NCAA Football Games to Watch - Week 1 Previews and Picks
by Jon Ham
Thursday, September 1st
#20 Mississippi State Bulldogs (-29) at Memphis Tigers
MSU opened the season last year at home against Memphis, and won 49-7 (line was MSU -21). MSU racked up 569 yards of offense in that game, which was their highest total versus any team all season, and they out-gained Memphis by 332 total yards. MSU held Memphis to 2.0 yards per carry.
This will be Memphis Coach Larry Porter’s 2nd season at Memphis, which is his first head coaching job. The last time Memphis beat MSU (1993), Coach Porter was a Senior running back at Memphis. Memphis was 1-11 in 2010, and looks to be facing another tough year ahead.
Mississippi State is returning several key players from last year’s 9-4 team. They return their QB (Sr. Chris Relf), top 5 rushers, top 5 receivers, and 5 out of their 8 top tacklers on defense. This will be MSU Coach Dan Mullen’s 3rd season at MSU, his first head coaching job. Mullen’s team improved by 3 wins in the regular season last year over the year before, and they are looking to have a just as good if not better season this year.
Ham’s Pick: Mississippi State -29
Friday, September 2nd
#15 TCU Horned Frogs (-6) at Baylor Bears
Last season, TCU hosted Baylor the third week of the season and beat them 45-10. For the 2010 season, Baylor averaged 195 yards rushing and 281 yards passing per game, but TCU held them to 99 rush yards and 164 pass yards. TCU earned 558 total yards of offense against Baylor (291 yards rushing, 267 yards passing). TCU is 5-1 the last six years in road openers, and has won its last 3 games against Baylor by an average of 24 points per game.
This will be Coach Art Briles’ 4th season at Baylor. Baylor returns redshirt Jr. QB Robert Griffin III, who put up 808 yards rushing and 3,501 yards passing during Baylor‘s 7-6 season last year. Baylor loses its top running back from last season (Jay Finley), but returns running backs Jarred Salubi and Terrance Ganaway who averaged 8.3 and 6.4 yards per carry last season, respectively. Baylor also returns their top 5 receivers from last season, but only 5 starters on defense and none of their top 5 tacklers from last year’s team.
TCU will be breaking in new QB, Casey Pachall, who attempted only 9 passes last season, and they return only 1 of their top 4 WR’s, Josh Boyce. However, TCU does return its top 3 rushers, and has a lot of talent at WR to replace their departures. TCU’s defense has allowed less than 13 points per game each of the last 3 seasons, and returns 5 starters from last year’s defense that allowed only 228 yards per game (compare that to Baylor’s defense last season which allowed 435 yards per game). This will be Coach Gary Patterson’s 11th season at TCU; he has a 98-28 record as TCU’s head coach, and is coming off an undefeated season.
Ham’s Pick: TCU -6
Saturday, September 3rd
Utah State Aggies (+21) at #19 Auburn Tigers
This will be the first matchup ever between these schools’ football programs. Auburn has won five straight season openers by an average of 24 points per game. Utah State has lost 13 straight opening games on the road by an average of 19 points per game, and has lost 28 straight games against ranked opponents by an average of 28 points per game. However, Utah State gave Oklahoma a run for their money in last season’s opener when they lost to them by only a touchdown (Oklahoma was favored by 34 points).
Coming off its undefeated, national championship season, the Auburn Tigers no longer have their star QB Cam Newton, or their star DT Nick Fairley who anchored the defense. Auburn returns only 4 of its top 11 tacklers from last season, and also loses their go-to WR’s from last season in Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery. Auburn’s new QB, Barrett Trotter, saw limited action last season. Auburn has only 15 career starts from their entire offensive line going into this season, whereas last season’s dominant offensive line had 111 career starts returning. This looks to be a rebuilding year for Coach Gene Chizik in his 3rd year at Auburn, but Auburn has recruited extremely well and still has guru Gus Malzahn calling the shots on offense.
