Weekend Watch List: Bama, LSU QB issues; Buckeyes on upset alert?
Time to kick it off, but Bama and LSU do so with unsettled QB situations and, on Thursday you best be thinking A&M has a shot vs. South Carolina.
Good not great.
The phrase fits this opening week. There are a lot of good games, not great ones. The description also fits because Nick Saban and Les Miles seem to be telling us something regarding their quarterback situations.
Good not great.
They're not the only ones, but they're the most visible ones with unsettled situations at the most important position. Entering his 10th year at LSU Tigers , Miles is determined to play Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris against Wisconsin.
Now, this would barely raise an eyebrow if the opponent was Northwestern State. But LSU's season is at stake out of the gate. For that matter, so is Wisconsin's.
Point being, Miles probably can't afford to be figuring out his quarterback in the opener against the nation's No. 14 team. But as we all know, Les has done crazier things and come out on top.
His choice for now is between a true freshman (Harris) who enrolled in January and a sophomore (Jennings) whose experience includes nine games, one start and 29 career passes.
"Right now, if there was a quarterback who gave us all the advantages to play, then at some point in time that would be our starter," LSU's coach says. ...
Twenty-six words from Miles, not much said.
That, however, was a lot more revealing than the news trickling out of Tuscaloosa. While this week's opener isn't as strenuous -- West Virginia Mountaineers in Atlanta -- the stakes remain. Quarterback uncertainty at Alabama indicates, well, uncertainty. That's not a word featured prominently in the Saban vocabulary.
A lot of this is unprecedented for the game's highest-paid coach. It is the first time he has started the season at Alabama Crimson Tide with a new starter at quarterback and a new offensive coordinator (Lane Kiffin).
It may say something about the state of the program when freshman stud Cameron Robinson is starting at offensive tackle but doesn't know who he'll be protecting.
We're talking about some folks' preseason No. 1 in Alabama. We're talking about the top free agent on the market -- Florida State graduate transfer Jacob Coker -- who has not grabbed the job. We're talking about a fifth-year senior with 39 career passes -- Blake Sims -- still in the running.
CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler reported Thursday that Saban will start Sims against the Mountaineers. Coker might also get some playing time at the Georgia Dome.
"Both of those guys are capable of leading us to the national championship," fullback Jalston Fowler told reporters.
We want closure. We're looking for typical Saban genius here, an angle we haven't considered. Sometimes the easiest answer is right in front of us. Coker didn't get on campus until May. He didn't see live bullets until this month.
It may well be that Coker is simply ... behind. The 2011 season started with AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims (no relation to Blake) sharing time. McCarron took over the job following Week 2. That seemed to work out.
Plus, there is margin for error. Saban basically has until the Florida game (Sept. 20) game to figure things out.
But there's also a reason the SEC is diminished this season is some people's eyes. Overall, there is a loss of quality quarterbacks. Someone at LSU will eventually replace a sixth-round draft choice (Zach Mettenberger), a guy who threw for 2,500 yards in consecutive seasons. Sims and Coker are following the Heisman runner-up (McCarron).
The SEC remains great. With so much at stake in this new playoff era, it can't even hint at being merely good.
Let's kick it off
Seventeen ranked teams start at home or on a neutral field favored by at least 10 points. Like we said, good but not great games.
Instead of breaking down contests involving 49-point spreads, let's look at the best chances for upsets ...
• Clemson Tigers at Georgia Bulldogs : If Georgia is going to re-establish itself as an SEC East force it has to handle a diminished Clemson between the hedges. This season, there is no Tajh Boyd to account for five touchdowns in a narrow shootout win. Georgia is looking for revenge with a Heisman-worthy Todd Gurley and linebacker Ramik Wilson, who's gunning for 150 tackles. This one's easy. Dawgs make an early statement.
• Boise State Broncos vs. Ole Miss Rebels : Bryan Harsin takes over at Boise, playing a promising Ole Miss in Atlanta. The Broncos haven't shied away from neutral-site openers, but the program is at a crossroad. Hugh Freeze must begin to fulfill the promise of those grand recruiting classes. The Rebels are supposed to roll by double digits.
