial of a sport that generated quotes such as “this college is a failure; the trouble is we’re neglecting football for education” and “I would like to build a university of which the football team could be proud” will be feted over the next few months, with ESPN, of course, leading the way with myriad specials highlighting the colorful, ofttimes controversial but never, ever boring history of college football.
  • Several new rules will be in effect for the 2019 season, from targeting (replay officials required to either confirm or deny all targeting fouls; any targeting foul that cannot be confirmed by video review will now be overturned) to blindside blocks called as personal fouls to two-man wedge formations on all kickoffs.  Another aspect of the targeting rule that’s been changed could have a sizable impact as well, with a player who is penalized for targeting three times in a season being suspended for one full game after the first offense, and an additional game for every offense thereafter.  Additionally, new overtime rules are in play thanks to last year’s LSU-Texas A&M marathon. If a game reaches four overtimes and remains tied, the outcome will be decided by alternating two-point conversions that are snapped from the three-yard line.
  • Because of injuries, Alabama will very likely open the 2019 season with a pair of true freshmen starting in its linebacking corps.  Starting weakside linebacker Josh McMillon suffered a knee injury two weeks ago that will sideline him indefinitely, perhaps even the entire season; he’ll be replaced by four-star 2019 signee Christian Harris.  Preseason All-American Dylan Moses sustained a torn ACL this week and is expected to miss all of 2019; four-star 2019 signee Shane Lee will take his place at middle linebacker not only position-wise but calling the defensive signals as well.  Add in three other starters suspended for the first half of the opener, and Alabama’s matchup with Duke — the Crimson Tide are around a five-touchdown favorite for the neutral-site matchup — at least becomes mildly interesting.  Or it’ll prove yet again that, Nick Saban‘s protestations notwithstanding, ‘Bama can indeed s**t another player and everything will be perfect.
  • There are 26 head coaches who are entering their first seasons at their new schools, with two of them (Geoff Collins at Georgia Tech and Manny Diaz at Miami) already losing their debuts.  This Saturday, more than half of the 24 remaining first-year coaches (13) will lift the lid on the 2019 season against FCS opponents; at the opposite end of the spectrum is seven Group of Seven Group of Five coaches lead off with a Power Five school — Akron (Illinois), East Carolina (NC State), Houston (Oklahoma), Liberty (Syracuse), Texas State (Texas A&M), UMass (Rutgers) and Utah State (Wake Forest). Colorado and Ohio State will kick the campaign off against Group of Five schools Colorado State and Florida Atlantic, respectively, with Louisville opening against Notre Dame and North Carolina tangling with South Carolina in P5 vs. P5 matchups.

SIX-PACK OF MUST-SEE GAMES

  • No. 11 Oregon vs. No. 16 Auburn in Arlington, Tex. — No offense to either school, but you know the Week 1 slate is on the lighter side if this is the first of the must-see matchups.  This game, coincidentally enough, is also the only one this weekend pitting ranked teams against each other.  As of this writing, the Ducks are a 3½-point favorite in a neutral-field affair that will see the Tigers start a true freshman, Bo Nix, under center for the first time in more than 70 years.  Oregon, meanwhile, has seen its receiving corps hit hard by injury.  This game will, though, feature one of the best positional matchups of the first full weekend of football, with the Ducks’ stout offensive line going up against the Tigers’ talented defensive line.
  • Houston at No. 4 Oklahoma — If you like offense, you should love this non-conference matchup.  Prior to going down with a knee injury in the Cougars’ 11th game of the season, a now-healthy D’Eriq King had put up 50 total touchdowns (36 passing, 14 rushing) and nearly 3,700 yards of offense as he passed for 2,982 and ran for another 674.  The Sooners, of course, have produced the last two Heisman Trophy winners and will see their offense triggered this season by Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts.
  • Boise State vs. Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla. — This game was originally scheduled to be played on a “neutral field” in Jacksonville, but the looming threat of Hurricane Dorian forced the contest to be moved about 170 miles west to Doak Campbell Stadium.  This will mark the first-ever meeting between the two football programs, with the Seminoles coming off a year in which its bowl streak was snapped at 36 straight thanks to a 5-7 record and the Broncos coming off a season in which its bowl game was ruled a no-contest because of, oddly enough, weather.
  • North Carolina vs. South Carolina in Charlotte, NC Mack Brown is back for his second stint at North Carolina.  South Carolina’s head coach, Will Muschamp, served as Brown’s defensive coordinator at Texas from 2008-10. And thus ends the most intriguing aspect of this matchup as the Tar Heels won two games for the first time since 2003 and the Gamecocks were a pedestrian 7-6 in the third season under Muschamp.  This is also the third of three neutral-site games on this list, so it’s got that going for it.  Which is nice.
  • No. 9 Notre Dame at Louisville — This game is the only one being played Labor Day night, so by definition it’s a must-see affair for any avid fan of the sport.  Those expecting must-see action on the field will likely be disappointed, though, as Notre Dame is anywhere from an 18- to 19-point road favorite. The Fighting Irish were one of the four playoff teams a year ago, with the Cardinals stumbling and/or bumbling through a two-win season (their worst since 1997) that saw Bobby Petrino fired and Scott Satterfield hired.
  • Ole Miss at Memphis — Fun fact for the wagering degenerates in the audience: Memphis is 8-0 in the regular season under Mike Norvell in games that kick off at noon ET, including a pair of wins over Power Five schools (then-No. 25 UCLA in 2017, laugh-if-you-want-but-they’re-still-technically-a-P5-team Kansas in 2016).  Both of those wins, incidentally, came at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.  Right now, the Tigers are roughly a 5½-point favorite.

