It is Thursday, and that means we are getting into the Your Best 11 Mailbag. We are just two weeks from the first game night of the season, and football is just around the corner. There are plenty of quality questions today as well, so let's get it!
Since I am not sure whether "matchup" means "game" or actual "in-game battle," I'll tackle both of them.
On the game tip, I'm going to go with Boise State at Washington. They played a tight one in the Las Vegas Bowl last season, and now the Huskies get to open up the new stadium with the Broncos. Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins broke his pinkie on Tuesday and required surgery, so hopefully he is able to go against Boise State. However, either way, I expect a solid game with a great atmosphere to kickoff the season in Seattle.
As for the individual matchup that I think is a bit off the radar, I'm going to go with the one that I've been talking about for a good little while: North Carolina offensive tackle James Hurst versus South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. It is the first week of the season and this will be the senior Hurst's toughest matchup of the year. He is a guy that many scouts are high on but want to see more of, and playing well against Clowney will certainly boost his stock. For Clowney, it will be about coming out of the gate hot. This is definitely going to be worth watching in two weeks.
Um, no. Barring injury, I'll be incredibly surprised to see Rankin play for the Scarlet Knights. Gary Nova is back to start, Chas Dodd is the backup and both have experience playing and winning games.
According to Ryan Dunleavy of MyCentralJersey.com, Nova is reportedly looking better than ever in fall camp and put on a great performance in the team's first scrimmage. The team knows that he is "the" guy going into 2013.
Sorry to disappoint, but perhaps next season Rankin is the backup to Nova, as he tracks for the starting job in 2015 as a redshirt junior.
I'll believe it when I see it, and if I was a betting man, I would not bet on the field versus Florida State and Clemson. Right now, the ACC has two programs that are pushing toward elite status, and 12 teams that are at various levels of "just alright."
If I was picking teams that could be champions—ones that are not named Clemson or FSU—I'd have to go with the Coastal trio of Virginia Tech, Miami and North Carolina, in no particular order. Virginia Tech is trying to find its run game and fix the defense. Miami and UNC have weapons, but defensively, the 'Canes and Heels both leave me wanting more.
I literally have no clue how odds work, but I'd say "good, I guess." Or maybe even odds?
Here's the thing, I think all three of the Florida teams will be among the nation's Top 15 when it is all said in done and the dust settles following the conference championship games.
Given the timing of all the games, I think it is very possible that Miami beats Florida and loses to Florida State, maybe twice. I also think it is possible that Florida loses to Miami but beats Florida State, and that the Seminoles lose to Florida but beat Miami, maybe twice.
If that happens, who knows who gets crowned the King of Florida.
None, but that is not what alternative jerseys are for in the first place. On the macro level, the new looks are about creating buzz and generating a little pop in apparel sales, which is very good for the schools and the apparel vendors.
Personally, I love them more on the micro level. Kids like fresh gear. It does not make them play better; no one believes it does. But it does get players excited, and that's a good thing. As long as the kids dig the new look, I do not think it matters much what people who are not going to be wearing them think.
I actually hit on this in Your Best 11 two weeks ago, when the USA Today Coaches' Poll dropped. Of UCLA, Nebraska and TCU, I've got the most faith in the Bruins because of the way the team is constructed. In Year 2 under Jim Mora, that defense should take another big step towards success, and with all the talent in the back-end, the secondary should be even better as the season goes on.
Another team that did not show up in the rankings but I think has a shot to make some noise is Arizona State. I love the way the team is put together. That defense will be pretty salty in the Pac-12, and if they beat Notre Dame with no Oregon on the schedule, this team could find itself highly ranked very late into November.
I like running back Kevin "Mama name him KP, I'm a call him KP" Parks of Virginia in that spot, but my pick is Florida State linebacker Telvin Smith. In the hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense that Jeremy Pruitt is going to employ in Tallahassee, I expect Smith to fly around and make big plays. The dude is a beast, and everyone is going to know his name by the time 2013 is all said and done.
The tough thing for Parks is going to be beating out other running backs like James Wilder, Jr. of Florida State and Duke Johnson of Miami to get on that list—at least the first team list. Both Wilder, Jr. and Johnson are going to be monsters this year and, if things go as planned, both of their teams will be playing for big-time hardware as well, something Parks' team will not be doing.
If you are a Hokie fan, you absolutely have to hope. The 2012 season was largely a lost cause for the big quarterback, and now, with offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, he needs to rebound in a massive way.
I expect his attention to detail to improve in a big way under Loeffler. Folks, can poo poo Loeffler based upon his days at Florida and Auburn all they like, but the guy is a good coach, and Hokie fans should expect a lot more from him this year than ever before.
Attention to detail and doing the little things right will help Thomas in a major way in 2013. Instead of the wide runs that Virginia Tech sent Thomas on in 2012, look for more of the inverted, inside run game out of the quarterback. Loeffler will force the base personnel to run as well, with running backs being force-fed the football to get the ground game going. That should open up the play action, and hopefully, Thomas responds.
Yes. Thanks to a little transition in the Big Ten and a team that can hit the ground running—unlike a year ago—I think the Nittany Lions can push to nine wins in 2013. It will require pulling out close games and staying injury free, but the opportunity is very much there for Bill O'Brien's club.
Whoo, baby, football!
The simple answer is that I expect the Tide to improve a little when it comes to pressuring the quarterback. Another year for Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson will be key, plus the linemen should help improve Nick Saban's defense's ability to get into the backfield and force the issue with quarterbacks.
Yet something tells me you're not here for the simple answer. So here is the real answer.
When you take a look at Alabama's numbers over the last five years in terms of sacks and quarterback hurries, it is clear that 2012 was, simply put, a typical season. The team's 35 sacks was more than the Tide had in any of the previous years, while 46 hurries was the second fewest during the same cycle. In 2009, 'Bama got more pressures (79) but fewer sacks (31).
All of this points not to sack numbers or hurry numbers, but rather, the reason Saban pressures the quarterback: to get the ball out quick and disrupt the passing game. From 2008 to 2012, in order, 'Bama had 57, 75, 57, 56 and 58 passes defensed, respectively. The 2009 season was the monster year, but 2012 fell in line with the norm. Pass breakups lead to interceptions which tallied 15, 24, 22, 13 and 18, respectively, during that same time span.
The 2012 season was the median number, and as the players improve up front, I expect the back end guys to reap those benefits through breakups and interceptions. Alabama has never been a big sack team, especially on the individual level, as Courtney Upshaw was the leader in the last five years with 9.5 sacks in 2011. In 2009 Javier Arenas was the second leader on the team with 5 sacks as a defensive back.
Hubbard and Dickson should lead the charge this year, with C.J. Mosley, Ed Stinson and Jeoffrey Pagan adding to the mix wherever possible. They will be improved, although one should not expect the epic 2009 numbers, and that means the secondary is going to reap the benefits in a big way.