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Houston's First Game at TDECU Stadium Looms Large for Program

The University of Houston will open a brand new stadium on Friday, September 29, when it hosts the University of Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners at 8 p.m.

TDECU Stadium was constructed at the site of the Cougars' former home, Robertson Stadium, over the course of the last two years and should provide the program a boost in 2014.

The Cougars played all their home games last year at various places around the nation's fourth largest city, Houston. 

In 2013, Houston played five games in NRG Stadium, home of the NFL’s Houston Texans, and two games at BBVA Compass Stadium, home of MLS’ Houston Dynamo.

Houston has put together various marketing packages to help pack fans into the new stadium.

The Cougars have won five of their last six season openers.

Fans and students are affectionately dubbing TDECU Stadium "The Cage" because of its metal design.

Houston fans have high hopes for the 2014 season, the Cougars' second in the American Athletic Conference.

Last year, the Cougars rode the arm of true freshman quarterback John O'Korn and a stifling defense to a winning season and a bowl game appearance. Houston finished 8-5 after a 41-24 loss to Vanderbilt in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

The Cougars were 5-3 in conference play.

All four regular-season losses were close by a total of 20 points. Houston fans hope improved depth and a real home field, TDECU Stadium, will help the Cougars turn close losses into wins.

Houston’s current depth chart includes 15 underclassmen and 29 upperclassmen, including just 12 seniors. It’s a change from 2013, when 23 underclassmen dotted the Cougars depth chart for the season opener. 

There's much to like about Houston in 2014.

Houston returns 19 starters from last season, including O'Korn, who led all true freshmen nationally last season with 28 passing touchdowns. O'Korn's top target, Deontay Greenberry, also returns. Greenberry is a talented receiver who averaged over 100 yards per game last year.

Speedsters Daniel Spencer, Markeith Ambles and Greg Ward should provide the sophomore quarterback even more ways to get the ball down the field in a hurry.

The Cougars' top two rushers from last season are back, too. Running backs Ryan Jackson and Kenneth Farrow are fire and ice, but they make for a nice backfield tandem. The shifty Jackson was the Cougars' fourth leading receiver last season, and the bruising Farrow averaged almost five yards per carry.

The Cougars led the nation last season in both turnover margin and turnovers gained. Houston has forced multiple turnovers in 20 of its last 21 games.

Ball-hawking junior safety Trevon Stewart will help lead the charge. Stewart led the nation in 2013 by collecting a combined 10 turnovers. Stewart totaled six fumble recoveries and four interceptions. His six fumble recoveries led the nation and also set a single-season school record.

Despite all the positives, Houston's high hopes will be dashed unless it can break in TDECU Stadium the right way. A win over UTSA on Friday will go far towards making the Cougars' new home part of a winning tradition.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Preseason Polls and College Playoff Predictions

Congratulations, America. You finally made it to the start of the 2014 college football season. 

After an offseason of debates over amateurism, stolen crab legs, band scandals, devastating injuries and much more, it’s time for the actual games to begin. We didn’t even have a new version of EA Sports’ NCAA Football franchise to pass the time.

This year, the games are all directed toward the initial College Football Playoff, when a selection committee will choose four teams to battle for the title. While the Associated Press Poll and Coaches Poll will not directly influence that selection committee, they are still worth looking at and arguing over.

Here is a glance at the two preseason polls before we dig into a prediction for the four playoff teams.

 

 

Predicted College Football Playoff Teams

Florida State 

Let Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports break down why Florida State will be so difficult to beat this season:

Despite losing a bunch of quality players, the defending national champions are still the most talented team in the country. There are no weak units. And the Seminoles are in a relatively weak conference. They could well stay No. 1 all year in the polls, but may not be able to afford a loss and still make the final four.

While there may not be any weak units, the strongest one is certainly quarterback thanks to the return of Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Winston threw for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns last year and led his team to a national title as a redshirt freshman.

Beyond the offense and Winston, Florida State is loaded with elite talent on the defensive side of the ball. Players such as Eddie Goldman, Ronald Darby, P.J. Williams, Jalen Ramsey and Mario Edwards Jr. could all be in the NFL one day and will lead a stout unit this season.

The talent is clear, but what makes the Seminoles an even bigger threat to make the College Football Playoff is the schedule. They destroyed Clemson last year with Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd, Louisville lost Teddy Bridgewater, Notre Dame is caught up in a cheating scandal and Florida finished an abysmal 4-8 last year. 

There just aren’t a lot of reasonable losses on the slate for this powerful Florida State team. It is as close to a sure bet as you can get for a postseason team this year.

 

Michigan State

No team except for the defending champion Seminoles enters the 2014 season with more momentum than Michigan State.

The Spartans ended Ohio State’s 24-game winning streak in the Big Ten title game and controlled the Rose Bowl in a victory over Stanford. What’s more, they won every Big Ten game by double digits, finished with the third-best scoring defense in the country and could have been in the national title game if the officials didn’t get flag-happy in a loss to Notre Dame.

Unfortunately for Michigan State, that momentum will come to a halt when it suffers an early loss this year. The good news is that it will still find a way to reach the College Football Playoff.

The Spartans are breaking in seven new defensive starters and have to travel to Oregon in the season’s second game. That is simply the wrong offense and wrong environment to find yourself in if you are still developing young talent on the defensive side.

