College football is back! The new season kicks off with some excellent match-ups in Week 1. The folks at CollegeFootballNews.com are back to break down the biggest games of the weekend. Check out their predictions below.
Why You Should Give A Hoot: There are only a few games each season that play a really, really big role in the national title chase, and no non-conference game might mean more than this one, especially for Clemson.
While the Tigers have done some nice things under head coach Dabo Swinney, and the ACC championship a few years ago was great, this is bigger. This is bigger than the Chick-fil-A Bowl win over LSU to close out last year, even though that was the breakthrough moment that proved the program can play with the big dogs. The tone is set and the spotlight is on, and now if Clemson can pull this off and beat the Bulldogs for the first time since 1990, it might be a three-game season — Florida State, at South Carolina, ACC championship — for a shot at the BCS title.
There’s a margin for error with Georgia, who can afford one loss and still play for the whole ball of wax by winning the SEC championship and finishing 12-1. However, with South Carolina coming up next and LSU looming at the end of September, this might be a must-win situation for a loaded team full of enough talent to win the first national title since the Herschel Walker era.
Why Georgia Might Win: Do the Tigers have a lockdown corner good enough to keep up with the Georgia receivers? Clemson’s secondary struggled throughout last season despite the help of a terrific pass rush, and while there’s just enough experience and just enough talent to get by, it might be target practice for Aaron Murray. This is not the team or the offense to go against when you’re trying to break in new players in key positions. Clemson ranked 110th in the country, just between UTEP and Eastern Michigan, in the number of plays yielded of 30 yards or more — expect a lot more to come to kick off 2013.
Why Clemson Might Win: Oh yeah, defense. You don’t get better after losing Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, John Jenkins, and on and on and on. It’s Georgia, so the defense will find talented athletes who can fill in the gaps, but if there’s no consistent pass rush early on when Tajh Boyd settles in the pocket, it should be bombs away. There’s almost no experience returning to the Bulldog defensive front, and while the Tigers line probably won’t be a killer, four starters return.
What Will Happen: The last team to get the ball wins? Be extremely disappointed if this isn’t an up-and-down shootout with both gunslingers coming up with magical things. Georgia’s offense will be a bit more balanced, and the defense a wee bit better despite the lack of experience, in a thriller.
Why You Should Give A Hoot: TCU made the step up in class last season with the move to the Big 12, and while the results were mixed after a rocky and controversial offseason, there were still several nice moments. Now it’s time for the Horned Frogs to prove they really and truly belong in the big-time, but it’ll be a tall, tall task beating an LSU team that’s not getting much national respect.
Beating TCU wouldn’t exactly thrust LSU into the national title picture, but it would be a good start. Remember, there but for the grace of a whopper of a break in 2011 and an AJ McCarron drive in 2012, we all could be talking about a possible LSU three-peat. Instead, this is just another fantastically talented Les Miles team that’s just a few tweaks away from being truly special. With road games at Georgia and Alabama, it’s going to be a rough SEC season, but for now, this is the big national moment for the Tigers. Win this impressively, and it should be smooth sailing until late September. But first there’s some work to be done.
Can the TCU defense shine without Devonte Fields? The fantastic pass rusher was suspended from the first few games of the season. Can LSU fill in the gaps on the defensive front seven? Can TCU get its offense rolling again after failing to score more than 20 points in five of the last six games? This isn’t exactly Georgia vs. Clemson on the national attention scale, but it’s still going to be important.
Why LSU Might Win: If TCU had problems scoring late last season, even with the return of quarterback Casey Pachall to the mix, how will there be more production? The offensive front isn’t going to power over anyone, and it should have a nightmare of a time trying to generate any sort of a push for the ground attack. With Fields out, will there be enough pressure on LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger? The Tiger offensive line should be a strength early on with everyone healthy, and while the Horned Frogs will be active, they’ll have to be ready to be beaten on. The Tigers will come at the 4-2-5 defense in waves of power.
