Today concludes our college football preview coverage. We hope you have enjoyed our conference breakdowns in what promises to be an exciting season on the grid iron. We want to conclude our coverage by looking at four teams that can shake the college football landscape that don’t belong to a major conference, some Heisman candidates (minus Johnny Manziel), and get you primed for the big games this weekend.
NOTRE DAME (2012 RECORD: 12-1; Lost to Alabama 42-14 in BCS Championship)
KEY ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The 2012 season was a magic carpet ride that had a lot of ups and no downs. That is until that fateful January night when Nick Saban took all the magic and mystique and shoved it down the leprechaun’s throat. Now the two “5’s” are gone. Manti Te’o, who had one of the greatest seasons in history for a linebacker is now a San Diego Charger. The other, quarterback Everett Golson, will sit out this season (and the academic year) for school issues but vows to be back next season. They also lost top running back Cierre Wood and fellow back mate Theo Riddick. George Atkinson returns as the everyday back, but with Tyler Eifert gone, former starter Tommy Rees will need to be creative to move the ball around. Rees has a great arm but is prone to turnovers. Andrew Hendrix will be waiting in the wings and Brian Kelly will pull the trigger quickly. Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt return to help anchor the defense with the loss of both Te’o and Kapron Lewis-Moore.
KEY GAMES: With Notre Dame’s schedule, almost every game is big. But the highlight games are 9/7 at Michigan, 9/21 at home against Michigan State, the following week against Oklahoma in South Bend, 10/19 at home against USC and the season finale at Stanford. Both Notre Dame and Stanford could be in BCS Title mode by then.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Tommy Rees. He’s been cheered and maligned as a quarterback in South Bend, and with Golson gone he’s back in the saddle. He’s got a great arm and won games late for ND last year but he also has a tendency to throw the wrong ball at the wrong time and it leads to a pick-six the other way. Facing a pretty mediocre Temple team in week 1 will give Rees some confidence before heading to the Big House under the lights the following week.
UP OR DOWN?: Short of beating Alabama, last season was all ups. They will be down but not by much.
FINAL ANALYSIS: After two seasons of growing pains and ugly losses, Brian Kelly looked like a genius last season, from that improbable win against Pitt, to the goal line stand against Stanford in the rain, to the big wins over Oklahoma and USC. Now with many of those key pieces gone he needs to come up that same kind of magic again if he wants to be in Pasadena in January. That’s probably not going to happen but ten wins and another BCS bowl berth is probable.
– Scott Criscuolo
LOUISVILLE (2012 RECORD: 11-2 (5-2 Big East); Defeated Florida 33-23 in the Sugar Bowl)
KEY ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: This teams rises and sets with one guy: Teddy Bridgewater. The dark horse Heisman candidate threw for 3700 yards and 27 TD’s and those numbers will rise this season. Head coach Charlie Strong will unleash Bridgewater’s full arsenal of arms and running legs to make the Louisville offense very dangerous. Junior Dominique Brown and senior Senorise Perry will be behind Bridgewater in the backfield. Defensively Louisville returns all their starters from a squad that was one of the best in the nation against the pass, but soft against the run (192 allowed per game).
KEY GAMES: Louisville will be undefeated when they are at Cincinnati on 12/5. They win that game, and they are at the Rose Bowl on January 6. Or are they? In the final year of the dastardly BCS who knows.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Teddy Bridgewater. He’s the guy who wins and loses games for the Cardinals. He plays well, they keep on winning.
UP OR DOWN?: In the incredibly medicocre AAC, Louisville is the big fish in the small pond. They are way up with only the Bearcats of Cincinnati being any kind of threat.
FINAL ANALYSIS: This is a big year for Charlie Strong and Louisville. They have one of the nation’s best quarterbacks and a stacked defense. Put that with a weak schedule and if the BCS numbers fall right (like ND last year) and Strong could be staring at Nick Saban or Urban Meyer on the other sideline for the final crystal football.
– Scott Criscuolo
Boise State Broncos
Entering the Frey: QB Ryan Finley, RB Aaron Baltazar, WR Jake Roh, WR Tanner Shipley, OL Andrew Tercek, DT Nick Terry, LB Tanner Vallejo
Key Games: 8/31 – AT Washington, 9/20 – AT Fresno State, 10/12 – AT Utah State
Player to Watch: DE Demarcus Lawrence. This dude is a terror. 9.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble returns make him the fiercest defender on the Broncos line. The scary thing is that he is only a Junior this year and looks to improve on last year’s stats. Boise State has been known as an offense first school but Lawrence is changing that perception.
