2012 Season: 35-10
I'd like to consider myself a lucky guy: functioning vehicle, nice apartment, steady job, significant other, great family, etc. What this luck does not extend to is my fortune involving my neighbors at college football games.
If there is an ignorant, inebriated simpleton from the shallow end of the gene pool in the stadium, I can guarantee you he is within shouting distance of my person and that he is indeed "shouting" and will continue to do so for the duration of the contest.
Now, most of you are mild-mannered, red-blooded Americans who enjoy college football just as much as the next person and if that's you, feel free to skip down to the predictions and enjoy one of the good Lord's most blessed inventions: college football.
But if you find yourself getting sideways looks from the folks in your section, I invite you to stick around for a couple, brief pointers on how to make your stadium experience more enjoyable for you and those around you.
- Yell obscenities at your fellow patrons for sitting down during a media timeout. I'm sorry friend, it's over 90 degrees. In Florida. In September. The players are hydrating on the sidelines and I just paid four dollars for a Powerade. I believe I'll take my rest whenever I can get it.
- Call for the backup quarterback after the first three-and-out. Sure that first drive would've made Chip Kelly cringe, but bailing on your guy after the first series doesn't make you look smarter. It makes you sound like a fool.
- Coach from the stands. I assure you, the gentlemen on the sideline know more than you could ever hope to know about football and you probably think that "nickleback" is just the name of band.
- Show up drunk. They say no man is an island, but I bet you'll feel awfully helpless if your world starts going sideways and you're 60 rows from the nearest exit. And while the comedic value of watching you stumble through the stands the way I stumble to the bathroom at 4 in the morning is exceptionally high, your neighbors appreciate your sobriety.
Getting off the soapbox for now. Let's get to the good stuff:
No. 25 Nebraska vs. Idaho St.: I think the Bruins snuck up a little bit on the Cornhuskers a couple of weeks ago, but we did learn one thing from that contest with UCLA: the "Blackshirts" defense is a thing of the past. UCLA lit Nebraska up for over 600 yards of total offense and new defensive coordinator John Papuchis has his work cut out for him.
Luckily Idaho St. is on the docket this week and Taylor Martinez and company should run all over the Bengals (Nebraska is 8th in the country in rushing offense). Cornhuskers win roll an FCS opponent.
No. 24 Boise St. vs. BYU: I honestly haven't seen much of Boise St. since their 17-13 loss to Michigan State but regardless of who is on the field for the Broncos, they are consistently one of the most well-coached groups in the FBS and Chris Petersen makes sure his boys come to play every Saturday.
BYU was more than a bit disappointing last week and failed to knock off a beaten-up Utah squad. I know Joe Southwick is no Kellen Moore, but in Petersen's system, he doesn't have to be. I'll take coaching and scheme over a disjointed BYU team. Boise wins on the Smurf Turf.
No. 23 Miss. St. vs. South Alabama: It's been a tough road for the Jaguars in their first year in the FBS that's included a two-point loss to UTSA, a 31-7 loss on the road at North Carolina State and a snubbing out of EA's premier college football offering, NCAA Football '13.
That road won't get any smoother when they travel west to play Mississippi State, a team that, for all their other attributes, excels in toughness. Having already handled their business through three weeks, I don't see South Alabama posing any problems in a hostile environment in Starkville. Can't hurt a dawg, Bulldogs win big.
No. 21 Michigan St. vs. Eastern Michigan: After watching Michigan State's offense flounder against Notre Dame last weekend, I couldn't decide if Sparty was that bad or if the Irish were just that good on defense (we'll get to Notre Dame later).
Michigan State was exposed for what they are this year: one-dimensional, which is a shame because teams will be game planning for their only legitimate offensive weapon (Le'Veon Bell) and it'll force Andrew Maxwell to make plays for them. While it won't affect this matchup, it's definitely something to watch moving forward. Sparty will romp over an overmatched MAC squad.
No. 20 Louisville at FIU: Charlie Strong's defense almost gave up a big lead to UNC last week, but managed to hang on for the W at home. Teddy Bridgewater was excellent last weekend (I really like this kid. He's young, athletic and has tons of poise. I think he could run the table in the Big East until he graduates. Granted running the table in the Big East is like being the funniest guy on Blue Collar Comedy Tour, but I digress.) and is completing over 80 percent of his passes on the season.
FIU is giving up an awful lot of points this year, exactly 39 a game and I think Bridgewater and a well-coached Louisville squad will take down the Golden Panthers in Miami.
No. 19 UCLA vs. Oregon St.: Jonathan Franklin is averaging over 180 yards per game and has already eclipsed the 500-yard mark and we're only three games into the season. Franklin is even getting a little well-earned Heisman buzz, but the rest of the Bruins are scorching the earth as well. As a team, UCLA is second in the country in total offense, averaging over 600 yards per game.