Utah State returns 8 of its top 11 tacklers from last season’s 4-8 squad, but is having to replace its QB and top rusher. They run a 3-4 defensive scheme, and have 6 upper-classmen on the defensive front 7, and 3 out of their 4 starters in the secondary are also upper classmen. This will be Coach Gary Anderson’s 3rd season at Utah State, and he has a 2-11 record in away games in his first two seasons.
Ham’s Pick: Auburn -21
BYU Cougars (-3) at Ole Miss Rebels
This is the first meeting between the Cougars and Rebels on the gridiron. BYU is 2-7 in its last 9 road openers. Ole Miss lost its home opener last season to Jacksonville State in double overtime. Under its current head coach, BYU is 8-9 versus BCS teams and 21-13 in away games.
This will be BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall’s 11th season at BYU, and they are coming off a 7-6 season, which was their first non-double-digit win total since 2005. They return all of their rushing yard earners from last season, as well as their starting QB and top 3 receivers. BYU is having to replace much of its secondary, but is experienced throughout the rest of their defense. In their last regular season game in 2010, they lost by 1 point at #23 Utah after being an 8 point underdog. This is BYU’s first season as an Independent after leaving the Mountain West Conference.
Coach Houston Nutt is in his 4th season at Ole Miss, and so far has a 14-7 record in home games. Ole Miss is coming off a 4-8 season after back to back 9 win seasons in ‘08 and ‘09. They lose starting QB Jeremiah Masoli, top WR Markeith Summers, and 6 of their top 11 tacklers. They do return their top 3 running backs, Brandon Bolden, Jeff Scott, and Enrique Davis, and should have one of the best offensive lines in the SEC with their entire 2-deep returning. Ole Miss averaged 5 yards per carry as a team last season. West Virginia transfer QB Bary Brunetti will start the game at QB. They should be improved over last season, but will still likely have to battle it out with Auburn to see who ends up last in the SEC West.
Ham’s Pick: BYU -3
#7 Boise State Broncos (-3.5) vs. #22 Georgia Bulldogs (Atlanta, GA)
These teams last faced each other in the 2005 season opener, when Georgia won 48-13 at home after putting up 574 yards of offense. However, Boise State is a higher caliber team than they were in 2005. Since the 4th week of the 2008 season, Boise State has stayed ranked at #17 or higher every week, with much of that time being spent in the top 10. Last season, Boise State opened its season against #10 Virginia Tech on a neutral field and won by 3 points. Under their current head coach, BSU is 6-1 versus BCS teams, 7-3 against top 25 teams, 3-0 against top 10 teams, and 25-3 in away games.
Boise State is coming off a 12-1 season, and this will be Coach Chris Peterson’s 6th year at BSU. Last season, BSU scored an average of 45 points per game, and allowed an average of just under 13 points per game. They return their top rusher, Doug Martin, who averaged 6.3 yards per carry for 1,260 yards, and also their starting QB Kellen Moore who threw for 3,845 yards, 35 TD‘s, and 6 int‘s in ‘10. They have to replace their top two WR’s, Titus Young and Austin Pettis, who combined for over 2,000 yards receiving last season. Their offensive line returns 8 of their top 10 players, and they return 7 of their top 11 tacklers on defense and should field a strong defense once again.
This will be Coach Mark Richt’s 11th year at Georgia, and they are coming off a 6-7 season in 2010, which was Georgia’s first losing season since 1996. Georgia ended the ‘10 season by losing to Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl after being a 6 point favorite. Georgia loses its top two WR’s from last season, AJ Green and Kris Durham, and also their top 2 RB’s, Washaun Ealey and Caleb King. Also, their 3rd best rusher from last season, Carlton Thomas, is suspended for the opener. Highly touted Freshman Isiah Crowell is expected to get a lot of carries, as well as Richard Samuel who is listed as the #1 RB on the depth chart and averaged 4.8 yards per carry in 2009 before switching to linebacker and then back to running back this off-season. Sophomore QB Aaron Murray returns after throwing for 3,049 yards, 24 TD’s, and 8 int’s in ‘10.
