NCAA Football News

Boise State Broncos vs. Mississippi Rebels: Odds, Analysis and Prediction

Boise State will continue with its motto of playing “anybody, anytime, anywhere” when it opens this season against the Rebels of Ole Miss on Thursday night at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

The Broncos are coming off their worst season in recent memory, and they're no longer the betting darlings of college football, with three straight losing seasons against the spread. But they have been double-digit underdogs just once in 13 seasons, and they won that game (2008 at Oregon).

 

Point spread: Rebels opened as 9.5-point favorites; the total was 54 at Georgia Dome, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 38.6-32.7 Broncos

 

Why the Boise State Broncos Can Cover the Spread

The Broncos are beginning the post-Coach Petersen era, but they are expected to continue on with their winning ways with new head coach and alumnus Bryan Harsin. Boise State returns 15 starters this season—six more than last year. Seven starters are back on offense, including senior QB Grant Hedrick, 1,400-yard rusher Jay Ajayi and last year's Top 2 receivers, Matt Miller and Shane Williams-Rhodes, while eight starters are back on defense, including the entire back seven.

Finally, over the last six seasons Boise State has been dogged by seven points or more four times (3-1 ATS, according to the college football database), so they clearly do not enjoy the underdog label.

 

Why the Mississippi Rebels Can Cover the Spread

The Rebs are heading into their third season under head coach Hugh Freeze, and college football programs often make great strides in the third seasons of coaching regimes. Ole Miss gets back 15 starters this year, including senior QB Bo Wallace, last year's two leading rushers and nine on defense, including last year's Top 5 tacklers.

The Rebels are 15-11 SU and 17-9 ATS under Freeze and 5-2 ATS when favored by seven points or more. If they can limit Boise State to 17-20 points, Ole Miss should begin this season with a win and a cover.

 

Smart Pick

The Broncos are trying to bounce back under a new head coach, while the Rebs are trying to take the next step under Coach Freeze. But Boise State will have few friends at the Georgia Dome, while Ole Miss should be backed by most of the crowd. The Broncos will also be dealing with the learning curve that comes with a new coach, at least for the early part of this season.

And one has to wonder if this Boise State program is on the same level as the one that rose to national prominence under Coach Petersen. So the pick for this season opener is to give the points with the Rebs. The computer, which admittedly isn’t always too super early in the season, is calling the outright upset.

 

Trends:

  • Boise State 3-1 ATS past four games as dogs of 7+ points
  • Mississippi trends UNDER in September games (seven of past nine)

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered first-hand unless otherwise noted—check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates and get the free odds tracker app.

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Wisconsin vs. LSU: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Both No. 14 Wisconsin and No. 13 LSU enter Saturday in Texas with a strong track record in season openers, with playoff aspirations and conference bragging rights on the line.

LSU has won 45 nonconference games in a row in the regular season and 11 straight openers, but this time, Les Miles' team has to answer questions under center and hope that an ultrahyped freshman can effectively take on the Badgers' defensive front right away.

Not to be outdone, Wisconsin has a 43-3 nonconference record in that same span and has won 16 straight openers. But yes, Gary Andersen in his second year is throwing a former safety under center to see what happens.

Something has to give. Before one of Saturday's marquee showdowns, here is a look at the important details.

 

When: Saturday, August 30, 9 p.m. ET

Where: Reliant Stadium, Houston, Texas

Television: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 50
  • Spread: LSU (-6.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

The Biggest Question Marks

For both teams, this classification directly applies to under center.

Despite the presence of junior Joel Stave, who completed 61.9 percent of his passes last season for 2,494 yards and 22 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, the Badgers coaching staff has decided to switch gears and roll with Tanner McEvoy in the opener.

According to Tom Oates of Madison.com, the decision likely came down to the former safety's ability to run with the football:

It probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise, though. Andersen has spoken often of his preference for a dual-threat quarterback and Stave is purely a pocket passer while McEvoy can both run and throw.

It’s likely the decision is based in large part on McEvoy’s ability to run. Andersen has talked throughout the offseason about having more big-play threats on offense and having a quarterback who can run the option and scramble adds to the arsenal.

The decision is not so simple for Miles.

Clearly, as he has announced, the team will go with a two-quarterback approach for the time being. Fans will remember sophomore Anthony Jennings for his 99-yard, game-winning drive against Arkansas last year after Zach Mettenberger succumbed to injury, but Brandon Harris is a wildly similar player who simply needed to learn the playbook.

Miles has kept the job up in the air so much that he has prevented either signal-caller from meeting with the media so as to not become a vocal leader.

It doesn't seem like a strategy to keep the Badgers on their toes, either; Miles, more than anyone else, understands that the preparation for both players is nearly identical. Chalk it up as just another wrinkle in one of the year's most intriguing matchups.

 

Traditional Rules

Fans of more traditional, gritty football won and lost at the line of scrimmage will get a nice ode to the days when that sort of thing was the only football around when these two clash.

Fans know about Wisconsin. The program churns out top-flight offensive linemen better than anywhere else, and with it comes some gaudy statistics from any and all backs who line up behind them.

Heisman contender Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement give the Badgers perhaps the most potent rushing attack of all this season, as last year's numbers help to foreshadow:

Considering the Badgers ran wild (293 yards) on an SEC defense in the Capital One Bowl some months ago against South Carolina and Jadeveon Clowney, one is safe to presume the attack can do so once again Saturday. As an added caveat, the team now has a dual-threat quarterback in the mix.

That does not mean the Tigers cannot counter, though.

Miles has two ground-efficient quarterbacks at his disposal, and after a mountain of hype thanks to 7,619 rushing yards and 88 touchdowns in high school, Leonard Fournette is set to take the collegiate world by storm. His bid to do just that comes against a solid Badgers 3-4 scheme.

Fournette is so talented, in fact, that he even has Gordon's attention, as captured by Jesse Temple of Fox Sports Wisconsin

He's getting a lot of hype, man. I can only imagine the pressure. It seems like he's a hard worker. When you're getting praise from your head coach, saying all these great things about you, you have to be doing something right. We'll see how good of a player he is. I'm sure he'll put up a performance. But I hope not too well against us.

Normally, a reliance on such a young player on a huge stage would be a detriment, but running back is one of those rare positions that typically provides a seamless transition to any level if the talent in front of him is of quality, which it is in Baton Rouge.

Again, something has to give.

 

Prediction

The only real crack in the armor for either side in this match comes in the form of Wisconsin's critical replacements.

Andersen has made quite the interesting call under center, and while it is one that could very well make him look like a genius in hindsight, right now, it is hard to get behind the idea of a player with no career attempts to his name.

Add in the fact defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's 3-4 scheme is getting an overhaul at literally every spot on the front seven, and Saturday seems a bad time to test things out.

When all else fails, because picking out an advantage for either side seems impossible, the safest bet is to go with the most talent overall. That happens to be LSU at the moment, but Wisconsin won't go down without a fight.

 

Prediction: LSU 24, Wisconsin 20

 

Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Clemson vs. Georgia: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

One of college football's fading rivalries gets renewed Saturday when No. 12 Georgia hosts No. 16 Clemson in a showdown that will surely have major playoff implications down the line.

