With an offseason plagued by scandal (see Ohio St, Miami, LSU, etc..) perhaps nobody is more excited for the return of college football than the NCAA itself. And this season's opening weekend should not disappoint with a pair of Top 25 matchups.
Every game matters, so Week 1 will see some BCS hopes will dashed while others will only gain fuel.
So sit back, relax and enjoy what should be a fun-filled and exciting Week 1 and a thrilling new season of college football.
Now typically, Akron isn’t a big draw in the world of college football. Throw in a contest with traditional powerhouse Ohio St. and this game is a blowout in a typical season. 2011, however, is no typical season.
With the departure of 10-year coach Jim Tressel, who resigned amid a violation investigation by the NCAA, as well as that of quarterback Terrelle Pryor, the Buckeyes will look a little different this season.
In addition to the loss of their longtime coach and former QB, Ohio St must make do without the presence of last year’s leading rusher Dan Herron, star wide receiver DeVier Posey, starting left tackle Mike Adams and backup defensive end Solomon Thomas, all of whom were suspended for five games prior to the season.
As for the Buckeyes' opponent, the Akron Zips pose no real threat having finished the 2010 season with a 1-11 record, beating only Buffalo in the season finally. In this year’s season opener, the Zips will solely be looking to get some points on the board as an upset is way out of the question.
All in all, don’t expect an overly competitive game because the Zips just can’t hang with the Buckeyes. But do pay close attention to the game planning of new head coach Luke Fickell (pictured) and the Ohio St. coaching staff and the play of the five Ohio St. replacements as their performance may just be a preview of what’s to come from the 2011 version of Ohio St.
My Prediction: Ohio St. 31, Akron 6
Last season, then-sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson (pictured) took the nation by storm, racking up over 1,700 yards rushing and 2,500 yards in the air, becoming the first-ever quarterback to do so. This year, Robinson will be looking to prove that last year was no fluke as he looks to take Michigan to the next level following a 52-14 trashing last year in the Gator Bowl at the hands of Mississippi State.
And although Western Michigan isn’t Mississippi State, for a team such as Michigan looking to continue their return to prominence, all games are important—not to mention Michigan will also be breaking in first-year head coach Brady Hoke.
On the opposite side of the ball, the Wolverines will have their hands full with Broncos quarterback Alex Carder who passed for 3,334 yards and 30 touchdowns a season ago.
This could prove problematic for Michigan as their passing defense ranked 112th in the nation and dead last in the Big Ten in 2010. Looking to help improve their passing defense is returning cornerback Troy Woolfolk, who missed last season with a broken leg.
In addition to Woolfolk, the Wolverines front season that includes nose tackle Mike Martin, defensive end Craig Roh and middle linebacker Kenny Demens will look to make Carder’s day harder.
As for the game itself, I expect a closer contest given Michigan’s continued struggles on defense. In the end, however, the Wolverines' offensive speed of Robinson, along with wide receivers Roy Roundtree and Darryl Stonum, should prove to be too much for Western Michigan’s defense.
My Prediction: Michigan 35, Western Michigan 14
In the midst of a rapidly changing college landscape amid a vast realigning of conferences, BYU decided to skip realignment altogether and instead decided to become the fourth independent at the FBS level (joining Army, Navy and Notre Dame). In doing so, BYU also signed a contract with ESPN to have all of their games televised giving college football fans everywhere a chance to not miss a single game.
The first of these games comes against an Ole Miss team looking to rebound from a 4-8 season that started with an embarrassing, albeit last second, loss to Jacksonville St. in overtime. In 2011, Ole Miss will be looking to get back to a more acceptable SEC with their offensive line leading the way.
This fall, the Rebels will return tackles Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie who were a huge reason why Ole Miss allowed some of the sacks in the SEC. Add in 6’9” Arkansas transfer Matt Hall and the line is set to protect new starting quarterback Randall Mackey, meaning that BYU’s front seven will have to work extra hard to pressure the Rebels' quarterback.
