Four Games To Look At In College FootballBREAKING NEWS, NCAAF, News Wednesday, August 29th, 2012
If the average fan looks at Vanderbilt’s record in 2011(6-7 overall 2-6 SEC), they probably skip right over the team and write them off as another mediocre squad in a very good conference. Most would not call a losing record a transformation. But most wouldn’t look into the changes in work ethic and attitude that new coach James Franklin has brought to a program that was desperately in need of one. For a team that had a grand total of one SEC win since 2008, many would say two isn’t much better. But when you watch the tape and how this team competes you can see this is a program beginning to turn the corner.The team had three close losses to top notch programs (lost by five to Georgia, five to Florida, and three to Arkansas), Coach Franklin turned this team from a sure-win on opponents’ schedules to a tough, physical football team that is a pushover no more. Throw in the Commodore’s best recruiting class ever and you have a team that better not be taken lightly this year. The offense is led by Senior running back Zac Stacy who earned 2nd team all SEC honors as a junior in 2011 by rushing for 1,193 yards and 14 touchdowns on 5.9 yards per carry. The defense has to accommodate for the departure of three key leaders (Tim Fugger, CB Casey Hayward and LB Chris Marve) but senior Trey Wilson looks to add stability to a defense that finished a respectable 29th in the nation last year allowing 21.6 points per contest. My thoughts are this will be a run first, run second kind of team. A lot has been written about the Commodore’s throwing a ton in the spring game but I don’t believe they will have much success if they go that route. This team is definitely headed in the right direction. The problem is that so are Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. What can be said for sure is everyone on their schedule will remember playing them.
In Columbia, Steve Spurrier is focused on one thing: winning an SEC title for the first time since 2000 when he was at Florida. The Gamecocks went 11-2 in 2011 but failed to reach the SEC title game even though they defeated the eventual Eastern Division winner Georgia 45-42 early in the year. Spurrier has found success in a not-so-familiar place, the ground game. South Carolina is led by All-American candidate Marcus Lattimore who is returning from a knee injury that cost him the final six games in 2011. After a breakthrough freshman season, Lattimore was having another solid sophomore campaign when his season was ended blocking downfield for a receiver after a catch. A wildcard for me will be the play of quarterback Connor Shaw. Shaw was thrust into the limelight after starting quarterback Steven Garcia was thrown off the team for failing a drug test. Spurrier kept the offense simple after that limiting the chances for Shaw to make critical mistakes. Shaw will get help from incoming wide receiver Shaq Roland who will replace Alshon Jeffrey, who was drafted by the Chicago Bears. Shaw had a great camp and looked great throwing the ball. On the defensive side of the ball the Gamecocks were ranked number 3 in the SEC and 3rd in the country in total defense behind LSU and Alabama. They lost Stephon Gilmore and Melvin Engram to the NFL and their leader Ellis Johnson who left to coach at Southern Miss. This year they have two of the best book ends in the country at defensive end in Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. Clowney may even play at linebacker some this year. The two combined for 14 sacks this year I wouldn’t be shocked to see that number hit 20.
The Matchup:There is no tougher game to play in the country then a SEC road game at night. These two teams met during Week 4 last year in Columbia with South Carolina being a 15.5 point favorite. The Gamecocks came out on top with a 21-3 victory. South Carolina returns 13 starters, a healthy running back and a more reliable quarterback. The defense can claim six of those starters on a defense that was ranked 3rd in the country last year.
Vanderbilt should get a boost from quarterback Jordan Rogers who finished the year strong behind center. He has Zac Stacy to rely on to carry the load at tail back. The defense returns seven starters from the 29th ranked defense a year ago.
Prediction: There is no doubt Vanderbilt is in the right direction. They also played most of the top 25 teams last year right down to the wire with the exception of Alabama and South Carolina. Despite Steven Garcia throwing 4 INT’s last year the Gamecocks limited Vandy to 77 yards in total offense. The crowd will be crazy in Nashville that will give the Commodore’s an extra boost. Vanderbilt upset South Carolina in 2008 so Spurrier is well aware of what this team is capable of. All that being said, South Carolina just has too much on both sides of the ball and they go into Nashville and come out with a victory. But Vandy keeps it close.