For the hosts, it is yet another early-season roll of the dice against a major opponent rather than the conventional easy-does-it approach to the early weeks of the season most programs employ.

Both teams have sights on major things down the line, but Saturday's contest will force units in transition to sort things out in a hurry or suffer a devastating loss on a national stage.

With so much on the line between two old foes, let's take a moment to break down the key aspects of the battle.

 

When: Saturday, August 30, 5:30 p.m. ET

Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Georgia

Television: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 54.5
  • Spread: Georgia (-9.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Picking Up the Pieces

First and foremost, don't expect a boatload of scoring between the two sides this time, as both are breaking in new quarterbacks.

In the wake of record-breaking quarterback Aaron Murray's departure to the NFL, the Bulldogs now turn to senior Hutson Mason, who had never attempted more than 30 passes in a season until last year when he threw 110, completing 60.9 percent of them for 968 yards and five touchdowns to three picks.

He will be helped along by surefire Heisman contender Todd Gurley, whose rushing totals do the talking:

Senior Cole Stoudt has boots of roughly the same size to fill for Clemson with Tajh Boyd gone, but he seems at an even bigger disadvantage than his counterpart come Saturday. He threw a career-high 59 attempts last year and completed nearly 80 percent of them, but it's too small a sample size to buy stock in at the moment.

Stoudt also has to overcome a unit that will sorely miss wideouts Sammy Watkins (1,464 yards and 12 scores last year) and Martavis Bryant (828 and seven), running back Roderick McDowell (1,025 and five) and lineman Brandon Thomas.

To his credit, Stoudt seems ready to seize the proverbial bull by the horns, as Clemson Football captures:

To make matters even worse, Georgia has a new defensive coordinator in Jeremy Pruitt, who hails from Florida State. He gets to send the nation's best group of linebackers after Stoudt and Co., led by Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera, the former the SEC's leading tackler last year. Oh, and he has five upperclassmen to work with in the trenches.

Clearly, being on the road is not the biggest worry for the Tigers. 

 

The Future

That's what it is all about Saturday. 

Playoff implications run rampant in this one, although Clemson coach Dabo Swinney points out that it is the first game of the year, per The Associated Press, via Fox News:

God forbid we go down there and lose the game. But if we do, Georgia's not in the playoffs and we're not out of it. It's a long season, it's a long way to go. And vice versa, if we win the game, let's not punch our ticket to Dallas just yet. We've got a long way to go in a long season. Every game is critical.

But the underlying implications, as USA Today's Dan Wolken explains, are massive for a rebuilding Clemson squad:

For Georgia, a bit of the past seeps into Saturday to form a potent mixture given the volatility of the SEC.

Bulldogs faithful will, with a reluctant reach into the memory banks, recall the 38-35 loss last season to kick off the year. It sent the team on its way to five total losses.

Revenge and future fortunes are quite the enticing set of motivators, so a new-look Clemson squad needs to fire on all cylinders out of the gate or risk throwing the season in jeopardy, even if Swinney has downplayed a potential loss.

 

Prediction

Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley might just be the nation's top defender this season, but he will not be able to stop Gurley and a host of others in a hostile environment.

Look at it this way. Georgia is without Murray, sure, but last year the Bulldogs still went to Clemson and gave the Tigers all they could handle despite missing Gurley for a large portion of the contest. Now things shift to Athens, and while the Bulldogs defense has improved, the Tigers have suffered numerous significant losses.

Thanks to the revenge factor, Georgia won't overlook the opposition with a date against South Carolina up next. Gurley is going to get his consistently, while Pruitt's defense will silence a developing offense.

 

Prediction: Georgia 28, Clemson 20

 

Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Arkansas vs. Auburn: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Normally, a duel to start the season between a team that played in the national championship the year prior and an opponent that won all of three games is not one to catch, but something feels different about Saturday, when the No. 6 Auburn Tigers host the Arkansas Razorbacks.

As Bret Bielema heads into his second year of a rebuild at Arkansas, so too does Gus Malzahn, albeit one has had quite a bit more success than the other.

Still, Bielema's team is clearly on an upswing, while the Tigers have hit a bit of a downward trajectory in some ways after coming up 13 seconds short against Florida State in the title game.

Below, let's take a look at some of the finer details surrounding the matchup.

 

When: Saturday, August 30, 4 p.m. ET

Where: Jordan–Hare Stadium, Auburn, AL

Television: SEC Network

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 57.5
  • Spread: Auburn (-21)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

What Arkansas Does Well…

…Might just be enough to make this competitive.

The Razorbacks won all of three games last year and were handed a 35-17 defeat by Auburn in Fayetteville last year, but progression seems to be the keyword around the program.

Brandon Allen is back under center for Arkansas a year removed from throwing for 1,552 yards and 13 touchdowns to 10 interceptions while hobbled. That experience and health will presumably pay dividends.

But the real meat of the Razorbacks' approach comes on the ground thanks to a three-headed monster consisting of Jonathan Williams, Alex Collins and Korliss Marshall. Their production last season alone speaks volumes, with Marshall set to replace Kiero Small, who is now in the NFL:

With another elite rushing attack on deck and a healthy, experienced leader under center, the Razorbacks might be able to control the pace of the game in a hostile environment, somewhere they are 3-3 at since 1994 when unranked and the Tigers ranked.

It helps that Auburn has a major black eye heading into the affair.

 

The Battle Against Complacency

Auburn has already begun to slip in a way.

Quarterback Nick Marshall's offseason run-in with the law this past summer has put things in unnecessary territory, as Malzahn will indeed start Jeremy Johnson over last year's star player as a result.

Johnson has attempted just 41 passes so far in his career and is as versatile as Marshall, but it is hard to replicate what Marshall did last season—1,976 passing yards and 14 touchdowns, with another 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.

"Jeremy Johnson will start, and then Nick Marshall will play," Malzahn said, per Joel A. Erickson of AL.com. "I'm not ready to say exactly when and all that, but he definitely will play."

It's a strange situation to monitor, as a rotation at quarterback typically has a negative impact on both participants as it breaks rhythm.

Outside of that, the Tigers are clearly the more talented team on paper, and its only true hurdle come Saturday may be a false sense of confidence. For his part, Malzahn is doing what he can to stress to his team that the same sense of urgency as last year must still be present.

"We're playing an Arkansas team we believe is going to be much improved, especially in the second year with their head coach," Malzahn said, per Erickson. "We had a good game versus them last year that was probably a little closer than the score, and our guys know we'll have to play well to be successful."

Given the bitter taste of how the title game ended last year, one can presume it won't be an issue for the Tigers. But an SEC showdown to start the season, no matter what went down last year, is a dangerous concoction indeed.

 

Prediction

Bielema is going to deserve a wealth of credit by season's end. While he may not match what Malzahn was able to do last season in the biggest one-year turnaround in SEC history, the Razorbacks are going to be a much better overall squad.

Just don't expect it all to come together right away.

Auburn is by far the more talented team on the field Saturday, hence one of the reasons Marshall might be held out most of the game to drive a point home to the entire roster. In theory, Arkansas can run the ball effectively, but the offensive guru that is Malzahn can do it even better.

Don't be shocked if the Razorbacks hang around in the first half, but eventually the talent disparity will shine through, and the Tigers will distance themselves comfortably.