The Cougars, however, do have the personnel to do so with Brandon Olgetree leading the way having recorded 49 sacks on his own a season ago. Include players the likes of left end Matt Putnam and USC transfer Uona Kaveinga at MLB, the Cougars should be able to create some havoc.
Flipping sides, on offense, the BYU coaching staff expects something big from second-year quarterback Jakes Heap after the sophomore passed for 2,316 yards and 15 touchdowns as a freshman. Looking to help Heaps this season will be returning backs JJ Di Luigi (pictured) and Bryan Kariya who combined for 1,454 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground.
Both backs also contributed heavily to the Cougars passing game with Di Luigi actually leading the team in receptions with 45 while also piling up 443 yards. Pair these two with Cody Hoffman and McKay Jacobson and the BYU offense will simply prove powerful and versatile for the Ole Miss defense—a unit that allowed 246.3 passing yards last season, to combat.
This game should be exciting and fairly close, but I see the Cougars coming away with a victory, thanks to the arm of Heaps.
My Prediction: BYU 23, Ole Miss 17
As many of you may recall, Appalachian State first burst onto the scene in 2007 after shocking both the University of Michigan and the football world as the Mountaineers upset the then fifth-ranked Wolverines, becoming the first FCS team to defeat a ranked FBS team.
And speaking of upsets, Virginia Tech is no stranger to upsets at the hands of FCS teams, having been beaten by James Madison just last year while being ranked No. 13. And while last year’s game came just a week after a last second loss to fifth ranked Boise St. (are you seeing the similarities yet?), Virginia Tech will have no such excuse this year.
When it comes to Virginia Tech, the Hokies will have many big names to replace, starting with two-year starter Tyrod Taylor at quarterback along with running backs Darren Evans and Ryan Williams all of whom left school for the NFL.
Yet, despite these big-time losses, the Hokies look to be in good shape with 6’6”, 345lb sophomore Logan Thomas looking to take control of the offense at quarterback, while 5’11” 195 junior David Wilson is looking to corral the running game at the tailback position.
In addition to the new starters, returning receivers Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale will look to help Thomas make a smooth transition.
Meanwhile, the Hokie defense will once again be a force to be reckoned with being led by junior linebacker Bruce Taylor who led the Hokies with 91 tackles a year ago. In addition to Taylor, the Hokies defense will see the return of 2009 standout Barquell Rivers at weak-side linebacker after Rivers missed all of last season with a ruptured tendon.
Finally, Jayron Hosley (pictured) and Kyle Fuller will anchor the secondary making it hard for the Mountaineers to gain yards through the air. However, with returning quarterback DeAndre Presley (who threw for 2,631 yards and 22 touchdowns last season, the Mountaineers will have their chances through the air.
Though Appalachian State has played the spoiler role before and though Virginia Tech have had their seasons spoiled in the past, look for the Hokies to get it done this weekend.
My Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, App St. 14
With the recent suspension of eight Hurricane players, including former starting quarterback Jacory Harris (pictured) who’ll miss at least the first game, this game between two ACC rivals has just become all the more interesting.
On one side of the ball, you have the U, which is trying to not only break free from its problems but is also trying to break in new head coach Al Golden. As you can imagine, not having eight key players will make that even more difficult.
While Miami appears to be set at quarterback with Stephen Morris having led the Hurricanes to a victory over the Terrapins just last season, the focus shifts to other key positions.
Staying on the offensive side of the ball, the Hurricanes will struggle to try and replace the speed and explosiveness of senior receiver Travis Benjamin who led the team in receiving last season, making the defeat of Maryland’s defense all that much easier.
Given this, the losses to the defense for Miami will be even worse as safety Ray Ray Armstrong will miss the team’s first four games which will be a huge strain given the lack of depth at this position as is the case with the entire defense who will also miss OLB Sean Spence and Adewale Ojomo for this first game while it will miss Oliver Vernon for the first six.