The Beavers stymied Wisconsin in their only game of the season so far, upsetting the Badgers 10-7. They're going to have to score a whole lot more than 10 points to hang with the explosive Bruins and I just don't think they have it in them. Jim Mora Jr. moves to 4-0 and wins his inaugural Pac-12 game.
No. 17 TCU vs. Virginia: TCU's defense has yet to face a tough test, but the Horned Frogs are giving up only three points a game, good for second in the nation. Casay Pachall hasn't had too much asked of him yet, but look for TCU to throw the ball more with leading rusher Waymon James now gone for the season.
Virginia has squeaked by Penn State and been trounced by Georgia Tech in their only two FBS matchups so far. Junior Michael Rocco is completing just 64 percent of his passes and the offense hasn't put up more than 20 against legitimate competition yet. I'll take the Horned Frogs at home.
No. 16 Ohio St. vs. UAB: I don't think I've been more underwhelmed by a team in the Top 25 than Ohio St. Many publications had them in their preseason Top 10 (partly because that moves paper, but that's an entirely different issue), but the Buckeyes have had to count on Braxton Miller to save their bacon two weeks in a row.
The UCF game was a seven-point contest at halftime and the game-winning touchdown last week against Cal didn't come until there was less than five minutes to go in the fourth quarter. The Buckeyes have one more week to figure it out before they start their conference schedule next week against Michigan State.
No. 13 USC vs. Cal: If you didn't catch USC-Stanford last week then shame on you, as you missed the most exciting game of the young season. Our lesson last week was two-fold: 1) if you want to beat USC, you'll have to outmuscle them and 2) USC can definitely be outmuscled.
I'm placing the Trojans on upset alert this weekend. That's not because I think Cal is a better football team, but I'm interested to see how Barkley (who stunk up the joint against Stanford) and the Trojans will respond after a huge letdown last week. In the end though, I think the Men of Troy bounce back. USC takes the shine off the Golden Bears.
No. 14 Florida vs. Kentucky and No. 11 Notre Dame vs. No. 18 Michigan: There's been a lot a talk about whether these two programs are "back" or not but I think that cannot definitively be determined within the first three games of the season and to quite some of the hype I've grouped these two predictions together.
Florida has yet to beat a team that had more than seven wins in 2011 and Notre Dame needed a late field goal to beat Purdue and got one or two more big plays from their offense than a one-dimensional Michigan State squad.
Are they both playing better football than what they have been in recent years? Yes. Do I think they'll both win this weekend? Yes (As good as Kentucky is in hoops, they are equally as bad in football and I was very impressed with Notre Dame's discipline on defense last week. I think they'll give Denard Robinson fits.) Do I think either of them are Top 10 teams? Absolutely not. So everybody take a deep breath. It's only Week 3.
No. 8 West Virginia vs. Maryland: Geno Smith is emerging as the early season frontrunner for the Heisman trophy (734 yards, 9 TDs, 0 INTs and an 88.0% completion percentage) and boy howdy is West Virginia scoring some points.
Maryland on the other hand is already floundering, having lost to Randy Edsall's old squad Connecticut at home last week. Maryland, who is averaging less than half as many points per game as the Mountaineers are, will have a tough time hanging in this one. Smith and the Mountaineers lay it on thick against the Terrapins.
No. 7 South Carolina vs. Missouri: Mizzou bounced back last week after getting dominated in the fourth quarter against Georgia in what was their inaugural game in the SEC. This week marks another first for the Tigers as they take to the road for the first time in their new conference, traveling to Columbia to take on the Gamecocks.
Connor Shaw is back for the Cocks and his playing time will be contingent on how much pain he can tolerate as the hairline fracture in his shoulder can't get any worse with contact.
One of the most telling things about Mizzou's loss to Georgia was how dominant the Bulldogs' front seven was in the second half when they finally woke up. I doubt it will take South Carolina's arguably more dominant front that long to come to life in front of the home fans for the Cocks' SEC opener. Cocky takes down the Tigers.
No. 6 Oklahoma vs. No. 15 Kansas St.: Sure Oklahoma is ranked 6th in the country, but what do we know about this year's edition of the Sooners? Well, we know that it took them four quarters to put UTEP to bed in Week 1 and that they can kick the crap out of poor, overmatched MEAC schools. So, in short: nothing.
The Wildcats are in very much the same boat, having yet to be truly tested in 2012. Collin Klein has been impressive, but has had his share of mistakes. Klein is tough though and his senior leadership is immeasurably important for the Wildcats.
That said, as badly as I want to pick Klein and company, Oklahoma is too versatile on offense (now installing packages for bruising backup QB Blake Bell) and it would take an awfully heroic performance out of Klein to pull off the upset in Norman. Sooners win.
