Week 2 Picks

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It wasn’t the greatest start to the 2014 season for the old picks column. I went 2-5 in week 1 against the spread. The good news is that the only straight-up pick I would have missed was Texas A&M over South Carolina, which went the opposite of how everyone but Kevin Sumlin thought it would.

This week’s games have a distinct West Coast flavor as the Pac-12 hosts the two best week two match-ups.

Pittsburgh (1-0) at Boston College (1-0)- Friday 7 p.m. ET on ESPN: This won’t be a particularly compelling match-up in my opinion, but apparently Vegas knows something I don’t. Pitt is just a 4.5-point favorite over BC.

The two teams ran the ball a combined 117 times in their openers, with Pitt racking up 409 yards rushing to BC’s 338.

Prediction: The coastal is wide open, but I think Pitt could be a surprise team in the ACC. Tyler Murphy played well last week for BC, but I like Pitt 28-14.

No. 14 USC (1-0) at No. 13 Stanford (1-0) – Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC: Both teams cruised in their openers last weekend. Head coaches David Shaw (Stanford) and Steve Sarkisian (USC) claim they’ve buried the hatchet after a tiff following last year when Sarkisian was Washington’s head coach and he claimed Stanford was faking injuries in an effort to curb the Huskies’ hurry-up offense.

AP Photo

Against Fresno State the Trojans put up 701 yards of total offense in week one. Redshirt junior Cody Kessler tossed four touchdown passes, and 10 different players caught a pass in the game.

Stanford meanwhile posted a shutout against UC Davis, allowing just 115 total yards. Quarterback Kevin Hogan completed 75 percent of his pass attempts, with three touchdowns and one interception. The Cardinal are still looking for a featured tailback as nine different running backs carried the ball in the first game.

The best match-up in this game will be in the trenches, as Stanford’s offensive line looks to try and hold USC defensive end Leonard Williams at bay. Last week Williams had seven tackles and an interception.

Prediction: Being at home has given Stanford just a 2.5-point advantage according to Vegas. I think Stanford gets revenge on USC for last year’s upset thanks to their offensive line. USC did give up an average of 4.8 yards per rush last week. I think Stanford’s physicality is the difference in this game and they win 24-13.

No. 7 Michigan State (1-0) at No. 3 Oregon (1-0)- Saturday 6:30 p.m. ET on FOX: This is obviously the creme of the crop for week two’s slate of games.

It could turn out to be an elimination game for these two playoff contenders, and if you read by my playoff picks, then you know I think that Michigan State can win this one.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Autzen Stadium is an incredible atmosphere, and that’s why Vegas has the Ducks as a 12.5-point favorite. Both teams cruised in their openers over lesser competition.

Even if it was against Jacksonville State, Connor Cook showed in week one that the Spartans have more firepower on offense than last year’s unit that often failed to provide any sort of a spark. The junior QB completed 12 of 13 pass attempts for 285 yards and three touchdowns.

Marcus Mariota was equally impressive, throwing for three touchdowns and running for another. The Ducks racked up 673 yards of total offense, and averaged 7.7 yards per rushing attempt.

Prediction: I think Michigan State’s defense is the difference here. Oregon traditionally struggles with physical defenses like the Spartans, and despite the fact that Mariota is the best passer the Ducks have had, I think Michigan State wins 28-24.

East Carolina (1-0) at No. 21 South Carolina (0-1)- Saturday 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU: No rest for the Gamecocks as they lick their wounds from the Texas A&M thrashing.

ECU put up 52 points last week and South Carolina obviously has some issues on defense. The injury to Mike Davis’ ribs is another obstacle for Steve Spurrier to work around after a deflating loss.

Prediction: This pick is 100% influenced by years of listening to @MikeMcCall talk about the Purple Pirates and Bojangles being some of the South’s true treasures. South Carolina is favored by 16. I don’t think ECU actually wins this game, but they cover. I’m going South Carolina 42, ECU 31.

Michigan (1-0) at No. 16 Notre Dame (1-0)- Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC: Other than potential bowl games, this could be the last meeting between the two rivals for quite some time. The Fighting Irish claim the series is ending because of its new agreement with the ACC, but then they turned around and announced a home-and-home with Ohio State for 2022 and 2023 on Thursday.

Michigan’s offense looked impressive against Appalachian State with 52 points on 560 total yards. Both App State touchdowns came in the second half.

Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson certainly doesn’t look like a guy who went a year without playing football, passing for 295 yards and two touchdowns against Rice.

