Friday, September 12, 2014

Week 3 Predictions

It was a rough weekend in the Big 10 especially if you are a fan of Michigan State, Ohio State or Michigan who all came out on the losing end this past weekend. It was the first time that all three teams lost on the same day since 1988. The Buckeyes took a 14 point loss at the hands of Virginia Tech, Oregon literally ran away with their game against Michigan State scoring the last 28 points in a second half rout and Notre Dame shutout Michigan.  Steve Spurrer's Gamecocks avoided disaster at the hands of East Carolina and finally, Clemson took care of business at home against South Carolina State posting their highest point total in 33 years and freshmen QB Deshaun Watson continued to impress.  Not too many eye-catching match ups on the slate this weekend but one in particular has caught my attention and has major SEC and playoff implications. Lets take a look!

#21 Louisville at Virginia 

Louisville will have their first road conference game as a member of the ACC Saturday when they head to Charlottesville. The Cardinals have been solid on offense thus far averaging nearly 50 points through the first two weeks. UVA is the definition of "the struggle is real"..the Cavs have lost 11 straight against FCS opponents including 5 straight against top 25 competition. Can London's squad bring it all together this week and pull the upset against the new kid on the block? Maybe...just maybe. As for me and my prediction...forget about it!

The Pick: Louisville 

#4 Oklahoma vs Tennessee 

The last time I watched Oklahoma play they were giving the business to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. This year they look poised to make a run at a National Championship behind a stingy defense that has played lights out so far in this early season and have lit up the scoreboard averaging 50 points per game heading into this weekend. Tennessee is much improved on defense this year and hopes to slow down the Sooner offense Saturday but will have its hands full with Trevor Knight and company. Not really buying the hype of the Vols just yet but if they can somehow do the unthinkable this weekend or at least keep it interesting, they have an extra week to prepare for their next game...a road trip to Athens. We should know very soon if the Vols are a contender or pretender.

The Pick: Oklahoma

#12 UCLA vs Texas

UCLA continues to drop in the polls after opening the season with two unimpressive wins over Virginia and Memphis. Will that continue this week or will the Bruins finally begin to play like a top 15 ranked team? To be fair, the defense did its job last week despite giving up 469 yards of total offense by forcing two interceptions that were returned for TDs as well recording a fumble return TD on the afternoon. The offense though was a struggle behind Bret Hundley. Texas hasn't had an overnight turnaround and continues to struggle but can they find a way to get it done this weekend? I'd say probably not but the verdict is still out on just how good this UCLA squad truly is. Charlie Strong will get things together but its going to take some time.

The Pick: UCLA

East Carolina @ #17 Virginia Tech 
The Hokies pulled the upset last week on the road and took down the Buckeyes convincingly. That means that in the last two meetings with ACC teams, the Buckeyes are 0-2. (Hashtag ACC) And while optimism is flying high in Blacksburg they will need to come back down to earth quickly with East Carolina coming to town. Last year the pirates fell just short to the Hokies 15-10 and present another serious challenge this season. Michael Brewer appears to be a focused and talented leader and Beamer typically does a good job of having his team ready. They should get the job done...although it might be closer than they'd like.

The Pick: Virginia Tech

#6 Georgia at #24 South Carolina  

So begins another chapter of this SEC-East rivalry that always meets early in the know...typically when Georgia still has players suspended. Don't get mad at me, facts are facts. Heck, Spurrier even mentioned this himself over the summer. The Gamecocks defense has been shaky to say the least thus far and its young secondary is still licking its chops after week 1's woodshed beating and a less than stellar performance last Saturday against ECU. And while defending the pass is an issue, the Gamecocks will be losing sleep over the Bulldogs running game when they go to bed Friday night. Georgia is coming off a bye week but showed the nation they have the deepest and most talented backfield possibly of all time in their week one victory over Clemson. With Todd Gurley leading the way, the Dawgs also have Keith Marshall, Nick Chubb, and Sony Michel to look to when Gurley needs a rest. But hold on! South Carolina has a pretty good running back themselves in Mike Davis. And hope to get some production out of David Williams and Brandon Wilds. Just as it was in the Clemson-UGA game, the trenches will be where the game is lost and won. The Gamecocks continue to look for some type of pass rush with the departure of Quarles and Clowney. That should worry the garnet and black and be a serious concern as Clemson's defense and pass rush, which is regarded as better and led by one of the best in the nation in DE Vic Beasley, was kept quiet for much of the game in week one.The Bulldogs had a perfect game plan and got the ball out of the hands of Mason quickly nullifying the pass rush almost completely. The key for South Carolina on defense is obviously to get pressure and slow down the rushing attack. Its kind of a pick your poison situation if you are Gamecocks DC Lorenzo Ward. It'd be good to make Mason prove he can beat you with his arm...but your secondary is still learning. What do you focus on more if you are South Carolina?