No. 5 Georgia vs. Vanderbilt: I'm not really sure why you'd bench your starter for a game against a lowly opponent like Presbyterian, thus wrecking his confidence before the heart of your SEC schedule, but Vandy has done just that and at the time of posting, it's still unclear whether Jordan Rodgers, younger brother of the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers, will get the start on Saturday.
After the Dawgs rested linebacker Jarvis Jones last week with a groin injury, Jones will look to reprise his two sack, two forced fumble performance that he had against Mizzou against the Commodores. With one of the more balanced offensive attacks in the country, look for the Dawgs to run away with this one between the hedges. Georgia dominates.
No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 22 Arizona: Hope they've got extra light bulbs for the scoreboard, because they're going to need them in Autzen on Saturday night. In terms of sheer yardage, the Wildcats are actually averaging more offense than the Ducks heading into this one (gasp!), but the Quack Attack is scoring more.
Rich Rodriguez has surprisingly revitalized the Wildcats in just a few short weeks and after outgunning Oklahoma State, defeating Oregon in Autzen at their own game would be quite a feat. It'll certainly be an interesting mix of styles on Saturday with 'Zona more prone to throwing the ball and the Ducks tearing up the turf with their signature running attack, but in the end I like Oregon's freshman signal caller Marcus Mariota and Chip Kelly's stable of weapons is a little deeper than Arizona's. Ducks win a barn burner.
No. 2 LSU at Auburn: After losses to Clemson and Mississippi State, Auburn was one blocked kick away from being 0-3 and suffering a loss to UL-Monroe, pride of the Sun Belt. After winning a National Title against Oregon a couple seasons ago, Auburn's decline seems to have worsened following last year's respectable 8-5 effort.
Thus far in 2012 LSU seems to be holding steady and while the Tigers that will be wearing purple and gold on Saturday have lost five of their last six in Jordan-Hare, they're certainly more talented than Auburn. Tough running from Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue and a hard-nosed defensive effort should propel LSU to a win.
No. 1 Alabama vs. FAU: After literally beating the sense out of Arkansas last week, I hate to see what'll happen to FAU on Saturday. The Tide will rotate early and often to get some of their young guys some reps as this one will be out of FAU's reach early.
Rammer Jammer, Bama wins by a healthy margin.
View from the Cheap Seats Special Preview:
No. 4 FSU vs. No. 10 Clemson:
As a writer I try and stay as objective as possible, but there are certain scenarios in which you cannot divorce your heart from your head. As many of you might know, I've been rooting for Florida State for my entire natural born life, earned a degree at FSU and I cannot recall a game about which I've ever been more anxious.
Sure last year's Oklahoma game was huge (and one of the most electric environments I've ever been in. I expect more of the same Saturday at Doak Campbell.), but the expectations for FSU felt like a "too much too soon" scenario and while I picked the 'Noles in a tight one, I'll be the first to admit that I was being a bit of a homer.
This year already has a different feel in Tallahassee. Two cupcakes headlined the start of last year's schedule as well, but the Seminoles looked much more focused against inferior competition this year than they did last year.
Their execution was crisp on both sides of the ball, the offensive line appears to have their ducks in a row and the defense looks particularly menacing (FSU is first in the country in total defense and scoring defense and if I wanted to get picky, I'd say they could force more turnovers but that'd be like saying a Ferrari could have a little more horsepower).
The talent on defense is borderline unfair and even without All-American Brandon Jenkins, Bjoern Werner is leading the nation in sacks and I could spend the rest of the column listing talented, athletic playmakers on the defensive side of the ball: Carradine, Dawkins, Jernigan, Williams, Jones, Moody, Joyner, Rhodes...the list goes on and on.
After last year's disappointment, Saturday night should be EJ Manuel's show. Years of high expectations for the athletically gifted senior out of Virginia Beach will either be realized or left unfulfilled and while I've heard grumbling about his play thus far in 2012, my belief is that FSU hasn't really shown their hand offensively yet and they'll kick the training wheels off the bike on Saturday night.
A welcome sight for Seminole fans has been the return of a reliable running game. Chris Thompson is the home run hitting kind of back that FSU hasn't had in a while and Thompson along with sophomores Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. will add welcome balance to an offense that struggled running the football last year.
But make no mistake, Clemson will come to play and that vaunted FSU defense will have their hands full against the Tigers' stable of weapons in quarterback Tajh Boyd, running back Andre Ellington and wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins. Clemson's offensive potency is nothing to scoff at, but the Tigers are replacing four starters on the offensive line and will have their hands full against the Seminoles defensive front, perhaps the deepest, most-talented line in the country.
Harping back to last year's Oklahoma game and the expectations leading up to it, there was an aire of optimism but not a real expectation of victory. This year is different. The players are speaking with a quiet confidence and last year's let downs seem to have humbled and emboldened the players and coaching staff. I fully expect Florida State to handle their business on Saturday because whereas they could have beaten Oklahoma last year, they should beat Clemson this year.
And they will. Noles win, 35-21.