Prediction: Vegas has Notre Dame as a four-point favorite. I’m inclined to go with that line, I’m just not convinced of Michigan just yet. I think Notre Dame wins the final match-up 28-17.

BYU (1-0) at Texas (1-0)- Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1: Sometimes you have to break something down to bring it back down.

Photo courtesy of BYU

Charlie Strong is burning it to the ground in Austin, Texas.

This week alone Strong has suspended (although some outlets are reporting it’s an indefinite suspension for the entire season) starting tackles Desmond Harrison and Kennedy Estelle.  Making matters worse, starting center Dominic Espinosa suffered a broken ankle against North Texas and is out for the year. Quarterback David Ash is also out this week after suffering a concussion.

Last year BYU defeated Texas 40-21, setting the gears in motion for Strong to take over at Texas. Cougars’ quarterback Taysom Hill ran wild last year, and last week he racked up 97 yards rushing with two TDs, but he did most of his damage through the air with 308 yards passing and three more TDs.

Prediction: Vegas has BYU as a one-point favorite with all the Longhorns’ turmoil. I think that Texas is still the better team in this one. I’m intrigued by Tyrone Swoopes and believe that Strong’s defensive principles will contain Hill. I think Texas wins 17-13.

Virginia Tech (1-0) at No. 8 Ohio State (1-0)- Saturday 8 p.m. ET on ESPN: Ohio State had an impressive comeback victory over a good Navy team in week one. Yes you read that right. I think Navy is a good team and there’s no shame in how Ohio State played against the midshipmen.

The Hokies rolled by William & Mary 34-9. So in summation Ohio State may have learned something about itself in week one, while Virgina Tech is still a mystery.

One of the real mysteries is just how much of a difference quarterback Michael Brewer can be. The Texas Tech transfer was 23 of 30 for 251 yards, two touchdown and an interception in his Hokie debut.

The Buckeyes also have a new QB in J.T. Barret, who went 12 of 15 for 226 yards, a TD and an interception. He also added 50 yards rushing. While Navy is impressive, Bud Foster’s defense will be a better test for the redshirt freshman.

Prediction: Ohio State is favored by 11 points at home in this one. I think the Buckeyes are better, but wouldn’t be surprised to see VT keep it close. I’m going with an Ohio State win 21-16.

My Football Final Four Picks

For the first time ever, college football will have its very own playoff this season. A 13-member selection committee will pick the top four teams in all the land to compete in semifinal games in the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl.

The two winners will advance to the National Championship game in Dallas on January 12.

Now here’s the hard part, picking those final four teams before a single down has been played. Here are my predicted top four, with a few other teams who could make the committee ponder a little harder.

1. Florida State (2013- 14-0, National Champions): There’s no question who everyone’s number one is. The defending national champions (yeah I said defending Jimbo) are the most talented team in the country, and Jameis Winston is right at the center of that talent.

AP Photo/ Phil Sears

The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner will have to establish a second target at wideout, but he returns senior Rashad Greene (76 catches, nine TDs and 1128 yards) and tight end Nick O’Leary (33 catches, seven TDs and 557 yards). FSU also returns four of five starters along the offensive line.

Defensively replacing Telvin Smith, Timmy Jernigan and Lamarcus Joyner will be no easy task, but the cupboard is far from bare for new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly. As long as Jalen Ramsey and Mario Edwards Jr. stay healthy, the Seminoles have plenty of athletes to overcome the inexperience on that side of the ball.

FSU does have a beefed-up non-conference schedule with the Cowboys Kickoff Classic against Oklahoma State on Saturday, a visit from Notre Dame on October 18 and its annual clash with Florida in Tallahassee on November 29.

The Biggest ACC games will be Clemson on September 20, but like Notre Dame and Florida the Tigers have to travel to Doak Campbell Stadium. The glaring ‘trap-game’ on the Seminoles’ schedule looks to be a Thursday night visit to Bobby Petrino and Louisville on October 30.

2. Alabama (2013- 11-2, 7-1 SEC): The Crimson Tide finished last year with two straight losses, lost eight players to the NFL, including quarterback A.J. McCarron, yet I don’t think anyone will argue that Alabama is again one of the best teams in the nation.

AP Photo/ Butch Dill

Physically Jacob Coker is an upgrade from McCarron under center, but the question that needs to be answered is if the Mobile, Ala. native is ready mentally to be Alabama’s quarterback. Coker still hasn’t been named the starter over senior Blake Sims, but all indications from Tuscaloosa are that he will.

