Terry’s Takes Heading Into Week 1

Thankfully, it’s time to kick off the college football season. Here are some thoughts, observations, and things to keep in mind for this weekend’s games.

First, I need to bring up a couple of off-the-gridiron issues:

  • College football needs to address the issue of scheduling. There are so many games against FCS competition this weekend that I thought it was “Cupcake Week,” which usually doesn’t happen until the end of the year.

  • This isn’t just limited to the regular season: the bowls need work, too. Sadly, week one features two rematches from last year’s postseason: Miami – Louisville and Fresno State – USC.

  • I can’t remember a time when so many teams didn’t have a starting quarterback going into the season. LSU, Fresno State, and TCU plan to play two signal callers this weekend, and Nick Saban isn’t saying who’s going to start for the Crimson Tide.

  • It’ll be interesting to see how long each of these teams decide to stick with this approach, and whether it proves the old adage, “If you have two quarterbacks, you have none.”

Enough ranting… on to the games!

  • Clemson at Georgia is the most exciting game on the docket. Sure, Tajh Boyd and Aaron Murray are gone, but Cole Stoudt (79.3 percent completion rate) and Hutson Mason (619 yards passing in two starts) have made the most of their opportunities.

  • Don’t fall into the trap of thinking ESPN’s “Georgia is 7-15 against ranked opponents over the last five years” tidbit has any bearing on the outcome of this contest. After all, this stat neglects to mention that most of these games (15) were either on the road or at a neutral site.  A more meaningful number is that the Dawgs went 2-1 ‘Tween the Hedges last year against ranked opponents, including a victory over South Carolina, which has won five straight against the Tigers.

  • Of course, if we’re going to talk history, I’d like to remind everyone that Clemson’s Orange Bowl win snapped Ohio State’s 280-game unbeaten streak when scoring 35 or more points.

  • More pertinent to this matchup, Clemson returns its entire defensive line from a tenacious front seven that produced 39 sacks last year. Why’s that important? The Dawgs are just 2-7 since 2010 when allowing four or more sacks.

  • Forget about the quarterback duel at LSU (although Les Miles did make a pretty good joke about it). The Tiger running game is the key to beating Wisconsin, which ranked ninth nationally in fewest yards per carry allowed (3.22 ypc) last season. Since 2005, the Bayou Bengals are an amazing 70-4 when toting the rock for at least four yards per attempt.

  • Keep an eye on Badger triggerman Tanner McEvoy. Sure, he played safety for the Badgers last year, but he was outstanding in his final season at Arizona Western College, completing 68.1 percent of his throws with a very respectable 24/5 TD-to-INT ratio. It’ll be interesting to see if he has a big season much like another player who converted from a defender in the secondary to the quarterback position and made the most of that transition last year: former DB-turned-current Auburn QB Nick Marshall.

  • Yes, Oklahoma State has a chance – albeit a puncher’s chance – to upset Florida State on Saturday night. In order to do so, the Cowboys must establish the run, something only that Boston College (200 yards) and Auburn (232) managed to do a year ago. Considering that the ‘Pokes ran for 457 yards on 79 carries against SEC opponents last year, it’s not a stretch to think that they could run the ball against a physical Seminole defense.

  • However, I don’t see an OSU upset happening. Florida State returns 14 starters from last year’s national championship squad that beat its opponents by an average of 39.5 points per game.

  • But, that doesn’t mean that ‘Noles can’t get the job done in a close game. As I pointed out in our Heisman Roundtable, Jameis Winston is actually at his best with the game on the line, completing 71 percent of his passes with a 14/3 TD-to-INT ration when the game is within seven points either way.

  • At the risk of sounding like Lou Holtz – who often lamented that Navy scared him to death even though it hadn’t beaten Notre Dame since 1963 – don’t be surprised if the Middies give Ohio State a game this weekend. While it’s difficult enough to simulate the triple option attack in practice, it’s an absolute nightmare to prepare for a quarterback like Keenan Reynolds, who rushed for 1,346 yards last year while averaging 15.5 yards per completion.

  • Also worth noting: the 2009 Buckeye team that won the Rose Bowl only beat Navy 31-27.

  • On the other hand, Urban Meyer is 12-0 in season openers. In his first game as a head coach, he led a Bowling Green team that went 3-9 the year before to a road victory over Missouri.

  • Unless Nick Saban has already made up his mind about it, Saturday’s West Virginia – Alabama contest won’t help to determine who the starting quarterback is. Remember, the Crimson Tide ranked eighth nationally in yards per carry (5.8), making it one of the top rushing attacks in the country. That’s not exactly welcomed news for a Mountaineer defense that gave up over five yards per attempt on the road last year.

  • Is there a more difficult game to predict than Thursday night’s Texas A&M – South Carolina battle? After all, both teams have to replace a legend at quarterback, and each of them struggled to stop the run at times last year.

  • With all of the new faces on both squads, there’s only one number I can pull from. The Aggies have never won an SEC opener, while the Gamecocks are 9-0 under Spurrier in season openers, including a 2-0 mark in league play.

  • Be sure to circle Wake Forest – Louisiana-Monroe on Thursday night as a potential non-power five versus power-five upset. The Warhawks won in Winston-Salem last year and return nine starters on defense from a unit that limited the Deacons to just 15 yards on the ground.

  • On the other hand, traditional giant killer Boise State has absolutely no chance to upset Ole Miss. Breaking in five new starters against one of the deepest defensive lines in college football isn’t a recipe for success.

  • Is Rutgers ready for the Big Ten? We’ll find out Thursday night when the Scarlet Knights play Washington State. It’ll be interesting to see how Ralph Friedgen’s offense has enough firepower to keep up with Connor Halladay and the Cougars’ aerial attack (368 ypg).

  • Don’t be surprised if the Rocky Mountain Showdown is played with the intensity of a playoff game. After all, if Colorado is going to return to the postseason, it needs to get as many Ws as it can in the non-conference portion of the schedule. Similarly, Colorado State needs a victory over the Buffs to boost the Mountain West’s strength of schedule so that it can earn a spot in the major bowl (reserved for the highest ranked “Gang of Five” team).

  • PSA: The quarterback duel between Sefo Liufau and Garrett Grayson will be one of the best you’ll see all year.

About Terry P. Johnson

Terry Johnson is the Associate Editor for The Student Section. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation.