College Football 2012: Week One Preview
It's the most wonderful time of the year. School is back in session. Everyone's favorite team is undefeated. Every fan just knows their team is underrated and will be better than expected. And we can finally stop focusing on offseason scandals and politics. Yes, college football is finally back.
With that, here is everything you need to know to be ready for week one action.
Hawaii (0-0) at #1 Southern Cal (0-0)
[Saturday, Sep. 1 at 7:30 PM ET on Fox]
Eligible for the postseason for the first time since 2009, the USC Trojans have their sights set much higher than just bowl eligibility. The preseason #1 team is loaded at almost every position. Heisman favorite Matt Barkley will be under center and has a slew of talented targets, including receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Lee, a pair that combined for over 2,400 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns. The Trojans also boasted a returning 1,000 yard rusher in Curtis McNeal but, to add to the embarrassment of riches, brought in Penn State transfer Silas Redd, who rushed for 1,241 yards last year for the Nittany Lions. Hawaii struggled to stop anyone last year (ranking 80th in scoring defense) and will be hard-pressed to slow down the potent Trojans offense that is already thinking national championship. One interesting storyline -- this will be Norm Chow’s first game as Hawaii’s head coach. Chow served as USC’s offensive coordinator from 2001-04, during which time he coached two Heisman winners and won two national championships.
#2 Alabama (0-0) vs. #8 Michigan (0-0)
[Saturday, Sep. 1 at 8:00 PM ET on ABC; game played in Arlington, TX]
The address at Cowboys Stadium is 1 Legends Way. Which somehow seems appropriate when the stadium hosts two of the most storied programs in college football. Alabama looks to begin its quest for second consecutive national title while the Wolverines are looking to show the world that, after some down years, they deserve to back among the nation’s football elite. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson is one of football’s most exciting and versatile players and is on many peoples’ short list as a Heisman contender. He’ll have a chance to put his skills on display against one of the best defenses in America. The Crimson Tide returns an all-world defense that finished first in almost every defensive category last year. The biggest question mark in this game is at running back. Alabama’s Eddie Lacy is coming off foot surgery and must step up to replace Heisman finalist Trent Richardson. On the other side, Wolverines returning starter Fitzgerald Toussaint (1,041 yards and nine touchdowns last year) is suspended indefinitely following a summer DUI arrest and, as of press time, coach Brady Hoke has not yet announced if the junior will play this week.
North Texas (0-0) at #3 Louisiana State (0-0)
[Saturday, Sep. 1 at 7:00 PM ET on ESPNU]
Between Hurricane Isaac and the dismissal of Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu, LSU has experienced more than its share of off-field drama in the last month. However, the Tigers should be able to put that behind them once the game kicks off and they take on a North Texas squad that has not had a winning season since 2004 and has only won more than three games in a season once since then. LSU is counting on junior college transfer Zach Mettenberger to give them a strong passing game they have really lacked since JaMarcus Russell was under center in 2007. Despite the loss of Mathieu and some other players, the Tigers defense should still be one of the nation’s best. As of press time, the game is still scheduled to go on as planned. However, officials say they will reevaluate the situation once Hurricane Isaac has passed. Ironically, the last time LSU was scheduled to kick off the season hosting North Texas was 2005 and that game had to be postponed following Hurricane Katrina.
#4 Oklahoma (0-0) at Texas-El Paso (0-0)
[Saturday, Sep. 1 at 10:30 PM ET on Fox Sports Net]
The Sooners’ all-time leading passer, Landry Jones, returns to run the Oklahoma offense and a receiving corps thought to be a weakness has turned into a strength with the return of three previously suspended players, the addition of Penn State transfer Justin Brown and the emergence of freshman Trey Metoyer. Running back Dominique Whaley returns from a leg injury that ended his promising season after six games last year. However, the Sooners offense is not without questions as a barrage of preseason injuries has decimated the offensive line. And, despite the return of Mike Stoops, the defense remains a mystery as he looks to revitalize a unit that gave up 40 or more points in three of the Sooners’ final six regular season games last year. That said, while the Sooners' unanswered questions may derail a national title run, they are unlikely to pose many problems in this season-opening road trip to El Paso. The Miners have had six straight losing seasons and ranked 86th in the nation in points allowed last year. The Sooners should have little trouble with this tune up as they look for their eighth Big 12 championship under Bob Stoops.