 

Prediction: Auburn 38, Arkansas 14

 

Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

FSU vs. Oklahoma State: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Not that Florida State needed any advantages heading into its season opener under the bright lights in Arlington, Texas, but Jameis Winston and Co. get an opponent in Oklahoma State with little experience under its belt.

College football's cyclical nature has the Cowboys in a precarious, vulnerable position now that a wealth of talent from past years has moved on, mostly thanks to eligibility's expiration date.

The Seminoles are not without their issues, but they happen to be on the opposite end of the spectrum in that regard, which, on paper, should do much to silence one of the nation's perennial offensive powerhouses.

Below, let's take a closer look at one of the marquee matches that headlines the return of collegiate football.

 

When: Saturday, August 30, 8 p.m. ET

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Television: ABC

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 63.5
  • Spread: Florida State (-17.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

The (In)Experience Factor

If the Cowboys are to emerge victorious against the No. 1 team in the land at the Cowboys Classic, Mike Gundy, now in his 10th year as coach, will need to pull off a minor miracle.

Oklahoma State is pretty much an entirely new team this season after losing 28 seniors and 13 starters in the offseason. Names that range from the recognizable (Justin Gilbert) right on down to the criminally underrated (Calvin Barnett) are gone, which means the team is more ill-equipped than ever to handle last year's Heisman winner.

Chris Nee of 247Sports puts into perspective the holes in the ship Gundy must patch: "According to research done by Phil Steele, Oklahoma State has the lowest percentage of returning letterwinners from 2013 of any team in the country. The Cowboys have 38 returning, lost 32, for a percentage of 54.29 percent."

It means that those left behind, of which there are very few, must pick up the pieces in one of the most brutal trial-by-fire scenarios possible.

One such name is defensive tackle James Castleman, who tallied 33 tackles and a sack last season. He has already spoken about taking down Winston, too.

“Of course I’d like to sack him,” Castleman said, per Kyle Fredrickson of NewsOK.com. “He’s a Heisman winner.”

Castleman is joined in the returnee department by junior quarterback J.W. Walsh. In limited action the past two seasons, Walsh has helped keep Oklahoma State's reputation as an offensive juggernaut relatively intact:

As ESPN CollegeFootball illustrates, Walsh was solid under center last season when given the opportunity, but that pales in comparison to what the Florida State defense did:

It helps that Walsh has been around Gundy's schemes for so long, but to truly influence the outcome in a positive manner, he's going to need some serious contributions from a very green defense.

 

The Experience Factor

Major departures, such as Kelvin Benjamin and James Wilder Jr., make it seem as if the Seminoles are in a bit of a rebuild mode around a Heisman winner, but that's simply not the case—six of the offensive starters alone have 10 or more starts on their resumes, and four of the five linemen in front of Winston a year ago are back.

Karlos Williams (730 yards and 11 touchdowns last season), Dalvin Cook and Mario Pender will surely support Winston effectively through sound contributions on the ground behind that elite line.

A line Winston is not shy about, either.

"Well, our offensive line is the best offensive line in the country," he said, per Natalie Pierre of the Tallahassee Democrat. "And I repeat that Florida State's offensive line is the best offensive line in the country."

There are issues, believe it or not. No. 1 wideout Jesus Wilson is still suspended thanks to an arrest earlier this summer, and linebacker Matthew Thomas is out with an ankle injury. But those are minor problems given the recruiting classes Jimbo Fisher reels in annually and the wealth of experience back for a repeat attempt.

Winston gets the headlines, and rightfully so, but it is the depth around him that puts the Seminoles over the top.

 

Prediction

There was an outside chance when this game was scheduled that the two teams would be highly ranked and give fans a can't-miss affair. The game still falls into that category, but only because Florida State has lived up to its end of the bargain.

The Cowboys will be explosive in 2014, and history points out that they have won their past six openers and are 11-2 in the state of Texas.

But this year is a unique situation, both in opponent and talent leakage. Winston will be able to exploit Oklahoma State's defense routinely, and when he does not, three backs will bully their way up and down the field to make the Cowboys' former offensive potency a moot point.

 

Prediction: Florida State 48, Oklahoma State 20

 

Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

 

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Rice vs. Notre Dame: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

For No. 17 Notre Dame, Saturday's contest against Rice is a chance to get back on track after a summer of transition and controversy, not to mention the re-debut of quarterback Everett Golson.

After a 9-4 season and a win over Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl, things went a tad south for the Fighting Irish, but playoff aspirations remain in South Bend. Rice is simply on the hunt for its first win over the major program after a 10-win season last year.

At face value, the matchup does not seem all that precarious for the Fighting Irish. But a bevy of details suggest otherwise. Let's take a look at the pertinent info.

 

When: Saturday, August 30, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana

Television: NBC

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 51.5
  • Spread: Notre Dame (-24.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Transition and Controversy

Brian Kelly seems to be alone in his consistency as things turn sour around him.

The head of the No. 17 team in the land has a pair of new coordinators to break in beneath him, with Mike Denbrock the new face on the offensive side and Brian VanGorder on the defensive.

The former has plenty of work to do with a new quarterback, while the latter has to walk side by side with Kelly into a potential matchup nightmare without some key players. 

First, the offense. After he told Sports Illustrated that he used "poor judgement on a test," per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com, Golson missed all of last season. 

Kelly announced Golson would be back under center for the Fighting Irish effective immediately, per Dan Murphy of 247Sports:

Back in 2012, Golson completed 58.8 percent of his passes for 2,405 yards and 12 touchdowns to six interceptions. As somewhat of a dual-threat player, he also carried the ball 94 times for 298 yards and six more scores.

He returns matured and ready to lead the team, as captured by Rachel Terlep of the Elkhart Truth:

It sounds great on paper, but Golson has to mesh with a new coordinator in a hurry come Saturday—his defense might need all the help it can get.

The "controversy" portion of the equation comes from the investigation into three of VanGorder's defenders. Cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore will miss the contest, per the AP, via ESPN.com.

It's not as if the defense was a source of optimism in the first place, as so many young faces are in new roles. Even VanGorder did not sound all that cheery when asked about his unit, per the AP.

"Maybe the best answer to that is, let's keep getting better as we go through the year. We have a lot of work to do. The players know it. But let's keep improving. Let's keep working. I don't know where we are right now. The one thing I do know is there's a lot better football in front of us," he said.

That developing unit will now have to encounter Rice quarterback Driphus Jackson. He's no Taylor McHargue—the man he replaces, who surpassed 7,000 yards of total offense on his career—but the junior is a dual-threat quarterback in the utmost sense.

While he has just 85 pass attempts on his career, Jackson's ability on the ground meshes well with an offense that racked up 405.6 yards and 29.6 points per game last season while ranking No. 12 in time of possession. He has experience, too—he came on in relief of McHargue last season and led the Owls to 10 points and a win against Kansas.

Jackson has his team riding high into the matchup, clearly, per the team's Twitter account:

This isn't some pushover matchup to start the season that a big program is accustomed to on a yearly basis.

The problem is only compounded by issues Kelly's team has brought upon itself. It all comes to a head Saturday.

