With the highly-anticipated 2012 college football season about to kick into swing this Thursday, Aug. 30, it’s time to unveil some predictions for Week 1’s action.
Customarily, I would provide weekly predictions and power rankings on the Top 25 teams for each week of the season. This year, however, things are going to be done a little differently.
There will be weekly power rankings and predictions for the SEC and Mountain West with a weekly wrap-up on the Top 10 things we learned from the entire weekend’s action, as well as a preview of the 10 best games heading into each week.
Without further adieu, let’s get things going with some Week 1 predictions on the Top 10 games (in no particular order).
Notre Dame at Navy
At 9:00 a.m. ET Saturday morning (2 p.m. local time), these two teams will collide for the 87th consecutive season, the longest continuous intersectional rivalry in the nation.
Notre Dame opens its 125th season on true Irish soil in Dublin, Ireland, where the team will also feature a new quarterback in sophomore Everett Golson under center.
In addition, the Midshipmen will welcome their third starting signal-caller in three years, and how Trey Miller performs as a passer right out of the gate will let us know what to expect from Navy in 2012.
This will be the Irish’s third time to play overseas and second in Ireland. They played in Toyko in 1979 and in Dublin’s Croke Park in 1996. Notre dame leads the all-time series 72-12-1, with 45 wins in the last 48 meetings against Navy.
In 2010, Navy’s tricky triple-option attack amassed 367 yards on 60 carries and the team blew out Note Dame, 35-17. The Irish got retribution last season, limiting the Midshipmen to 196 yards on 50 carries and advancing 56-14.
Look for the Fighting Irish to win with some conviction, but the Midshipmen should make things interesting.
Prediction: Notre Dame 27, Navy 13
Washington State at Brigham Young
Sure, this clash of Cougars may not be a marquee matchup, but it does feature an interesting storyline.
Following the controversial firing at Texas Tech in 2009, Mike Leach returns to the sidelines for the first time to coach the Washington State Cougars. It won’t be a piece of cake, as his team goes up against a tough team at a tough venue, one with which Leach is rather familiar, having himself graduated from BYU.
While Washington State has some of its highest hopes in years — due in large part from the arrival of Leach, Brigham Young also boasts significant aspirations heading into the season coming off a 10-3 record.
In addition, WSU QB Jeff Tuel, who missed most of last season with injuries, though he showed star potential at the end of the 2010 seasons as a sophomore — will need to have his line work together so he can have enough time to deliver the ball comfortably to his talented receivers as he faces one of the best defenses BYU has ever put together.
BYU signal-caller Riley Nelson is recognized more for his grit and running rather than pure passing ability, so if Wazzou wants to pull off an upset on Friday night, the team will need to force Nelson to work the ball down the field.
Nevada at California
Two years ago, quarterback Colin Kaepernick and company befuddled the Bears with their read-option Pistol offense, running wild with over 300 yards and four scores, resulting in a 52-31 shellacking in a game that was more one-sided that the score suggested. The offense is now led by Cody Fajardo, who amassed 694 yards and 11 scores on only 128 carries as a freshman in 2011.
On paper, the Bears have a pretty distinct advantage, but they could get caught off guard again by the unorthodox offense. Star receiver Keenan Allen has said his team underestimated Nevada and its Pistol offense two years ago, but that wouldn’t end up being the case again this season.
The Golden Bears also possess a dangerous duo out of the backfield in Isi Sofele (1,322 yards on the ground in 2011) and C.J. Anderson, which will create havoc for the Wolf Pack on defense, especially with the loss of its two best inside linebackers.
Saturday’s showdown will be the first contest in the renovated Memorial Stadium, which was out of service last season, as the Bears were forced to play home games at San Francisco’s AT&T Park while work was being done.
Nevada has faced 10 BCS opponents to open the season and not only has yet to come up with a win, but has lost by an average of 30.2 points per game. In addition, in the most recent season openers against BCS teams, the Wolf Pack has been blown out at Oregon (69-20 in 2011), at Notre Dame (35-0 in 2009) and at Nebraska (52-10 in 2007).
You should see these two teams both eat up a lot of clock running the football, but Cal should win with conviction. It wouldn’t be a ground-breaking upset if things went the other way, but I wouldn’t bet on the Wolf Pack pulling off a victory by double-digits.
Prediction: California 31, Nevada 17
Boise State at Michigan State
Michigan State has won 11 games in back-to-back seasons. Boise State has won 12 games in back-to-back seasons. Both programs will break in new starters under center for this primetime season opener Friday evening in East Lansing.