Georgia has some of the best special teams in the nation with Brandon Boykin returning punts and kicks, and punter Drew Butler and kicker Blair Walsh returning. Georgia returns 8 of its top 12 tacklers from last year’s defense which gave up an average of 22.1 points per game.
Ham’s Pick: Boise State -3.5
#4 LSU Tigers (+1 to +3) vs. #3 Oregon Ducks (Arlington, TX)
LSU is 2-1 vs. Oregon, but these teams haven’t played since 1977. Under Les Miles, LSU is 9-8 against top 10 teams, and under Chip Kelly, Oregon is 3-2 vs. top 10 teams. LSU opened its 2010 season against #18 North Carolina on a neutral field, and won by 6 points after being a 9 point favorite. Oregon won at Tennessee in the second week of the 2010 season, winning 48-13 after being an 11 point favorite.
This is Les Miles’ 7th year at LSU, and they are coming off an 11-2 season in which their only losses came at the hands of BCS Bowl teams (Auburn and Arkansas). LSU did eek out some close wins, notably a 6 point win at West Virginia, a 2 point win against Tennessee at home, a 6 point win over Ole Miss at home, and a 3 point win over #5 ranked Alabama at home. Ole miss, West Virginia, and Auburn all featured highly mobile QB’s who operated from the spread, and this is what LSU will be facing against Oregon.
LSU’s projected starting QB, Jordan Jefferson, is suspended for the game, and Senior QB Jarrett Lee will be the starter. Lee was an integral player for LSU at times last season, and completed 54 of 89 passes for 573 yards, 2 TD’s, and 1 interception. LSU loses its top running back, Stevan Ridely, but returns Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, and Alfred Blue who each averaged over 5 yards per carry last season.
LSU returns 9 of their top 10 offensive lineman, so their running game should be a strength this season. LSU loses their top WR, Terrance Toliver, and also starting WR Russell Shepard who is suspended for the game. Steve Kragthorpe was hired to be the new offensive coordinator this off-season, but recently had to step down and has been replaced by Greg Strudawa, who has been LSU’s offensive line coach since 2007.
LSU is strong on defense, returning 8 of its top 11 tacklers, but loses key players DT Drake Nevis, leading tackler LB Kelvin Shepard, and DB Patrick Peterson. Last season, LSU’s defense gave up 18.2 points per game. LSU has had strong special teams under Les Miles, but there is some expected drop-off with the departure of kick/punt returner Patrick Peterson, kicker Josh Jasper, punter Derek Helton, and special teams coach Joe Robinson.
In his 2 years at Oregon, Coach Chip Kelly has earned a 22-4 record. Oregon is coming off an undefeated regular season that resulted in a 3 point loss to Auburn in the BCS Championship. Oregon returns its QB, Darren Thomas, as well as its top two running backs, LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner who each averaged about 6 yards per carry in ‘10. Oregon’s offense average 531 yards of offense and 47 points per game last season. They lose 3 offensive lineman who made all-conference last season, but should still field a strong offensive line. They lose their top two WR’s, but have a lot of talent at the position ready to step up.
Oregon returns only 5 of its top 11 tacklers from a defense that gave up 18.7 points per game. One of their starting CB’s, Cliff Harris, is suspended for the game. Their defense gave up 128 rush yards per game last season, but their front 7 is less experienced this year. Oregon returns all of its key special teams players and should have one of the better special teams units in the country.
Ham’s pick: Oregon (-1 to -3)
photo source: hawgsillustrated.com
2011 Fall Camp Summary: Wide Receivers
by Jon Ham, 8/25/11
This is the second article in a series in which I summarize what I have seen over 14 of Arkansas’ fall practices that I attended. The first article covered the QB position, this one covers Arkansas’ WR’s.
