August 29th, 2013
By Mike Nowoswiat and Brett Ciancia
By Mike Nowoswiat and Brett Ciancia
NORTH CAROLINA at SOUTH CAROLINA
Thursday August 29th, 6:00pm, ESPN. AT Williams-Brice Stadium
New York Jets. Tim Tebow. Jeremy Lin…Jadeveon Clowney. The South Carolina Defensive End is not only a great football player, but an ESPN favorite. His stardom has reached new levels this year, which is impressive considering his celebrity status in high school. He is undoubtedly a monster, but he will be matched up with another monster in North Carolina OT James Hurst. Clowney’s highly-anticipated 2013 premiere may be unspectacular considering this matchup. Many people forget that Clowney didn’t have any sacks last year against Taylor Lewan of Michigan despite blowing up Vincent Smith in the most-seen highlight of last year’s bowl season. Not to discount Clowney’s presence as he will still affect the game in a major way, but it would not be surprising if he was held without a sack. North Carolina’s offense should be able to take advantage of a relatively inexperienced Gamecock defense that only returns five starters. QB Bryn Renner is one of the best passers in the country, throwing for 3,356 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2012. The biggest loss on offense is Giovanni Bernard, who rushed for over 1,200 yards in both 2011 and 2012. Bernard will be replaced by AJ Blue and Romar Morris. Both are capable, but do not pose the same threat Bernard did. For South Carolina, QB Connor Shaw finally provided Steve Spurrier a capable signal caller until he went down with an injury. Fortunately, Dylan Thompson played so well that now South Carolina has a rare two-man quarterback situation that doesn’t fulfill the old “if you have two quarterbacks then you don’t have one” saying. This may be one of South Carolina’s best offenses in a while, and could flex its muscle up front against an inexperienced UNC front seven. South Carolina runs away with this one…South Carolina 33 North Carolina 17.
MISSISSIPPI at VANDERBILT
Thursday August 29th, 9:15pm, ESPN. AT Vanderbilt Stadium
Ole Miss, our preseason #13, is our boldest prediction of the year. Clearly, we have a lot of faith in QB Bo Wallace, Head Coach Hugh Freeze, and the rest of the Rebels. Led by Freeze’s successful first year in Oxford, basketball player Marshall Henderson’s hot shooting, and a legendary National Signing Day haul, the snowball is rolling fast for the Ole Miss athletic program. 19 starters return while five-star recruits Robert Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil, and LaQuon Treadwell are added to the fold. The key to the season, however, will be Bo Wallace’s development under center. After a successful first year in which he threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 22 touchdowns, Wallace will try to cut down on the turnovers (17 interceptions last year) and continue to build chemistry with his talented receivers. Vanderbilt, unfortunately, does not have as much positive momentum heading into the season opener. WR Chris Boyd is involved in a rape scandal and will not play, which brings the returning starter count to 12. Defense was the bread and butter for this team last year, limiting opponents to less than 19 points per game. Six of the top seven tacklers return, but my primary concern is strength up the middle as both starting Defensive Tackles from last year are now gone. James Franklin has built this program up, but now will have to prove that the Commodores reload, not rebuild. I am predicting Vanderbilt to finish higher than most pundits, but I’m obviously even higher on the Rebels. Ole Miss 28 Vanderbilt 17
ALABAMA vs. VIRGINIA TECH
Saturday August 31st, 5:30pm, ESPN. At Georgia Dome
When I originally looked at this game, I thought Virginia Tech might have a chance. Not necessarily win, but play Alabama close into the fourth quarter. Then I thought about Logan Thomas’ troubles last season and what an Alabama team would throw at him with a full month to prepare. The Alabama linebackers, led by All-American CJ Mosely, form one of the best units in recent memory. It seems that this is becoming a trend for the Crimson Tide who routinely have one unit on their team that will go down as one of the best ever assembled. Last year it was the offensive line. The year before it was the defensive backs. Not to mention there hasn’t been a year since 2009 where the running backs haven’t had a Heisman contender. The program is an absolute dynasty. And Virginia Tech, an impressive program in its own right, is coming off of its worst year since 1997. I expect an improved Hokie team, but you won’t see it in the season opener. The defensive line could have success against a relatively green Crimson Tide Offensive Line. But with injuries in the secondary, AJ McCarron and Amari Cooper could put up huge numbers. Further, the Crimson Tide pass rush should be improved this year led by the return of Adrian Hubbard, which could lead to multiple turnovers. If Virginia Tech wants to shock the world, they cannot afford to turn the ball over and Logan Thomas will have to have taken huge strides in his game. Until he proves that progress on the field, Roll Tide. Alabama 35 Virginia Tech 12.