However, coordinator Pat Narduzzi will make sure his team recovers from those early growing pains. With a strong defense and an offense that features quarterback Connor Cook and 1,400-yard rusher Jeremy Langford, Michigan State will emerge unscathed from the Big Ten. 

Contests against Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska are all at home, and the loss of Braxton Miller makes that showdown with the Buckeyes much less daunting. The Spartans’ improvement over the course of the year will impress the selection committee, which will result in a spot in the postseason.

 

Alabama

Alabama received another break from the SEC scheduling gods and missed South Carolina and Georgia from the East division. That’s not the main reason the Crimson Tide will reach the playoffs, though.

Nick Saban will have his team completely motivated after losing in heartbreaking and stunning fashion to Auburn and then dropping the Sugar Bowl to Oklahoma.

Sure, Alabama is unsettled at quarterback, but T.J. Yeldon and company will power this offense to a productive season. Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake will keep Yeldon’s legs fresh, while Amari Cooper leads a receiver group that is deep and talented.

Saban also added another loaded recruiting class that was pegged as No. 1 overall by 247Sports’ composite rankings and has a deep and loaded defensive line that features A’Shawn Robinson.

What’s more, Alabama’s contests at Mississippi and at LSU both come after bye weeks, so Saban has additional time to prepare for the two difficult road games on the schedule. Motivation, talent and a manageable schedule is a terrifying combination for the rest of the SEC and the nation. 

The Crimson Tide will make the College Football Playoff.

 

Oregon 

Oregon has consistently finished among the nation’s best, but it hasn’t quite gotten over the hump yet to win a title. ESPN Stats & Info provided the details:

That Michigan State win we predicted will loom large when the Spartans run through the Big Ten. Throw in the fact that the Ducks don’t have to play USC or Arizona State and get home games against Washington and Stanford, and they could probably afford a slip-up at UCLA and still make the Pac-12 championship game.

Marcus Mariota is a surefire Heisman candidate and may have led his team to an undefeated record last year if he didn’t tweak his knee. His head coach, Mark Helfrich, discussed the signal-caller, via Adam Jude of the Seattle Times:

He’s 100 percent true. He’s 100 percent dedicated to the team. He’s 100 percent credible. A lot of guys talk a good game. Everything that guy does is gospel. If I’m the backup guard and I see that guy forgo what he could have made...that’s huge. I think it speaks to the type of guy he is. 

Mariota and that up-tempo attack will once again wreak havoc on opponents, and newcomers Royce Freeman and Devon Allen will give it even more speed. The rest of the Pac-12 is officially on notice.

 

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SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Trey DePriest Suspension, Malzahn's Rival

Trey to Play or Not to Play?

The offseason is a glorious time when players finally get some precious free time, which is always needed to recharge the batteries after the season, spring practices and classwork. Unfortunately for coaches, it also provides ample time for players to make a mistake and violate one of the NCAA's rules found in its 391,048-page (estimated) rule book.

Apparently Alabama linebacker Trey DePriest did just that.

Head coach Nick Saban announced Wednesday that DePriest will sit out the season opener versus West Virginia in the Georgia Dome on Saturday after committing a "minor NCAA infraction," according to B/R's lead Alabama writer Marc Torrence.

A big loss? Sort of. 

Anytime you lose a first-team All-SEC linebacker for any reason, it's not a good thing. Plus, losing one to NCAA infractions—even minor ones—gives the NCAA a reason to ask questions, and no program wants that even if nothing else is there.

Alabama does, however, have plenty of depth and versatility at linebacker, as Torrence pointed out.

Trey DePriest goes down, so next two guys up? Top ILB of the 2012 class, top ILB class of the 2013 class. Rough go of it for Alabama.

— Marc Torrence (@marctorrence) August 28, 2014

DePriest was nursing a knee injury during fall camp, which allowed sophomore Reuben Foster to cross-train at "Mike" and "Will" linebacker in Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart's 3-4 scheme. Now Foster will step into DePriest's starting role at "Mike" alongside Reggie Ragland at "Will." Dillon Lee has played outside and inside linebacker throughout his career, and freshman Shaun Dion Hamilton will provide depth as well.

Against West Virginia, this is actually a blessing in disguise.

Now some relatively inexperienced players will get a few more game reps against an offense that, while not exactly fearsome, will at the very least give the Tide creative looks and give defenders valuable experience down the road.

 

Rivalry? Or Offseason Talking Point?

Arkansas will visit Auburn in the season opener on Saturday afternoon on the Plains, and most of the intrigue in this game exists on the sidelines. 

The Tigers are nearly three-touchdown favorites over the Razorbacks, according to VegasInsider.com, with the big draw being the difference in styles between the two head coaches. Auburn's Gus Malzahn is a proponent of the hurry-up, no-huddle system that has become all the rage in college football, while Arkansas' Bret Bielema is more old school and was one of the figureheads of the failed 10-second rule hubbub in February

Toss in Malzahn's Arkansas ties and the passive-aggressive war of words between the two last season during SEC media days, and this has all of the makings of a new rivalry in the SEC West.

Except that it isn't.

Bielema didn't take the bait when asked if—by saying he didn't have "anything hanging over his team" earlier in the week—he was taking a subtle shot at Malzahn's handling of quarterback Nick Marshall's suspension.