 

Prediction

Rice's ground attack may prove difficult for a depleted, new Notre Dame front seven to handle, but those struggles should be a non-factor if Golson is back to his 2012 form and if his body can handle its first live action in quite some time.

If that's the case, the Fighting Irish should be able to get out to a sizable lead and eliminate the ground game as an option for Jackson and Co.

Rice won 10 games a season ago and can exploit weaknesses on the ground to control games with relative ease, but in a hostile environment with a new face under center, the more talented team will eventually pull through amid the chaos.

 

Prediction: Notre Dame 35, Rice 20

 

Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

 

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WVU vs. Alabama: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide start the redemption march in a matchup that had the look of a heavyweight bout when booked two years ago.

West Virginia is the guilty party for spoiling what should have been a season-opening classic at a neutral site in Georgia, having lost 14 games since agreeing to the matchup. Saban's squad has some recent history to overcome as well thanks to two losses to end last season, one being a lopsided result in the Sugar Bowl.

While surely not as great a contest as what could have been, this one still comes equipped with off-field drama, quarterback questions and serious implications on the rest of the season, not to mention the direction of each program.

Without further ado, let's take a look at all of the critical info.

 

When: Saturday, August 30, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia

Television: ABC, ESP2

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 55.5
  • Spread: Alabama (-25)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Quarterback Controversy

This one has layers to it but only thanks to Clint Trickett's big mouth.

Trickett, now a senior, let slip a slight detail in the days leading up to the contest that might incite the wrath of Saban's defense in a big way, as captured by Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

As if Trickett's job was not difficult enough before the game, the impact of that quote makes the matchup more interesting, to say the least.

That's not to suggest Trickett cannot handle the Alabama defense, but he will have to show a strong semblance of improvement from last season, his first with a large chunk of playing time. He threw for 1,605 yards and seven touchdowns and interceptions while completing just 52.8 percent of his passes.

Luckily for him, though, he won't be the only signal-caller under the spotlight Saturday.

Blake Sims and Jacob Coker still have no clue as to who the starter is as Saban continues to clutch the cards close to his chest, as Jim Dunaway of WIAT 42 Birmingham details:

Sims, now a fifth-year senior, has the edge in the experience department, although he has attempted just 39 career passes. Coker was the subject of much hype after his arrival via transfer from Florida State, where the quarterback position remains on lockdown.

Either option is a good choice given the wealth of talent that will surround the signal-callers. T.J. Yeldon is back in the fold in the backfield and is on the hunt for his third consecutive season with a minimum of 1,100 rushing yards and 12 scores. A bevy of targets through the air make the Crimson Tide one of the nation's deepest units.

Still, the game Saban continues to play is a risky one, as such a decision can certainly fragment a locker room in a hurry if not handled properly.

 

The West Virginia Mystery

In comparison to their opposition Saturday, the Mountaineers are basically an unknown.

So, here are two facts to know before things get underway in what may be a closer game than some anticipate: West Virginia runs a rather strange defense, and the offense is surely capable of being quite potent.

First, the defense. West Virginia employs a 3-3-5 stack look, which is as strange as it sounds. The scheme is clearly a bit narrow-minded in that it is meant to get extra defensive backs on the field to counter spread attacks.

Alabama wideout Amari Cooper notes that the look is giving his unit some pause, as captured by Michael Casagrande of AL.com: "They play a pretty weird defense to me. I've never went up against that type of defense. They play an odd defense with three-down linemen and two guys have to come for a receiver to be hot. So it's something we are going to work all this week, and we will get used to it."

It's a strange look that will give some inexperienced quarterbacks issues, but yes, it does seem ripe to be exploited by backs such as Yeldon.

Offensively, the Mountaineers remain one of the more explosive attacks in the country thanks to the scheme, so do not place too much stock into the loss of a back such as Charles Sims to the NFL.

Saban himself heaped praise on the unit, per Myfoxal.com:

We think this is going to be a very challenging game for us. We certainly have a lot of respect for what [West Virginia] has been able to do. They scored a lot of points last year in games that they weren't successful in winning, but they certainly were successful in being able to move the ball and score points on people.

The odds of the Mountaineers scoring on a few big plays is great, even with a somewhat new face under center and his offense being tasked with overcoming a unit that might just be the nation's best.

 

Prediction

At the end of the day, it all comes down to talent on the field.

Saturday Down South's Christopher Walsh summed up the talent disparity best:

So yes, both teams are breaking in new quarterbacks under center. Both have obvious strengths and weaknesses, but on the same field, the Crimson Tide simply trump this matchup with relative ease.

Alabama can ride the ground game to a victory Saturday, especially against a scheme that seems conducive to giving up a lot of yardage in that manner. Sometimes a plan goes awry, and that appears to be the case with this one that many thought would be a great game just a few seasons ago.

 

Prediction: Alabama 30, West Virginia 14

 

Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Power Ranking Top 5 Home-Field Advantages in Pac-12 Football

The trainers, coaching staffs and players that make up each program in the Pac-12 undoubtedly have the biggest impact on wins and losses. But part of what makes college football so special is the pageantry and atmosphere surrounding stadiums throughout the country every Saturday.

That atmosphere, aside from creating buzz and excitement, can often provide a very real advantage for the home team. That comes from deafening noise which makes it difficult for offenses to communicate and momentum that you can practically feel swirling around the stadium and washing over the home team.

But stadiums aren't simply built with an advantage in place. It's the crowd that creates the edge, and players feed off of it.

So which programs have the best home-field advantages in the Pac-12? Here's our top five.

 

All stats via cfbstats.com. We're looking at home-field advantages as they stand today in 2014. A list taking into account the entirety of a team's history would look much different.

Just missed: Washington State-Martin Stadium, Arizona-Arizona Stadium

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Wisconsin Badgers vs. LSU Tigers Complete Game Preview

Capping off a terrific opening-day slate, the Wisconsin Badgers take on the LSU Tigers in Houston, Texas, at NRG Stadium.  Both teams have a lot of turnover on both sides of the ball and question marks at the quarterback position.

These schools faced off twice in the 1970s, with LSU taking both games—though they haven't met since 1972 when the Tigers won 27-7 in Baton Rouge.

In light of the new College Football Playoff, high-caliber nonconference games will be played more frequently in the opening weeks of the season.  This game is no exception, and neutral-and-neutral series will become a bigger piece of the early-season schedule with television contracts being what they are.

When the two teams face off at 9 p.m. ET, all eyes will be watching (except for those watching Florida State and Oklahoma State) as both teams look to get a leg up on their playoff bid and maybe even a spot in the Top 10.

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Georgia Football: 5 Stars Who Will Break out in 2014

When the Georgia Bulldogs take on Clemson, there will be some players who stand out from the rest. Some of those players will be veterans that are expected to excel, and the others will be young players who were stars on Friday nights not too long ago.

But there are the players who have seen their time on the field but have yet to break out. Well, for five Bulldog players, that will change this year, and it starts with a strong debut on Saturday between the hedges.

So here’s a look at the five players that will break out in 2014.

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Texas Football: 5 Stars Who Will Break out in 2014

Fall camp is just about in the books, and the season starts Saturday for the Texas Longhorns, who are counting on big breakouts from their offseason stars.