• Texas A&M Aggies at South Carolina Gamecocks : Texas A&M is kind of being dismissed Thursday night at South Carolina. We all know Kenny Hill isn't Johnny Manziel, but left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi is a predicted top-five NFL draft pick. Kevin Sumlin is 10-2 on the road. Hill has something burning inside. He won't talk to the media until at least following Thursday's game. Meanwhile, Steve Spurrier is 23-1 in openers. The only loss ... to South Carolina in 1989 while at Duke.
• Arkansas Razorbacks at Auburn Tigers : I just didn't think it was that big a deal, Nick Marshall being stopped for a small amount of pot. Sure, Auburn's quarterback should have known better.
Coach Gus Malzahn had to do something to send the punishment message. All we know for sure is Marshall won't start vs. Arkansas. Just a hunch but the length of the punishment will be in direct correlation to how quickly Auburn can take -- and keep -- the lead. A suspension that lasts the first quarter is symbolic. A loss to the Hogs -- a three-touchdown underdog -- would be devastating.
• Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Navy Midshipmen : A national discussion has emerged regarding Ohio State after the loss of Braxton Miller. You believe A) Not much change in fortunes given the schedule. Or B) the bottom has fallen out. There really doesn't seem to be middle ground.
Navy would have been a test anyway. Without Miller, someone light the "Upset Alert" sign. J.T. Barrett hasn't taken a snap -- college or otherwise -- since high school. The Buckeyes go on the road (Baltimore) against an experienced option quarterback (Keenan Reynolds).
Ohio State is bigger and faster. Navy (arguably) is more disciplined. Reynolds scored an NCAA record (by a quarterback) 31 rushing touchdowns during a nine-win 2013 season. The Middies have never finished lower than second nationally in penalties in Ken Niumatalolo. The offensive staff hasn't changed for four years. That actually ties Clemson, Georgia and Minnesota for longest current tenure.
• Florida State Seminoles vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys : No upset alert in Arlington, Texas. Florida State is going to win big at Jerry World. No team is deeper. The standard is repeat -- national championship and Heisman. I'd give Oklahoma State a better chance if Mike Gundy hadn't lost seven starters off a defense that gave up 74 points in its final two games. I'm a bit surprised the line is only 17.5 points.
• Rice Owls at Notre Dame Fighting Irish : Rice has lost a bit but is the defending Conference USA champion. Notre Dame reportedly will be without three starters because of the academic scandal. Quarterback Everett Golson hasn't played in 19 months. Call me crazy. This doesn't look like a three-touchdown spread.
• UCLA Bruins at Virginia Cavaliers : There is a bit of ominous foreshadowing to UCLA's trip to Virginia. The Bruins haven't been this far east since the infamous Miami trip in 1998. UCLA was one win away from the first BCS title game but were done in by Edgerrin James, and Miami's December heat and humidity.
Virginia is one five teams that qualify to be this year's version of 2013 Auburn -- unranked with no votes, coming off a winless conference schedule in a Power 5 league. (Purdue, Kentucky, Cal, North Carolina State are the others) Don't look for the Wahoos to pull a repeat, or an upset.
Mike London (18-31 in four seasons) isn't devoid of talent and the Bruins are way out of their comfort zone. London is unbeaten in four openers, including an upset of BYU last year in Charlottesville.
• Appalachian State Mountaineers at Michigan Wolverines : Seven years ago Appalachian State became the first FCS school to defeat a ranked FBS opponent. Michigan is still trying to live that one down. If it happens again Saturday at the Big House, it just won't be as big a deal. App State has joined FBS and Michigan is unranked, still trying to find itself under Brady Hoke. The case can be made the gap has actually narrowed.
North Carolina is an ACC dark horse. Fittingly, coach Larry Fedora is keeping things, well, dark in preparation for Saturday's opener against Liberty. The battle for quarterback -- at least publicly -- will do down to the last minute.
Fedora won't give up his starter: "because it bothers everybody and that just gives me pleasure." ...
• If Oklahoma's Nila Kasitati wishes you a happy season, please, please do the same for him.
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