What Should I Watch? College Football Week 1 edition

Image via PDA Photo/Flickr
Image via PDA Photo/Flickr

Best Game For Scouting NFL Fantasy Football Prospects:

Georgia @ Clemson

Two of the best quarterback prospects for the 2014 NFL Draft square off in this match-up featuring Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd.  Both quarterbacks are fifth year seniors entering their age 23 season, so there should be minimal opening weekend rust.  As this will be Boyd’s first game without DeAndre the giant Hopkins, it will be interesting to see if uber-prospect Sammy Watkins can regain freshman year (2011) form and break through for some big plays.  For Boyd, avoiding interceptions will be a key as he posted the highest 2012 INT% of any of the top prospects.  From Murray, I’m expecting to see some NFL caliber deep throws, especially off play action.  The outstanding Georgia run game will take pressure off him, so there’s no excuse to be wayward with his deep passes.

Honorable mention: Rutgers (WR Brandon Coleman) @ Fresno State (QB Derek Carr, WR Davante Adams)

Game I’m Most Excited To Watch

Ole Miss @ Vanderbilt

You’re probably thinking “who cares about these middle tier SEC teams?”  Well, I do, and here’s why.  1)  It’s opening night of the college football season, so I will be like a kid on Christmas morning.  2) Ole Miss WR Donte Moncrief and Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews are two of the four best wide receiver prospects for the 2014 NFL Draft.   3) I think that Ole Miss is one of the deep sleeper teams of 2013.  They have a second year coach (which typical means a big jump in performances), they came on strong in the second half, and destroyed Pitt in their bowl game.  4) Because the resurrection of the Vanderbilt football program has been awesome to see.  Yes, really.  They’ve been to consecutive bowl games and the arrow is pointing up.

Mississippi State vs Oklahoma State…a great early test–and credibility booster–for my National Championship sleeper Oklahoma State.

Highest Scoring/ Most Exciting Game

Washington State @ Auburn

Simply put, these teams are coached by two of the best offensive minds in college football; Gus Malzahn from Auburn and Mike Leach from Washington State (and, formerly, Texas  Tech).  Leach’s team should see a big leap forward in year two of his system.  When he was at Tech, his team scored 8 more points/game in year two compared to year one.  Meanwhile, Malzahn was the brains behind the Chizik/Newton/Auburn 2010 National Championship.  He left Auburn after the 2011 season to become the Arkansas State head coach but is back just a year later.  His offensive scheme is incredibly potent and should be quick to implement given the program’s familiarity.  I’m counting on points galore!

Honorable  Mentions: Northwestern @ Cal, Texas Tech @ SMU

Best Defensive Slugfest

LSU vs TCU

From 2008-2010 TCU ranked as the #1 defense in America.  2011 saw them take a step back and things were even worse last year due to a young defense and the transition to the Big 12.  The Horned Frogs return 17 of their top 19 tacklers this season and I expect them to play with a chip on their shoulder to re-establish themselves as an elite defense.  When it comes to LSU, I recognize that they lost some major talent to the NFL, but here’s what I like: this class is loaded with premier prospects who should be hungry to make a difference in their first year as starters.  I felt like last year’s D could have played “hungrier.”  I expect both defenses to be full throttle on Saturday night. (9pm eastern, ESPN)

Honorable Mention: Alabama vs Virginia Tech

Player To Watch

Casey Pachall. Senior QB, TCU– Going into last season I had Pachall ranked as my #2 QB prospect in college football  (Yes, I’m man enough to admit it). He played great through four games completing 66% of his passes with a 10:1 TD/INT ratio.  Unfortunately Pachall would leave the team due to drug & alcohol abuse issues and not play another game in 2012.  He’s back in the saddle for the 2013 season and eases back into things gets thrown into the fire with a week 1, primetime game against LSU.  It will be fascinating to see how he handles the spotlight in the Jerrydome.

