Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Week 1 Predictions

Are you ready for some football?

Its here. After another long and grueling off season, its FINALLY here. Football is back. Social media has gotten a bit more chippy the past two weeks, sports talk radio shows are a little more intense. The temperature will soon start to drop and leaves will begin to change colors. Its here. Its a great time to be alive and even greater time to be a football fan. This year  we get to see the well overdue first trial at a playoff system in college football. While I can already see some issues for example with committee selection....that's a another post for another day. For now, I'm thankful for having the playoffs to begin with! Words can't describe how great it feels to know football season, the most wonderful time of the year, is back! Week one has a few intriguing match ups that I will be keeping an eye on this weekend. South Carolina and A&M kick things off Thursday night in Columbia, LSU squares off against Wisconsin in Houston, West Virginia meets Alabama down in ATL, Arkansas looks to shake things up as they travel to Auburn, ESPN College Gameday host Oklahoma State and Florida State in Arlington and finally, Clemson heads to Athens for a rematch of last year's thriller against Georgia. If you can't find something that interest you this weekend #1 You aren't looking and #2 You clearly don't like football. Without further delay, in the words of the Black Eyes Peas...Lets Get It Started!

Games of Interest: Week 1 

#9 South Carolina vs #21 Texas A&M (Thursday night) 

 In one of the easier picks of week one, the Gamecocks invite the Aggies to Williams-Brice for the first ever meeting between the two schools. Texas A&M's offense will look to sophomore Kenny Hill to fill the shoes of Johnny Manziel  at quarterback. While I expect the Aggies to have some success moving the ball against South Carolina and its young, inexperienced secondary, at the end of the day I don't see them being able to sustain a close margin throughout the second half and think the Gamecocks will grind out the win behind the legs of Mike Davis and a fired up home crowd. 

The Pick: South Carolina 

#13 LSU vs #14 Wisconsin 

The Tigers and Badgers square off in this top 15 neutral site match up in Houston, Texas. Les Miles intends on playing both Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris as neither has separated themselves as the better overall package. Both squads are young on the defensive front and will have to play well and prove they are the real deal. That could be tough against Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon who rushed for over 1600 yards last season and LSU's trio of seniors Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee and Freshman Leonard Fournette. This one comes down to which defense can rise to the occasion and stop the run..or at least slow it down.

The Pick: LSU

#2 Alabama vs West Virginia 

I'm not sure why I bothered bringing this one up to be completely honest. Although, I'm very interested to see how Kiffin does at Alabama this season. This one will go down in Atlanta Saturday afternoon but it really doesn't matter when or where it is played because Alabama will roll. (No pun intended...well maybe a little) As of this post, Vegas has the Tide as 27 point favorites. 27. West Virginia will be lucky to be within three touchdowns by halftime. Hope Dana Holgorsen has saved up his money cause he takes another step towards unemployment this weekend. (RDT!!!) 

The Pick: Alabama 

#6 Auburn vs Arkansas 

The Razorbacks look to get back on track this season after going 0-9 in SEC play last year. It won't be easy snapping the streak on the road against Auburn where they are 21 point underdogs to the Tigers. Bret Bielema's squad improved towards the end of last season and nearly knocked off LSU in the season finale in Tiger Stadium falling 31-27. Auburn's Nick Marshall will play despite his misdemeanor marijuana charge this summer however Auburn has announced Sophomore Jeremy Johnson will get the start. The Razorbacks should be better this year and RB Alex Collins who rushed for over 1000 yards last season will play a big role in turning things around in Fayetteville. 

The Pick: Auburn 

#1 Florida State vs #21 Oklahoma State 

Jameis Winston and the Seminoles look to defend their National Championship and start their back-to-back campaign Saturday as they face the Cowboys, who are also coming off a pretty good year, in Arlington, Texas. Florida State remains absolutely stacked on both sides of the ball with NFL talent all over the field. Mike Gundy's crew doesn't have as many household names but has a powerful offense that averaged just under 40 points per game last season while giving up just over 21. I think this game could be closer than the 17 point spread predicts but I think Winston and company will get the job done nonetheless. 

The Pick: Florida State 

Featured Game of the Week: Week 1
#16 Clemson @ #12 Georgia 
Saturday, August 30th 5:30 PM 

Preview: The Tigers and Dawgs kick off the football season together again this year with Clemson traveling to Athens-- a place where they have only won three times in the last 100 years. To be fair they haven't played UGA every year and there has been random spans of years where the two didn't play at all. Most recently from 2004-2012. However, even when they played every year such as in the 70's/80's the Tigers did not win very often down in Athens. Will that change this weekend or will Georgia continue its home dominance over Clemson? This year's meeting doesn't have the big time names like last year and if you're looking for another shootout then look elsewhere. This weekend's game will be a much lower scoring affair and will come down to which quarterback plays the best and makes the least amount of mistakes. Todd Gurley racked up over 150 yards in Death Valley last year and looks to make another big impact Saturday between the hedges. He will get his yards and almost certainly will find the end zone at least once Saturday evening but can the Tigers limit his production down the stretch? 