Arkansas State (0-0) at #5 Oregon (0-0)
[Saturday, Sep. 1 at 10:30 PM ET on ESPN]
Despite losing LaMichael James to the NFL, the Oregon offense should be as potent as ever. The running back tandem of Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas combined for over 1,500 yards in backup roles last year. Marcus Mariota won a heated quarterback battle, and will be the first freshman to start at quarterback for the Ducks since 1991. The Oregon defense goes against coach Chip Kelly’s high-octane, hurry-up offense every day in practice, so they should be well-prepared to face Arkansas State’s quick no-huddle approach. Red Wolves quarterback Ryan Aplin is the reigning Sun Belt player of the year, but will be without two starting receivers and the expected starting running back (Auburn transfer Michael Dyer) who have all been suspended or dismissed for violations of team rules.
Buffalo (0-0) at #6 Georgia (0-0)
[Saturday, Sep. 1 at 12:21 PM ET on SEC Network]
The stage is set for Georgia to make a BCS run, with no Alabama, LSU or Arkansas on the regular season schedule. Junior quarterback Aaron Murray has thrown for 3,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. He will be called on to shoulder the load as the Bulldogs are thin at running back following the dismissal of leading rusher Isaiah Crowell and the spring departure of senior Carlton Thomas. Those two combined for over 1,200 rushing yards, while no one else on the roster had more than 250. However, the Bulldogs should still have little trouble with a Buffalo team coming off a 3-9 season in which they gave up 30 or more points eight times.
Murray State (0-0) at #7 Florida State (0-0)
[Saturday, Sep. 1 at 6:00 PM ET on ESPN3]
Florida State comes into this season with high expectations and will open the year with a rare four-game homestand. The Seminoles’ offensive line was the obvious weak spot last year (ranked 110th in sacks allowed and 104th in rushing), which led to an offense that showed flashes of brilliance but struggled to do it consistently. Coach Jimbo Fisher is confident that a retooled offensive line and talented quarterback E.J. Manuel should lead to improvement on the offense. If it does, the Seminoles could be very dangerous as they return eight starters from a defense that ranked fourth in the nation last year. The special teams will miss three-year starting return man Greg Reid, who was dismissed from the team in the offseason, but shouldn’t see a huge drop-off as leading receiver Rashad Greene will take over punt return duties. Murray State does have some talent on offense, led by Ohio Valley Conference preseason offensive player of the year quarterback Casey Brockman. But the Racers will likely find it difficult to have any great success against a Florida State defense looking to move the Seminoles to 18-0 all-time against FCS teams.
#9 South Carolina (0-0) at Vanderbilt (0-0)
[Thursday, Aug. 30 at 7:00 PM ET on ESPN]
Coming off its first 11-win season in school history, excitement for South Carolina football is at an all-time high. The Gamecocks will kick off the 2012 season with a rare season-opening conference game at Vanderbilt. Star running back Marcus Lattimore, who was leading the SEC in rushing before a midseason knee injury last year, is back at full strength and expected to make his case for a Heisman bid. Combine that with a defense that finished third in the nation last year (behind just LSU and Alabama) and the Gamecocks already have their sights set on the SEC title game. On the other side, Vandy coach James Franklin is slowly building some confidence in his program. Last season, he led the Commodores to just their second bowl game since 1982 only a year after the team finished back-to-back 2-10 seasons.
Jacksonville State (0-0) at #10 ArkansaS (0-0)
[Saturday, Sep. 1 at 7:00 PM ET on ESPN Gameplan/ESPN3]
Arkansas might well have been the third-best team in America last year. Unfortunately for them, the Razorbacks just happen to be in the same division as LSU and Alabama. This year, they’ll face the same uphill battle but will have another weapon for an offense that led the league in total offense and scoring last year. First-team All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson is back for his senior season and will be complemented by running back Knile Davis, who was the SEC’s leading rusher in 2010 (1,322 yards) but missed last year with a broken ankle. It will be interesting to see if the offense changes without Bobby Petrino, who was fired in the offseason, on the sideline. Former Michigan State head coach John L. Smith will lead the Razorbacks this season. But Smith was only signed to a 10-month contract, so Arkansas’ coaching situation remains uncertain.