BEST/WORST WAGERS OF WEEK 1

  • BEST: It’s gotta be Memphis -5½ over Ole Miss, right?  Given that unbeaten noon trend under Norvell, you have to roll with what’s been a mortal lock the past three seasons.
  • WORST: Alabama at -33½ over Duke. The line had gotten all the way to 36 points at one point until Dylan Mosesseason-ending injury.  The Crimson Tide should still win very comfortably, but not nearly five touchdowns comfortable — although Nick Saban‘s PG-13 radio diatribe has me second-guessing this selection.
  • COVER SPECIAL:  Houston’s getting three touchdowns and a field goal, and I’m taking it.  The AAC school (likely) won’t beat Oklahoma outright, but they’ll cover.

HEISMAN TROPHY WATCH

  1.  Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson — The “It” player in college football ended the 2018 season with a national championship as a true freshman, and begins the 2019 season as the Heisman frontrunner until proven otherwise.
  2. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama — There is one overwhelming question when it comes to the 2018 Heisman runner-up: can he stay upright and healthy for a full season?
  3. Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma — Back-to-back transfer quarterbacks from Oklahoma have won the Heisman, so this transfer quarterback from Alabama is going to start this season a little higher than he probably should.
  4. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State — The second straight transfer on the list, the true sophomore is entering his first season as the starter at the collegiate level after coming to OSU from Georgia.
  5. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin — The positive: Taylor is just 2,235 yards away from becoming the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher in just three seasons. The negative: A running back has claimed the Heisman just twice in 13 years.
  6. Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas — Speaking of droughts, a player from the University of Texas hasn’t won the Heisman since Ricky Williams in 1998.
  7. Adrian Martinez, QB, Nebraska — When it’s all said and done, and if he stays injury-free, I truly believe this electrifying quarterback who can beat you with his arm and/or legs will end the season a lot higher on this list.
  8. Justin Hebert, QB, Oregon — Arguably the top player on the West Coast, Hebert eschewed the opportunity to enter the 2019 NFL Draft as a likely Top-10 selection and return to Oregon for one more season.
  9. Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia — The seventh-year junior (OK, it just seems like he’s been in Athens forever), has quietly put up nearly 5,400 yards and 54 touchdowns in two seasons; a huge performance in the high-profile matchup with Notre Dame in Week 4 would boost his stiff-armed chances.
  10. JK Dobbins, RB, Ohio State — With Fields in his first season as a starter, Dobbins should see his carry rate rise (he averaged just under 12 a game his first two seasons)  especially early on as the new starter gets further acclimated to the offense.

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT WATCH
Earlier in this piece, I mentioned that Oregon’s offensive line going up against Auburn’s defensive line will be one of the best positional matchups of Week 1.  As fortune would have it, our buddies over at Rotoworld have Auburn DT Derrick Brown vs Oregon OL Shane Lemieux and Jake Hanson leading off its “NFL Draft Prospect Showdown” feature for the first week of the college football season.  For the entire extensively-detailed piece, click HERE.

Utah State hires ex-Washington State assistant Roc Bellantoni

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Utah State is the latest football program to make a late-offseason addition to its coaching staff.  Or an early-fall addition.  Whichever verbiage you prefer.

That being said, Utah State announced this week that Roc Bellantoni has been added to Gary Andersen‘s Utah State football staff. Bellantoni will serve not only as the special teams coordinator for the Aggies but as tight ends coach as well.

Bellantoni spent the 2019 season at Washington State.  After Tracy Claeys stepped down as defensive coordinator in October of last year, Bellantoni, the linebackers coach at the time, and cornerbacks coach Darcel McBath served as interim co-defensive coordinators for the rest of the season.

Bellantoni spent the two seasons prior to his time at Wazzu at Buffalo as defensive ends coach and special teams coordinator.  In 2018, he also served as the Bulls’ special teams coordinator.

Prior to that, Bellantoni was the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Florida Atlantic for three years. That marked Bellantoni’s first job at the FBS level.