With David Ash back at quarterback and both running backs healthy, all three are set to have their biggest seasons yet. On the other side of the ball, defensive end Cedric Reed and cornerback Quandre Diggs should thrive under the new system.

These players have done it before at this level, so calling them breakout candidates just undersells what they have done in the past. They have proven they are stars.

What the Horns need is some members of their supporting cast to come out and prove themselves as well. Based on opportunity and talent, these five Longhorns are the favorites to do just that.

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Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Auburn Tigers Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

The Auburn Tigers could not have played much better than they did during last year’s surprisingly good regular-season run, going 12-1 straight up and 11-2 against the spread.

Meanwhile, the Arkansas Razorbacks could not have played much worse in 2013 with a 3-9 record straight up—including a nine-game losing streak to close out the season—and a 4-8 mark against the spread. Auburn has been awesome within the SEC, while Arkansas has been awful.

 

Point spread: Tigers opened as 21-point favorites; the total was 57.5 at Jordan-Hare Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 40.4-17.4 Tigers

 

Why the Arkansas Razorbacks can cover the spread

The Razorbacks probably wish they did not have to open 2014 against the Tigers after losing to them at home 35-17 last year in Week 10. Arkansas went 0-8 SU in SEC play and 3-5 ATS, covering two of the last three on the road at LSU and Ole Miss.

This team is just 3-12 ATS in its past 15 road games overall but has fared well vs the line at Jordan-Hare Stadium, going 5-2 ATS in the last seven trips there. None of the last three meetings between the teams have been decided by more than 20 points, so maybe Arkansas can keep it within the big number of three touchdowns.

 

Why the Auburn Tigers can cover the spread

Auburn may seem to have a bit of a disadvantage to start the game, as quarterback Nick Marshall was suspended for a violation of team rules. But while Jeremy Johnson will get the starting nod ahead of him, Marshall is still expected to play and will likely put up big numbers when he does get into the game in an effort to boost his early Heisman Trophy campaign.

In the last meeting, Marshall completed seven of eight passes for 118 yards and one touchdown and added nine rushes for 59 yards on the ground. Former running back Tre Mason was the star of the game with 168 yards rushing and four touchdowns.

 

Smart Pick

The Razorbacks will not need to deal with the NFL-bound Mason here, which means he will obviously not get the opportunity to chew up the clock. Instead, expect them to test Auburn’s defense, a similar one to the unit that got burned late by Florida State in last year’s 34-31 BCS National Championship Game loss.

While Arkansas’ offense will never be confused for the Seminoles, the team has a fresh slate in 2014, and the Tigers definitely overachieved in making it as far as they did last year. Look for the Razorbacks to do just enough to hang in this one and grab the cover, giving their fans some hope for the new season.

 

Trends:

  • Auburn 8-0 ATS past eight conference games
  • Arkansas 0-12 SU, 3-9 ATS past dozen games within SEC

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates and get the free odds tracker app.

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Texas A&M Aggies vs. South Carolina Gamecocks Betting Odds: Analysis, Prediction

The Texas A&M Aggies finished 2013 by dropping four games in a row against the spread, while the South Carolina Gamecocks were 5-1 against the line during their six-game winning streak to close out last season.

The Gamecocks have also seen the under go 4-0 in their last four SEC games. However, each team has undergone some major changes from a personnel perspective heading into their 2014 season opener on Thursday that could definitely impact whether or not those betting trends continue in the same direction.

 

Point spread: Gamecocks opened as 13-point favorites; the total was 58 at Williams-Brice Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 43.0-41.4 Gamecocks

 

Why the Texas A&M Aggies can cover the spread

The Aggies will be facing a team with a new starting QB in South Carolina senior Dylan Thompson. While Thompson is 3-0 as a starter, he still gave way to Connor Shaw for a majority of his career. The Gamecocks could struggle to cover a double-digit spread at home against Texas A&M to open the season, even with Johnny Manziel no longer on the Aggies' roster.

The Gamecocks are also not that familiar with the Aggies, who joined the conference two seasons ago, so this game could be much closer than expected, allowing Texas A&M to cover the number.

 

Why the South Carolina Gamecocks can cover the spread

Texas A&M will need some time adjusting to life without quarterback Manziel, who left after two years for the greener pastures of the NFL. Losing Manziel will be tougher for the Aggies to deal with than the Gamecocks losing defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. Texas A&M will see sophomore Kenny Hill make his first career start after completing 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown in four relief appearances for Johnny Football last year.

South Carolina has won 16 straight home games SU, but can they cash a ticket ATS?

 

Smart Pick

How well each of these squads adjusts to playing without former stars Manziel and Clowney will likely dictate the tempo of the game. While both sides have outstanding offensive minds on their respective sidelines in Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin and South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, it’s too hard to overlook the inexperience at QB and how that will limit them on the scoreboard.

Expect the Gamecocks to make a strong defensive statement out of the gates, win their 19th straight home game and extend their under streak on Thursday nights to 7-1-1.

 

Gamecocks vs Aggies Trends:

Aggies were 0-4 ATS on the road last season

South Carolina won 18 straight home games since Oct. 2011

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates and get the free odds tracker app.

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College Football Rankings 2014: Projecting Week 2's Top 25 Teams

The Top 25s that you've come to know over the last 10 days will not exist by the end of this weekend.

The Associated Press' preseason poll came out on Aug. 17, a few weeks after the coaches' poll from Amway was unveiled. Such early rankings are often flawed because they're based on past performances and expected results. It's not until games have been played that we can start to get a sense of how good—or bad—certain teams are, and future polls will reflect those observations.

The AP and Amway will release their first regular-season polls shortly after Week 1's action ends on Monday night. But we can't wait that long to see the next rankings, so we're putting together our own projected poll now.

Using the initial poll as a guide, and taking into account expected results from this weekend's action (you can find our predictions for every Week 1 game here), we have projected what the rankings will look like for Week 2. Consideration will be given to the margin of victory and strength of opponents, things that can affect how the AP's 60 voters and Amway's 63 pollsters go about ranking their Top 25.

Here's what we are projecting the future Top 25 to be: 

 

Teams on the Rise

Florida: The Gators received the second-most votes of any team that didn't begin the year in the Top 25, and more voters will come on board after seeing what Kurt Roper is able to do with quarterback Jeff Driskel. Sure, it will be against Idaho, but if the offense looks crisp and efficient, Florida will start making an early push to be this year's comeback kid. 

Georgia: The Bulldogs will move into the top 10 after taking down Clemson in a nip-and-tuck game that shows how well quarterback Hutson Mason has a grasp on the offense. Georgia's defense will give up a lot of yards, but it will also make some big plays and swarm with an intensity not seen from last year's porous unit.

LSU: While the Tigers will win the war over Wisconsin in Houston, the most notable thing to come out of their victory will be the first salvos in Leonard Fournette's battle to vie for the Heisman as a true freshman. The expectations for greatness have been there for a while, writes ESPN.com's David Ching:

"Nobody seems to doubt that Fournette will become a star at LSU. The only question is how quickly he will join the likes of Marshall Faulk, Warrick Dunn, Kevin Faulk, Matt Forte and Joe McKnight among the best backs to emerge from the talent-rich state of Louisiana."

Though he'll share carries with Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee, it will be Fournette's touches that prove most memorable.

