|Kiehl Frazier and Auburn will be looking for the upset over Clemson. (U.S. Presswire)|
I flew into New York City Wednesday night because I'm in the CBS Sports Network studios Thursday night and all day Saturday for our game coverage. I didn't have much trouble waking up early--even by East Coast standards this morning. It's the first day of the college football season, and like you, I cannot wait for these games to finally kickoff. Here are this week's guesses, I mean picks:
No. 9 South Carolina 24, Vandy 17: I really like James Franklin's grit, but I expect the Gamecocks ground attack to wear the Commodores down in the second half.
No. 13 Michigan State 24, No. 24 Boise State 10: BSU has a had a ton of success knocking off big-boy programs in the past few years, but the Broncos are going to miss Kellen Moore and their outstanding pass-rushers a lot early. Plus, this Spartans D is nasty.
No. 21 Stanford 34, SJSU 14: Without Andrew Luck, Stanford will still pound people with the run game, but don't be surprised if the Spartans put up a fight for awhile. They'll be much improved.
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No. 1 USC 54, Hawaii 17: The Trojans are loaded on offense, but Norm Chow's guys will find a way to move the ball and should cover.
No. 2 Alabama 28, No. 8 Michigan 20: Brady Hoke's rebuilt D-line is going to be tested by the best offensive line in the country. That's asking too much, but I do buy that Denard Robinson can hit some big plays and keep things interesting.
No. 3 LSU 56, UNT 6: The Tigers will run over North Texas, but look for Zach Mettenberger to hit on a few home-run balls as well in the rout.
No. 4 OU 49, UTEP 13: No trouble for Landry Jones and his new receiving crew against a rebuilt Miner D.
No. 5 Oregon 66, ASU 21: We'll put the over/under on Duck plays longer than 50 yards at six. And people will be know how to pronounce Marcus Mariota's name by Sunday morning with all the highlights they'll see. Gonna be a long day for Gus Malzahn and his DC John Thompson.
No. 6 UGA 48, Buffalo 7: The young running backs will shine against an overmatched opponent.
No. 7 FSU 48, Murray State 3: The Noles defense is going to hold a bunch of opponents to single digits this year.
No. 10 Arkansas 49, JSU 0: Knile Davis goes over 100 yards in the first half and the Hogs cruise.
No. 11 WVU 42, Marshall 27: Herd DC Chris Rippon probably lost of his few remaining hairs thinking about Geno Smith in Year Two of that offense, but Marshall has added some difference-makers on both sides of the ball and they'll keep it a game.
No. 12 Wisconsin 54, UNI 14: Montee Ball has averaged three TDs a game since going into the starting line-up. The Badgers will roll behind him and their new QB.
Auburn 30, No. 14 Clemson 24: My hunch is the Auburn D-line will be a big headache for CU's rebuilt offensive line and Kiehl Frazier will show a lot of improvement.
No. 15 Texas 38, Wyoming 17: Manny Diaz' D is UT's strength, but they're facing a well-coached offensive team with a good young QB in Brett Smith.
No. 17 Nebraska 28, USM 7: Curious to see how much better Taylor Martinez' passing game is, but one thing we're sure of is Rex Burkhead can carry this offense.
No. 18 Ohio State 35, Miami-OH 6: Urban Meyer inherited a fierce defense and a dynamic QB. Both will look good in Week One.
No. 19 Oklahoma State 66, Savannah State 6: The Cowboys opponent has been overwhelmed by FCS opponents the past few seasons. Good spot for true freshman QB Wes Lunt to break in.
No. 22 K-State 42, Missouri State 7: Bill Snyder won a ridiculous percentage of close games last year. This one will be easy though.
No. 23 UF 38, Bowling Green 6: The Falcons should be improved from last year when they were one of the youngest teams in college football. Still, they're not going to be up for the Swamp and a talented Gator D.
Notre Dame 24, Navy 10: The Irish front seven is much improved and will be ready for the Navy offense.
No. 25 Louisville 34, UK 10: Teddy Bridgewater is going to be a force in the Big East and the Cards shouldn't have much trouble with their undermanned in-state rival.
No. 16 VT 24, GT 13: Bud Foster's D and the Hokies aren't getting enough respect nationally, but they'll start to get a little more by the end of Week One.
*Brian Kelly begins Year Three at Notre Dame at a crossroads. Looking at ND history, Year Three was when Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz all won national titles with the Irish. It also marked the decline for Bob Davie and Charlie Weis as both had losing seasons and never could get things back on track in South Bend.