All told, Bellantoni has spent 25 seasons as an assistant at the collegiate level.  The Iona graduate also spent time on coaching staffs at Villanova, Eastern Illinois and Drake.  At Villanova, Bellantoni was special teams coordinator as well as defensive line coach.

Oklahoma beats out LSU, Maryland for Caleb Williams, the highest-rated quarterback in the Class of 2021

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LSU handed it to Oklahoma in the 2019 College Football Playoff.  On the Fourth of July a few months later, the Sooners returned the favor on the recruiting trail.

Last month, Caleb Williams, one of the top prospects in the Class of 2021, announced that he had whittled his recruiting to-do list down to three schools: LSU, Maryland and Oklahoma.  As expected, Williams announced his verbal commitment on the holiday weekend.  And, as expected, the quarterback gave that verbal to Oklahoma football.  Or, the new QBU if you will.

Lincoln Riley acknowledged the commitment on Twitter.

Williams is a five-star 2021 prospect.  The Washington D.C. high schooler is rated as the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the country — and the No. 1 quarterback overall.  On the 247Sports.com composite, Williams is rated as the No. 4 recruit in the country.

Suffice to say, recruiting observers are high on Williams’ future.  Very high.

“There’s nothing this kid can’t do,” former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer said last month. “I’ve been doing this a long time, he has very few limitations if any. He’s uber-competitive. Very focused when he walked in. He’s really clean, he’s consistent, clean usually means consistent.

“Every throw was good to great. I think he takes it that serious. I’m interpreting what his mind is telling him and it’s as if every throw is the most important throw of the day.

Texas Tech WR Caden Leggett arrested for racing on a highway

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Yes, Texas Tech football fan.  You read that headline correctly.

According to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Caden Leggett was arrested over the weekend in Lubbock County.  The charge?  Racing on a highway.  It’s believed that another Texas Tech football player was involved in the race, although that player has not yet been identified by the police.

Leggett was driving a Ford Mustang and admitted to police that a teammate was one of the individuals with which he was racing.  From the Avalanche-Journal‘s report:

A Lubbock police patrol officer saw three vehicles speeding northbound about 2:40 a.m. in the 10000 block of Indiana Avenue and began chasing the vehicles.

“I had to travel at a high rate of speed in order to attempt to catch up to the vehicles,” the officer wrote in his report.

The officer caught up to the three vehicles — a dark colored Dodge Challenger, a white Ford Mustang and another white vehicle — at a red light in the intersection of 82nd Street and Indiana Avenue. However, the vehicles sped away again when the light turned green, the report states.

The officer activated his lights and sirens to get the three vehicles to stop.

The officer pulled along side the Challenger and motioned and yelled at the driver to pull over. The officer believed the driver of the Challenger saw him and pulled behind the Mustang to stop the driver.

The driver of the Mustang pulled over in the 3300 block of 76th Street. However, the driver of the Challenger and third vehicle continued driving, the report states.

The Texas Tech football program is aware of the off-field situation involving members of the Red Raiders team.

Leggett joined the Tech football team in 2018 as a walk-on.  In 2019, the wide receiver was placed on scholarship.

In two seasons, Leggett appeared in 15 games.  Of those appearances, 11 came in 2019.  The Georgetown, Texas, product has caught two passes for 16 yards.

Family of the first Black football player in University of Texas history suing the NCAA

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A racial pioneer in the Texas football program is back in the news.

As we have noted previously, dozens of Texas student-athletes, including football players, are demanding change at the university.  One of those demands is naming a part of Royal-Memorial Stadium in honor of Julius Whittier, the first-ever Black player in University of Texas football history.

Coincidentally or not, the family of Whittier this week filed a lawsuit against NCAA.  In the suit, which is seeking damages in excess of a million dollars, the Whittier family is accusing the NCAA of negligence and wrongful death in connection to the pioneer’s passing in September of 2018.  Whittier had been battling Alzheimer’s for several years prior to his death.

According to the Houston Chronicle, “[p]ostmortem examination of his brain at Boston University… revealed that he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease associated with head trauma.” The suit, filed by Whittier’s sister on behalf of her brother’s estate and three surviving children, alleges the Whittier’s death at the age of 68 was the direct result of football-related head trauma.

“Julius Whittier was a pioneer who became a lawyer and a member of the district attorney’s staff in Dallas County, and his life was about justice,” the family’s attorney told the Chronicle. “His family wants to carry on in his name and hope that we can make changes.

“We don’t want to end football. We just want to make it as safe as possible and make sure that everybody is informed about what can happen. That has not been the case historically, and we want to change that.”

The sister, Mildred Whittier, had previously filed a lawsuit against the NCAA on behalf of college players who suffered brain injuries from 1960 to 2014.

In 1970, Whittier became the first black player to letter in football at Texas.  He first joined the Longhorns in 1969.  At the time, though, the NCAA did not allow freshmen to play.  Whittier lettered every year from 1970-72, first as an offensive guard and then as a tight end his senior season.