Things to watch: As I've said, in all likelihood this will be a low scoring game and if either team can reach the mid-to-high 20's it should be enough to win, in my opinion. Quarterback play will be huge with two players making their first "big game" start...Huston Mason for Georgia and Cole Stoudt for Clemson. Coach Swinney made it clear weeks ago that freshman Deshuan Watson will also play Saturday but has not given us much else on details about how much or long we will see him on the field. An area of concern for Clemson is the offensive line. While the Tigers should be "okay" Saturday, if someone gets banged up the Tigers will have to dig deep to come up with a combination that will hold up against UGA's defense. The loss of Shaq Anthony, who announced last week he will transfer, is huge and makes an already young and unproven line even more vulnerable. I don't have to tell you what the atmosphere will be like Saturday afternoon. It will be of the utmost importance for the Tigers to all be on the same page and be able to communicate and focus. That being said, it isn't all roses for Georgia's offensive line either who will likely have to play two freshmen linemen in Isaiah Wynn and Dyshon Sims at some point in the game due to depth issues. Going up against Clemson's strong front seven will be a test for everyone they face this season, no matter what the talent/experience level. We'll get to see if the Tigers are as good as advertised up front. 

We know the secondary is also unproven and will have to step up Saturday night. Redshirt Freshmen Mackensie Alexander will get the start at corner opposite of Martin Jenkins. He's played well through spring ball and preseason camp and is ready to go after last season's groin injury that kept him on the sideline. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables is confident in him but again first game of the season in a hostile environment...it will be interesting to see how he responds. Sophomore Safety Jayron Kearse was hit or miss last year and you never really knew what to expect so I'd also keep an eye on him and see if Mason throw his way early to test him. Lastly, I think the first few series will be key for Clemson. Of course the Tigers would like to strike first with a touchdown but they have to be able to weather the storm early and not take unnecessary risks and absolutely MUST protect the football. Its going to be a long and physical game. If Stoudt can manage the game and take care of the football, I like Clemson's chances. The defense should keep them in the ballgame as long as the offense does their part and avoids turnovers and quick three and outs, the Tigers should be in position to win in the second half. All in all this game is a toss up. Georgia definitely has the edge with it being at home but at the end of the day it comes down to which teams plays better and makes fewer mistakes. Both have significant questions marks at key areas on the field and it appears to be another evenly matched contest. Call me a homer but I'm drinking the kool-aid and think the Tigers find a way to get it done in Athens. For the record, I perfectly predicted the 38-35 Clemson win in Death Valley last season. Hopefully I can make it two years in a row. In the words of Clemson radio host Roy Philpott....bring on the hate! 

Prediction: Clemson 24 Georgia 20

Monday, August 25, 2014

South Carolina, Clemson set for Season Opener

Opening Weekend is just days away which means football is back! With that in mind, today's post focuses on the Gamecocks and Tigers season opener and the key areas of the game for both teams. South Carolina welcomes Texas A&M to Columbia for what will be the first meeting ever between the two. Clemson travels down to Athens to take on long time rival, Georgia. The Tigers took care of buisness at home agasint the Dawgs last year in Death Valley but can they go between the hedges and win?

South Carolina's Keys to Victory: 

1. Get Pressure-  The Gamecocks will be without the services of Jadeveon Clowney, Chaz Sutton and Kelcy Quarles this year but will have to find a way to get pressure on the quarterback and stop the run. The Aggies will start Sophomore Kenny Hill who has yet to see any significant playing time thus far in his career. I would imagine Gamecock DC Lorenzo Ward will come after Hill early and often and try to get him rattled and uncomfortable. While I think South Carolina's offense will be able to move the ball well, its the first game and it might be a slow start. That being said, getting off to a good start defensively will be very beneficial and could set the tone for the night. 
2. Feed The Hungry- While helping the less fortunate is always a good thing, this key isn't as charitable as it appears. RB Mike Davis rushed for 1183 yards and 11 touchdowns last year as a sophomore and is ready to take it a step further this year behind (on paper) what appears to be one of the best offensive lines in the land. He is 100% healthy and is hungry and ready to have a big year and remind everyone that Todd Gurley isn't the only beast of a running back in the SEC. If I'm Spurrier, I'm setting a goal of 20 touches for Davis also giving him some chances to catch the ball out of the backfield. The junior from Atlanta averaged over 10 yards per catch last season and knows how to get yards. Give em the ball and get out of his way. 
3. Crowd Noise- While South Carolina is in the midst of the best years in the history of the program and is a Top 15 squad, much of their success at home has been due to their fans and the atmosphere they bring to Williams Brice. As a Clemson fan I hate everything about Columbia and Willy B Stadium from "2001" to Sandstorm but gotta admit they know how to turn up the volume. The Gamecocks have the longest current home game winning streak in college football at 18 games. It can get pretty loud in there and for a QB that hasn't had much experience it can become a nightmare. Throw into the mix its the season opener and a Thursday night game, the students and fans will have it rocking by the time kickoff rolls around at 6pm. At A&M they call the fans "the 12th man"....well rest assured Gamecock fans have just as much influence in their home games as well. 