New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has plenty of weapons for either QB to utilize. Amari Cooper (45 receptions, four TDs and 736 yards) is fully healthy, and the dynamic duo of running backs T.J. Yeldon (1279 yards rushing, 12 TDs) and Derrick Henry (394 yards rushing and three TDs) will provide plenty of power on the ground.

The secondary was Alabama’s biggest chink in the armor last year (OK that and it’s field goal coverage unit), but a year to marinate and work with DB-whispers Nick Saban and Kirby Smart should make that a much-improved unit. Alabama also has the preferred cure to any ailing secondary, a massive defensive front. Senior nose tackle Brandon Ivory weighs in at 6-foot-4, 308 pounds. Defensive ends Ed Stinson and Jeoffrey Pagan are both over 290 pounds, while sophomore A’Shawn Robinson checks in at a measly 6-foot-4 320 pounds.

An SEC West schedule is never a favorable one, but Alabama gets three very big games at home this year, Florida on September 20, Texas A&M October 18 and Auburn on November 29. The Crimson Tide will have to travel to LSU on November 8, and like every year that game could determine the division and league champion.

3. Oklahoma (2013- 11-2, Big 12 Champions): Trevor Knight- not a win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl- is the reason for all the Sooners’ preseason love. Yes the fact that Knight’s ah-hah moment happened to come against a team of Alabama’s caliber didn’t slow the hype train.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Knight’s athleticism and development has forced senior Blake Bell to switch to tight end, and given Bob Stoops and company and extra bounce in their step around Norman, Okla. The Sooners return four starters up front on offense, and nine defensive starters.

Last year Oklahoma was susceptible to the run, but if the boys up front hold their position, linebacker Eric Striker (50 tackles, 10.5 TFL and 6.5 sacks) is as good as they come in one-on-one match-ups.

The Sooners will be tested in the third week of the season as Tennessee comes to town on September 13. They then have to turn around and travel to West Virginia the following week.

Oklahoma travels to Texas Tech (November 15) and TCU (October 4), but they host Baylor on November 8 and Oklahoma State December 6. The Red-River Rivalry will take place as always in Dallas on October 11, but with Charlie Strong cleaning house in Austin it looks like the Longhorns won’t be able to catch OU by surprise like they did in last year’s 36-20 thrashing.

4. Michigan State (2013- 13-1, BIG Ten Champions): Speaking of teams who finished 2013 with momentum, the Spartans went 8-0 in the BIG Ten, defeated Ohio State 34-24 in the championship game and took down Stanford 24-20 in the Rose Bowl. All without much offensive firepower… to put it kindly.

Al Goldis/AP

Quarterback Connor Cook showed he can make plays when called upon in the wins over Ohio State and Stanford, but Michigan will rely heavily on running back Jermey Langord (1422 yards and 18 TDs) for its offensive firepower. Cook returns his top target in Tony Lippet (44 catches, two TDs and 613 yards), but Sparty will have to replace three starters along the offensive line.

Week two will go a long way towards determining if Michigan State will be one the last four standing as it travels to Eugene, Orgeon to take on the Ducks. Oregon has struggled with physical defensive fronts like Michigan State in the past, but they’ve never had as polished a passer as Marcus Mariotta before. It may just be week two, but if Oklahoma and FSU go unblemished (Even if they have one loss the SEC champ will get in), then the September 6 match-up could turn out to be an elimination game for a playoff spot.

After the trip out west Michigan State hosts its three toughest opponents the rest of the way with Nebraska (October 4), Michigan (October 25) and Ohio State (November 8) all coming to East Lansing. Michigan State misses Wisconsin in the regular season, but the two could meet in the conference title game.

Just Missed

Oregon (2013- 11-7, 7-2 Pac-12): Like I said the week two match-up is almost an elimination game for Michigan State and Oregon, so if the Ducks win they’re in great position to make the playoff. Quarterback Marcus Mariota is the best player in the country not named Jameis Winston or Todd Gurley.

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Oregon not only hosts Sparty, but they also get Stanford (November 1) and Washington (October 18) at home. Even if Oregon loses to Michigan State, if it beats Stanford, UCLA on the road (October 11) and wins the PAC-12 then the Ducks likely would be in the final four, unless the others go unbeaten.