"Not at all. I think you're reading too much rhetoric," Bielema said. "As far as Gus and how he handles his team, he's obviously done a great job of it to win an SEC title, and (to) put himself in a national championship game speaks volumes about what that coaching staff is capable of doing and how talented they are."

Malzahn downplayed his role in this "budding rivalry" during SEC media days.

"I think it's real professional," he said. "I've got a lot of respect for Bret as a coach. When we're in meetings, we communicate. Like I said, I got a lot of respect for him. I know he's going to get that program where he wants it to be."

Do they love each other? Probably not. Name me one uptempo coach who doesn't want to keep his foot on the gas a little while longer if he gets the chance against Bielema. Can't do it? That's because that coach doesn't exist. On the flip side, Bielema probably would do the same to uptempo teams if he gets the chance. 

Malzahn's Arkansas ties make this game a little more spicy, but let's not try to make the rivalry bigger than it is. It's an SEC West battle that, in Saturday's case, just so happens to be one of the bigger games of opening weekend. 

That's big enough.

 

No Pressure, Kid

Fifth-year senior quarterback Hutson Mason is stepping in for a legend, literally.

Aaron Murray left Georgia as the SEC's all-time leader in passing yards (13,166) and passing touchdowns (121), but the cupboard is far from bare in Athens. Mason has weapons all around him, which should help him ease into the full-time starter's role and the leadership responsibilities that go with it.

"I think Hutson's doing a very good job, but I also think (center) David Andrews is," head coach Mark Richt said. "I think (running back) Todd Gurley has. We got (tackle) John Theus. We got a lot of guys who have good leadership skills—(tight end) Jay Rome, (running back) Keith Marshall, (wide receivers) Chris Conley and Michael Bennett. A lot of guys have been around the block and highly productive, and are totally bought into what we are doing. Hutson's got a lot of support."

That's not coach speak, it's the truth.

Mason is a veteran of the system and has established stars all over the place who can help take any pressure off of his shoulders early in his career. Clemson has a veteran defense that will certainly try to rattle him, but with the players he has around him and the poise he showed in his two starts last season, Mason will be fine.

 

Musical Quarterbacks

Sophomore Anthony Jennings or freshman Brandon Harris?

That's the question facing LSU head coach Les Miles, and it appears that both will play in Saturday night's game versus Wisconsin in Houston.

"We're going to do those things that we feel will benefit both quarterbacks," Miles said on the coaches teleconference. "We're going to play them appropriately. It's not something without conception. We understand it. It's just not something I'm going to reveal. I don't think there's any tremendous magic to it. We like both guys. Both will play."

But who will finish the game as the No. 1 guy?

My money is on the true freshman Harris. The 6'3", 188-pounder from Bossier City, Louisiana, is accurate downfield, more of a threat with his legs and has more upside than Jennings.

In a battle where both contenders are relatively inexperienced, having a guy like Jennings going in as the starter against a tough opponent like Wisconsin will allow the team to get into a flow early. Once that happens, expect both to play but for Harris to show his potential early and often, leaving no doubt who the No. 1 quarterback should be.

 

Vols Getting Creative

Recruiting is a contact sport, and the way teams make contact with prospects is getting more and more creative.

From handwritten notes stating "I love the way you ball" to hand-drawn portraits, creating unique pieces of literature to show off to recruits is rapidly becoming the trend in college football.

Tennessee took it to the next level.

The Vols sent Shy Tuttle, a 5-star defensive tackle in the class of 2015, a Photoshopped Rolling Stone cover, complete with a fake headline of why Beyonce wants Tuttle on Rocky Top.

😂😂😂😂😂 they snapped with this pic.twitter.com/dSCeiTInho

— Shy Tuttle (@KingTut_90) August 26, 2014

Over the top? Not at all. Programs need to stand out, and pairing Tuttle up with Beyonce—however fictitious that may be—will certainly resonate well with the 6'3", 315-pounder.

 

Quick Outs

  • Don't expect Auburn to have a specific time in mind on when to bring back quarterback Nick Marshall from suspension against Arkansas. Jeremy Johnson will likely be Auburn's starter in 2015 when they open in the Georgia Dome against Louisville in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. Having Johnson prepare as the starter and execute the game plan in a big season opener is valuable experience for him moving forward. If Marshall is slated to be out one quarter, expect his suspension to be "one quarter-ish," and if Johnson is in the middle of a drive, the sophomore will be allowed to finish it off.
  • Alabama's offense might be sloppy, and it won't matter. With both Jake Coker and Blake Sims expected to play, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin might throw a lot at each of them to see how they handle things in a real game. Some of it may not work, and that's OK. Alabama always has the luxury of turning around and handing the ball to Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon when it needs to. The offense may be sloppy and look disjointed at times, and that will be good news because it will go a long way toward determining who the full-time starting quarterback will be.
  • Tennessee, be wary of Utah State and the Chuckie Keeton experience. There's an 80 percent chance of rain in Knoxville on Sunday, and the electrifying Keeton on a wet field against Tennessee's inexperienced front four should scare Vols fans.
  • Will Clemson upset Georgia? Nope. Don't be surprised if Georgia's defense takes a massive step forward against a Clemson offense that is full of question marks.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. 

