Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Spread Offense 8.31.16: It's College Kickoff Time!

By Pat Luhta, @PLuhta

After a long, long offseason, college football is officially back! Fans around the country will be treated to games from Thursday through Monday as the NCAA rolls out the red carpet to spotlight their product in a big way. College football takes full advantage of a 3-day weekend combined with no NFL games to start the season out with a huge bang. Here's what to look forward to on the first full slate of games of the season.

Thursday Sept. 1st

Thursday games are more of the appetizer, something to watch but nothing that would fill a college football fans' hunger.

The SEC will be on display as the big game of the night is a conference match-up between South Carolina and Vanderbilt. While neither team is ranked, the intrigue here is Will Muschamp in his 1st season as Gamecocks Head Coach, taking over for Steve Spurrier who retired after 11 seasons at South Carolina. Muschamp was once the heir apparent at Texas, but after a disasterous tenure as Head Coach of the Florida Gators, he is now looking to bounce back and regain that coaching reputation that he once had.
Again, it may not be much but it's football. 

Other games of note: Appalachian State at #9 Tennessee, Oregon State at Minnesota.

Friday Sept. 2nd

While Thursday was something to just get us started, Friday offers us a big spotlight game.

Kansas State at Stanford gives us a big time Heisman candidate in Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey looks to lead the Cardinal this season to another Pac-12 title and hopefully a playoff berth this season. The Heisman runner-up goes up against a Kansas State defense that allowed over 450 yards of offense. Uncertainty at QB could be the achilles heel for Stanford, Kevin Hogan is now gone and Head Coach Davis Shaw has said that both Ryan Burns and Keller Chryst will play as they are not yet ready to name either as a lock for the job.

In order for Kansas State to pull off the upset, they will have to rely on their offense to keep pace with Stanford. QB Jesse Ertz is back as starter after a season-ending injury on the first snap of the season last year,  he along with their run game attack could cause problems for Stanford.

Other games of note: Colorado State vs. Colorado at Sports Authority field in Denver, Northwestern St at #23 Baylor and Furman at #12 Michigan State.

Saturday Sept. 3rd

And away we go! The first Saturday of College Football delivers in a big way with marquee matchups at every turn.

The noon games give us a big time matchup as the #3 Oklahoma Sooners are at the #15 Houston Cougars. Oklahoma looks to return to the playoffs this season, but a big test to start the season(both this week and in week 3 against Ohio State) could derail their chances. QB Baker Mayfield is a Heisman candidate and could start an early campaign with a statement win here. Houston bursted onto the scene last season under 1st year Head Coach Tom Herman. Led by QB Greg Ward Jr., Houston rolled to a 13-1 record last season capping it off with a Peach Bowl win over Florida State. They are experienced and have performed well on the big stage before, this game could be very dynamic.

Heading into 3:30, we have not one but two big match-ups.

#13 UCLA and their sophomore phenom QB Josh Rosen look to be the team to knock Stanford off in the Pac-12. The Bruins will head to Texas A&M to take on an Aggies team that had quite a tumultuous offseason. On paper, UCLA is the better team and should win this game. The Bruins are a potential playoff team while the Aggies have seen both their 5 star QB recruits transfer, numerous current commits back off their commitment after a coach's tweet and 2 assistant coaches suspended after degrading comments towards women(at a symposium for female fans to help educate them about the game). But never count out the Aggies at home, Kyle Field provides one of the biggest home field advantages in the country and will be a big struggle for UCLA to get over that key component there.

And in the other 3:30 big game, #5 LSU heads way north to take on Wisconsin with the game being played at Lambeau Field. The focus for LSU centers around RB Leonard Fournette, with some saying that he's not only a Heisman candidate, but the Heisman frontrunner. Wisconsin though is always known for the rough, tough defense and although they lost their defensive coordinator(to LSU, ironically), their defense that ranked #2 in total yards last season looks to continue their dominance and do what they can to contain Fournette. LSU's speed may prove to be the biggest factor as they may make it tough for Wisconsin to move the ball much on offense, even with Corey Clement returning after a hernia cut his 2015 season short.

Sandwiched in between the 3:30 and the 8pm games, is a big 5:30 matchup between two ranked teams. #22 North Carolina takes on #18 Georgia on a "neutral" field(game is played at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta), in a game that could be decided by UNC's run defense. North Carolina's run defense seemed to be non-existent toward the end of last season and with RB standout Nick Chubb being medically cleared to play for the Bulldogs, it could be a matter of how improved the Tar Heels are, if at all. UGA still has not named a QB even, so North Carolina's ability to stop Chubb and make their QB throw looks to be the big factor.

And then, the main event kicks off at 8pm! With the game being played at Jerry World in Dallas, the #20 USC Trojans face off against the defending national champs and preseason ranked #1, the Alabama Crimson Tide. This game will feature playmakers everywhere on the field, from Alabama's Cam Ridley and O.J. Howard to USC's JuJu Smith-Schuster, Adoree Jackson and Ronald Jones II. The Alabama defense though, will be the big thing to watch as they have 1st round talent at all 3 levels, including 2 at linebacker. USC will need newly named starting QB Max Browne to be smart and precise with his decisions in order for the Trojans to win this game, utilizing his playmakers while not turning the ball over. Alabama yet again is replacing their starting QB and RB, with the way they recruit though there's little doubt that they have the players to step up and not miss a beat on offense. This top match-up is the type of fireworks on week 1 that gets the college football fans' heart racing!

But there's still 1 more to go on this Saturday night, kicking off at 9pm. Under the lights at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Auburn Tigers host the #2 Clemson Tigers. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson will be the center of attention here, as he seems to be garnering the most Heisman hype but the Tigers have their eyes set on getting back to the college football championship game and avenging their loss to Alabama. Auburn is a team with a lot of unknowns, especially on offense. There isn't a lot of experience and numerous true freshmen may be getting some playing time, not exactly a good formula for going up against the #2 team in the country. They will need that home crowd to give them the big, much needed advantage but looks like Clemson will be too much for them.

Other games of note: Bowling Green at #6 Ohio State, Hawaii at #7 Michigan, Rutgers at #14 Washington.

Sunday Sept. 4th

On Sunday, we get one primetime game that kicks off at 7:30 pm between 2 blue blood programs, with #10 Notre Dame heads to Austin to take on the Texas Longhorns. Both teams have big questions marks at QB, Notre Dame saying they will play 2 QB's while Texas is not announcing who their starting QB is. While some are considering Notre Dame as a possible playoff team this season, the Irish are among the teams that are returning the least amount of starters, and also have a few players suspended for this game. The Longhorns are looking for a statement win to start the season and build on that. Although they only won 5 games last season, two of those wins came against Oklahoma and Baylor. If the Longhorns can start the season with a big win and use it to propel them this season, then they could end up as a "surprise" team in the Big 12.

Monday Sept. 5th

One last game to cap off week 1, Monday Night Football college edition starts up at 8 pm. #11 Ole Miss and #4 Florida State link up in the Citrus Bowl, quite the grand finale for an epic Holiday weekend of games. Florida State boasts Heisman hopeful Dalvin Cook at RB,who will be relied on heavily as Florida State will be starting redshirt freshman Deandre Fracois at QB(although last time they started a redshirt freshman, it turned out ok for them.) Ole Miss, on the other hand, has no questions about their starting QB as Senior Chad Kelly may be a dark horse Heisman candidate this season. This game should be electric with both offenses being able to move the ball and create big plays, as this game could just be a perfect ending to an exhilarating opening weekend.

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