Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Your College Football Kickoff Primer

Jadeveon Clowney (leaping) and Aaron Murray (holding ball nervously) will each represent the SEC against stiff non-conference competition this weekend.
By Joe Parello  @HerewegoJoe

You know, people love to hate on ESPN.

Fans and bloggers just love to beat up on the worldwide leader for its programming (TIM TEBOW HOUR) and its ability to control the sports landscape by acquiring the television rights to pretty much everything.

Well, ESPN is proving to be a benevolent dictator for college football (At least for fans watching at home), as the network is delivering one heck of an opening weekend. While there are certainly a lot of things wrong with college football, ESPN setting up marquee matchups to kick the season off isn't one of them. The network's pairing of Alabama and Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic is just one example of an ESPN ratings move that is beneficial to everyone involved.

Oh, and that night's late game between LSU and TCU in Dallas… Also an ESPN creation.

Anyways, here is what else you should be watching for on college football's opening weekend which, like every good college weekend, begins Thursday night.

SEC Dominance Will Be Tested

The SEC, long known for its teams scheduling cupcakes in the non-conference, is certainly challenging itself this opening weekend. Along with the aforementioned kickoff games on ESPN, preseason SEC East favorite Georgia will face off with ACC favorite Clemson, while fellow SEC East hopeful South Carolina will host North Carolina. An interesting, but somewhat overlooked game, will be Mississippi State vs Oklahoma State in Houston.

Alabama will have to deal with what should be a solid Virginia Tech defense and quarterback Logan Thomas, but the thinking here is that the Hokies are still a year away from competing with a team like Bama. Much more intriguing to me is the Georgia-Clemson game in Death Valley. The Tigers should have one of the country's best offenses, led by Heisman candidate quarterback Tajh Boyd and star receiver Sammy Watkins, but will Clemson be able to take advantage of a rebuilt Bulldog defense that should still be plenty fast?

The SC-NC showdown should match strength vs strength as North Carolina's explosive offense (Over 40 points per game in 2012) will go against Jadeveon Clowney and the Gamecock defense. The difference in the game, however, could be South Carolina's offensive line, which returns four starters and should be able to impose its will on the UNC defensive front.

Mississippi State will be the lone SEC squad going into its game as an underdog, but the Bulldogs should be able to run the ball with star back LaDarius Perkins against a shaky Cowboy rush defense. The question here will be how Miss. St. slows down Mike Gundy's high flying offense. A largely rebuilt Bulldog secondary will have the unenviable task of defending Okie State's talented receiving corps, and this one could turn into a shootout, as each team's offensive strength matches up with the other's defensive weakness.

In the night cap, TCU's offense should be much improved from a year ago, with the return of quarterback Casey Pachall and running back Waymon James. Still, scoring on LSU is never easy, and you have to wonder if the Horned Frog defense will be able to slow down the powerful Tiger running game without 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Davonte Fields. The talented defensive end is missing the game with a suspension, while LSU has chosen to reinstate running back Jeremy Hill after a "team vote." Needless to say, TCU coach Gary Patterson was less than pleased with Tiger coach Les Miles.

"I'm sure if it was some opponent they'd beat by 100 points, [the players] wouldn't have a vote," Patterson said, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He continued, referring to whether or not he would give his team a vote on the punishment of Fields.
"My whole team would vote Devonte to be back on the team because they all want to win," Patterson said. "That doesn't teach life lessons."

Oh, and Auburn hosts Washington State in the least interesting major conference matchup of the weekend.

Will Johnny Football Play?


Upset Alert: Purdue over Cincinnati

Actually, I'm not seeing any upsets that catch my eye this week, so why not give my alma mater a shout out? Nobody really knows what to expect of this Purdue team under first year head coach Darrell Hazell, but there is an optimism around the program that, frankly, hasn't existed since my first semester there in fall of 2005.

Senior quarterback Rob Henry should be athletic enough to escape the pressure allowed by an inexperienced offensive line, and running back Akeem Hunt has shown flashes of brilliance when the Boilers have given him the ball.

On the other side of the ball, Purdue returns a pair of solid defensive linemen in tackle Bruce Gaston and end Ryan Russell, along with All Big Ten caliber corner Ricardo Allen. Like Purdue, nobody really knows what to expect of Cincinnati under new coach Tommy Tuberville. The Bearcats are the "other" good team in the AAC, along with Louisville, and will hand the offense over the Brandon Kay after he finished 4-1 with a bowl win in 2012.

But, let's just say Purdue adapts to change quicker and upsets the Bearcats in Cincy… A guy can dream.

Sneaky Good Game: Rutgers at Fresno State

With all the preseason hype that Louisville and Cincinnati are getting, nobody is really talking about Rutgers in the AAC. The Scarlett Knights may not be a national title contender, but they do bring back experienced quarterback Gary Nova and big play receiver Brandon Coleman on the outside. The passing game, while inconsistent at times, has the potential to be explosive.

The same could be said about Fresno State. Quarterback Derek Carr threw for over 4,100 yards and 37 TDs last year, but the most talented player on Fresno's roster is receiver Davonte Adams. The explosive sophomore stretched defenses thin last year with his long speed and leaping ability, and with Rutgers rebuilding its secondary, the potential for a shootout is there.


First, here is your Stone Cold video of the week.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, here is my Stone Cold betting lock of the week:

PENN STATE (-8) vs Syracuse at MetLife Stadium

There's a reason this line has grown from five to eight, because taking rebuilt Syracuse with less than a touchdown against surprisingly good Penn State would just be crazy. While both teams are looking for young guys to step up at quarterback, the Nittany Lions return four starters from a fantastic offensive line, and 1,000 yard rusher Zach Zwinak. Not to mention one of the better a defenses in the Big Ten, featuring rising star pass rusher Deion Barnes.

Coach Bill O'Brien seems to be a little ahead of everybody else in the Big Ten schematically right now, and I see this PSU squad, regardless of quarterback, just dissecting a Syracuse secondary looking to replace safety Shamarko Thomas

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