Why TCU Might Win: The defense might not have Fields, and the pass rush might be average, but it’s still going to be fantastic. The secondary might be the best in the Big 12 — or as good as the Big 12 is able to offer — while the front six should make up for the lack of quality depth with good discipline; everyone tries to pound on Gary Patterson’s teams, but it doesn’t work. If the Horned Frogs can somehow get up early with the mid-range passing game, the pressure will be on Mettenberger to throw. Against Jason Verrett and this secondary, that should work in TCU’s favor.
What Will Happen: LSU will flex a little muscle. The NFL-caliber quarterbacks — Mettenberger and Pachall — won’t come up with big games, but they’ll keep pushing. LSU’s ground game will take control after a rough first half. Points will be at a premium early, but the Tigers will pull away late.
Why You Should Give A Hoot: Just how good is the two-time defending BCS champion? After all but being handed the national title already, the 2013 season is a mere formality, right?
Virginia Tech is supposed to be nothing more than a speed bump. After all, the Crimson Tide juggernaut is absolutely deadly under Nick Saban when it has time to prepare for a meaningful game — the 2009 Sugar Bowl sort of doesn’t count — and if it comes out and blasts away in an easy win, it’ll seem like business as usual. The No. 1 team in America is supposed to drill an ACC team coming off a 7-6 season, but nothing is ever taken for granted when Saban is involved. No one is better at getting an ultra-talented team focused on getting the job done on the next play, the next series and the next game, but with two weeks off to deal with Johnny Halftime, it might be a wee bit hard for the Tide to compartmentalize the moment.
Meanwhile, on the other side, it’s statement time. It was only two years ago when the Hokies went 11-3 with two losses to Clemson — including a 38-10 drubbing in the ACC championship — and a controversial loss to Michigan in the Sugar Bowl. Before last season, Tech won 10 games or more in six straight seasons, and last year wasn’t nearly as bad as the 7-6 record might indicate. They might not have been any impressive wins, and it might have been a down year, but it was also a rebuilding campaign. Has Frank Beamer lost his touch? Can he and Virginia Tech finally win a really, really big game again? The entire narrative of the 2013 college football season could quickly change with one big performance by an underappreciated team.
Or Alabama will be Alabama, America will yawn, and the hype will begin for the showdown with the Aggies.
Why Alabama Might Win: How is Virginia Tech going to score? The Hokies had a nightmare of a time consistently putting points on the board last season and did next to nothing pushing the passing game down the field. The biggest problem was a line that didn’t generate enough of a push for the ground attack and didn’t give quarterback Logan Thomas enough time to work — things aren’t appreciably better going into this season. Alabama might not generate too much of a steady pass rush, but it might not need to. Thomas isn’t a deadly accurate passer and his receivers will struggle to get open.
Why Virginia Tech Might Win: No one in the SEC will want to buy this, but this might be the best defense Alabama faces all season long. It’s a loaded group returning from a D that led the ACC in sacks and finished second on tackles for loss, improving as the season went on and doing a nice job against the run. The line is aggressive and active, and the secondary, despite the absence of top corner Antone Exum, is talented and physical. There’s talk that this might be the best defensive front Frank Beamer has fielded in a decade, and considering Alabama is welcoming in three new starters on offense, there could be consistency problems.
What Will Happen: Alabama will win, but it’s not going to be pretty. The final score will probably make it look like a mild blowout, but the Tide will struggle to get there with the Virginia Tech defense causing major problems running consistently. After this game the storyline will be, “What’s wrong with Alabama?” Instead, it should be about how Virginia Tech is rock solid, even if it loses.
Why You Should Give A Hoot: With revenge on its mind for last year’s Las Vegas Bowl defeat, Washington returns home following 21 months of Husky Stadium renovations.