Jon Ham’s Arkansas WR rankings:
1a. #4 Jarius Wright, Sr. (5’10”, 180 lbs)
1b. #3 Joe Adams, Sr. (5’11”, 190 lbs)
1c. #11 Cobi Hamilton, Jr. (6’3”, 209 lbs)
4. #1 Marquel Wade, Frosh (5’11”, 195 lbs)
5a. #19 Jevontee Herndon, Soph (6’1”, 200 lbs)
5b. #85 Greg Childs, Sr. (6’3”, 217 lbs)
7a. #83 Maudrecus Humphrey, Soph (6’3”, 185 lbs)
7b. #2 Julian Horton, Soph (6’1”, 194 lbs)
9. #15 Keante Minor, Frosh (6’0”, 194 lbs)
10a. #10 Hunter Jarvis, Soph (5’8”, 171 lbs)
10b. #81 Kane Whitehurst, Frosh (6’0”, 175 lbs)
10c. #86 Brandon Wolford, Soph (5’11”, 165 lbs)
10d. #84 Price Holmes, Jr. (6’3”, 206 lbs)
10e. #5 Quinta Funderburk, Frosh (6’4”, 200 lbs)
Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, Cobi Hamilton, Marquel Wade
Wright, Adams, and Hamilton have been getting almost all of the 1st team reps at WR. Since last season, it looks like Adams and Hamilton have gained some muscle, but they haven’t lost a step. Wright has been working on becoming stronger so he can break more tackles, and he showcased that improved ability in the Spring game.
I have Wright ahead of Adams because he’s slightly more consistent catching the ball and avoiding drops, and also because he really “showed-out” in the live tackling scrimmage where he beat his man several times and Tyler Wilson looked to him often which showed a solid rapport between the two. Adams has shown good hands throughout most of camp, although during one of the more recent practices I attended he dropped a few what should have been easy catches. Adams is still the most electric player on the team with the ball in his hands and room to run.
Cobi Hamilton is a complete player with a great head on his shoulders. He is one of the more “under-the-radar” leaders of this team. He brings a lot of positive energy to the practice field, gets excited for his teammates when they make big plays, and he’s always trying to make the next big play himself. He has the best hands on the team, but just doesn’t get looked to as often as Adams and Wright, and isn’t quite as fast as those two. I wouldn’t argue with anyone who thinks Hamilton is our best current WR.
Most people who have seen Marquel Wade play say he is a Joe Adams clone; I’m one of those people. Those two could switch jerseys and few people in the stands would notice. Wade is about the same size as Adams, and after the catch he can accelerate and move around tacklers like Adams. I think Wade has an ever higher ceiling than Adams, because right now as a Freshman his hands are just as good if not better than Adams’, and he has shown great focus and body control when trying to make difficult catches that require him to leave his feet or maneuver his body awkwardly.
Jevontee Herndon, Greg Childs, Maudrecus Humphrey, Julian Horton
Jevontee Herndon has been one of the most reliable receivers this camp. He’s a very smooth route runner with good speed and hands. He’s like a hybrid of Cobi Hamilton and Jarius Wright - he’s not as tall as Cobi, and not as fast as Wright, but is becoming the caliber of player as those two. I have noticed that when the first team offense lines up with 5 WR’s, Herndon is usually one of the 5 along with Wright, Adams, Hamilton, and Wade.
Greg Childs got injured last season, and returned to the field on the first day of Fall camp. He participated in most practices, including the live tackling scrimmage that was open to the public, but sat out of the second practices during two-a-day’s. Coaches didn’t want Childs to practice too much on “tired legs” while he was still in the process of coming back from the patellar tendon injury.
Childs has had days where he just doesn’t seem “there” yet, and other days where he looks close to his old self. His acceleration, deceleration, and cutting ability has gotten sharper and quicker since the beginning of camp. At times it seems like he’s lacking focus and drops tough balls that he would usually catch, but he has been playing fast and “going all out.” If I had to put a number on it, I would say Childs is playing at about 90-95% of his ultimate ability right now.
Similar to Herndon, Maudrecus Humphrey probably doesn’t get as much attention as he deserves due to the depth at WR in front of him right now. He’s one of the taller WR’s, but is still very fast. Going into camp, I thought Julian Horton would be the next WR in line after the top 3-4 WR’s, but his dropped passes have sunk him in my rankings despite his great athleticism and his “highlight reel” type catches every so often. He has shown great potential and the ability to have great hands, but he just needs to become more consistent.