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Observations– 30 August 2012

South Carolina 17- Vanderbilt 13

South Carolina’s offensive and defensive lines were dominant.  Jordan Rodgers was under pressure all night and Vanderbilt’s defense just couldn’t get a stop.  QB Shaw and RB Lattimore led the attack for the Gamecocks who overpowered their way to an early season, nailbiting win.  It’s interesting to see Spurrier ‘just win’ games.  It seems like he is content to win ugly, which is completely necessary in the SEC.  The SC defense certainly passes the eye test but it will be itneresting to see if the offense can produce against the better SEC teams.

In an unrelated note, Connor Shaw reminds me of Forrest Gump when he runs.

Jordan Matthews looked good.  The SEC has graduated a lot of receiving talent in recent years (AJ Green, Julio Jones, Alshon Jeffery, Randall Cobb, Rueben Randle) and it will be interesting to see who steps up to be among the SEC’s best receivers.  Da’rick Rogers (Tenn) was the obvious choice but with his recent transgressions it looks like an open race.  Matthews flashed in the second quarter after hauling in a mid range pass and turning on the jets to take it for a touchdown.  He hauled in 8 balls for 147 yards and 1 td, but had a drop on a critical 3rd and long play.  For Vandy fans, the game will be most remembered for the non-call on an obvious pass interference play involving Matthews late in the game.

The ‘Dores proved that they’re headed in the right direction.  After falling behind 10-0 early, it would have been easy to go away quietly.  They held tough, took a lead, and were a play or two from pulling the huge upset of #9 ranked South Carolina.  Kudos to the job that James Franklin is doing.

BYU 30- Washington St 6

Washington State looked out of synch all night.  The pace of play was slow in the early going and they never seemed to get into a rythm.  Once they fell behind, BYU’s offensive and defensive lines just wore them down.  Wazzu does have some players, but overall they’re too thin, especially where it counts; in the trenches.

Riley Nelson is completely average.  The 25-36, 285 yds, 2TDs line looks great, but Nelson had a clean pocket all night and a helpful running game.  I was curious to watch him because BYU has had a good string of quarterbacks in the past decade.  However, Nelson’s 2011 season graded outside my top 40 QB ratings for last season and this game proved why.  Against a team with a better defensive line, BYU’s offense will struggle.

Friendly reminder:  Because BYU players often go on mission trips and then come back to play football, they have guys that are 23-25 years old starting for them, which gives them a few extra years to physically mature.  Their lines looked overpowering last night.

What is BYU’s motivation?  They’re not Notre Dame, but they made the choice to go independent last season.  I don’t think they’ll ever be a national title contender.  They have no conference and no place.  They’re a nice team, but I can’t help but wonder in what framework their goals exist.

Storylines of 2012

It’s been 234 days since the Alabama Crimson Tide smothered LSU in the National Championship game.  234 days of wondering, debating, and hope that THIS year will be the year and here we sit on day 1 of the 2012 season.  Before things kick off tonight, it’s time to look at the story lines that will define the season.

The new conference alignments

Changing conferences isn’t easy.  In 2004, three teams made the move from the Big East to the ACC:  Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech.  After going 11-2 in 2003, highlighted by an Orange Bowl victory, Miami had high expectations of playing Alpha Dog in the ACC.  Eight seasons in the history books and Miami has never won an ACC title.  Heck, they haven’t even played in an ACC Championship game.  Boston College has been a middle-of-the-pack program.  Meanwhile, Virginia Tech has acclimated beautifully, winning four ACC crowns in eight seasons.

Last year saw Nebraska move from the Big 12 North to the B1G 10.  In 2010, the Huskers won their division and seemed poise to become a B1G Ten bully.  However, year 1 of their new conference saw them finish with the fifth best record in conference play.

Similarly, the Utah Utes were coming of three straight 10+ win seasons in the Mountain West before last season’s move to the Pac-12.  They too were slow to acclimate, finishing in sixth place in the conference.

So, what does it all mean?  As the SEC welcomes Missouri and Texas A&M, I don’t think anyone has high expectations for either of those programs.  For Missouri, a team that is accustomed to win 8+ games every year, I’m interested to see if they can even be bowl eligible this year.  For a team that went 1-5 against Texas and Oklahoma over the past five seasons, what are they going to do when EVERY WEEK it feels like Texas or Oklahoma on the other side?  For Texas A&M, who I think is one of the mentally weakest programs in college football, how are they going to respond in year one with a new coach, new system, new conference, and a VERY real possibility of opening the season 2-5?