Ole Miss: A hard-fought win over Boise State on Thursday night in Atlanta, combined with losses above them, will help the Rebels climb into the top 15.

Navy: The opening week's biggest upset will come in Baltimore and by the hands of the Midshipmen, who will knock off Ohio State. Junior quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who ran for 31 touchdowns last season, will score at least twice in taking down the Buckeyes.

 

Teams Falling

Clemson: The Tigers' inexperienced offense does well, but not well enough to keep up with Georgia in Athens. Senior quarterback Cole Stoudt looks good and will get better as the season goes on, though Clemson's defense fails to make the impact it needed to in order to come out on top.

Ohio State: It won't be the absence of Braxton Miller that hurts as much as the Buckeyes' inability to contain the option run game of Navy. OSU's vaunted defensive line can't get push up the middle, and Navy's Reynolds will be able to run at will, dropping the Buckeyes 10 or 11 spots. Only because some voters may give OSU credit for the loss being almost like a road game will keep it from falling further.

Texas A&M: The first game of the post-Johnny Manziel era won't be as horrible as some might predict, but the Aggies also won't look like a team that deserves to be ranked. A convincing Thursday night loss at South Carolina will knock A&M out of the Top 25 for the first time since Sept. 2012.

Washington: The Huskies will come up short in Chris Petersen's coaching debut, losing a shootout to Hawaii late Saturday night. Washington will start 0-1 for the first time since 2010.

Wisconsin: The Badgers' losing streak will extend to three games dating back to last November after losing a close one to LSU in Houston. Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon will gain 100-plus yards, but he will need far more carries than he usually would to get there.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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The Mount Rushmore of College Football Head Coaches

Immortalizing coaches and/or players by carving their likeness into metaphorical rock may be a common theme in the offseason, but what's one more Mount Rushmore before the 2014 season gets underway?

Bleacher Report selected four coaches to be on its Mount Rushmore: Bobby Bowden, Paul "Bear" Bryant, Tom Osborne and "Pop" Warner. 

What makes the following four coaches worthy of such a distinction? Primarily, they're among the winningest coaches in college football history. Beyond those wins, their contributions to the game in various forms make them icons of the sport. 

Paul "Bear" Bryant

Picking four of the great coaches in college football can be tough, but this seems as close to a no-brainer as they come. 

In 38 years as a head coach, 25 at Alabama, Bryant won 323 games and six national championships. Along the way, he cemented the Crimson Tide as one of the premier programs in college football.

Beyond the wins, though, Bryant was iconic and remains the standard to which all Tide coaches, including current coach Nick Saban, are held. From the houndstooth hat, which has morphed into its own art and inspired an awesome sports bar in Tuscaloosa, to his memorable quotes, Bryant was revered by Alabama.

"I left Texas A&M because my school called me," Bryant famously said about his return to Alabama. "Mama called, and when Mama calls, then you just have to come running."

Being depicted in multiple movies and television commercials doesn't hurt his legacy, either. 

"He was simply the best there ever was," former Nebraska coach Bob Devaney said in an interview with Mike Puma of ESPN.com

 

Tom Osborne

It's an amazing fact to this day, but it took Osborne 22 years and 206 of his 255 wins before he won his first national championship in 1994-95 with Nebraska.

But by the time he retired after the '97 season, Osborne had three national championships to his name and had the Huskers in dynasty mode. For context, Chase Goodbread of NFL.com recently ranked the '95 Nebraska team as the best of all time (ESPN ranked them as the third-best team ever). 

Osborne was a part of memorable games as a head coach on both the winning and losing ends. Perhaps Osborne's most memorable moment, unfortunately for Nebraska, was his failed two-point conversion against Miami in the 1984 Orange Bowl. 

Win or lose, Osborne is remembered for remarkable consistency with which he coached. In 25 years, Osborne never lost more than three games in a season. Of course, the recruiting landscape has shifted significantly since Osborne coached at Nebraska. Today, the Huskers rely heavily on out-of-state recruiting, which can make it difficult to compete at a national championship level. 

As an athletic director, Osborne oversaw Nebraska's transition to the Big Ten and was selected to be on the first 13-member College Football Playoff selection committee. The respect he's garnered from around college football is unlike any other coach. 

 

Bobby Bowden

Few coaches in college football had a longer tenure of maintained success than Florida State coach Bobby Bowden. Following the NCAA's decision to vacate wins under former Penn State coach Joe Paterno, Bowden became the all-time winningest coach in major college football. 

Bowden got his coaching feet wet during six years with West Virginia (1970-75) but made his coaching mark on college football with the Seminoles. It was only appropriate, then, that Bowden's last game came in the 2010 Gator Bowl in a win over the Mountaineers. 

In 34 years with Florida State, Bowden guided the program to a pair of national championships (1993, '99) and an unprecedented 14 straight finishes in the Top Five in the Associated Press poll. According to ESPN's Mark Schlabach, Bowden coached two Heisman winners—Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke—26 consensus All-Americans and more than 150 NFL draftees. 

But perhaps Bowden's greatest accomplishment was putting Florida State on the map as an athletic powerhouse.

The popularity of Bowden's football program helped Florida State grow into one of the country's largest public universities. From 1909 to 1947, FSU was known as the Florida State College for Women until it returned to coed status. FSU didn't field its first football team until 1947 -- more than four decades after the University of Florida fielded its first team -- and didn't award athletic scholarships until 1951.

Does Bowden deserve a spot on this Mount Rushmore? You're daggum right. 

 

Pop Warner

Pop Warner's 336 all-time wins tell only a fraction of the story. Yes, he won national championships. Yes, he coached at historical powerhouse Pitt. But Warner's greatest accomplishments come in the form of a question: Is there anything Warner didn't have a hand in when it comes to the game of college football?

Of all the coaches on this list, no other one played as instrumental role in the development of the game of football like Warner did. 

The screen pass, the single- and double-wing formations, the three-point stance, the use of shoulder pads and tackling dummies—Warner was on the forefront of it all. In other words, if you like college football, you can thank Pop Warner.

And when you have a little league named after you, you know you did something right. 

 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of the NCAA and individual athletic departments.

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5 Bold Predictions for Virginia Tech's 2014 Season

Fall camp is history and football is finally here. Finally. No more media prognostications about where teams will finish. It will now be settled on the field.  

For the Virginia Tech Hokies, a new season brings a fresh start. The Hokies could use a fresh start, having lost a combined 11 games over the last two seasons for the first time in over 20 years. 

Can the Hokies eclipse the eight wins they had in 2013? It won't be easy, but a soft schedule outside of Ohio State does help things. 

Predicting a team's record can sometimes be monotonous, so we decided to take a fun look at five bold predictions for the 2014 Virginia Tech Hokies.

 

Isaiah Ford Will Be a Star

If you've followed the Hokies throughout fall camp, this will come as no surprise. Ford has been terrific all camp, and it led to the true freshman's placement at the top of the depth chart for this week's season opener against William and Mary. 

Former starter Demitri Knowles has battled an ankle injury this summer, allowing Ford to seize his opportunity. It's rare a freshman receiver is as polished as Ford. Yes, Ford is a dynamic athlete with game-breaking ability, but he also runs sound routes. That is what earns the trust of quarterbacks. 