Ohio State (2013- 12-2, 8-0 BIG Ten): Certainly without Miller the Buckeyes have a large uphill battle ahead of them in 2014, but the good news is that Ohio State still has more talent at the skill positions than the rest of the conference.  New signal caller, redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett was four-star recruit in high school despite tearing his ACL his senior season. Urban Meyer’s new athletic defensive front will get a challenge right out of the gate with a trip to Baltimore on Saturday to face Navy’s triple option. Things don’t get much easier for OSU in the non-conference schedule with visits from Virgina Tech (September 6) and Cincinnati (September 27). An offensive line with four new starters and an inexperienced quarterback are why I don’t anticipate the Buckeyes getting by Michigan State in the BIG Ten.

Auburn (2013- 12-2, SEC Champions): The Tigers schedule are the reason I went with Alabama in the SEC. Auburn travels to Kansas State (September 18), Georgia (November 15) and Alabama this season, while hosting LSU (October 4) and South Carolina (October 25). The Tigers will have one thing in 2014 that has been sparse in recent seasons at Jordan-Hare- continuity. Nick Marshall is the first returning QB Gus Malzahn has had in his nine-year college coaching tenure, and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson will be the first Auburn DC to return for a second season in three years.

Clemson (2013- 11-2, 7-1 ACC): If Clemson gets by Georgia on Saturday the Tigers have a favorable schedule. Clemson does travel to FSU, but they host Louisville (October 11), N.C. State (October 4) and South Carolina (November 29). It will be tough with a new quarterback, but if Dabo Swinney can defeat UGA again and finally beat South Carolina, then the Tigers deserve to be in the discussion as long as their only loss is at FSU.

Football Early Signing Period underway

Shreveport Times

2014 College Football recruits are now permitted to sign with schools under a new NCAA rule that is the football version of the early signing period.

Recruits who are on track to graduate in December and enroll early are now allowed to sign a financial-aid agreement that the school will provide a scholarship to the athlete. The agreement is different from a national letter of intent that binds the player to a university. According to the AJC, this new agreement would allow the player to still sign a NLI in February  with another school if they haven’t already enrolled early at the school the player signed the financial-aid agreement with.

The player is not required to enroll early by signing the agreement either. The bonus for schools is that once a prospect signs the agreement with a school, the recruit no longer falls under the NCAA rules of limited communication. Meaning the school can have as much contact with the player as it wants.

Schools are also allowed to publicize the signing of the player, like they would once receiving a NLI. Both LSU and Ohio State did this on Thursday once the Tigers signed four-star QB Brandon Harris (pictured above) and the Buckeyes landed four-star wideout Curtis Samuel.

 

I expect more schools to jump on the early signing period in the next few weeks, but what I’m really anxious to see is what the fallout will be once a kid who has signed a financial-aid agreement decides to not enroll early and ultimately ends up at another school.

Heisman Watch

Jerry Lai- US PRESSWIRE

Game week is finally here for college football.

So to kick things off I give you my five favorites to win the Heisman Trophy this season.

5. Jadeveon Clowney DE South Carolina (Sr. 6-6/274)

Ken Ruinard/Independent Mail

Let’s face it, the Heisman is an offensive award. Yet Clowney may be the only defensive player with a fighting chance to win it. He’ll have to improve upon his 2012 sack total of 13 to do it though. He also needs South Carolina to make it to at least the SEC Championship game if hes going to be invited to New York. On top of a a heap of sacks, Clowney’s also got to get involved in the offense for at least one game. I don’t care if it’s against Coastal Carolina on November 23, but the Rock Hill, S.C. native’s got to hit paydirt at least once.

Clowney’s chances are admittedly slim, but the Gamecocks schedule sets him up to have a chance. With the exception of a trip to Athens, Ga. in week two, USC gets all of its other big match-ups in Columbia. If Clowney and the Gamecocks find a way to get into the top five, the preseason hype for the defensive end could have him in the race.

4. Tajh Boyd QB Clemson (Sr. 6-1/225)

Jake Drake/Cal Sport Media

We’re staying in the Palmetto state for the next player on my list. I think that Tajh Boyd and Clemson could be poised to have a big year. Boyd threw for 3,896 yards last season and ran for another 514. He tossed 36 touchdowns to just 13 interceptions. By all accounts his top target, Sammy Watkins, is back to full speed this season after a dip in production last year.

Boyd finished 2012 on a high note with a game-winning drive against LSU in the Chic-fil-A Bowl. Clemson’s schedule will provide Boyd with plenty of Heisman moments, including a prime-time showdown with Georgia Saturday night to start the season off with a bang. Clemson also gets Florida State in Death Valley, and if Boyd can get it done at South Carolina to end the season he will be firmly in the race (assuming the Tigers don’t Clemson a game or two against lesser opponents).