Clemson's Keys to Victory: 

1. Line of Scrimmage- We all know games are won and lost in the trenches and that is always an area to examine for any game but it couldn't mean more than in week 1 for Clemson. They have one of the best defensive fronts in the nation and will be tested by a solid offensive line and RB Todd Gurley who torched the Tigers for 154 yards and 2 touchdowns in Death Valley last year averaging over 12 yards per carry. If the Tigers allow that type of production again this Saturday...hold on, cause it will get out of hand quickly. I don't foresee that happening but winning the battle up front and limiting the big plays on the ground will go a long, long way in securing a win in Athens.
2. Field Position- I almost made this one about Turnovers, but we all know how important those are. In the Tigers two losses last year, they committed a total of 10 turnovers. You simply cannot do that...(especially on the road)..and expect to win. Common sense. So instead I want to focus on field position. This game could very easily come down to special teams/a late FG. That being said I see field position playing a huge role. With an offense that will have its hands full in a warm and hostile environment, having decent field position to work with will be critical. While the defense should hold its own it will also be important for the Tigers to pin back the Dawgs as often as possible and try to make them go the length of the field every time they have the ball. 
3. Get Creative- With the loss of Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant the Tigers lose a great deal of that big play, home-run type scores. It will be important for Stoudt to not force things and instead just take what the defense gives him. Even if that means having to settle for the check down receiver more times than he would like. That being said, Chad Morris will also need (and almost certainly will) dig into his bag of tricks and try to catch Georgia's defense off guard. We saw that early in the game last year against South Carolina and in the Orange Bowl against Ohio State. I expect him to not waste any time this game as well. It's going to be extremely loud out on the field and if the Tigers can make some plays early it will only help in the long run...opening up the playbook and more importantly quieting down what promises to be a rowdy crowd...if only for a few brief moments at a time. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

In Cole We Trust

There has been a lot of talk (from fans and other "experts") since spring practice about the quarterback situation in Clemson and how Deshaun Watson was going to come in and take over the starting job and lead the Tigers this season. I've seen his film from high school, I've heard all the good talk and reviews from coaches and teammates since he's arrived on campus and how "far ahead" of schedule he is for a true freshmen. I've heard how he just "gets it". I've heard how he's put on a solid 20 pounds of solid muscle since his arrival. I get it. But lets not forget....he's still a TRUE FRESHMAN. Yes, I know there has been recent success of freshmen (most notably, Manziel and Winston) and anything can happen but more times than not...freshmen play like freshmen. Watson is a special player and will be a great asset for us moving forward but for right now...Cole is our guy. He's a senior, knows the playbook inside and out, and has experience (albeit limited). Stoudt has waited patiently for his time and he not only deserves this moment...he's earned it.

We already know that Watson will see the field this season including in Athens but that will be his first time in a college game and it will be on the road in front of a loud, hostile, highly intoxicated Georgia home crowd who will make sure he has a nice, warm welcome to the field. I'm excited for his future and think he can take this program to the next level. But for right here in the present, Cole Stoudt is the best option and gives us the best chance to win RIGHT NOW. While Watson has impressed coaches, so has Stoudt and they are confident in him as the starter and so am I. He will start the game in Athens and (hopefully) every game this season. If that proves to be the case that only means good things have happened and that the Tigers have had a pretty solid season and not needed to make a change at QB. I've heard people call in on the radio (...yeah I know...you don't even have to say it...), comment on various message boards ( again...I know what you are thinking) and on social media about how Stoudt will be benched and he's not a good player etc. Stop it, just stop it! There are a handful of players that would have started over Tajh Boyd the past two years. Cole is more than capable and adds a bit of a different dimension to the offense. Boyd could get those yards on 2nd/3rd and short out of the pistol formation like clockwork. He even had that big run of 48 yards right up the middle all the way to the house against Ohio State in the Orange Bowl for the Tiger's first touchdown of the game. But for the most part, Boyd wasn't known for running. Stoudt is much better mobility wise and gives us the option of more designed runs and implementing some zone read into the offense...which I'm excited to see. I think we move away from the pass-first mentality we've had the past few seasons and utilize the talented group of runners we have this season.