Look for the Hokies to try and find ways to get Ford the ball in space early in the season. He also possesses the ability to change games on special teams. The question is if head coach Frank Beamer wants Ford returning punts if he's also a starting receiver.

Ford, also a basketball player, wants to play hoops at Tech, too. He has the blessing of the legendary head coach, per Andy Bitter of The Roanoke Times:

"There’s been a lot of football guys that have wanted to play basketball. But he’s the first one I ever thought that ever could play basketball too. And he’s just a gifted athlete, got a great head on his shoulders and is smart and keeps everything in perspective. So I think he’s the real deal."

Get used to hearing Ford's name. 

 

Defense Dominant Again

There are certain things in life you come to expect. Virginia Tech—under longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster—playing great defense is one of things.

The Hokies are coming off one of their best statistical seasons defensively in several years. Tech was No. 4 in total defense and near the top in sacks and takeaways.

However, they lost six starters and two more injured stars—Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum—who were starters before their seasons ended.

So, is Foster worried?

Probably not. He's faced these issues before and came back even stronger. In 2008, after losing seven starters to the NFL, Foster engineered Tech to another top-10 finish in total defense. 

With all of the issues on offense in recent years, it's tough to imagine how many games VT would have lost if not for Foster and his defense. 

Expect more of the same in 2014. This group has its hands full in Week 2 when it travels to Columbus to face Ohio State. On the bright side, at least it won't be against Braxton Miller.

 

Michael Brewer Won't Finish the Year as Starting Quarterback

It's really unfair to say Brewer, the Texas Tech transfer who was named starter last week, won't make it through the season as the starting quarterback. 

But there are several reasons to assume it will be difficult for Brewer to start all 12 regular-season games.

Remember, Brewer's time at Texas Tech essentially came to an end once he got hurt last summer. Yes, he came back and played, but his chances of starting were gone. That's just one injury, but it was a back injury.

Then there is Brewer's size. At 6'0", 200 pounds, he isn't the biggest guy. Sure, Michael Vick was of similar size when he played for the Hokies, but that's not a fair comparison. While mobile, Brewer will not remind anyone of Vick, Tyrod Taylor or Logan Thomas. 

And behind an offensive line with some question marks, he will likely get hit—a lot. 

There will be an adjustment period for Brewer, too. He just started practicing with the Hokies this summer, so he is learning his receivers. If he struggles will Beamer, will he quickly pull the plug and go with his fifth-year senior Mark Leal?

Brewer has a fairly strong arm and accuracy is his biggest asset. However, offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler cannot run Brewer frequently or he won't make it past the first month. 

Keep an eye on freshman Chris Durkin and sophomore Brenden Motley. Both are big, athletic signal-callers. 

 

Virginia Tech Will Win the Coastal Division

Who else did you expect? Virginia? 

Seriously, Duke was a nice story last year and David Cutcliffe has that program on the right track, but the Blue Devils aren't built to compete with Virginia Tech or Miami on the football field on an annual basis. 

The Hurricanes are a program on the rise, but they, too, have quarterback issues. From a talent standpoint, the 'Canes and North Carolina may be the top teams in the Coastal. But when was the last time you could trust UNC football?

This division, as it has several times before, will come down to Virginia Tech and Miami. Only this year, people are sleeping on the Hokies. Many media folks believe in the Hurricanes and the Tar Heels.

In the end, it will be the Hokies, led by a strong defense and surprisingly efficient offense, who will represent the Coastal Division in the ACC title game.

 

Kendall Fuller Will be a First-Team All-American

Virginia Tech's most-hyped recruit in years, Kendall Fuller didn't disappoint in 2013. From the very first game against defending national champion Alabama, where he locked up with Amari Cooper, Fuller more than held his own. He was outstanding.

He finished his first year on several freshman All-American teams and picked off three passes in the Duke game. He had six on the season, good for the second in the ACC. He also finished with 58 tackles, showing a willingness to play physically. He is poised for even bigger things in 2014. 

Now, Fuller's older brother, Kyle, and Exum are in the NFL, and Kendall is ready to take the next step. Not only can he be a dominant cover corner on the outside, he can move inside and play the slot. His strong tackling ability also enables him to line up at "Whip" linebacker on occasion. 

Alongside fellow sophomore Brandon Facyson, this could be one of Tech' better cornerback tandems. And that's saying something. The pair they just replaced were pretty good, too.

Fuller will make an impact on a weekly basis, just don't look for him to intercept six passes again. Quarterbacks will know better than to throw in his direction. 

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Alabama Has LB Depth to Overcome Trey DePriest's Absence vs. West Virginia

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The Alabama defense was dealt a significant blow Wednesday when Alabama coach Nick Saban announced that preseason All-SEC linebacker Trey DePriest will miss the Crimson Tide’s season opener against West Virginia due to a “minor NCAA infraction.”

Saban did not disclose the infraction or any more details but said that DePriest would only miss Saturday’s game and will be back for Florida Atlantic.

It’s a significant loss, to be sure, as DePriest was named to just about every preseason All-SEC team, including the media’s and coaches'. But Alabama has the depth and talent at inside linebacker to overcome this loss and shouldn’t miss a beat on that side of the ball against the Mountaineers.

“We’re not worried too much about it,” linebacker Denzel Devall said Wednesday. “We have a great personnel and great players. We’re going to be ready come Saturday.”

The Crimson Tide are already prepared for this, though they didn’t know they were preparing for it at the time.

DePriest was nursing a minor knee injury throughout fall camp and never seemed 100 percent in terms of speed or health in practice. Saban on Thursday declared him “close to 100 percent” but still behind on conditioning.

His injury, though, means Alabama has experience running its defense without him.

"It gave us a real opportunity to be able to prepare if the guy who was the signal-caller, that called the defenses and all those types of things and gets the signals to the front wasn't there. Because we needed to train somebody else to do that," Saban said.

"Even though this wasn't something we anticipated, certainly it was something we were able to prepare for."

DePriest’s injury puts the burden solely on Alabama’s other two starting inside linebackers: junior Reggie Ragland and sophomore Reuben Foster. All three were essentially listed on the Crimson Tide’s depth chart as starters, with Foster in the “/” designation for both spots. All three would have likely played at some point depending on the situation.

Ragland and Foster are both plenty talented and experienced to handle full-time roles.

Ragland was the No. 1 inside linebacker in the class of 2012 and has learned for two years behind C.J. Mosley, DePriest and Nico Johnson in the middle. He was already in line for a lot of playing time this year and will definitely have to take on much of the load Saturday with DePriest out.

He plays a little bit quicker and is more athletic in space than DePriest and can be pointed to as a prototype defender for stopping spread and hurry-up attacks like West Virginia will bring to the Georgia Dome.

“Reggie is a good player for us,” Saban said earlier in the fall. “He’s really had a good camp, had a good spring, a very athletic, explosive guy that has really good size, the kind of inside ‘backer that we like. His knowledge and experience has helped his consistency and performance, and I think Reggie can be a really good player for us this year.”

Foster is the up-and-comer of the bunch.

The top inside linebacker of the 2013 class (Alabama really has it rough these days), Foster’s recruitment was one of the more dramatic for Saban, as the Auburn native flipped from the Tide to the Tigers then back to the Tide.