Marshall (0-0) at #11 West Virginia (0-0)
[Saturday, Sep. 1 at 12:00 PM ET on FX]
West Virginia is expected to compete for a conference title in its first year in the Big 12. But first, the Mountaineers will have to deal with one of their old in-state rivals. Quarterback Geno Smith threw for almost 4,400 yards in coach Dana Holgorsen’s high-octane offense last year and, with good showings against the likes of Oklahoma and Texas, could be in the mix for a Heisman invite. Smith’s top two receiving targets and four starting offensive linemen are also back. Lost in the news about the offense is a transition on defense as the Mountaineers move from a unique 3-3-5 scheme to a slightly more traditional 3-4. The defense was just average last year (61st in points allowed), so any improvement there could position West Virginia to make a serious run at a BCS bid. Marshall is 0-11 all-time against West Virginia and has lost 14 straight to ranked opponents.
Northern Iowa (0-0) at #12 Wisconsin (0-0)
[Saturday, Sep. 1 at 3:30 PM ET on Big Ten Network]
Let’s be honest: with Ohio State and Penn State ineligible to play in the postseason, a lot of things would have to go wrong for Wisconsin not to make it to the Big Ten title game. Still, the Badgers know there is a lot of work to be done between now and then. This season, they’re handing the reins to another transfer quarterback as Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien will replace Russell Wilson under center. While he brings a different skill set than the talented Wilson, O’Brien has shown that he can get the job done, throwing 22 touchdowns as a freshman at Maryland. More importantly, the Badgers still have Montee Ball at running back. The Heisman finalist returned to school after rushing for more than 1,900 yards and tying an NCAA record with 39 touchdowns. Northern Iowa is one of the better teams in the FCS (10-3 last year and in the preseason Top Ten). But Wisconsin has never lost to an FCS opponent and is looking to extend its 17th consecutive home game, the second-longest such streak in the country.
#24 Boise State (0-0) at #13 Michigan State (0-0)
[Friday, Aug. 31 at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN]
With Kellen Moore and Kirk Cousins both off to the NFL, the Broncos and Spartans both find themselves in the unfamiliar spot of breaking in a new quarterback after the departure of a longtime starter. And while replacing stars is a normal thing in college football, Boise is in the unenviable position of replacing not just college football’s all-time winningest quarterback, but also two NFL first-round picks (RB Doug Martin and DE Shea McClellin) and their entire front seven on defense. The Spartans also lost a lot on offense (most notably Cousins and top receiver B.J. Cunningham), but should be helped by the return of running back Le’Veon Bell (987 yards and 13 touchdowns last year) and one of the nation’s better defenses. Boise has proven in past years that they’re not afraid to go on the road and take on top teams -- it has beaten a ranked BCS conference opponent in each of the last four years. But their untested defense will have to show up big in a hostile environment.
#14 Clemson (0-0) vs. Auburn (0-0)
[Saturday, Sep. 1 at 7:00 PM ET on ESPN; game played in Atlanta, GA]
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd emerged as a legitimate star last season, throwing for over 3,800 yards and 33 touchdowns. However, he may be one of the few known quantities in this game that is filled with question marks. Auburn is replacing both its offensive and defensive coordinator and breaking in a new starting quarterback (sophomore Kiehl Frazier). They will also be replacing leading rusher Michael Dyer, who left the team after being suspended in the offseason. Clemson will also have a new coaching presence, as former Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables has been brought in to fix a Tigers defense that gave up a record-setting 70 points in an Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia. Unfortunately, the game will be lacking some star power as Clemson’s All-American receiver Sammy Watkins will be out serving the first of a two-game suspension.