I think despite South Carolina's shortcomings on defense, Spurrier knows how to play to Thompson's strengths and this game might be much more interesting than people think. That being said, Georgia DC Jeremy Pruitt knows how to exploit weaknesses. It's never easy to win in Williams-Brice stadium and although the nations leading streak has been snapped, it still gets loud in there and rest assured they will not be friendly to Huston Mason and the UGA offense. All this aside, for me, this game is very hard to pick. South Carolina's defense has been far from great but is this the week things start to gel? Is this a trap game for Georgia? Only time will tell. I wouldn't be surprised if Georgia runs away with this one like they did against the Tigers. At the same time, I have a strange feeling this one will be closer than people think and as crazy as it might sound, an upset wouldn't surprise me. College football can be weird sometimes. As for the pick, gotta play it conservative.

The Pick: Georgia 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Week 2 Predictions

Well the college football season is officially underway and Week 1 did not disappoint. Unfortunately for me, I was working all weekend so got to see very little of the games but from what I did see from highlights and what I've read and heard, week 1 was a pretty good one. I don't think anyone on the planet anticipated how good Texas A&M and Sophomore QB Kenny Hill would be as he went from nearly a no-name to potential candidate for the Heisman throwing for over 500 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 52-28 rout of South Carolina in Columbia. Georgia put on display its depth at the running back position and Todd Gurley racked up over 293 total yards including a 100 yard kick-off return to lift the Dawgs to victory over the Tigers, 45-21. West Virginia hung around much longer than anyone wearing Crimson liked before falling to Nick Saban's squad 33-23. Virginia fell short of a huge upset over #7 UCLA at home and showed a bit of promise after posting a 2-10 record last season. LSU rallied back from a 17 point deficit to take down Wisconsin. Florida State denied Oklahoma State's upset bid surviving 37-31 in a game that was much closer than most had predicted. Finally, Auburn shutout Arkansas in the second half to secure a 45-21 victory at home. Week 2's slate of games has a few intriguing match-ups but overall is nothing to call home about. Nevertheless, its college football so we'll enjoy it anyhow. Lets take a look at some games of interest this weekend.

#7 Michigan State @ #3 Oregon 

I don't know what it is about Michigan State and head coach Mark Dantonio but they have slowly became one of those teams I just like to watch and root for outside of Clemson. The Spartans are coming off a Big Ten Championship and took care of business in the Rose Bowl against Stanford. Their lone loss came against Notre Dame. It will be interesting to see the Spartans defense which was among the best in the country last year. Can they handle Marcus Mariota and the high scoring Oregon offense that averaged a jaw-dropping 62 points per game last season? Not many people could hang with the Ducks but their competition wasn't very impressive, either. They beat #16 Washington and #12 UCLA but lost to #6 Stanford and were upset/take behind the woodshed against Arizona and just barely got past Oregon State by one point in the season finale. In addition, their best win outside of UCLA and Washington was probably against Tennessee. I know Oregon is a tough place to play but I think the Spartans roll into the Eugene and hold their own. Behind their great defense, they find a way to get it done on the road.

