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.

Top seven remains the same in latest CFP rankings

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The third edition of the 2019 College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday, and the top seven teams remained the same from last week’s rankings. This means, as expected, Alabama remained No. 5 following the devastating loss of Tua Tagovailoa.

Minnesota remained in striking distance following their loss to Iowa (now at No. 17) at No. 10, with No. 12 Wisconsin and No. 2 Ohio State (potentially) still on their schedule. Oklahoma and Penn State moved one spot apiece, keeping the Top 10 stagnant.

Auburn fell three spots to No. 15, one spot behind No. 14 Baylor, who will spend the week wondering how high they would’ve climbed if the rankings were taken at halftime on Saturday night.

Memphis swapped spots with Cincinnati as the highest-rated Group of 5 team at No. 18; the Tigers and Bearcats SMU rejoined the rankings after falling out last week. They were joined by Iowa State at No. 22, who replaced then-No. 19 Texas, and USC at No. 23.

The full rankings:

1. LSU
2. Ohio State
3. Clemson
4. Georgia
5. Alabama
6. Oregon
7. Utah
8. Penn State
9. Oklahoma
10. Minnesota
11. Florida
12. Wisconsin
13. Michigan
14. Baylor
15. Auburn
16. Notre Dame
17. Iowa
18. Memphis
19. Cincinnati
20. Boise State
21. Oklahoma State
22. Iowa State
23. USC
24. Appalachian State
25. SMU

Georgia photographer hospitalized by Brian Herrian shares final photo before collision

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It’ll be a fun story to share for years to come, and thank God for that. Because at the time it looked so much worse.

Late in the first half of No. 4 Georgia’s 21-14 win over No. 12 Auburn, Georgia running back Brian Herrien ran into a photographer on the sideline. The photographer’s identity was not immediately known, but the game stopped for several minutes as she laid motionless on the Jordan-Hare Stadium sideline before she was eventually carted out of the stadium.

She was later identified as Chamberlain Smith, an intern in the UGA sports information department. Smith was taken to the East Alabama Medical Center in nearby Opelika, where she was diagnosed with a concussion, an eye bruise and a cut above her right eye, presumably from when her camera forcefully collided wither her head.

“I haven’t had a chance to respond to everyone, but I just wanted to say thank you all so much for the overwhelming outpouring of support in the form of kind comments, messages & prayers!! .. last night was very scary, but I’m so glad to be walking away with nothing more than a concussion & some bruises,” Smith tweeted Sunday. “I will be home resting & recovering for the next several days, but I’m looking forward to being back on the sidelines soon!”

Smith is recovering in her Ringgold, Ga., home recovering, and on Tuesday she tweeted the photo she paid such a price for.

Herrien retweeted the image with a message of support.

Smith, thankfully, will make a full recovery, and now she’ll have a photo to hang on her wall and a heckuva thousand words to go with it.

Mark Dantonio to return in 2020, per Mark Dantonio

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From 2010-15, Michigan State was one of the very best programs in all of college football. Mark Dantonio‘s Spartans won 11 or more games five times in those six years, with Big Ten titles in 2010, ’13 and ’15. They finished in the AP Top 6 from 2013-15, and in ’13 and ’15 they knocked off undefeated teams in the Big Ten Championship — Ohio State in 2013, thereby knocking the Buckeyes out of the final BCS title game, and Iowa in 2015, knocking the Hawkeyes out of the College Football Playoff and lifting themselves in. The 2013 team finished 13-1, beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl and finished No. 3 in both polls, the program’s best season since 1966.

But it’s not 2013 anymore.

After going 65-16 (41-9 Big Ten) from 2010-15, Michigan State has slunk to 24-24 (15-19 Big Ten) from 2016 on, including a 4-6 mark to date this season. The Spartans went just 7-6 in 2018, causing Mark Dantonio to play musical chairs in his offensive staff room in hopes of fixing an offense that finished 126th nationally in scoring. The move hasn’t worked; this year’s team is 110th. Don’t ask him about it, though, because Dantonio doesn’t like talking about that move.

All of this has cumulated in speculation that, rather than hit the reset button heading into Year 14 in East Lansing, Dantonio would call it quits. That thought never reached Dantonio’s mind.

On Tuesday, the 63-year-old told local media he plans to remain the Spartans’ coach in 2020.

Asked bluntly if he plans to lead the team onto the field for their 2020 opener against Northwestern, Dantonio responded bluntly. “Yes,” he said.

“My intentions are to be the head football coach here. I’ve always said I live in the present. I’ve always said that. There’s certain things that you have control of, there’s certain things you don’t have control of. I can’t control anything, but my intentions are there, yeah, absolutely,” he said, via the Detroit Free Press.

“My father always talked to me complete the circle, complete the circle. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

With that question, the conversation now turns to whether his shuffling-of-the-deck-chairs offensive staff can survive another sunk season.

“I don’t make decisions on that until I weigh out everything to the best that I can,” Dantonio told MLive. “Because probably I have the most knowledge in terms of what’s going on within our football team as to who did what in terms of was that a player, structure, coaching, officiating, all the underlying things that go along with that.”

The tipping point of this conversation seems to be Michigan. After going 7-1 against the Wolverines from 2008-15, Dantonio is now 1-3 since, including the 44-10 whipping in Ann Arbor that led many to openly wonder if the game has passed Dantonio by.

At 4-6, Michigan State will need to sweep Rutgers and Maryland (combined Big Ten record: 1-13) to avoid missing a bowl game for just the second time of his 13-year tenure… and the second time in the past four seasons.

City of San Diego entering negotiations for San Diego State to purchase Qualcomm Stadium site

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You are reading the words of a person who cares not one lick about most of the creature comforts we have convinced ourselves are now necessary features of the modern football stadium. You’re there to watch a football game, after all. What more do you need besides a bleacher seat, maybe some popcorn, and a restroom close enough that will let you return to your seat before the second half kickoff? In my mind, the best place in the world to watch a football game is the Cotton Bowl — no, not AT&T Stadium during the Cotton Bowl Classic, the actual Cotton Bowl.

That said, I’m also not someone who believes that the past was always better, just because it was the past.

So, with all that said, Qualcomm Stadium is the worst football venue these eyes have ever seen. The upper decks might as well be in space, and if you’re sitting in the corner of the end zone, game action taking place just yards away is completely obstructed from view.

That’s why it’s a good thing that, according to the Times of San Diego, the San Diego city council on Monday authorized the city’s negotiators to proceed with discussing the sale of Qualcomm Stadium — sorry, SDCCU Stadium — to San Diego State.

The school originally offered to purchase the stadium site for $68.2 million back in 2017, but the city now has an offer for $86.2 million.

“The city currently spends about $11 million a year to maintain and operate the Mission Valley stadium site,” City Councilwoman Barbara Bry told the paper. “That’s over $30,000 a day in taxpayer money every day that we delay this transaction with San Diego State. We can’t afford not to move the project along in a timely manner.”

Negotiations are expected to begin in earnest in January, with closing happening by the end of the year. Once San Diego State takes possession of the site, the school would raze SDCCU Stadium and replace it with a 35,000-seat stadium that will serve as the anchor to what will be known as SDSU Mission Valley, home to a satellite campus, a park and commercial and residential space.

“The project is about the transformation of a community and the revitalization of public land,” San Diego State president Adela de la Torre said. “With your support, this can go down in history as one of the most meaningful San Diego milestones of the 21st century.”

The new SDSU stadium would be expected to open in time for the Aztecs’ 2022 stadium. Not one moment too soon.