Will This Team Be Better or Worse Than Last Year? 11-2 last year was a fairly hefty record for the Broncos. They barely edged out Washington in the bowl game by two points and ironically enough start their season by visiting Washington. They also play improved Utah State and Fresno State teams on the road. Even without slipping against competition they should beat, it is tough to imagine that Boise St. will be able to improve on last years mark.
Final Thoughts: Joe Southwick was serviceable at QB last year but will be asked to improve the load on offense and his per yard completion must be raised above the just over 7 yard mark of a year ago in which they relied on a bunch of safe passes and conservative play calling. Boise State is a football university that has no ability to sneak up on opposing teams. With their toughest tests away from the big blue field, I see Boise taking a step back this year even though Lawrence will more than likely be in the running for defensive player of the year.
– Chad Campbell
Fresno State Bulldogs
Entering the Frey: RB Dontel Jones, WR Da’Mari Scott, LG Travis Harvey (RS), LB Stephen Van Hook, DB Treshon Broughton
Key Games: 8/29 – Rutgers (W, 52-51), 9/20 – Boise State, 10/26 – AT San Diego State
Player to Watch: QB Derek Carr. Quarterbacks named Carr and Fresno State seem to fit together. Carr threw for over 4,000 yards last year and had a 37/7 TD to INT ratio. Fresno State is confident with him getting 40+ pass attempts a game.
Will This Team Be Better or Worse Than Last Year? All the makings are there for Fresno to have a great season. The defense struggled mightily against Rutgers in the opener but their toughest games are at home and their schedule was light to begin with. They also retained all of their skill position players of note. Winning more than the nine games they won last year should be a bottom line expectation.
Final Thoughts: Fresno State was one of the hip mid-major teams that really made a splash in the late 90’s under Pat Hill. After falling back a little in previous years, they look to regain the mantle as the top mid major team in the country with a familiar last name, Carr, at the helm under center.
Final Prediction: 11-2
– Chad Campbell
We’ve spent so much time talking about the best teams in the country, but what about the best players? Johnny Manziel came literally out of nowhere to become the first freshman to win the Heisman trophy in 2012. You’re probably so sick of hearing his name now that you’re wondering who the other studs are that can be at the Downtown Athletic Club in Manhattan come December. We will skip “Johnny Football” in our choices as he is the defending winner, but it’s clear that 9/14 game against Alabama will tell the tale on whether Manziel joins Archie Griffin as the only repeat Heisman winners.
TEDDY BRIDGEWATER, Louisville quarterback
2012 Stats: 287-419, 3718 yards, 27 TD; 211 yards rushing, 1 TD
Bridgewater’s sophomore season captivated a fan base that hasn’t smiled much nationally. They’ve had some great quarterbacks in their history, from Brian Brohm to Dave Ragone. Neither of them have the cache or the opportunity that Bridgewater has. After an 11 win season and a stunning Sugar Bowl win over a listless Florida team, expectations are very high at Papa John. The new American Athletic Conference is clearly built for basketball as this schedule is nothing special and except for a road game at Cincinnati to end the season, Bridgewater has plenty of opportunities to rack up stats and pick up wins. Being close to the top of the BCS rankings all season will also help his chances. Last year Louisville was undefeated until ugly losses to Syracuse and Connecticut back to back. That can’t happen this year if Bridgewater, already an underdog, loses to those teams again.
TAJH BOYD, Clemson quarterback
2012 Stats: 287-427, 3896 yards, 36 TD; 514 yards rushing; 10 TD
Boyd has what Bridgewater doesn’t have: A big time conference and a lot of national exposure. He also has the ability to lose games and still win the award. He gets an immediate chance to make a statement the first Saturday night game of the year when fellow Heisman hopeful Aaron Murray and Georgia head to Death Valley. After that Clemson’s toughest games will be Florida State and South Carolina. Boyd’s numbers are crazy and is the second best (after Manziel) two way threat in the country. He can easily throw for 4000 and rush for 1000 yards, which would be unprecedented. Boyd (in Scott’s opinion) will be one of the last three to make it to New York in December. Whether he wins it or not depends on what Texas A&M does this season.
