College Football Week 1: What To Watch For
By Steve Barnes
Wisconsin might be wasting its time studying film of LSU, the No. 14 Badgers' opponent in Baton Rouge this week.
Some of the 13th-ranked Tigers' best weapons were in high school this time last year. LSU pulled off the second-best recruiting class in February and fans in Bayou country will more than likely not have to wait long to see them. Four of the freshmen stand out and if Les Miles had thought a year ago he would pull in the top four in-state players, most would have figured he was smoking grass instead of eating it.
The top-ranked player in America last year now calls Baton Rouge home. Running back Leonard Fournette made the short commute from New Orleans to join the Tigers, although many in his hometown wished last year he had played for the Saints. Fournette not only made every All-America team out there, he also earned the James J. Corbett Award which goes to the top amateur athlete in Louisiana. That's right, the high school kid won it over every college athlete in the state. It won't take long for LSU fans to see number 7 carry the ball.
Two other top prospect will catch it. Malachi Dupre, also from New Orleans, was rated as the top high school receiver in the nation last year and will fit in quickly in the Tigers' receiving corps. But Dupre didn't even lead the state in receiving as a senior. That honor went to fellow LSU freshman Trey Quinn. Actually Quinn, a Lake Charles native, not only led the state, he set the all-time high school record for receiving with 6,566 yards in his career. And don't worry about his poise. He also threw a no-hitter in the 2008 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
There is another freshman who can throw the ball to his new targets as well. Bossier City's Brandon Harris graduated high school early so he could enroll at LSU in January and take part in spring drills. In the spring game, he threw for 195 yards and three touchdowns while running for 77 yards and another score. Before his freshman classmates even got to campus, Harris had been elevated to second on the quarterbacking depth chart.
Look for each of these guys to get playing time this week.
Someone Fire The Schedule Maker:
The weekend's most-anticipated game might be No. 14 Clemson traveling to Georgia, ranked 12th in Athens.
This is not something new for the Tigers. 2014 marks the third consecutive season Clemson has opened with an SEC opponent. In 2012, Clemson beat Auburn, 26-19, in Atlanta and last year won at home against the Bulldogs, 38-35.
After the opener, Clemson gets a cupcake in South Carolina State and a week off before it travels to top-ranked Florida State. A slip-up in the opener and a loss in Tallahassee pretty much means the Tigers' chase for a national title would be over by the end of September.
Shamrocks And Leprechauns:
Technically it is a home game for Central Florida, but when the Knights host Penn State, it will not be in the Land of Disney, but the Land of St. Patrick. UCF and the Nittany Lions will open their seasons in Dublin, Ireland. The James Franklin era begins with a trip across the Atlantic Ocean, how many coaches can say they did that for their debut?
Still, I think we should look for a Central Florida victory, which kicks off at 8:30 a.m., Orlando time. The Knights, led by now-Jacksonville Jaguar Blake Bortles, went to Happy Valley and beat Penn State 34-31 a year ago. But that is not the reason I'm looking for a UCF win. The Knights are playing in Ireland and coached by a man named O'Leary.
Speaking Of O'Leary:
Heisman trophy winner, Jameis Winston's security blanket is back and look for Florida State tight end Nick O'Leary to have a breakout year. The Noles still have a great running game and wide receiver Rashad Greene is back in Tallahassee, but FSU lost Kelvin Benjamin to the NFL. That is where O'Leary will come in this year. When Winston scrambles this year, he can no longer look for the 12-foot tall Benjamin, so he will look for the next best thing, O'Leary.
We saw a glimpse of it last season in Winston's signature moment. The quarterback was all but sacked in a game against Maryland, but somehow got loose, rolled to his right and fired a shot to a leaping O'Leary in the end zone for a touchdown. That was a common occurance. Of O'Leary's 33 catches in 2013, seven went for scores.
Winston might want to serve O'Leary in another capacity: chauffer. In each of the past two offseasons, O'Leary has been involved in a motorcycle accident. One was a YouTube phenomanon as the tight end went flying off his bike and into the windshield of a bus. In April, a dirt bike accident kept him from finishing spring training.