Of greater interest to me is the remade Big 12.  As I wrote about yesterday, the Big 12 Conference looks to be on the rise.

Based on my 2011 passer grades, Geno Smith (WVU) and Casey Pachall (TCU) are the two best returning quarterbacks in America (more to come on those grades).  For two programs unaccustomed to facing Big 12 offensive firepower every week, these defenses should be in trouble.  That’s good news for us, though, as Geno and Casey will be pushed every week to put points on the board.  This conference will be fun fun fun, but not as much fun as….

The Pac 12 is going to get REALLY fun this year.

Everyone knows about Oregon and USC.

For a generation intrigued by shiny objects, devoid of an attention span, and with an affinity for ‘swag,’  the Oregon Ducks have consistently put a product on the field that caters to all three needs.

Shiny objects? The Ducks have a multi-colored field, uniforms from outer-space, and playmakers named LaMichael, Jeremiah, or DeAnthony.

Short attention span?  Don’t worry, their high powered, point-a-minute offense snaps the ball every 18 seconds.  You don’t even have time to check the guide button without missing a play.

2009 game at Autzen Stadium, home of the Ducks.

In short, the Oregon Ducks are the kings of college football cool.

Oh yea, and this USC program has some things going for it.  Star quarterback? Check.  Controversial coach?  Check.  2nd biggest media market?  Check.  Ed Orgeron?  Check.  Tranfer star running back?  Check.  You’re smart people.  You’ve seen the buzz.  Now, let’s talk about the fun.

Remove:  Paul Wulff.  Insert:  Mike Leach.  (Washington St)

You’re probably wondering who Paul Wulff even is.  It’s okay.  He went 9-40 in four seasons as Wazzu’s head coach.  You may know the name Mike Leach.  He’s the former Texas Tech head coach, offensive mastermind, lover of pirates, bestselling author, shamer of Adam James by locking him in a closet, purveyor of Michael Crabtree’s fame, and all-around champion of life.  He takes his quirkiness to Pullman, WA. where things should get very interesting with stud WR Marquess Wilson. (By the way, remember when those guys with the Washington State Cougars flags were at EVERY episode of College Gameday for multiple seasons?)

Remove:  Mike Stoops.  Insert:  Rich Rodriguez.  (University of Arizona)

The Mike Stoops thing was okay for a while.  The program was consistently in the middle of the Pac-12 and pulled the occasional upset. But they were never anything special.  (Obligatory Nick-Foles-is-awesome comment)  In steps Rich Rodriguez, the man who ran Michigan’s program into the ground, but did an incredible job at West Virginia.  I honestly think the stage was too big for him at Michigan with too much scrutiny for the system he wanted to implement and the amount of screaming he did at his players.  But, at Arizona he gets back to an offense-happy league.  He’s out of the spotlight.  He inherits a lot of useful pieces.  Most importantly, he brings BCS upside to Tuscon and will certainly keep things interesting.

Besides these two big additions, they add Todd Graham, who had had great success at Rice and  Tulsa, before making a one year pit stop at Pitt.  His teams have always put points on the board.  They also get Jim More Jr. who was the former Falcons head coach before accepting the UCLA job this past offseason.  Overall, you should expect a lot of points, a lot of personality, and a lot of fun out of the Pac 12 over the next few years.

The emerging coaches

They say it takes two or three seasons to really turn a program around.  For the following coaches, there are question marks that need to be answered:

Brian Kelly, year 3, Notre Dame:  At CMU you won 10 games in year 3.  At Cincinnati you won 12 games in year 3.  Show me that you can win double digits in year 3 at Notre Dame and that you have cleansed that program of its Charlie Weis-era softness.

Will Muschamp, year 2, Florida:  Show me why people thought so highly as to make you coach in waiting at Texas.  Show me that you can take that LOADED cupboard that Urban Meyer left for you and do something great with it.

Brady Hoke, year 2, Michigan:  You were the perfect hire;  Michigan roots and a strong coaching record, but enough of a question mark to have a chip on your shoulder.  Show me that Michigan really is back and that your team can hang with the Alabamas of the world.  Show me that you’re going to have the staying power and that the Hoke-Meyer era is going to be my generation’s Bo-Woody rivalry.