As I wrote the other day, expectations are seemingly tempered for this Irish team. Some of that probably has to do with the number of false alarms we've had from this program in the past decade. Some of it also has to do with the uncertain QB situation with redshirt freshman Everett Golson getting the start. (More on that in a minute.)
Which way is this program going now? The Irish made news earlier this week when Kelly suspended one of his best players, tailback Cierre Wood for two games (along with a reserve defensive end). The coach pointed out that it was his decision to suspend the players. David Haugh, a columnist in Chicago, made the point that “Kelly's unexpected, unilateral show of strength struck a contrast to the let-the-university-process-play-out approach in 2010 with a player accused of attacking a Saint Mary's College student who later committed suicide — a situation neither Kelly nor Notre Dame handled gracefully.” And that Kelly's “new brand of tough love differed greatly from the laissez-faire atmosphere created a year ago when he sent the wrong message reinstating star receiver Michael Floyd without a suspension after Floyd's third alcohol-related incident.” It's an interesting dynamic.
I've heard from people close to the program that aside from star LB Manti Te'o, it hasn't been a smooth transition for the Weis holdovers with the Kelly regime. Kelly flexing his muscle here as much as going with a dual-threat, shorter QB like Golson sound like good moves. Even if ND great Joe Montana isn't such a fan of the latter.
“Kelly can't figure out what he wants,” Montana said on an ESPN.com chat. “Every one of his QBs that he has, he claims is his next star, but he doesn't last long with him. He's probably the least talented thrower that they have, so maybe they're looking to run the ball with him.”
We'll see. As many ND fans reminded me, perhaps Montana still is ticked about how the coach handled his son when he was an Irish QB. Beyond that, how much has Montana actually seen Golson thrown? Just because the kid can run doesn't mean he also can't throw. Is his arm better than Tommy Rees?
As for the players getting in trouble and how that meshes with ND football these days, the Irish also were tied to a little uproar that ensued in the wake of Notre Dame star-turned-Irish radio analyst Allen Pinkett's comments Wednesdat that in order to have a successful football team you have to have a few “criminals” on it. (Pinkett later apologized for the remarks.)
I noticed a bunch of my media brethren who said there was something to Pinkett's premise although the former running back didn't articulate the point very well. My pal John Walters, a ND grad, cited numerous examples of Fighting Irish football stars who had well-documented off-field issues and run-ins with the law during their college days and were key parts of great teams in South Bend.
The problem I had with Pinkett's remarks, especially in light of how Notre Dame presents itself from the mindset that ND is about being unique and doing things “the right way” is Stanford shouts down that theory.
Stanford has beaten ND for three straight seasons with really solid kids who had significantly better academic profiles and ended up having back-to-back Top 7 finishes and won 23 games in a BCS conference the past two seasons. The players and the blue-chip recruits they've been able to land have even embraced the "nerd" persona. (The #nerdnation has become a popular hashtag among Cardinal football players on twitter.) As one coach who was part of building those recent Stanford teams said when I brought up the Pinkett contention Wednesday night, "It was an idiotic statement."
*Even without Da'Rick Rogers, I'm still going with Tennessee over N.C. State. A reason for optimism with UT: a more mature O-line that now has started over 100 games combined and also should benefit from the transition to new position coach Sam Pittman from Harry Hiestand, who I'm told several of the Vol linemen struggled to connect with. Junior RB Raijon Neal should be the big benefactor of that.
*Game prediction I flipped-flopped the most on Clemson-Auburn. If Sammy Watkins was playing, I'd go with the ACC school. That said, it'll be intriguing to watch Year Two for Tajh Boyd in second-year OC Chad Morris' system. This off-season, in hopes of tweaking his fast-paced scheme, Morris visited Oklahoma State and Nevada, which no doubt means we could see some Pistol action.
Boyd has a strong arm, but he's worked hard this off-season to be more than just an arm thrower. He's also got good feet and the power of a linebacker, so he could be more of a force as a runner now too. The downside: being without Watkins early and playing in front of a rebuilt O-line against a fierce Auburn defensive front.
*We have UCLA at Rice on our air Thursday night on CBS Sports Network. I expect the Bruins to roll. They have too much talent for the Owls, but I'm very curious to see how sharp redshirt freshman QB Brett Hundley is in new OC Noel Mazzone's up-tempo spread offense. Hundley's got some good wheels and UCLA has some weapons in Johnathan Franklin, Damien Thigpen, Jordon James and spring revelation Steven Manfro to go with a pretty deep group of outside targets.