Now if Stoudt does happen to struggle and makes numerous and costly mistakes then yes, I'm in favor of Watson coming in and seeing what he can do. But for now, its time for us to rally around Stoudt as our starter. It will be tough going for him early on with road trips to Athens and Tallahassee but if he can play well in those games it will be a much easier road for the remainder of the season. I just hope people give him the chance and realize that it is very likely the Tigers could start the year 1-2...but many teams with that schedule would also. Only time will tell but for now, its Cole Stoudt's team and I'm 100% okay with that. Spot the ball!!!! 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Job Security in College Football

In the world of coaching football its always a matter of  "what have you done for me lately?". You could win the division of your conference one year, go .500 the next year and find your self on the hot seat or fired. Its a tough business but its just that..a business. Sometimes we forget that coaches are people too and that they have families and personal lives outside of football. As fans we put a lot of pressure on them to win. However, they have a big responsibility and have to produce results. When that doesn't happen...or happen often enough, you can very easily find yourself packing up the ole office and looking for new employment. With that topic in mind, today's post looks at job security and will briefly examine coaches on both ends of the spectrum...those that are on the rise, on the hot seat, coaches taking over at new schools this season, and coordinators whose stock is rising and could soon have a team of their own.

Coaches on the rise

David Shaw (Stanford) , the Stanford Alum has been on the coaching staff since 2007 and became head coach in 2011 and is 34-7 as the head coach with two Pac-12 Championships and one Rose Bowl Championship. He is one of three coaches to lead their team to a BCS bowl in each of their first three years as head coach. He was the 2013 AFCA Regional Coach of the Year. Jimbo Fisher (Florida State), Fisher took over for the legendary Bobby Bowden in 2010 after serving as offensive coordinator since 2007. The Salem College Alum has brought FSU back to the top of the college football world after a few down years. Fisher is 45-10 as head coach in Tallahassee and appears to be in position to lead the Seminoles for years to come. Great recruiter and teacher and is definitely a coach whose stock is rising. Gus Malzhan (Auburn) Malzhan was the offensive coordinator at Auburn from 2009-2011 before leaving for Arkansas State in 2012. In 2013, he returned to Auburn as head coach and led the Tigers to a 12-2 season and SEC Championship and an appearance in the BCS Title game after an ugly, ugly, 3-9 season the year before. Expectations are flying high at Auburn.

Coaches on the Hot Seat

Will Muschamp (Florida) enters his fourth year as coach of the Gators and it has been a bumpy road. In his first year, Florida was 7-6 and 3-5 in conference..its first losing season in SEC play since 1979. 2012 was much nicer to the Gators as they rebounded with an 11-2 season. But 2013 sent Muschamp back in reverse with a 4-8 season highlighted by home losses to Vanderbilt and FCS Georgia Southern who didn't even complete a pass in route to a 26-20 in the swamp. Driskel is back after last years season ending injury and that should help but if the Gators struggle again this year, Muschamp better have some boxes ready to pack up his office in Gainesville. Dana Holgorsen (West Virginia) Holgorsen has been at WVU since 2011 with an overall record of 21-17. He does have an Orange Bowl championship to his credit but since then he's been 11-14 including 4-8 last year. Times have changed since the high flying offense when Steve Slaton and Pat White were running the show. WVU is one of those teams that doesn't really have an identity right now, in my opinion. Mike London (Virginia) London has been in Charlottesville since 2010 but only has one winning season with the Cavs. He's 18-31 overall and despite being on the weak(er) side of the ACC in the coastal division, has had very little success. Expectations aren't as high in these parts but you gotta wonder how many more losing seasons he can survive. With the addition of Louisville, the resurgence of Florida State, Cutcliffe's recent success at Duke and the belief (by some) that Miami is inching its way back into national relevance...the competition isn't getting any easier for the Cavs in the near future.

New Kids on the Block

James Franklin (Penn St) Franklin served as head coach in Nashville from 2011-2013 compiling a 24-15 record and earning the respect of other coaches in the SEC and across the nation. If you follow the SEC you knew it was only a matter of time before a big time offer came calling for Mr. Franklin. He inherits an unfavorable situation in the aftermath of the Sandusky situation but I think the Penn State family will rally around him and he will have a successful tenure in Happy Valley. Charlie Strong (Texas) I've like this guy since I first saw him at South Carolina from 1999-2001.From there he moved on to Florida where he severed in various roles from Defensive Coordinator, Interim Head Coach (for 2004 Peach Bowl) and Assistant Head Coach from 2002-2009. Most recently, he was 37-14 in four years at Louisville including a Sugar Bowl victory in 2012. Like Franklin you knew it was only a matter of time before he would land that big time head coaching job. He means business and had already kicked off five players this off season and plans on bringing excitement and respect back to the Texas football program. Chris Peterson (Washington) is responsible for putting Boise State on the map in college football. Peterson coached the Broncos from 2006-2013 racking up a 92-13 record. While Boise State had two perfect seasons under Peterson, they were criticized for having a weak schedule and had to settle both times for a trip to the Fiesta Bowl, which they won in 2006 and 2009. It'll be interesting to see how Peterson does at Washington when he'll have to face the likes of Oregon, Stanford, California and Oregon State. We shall see if he can run with the big boys consistently and not just one game per season.