Follow @BarrettSallee

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Under Armour Provides Navy with New 'Summer White' Uniforms for Ohio State Game

When Navy takes on Ohio State at MT&T Bank Stadium on Saturday, it's going to have a sharp new look.

The Naval Academy reached an agreement with Under Armour earlier this year, so the company will outfit all 33 of Navy's varsity teams. With a big game against the Buckeyes this weekend, Under Armour came up with a new "Summer Whites" uniform for the Midshipmen.

The helmets will definitely grab your attention.

Navy's new uniforms will have a unique feature. Each player's rank will be displayed on both the shoulder boards and the pants.

Here's how you will be able to identify a player's rank:

  • Freshman: anchor but no stripes
  • Sophomore: anchor with one diagonal stripe
  • Junior: anchor with two diagonal stripes
  • Senior: anchor with one parallel stripe
  • Captain: star and three parallel stripes

This football uniform may look somewhat familiar to you, and that's because it was inspired by the Naval Academy's Summer Whites military uniforms.

Like the military uniforms, the football team will wear all-white gloves and cleats. 

[Navy]

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Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Navy Midshipmen Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

The Ohio State Buckeyes have already taken a hit this year, losing Heisman candidate quarterback Braxton Miller to injury.

And they enter this season on a two-game losing streak after tasting only victory in the prior 24 matches. How much trouble are they in for when they take on Navy's Midshipmen on Saturday in Baltimore?

 

Point spread: Buckeyes opened as 19.5-point favorites. It moved down six points after the Miller injury but is now back up to -16.5; the total was 55.5 at M&T Bank Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 50.3-37.6 Buckeyes

 

Why the Ohio State Buckeyes can cover the spread

The Buckeyes may have lost Miller, but there's still talent galore. That's especially true on defense, where seven starters are back to improve upon the 23 points per game the unit allowed last season. Ohio State is 24-2 SU, 14-12 ATS in two seasons under head coach Urban Meyer and figures to simply reload for this season.

The Buckeyes will have to pull back on the playbook without Miller, but that may just give the running game a chance to grind out drives on the Navy defense. Ohio State was favored in every game last year, but when favored by less than three touchdowns, the Buckeyes went 5-3 ATS.

 

Why the Navy Midshipmen can cover the spread

The Midshipmen return 15 starters from a team that went 9-4 last year. Eight starters are back on offense, led by QB Keenan Reynolds (who accounted for 39 touchdowns last year) and the entire offensive line; seven starters are back on defense.

Navy finished 10-3 ATS last season, 5-1 ATS as an underdog, 2-0 ATS when dogged by double-digits.

The Mids are also 4-1 ATS against ranked teams under head coach Ken Niumatalolo. If Navy can keep the chains moving with its option attack and avoid giving up the big plays, it could stay right in this one and extend its 7-1 ATS run.

 

Smart Pick

How much does Miller's absence mean to Ohio State and the betting odds? The Buckeyes were initially favored by almost three touchdowns for this game, but after the Miller injury the line dropped by a touchdown.

The last time these two programs met, back in Week 1 of 2009, the Midshipmen went into the Horseshoe as 22-point underdogs and gave OSU a scare.

They rushed for 186 yards and took a lead with six minutes to go before eventually succumbing 31-27. Could something similar happen Saturday? With Miller out, why not? Take the points with Navy.

 

Trends:

  • Ohio State is 9-1 SU in its last 10 games on the road.
  • Navy is 7-1 ATS in its last eight games.
  • The total has gone under in 10 of Navy's last 11 games at home.

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates and get the free odds tracker app.

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Southern Cal Trojans vs. Fresno State Bulldogs Betting Odds: Analysis, Pick

The USC Trojans are coming off a disappointing season that saw them finish strong despite some turmoil on the sidelines with head coach Lane Kiffin fired early on, winning six of eight games following his dismissal and going 5-3 against the spread.

Meanwhile, the Fresno State Bulldogs were USC’s final victim to close out last year. USC was just one of the two teams to beat the Bulldogs as Fresno State went 11-2 SU and 5-8 ATS in 2013.

 

Point spread: Trojans opened as 21.5-point favorites; the total was 58 at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 40.9-36.7 Bulldogs

 

Why the Fresno State Bulldogs can cover the spread

The Bulldogs will be out for revenge in this spot after getting blown out by the Trojans 45-20 as 4.5-point underdogs in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl last December 21. USC wide receiver Marqise Lee burned them for 118 yards and two touchdowns in that game, and he is now playing for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.

Fresno State has played well as a road underdog over the past few seasons, going 7-1 against the spread in that spot, including covers at Oregon and Tulsa during the 2012 season. The Bulldogs were favored in every game last year except for the bowl matchup with the Trojans, and they covered the previous two meetings in the series.

 

Why the Southern Cal Trojans can cover the spread

The Trojans had three different coaches last year, including Kiffin, interim coach Ed Orgeron and his replacement for the bowl game, Clay Helton. Orgeron did not want to coach the team after USC decided to bring back former offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian from Washington as the permanent replacement rather than retain Orgeron.

Through all of that mess, the players stuck together and delivered, especially returning quarterback Cody Kessler, who completed 22 of 30 passes for 345 yards and four touchdowns against Fresno State in the last meeting.

The junior performed admirably down the stretch considering the circumstances, and he gives the team a proven leader heading into the 2014 season.