Wyoming (0-0) at #15 Texas (0-0)
[Saturday, Sep. 1 at 8:00 PM ET on Longhorn Network]
Texas should have one of the nation’s top defenses and arguably the best running game in the Big 12. The question mark will once again be at quarterback where no clear-cut leader has emerged. Sophomore David Ash has been tabbed as the week one starter, but junior Case McCoy is also expected to receive significant playing time. Wyoming, on the other hand, has no quarterback controversy. As a freshman last year, Brett Smith set a Mountain West record for total yards and was named Freshman of the Year. Smith’s ability to make plays with his legs (710 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground last year) might help keep Wyoming in the game for a while, but look for Texas' ground game to chew up a Cowboys defense that ranked 115th in the nation against the run last season.
Georgia Tech (0-0) at #16 Virginia Tech (0-0)
[Monday, Sep. 3 at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN]
It’s not often you get a game with significant conference title implications this early in the season, but this matchup could give the winner an inside shot at the Coastal Division title. These two have combined to win the ACC in four of the last five years. The game should be a challenge for both defenses. The Yellow Jackets will have to try to slow down Virginia Tech’s beast (6’6”, 260 lbs) of a quarterback, Logan Thomas, who set the school record for total offense last year (3,482 yards and 30 TDs) and should be even more of an offensive focus with star running back David Wilson off to the NFL. However, Thomas will be protected by four new starters on the offensive line, so their ability to step up early could be an important sign in just how good the Hokies can be this season. On the other side, Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense is notoriously difficult to defend and can put up big numbers. If Virginia Tech can jump out early, they could win big if the Yellow Jackets are forced to pass. But if Georgia Tech can get a lead or keep the game close, this game could be a shootout that goes down to the wire.
Southern Miss (0-0) at #17 Nebraska (0-0)
[Saturday, Sep. 1 at 3:30 PM ET on ABC/ESPN2]
Much has been made of all the work Husker quarterback Taylor Martinez has done in the offseason to improve his footwork and throwing motion. If he can improve his passing (Nebraska was 104th in the nation last year) and offer a more balanced attack, the Cornhuskers offense could be one of the most explosive in the Big Ten. Martinez and workhorse running back Rex Burkhead combined for over 2,200 rushing yards in their first year under offensive coordinator Tim Beck. Southern Miss is the defending Conference USA champ, but comes in with some unanswered questions with a new head coach (defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson was promoted when Larry Fedora left to take the North Carolina job) and a new starting quarterback (junior Chris Campbell steps in to take over for four-year starter Austin Davis). Nebraska hasn’t lost a home opener since 1985, the longest such winning streak in the nation.
Miami, OH (0-0) at #18 Ohio State (0-0)
[Saturday, Sep. 1 at 12:00 PM ET on Big Ten Network]
Even though the Buckeyes know they can’t go to the Big Ten Championship or a bowl game, that doesn’t mean they don’t have high expectations in coach Urban Meyer’s first year in Columbus. Despite last year’s 6-7 disappointment, Ohio State is still one of the most talented teams in the Big Ten. Mobile sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller should thrive in Meyer’s up-tempo offense and the defensive front should be one of the best in the league. Miami quarterback Zac Dysert, who trails only Landry Jones and Matt Barkley in terms of career passing yards, could provide the Buckeyes secondary with a test. If he can stay upright, that is -- he was sacked 46 times last season as the RedHawks struggled to a 4-8 record.
Savannah State (0-0) at #19 Oklahoma State (0-0)
[Saturday, Sep. 1 at 6:00 PM ET on Fox College Sports]
Many early season games are blowouts, and this could be one of the worst ever. Oklahoma State is coming off the best year in school history, while Savannah State has won four games in the last three years in the FCS and is 19-108 since 2000. Oklahoma State will have significant changes on offense, going from a 28-year old senior quarterback last year to an 18-year old true freshman this season as Wes Lunt takes over the reins of the potent Cowboys passing attack. He’ll be helped by the emergence of running back Joseph Randle, who rushed for 1,248 yards and 24 touchdowns last season while playing second-fiddle to Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. Look for OSU to use Randle’s legs and a short, controlled passing game to give Lunt some confidence against the overmatched Tigers, who are taking on their first-ever FBS opponent.