Final Score: South Carolina 30 Vanderbilt 23
Friday August 31st 8pm
Boise State at Michigan State
For the first time in four years there is uncertainty as to who will line up under center when the Bronco’s open their 2012 campaign against the Spartans of Michigan State . Their All-American quarterback Kellen Moore is currently in camp as an undrafted free agent with the Detroit Lions. Moore was only on the losing side of a contest three times his four years at Boise State. Also gone is Doug Martin who was a 1st round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Bucs. With less then two weeks until kickoff coach Chris Petersen has not yet named who his starting quarterback will be. If you read between the lines red shirt junior Joe Southwick has the lead over red shirt Sophomore Grant Hedrick and true freshman Nick Patti due to his experience (he has seen time in 16 games and thrown for two touchdowns). On defense they are depleted, losing nine of their top ten tacklers. They return seven starters total counting both sides of the ball. Looking forward expect senior running back DJ Harper to get a lot of carries, especially early on while Petersen evaluates what he has at quarterback. Defensively Senior linebacker J.C. Percy must step up as he is the only returning defensive player who had more then 30 tackles in 2011. I like the kid Blake Reaud who will see more and more time at middle linebacker as the season goes on. I think this will be coach Chris Petersen’s greatest challenge to date and we are going to learn a lot about him this year.
When analysts begin to breakdown a team most start with the offense. I think Michigan State is defined by its defense, perhaps one of the top ten defenses in all of the land. Both the defense and special teams are stacked. This could win at least one, maybe two close games that come down to the final seconds. The defensive line is one of the deepest units anywhere. Rashad White steps in for Jerel Worthy who has moved on to the NFL. One player that stood out on tape was James Kitterdge who is a transfer from Vanderbilt. I think he is a difference maker. The defensive ends are six deep led by William Gholston and Jeremy Gainer. This is one tough, talented defensive line. The line backing core again is one of the best in the country. Seniors Chris Norman and Max Bullough lead the way and make a ton of tackles. Juniors Denicos Allen and Tyquan Hammock round out the line backing core that goes 9 deep. The defensive backfield is also in great hands with safety Isaiah Lewis leading the way. Watching 2011 film Lewis is an exceptional tackler and always in the middle when a big play is made. He has a great nose for the ball. The corners are solid with Johnny Adams returning for his senior season. Adams will be a regular on Sundays next year but for now will be a part of what Is shaping up to be a special kind of unit. Dan Conroy is back to kick as well. On offense junior Andrew Maxwell takes over the starting job after a few years backing up Kirk Cousins. He will be pushed by red shirt freshman Connor Cook. Le’Veon Bell returns and will be expected to carry the load and tailback. Maxwell’s new targets include Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett and tight end Dion Sims. Bell will have an easier time in 2012 as the offensive line returns all but one starter.
The Matchup: I give Boise State a lot of credit for opening on the road once again against a ranked opponent. But unlike the past few years, they seem to me to be rebuilding. Both teams I feel will be a bit cautious for a few reasons. It’s the opening game and neither wants to be the first to make a key mistake for the other defense to capitalize.
Prediction: Vegas opened the total at 55 and it was quickly bet down to 50. 55 would have been a real nice under play. If this game was 12 months ago I would have given Boise the nod. But this is 2012 and although both teams may struggle a bit to find their identity offensively, Michigan State will get stops when they need to and they will take it to Boise State.