Minor, Jarvis, Whitehurst, Wolford, Holmes, Funderburk
In a recent interview, Coach Petrino said Keante Minor might have the best hands on the team (although he added that Cobi Hamilton would have something to say about that). Minor does not look like a true Freshman; he has a wide shoulders and is pretty built. He’s great at snagging errant passes out of the air, and getting up field quick with a head of steam. He has gotten work at both kick off and punt returner. Excluding Marquel Wade, he’s the Freshman WR with the best shot at getting playing time this season.
Hunter Jarvis is a short WR, but he’s a task for any defender to keep up with. His small body allows him to shake his man with relative ease, and he has shown that he’s a reliable pass catcher. Jarvis has gotten some work at punt returner.
Kane Whitehurst is another one of those WR’s who seems to get open just about whenever he wants. He stands at a solid 6’0,” and will be a really nice WR for us after a year in the weight room and in the system.
Brandon Wolford is a walk-on from Los Angeles junior college El Camino Compton. He’s one of the skinniest guys on the team, but is one of the hardest workers and gutsiest on the field. At one practice I saw him get hurt during a drill, and he had a slight limp as he walked off the field; he didn’t receive any attention from the trainers or coaches, and just got back in the line and continued practicing hard. He has fantastic speed and hands, and I would not be surprised if he earns a scholarship for himself.
Price Holmes and Quinta Funderburk round out my rankings list. Both are tall receivers, but Holmes is stronger and more consistent in his route running. Funderburk was one of our top-rated recruits out of high school, and when you see him in person you understand why. Quinta has great length and moves very well for his size. Coach Petrino has recently stated that Quinta needs to put on some muscle and become stronger. Quinta has not been as productive during the scrimmaging as you would expect him to with his physical advantages, but that could be due to other factors that he doesn’t control.
There’s no question this is one of the deepest and strongest units on any team and at any position across the nation. Some people might be shocked or upset over where I have Childs in my rankings, but his ranking is just as much a testament to the ability of the players in front of him as it has to due with him still getting back to form from his injury.
After this season, writers and pundits across the country will predict Arkansas’s production at WR to take a big hit with Adams, Wright, and Childs graduating. I can already tell them that they are wrong. Arkansas has a wealth of talent at the position, and should be able to find a combination of WR’s who will form one of the best units in the nation once again, and that’s not even considering the talented high school WR’s who have committed to Razorbacks and will be here next Fall.
photo taken by Jason Ivester of wholehogsports.com
2011 Fall Camp Summary: Quarterbacks
by Jon Ham, 8/23/11
I attended 14 out of Arkansas' 21 open practices this Fall camp. Over the next few days, I will summarize what I have seen this camp, position by position. Today's article is focused on the QB position.
Jon Ham's Arkansas QB Rankings:
1. #8 Tyler Wilson, Redshirt Jr. (6’3”, 220 lbs)
2. #17 Brandon Mitchell, Redshirt Soph. (6’4”, 230 lbs)
3a. #9 Jacoby Walker, Redshirt Frosh (6’2”, 220 lbs)
3b. #16 Brian Buehner, Redshirt Frosh (5’11”, 195 lbs)
3c. #13 Brandon Allen, Frosh (6’3”, 212 lbs)
Tyler Wilson tries hard to be a team leader. If he’s not taking snaps or in the middle of a drill, he can usually be found supporting his teammates. He takes on the persona of Petrino in that he expects the offense to execute to perfection, and is noticeably unhappy when it doesn’t.
Wilson is a traditional pocket passer with the ability to throw with accuracy on the run outside the pocket. His arm is very strong, but at the same time he is able to adjust the velocity of his passes according to the pass he is trying to make - his touch is superb. Wilson has the most consistently accurate arm on the team. Although he is not “fast” relative to SEC defenses, he is fast enough to pick up yards with his legs when the play breaks down, and fast enough to be a running threat on option plays, bootlegs, or QB draws.