Dana Holgorsen, year 2, West Virginia:  Show me how great a coach you are and how great Geno Smith can be.  I’ve already proclaimed Geno to be THE signature player of the 2012 season.  Prove me right.

Derek Dooley, year 3, Tennessee:  Prove to me that you’re going to have staying power and success at Tennessee.  Show me where I can buy some of those awesome orange pants.

Jimbo Fisher, year 3, Florida State:  Show me that you can contend for a national championship with a full, healthy season from EJ Manuel.  Show me that the top of the ACC really can produce a National Champion for the first time since 2001.  Prove to me that I was just a year early with my prediction of your return to dominance.

Lane Kiffin, year 3, USC:  Show me that you can be a great front runner like Pete Carroll.  Show me that this team is as good as everyone says it is.

Skip Holtz, year 3, South Florida:  Show me that South Florida can be mentally and physically tough and that the programs history of mental softness is behind it after last year’s 1-6 finish to the regular season.

David Shaw, year 2, Stanford:  Prove it to me that you are more than just a rider of Luck’s (and Harbaugh’s) coattails.  Prove to me that the offensive  scheme can work without Luck under center.

Don Treadwell, year 2, Miami University:  Show me how good Zac Dysert can be.  Show me that my alma mater can be an annual contender.

Al Golden, year 2, The U:  Moreso than swagger, prove to me that The U still has some game.  Your program has been 0-8 on ACC titles since the conference jump.  Show me something, man!

Tommy Tuberville, year 3, Texas Tech:  Show me that Texas Tech can stay relevant without the offensive gimmicks.  Show me that, with your team returning in tact, that you can be a contender in the Big 12.

Live from Lubbock, Texas!

Stay tuned for my ‘2012 Bandwagons’ article!

What to watch- 30 August 2012

The College Football Season kicks off tonight.  A few things I’ll be watching:

South Carolina @ Vanderbilt, ESPN 7:00pm EST

Jordan Matthews #87, Junior WR, Vanderbilt– Over the last six games of the 2011 season, Matthews averaged 5.5 catches for 110 yards and .7 TDs.  After tallying only 8 catches in Vandy’s first seven games, Matthews shined when given the opportunity.  When he does make plays, they usually go for big yardage as evidenced by his 19 yds/catch average which ranked 6th in the NCAA last season (min. of 30 receptions).  With a historical context, Matthews 2011 season ranks right up there with Earl Bennett, within the context of the offense.   If the ‘Dores are going to pull the big upset in Nashville tonight, chances are Jordan Matthews will have something to do with it.

UPDATE:  Matthews hauled in 8 catches for 147 yards and 1 touchdown in Vandy’s 13-17 loss.  His impact could have been even greater if not being interferred with (missed call) on a critical fourth down play in the final minutes.

(A few nice highlights at the 28 second mark and the 59 second mark)

Washington State @  BYU, ESPN 10:15pm EST

Marquess Wilson #86, Junior WR, Washington St.– It’s easy to be overlooked when your team goes 9-40 over a four year stretch, but Marquess Wilson would like your attention.  In 2011 he was utterly dominant.  In 11 of 12 games, he tallied at least 75 receiving yards.  He recorded a touchdown in 8/12 games.  Overall, his 2011 season ranked as the second most dominant in the last decade of Wazzu football, behind Jason Hill.  With a new sheriff in town in 2012 (Air Raid genius Mike Leach) expect Marquess to become a Pac-12 STAR and an All-American caliber player.  His 2011 AVERAGES– 6.8 catches, 115 yards, 1TD– rank him right with Greg Jennings and Roddy White’s college numbers.  GET ON THE BANDWAGON!!!

UPDATE: Wilson caught 4 balls for 61 yards and 0 touchdowns as Wazzu was out of rythm and manhandled by BYU in a 6-30 loss.  Washington State’s offense looked out of rythm all night although Wilson flashed at times.  Brighter days lie ahead.

(The combination of music and phenomenal plays make at least the first two minutes of this video must-see)