Final Score: Michigan State 31 Boise State 13
Saturday September 1st
Clemson at Auburn
I don’t know if there is a team more eager to get back on the field to erase their last performance more than Clemson. The Tigers were embarrassed by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl to end their 2011 season which was one of the biggest beat downs of the entire season. Going into last year I knew of the teams reputation of always saying this is their year only to disappoint end of the year.. But this was a total destruction of a team that many had in their top 10 before the season. Going into to 2012 the projections are no different. Clemson returns 15 starters including one at all of the skilled positions. On paper scoring should not be an issue. Quarterback Tajh Boyd returns for his junior season after putting up some impressive numbers in 2011. The sophomore threw for 3,828 yards 33 touchdowns 12 interceptions. He has a complete back carrying the football in Andre Ellington 223 attempts, 1178 yards and 11td’s. Clemson will be hurt by the absence of Sammy Watkins in this game. Watkins Is one of the five best players in the country. He was suspended for the first two games of this year. De Andre Hopkins will be called upon to pick up the slack for Hopkins and good news Tiger fans; in my opinion is one of the most underrated players in the entire country. Hopkins didn’t get the attention but he quietly had 72 catches for 998 yards and five scores in 2011. I think Boyd will miss Dwayne Allen. Allen was the tight end who Boyd counted on to make the big plays when moving the sticks. Allen took his 50 grabs 598 yard sand 8 scores to Indianapolis to play for the Colts. Defensively they have brought in Brent Venables to coordinate a defense that couldn’t get a stop when it needed one last year. Clemson allowed 14 plays over 40 yards and an alarming 40% of all 3rd down plays to be converted into a 1st down for their opponent. Venables will rely heavily on two young linebackers Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward. The glue to the unit will come in the defensive backfield where Rashard Hall and Bashand Breeland hope to limit their opponents big plays bring stability back to that side of the ball.
Auburn went through a true rebuilding year with six true freshman getting starts. The Tigers return 18 starters from last years team ( 8-5 4-4 SEC ) The thing I noticed watching film was the way they were manhandled in a lot of those losses. So I had to dig deeper. I am not sure that the 10 returning starters would be as big a key if the Tigers weren’t blown out of so many games. Auburn does have a few big strong defensive tackles in Jeff Whitaker and Kenneth Carter. But the heart of the defense is linebacker Darren Bates who led the team with 96 tackles last year. The offense had one of the best running back tandems in the country with Michael Dyer and Onterio McCaleeb until Dyer transferred to Arkansas State with the departed offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn who will assume the head coaching role. I think they will continue to struggle at the quarterback position with Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier most likely to both see time. They have two solid receivers in tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen 24/238/7 and Emory Blake 36/613/5. Overall I think Auburn despite having many returning starters finishes around the same at .500 in the SEC.
The Matchup : Again Saturday evening twilight SEC road game. Doesn’t get any tougher. Auburn is only two years removed from a national championship. Combine that with Clemson always seeming to trip up and lose one early you would think you have the perfect situation for an upset.
Prediction: Not this time. If Clemson can just play a mentally sound football game, there is no way Auburn can keep them off the scoreboard. I keep having nightmares about the Orange Bowl and with Watkins suspended all of that must be factored in. I did. And I still have Clemson walking out of Auburn with a victory.
Final Score: Clemson wins this 24-16
Michigan at Alabama
This one may hurt as I am a die hard Wolverines fan. I think this is a great match up on paper. But I don’t think it’s a great match up for Michigan. Yes its true Alabama lost a ton on defense as they only return four starters. But they have added some youthful talent. The Crimson Tide only let up an average of eight points per game in 2011 with only Georgia Southern scoring more then 14. It was one of the best defenses in college football history. Jessee Williams is back at Nose guard and while he isn’t really a threat rushing the passer is one the best run stoppers in the SEC. Ed Stinson and Damion Square return at defensive end. Nico Johnson is the player returning with the most tackles last year and will be solid at linebacker. The defensive backfield lost three players to the NFL and easily could have been four. Robert Lester returns for his senior season at safety to play the quarterback for the defense. It will be hard to improve on the #1 ranked defense they had last year. They wont be as dominant, but still are one of the three best defenses in the country. I put LSU and USC right with them. On offense I don’t think a lot of people realize the Tide had the 20th ranked scoring offense in all of D-1 at 34.8 points per game. Offensive coordinator Jim McElwain left to become the head coach at Colorado State. I think quarterback AJ Mccaron is underrated. Last year he threw for 2,634 yards 16 touchdowns and 5 interceptions while completing 66.8% of his passes. Look for Alabama to throw a bit more then they did last year. Eddie Lacy has the task of replacing one of the best backs to ever suit up in an Alabama uniform. Trent Richardson has departed for the NFL but Lacy is an extremely talented runner. Last year while he battled turf toe he ran for 674 yards on just 95 carries. I gave this name out months ago so look out for true freshman T.J. Yeldon who ran for 2,200 yards and 31 touchdowns his senior year in high school. By the end of the year he will be the best back they have. At receiver they will need to replace their top 4 pass catchers. Kenny Bell returns and Michael Williams will get some attention at the tight end spot. Watch out for freshman Danny Woodson he impressed me in the spring game. The offensive line is the best there is. Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones moves from Tackle to center. By doing this he made room for Cyrus Kouandjio to play left tackle. The scary thing is he may be even better then Jones. His brother Arie will start at right tackle. The special teams has Jeremy Shelley returning at kicker. Everyone remembers the 3 misses he had against LSU but the rest of the year Shelley was 21/24 on field goals. Punter Cody Mandell averaged almost 40 yards per punt last year and had 11 downed inside the 20.
