College Football 2011: 25 Things to Watch for on Saturday
It's finally September, and that means the college football season is officially underway. After a tumultuous offseason, the NCAA has to be happy to see the players step on to the gridiron rather than a tattoo parlor or a South Beach penthouse.
That being said, let's take a look at what to watch for on the first Saturday of the 2011 football season (in no particular order).
Is Notre Dame Legit?
Notre Dame used to be one, if not the most polarizing team in the nation. However, after a few rough years the Irish have been nothing more than a punch line.
Brian Kelly is in year two now in South Bend and he says the defense has much improved. South Florida will be a good test for the Irish, and we should know right away if they'll need luck in 2011 or if they can rely on their talent.
Did Jordan Jefferson Cost LSU a Shot at a National Title?
It's only week one, but every game is critical. Jordan Jefferson, LSU's starting quarterback, has been suspended for the opener due to his part in a bar fight. LSU just happens to be opening the year in Cowboys Stadium against the Oregon Ducks.
Jarrett Lee is a capable backup, but will he be able to lead the offense to a victory over a team coming off a national title appearance?
Boise State at It Again?
This is the second year in a row that Boise State has to travel across the country to take on a team that basically has a home game in a larger stadium. Last year, the Broncos knocked off Virginia Tech at FedEx field, in a game that had national title implications.
This year, the Broncos are set to take on the Georgia Bulldogs at the Georgia Dome. Virginia Tech was a better team last year than Georgia is this year, and betting against the Broncos hasn't been a smart play recently.
Can Kellen Moore and company do it again?
Upset Alert in College Station
There's been so much talk about Texas A&M leaving the Big 12 with the hopes of joining the SEC in the future. So much so, that it's likely become a huge distraction.
Southern Methodist University is no cupcake opponent. June Jones is entering his fourth year as head coach of the Mustangs that we're all but dead before he arrived.
Don't be shocked to see the Mustangs pull off a huge upset in week one of the season against the 9th ranked Aggies.
A Hokie Low September
Virginia Tech is once again ranked in the top 15, and many people are picking the Hokies as a "dark horse" candidate for a national championship appearance. But can the Hokies get past their issues in the month of September?
Last year, the Hokies lost to Boise State in week one and were then taken down by FCS opponent JMU at home the following week.
Beamer and company have lost their last three season openers and they'll look to change that against App State.
If the ACC wants to keep their conference in tact, they need someone other than Virginia Tech and Florida State to do well this year.
Nobody's really sure what's going to happen with Miami; North Carolina likely won't have a good season and even Georgia Tech got in trouble, although it was only a slap on the hand.
Teams like Clemson, N.C. State, Virginia Tech and of course Florida State need to get off to a good start in 2011 and try to make the conference look respectable this year.
Miami at Maryland
This game will have a little extra attention considering all that has gone on around Miami's athletic program after Hurricane Shapiro came storming in.
The guy who has been caught in the crossfire is Al Golden. It will be most interesting to see if Miami comes out focused or if they've already given up on the season. The only thing that is certain for the Hurricanes moving forward is uncertainty.
South Carolina QB's
Its hard to tell if Steve Spurrier really dislikes Stephen Garcia or if he's trying to prove a point to the troubled quarterback on a day-by-day basis. Garcia will play the second quarter and then Spurrier will decided who to play in the second half.
Don't be surprised to see this game go down to the wire, as ECU can light up the scoreboard with Dominique Davis leading the way under center.
How Many Points Will the Sooners Score?
Oklahoma is the top rated team in the nation and a favorite to win the national title. Landry Jones is being touted as an early Heisman trophy candidate and they have loads of talent on both sides of the ball.
Tulsa is not a terrible team, but they will likely look that way on Saturday. If Bob Stoops leaves his starters in for most of the game, look for the Sooners to put up 60-plus points to make an early statement.
Trent Richardson is now the feature back for second ranked Alabama. Richardson is a Heisman Trophy candidate and will likely receive most of the carries in 2011. This is his time to shine and with a cloudy quarterback situation to start the season, Nick Saban will need Richardson to carry the load.
Alabama's QB Situation
The only thing clear about the Alabama quarterback situation right now is that Greg McElroy won't be the guy. A.J. McCarron and Philip Sims are in a competition to replace McElroy who graduated last season.
Both guys will receive snaps against Kent State and Saban will likely make up his mind on who will be the starter for the remainder of the season after this game.
New Era for Stanford
At least Stanford didn't lose Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck in the same season. David Shaw, who was offensive coordinator for the Cardinal last season, is now the head coach and provides some stability for the program.
One thing's for sure. Luck is the best player in college football and its not even close. As long as Luck is on the field Stanford will have a chance to win, and San Jose State will be a good game to see what the new look coaching staff has in store for 2011.