Hundley breaks in against a favorable opponent. The Owls have six new starters on defense after finishing 112th against the pass in 2011 and 111th in total defense.
On Thursday morning I chatted with Mazzone, who also was curious what he's going to see from his young QB, who will be one of five freshmen expected to start on offense for the Bruins. "We'll have to get child labor laws changed in the state of Texas," he joked.
Mazzone said his gut tells him Hundley's going to show the knack for creating plays when nothing is there and things break down. Plus, he's been impressed with how the Bruins have responded to the kid. Hundley has some presence.
*It's been a nightmare for Maryland football ever since Randy Edsall was hired. They've had a staggering number of departures, which have been followed by a wave of injuries. New starting Maryland QB Perry Hills will be the Terps first true freshman quarterback to start an opener in 13 years. I suspect he'll respond pretty well. One thing is for certain: no one can question this kid's toughness or determination. He went 35-0 as a high school wrestler in PAC and won the 195-pound state title. You don't have that kind of success on the mat in a sport which is that demanding without some serious guts. And, as the Washington Post notes, Hills does come from Pittsburgh's Central Catholic High School, where playoff games regularly draw 10,000 fans and has produced, among others, Dan Marino and Marc Bulger.
*I'm picking Bama over Michigan because I expect the Tide to be the more physical team. Michigan will miss DT Mike Martin and center David Molk as the anchors of both lines although word out of Ann Arbor is promising about DT William Campbell and JR NT Quinton Washington. Both have been impressive in camp, especially Campbell, who has shed almost 50 lbs (down to 308). Can they anchor the middle of the Wolverine D against the nation's top O-line? Can they get some penetration and push? Probably not consistently enough in Week One, but how these guys respond will go a long way in determining whether the Wolverines can live up to their preseason hype.
*Miami has 64 players listed on its roster who are either freshmen or sophomores, including 34 on its two-deep. (Does that make talk of UM going 6-6 or even 4-8 this fall a little more bearable for Cane fans? Doubt it.) Still, it's no stretch to think that the most talented players in UM program right now are those underclassmen. Sophomores Anthony Chickillo and Denzel Perryman are already taking a leadership role, which is a good sign for a program living under the cloud of an NCAA investigation that likely will mean the Canes won't be able to have much hope of making a significant bowl till the 2014 season.
*What an awful summer it has been for Greg Reid. First, the talented CB/KR gets booted from the FSU program because of repeated violations of team conduct. Then, after he transfers to Valdosta State he tears his ACL.
*Everyone knows about towering Mizzou freshman wideout Dorial Green-Beckham, the 6-6, 220-pounder who came to Columbia as the nation's top high school recruit. But DGB is far from the only big target James Franklin has this season. Mizzou lists 12 WRs on its depth chart; eight are 6-2 or taller. T.J. Moe, the Tigers standout do-everything guy, at 6-0, 200 is only starting WR under 6-4.
*One of the more compelling match-ups between a big school and a mid-major will take place in Soldier Field when Iowa meets a good NIU squad. Worth keeping an eye on is how well the re-tooled Iowa O-line does against a solid NIU front. No one has a better rep for O-line play in college than Kirk Ferentz and we'll see how well young RBs Damon Bullock and true freshman Greg Garmon do. NIU has some experience and talent on the D-line and added powerful Ken Bishop, a 305-pound South Florida native via Iowa JC into the mix.
*Matt Barkley and the best 1-2 WR tandem in the country of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee will face a Hawaii D starting a pair of ex SEC CBs in Tony Grimes (Ole Miss) and Mike Edwards (Tennessee), a one-time Lane Kiffin signee. UH though, will not have former Michigan five-star recruit Demar Dorsey playing safety. As I reported a few weeks back, the NCAA wouldn't clear Dorsey so he is now at a junior college in Arizona.
*On Wisconsin: The Badgers have averaged 47 ppg in their last 18 games--since Montee Ball entered the starting lineup. According to Badger SID Brian Lucas, they averaged two TDs less in the previous 18 games.
*One of the best twitter handles in college football is that of Kentucky's 6-11, 339-pound second-team right guard Jack Gruenschlaeger, who goes by @grue2tall.
*I saw this note online and it made me do a double-take: Former FSU/Tennessee TE Brandon Warren is at D2 North Alabama. Warren is 24. He's a 7th year senior.
*One of the more unusual (O.K. bizarre) gifts for a big college football fan I've seen this summer comes from FTD, the national flower chain. If you are so inclined you can get the College Rose Collection, a bouquet of roses painted in your favorite team's school colors.