Coordinators to watch

Offensive Coordinator Chad Morris (Clemson) Morris is entering his 4th year as the play caller in Tigertown and he has turned Clemson into one of the most explosive and productive offenses in all of college football. He is of the best in the business and only has four years of experience at the college level while he dominated the high school level in Texas for years. Last year, Clemson averaged just over 500 yards and 40 points per game. Morris has no reason to leave Clemson just yet with all the weapons he has in his arsenal but when the right job comes calling, he will definitely answer the call and leave the Tigers behind. That could be happening as soon as at  the conclusion of this season.
Defensive Coordinator Kirby Smart  (Alabama)  Smart is entering his 7th year in Tuscaloosa as defensive coordinator. The Georgia alum is a heck of a recruiter and coach and his defense consistently ranks at the top. Despite losing 6 players to the NFL last season, Smart's defense in 2013 ranked 4th nationally in scoring defense allowing only 13.9 points per game. In 2011, his squad was even stiffer allowing just 8.9 points per game and leading the nation in every major defensive category. Smart comes with a hefty price tag as a coordinator and I don't foresee him leaving for anything other than a head coaching position at a major Big 5 program. Defensive Coordinator Pat Narduzzi (Michigan State)  Narduzzi is entering his 8th year at Michigan State. His defense ranked #1 in the Big Ten for the 3rd straight year in 2013.The Spartans allowed only 13.2 points per game (3rd in nation), 86.6 rushing yards per game (2nd nation) and allowed about 4 yards per play (1st in the nation). As with these first two coaches, I would imagine that it won't be much longer before someone steers Narduzzi away from the Spartans.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Season Previews: Clemson

Its almost here. Just 14 days until the return of college football....11 technically if you count Georgia State and Abilene Christian who kick off Wednesday August 27th at 7pm..(I don't). The Thursday night tilt provides a much more entertaining match up with Texas A&M at South Carolina kicking off on the SEC Network at 6pm. Pre-season camp is almost over and its about time for teams to start week 1 preparations. I already gave you my preseason thoughts on both Georgia and South Carolina and now its time to wrap up this series with Clemson. Here we go!

Clemson Tigers

Head Coach: Dabo Swinney (51-23 in 5 years at Clemson) 

Last year's record: 11-2 (7-1 in ACC) beat Ohio State in Orange Bowl

Returning Starters: Offense: 5  Defense 7

Key Losses:  QB Tajh Boyd, WR Sammy Watkins, RB Roderick McDowell, LB Spencer Shuey, PK Chandler Catanzaro

Players to Watch- QB Cole Stoudt, WR Mike Williams, RB D.J. Howard, DE Vic Beasley, DT Grady Jarrett, LB Stephone Anthony 

2014 Schedule: 

August 30th @ Georgia 
September 6th South Carolina State
*September 20th @ Florida State# 
September 27th North Carolina#
October 4th North Carolina State#
*October 11th Louisville#
October 18th Boston College#
October 25th Syracuse#
November 6th @ Wake Forest# 
*November 15th @ Georgia Tech#
November 22nd Georgia State
*November 29th  South Carolina 

*-denotes key game
#-denotes ACC game

Overall Thoughts: .Ok, I'm gonna come out and say it. My Tigers have their work cut out for them on offense this year with the departure of Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Roderick McDowell and Martavis Bryant. Not to mention the loss of two of our anchors and big boys up front in LT Brandon Thomas and RG Tyler Shatley. And while some may say this is a rebuilding year, I'd argue that reloading would be more accurate. Yes, one of the best quarterbacks in school history is gone. Yes, one of the biggest play makers in all of college football last season (Watkins) is also gone but their replacements aren't too shabby. Cole Stoudt has waited patiently for his time and it has finally arrived. The 6-4, 210 Senior from Dublin, Ohio has played back up to Boyd the past three years and knows Chad Morris' system and this offense as good as anybody. In fact, Stoudt is probably a better fit for the offense than Boyd was. He has better mobility and is a much better runner while also having a good arm with accuracy. Experience is an area of concern for the new starter though with limited playing time under his belt. That being said, in his time on the field, he has done well. Last season he made an appearance in eight games completing 79.7 % of his passes (best in the nation w/ minimum of 50 pass attempts) going 47-59 for 415 yards and 5 TDs. He's only thrown one interception in his Clemson career in a total of 119 pass attempts. Freshmen sensation and backup Deshaun Watson will  see the field some this season as well and promises to be a very special player. Trust me, you'll be hearing his name and get to know him soon. We've already learned the the dual threat quarterback from Gainesville, Ga will see the field at some point in the season opener.