As for Maryland, the Terrapins will also be breaking a new coach in Randy Edsall who, unlike his Miami counterpart, has no such concern at quarterback as his squad will be led by last season’s breakout Danny O’Brien, who threw for 22 touchdowns as a freshman.
Maryland will also return two capable running backs in Davin Meggett and DJ Adams, who should be a big help to O’Brien as he waits for a lead receiver to emerge and replace Torrey Smith. In terms of the defense, Maryland returns seven starters and seven of their top 10 tacklers from 2010.
All in all, look for the suspensions and the consistency of Maryland to be too much for Miami to overcome.
My Prediction: Maryland 20, Miami 14
Aside from this being a battle of the Carolinas, this game should prove to be a good challenge for the Gamecocks, who have a pair of Heisman hopefuls and are being picked by many to win the SEC East and perhaps even contend for an SEC title. Of course, to meet any of these goals South Carolina must get off to a good start.
When it comes to South Carolina, there’s plenty to be excited about. First, there’s sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore who took the conference and nation by storm last season with 1,517 yards rushing and 17 TDs.
This year, he’ll look to mount a Heisman campaign but may have to first look to outshine a fellow Gamecock standout in wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (pictured) who led the team in receiving with 88 receptions with over 1,500 yards in addition to nine touchdowns. It is also worth noting that sophomore Connor Shaw will start at quarterback over senior Stephen Garcia.
Meanwhile, there’s plenty to be excited about on the defensive side of the ball with the arrival of the No. 1 overall recruit DE Jadeveon Clowney, who will pair with returning starters DT Travian Robertson and DE Devin Taylor to give South Carolina one of the best D-lines in the FBS.
As for East Carolina, the Pirates have been known to play season spoiler (and as the team that gave the world Titans running back Chris Johnson) for teams such as Virginia Tech and West Virginia in recent years and would send shockwaves through the entire college landscape should they be able to knock off the Gamecocks.
Aiding them in their quest to do so will be returning QB Dominique Davis, who set 15 school records as a junior after having joined the team last fall. Davis will have to play at that high level once again however to propel to Pirates past the Gamecocks as ECU will be without WR Dwayne Harris (graduated) and the defense leaves much to be desired.
When all is said and done, while I do expect the Pirates to put some points on the board, South Carolina is simply too good and too big to have their season aspirations derailed this early in the year.
For Irish fans and players alike, the 2011 season will be big for one reason and one reason alone—the hype is back. With the Irish having made their way back into the preseason Top 25, it’s BCS or bust for the men in green—or rather blue. The first opponent standing in their way will be the Bulls of South Florida.
First, we have the Irish who, for now, will be led by senior quarterback Dayne Crist who beat out sophomore Tommy Rees for the starting job during preseason camp. And now that Crist has won the starting job, you can bet that he’ll be sure to rekindle his relationship with senior receiver Michael Floyd who will be huge in regards to how well the Irish perform on offense this season, given the departure of TE Kyle Rudolph. Meanwhile, the Irish defense will once again be led by inside linebacker Manti Te’o (pictured).
Flipping sides, while the Bulls of South Florida may not be as notable as Notre Dame, this is a game Brian Kelly’s team shouldn’t take lightly. This season, the Bulls will once again have junior QB B.J. Daniels under center with Daniels coming off a season where he threw for 1,685 yards but only 11 touchdowns.
In 2011, however, look for Daniels to get for leeway in the pocket greatly expanding the Bulls offense. The big pitfall for USF may just be their defense after having lost defensive tackle Terrell McClain to the NFL. However, depth for the Bull’s defense should not be an issue.
In conclusion, both teams have things to prove—meaning this game should be heated from the get-go. And while USF may not be ranked, I do expect this game to be closer than some may expect. Given the versatility of B.J. Daniels, Notre Dame and the Irish faithful should be an upset alert.
My Prediction: Notre Dame 24, USF 21
This could be the biggest upset of Week 1. Fresh off their Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin, TCU looks to once again make a push for a BCS bowl but will have to do so without QB Andy Dalton who graduated last spring after the NFL draft.