LACHE SEASTRUNK, Baylor Running Back
2012 Stats: 131 carries, 1012 yards, 7 TD
The issues this brash junior tailback had at Oregon are far in the past. With Baylor having their third different quarterback in as many seasons, Seastrunk (among others) will be called upon by head coach Art Briles to carry a big burden of the offense while Bryce Petty gets his feet wet as the new signal caller. Seastrunk is part of the Big 12’s best backfield with Glasco Martin, as they combined for over 2000 yards last year. Seastrunk will face some tough defenses in conference but many of them have weaknesses in the front lines. Games against Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State will be cupcake games for stats. That will balance out the tough games Seastrunk will have against upper echelon D’s like Texas and Oklahoma. Still he’ll put up good numbers against those teams, it’s whether Baylor wins those games that tells the tale. Seastrunk is definitely behind the 8-ball in the Heisman race against big time quarterbacks this year, but if Baylor surprises teams and wins nine or ten games then Seastrunk may have a seat at the Downtown Athletic Club table.
AARON MURRAY, Georgia Quarter Back
2012 Stats: 249/386 3,893 yards, 36 TD, 64.5% completion percentage
Aaron Murray seems to have a lot of factors benefiting him. He is not going to be relied upon to carry the entire load of UGA’s offense with Gurley and Marshall in the backfield. However, last year he proved that he can be relied upon in pressure situations. Even the final play of the SEC championship where it looked like he had a mental breakdown was shown on second look that his attention was to go to the endzone with the pass. Murray will have to be spectacularly efficient though to be in contention this year and he still has the ability to throw an interception that has you shaking your head wondering what his thought process was. Murray already has most of the Georgia and soon to be SEC career passing records, he just has to put all of his tools together for one spectacular season.
JADEVEON CLOWNEY, South Carolina Defensive End
2012 Stats: 47 tackles, 13 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble return
Not much more could be said about Clowney. He is the highest profile player in college football minus Johnny Manziel and a sure fire #1 pick in April at the NFL draft. While he didn’t look amazing vs. North Carolina, he has the ability to some sub-par (for him) halves of football with some spectacular plays. It is rare that you see this athletic a game changer on the football field. Clowney also has the reputation and awareness to become the first true defensive player to win the Heisman since Ernie Davis.
BRAXTON MILLER, Ohio State Quarter Back
2012 Stats: 148/259, 2,039 yards, 15 TD, 58.3% percentage completion
The stats above show that being on an undefeated team can go a long way in the notoriety department. Most of the national experts have predicted Miller to win the award. For me to consider this, I think we need to see some improvement and trust to let him mix it up a little in Urban Meyers notorious spread offense. Ohio State marching to the National Championship will help Miller’s credentials but in a year so talent rich, it may not be enough.
Now with the teams and players you know about, let’s get down to the schedule. Thursday night of week 1 produced some good games. Jadevon Clowney struggled but South Carolina beat North Carolina 27-10. Ole Miss came from behind for a 39-35 win over Vanderbilt, and USC beat Hawaii 30-13. Here’s four big games this weekend:
Rice at Texas A&M (7); Kyle Field in College Station (1:00pm, ESPN)
The Johnny Manziel saga has ended for this week with him being suspended for the first half. It will be interesting to see if the team was affected by his constant distraction.
Ohio at (9) Louisville; Papa John Stadium in Louisville (3:30pm, ESPN)
The first game for Charlie Strong’s Cardinals to show they belong in this year’s BCS Title talk. Ohio is no pushover out of the MAC and Teddy Bridgewater will face a fast but beatable defense.
(1) Alabama vs. Virgina Tech; Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia (5:30pm, ESPN)
Alabama should roll here but it will be crucial to gauge just how competitive Va Tech is in this game as to what their ACC aspirations should be for the upcoming season.
(5) Georia at Clemson (8); Death Valley in Clemson, South Carolina (8:00pm, ABC)
Two big teams in a long standing rivalry playing a game that can have National Championship aspirations in August. Doesn’t get much bigger than this for a week one game.
(20) TCU vs. (12) LSU; AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX (9pm, ESPN)
This is a great interconference matchup between two teams in transition. Two of the nation’s best defense will collide in Cowboys Stadium
(12) Florida State at Pittsburgh; Heinz Field in Pittsburgh (8pm MONDAY, ESPN)
First game for the Panthers as an ACC team. Jimbo Fisher has high hopes in the ACC and should win this one.