For him to have a shot at winning the Heisman, Clemson has to beat Florida State and has to beat either Georgia or South Carolina. Obviously a USC win would do more than a win over Georgia since it’s the end of the season would mean a big-time performance against another Heisman contender in Clowney. The FSU win is crucial because it will likely lock up the division title (literally, not just by hanging up a sign with an asterisk,).

3. A.J. McCarron QB Alabama (Sr. 6-4/214)

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron already has two national titles under his belt, and Alabama looks loaded to make a run a three-peat. McCarron has the dreaded rep of game-manager, but last year he threw a ridiculous 30 touchdowns to just three interceptions. In the Tide’s beat-down of Notre Dame in the title game, McCarron threw for 264 yards and four touchdowns.

He eclipsed the 300-yard passing mark just twice last year (306 against Tennessee, and a 309 in the loss to Texas A&M). Not that an Alabama QB doesn’t already have the nation’s attention, but McCarron will have a chance to throw his hat in the Heisman ring early in the year. Alabama opens up the year in the Georgia Dome against Virginia Tech, then after an off week they’ll look to avenge last year’s only loss with a visit to Texas A&M.

Unfortunately for McCarron it looks like the only way he’ll have a shot at the award is if Alabama runs the table. He’s also going to have to put up big numbers in the head-to-head match-up with Johnny Manziel at Kyle Field, as well as another win over LSU in Tuscaloosa on November 9. The biggest challenge McCarron will have is that Alabama is loaded with talent. He’ll have to convince voters he can do more than just distribute the ball to weapons like running back T.J. Yeldon and wideout Amari Cooper.

2. Johnny Manziel QB Texas A&M (RS So. 6-1/210)

Mike Stone/Reuters

There’s no one looking more forward to the start of actual football games than Johnny Manziel. After taking the college football season by storm last season, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner was at the heart of a tumultuous off-season. It all culminated in an ESPN report that Manziel was being investigated by the NCAA for accepting money in exchange for autograph signings.

As of right now it looks like Texas A&M has no plans to sit Manziel and I don’t expect him to miss any time this season. If the NCAA could prove that he did in fact accept money for his signature, then they likely would have already ruled him ineligible.

Last year Manziel was unreal on the filed, throwing for 3,706 yards and rushing for a league-high 1,410. Yes he led the SEC in rushing last year and also threw the ball 434 times. His off-season will certainly hurt his standing with voters, but if he can duplicate last year’s numbers then it will all be quickly forgotten. Manziel has to ensure he doesn’t get shut down by Alabama in week three. I’m not sure that TAMU has to win that game for him to repeat as Heisman winner, but he’s got to prove he can punch a hole in the Crimson Tide defense again.

A win against Alabama will certainly go a long way towards another Heisman for Manziel, but the game that would likely clinch a second trophy for him is on November 23 at LSU. If TAMU’s lone loss is to Alabama and Manziel performs some magic in Death Valley late in the year, then he will again find himself in New York for the Heisman Ceremony.

1. Braxton Miller QB Ohio State (Jr. 6-2/215)

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Braxton Miller led Ohio State to an undefeated season last year. You might not remember because the Buckeyes were on probation and thus ineligible for a bowl game or the BIG Ten title.

In his first season with Urban Meyer, Miller threw for 2,039 yards and ran another 1,271. He did throw just 15 touchdowns to six interceptions, but he ran for 13 scores as well. Miller is the Buckeye’s biggest running threat this season, especially with senior running back Carlos Hyde suspended for the first three games of the season. Miller will also have the advantage of working behind four returning starters up front.

Ohio State’s schedule is more than manageable. The Buckeyes get Wisconsin, Iowa and Penn State at home this year. On the road they won’t be tested until an October 5 trip to Northwestern (Sorry Cal), and after that not again until it heads to Michigan on November 30. The Buckeyes avoid Mighican State all together in the regular season, but could see the Spartans in the BIG Ten Championship game to end the season.

Because of Ohio State’s schedule, and the fact that I don’t expect any Big Ten defenses to be able to slow him down, Braxton Miller is my current favorite to win the 2013 Heisman Trophy.

Let me know who you’re Top 5 Heisman Favorites are. I’ll post a few other players who I think could be in the Heisman mix tomorrow.

And just to clarify, yes I do hate your team.