At times this Fall camp, Wilson has played just like he did for most of the Auburn game last season where he completed just about every pass he attempted no matter how difficult the throw. However, there were other times this camp where he wasn’t close to that level of play and simply looked like an average to above average SEC QB who could put up decent but not “great” passing stats. I would not be surprised to see these types of “up and down” performances from Wilson this season. Against some of the relatively weaker defensive teams, he should be able to throw for 300+ yards with relative ease; against the more stout defensive teams like Alabama and LSU, the passing game will likely stall at times and the offense will have to lean more on the running game to move the chains.
The biggest unknown when it comes to Wilson is his ability to be a clutch play maker, and his ability to avoid the big mistake. Arkansas is projected to contend for an SEC West Championship, and it’s almost certain that Arkansas will be involved in a few very important close games that will be decided in the 4th quarter. The success of this season largely rests on the shoulders of Wilson and how he performs during these critical times, just as it did last season with Ryan Mallett. While Mallett did deliver clutch play in a few close games like @ UGA and against LSU, he failed in this aspect against Alabama and Ohio State. Hopefully, Wilson has been able to learn from Mallett’s mistakes as well as his successes, and will be a sound decision maker when it counts the most. I can not say how well Wilson will handle this part of being QB simply based off what I’ve seen this Fall camp.
Brandon Mitchell has been a worthy opponent to Wilson in the QB battle, and actually put up a better practice performance than Wilson on more than one occasion. During the last couple open practices, he was given some meaningful reps with the 1st team offense. At 6’4”, he stands tall in the pocket. He possesses as strong an arm as Wilson, if not stronger, and has great speed for a pass-first QB (he runs about a 4.6 forty yard dash).
Mitchell needs to work on throwing short passes with better touch. Right now he has trouble delivering a softer, easier to catch ball to the receivers on short routes. He also needs to work on improving the consistency of his accuracy to become the passer Petrino demands from the QB position. Mitchell is very accurate at times, but has a regular pattern of every so often throwing a ball way off target or going through little spurts of bad incompletions.
There has been some speculation that Petrino will bring Mitchell in the game during certain situations and let him run a few plays. I don’t see this happening, because our option packages in practice have not looked any more effective than our normal offense, and at times have looked shaky with dropped pitches or the defense crashing the play behind the line of scrimmage. If our option packages become more effective, then I could see Mitchell coming off the bench in some situations to better utilize this part of the playbook; but for now, I see Mitchell as just being a serviceable backup QB who’s there in case Wilson goes down to injury.
Walker, Buehner, Allen
I decided to rank Walker, Buehner, and Allen as 3a, 3b, and 3c, respectively, because none of them have clearly separated themselves as being the best QB of the 3.
Walker is a lot like Mitchell in that he has great athleticism, but just lacks the consistency in the passing game that our heavy passing offense needs to succeed. Walker’s reps have been very limited as of late, and Brandon Allen has been getting most of the 3rd string reps. However, if Petrino were faced with having to throw one into the SEC fire, I think he’d go with Walker due to his advantage in experience in the system, and the fact that they probably want to redshirt Allen this season and at this point Allen is not that much better than Walker, if he’s better at all at this point.
Allen is very developed and mature for a Freshman QB, both mentally and physically. Allen probably has the best combination of arm and athleticism on the team, but he’s still figuring out how best to utilize his skills against the speed of SEC defenses. Right now, Allen is a little too hesitant in deciding where to go with his passes, and has been choosing to err on the side of caution and tuck and run instead of trying to fit the ball into tight coverage or trusting his receivers and letting the ball rip. Once he becomes better acclimated to the speed of the game, he will be one of the nation’s best college QB’s, and I don’t feel like I’m going out on a limb in saying that.
Brian Buehner lacks the height that all the other QB’s have, and if it weren’t for that, he might be pushing Mitchell for #2 on the depth chart. He is a very competent QB, has a nice arm, and generally executes the plays effectively. It wouldn’t surprise me if he got the nod over Walker if it ever came to that, but I’m giving Walker the edge right now due to his height and athleticism advantage.