 This year's squad will operate with a running back by committee system with D.J. Howard likely leading the way, at least for the season opener. Be prepared to see Zac Brooks, Daniel High School standout C.J. Davidson and Wayne Gallman in the mix as well...all of which are battling and performing at a high level through spring ball and into pre-season camp. There is still plenty of talent in the wide receiver department with Senior Adam Humphries leading the way. Freshmen Artavis Scott and Demarre Kitt will also see the field in addition to Mike Williams, Charone Peak and Gerome Hopper. The Tight Ends have also been getting it in and received high praise from the coaching staff. They are expecting big things out of Senior Sam Cooper, Junior Staton Seckinger and Sopohmore Jordan Leggett. On defense, Brent Venables has brought together one of the best front seven he's had in his entire career. Not only do Tigers have reliable talent and experience up front, they have depth. Guys are pushing each other to be better and if they can stay healthy, the Tigers could very well have a top five or top ten defense this season. With the likes of future NFL first rounder DE Vic Beasley (23 tackles for loss last season) along with DT Grad Jarrett who has emerged as a major leader for this squad this off-season, this defense will resemble one of the "old days" where Clemson's defense was its strength. The line is backed up by linebackers such as Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward along with backup Ben Boulware. The Tigers defensive front is talented and DEEP. I'm talking "four and five start 2nd stringers" deep. In the secondary, redshirt Freshmen Mackensie Alexander has impressed coaches as well as Safety Jayron Kearse who was hit-or-miss last season. The loss of Catanzaro hurts in the special teams unit but the staff will look to PK Ammon Lakip or P/PK Bradley Pinion who was a reliable punter for the Tigers last season.

Bottom LineThe Tigers have two of the best coordinators in the game right now in Chad Morris and Brent Venables and talent wise have the personnel to make this another special season in Tigertown. With the new playoff system into place and with conference foe Florida State in prime position to make it back-to-back titles in Tallahassee, Clemson could find its way back to Miami again this season if it take care of business at home. There will be some growing pains and I don't expect to see the Tigers drop 40 every game this year, but with a much improved defense, they might not have to. I think Cole Stoudt will hold his own and the defense should play well enough to keep the Tigers in every game this season. The key will be holding on to the football, something that struggled to do in its two losses to South Carolina and Florida State. They have a brutal start to the season with difficult road tips to Athens and Florida State...both very hostile environments with top 25 teams. But if the Tigers can find a way to at least go 1-1 in those games, they should be favored in every other game  the rest of the season with the only exception being the showdown in November against arch rival, South Carolina in Death Valley. The visit from ACC newcomer Louisville will be interesting but I think they get the job done at home. Another game of interest will be the game at Georgia Tech in mid November. Clemson hasn't won there since 2003...a 39-3 woodshed beating in which the Tigers wore the purple uniforms. Charlie Whitehurst (aka Clipboard Jesus) and company had a pretty fun night in Atlanta that evening. The last time the Tigers were in Bobby Dodd Stadium though, Tech brought the 8-0 and #6 rank Tigers BCS title dreams to a screeching halt with a 31-17 defeat. While 10 or 11 wins will be tough to reach this year, I do think its possible. However, until I see these guys on August 30th there is no way I'd put money on anything more than 8-9 wins. Heard a guy on 105.5 FM The ROAR, Clemson's flagship radio station, predict a 31-17 win in Athens...I'm drinking the kool-aid but lets not get too carried away. Nevertheless, should be a fun season.

Preseason Prediction:  9-3 Overall (Regular Season) 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Season Previews: South Carolina

Once again, I'm opening up a post on a not so happy topic. While I will not try to start a debate on the issue, I just want to acknowledge the situation taking place in Missouri. While we may never know the full and true story, we do know that yet another young man has had his life cut short and been killed while coming home from a convenience store. I'm not claiming innocence or guilt or either party but I do know the things taking place right now in Missouri are unacceptable. It is 2014, in the greatest country in the world, yet the pictures and stories surfacing from Ferguson mirror the scenes of the 1960's in the South and it looks like a war zone in a 3rd world country. Right here, in America. While it is easy to point fingers at either side, we must all take a step back and work together so that these tragedies can stop and stop NOW. Not after another two or three are killed. The time is right NOW!!! People in Missouri and across the nation are angry...and rightfully so! However, that doesn't make looting and rioting acceptable. On the same token, covering a town in tear gas, shooting residents with rubber bullets and referring to them as animals, and arresting journalist for DOING THEIR JOB is also unacceptable. While at times it seems we have finally made progress as a country and moved forward as ONE nation under God, events like this remind us we still have a long, long, way to go. Praying for all involved and that justice is served and that we can come together and bring an end to all of this violence. Praying that we will not have another Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis or Mike Brown before something is done. Lastly, I'm praying for a mother, father and family that is supposed to helping their son pack and head to college. Instead, they are planning his funeral. I can't imagine the pain, anger and frustration they are enduring right now.