The Pick: Michigan State

#21 South Carolina vs East Carolina

Spurrier stated the obvious in his weekly presser previewing the ECU game saying that his guys needed to play a lot better and his staff needed to coach a lot better than they did last week if they want to improve in week 2 and moving forward. If you think they will get to take out their frustration on ECU and run up the score, you probably haven't didn't pay close attention to college football last season. The Pirates are coming off a 10- win season and averaged 52 points per game last year while giving up only 10 points per game on defense. On paper, ECU's offense looks very similar to Texas A&M and based on the Gamecock's defensive showing last week, that is reason for concern. They took down North Carolina, North Carolina State and nearly took down Virginia Tech last season so going on the road and pulling the upset in Columbia is not that much of a long shot. Senior QB Shane Carden has thrown for 7538 yards and 59 touchdowns in his career and is no scrub. With South Carolina's young secondary he should certainly be able to find some holes and move the ball. Spurrier is typically pretty good at getting his guys ready following a loss and being at home under the lights again helps, but don't sleep on the Pirates. Gamecocks bounce back but it'll be any one's game early on before South Carolina takes control in the fourth quarter.

The Pick: South Carolina

#23 Clemson vs South Carolina State

The Tigers look to get into the Win column after taking a tough loss to Georgia last weekend in Athens. While Clemson is by far the better team they still have to come out and play the game and not let last week's game linger in their minds or be looking ahead to Florida State. It should be a fun day in Death Valley with the second and third team guys getting some action in the second half. The QB debate of starting Watson over Stoudt has already begun and if you follow me you already know my thoughts on the situation. Its one game into the season, CHILL OUT. Watson looks the part and held his own in Athens and he will get his time...but that's not quite here yet. We'll get a good dose of him this weekend, however. Interested to see how the offense responds after a poor second half performance and who emerges as the leader in the running game...CJ Davidson, Wayne Gallman, Adam Choice or DJ Howard...all of which should get their chance Saturday. I heard the line for the game is set at 40...I think that's a bit much, but Tigers win comfortably and put this one away by halftime or early third quarter. 

The Pick: Clemson

#15 Ole Miss @ Vanderbilt 

Ole Miss looks to take advantage of the James Franklin-less Commodores in this early season conference clash. The Rebels find themselves in the top 15 but they won't be there long if they repeat last week's performance. Sure they won 35-13 but it was against Boise State who is without their fearless leader Chris Peterson this season. Further, the Rebels had a shaky start to the game that included 2 false starts on offense before they actually got to run their first play from scrimmage. And despite having four trustworthy running backs available, they only accumulated 71 rushing yards on the night. Coach Freeze puts some of that blame on the offensive line which will have to find a way to get it together and quickly. With road trips to Texas A&M and LSU along with with home visits from Alabama and Auburn they will have to get better at the point of attack and open up some holes so their running game can be utilized. The line for this game is set at 20 and I think that's spot on. Might not be the prettiest game ever, but Rebels get it done. 

The Pick: Ole Miss

#8 Ohio State vs Virginia Tech

Last week the Buckeyes took on Navy and early on it looked like it might end in disaster for the home team. Navy was moving the ball and Ohio State's offense was struggling with QB TJ Barrett who takes over for Braxton Miller following his season-ending shoulder injury. It was a rough start but the Buckeyes did get it together later pulling off a 34-17 victory. No doubt the loss of Carlos Hyde and Miller will hurt and they will be missed but Meyer is confident in his team and believes "they are all veterans now" and doesn't wanna hear about their youth and inexperience. Well I'm gonna talk about it anyways cause it matters and we are only in week 2. I'm a strong believer that by week 6/7/8 etc the young guys aren't young guys anymore and should know better and play better. That being said..its week TWO. Luckily, the Buckeyes don't have to face off against a top 10 team this week and can work on getting better. The only ranked team they face this season is Michigan State. The Spartans ruined the Buckeyes chance at going to the National Championship game last season beating them in the Big Ten Championship and giving them their first of two losses on the season. The schedule is very, very manageable so it'll be interesting to see how quickly Barrett and others adjust to being "the guy" and if they can make another run and grab a spot in the playoffs. (playoffs...doesn't that sound beautiful?) I still haven't quite figured out the situation in Blacksburg, VA. The Hokies haven't been themselves as of late and they just extended Frank Beamer's contract through 2019...but that's really none of my business. (insert Kermit and cup of tea)  

The Pick: Ohio State 

Other Predictions:

#1 Florida State over Citadel 
#2 Alabama over Florida Atlantic 
#5 Auburn over San Jose State 
#13 Stanford over #14 USC
#16 Notre Dame over Michigan 

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 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 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)