It's weird. O'Leary's grandfather is golfing great Jack Nicklaus. You'd think he could afford a mode of transportation with four wheels.
Pack Your Chinstraps, Boys:
Texas A&M is famous for its 12th man, but this week, they will be counting on the 54th man as well. When the 21st-ranked Aggies travel to meet ninth-ranked South Carolina Thursday, make sure you have a roster available. A&M head coach, Kevin Sumlin, released his depth chart to the media prior to his press conference this week, but that is exactly who it was for -- the media. It really has nothing to do with the depth chart.
"Wait to see who runs out there in Columbia," Sumlin said in his press conference. "The only reason I put out a depth chart is because JC (Senior Associate Atheltic Director for External Affairs, Jason Cook) said you guys needed one."
The Aggies will need depth this year. They play six ranked teams, four on the road, starting this week in Columbia.
Facing South Carolina in the opener is no picnic. The Gamecocks have had three straight 11-win seasons.
An Easy Prediction:
A team from Bowling Green will win Saturday. Bet the mortgage, 401k and your first born on it because it will happen for sure. Western Kentucky plays host to Bowling Green Saturday and this one is a mortal lock. Even if the Falcons lose the road game, your wager is still safe. The game is being played at WKU, which is located in Bowling Green, Ken.
Other Games To Watch:
Boise State meets Ole Miss in Atlanta Thusday. The Georgia Dome is home to the SEC Championship Game and Ole Miss is the only inaugural member of the SEC West to never have played in the game. Also, some people are saying Robert Nkemdiche is the best defender in the SEC. I'm not sure he is the best one on the Rebels' Landshark defense. Watch for safety Cody Prewitt against the Broncos. Coach Hugh Freeze said he believes Prewett's future in the NFL will be at linebacker, but the guy is a ball hawk.
Just think what might have been for Arizona Wildcats' coach, Rich Rodriguez. He is the former head coach at West Virginia and before Nick Saban took the Alabama gig, seemed like a lock to go to Tuscaloosa. Alabama happens to play West Virginia in the season opener. Rodriguez could have been the head coach in that game -- on either sideline. Watch for Rodriguez to try to hide a smile that he gets the Running Rebels instead of second-ranked Alabama or West Virginia.
Speaking of Alabama-West Virginia, the Crimson Tide should roll, pardon the pun. But should the Bama offense struggle, watch for a new phrase being uttered by Crimson Tide fans, "That damn Lane Kiffin!"
Another thing to look for in the game is the possible quarterback matchup. Should the Mountaineers play Clint Trickett and Alabama go with Jacob Coker, they will be familiar with one another. Prior to joining their present teams, both started their careers at Florida State. Each left looking for more playing time with the emergence of Jameis Winston.
No. 7 UCLA cashes in on some frequent-flyer miles and heads across the country to play Virginia. The last team to do that was Oregon. The Ducks went to Charlottesville last year and beat UVA. Then Oregon went on to win a bowl game. Could we be looking at a trend? Just watch that one and keep this in the back of your mind.
Arkansas starts the season with an SEC West game at No. 6 Auburn. Gus Malzahn says the fun at Auburn has just begun. Bret Bilema just says stuff. Watch for Auburn to win a track meet and for Arkansas fans to start every sentence with, 'well, next year..."
Poor little Ohio State has to go on the road to start the year after losing quarterback Braxton Miller to a season-ending injury. Poor little Buckeyes? They start at Navy. It should serve as either some valuable experience for new OSU starter, J.T. Barrett, or a chance for someone else to step up and fill Miller's cleats. Watch for Urban Meyer to try to run up the score even if he has to play quarterback.
Here is a cross-country game that I think is underrated: BYU travels to UConn. Neither team is ranked, but the winning team will be off to a good start and next week could be in the "also receiving votes" catagory. At the least, watch for a pretty good game.
In the "Its About Time" Bowl, Southern Miss plays at Mississippi State. USM has not played State since 1990 and last visited Ole Miss in 1983. Let's put it this way, the last time the Golden Eagles played either of its in-state SEC teams, was Brett Favre's senior year. Watch this one turn into a rivalry in the near future.