 

Smart Pick

Despite the Bulldogs’ somewhat recent success as road dogs, they did not play well early last season, failing to cover their first four games, winning them by an average of less than six points when they were favored by double digits three times.

Fresno will also be without former star QB Derek Carr, who struggled against USC before heading to the NFL.

The Trojans should finally have stability with the hire of Sarkisian, and he was their QB coach when the Bulldogs nearly pulled off a monster upset in a 50-42 road loss back in 2005. Sarkisian will not take Fresno lightly in his return, and USC should fight on to a huge victory in Saturday’s season opener.

 

Trends

  • Fresno State is 10-3 ATS in its last 13 games on the road
  • FSU 7-1 ATS past eight games as road underdogs
  • UNDER is 10-2 past 12 games when USC is home chalk

 

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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Southern Cal Trojans vs. Fresno State Bulldogs Betting Odds: Analysis, Pick

The USC Trojans are coming off a disappointing season that saw them finish strong despite some turmoil on the sidelines with head coach Lane Kiffin fired early on, winning six of eight games following his dismissal and going 5-3 against the spread...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football Rankings 2014: Latest Look at Preseason Polls and Standings

Who wants to bet that none of the teams in the preseason college football rankings finish where they currently sit?

The trouble with preseason rankings is that they often carry too much weight. If you start No. 1 and go unbeaten, you're almost certainly going to finish the season No. 1, even if another team is clearly outplaying you.

With the new four-team playoff, the hope is that that no longer remains a problem. Teams will be graded more fairly with more emphasis on their results rather than their reputations.

With the 2014 season nearly underway, plenty of Top 25 teams will be looking to make a major statement.

 

Week 1 Breakdown

Since these are preseason rankings, it's a bit premature to get worked up about this team being overlooked by Associated Press voters or coaches while this other team is way too overrated. As long as nobody's putting Georgia Southern in the Top 25, it's all good.

What you can hone in on heading into the opening week is the spate of intriguing Top 25 clashes. None is bigger than South Carolina vs. Texas A&M tonight.

The Aggies have suffered some major losses to their offense in the form of Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews. Evans and Matthews were top-10 picks, while Manziel was the second quarterback off the board in the 2014 NFL draft.

Kevin Sumlin's a very good head coach, though, and he's brought in a couple of great recruiting classes over the last two years. You wonder if A&M would be better off if this game was later in the season, when the newcomers will have had more time to adjust to their roles.

Instead, Kenny Hill is being thrown right into the fire. He does have some help in the form of a strong running game featuring Tra Carson, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams. Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital believes that Hill shouldn't be saddled with too much pressure.

"The quarterback doesn’t have to go out there and win the game if you have an experienced line and running backs," said Spavital, per Kate Hairopoulos of The Dallas Morning News. "You’re able to feel comfortable with them … where you’re not telling the quarterback ‘go out there and beat South Carolina [on your own],’ the first game."

South Carolina is without Jadeveon Clowney, of course, but the Gamecocks still have a talented team in addition to home-field advantage.

With a win, Steve Spurrier's team could cement the transition from Capital One Bowl-caliber team to national title contender.

That's just one of the highly anticipated games involving one or more SEC teams. Many fans will also be focusing on Georgia vs. Clemson and Wisconsin vs. LSU this weekend.

Both games involve teams good enough to win their respective conferences, and they will serve as a barometer for how good the quartet are.

If Clemson goes into Athens and beats Georgia, the Tigers could be a very real threat for Florida State. Wisconsin could give the Big Ten a much-needed public-relations boost by beating LSU. The Tigers, along with Georgia, are hoping to jump ahead of Alabama and Auburn in the SEC pecking order:

The conference has no shortage of top-quality teams, so Georgia and LSU could set themselves apart from the pack.

Ole Miss is another of those SEC teams looking for a nice win this week. Although Chris Petersen has moved on from Boise State, the Broncos remain one of the best teams outside a Big Five conference this year. The Rebels can't afford to take anything for granted in this game.

Laquon Treadwell didn't get the memo, via Saturday Down South:

Boise State brings back its leading passer, leading rusher and top two receiving leaders. On paper, Ole Miss shouldn't win this one in a walk, so in the event it does, it would signify Hugh Freeze's team is ready to be a threat in the SEC.

Looking at the landscape outside the SEC, the defending national champion isn't resting on its laurels, with Florida State playing Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas, in another of the major nonconference battles. Give credit where credit's due, because this was the kind of early game missing on the Seminoles' schedule last year.

However, this has the potential of turning really bad really quickly. OSU gets only eight starters back from last year's 10-3 team. The Oklahoman's John Helsley wrote that the Cowboys will likely endure a rough 2014 in service of building for the future:

Still, anybody in or around the Oklahoma State football team would admit that the Cowboys are best built for 2015 and beyond, when the kids — and we do mean kids — will be past their Big 12 baptisms.

That’s when the buzz-worthy players collected from what Cowboys coaches believe to be their best recruiting classes can pair talent with experience.

Florida State has more than enough to mount another title campaign, but recreating that same magic is always hard to do.

Starting off with Oklahoma State will allow the 'Noles to see how hard the climb will be back to the summit of college football.