Taking over the signal-caller duties this season for the Horned Frogs will be sophomore Casey Pachall. Thankfully for Pachall, he’ll have big-time receivers Josh Boyce, Antoine Hicks and Skye Dawson to help ease the transition.
As for the Bears, they will return senior quarterback Robert Griffin III (pictured) who is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation and is coming off an awesome season throwing for 3,501 yards and 22 touchdowns while also adding 635 yards and eight TDs on the ground.
Given the explosive nature of both offenses, both defenses will have their hands full. When it comes to the Baylor defense, they’ll rely heavily on the play of two new starting safeties—Mike Hicks and Sam Holl—to shore up the secondary, while the D-line will return four starters from last season.
Meanwhile, TCU returns another stout defensive line lead by ends Stansly Maponga and Braylon Broughton as well as linebackers Tanner Brock and Tank Carder. The secondary could be a problem however as the unit returns only one starter in senior cornerback Greg McCoy who will have to play well while the rest of the unit progresses.
Yet, even with this potential liability, the TCU defense will prove to be the deciding factor is this closely fought contest.
My Prediction: TCU 42, Baylor 38
At one point, I would have had this game in the No. 1 spot. However, given the suspension of quarterback Jordan Jefferson and wide receiver Russell Sheppard, this game gets a knock. And while I do expect backup Jarrett Lee to come in and play well, there is no debating that the Tigers’ offense changes with Jefferson on the sidelines.
Oregon’s offense should have no such slip-up this weekend as the Ducks' two best and most important starters return in QB Darron Thomas and RB LaMichael James (pictured). James will look to spearhead a potential Heisman season by putting up big numbers against one of the best defenses in all of college football.
And speaking of the LSU defense, the Tigers will have an eight-man rotation to use against the high-flying Ducks, not to mention a stellar secondary lead by the likes of Brandon Taylor and Morris Claiborne. And unfortunately for Oregon, they will be their top defensive playmaker as cornerback Cliff Harris is suspended indefinitely. The Ducks will also have to replace three starters on the defensive line.
So, this game should come who can overcome their losses better. I look for that team to be the Ducks. While LSU does undoubtedly have the better defense, Oregon’s high octane will be up to the test just as they were in last season championship game. Furthermore, the loss of Russell Sheppard will give the Ducks D some breathing room.
My Prediction: Oregon 28, LSU 24
Here we go again. This season, Boise St. will once again look to make a push for not only a BCS bowl but also for a national championship. Standing in their way will be the revamped Bulldogs of Georgia.
When it comes to the Broncos, they will be led for the final time by Heisman candidate Kellen Moore (pictured) who will be entering his final season at Boise St. This year, however, Moore will have to lead the Broncos without his go-to receivers in Titus Young and Austin Pettis, who are now in the NFL.
Moore will have Doug Martin at running back again, however, who should be a huge help to Moore as he waits for the receivers to come along.
Where Georgia is concerned, Aaron Murray will look to improve upon last season’s stats in the hopes of getting the Bulldogs back to a BCS bowl. This will be difficult, however, as Murray will also be without his leading receiver from a season ago with the departure of A.J. Green, meaning that Murray will also have to wait for a leading receiver to emerge while freshmen Isaiah Crowell will have to shoulder a big part of the early season load.
Both defenses have top-notch lines though they are different in style. For the Broncos, they return four starters on the line that combined for 25.5 sacks with the addition of Tyrone Crawford. This year the line looks to be no different with stars such as Billy Winn and Shea McClellin.
For Georgia, it all starts with junior college recruit John Jenkins and DE DeAngelo Tyson and ends with its stellar secondary that returns three starters.
Call me crazy but I see the Broncos emerging from this “neutral” site game victorious. While the strength of the Bulldogs defense cannot be overlooked, neither can the departure of WR A.J Green. And while, as mentioned, both starting receivers from a year ago for Boise are now gone as well, look for Kellen Moore to be the deciding factor in this game.
My Prediction: Boise State 24, Georgia 21