Now lets once again move on to (less important) but more exciting and celebratory things like the return of college football. I gave you my rundown of Georgia last week and today I take a look at South Carolina. Next up, I will close out the previews with Clemson.

South Carolina Gamecocks 

Head Coach: Steve Spurrier (77-39 in 9 years at South Carolina) 

Last year's record: 11-2 (6-2 in SEC) beat Wisconsin in Capital One Bowl

Returning Starters: Offense: 8  Defense 6

Key Losses:  QB Conner Shaw, WR Bruce Ellington, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DE Chaz Sutton, CB Victor Hampton

Players to Watch- QB Dylan Thompson, RB Mike Davis, RB Brandon Wilds, WR Shaq Roland, DT J.T. Surratt

2014 Schedule: 

August 28th Texas A&M#
September 6th East Carolina
*September 13th Georgia#
September 20th @ Vanderbilt#
*September 27th Missouri#
October 4th @ Kentucky#
October 18th Furman
*October 25th @ Auburn#
November 1st  Tennessee# 
*November 15th @ Florida#
November 22nd South Alabama
*November 29th @ Clemson 

*-denotes key game
#-denotes SEC game

Overall Thoughts: The loss of the greatest QB in school history who never lost a game at home cannot be exaggerated....its huge. In addition, the loss of WR Bruce Ellington is also very significant and he will be missed greatly by the Gamecocks this season. However, QB Dylan Thompson is no scrub and not only has significant experience but also has picked up a few wins including a win in (The REAL) Death Valley against Clemson two years ago. He also has one of the best running backs in the nation in Mike Davis in the backfield and will have the support of an offensive line that will be among the best in the country, hands down. While I expect the Gamecocks to remain more of a run-first offense, I don't foresee quite as much zone read as we've seen the past few years with Conner Shaw. I envision more of a power running attack with the Gamecocks lining up and running it down your throat until you prove you can stop it. Don't overlook the passing game though, there are some talented options for Thompson through the air in Shaq Roland and Damiere Byrd among others. Things aren't as pretty or clear cut on the other side of the ball. Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles, and Chaz Sutton, all of which were major components of the D-line and responsible for the Gamecocks recent success on defense are gone.  Not to mention CB Victor Hampton who left a year early to head for the NFL draft and signed as a free agent with the Cincinnati Bengals. Defensive tackle J.T. Surratt will likely emerge as the face and leader for the defense. The secondary will be tested with a group that has little-to no game experience and will start a upperclassmen walk-on in Sidney Rhodes. In fact, Sophomore Rico Williams will be the only corner who has started a game at the college level when the Gamecocks take the field for the first time in 2014 at home against the Aggies. Yikes.

Bottom Line: At the end of the day, Steve Spurrier is still running the show and has a quarterback he can trust and a running back that will be playing on Sundays in a few years. Behind what might be the best starting offensive line the old ball coach has ever had, there is reason for optimism despite the loss of Shaw and Ellington. The key will be how Dylan Thompson adjusts to being THE guy and how an inexperienced secondary will respond. The schedule for the Gamecocks sets up a very reasonable path to winning the SEC Eastern division. The season opener against A&M should be a win...the Gamecocks have won 18 straight in Williams Brice and you can guarantee the house will be rocking Aug 28th in Columbia under the lights. Throw in the fact that the Aggies may start a true freshmen QB into the mix, and things favor Spurrier's crew even more. The Gamecocks get UGA at home early in the season along with Missouri and Tennessee down the stretch. South Carolina has to travel to Vanderbilt to face the Commodores who will have a new face on the sidelines in Derek Mason who replaces now Penn State head coach, James Franklin. The Gamecocks also travel to Kentucky which screams trap game in my opinion. The Wildcats always seem to hang around much longer than anyone in garnet and black would like despite being the inferior opponent...definitely a game to approach with caution. Arguably the toughest game on the schedule might be the trip to Auburn in late October. I fully expect them to steamroll the Gators November 15th in what should be the nail in the coffin for Will Muschamp. Once again, things hang on the showdown against UGA. As always, the season finale against Clemson will be a big one. The Gamecocks will look to make it 6 (!!) in a row against Dabo Swinney's Clemson Tigers this season when they travel up the road to Death Valley in Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Preseason Prediction:  9-3 Overall (Regular Season) 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Season Previews: Georgia