In Ann Arbor coach Brady Hoke looks to build on a very impressive 11-2 campaign that ended in a victory over Virginia Tech in a BCS Bowl. The team will go as Denard Robinson goes. Robinson is one of the fastest and most dynamic players in the NCAA. A lot of critics love to keep reminding him he will not be a quarterback at the next level. Perhaps not, but he will be in the league and that should not take away the absolute nightmares he is causing opposing coaches that face him this year. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint took over the starting running back job early last year and hasn’t looked back. He finished 2011 with 1041 yards rushing and 9 touchdowns while averaging 5.6 yards per rush. The question is will he be available for the opener Saturday.? Toussaint was charged with a DUI in the off season and has eligibility has been in question ever since. For Michigan to have a chance Fitz will have to be in the line up. Receiver Ray Roundtree is coming off a disappointing 2011 season where his numbers regressed in the new offense. On tape it seemed like Roundtree is better suited for the slot and was far more productive in Rich Rodriquez’s spread offense in 2010 72/955/7. Last year on the outside his numbers dipped to 19/355/2 . Look for Roundtree to have a better year but I still think he Is out of position. Here is the thing about the offensive line. They may have the best starting unit in the Big 10 but the drop off from starter to back up is huge. As the season wears on if there are injuries trouble may follow. Two year starter Taylor Lewan ( 6’8 309 ) is back to protect Robinson’s blind side while Michael Schofield will complete a very solid starting five. The defensive line has lost a lot of quality and experience. At Nose Tackle William Campbell will replace Mike Martin. Campbell has underachieved to say the least his first few years at Ann Arbor. Word is he has cut a ton of weight and is working extremely hard to be a serviceable starter. Hopefully his motor stays where it needs to over the grind of a long season. The defensive line as a whole will struggle at times. There is a ton of youth and inexperience as they face many formidable offenses. For the first time in as long as I can remember Michigan returns its entire back 7 on defense. The line backing corps has a great mix of youth while also having experience. Sophomore Jake Ryan has the potential to be a special player. He Is joined by Kenny Demens and Desmond Morgan as the starters. I think the secondary is the strength of the defense. Starting safety Jordan Kovacs ( 6’0 202 ) and Thomas Gordon ( 5’11 207 ) are one of the best safety tandems Michigan has ever had. Kovacs has gone from walk on to captain over his career in Ann Arbor. Though not fleet of foot he plays the game smart. He and Gordon finished 2nd and 3rd on the team in tackles in 2011. I think the numbers will be down a bit because the defensive line is weaker but this unit as a whole is solid. They finished 16th against the pass last year primarily due to the defense eliminating the big play. I think there a lot of questions about the special teams. Kicker Brendan Gibbons 13/17 improved dramatically over his 2010 season but he still doesn’t have 47-50 yard range. Punter Will Hagerup was suspended for the 2010 Ohio State game and the first 4 games of 2011 and never regained the form from the year before averaging 39 yards per punt. Punt returns will be handled by Jeremy Gallon who had a fair 2011. The kick returners have not been named. Not having the ability to make a long field goal may cost the Wolverines a game in 2012.
The Matchup: I think its Alabama’s experienced offensive line against Michigan’s inexperienced Defensive line. Make no mistake about it football games are won on the offensive and defensive lines. Ever wonder why the SEC is always competing for a national championship? They always shave the best front four on defense.
Prediction: I have gone over this many times. Denard Robinson would have to play a perfect game to win. While I think he will make a few plays I think Alabama has Michigan Beat upfront on both sides of the ball.
Final Score: Alabama wins this 31-13
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