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Colorado State Rams vs. Colorado Buffaloes Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

Despite recent struggles, the Colorado Buffaloes have maintained the upper hand in their in-state rivalry with Colorado State, winning and covering six of the last seven meetings with the Rams.

The Buffs are lined as field-goal favorites for the 88th edition of the Rocky Mountain Showdown Friday night at Mile High in Denver.

 

Point spread: The Buffaloes opened as three-point favorites; the total was 61 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 35.9-18.1 Rams

 

Why the Colorado State Rams can cover the spread

The Rams only have five starters back on offense this year, but they include senior quarterback Garrett Grayson (62 percent completions, 23/11 TD/INT ratio last year) and his top two targets, Rashard Higgins and Joe Hansley, who combined for 120 catches. And seven starters return on defense, including six of the back seven.

CSU went 10-4 against the spread (ATS) last year, exceeding expectations on a regular basis.

The Rams lost this rivalry battle last year 41-27 as three-point favorites, but they led late in the third quarter. That game was decided when Colorado State, with a chance to retake the lead with 11 minutes to go, had a fumble returned for a Colorado score.

 

Why the Colorado Buffaloes can cover the spread

Colorado won this matchup last year, outgaining the Rams by over 200 yards, holding the ball for over 33 minutes. This year, the Buffs get 16 starters back, including QB Sefo Liufau (59 percent completions as a true freshman last year), last season's top two rushers, three along the offensive line and eight on defense.

While Colorado only won four games last season, it also topped the weekly expectations, going 7-5 ATS.

Head coach Mike MacIntyre pulled off a turnaround at San Jose State, taking that team from 2-10 the year before his arrival to 11-2 in three seasons. Might he herd the Buffaloes down a similar path?

 

Smart Pick

Colorado owns the advantage in returning talent, and as mentioned above, even through the recent tough times, it's owned this rivalry. On top of that, Colorado State will miss running back Kapri Bibbs, who only ran for 1,700 yards and 31 scores last year, and the four starters it lost along the offensive line and the three starters along the defensive front four.

If Colorado wants to become bowl-eligible this season, it must get off to a good start, because the second-half schedule is rough. Give the points and back the Buffs to come through here, despite what the computer says.

 

Trends

  • The under is 5-1 in the past six meetings between these teams.
  • The Rams are 1-6 straight up and ATS in the past seven games against the Buffs.
  • The Rams are 6-1 ATS in their past seven road games.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Colorado State Rams vs. Colorado Buffaloes Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

Despite recent struggles, the Colorado Buffaloes have maintained the upper hand in their in-state rivalry with Colorado State, winning and covering six of the last seven meetings with the Rams...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Watch the Evolution of Gus Malzahn's Offense

Gus Malzahn has become a household name in the college football world. His ability to adapt and be successful with any personnel has proved he is a top coach in college football.

How well do you think Auburn will do this year?

Take a look at an in-depth history of Gus Malzahn's coaching evolution.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Wisconsin Badgers vs. LSU Tigers Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

The Wisconsin Badgers are not used to starting the year against such a tough opponent and will put their 16-game winning streak in season openers on the line when they face the LSU Tigers at NRG Stadium in Houston.

Wisconsin began last season at home against UMass and barely covered the spread in a 45-0 rout. This year, the Badgers open as rare underdogs, a role that not been kind to Wisconsin bettors.

 

Point spread: LSU opened as 6.5-point favorites, but it had been bet down to five points by Thursday; the total was 50 at NRG Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 42.3-37.9 Badgers

 

Why the Wisconsin Badgers can cover the spread

The Tigers are coming off a win against another Big Ten team, topping Iowa 21-14 in the Outback Bowl. However, the Tigers just missed covering the spread against the Hawkeyes and failed to beat the line in five of their last six games to end last season despite winning four of five straight up, including the bowl victory.

LSU comes into this game as the No. 13 team in the AP Top 25 poll, but Wisconsin sits just one spot behind at No. 14 and figures to be extra motivated now that the injury to Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller has left the Big Ten wide open.

Wisconsin has a real opportunity here to make a big statement as a serious national title contender on national television. Running back Melvin Gordon also gets a chance to polish his Heisman resume, as he currently sits as a 12-1 bet to win the award.

 

Why the LSU Tigers can cover the spread

Wisconsin was favored by more than 40 points in each of its first two games last season, so to say this game at LSU is a huge step up in competition is a massive understatement. The same can’t be said for the Tigers, who beat TCU 37-27 in last year’s season opener as four-point favorites and routed Oregon 40-27 in their first game three years ago as three-point underdogs.

To make matters worse for the Badgers, they start 2014 trying to end a two-game skid both straight up and against the spread despite being favorites in both, including a 34-24 loss in the Capital One Bowl to another SEC team in South Carolina. LSU has the talent necessary to extend that slump for Wisconsin here. It will also extend the 2-14 SU slump when the Badgers get points on the road.

 

Smart Pick

Just about any SEC vs. Big Ten battle tends to favor the former, and this one is no different. Both teams have new starting QBs—junior Tanner McEvoy for the Badgers and a player yet to be named for the Tigers, either sophomore Anthony Jennings or freshman Brandon Harris—and both have strong running games.

But LSU’s talent pool is just too deep, giving the Tigers a significant edge to pull away late in the game for the SU and ATS win. Also remember the name Leonard Fournette, the highly rated LSU RB who could make this his coming-out party for a Heisman Trophy chase.