U-Dub is excited about finally getting back into its familiar building in time for the start of the 2013 season. The program is also rather eager to take that next step under Steve Sarkisian after going 7-6 for three straight years. While Sark has done a brilliant job of moving beyond the disastrous Tyrone Willingham era, fans are getting justifiably a little antsy about their team’s mediocrity. What better way to make a statement than at home inside dramatically spruced-up digs?
Boise State remains one of the most consistent programs in America, a credit to head coach Chris Petersen and his staff. Remarkably, the Broncos have failed to win 10 games just twice in the last 14 years. However, three consecutive Las Vegas Bowl invites have Boise feeling a little unfulfilled as well. It’s one of the favorites out of the Mountain West, but, as usual, the preseason bar is set at busting into a BCS bowl game.
Why Boise State Might Win: An entire offseason is a lot of time for Petersen to prepare for an opponent. Petersen is one of the sport’s best game-planners, so don’t expect the Broncos to hurt themselves. They’ll hammer away at Washington’s two biggest concerns, pass protection and replacing star CB Desmond Trufant. The line, led by DE Demarcus Lawrence, is the strength of the D. And QB Joe Southwick finished 2012 strong and will be better in Year 2, connecting liberally with sure-handed target Matt Miller.
Why Washington Might Win: After using a ton of underclassmen in 2012, the Huskies are poised to break out in a big way this season. Sarkisian and his staff have recruited very well lately, so U-Dub will enjoy an advantage in speed and overall talent on Saturday night. Bishop Sankey is a top-notch back, and the receivers, like Kasen Williams, will be able to exploit a completely rebuilt Boise State back seven. The Huskies are the better defensive team, boasting excellent range at linebacker with John Timu and Shaq Thompson.
What Will Happen: Washington will give itself a housewarming gift on Saturday, a pivotal and hard-fought victory over Boise State. The Huskies will play with a sense of urgency and enthusiasm, treating their fans to an entertaining 60-minute nail-biter. Injuries have stalled U-Dub in recent years, but the start of a new campaign means that the team is close to full-strength. While Price will play adequately, Sankey will lead the charge with a couple of scores and more than 100 yards rushing, with most coming in the second-half.
Why You Should Give A Hoot: The Big 12 needs this one.
Mississippi State is a good, strong team that should be improved a bit after a hot-and-cold 2012, but it’s not going to win the SEC West. Middle of the pack at best, there are just enough holes to keep the Bulldogs from being players, but they have just enough talent to upset any of the big boys on the slate. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State is considered one of the favorites to win the Big 12 title after a good rebuilding season. While a loss obviously wouldn’t mean anything in the conference title race, it would be a rough hit for a league that wants to push to be No. 2 behind the SEC.
Dan Mullen needs this one.
The Mississippi State head coach isn’t exactly on a hot seat, but he could use a good win over a brand name team after losing five of the last six games last season. With the SEC season to deal with, a strong record will be tough to get if the Bulldogs can’t pull this off.
Why Mississippi State Might Win: Can the Bulldogs throw on the Cowboys secondary? Oklahoma State didn’t give up too many big plays last year, but it got dinked and dunked on to deal allowing 280 yards per game. Tyler Russell is one of the SEC’s best pure passers, and if he gets time he should be able to get the offense moving. MSU will be physical up front with a line that should be a major positive to kick things off, and it’s going to need to pound away to control the clock and keep the Cowboys offense off the field.
Why Oklahoma State Might Win: Oklahoma State isn’t the type of team to go against when you’re trying to break in a new secondary. The Bulldog safeties should be solid, but the corners are a bit of a question mark after losing Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay. Even with them, the pass defense was too shaky. Making matters worse is a MSU pass rush that’s not going to show up for long stretches; Oklahoma State should be able to bomb away when needed.
What Will Happen: The flash of the Oklahoma State attack will overcome the power of the Mississippi State ground game. The Bulldog secondary will be fine, but the Cowboys should be able to wing the ball around just enough make Russell press and make a few key mistakes. Expect the OSU defense to be a bit more opportunistic.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 34, Mississippi State 27