#20 Texas Christian BYE
The Horned Frogs will begin their first season in the Big 12 next week against Grambling State.
San Jose State (0-0) at #21 Stanford (0-0)
[Friday, Aug. 31 at 10:00 PM ET on PAC-12 Network]
For the first time in over three years, someone other than Andrew Luck will be under center for the Cardinal. Junior Josh Nunes emerged from a three-way camp battle to replace the NFL's top draft pick as Stanford’s new signal-caller. Nunes will get his first action against a San Jose State squad that is improved (5-7 last year after going 3-22 over the previous two seasons), but still ranked 93rd in total defense last year. Even if Stanford’s passing game experiences some growing pains, the Cardinal should be able to find success on the ground with three returning starters on the offensive line and running back Stepfan Taylor (2,467 yards the last two years).
Missouri State (0-0) at #22 Kansas State (0-0)
[Saturday, Sep. 1 at 7:10 PM ET; no television]
Kansas State surprised almost everyone last year with a ten-win season and a Cotton Bowl bid. This year, the Wildcats have peoples’ attention and quarterback Collin Klein is even being mentioned as a dark horse Heisman contender. Last season, Klein carried the team on his back with 1,141 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns to go along with over 1,900 yards and 13 touchdowns through the air. Most importantly, he was at his best in clutch situations, guiding K-State to eight wins by seven or fewer points and leading a near-upset at then-#3 Oklahoma State. However, they were outgained by over 100 yards per game in conference play and, as good as Klein is, it’s doubtful the Wildcats can expect similar results this year if they can’t improve on a defense that ranked 72nd in the nation. Fortunately, they should have little trouble with an FCS Missouri State squad that shouldn’t be significantly better than last year’s 2-9 team.
Bowling Green (0-0) at #23 Florida (0-0)
[Saturday, Sep. 1 at 3:30 PM ET on ESPN]
Bowling Green has gone 7-17 in the last two years. They should be improved this year with 20 returning starters, but that may not be enough going into The Swamp. The Gators certainly hope Bowling Green won’t put up a fight, as they have a lot of question marks as they look to recover from a disappointing 7-6 season. The Florida quarterback battle will spill over into week one, as coach Will Muschamp has announced that Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel will both play. And they will be thin on defense with two top defensive linemen and star linebacker (and 2011 sack leader) Ronald Powell out with injuries, and starting safety De’Ante Saunders being held out for unspecified reasons. They must also replace their top two rushers from a year ago and break in a new offensive coordinator, as former Boise State assistant Brent Pease was brought in to replace the departed Charlie Weis. Florida has won 22 straight home openers, second only to Nebraska’s current streak of 26.
Kentucky (0-0) at #25 Louisville (0-0)
[Sunday, Sep. 2 at 3:30 PM ET on ESPN]
While this may be one of the top basketball rivalries in the country, that doesn’t mean this game doesn’t carry a heightened sense of energy on the football field, as well. Unfortunately, these are two schools headed in opposite directions. Kentucky is expected to finish last in the SEC East, and the fan enthusiasm is showing as the Wildcats returned over 2,000 of their 5,500 allotted tickets for this game. Meanwhile, Louisville begins the season in the Top 25 and is already thinking about a potential Big East title and an Orange Bowl bid. Sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will be surrounded by a big and experienced offensive line, but will have their hands full with Kentucky’s 330-pound (and All-Name Team nominee) defensive tackle Mister Cobble. Due to a combination of injury and suspension, Kentucky is thin in the secondary, so look for Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson to try to take advantage of the Wildcats’ inexperienced defenders. Kentucky has the talent to compete but, if the Cardinals can jump out early and get a fired up crowd into the game, it could be a long day for the Wildcats.
Other games of note:
- Penn State will have a new head coach on the sideline to open the season for the first time since 1966 when Bill O’Brien leads the Nittany Lions against Ohio.
- Mike Leach returns to coaching as his Washington State Cougars travel to Provo to take on Leach’s alma mater, BYU.
- Texas A&M’s game at Louisiana Tech, scheduled for Thursday night, has been postponed to October 13 due to Hurricane Isaac.