I'm back....again. It has been quite the summer to say the least!  My life has been shaken up a bit the past few weeks. On Father's Day, my house burned down and my family and I lost everything in the fire, including my mother's car. As you can imagine, its been a REALLY tough time and I haven't had the time or energy to keep up and discuss all the major headlines this summer. However, things are slowly starting to look up. If you know me personally, you know that life has thrown me quite a few hurdles the past couple of years but I've cleared them all...and will continue to come back stronger and better than before! The job search has continued to be a headache but I have found a part-time gig with Event Partners Inc and will be working Clemson football games this year as well as the opportunity for other sporting events, concerts and other events around the area moving forward. Still looking for that first "real" job but for now going to work on just finding another job to keep me busy during the week until things become more settled in my personal life. Have a few leads on what that second job....will keep you guys posted on that. Special shout-out and thank you to all my friends, family and neighbors that have rallied around us and supported us the past few weeks. Its has been truly amazing and I can't thank you enough! But now on to more positive and fun topics....like the return of college football! We are just under a month away from the return of, in my opinion, the best sport in the world. With that being said, I'm well overdue to chime in with my two cents and bring you my annual pre-season predictions and previews for Georgia, Clemson and the University of South Carolina. First up I'll take a dive into Georgia and look at what is going on in Athens and what to expect from the Dawgs this year as they look to bounce back after a season that was filled with numerous significant injuries.

Georgia Bulldogs 

Head Coach: Mark Richt (126-45 in 13 years at Georgia) 

Last year's record: 8-5 (5-3 in SEC) loss to Nebraska in Gator Bowl

Returning Starters: Offense: 6  Defense 9

Key Losses:  QB Aaron Murray, WR Rantavious Wooten, FS Tray Matthews, SS Josh Harvey-Clemons 

Players to Watch- RB Todd Gurley, RB Keith Marshall, WR Michael Bennett, WR Isaiah McKenzie, QB Hutson Mason, 

2014 Schedule: 

*August 30th Clemson
*September 13th @ South Carolina #
September 20th Troy
September 27th Tennessee#
October 4th Vanderbilt#
*October 11th @ Missouri#
October 18th Arkansas#
November 1st Florida#
November 8th @ Kentucky#
*November 15th Auburn#
November 22nd Charleston Southern
November 29th Georgia Tech  

*-denotes key game
#-denotes SEC game

Overall Thoughts: The Bulldogs could easily kick off the 2014 season with an 0-2 start as they open with games against Clemson and South Carolina, however I don't expect that to happen. The Dawgs get an early bye week before they head to Columbia. In theory, that should be beneficial to Hutson and company but having it so early in the season not sure how significant it will be. Nevertheless, you'd be hard pressed to find someone upset about having an extra week to prepare for a Steve Spurrier coached team. The rest of the schedule sets up relatively nice in my opinion for Georgia....no Texas A&M, Alabama or LSU. They do have to travel to last year's eastern division champ, Missouri, but get a shot to shake things up in mid November when Auburn comes to town. I'm not buying the hype that Florida will be "back" this year. I think Muschamp is in his final hours in Gainesville (Cue Chad Morris Watch 2014)  and the Dawgs should come out on top in that historic rivalry game. The Dawgs out of conference games shape up well with Clemson, Troy, Charleston Southern and Georgia Tech. I'd be surprised if they go anything less than 3-1 in those games. Hutson Mason has a tough act to follow with the departure of Aaron Murray...make no mistake about it. However, having the best running back in the nation  (Todd Gurley) who can also catch the ball...that will definitely help take a bit of the pressure off. Mason isn't exactly a stranger to the first team with two starts under his belt in an overtime win over rival Georgia Tech and loss to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl. If Georgia 's key players can stay healthy, (and out of trouble) and Mason can play within his element and not try to do too much, this could be a rebound year in Athens after last year's rather disappointing, injury-ridden season. 

Bottom Line: Heading into the season I would be most inclined to say that the Dawgs will take either the game against Clemson OR break the Gamecock's 18 game win streak in Williams Brice Stadium and take down South Carolina. The way the schedule sets up, if the Dawgs take care of business in their first two games, they will likely head to Missouri in October a perfect 5-0. With games against Troy, Vandy and Tennessee leading up to the showdown against last year's eastern division champ, Missouri...that seems like a reasonable possibility. Although I don't want to discredit the Vols who SHOULD have knocked off the Bulldogs last year in Knoxville had Alton Howard been able hold on to the ball and score in the first overtime. However, he fumbled and the ball rolled out of the back of the end-zone for a touch back and Tenneesee's upset bid eventually fell short. I would have trouble picking them to win on the road...for me the Vols are another one of those teams that really don't have an identity right now. Nothing about them scares me. Nothing. Only time will tell how good (or bad) Huston Mason will be either way, it should be a overall good year for Mark Richt's squad. 

Preseason Prediction:  9-3 Overall (Regular Season)