Stanford's Offensive Line
Luck is leading Heisman candidate, the sure fire No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft and one of the faces of college football, who now sports a caveman-like beard.
That being said, Luck's offensive line has changed drastically from last year. They may be able to dominate San Jose State on Saturday, but it will be interesting to see how this develops as the year progresses.
How Will Auburn Look?
Playing against Utah State may not be the best barometer, but Auburn will look drastically different in 2011. The one good thing Auburn has going for them is Michael Dyer in the backfield.
But, will Dyer be able to carry the load for the Tigers all season? Unlikely, unless they have a few more Cam Newtons that we don't know about.
Will a Cam Newton Like Player Surface
It seems every year in college football a player emerges on to the scene and takes the nation by storm. Last year, that player was Cam Newton, but who will it be this year?
Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas has a chance to be that guy. Thomas is stands 6' 6" tall, wears a size 19 shoe, can run the 40 in 4.6 seconds and has a rocket arm out of the pocket. Of course, he has to prove he can play for any of those things to matter.
The Troubled Buckeyes
After one of the worst offseasons in the school's history, Ohio State is looking to put the Pryor-Tressell era behind them. Luke Fickell will look to get the season started off right against Akron and go from there.
2011 will likely be an uphill battle for Fickell and company, but if he manages to overcome the troubles facing the program, it's likely the interim tag will be removed.
Is TCU Overrted?
The Horned Frogs lost a number of players from last season, including their starting quarterback Andy Dalton. That being said, they still received a respectable ranking (14) in the preseason polls.
TCU travels to Baylor Friday night, and Robert Griffin is going to be a tough out. This game could come down to the wire and if Griffin runs free, the Bears will likely pull off the upset.
Robert Griffin III for Heisman
Robert Griffin III is one of those guys that will blow you away with his athleticism, and he can take over a game at any time with his arm or legs. That being said, Griffin needs to become a more consistent passer and if he does that, Baylor has a chance to make some noise in 2011.
Griffin for Heisman is a long shot, but starting the season off right with a win over TCU would be a good start.
Is Garrett Gilbert the Answer for Texas
After being thrust into a national championship game to replace an injured Colt McCoy, Garrett Gilbert showed signs that he would be a formidable successor to McCoy in the future.
Then 2010 happened, and Texas didn't even make it to a bowl game. Saying that's hard to believe is an understatement. If Gilbert struggles early on this season you can bet that Mack Brown will pull the plug.
Gilbert should have a warm-up game against Rice, but it will be bad news if he struggles.
Will an FCS School Beat an ACC School
It's almost become tradition, believe it or not. Last year JMU beat Virginia Tech. William & Mary beat Virginia the year prior and Duke went down to Richmond in 2009 as well.
No ACC team should be in danger this week, but the one with the greatest chance to lose is Virginia who hosts William & Mary.
Muschamp Era Begins
When you have champ in your last name-you're meant to be a coach. Will Muschamp is now in charge at Florida and he's doing everything to get rid of the stamp Urban Meyer left on the program, in a good way.
Muschamp brought in Charlie Weis to install a pro-style offense, and Muschamp will provide multiple looks on defense with the 4-3 scheme likely being used most often.
Florida Atlantic shouldn't provide much of a threat, but it will be interesting to see the new look Gators on Saturday.
Nebraska in the Big 10
Nebraska is now officially a member of the Big Ten and they will start the year ranked 10th.
The biggest thing to watch for in this game is the relationship between Bo Pelini and Taylor Martinez. It seemed strained, to say the least at various points throughout last season.
Martinez is a young quarterback who could bring a national championship back to Lincoln, but will Pelini's attitude get in the way?
Last Year of Meaningless Football for USC
USC takes on Minnesota to open 2011, but really the only team it matters for is Minnesota. Sure, it matters for recruiting and respect, but USC can't go to a bowl game or conference championship until next year.
USC quarterback Matt Barkley is a rising star, but it's on a team where the program is fading. USC may be solid this year, but the future remains in question as the number of scholarships could set the program back even further.
Hoke at Michigan
Michigan has a new head coach, Brady Hoke, and the former top dog at Ball State is looking to make some noise in his first season.
Hoke wanted the job, but it wasn't clear that Michigan really wanted him. Michigan needs a serious renovation and Hoke has the passion to do it.
Western Michigan shouldn't pose a huge threat, but a win will be big in the amount of support Hoke will receive as the season progresses.
How Many Times Will Mega Conferences Be Mentioned in Broadcasts?
The idea of mega conferences in college football is fascinating, and it will likely be talked about all season.
Texas A&M really sparked the fire with their displeasure with the Big 12 and the Longhorn network, and now everyone's school is on the move, according to them anyway.
It would be surprising if you couldn't bet on the over-under on this question in Vegas, but it's almost a guarantee we'll hear it talked about in every game this season.