 

Trends:

  • Wisconsin is 9-4 ATS in its last 13 games
  • LSU is 1-5 ATS in its last six games
  • Badgers just 2-12 SU as road dogs since 2005
  • LSU played over in eight of past nine openers

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Hype: Welcome Back College Football

The 2014 college football season is officially here. Take a look at some of the best highlights from the 2013 season. Who do you think will have some highlight-reel plays this year?

Watch the video to see the ultimate college football hype tape.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Crimson Tide vs. West Virginia Mountaineers Betting Odds: Pick, Preview

The Alabama Crimson Tide opened the past two seasons with blowout victories over Michigan and Virginia Tech, covering big point spreads on both occasions.

Bama will try to do it again when it opens this 2014 season against the West Virginia Mountaineers on Saturday afternoon at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

 

Point spread: The Crimson Tide opened as 25-point favorites; the total was 55.5 at the Georgia Dome, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report). 

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 48.3-19.4 Crimson Tide

 

Why the West Virginia Mountaineers can cover the spread

The Mountaineers are coming off their first losing season since 2001, but they've got 13 starters back, including two quarterbacks with starting experience, last year's top three receivers and seven on defense, including six of the back eight.

Even with an offense that struggled at times last year, West Virginia hit the 30-point mark half a dozen times. And as underdogs of three touchdowns or more, the Mountaineers covered two out of three games last year. West Virginia may not pull the upset here, but it has the ability to keep things close.

 

Why the Alabama Crimson Tide can cover the spread

The Tide return 12 starters this season, but, as always, top-notch talent is in place to fill the holes. Florida State transfer Jake Coker and senior backup Blake Sims are still battling for the starting QB spot, but, either way, their main responsibility will be to hand the ball off to Heisman candidate T.J. Yeldon, who will be running behind an offensive line with three starters back.

Defensively, only five starters return, but two years ago, when that unit also had just five returning starters, it held foes to 11 points per game. Last year, Alabama was favored by more than three touchdowns eight times and covered the spread in five of those contests.

And it is 4-1 ATS opening the season the past five years.

 

Smart Pick

It may have holes to fill at quarterback and on defense, but Alabama is a program that reloads rather than rebuilds. The Tide will contend for a spot in the new four-team College Football Playoff this season, and they are currently one of two teams favored to make the mini-tournament.

West Virginia, on the other hand, may be a program on the decline. The move to the offensive-minded Big 12 hasn't gone too well so far, as the Mountaineers can't simply outgun foes like they used to do in the Big East.

However, in this spot, if the passing game can produce 21 points, West Virginia has a good chance to cover this spread. So the pick for this matchup is to take the points with the dog.

 

Trends:

  • The total has gone over in six of West Virginia's last seven games
  • Alabama 4-1 ATS past five openers
  • Over is 9-2 past 11 West Virginia games in September

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Hurricanes vs. Louisville Cardinals Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

The Louisville Cardinals, competing in the new American Athletic Conference last year, didn't play one game against a ranked team.

And while they went 12-1, they went just 5-7 against the spread. Now the Cardinals take a step up in competition and begin life in the Atlantic Coast Conference when they host the Miami Hurricanes Monday night.

 

Point spread: The Cardinals opened as three-point favorites; the total was 54 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 46.2-31.5 Cardinals

 

Why the Miami Hurricanes can cover the spread

The Hurricanes return 14 starters this season, seven on each side of the ball. They have to replace quarterback Stephen Morris, but running back Duke Johnson is back after missing the last half of last season with a bad ankle, along with three along the offensive line.

And the defense returns four of last year's top six tacklers, and five of the back seven. Miami started 7-0 last year before losing Johnson and won three road games.

This is the Hurricanes' fourth season under head coach Al Golden, and they might have their best team yet for him. With some decent play from the QB spot, Miami should be right in this game. They are 5-1 ATS in their past six openers, according to Odds Shark’s Week 1 trend sheet.

 

Why the Louisville Cardinals can cover the spread

The Cardinals lost their head coach (Charlie Strong) and their starting quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater) over the offseason, but with new coach Bobby Petrino—who led this program to initial prominence a decade ago—back in charge, the offense should continue to click.

Louisville returns last year's leading rusher, leading receiver and four along the offensive line, and just enough talent remains on defense. The Cardinals are 12-2 SU at home over the last two seasons, and with a win it wouldn't take much to cover the short spread.

 

Smart Pick

This game is a rematch of last year's Russell Athletic Bowl, won by Louisville, 36-9. The Cardinals covered easily as five-point favorites, but a lot of guys who played for the 'Ville that night have moved on. Miami looks like it holds an edge in the comparison of the two defenses, and with Johnson back the 'Canes should be able to grind out some drives on offense.

Plus, Miami may have a bit of revenge in mind. And with a new coach comes new systems, so Louisville might go through a learning curve early this season. So the pick for Monday night is Miami as a road dog.

 

Trends:

  • Miami is 7-2 ATS in the past nine games as road underdog
  • Louisville is 7-1 SU in its last eight games at home
  • Miami is 5-1 ATS in the past six openers

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2014 College Football Doppelgangers

There is time enough the next five months to watch college football players on film, hidden beneath a cloak of padding and uniform, and talk about how they look on the field.