Foster is plenty talented, but his obstacle has been a poor tackling form leading to frequent injuries. He’s plenty athletic and a monster hitter, but he leans into his hits with his head down, which has led to a couple of neck stingers during his career.

You can see that on one of his bigger hits from his high school career:

That doesn’t work when tackling grown men in FBS college football. He had a similar play to the above one at A-Day on Kenyan Drake, got up looking woozy and was taken back to the locker room with what Saban called a mild concussion.

Saban says he’s overcoming those technique issues.

“Some guys just have habits that are not good in terms of their health and safety,” he said. “Reuben is one of these guys that loved to duck his head when he tackled. I'm not saying he wasn't an effective tackler. That's what created a lot of problems with his stingers. We've had to re-, sort of, teach him how to take on blockers, how to tackle, so that he is not doing that. Now he's been able to stay healthier and he's been able to make it through scrimmages, and he's not had the same issues."

Ragland and Foster are two more-than-capable options to handle full-time duties in the middle of the defense in DePriest’s absence. The defense won’t miss a beat, and Alabama will get a bulk of reps for two of its promising young linebackers.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from CFBStats. All recruiting information comes from 247Sports.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Josh Shaw Suspended: Latest Updates on USC CB After Fabricating Cause of Injury

It's still unclear exactly how USC cornerback Josh Shaw injured his ankles, but unfortunately for those who enjoy a heartwarming story, a heroic rescue had nothing to do with it.     

According to an official statement released by the USC Athletic Department, via USCTrojans.com's Jordan Moore, the senior has admitted his original story of jumping off a balcony to save his nephew from a pool was a complete fabrication.

His lawyer confirmed the report with a statement on behalf of Shaw, via NFL.com's Bryan Fischer: 

Tess Quinlan of USA Today provides more from Shaw's lawyer:

Head coach Steve Sarkisian also commented on the matter:

We are extremely disappointed in Josh. He let us all down. As I have said, nothing in his background led us to doubt him when he told us of his injuries, nor did anything after our initial vetting of his story.

I appreciate that Josh has now admitted that he lied and has apologized. Although this type of behavior is out of character for Josh, it is unacceptable. Honesty and integrity must be at the center of our program. I believe Josh will learn from this. I hope that he will not be defined by this incident, and that the Trojan Family will accept his apology and support him.

Sarkisian also announced Shaw will be suspended indefinitely from all team activities. 

Former USC teammate and current Washington Redskins running back Silas Redd was shocked by Shaw's questionable behavior: 

Of course, the book on this bizarre story can't be completely closed yet. There are still details about the injury that remain unclear, and Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch offered some words of wisdom to the young player:

Really, the quicker Shaw is able to put everything behind him, the better. 

Shaw, who has six interceptions in the last two seasons, started all 14 games in 2013 and was expected to be a major part of the Trojans secondary this year. 

With injury, suspension and distraction all standing in his way, though, it may be a while before he is able to contribute. 

USC hosts Fresno State on Saturday, Aug. 30, in its season opener. The game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET.

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College Football Picks: Week 1 Predictions for Every Game

Week 1 of the 2014 college football season is here. Who ya got?

After months of looking ahead to these games, they're finally upon us. Beginning Wednesday night and going all the way through Labor Day Monday, a total of 85 games featuring 123 of the 128 FBS schools are spread out for our viewing pleasure.

It's a six-day weekend welcoming us back to campus and the gridiron, marking the start of a 139-day journey before the first-ever FBS national champion is crowned through an actual playoff tournament.

Between now and the College Football Playoff's title game on Jan. 12, 2015 there will be nearly 1,000 games contested all over the country—and even in Ireland and the Bahamas!—and we'll be picking the winner of each and every one.

Our predictions are based on analysis of the matchup, the venue it's being played in and the circumstances surrounding each game, taking into account the uncertainty of this game that both infuriates and endears us to it. I took on this responsibility prior to Week 8 of the 2013 season, and from there through the bowls my picks were 69 percent accurate.

Take a look at the predictions for Week 1, a hodgepodge lineup that features three matchups between preseason Associated Press Top-25 teams but also 47 contests pitting FBS schools against FCS opponents. If you disagree with the picks, don't hesitate to speak out in the comments section, and check back each night (and several times on Saturday) as we update this story with the final results of every game.

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Is Alabama Ready to Defend Dana Holgorsen's Hurry-Up Offense?

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen doesn’t have to look very far for a blueprint to beat Alabama.

He doesn’t even have to leave his own conference.

The last time the Crimson Tide were on the field, it was in the Sugar Bowl against the Oklahoma Sooners, who came out with a fresh, hurry-up attack that hit a few big plays and got the Alabama defense to play on its heels.

That, combined with a few untimely turnovers from the Crimson Tide offense, led to one of the biggest upsets of the postseason.

It stands to reason, then, that Holgorsen would look to that game and see how he could apply his spread-out, hurry-up attack to his team's 2014 opener against Alabama. He mentioned on the Big 12 coaches teleconference this week that he’s studied that game and gave Sooners coach Bob Stoops a “congratulations” in the offseason.

So now the question becomes, is Alabama ready to defend it?

“It’s something that is in our plan,” Holgorsen said about an uptempo style. “I don’t care about who [our] opponent is. It’s going to be in our plan to be able to do that, and hopefully within the last year we found a way to do that better than the last year.”

It’s a question that Alabama’s heard plenty of times this offseason. Safety Nick Perry said he gets “sick of hearing everything” about it and is ready to prove that Alabama can slow that type of offense down.

“Nowadays teams like to, they feel like that’s the way to beat us is to throw the uptempo stuff at us,” Perry said. “We also have to work on our weaknesses, and I feel like we’ve been focusing on things we need to improve. That’s one area we have improved on and we’ll show this year.”

While West Virginia’s defense, which ranked 102nd in the country in yards against per game, was a big reason for a 4-8 finish in 2013, its offense wasn’t quite on the same level of incompetence.

It finished 63rd in the country in total offense but put up at least 400 yards of offense five times last season, including a 568-yard outburst against Iowa State to end the year.

Consistency on offense, especially at quarterback, should help the Mountaineers in 2014.

“West Virginia has, I think, a really good team coming back,” Saban said on Monday. “Dana has done a really good job there, especially when it comes to how they've been able to play offense, uptempo, fast, sort of Texas A&M, Oklahoma State style. Try to control the rhythm of the game by the speed that they play at.”

The biggest obstacle the Mountaineers will have to overcome is the talent disparity between the two teams.

Christopher Walsh of Saturday Down South broke down the numbers in a post this week and found that Alabama has 14 5-star and 50 4-star players on its depth chart. West Virginia has no five-stars and just seven four-star players.

The Crimson Tide are also motivated by offseason criticism of their defense against these type of offenses and have made it a point of emphasis in preparations.

“Definitely,” safety Landon Collins said when asked if it was a motivator. “We've always been known as a defense that's unstoppable. You can't run the ball or throw the ball on us. That's how we want to portray our defense like we did in previous years.”

The defense against the no-huddle will be a major storyline for Alabama in 2014. It has a chance to make a strong statement in the first weekend of the season.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from CFBStats. All recruiting information comes from 247Sports.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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