GEORGIA at CLEMSON
Saturday August 31st, 8:00pm, ABC. AT Memorial Stadium
One of the most anticipated season openers in recent memory, Georgia vs. Clemson has the makings to be great. Both teams are led by star senior quarterbacks and strong offenses, as well as question marks on defense. The Bulldogs were a few yards away from a Title Game appearance last year as they continue to chase their first National Championship since 1980. Clemson’s last National Title came one season after Georgia’s and now both programs have aspiring Title hopes in 2013. Clemson, however, is the only team that must win on Saturday as Georgia will have an opportunity to win the SEC. The Tigers have averaged 33.6 and 41.0 points per game since Offensive Coordinator Chad Morris arrived in 2011. Now, he may have arguably his best unit led by senior Tajh Boyd and a healthy Sammy Watkins. Both players have first round potential and are keys to victory. Defensively, Brent Venables enters his second season as Coordinator and I expect better production in year two. The overall talent is probably improved, but talent has never been the issue. Malliciah Goodman’s seven sacks must be replaced and Vic Beasley must prove that he can play the run. I do not expect this defense to look improved on Saturday, however. Georgia returns nine starters on offense including the entire line that helped rushers average 4.87 yards per carry. Like Clemson, they need to address questions on defense. A lot of talent departs from last year’s unit including first round picks Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree. Jordan Jenkins returns to take over for Jarvis Jones; Jenkins is a freak athlete that could pick up right where Jones left off. There will be a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, but I fully expect the offenses to shine. In a primetime game to kick off the 2013 season, I expect the home team to prevail...Clemson 35 Georgia 32.
TEXAS CHRISTIAN vs. LSU
Saturday August 31st, 8:00, ESPN. At Texas Stadium
This SEC - Big12 showdown has been drawing attention all offseason, and despite both team's high aspirations, they enter with their fair share of question marks. Can Les Miles rebuild (reload) the Tiger defense after losing EIGHT NFL draft choices? Can Gary Patterson break the old adage and actually be successful with two 'starting' quarterbacks? Of the two major questions, I think TCU is better off. The return of efficient passer Casey Pachall can only help the Horned Frog offense; I look for Trevone Boykin to be used only in run-based situations. The benefit here goes to TCU, because LSU has no idea what to prep for, as Patterson has played it very close to the vest this offseason. Despite the suspension of Freshman All-American DE Devonte Fields, TCU's defense is still elite, and strong enough to slow a Tiger attack that looks to be a bit stronger than last year. Patterson is known for churning out top 10 defenses, and after some Big 12 growing pains, look for this veteran Frog D to return to prominence. I expect TCU's offense (whatever it will look like) to confuse the young Tiger defense, and also expect Coach Miles to struggle with in-game adjustments. While the SEC may still be the most dominant conference in the nation, I am calling for a major win for the Big12, with Texas Christian going into 'Jerry World' and knocking off the #12 LSU Tigers ... TCU 27 LSU 24
BOISE STATE at WASHINGTON
Saturday August 31st, 10:00pm, Fox Sports 1. AT Husky Stadium
This Pacific Northwest battle holds some extra meaning for the Washington Huskies. Not only is this a rematch of the Las Vegas Bowl last December (a 28-26 Boise State win), but also the opening of the renovated Husky Stadium. The UW athletic department pumped 280 million dollars into the project and succeeded in updating the aging facility. Under the lights Saturday night, you can expect the revenge-driven 'Dawgs to be fully amped. Steve Sarkisian has had trouble getting over the 7-win mark, but I think this is his best squad yet - offensive firepower matched with defensive intensity after another season under DC Justin Wilcox. I look for a bounce-back season for QB Keith Price, who will be aided by playmakers RB Bishop Sankey, WR Kasen Williams, and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The status of All-American "ASJ" is still in question, as his broken pinky has kept him limited in practice and still (*Thursday) hasn't been cleared. I look for him to play Saturday, and return to being the reliable target that Price loves. Boise State returns just 9 total starters, and QB Joe Southwick will have more pressure and responsibility. #18 Boise State obviously can not be overlooked - Chris Petersen is 84-8 over his 7 seasons! - but college football is an emotional game. The Huskies will be riding that extreme emotion to victory, as they christen their new home with a major upset win ... Washington 31 Boise State 27