Now is our last good chance to talk about how they look.

Yes, it's frivolous, but with Texas A&M and South Carolina kicking off the earnest college football season Thursday at 6 p.m. ET, we only have a few hours of frivolousness left before things get real. (And if last night was any indication, we might not even have that.)

So let's indulge ourselves with some 2014 doppelgangers—if only to get the offseason out of our systems while we still can.

Enjoy!

Begin Slideshow

Florida State Seminoles vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys Betting Odds: Pick, Preview

The Florida State Seminoles pulled off a tough trick last year, rampaging to a national championship and making a bunch of money along the way, going 11-2 against the spread despite battling some huge point spreads.

The 'Noles begin defense of their title when they take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys on a (supposedly) neutral field in Arlington on Saturday night.

 

Point spread: Seminoles opened as 17.5-point favorites; the total was 63 at AT&T Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 65.3-44.9 Seminoles (we see the computer projection here as extremely high)

 

Why the Florida State Seminoles can cover the spread

The Seminoles come back this year with 13 returning starters, two more than they had heading into last season. Seven starters return on offense, including Heisman-winning QB Jameis Winston, 1,000-yard receiver Rashad Greene and four along the offensive line. Six are also back on a defense that held foes to 12 points per game last year. Winston was able to play through distractions last season to complete 67 percent of his throws for 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman.

If healthy, and behaving himself, he might only get better. This is essentially a road game for FSU, and the Cowboys have been lame as home underdogs lately.

 

Why the Oklahoma State Cowboys can cover the spread

The Cowboys only return eight starters from a team that almost won the Big 12 last year, but at least a couple of key cogs are in place. Quarterback J.W. Walsh completed 60 percent of 190 passes last year as a redshirt freshman, and RB Desmond Roland averaged almost five yards per carry while scoring 16 touchdowns. Oklahoma State was only dogged on the betting line once last year, and it upset the hell out of Baylor in that instance.

And over the last three seasons, the Cowboys are 4-2 ATS as underdogs. Also, most of the crowd should be on OSU's side Saturday night considering the game is being played about an afternoon's drive south of Stillwater.

 

Smart Pick

Florida State is the preseason No. 1 in every poll, and for good reason. The 'Noles outscored foes last year by a 52-12 per-game average, and they could post similar numbers this year. Winston is great, the offensive line is one of the best in the country and the talent is on hand to fill holes on defense. Oklahoma State, meanwhile, is probably heading into a rebuilding year, with seven new starters to be found on both sides of the ball.

Florida State was favored by 17 points or more 10 times last year; it went 8-1-1 ATS in those contests. If the Seminoles can hold the Cowboys to 17 points, they'll have an excellent chance to cover this spread.

 

Seminoles vs. Cowboys Trends

  • Cowboys 1-6 ATS past seven as home underdog
  • OVER is 13-2 past 15 Oklahoma State games in September

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson Tigers vs. Georgia Bulldogs Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

The Georgia Bulldogs may have lost last year’s season opener 38-35 to the Clemson Tigers, but they had won the previous five meetings—going 4-1 against the spread.

And they will have the benefit of home-field advantage this time around, even though it wasn’t very advantageous last season when the Bulldogs were just 1-4-1 ATS in home games.

 

Point spread: The Bulldogs opened as 9.5-point favorites; the total was 57 at Sanford Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 46.3-36.7 Tigers

 

Why the Clemson Tigers can cover the spread

Georgia struggled mightily against the spread overall at the sportsbooks last season, even before quarterback Aaron Murray went down with a torn ACL. The Bulldogs were just 2-8-1 vs. the line after splitting their first two games, including the season-opening setback at Clemson, and don't have Murray around to take the team's snaps at quarterback.

With Murray off to the NFL, Georgia will have to turn to fifth-year senior Hutson Mason, which could give Clemson enough of an edge for them to get the payout on the road. They face a team that has won 24 of 28 games as home chalk over the past few seasons.

 

Why the Georgia Bulldogs can cover the spread

The Bulldogs will be facing a new quarterback for the Tigers in senior Cole Stoudt, who replaces departed three-year starter Tajh Boyd, also in the NFL after setting nearly every passing record at the school. Stoudt saw limited action last year, completing 47 of 59 passes with eight career touchdown passes against only one interception.

So the Tigers may appear to have a slight edge under center, but they are also without star wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who was selected with the No. 4 overall pick in the NFL draft.

Without Watkins, it remains to be seen if Clemson can air it out and cover the number at the sportsbooks. Georgia has dominated ACC teams against the number over the past decade, according to the Week 1 trends report at Odds Shark.

 

Smart Pick

Even though these teams have faced each other only once in the last decade, the Bulldogs have won two of the last three home meetings by more than two touchdowns, which bodes well for them as favorites of little more than a TD here.

While both QBs have been in their respective systems for a while, Mason has more potential to become a star with better talent around him, led by junior running back Todd Gurley.

This is a huge Top 25 matchup between two highly ranked AP teams in No. 12 Georgia and No. 16 Clemson, and the host Bulldogs simply can’t risk keeping it close and will not take an early loss in this spot. Play Georgia.

 

Trends:

  • UNDER is 8-2 past 10 Clemson games vs. SEC teams
  • Georgia 12-4 ATS vs. ACC since 2002

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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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