In addition to home-field advantage, the Spartans also possess a far superior and experienced defense, along with a ground game that should see plenty of success against a Broncos unit that has had to replace all four starters on the defensive line.
Opening the season against a highly-ranked opponent is nothing new to Boise State, as the Broncos have beaten Top 25 teams in the opening week of each of the last three seasons.
However, replacing the winningest quarterback in NCAA history (Kellen Moore), one of the top tailbacks in the country (Doug Martin) and the school record-holder for touchdown receptions in a single-season (Tyler Shoemaker) will be a tall task. Moreover, Broncos QB Joe Southwick and co. are going up against one of the top defenses in the nation that returns nine starters from last year.
Don’t look for too many fireworks in this first-ever get-together between the two teams, but expect a close contest and an interesting chess match for four quarters.
Prediction: Michigan State 24, Boise State 20
Northwestern at Syracuse
The Orange emerged on top in a 37-34 thriller over Northwestern when these two teams last met in 2009. Syracuse leads the all-time series, 5-4, entering Saturday’s season opener. Syracuse struggled against dual-threat quarterbacks in 2011.
After starting seven games last year at wide receiver, Kain Colter took over the duties under center for the injured Dan Persa and showcased his strong arm and blazing, game-breaking speed, which will present some problems for the Orange on defense.
Nevertheless, Northwestern’s defense doesn’t exactly strike fear in the eyes of opposing offenses, either. Last year, the Wildcats surrendered over 30 points on seven occasions and ended up winning only one of those contests.
Coach Pat Fitzgerald is pleased with the progress the team has made entering September, however.
“I feel great about the defense,” Fitzgerald said. “They worked with a chip on their shoulder. I think we improved our depth. Now we have to go execute.”
Northwestern’s inexperienced players must maintain its poise, and above all, Syracuse will need to jump out to an early lead in order to handle a hostile environment in Syracuse’s Carrier Dome.
Prediction: Northwestern 28, Syracuse 21
Alabama vs. Michigan
Two of the most storied programs in all of college football clash in the Jerry Dome on Saturday evening to kick the 2012 season off with a bang. Both teams enter the year ranked inside the Top 10 with high hopes of making it to Miami in January.
After losing the likes of safety Mark Barron (7th overall), cornerback Dre’ Kirkpatrick (17th overall) and linebackers Dont’a Hightower (25th overall) and Courtney Upshaw (35th overall) to the 2012 NFL Draft, a bit of a drop-off is expected on defense for the Tide.
Albeit Alabama’s defense is still in excellent hands, led by Jesse Williams, Nico Johnson and Robert Lester, containing Michigan star senior signal-caller Denard Robinson—one of the top candidates for the Heisman—won’t be a day at the beach.
It will be key to keep Robinson from getting outside of the pocket, where he’s less likely to be able to make more things happen with his feet and arm.
“We’re going to have to be a very disciplined defensive team to be able to contain him in the first game,” coach Nick Saban told the Mobile Press-Register (per Rivals.com). “I don’t think you can totally simulate the quality, the speed, the quickness and the ability to execute with a lot of good players around him.”
Much of Michigan’s fortunes ride on Robinson, his freakish athleticism and his boundless charisma. Entering his second season as head coach, Brady Hoke claims the defending national champions will face a much-improved Robinson.
“What he’s done in the off-season—watching football, watching technique, watching fundamentals—I think in all that part of it I’ve seen growth. I’ve seen him take a more vocal, active role. I think that’s important. And from a fundamental standpoint I think he’s improved. He’s improved in a lot of ways. I’m really proud of him.”
This looks to go right down to the end of the wire, with the Wolverines giving the Tide a tough fight, but ‘Bama seals the deal by a double-digit deficit in the closing minutes of regulation.
Prediction: Alabama 27, Michigan 17
Tennessee at N.C. State
There’s a lot on the line when these two teams meet for the first time in over seven decades at a neutral site on Friday night in the Georgia Dome, as a part of the newly expanded Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, which now kicks off on back-to-back nights, as Clemson will clash with Auburn in the same venue on Saturday evening.
As Tennessee tries to restore its receiving corps after the departure of star receiver Da’Rick Rogers (who became just the sixth Volunteer to ever amass quadruple-digit receiving yards in a single-season in 2011 as he led the SEC with 67 catches and 1,040 receiving yards), the Volunteers are faced with another difficult challenge in the passing game.
The Wolfpack will want to impose their strengths on defense, especially with their highly-touted secondary on Tennessee. N.C. State’s pass defense will be constantly counted on to prevent big plays from happening.
Tennessee will have options with Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, but neither player has proven he can make plays over the course of an entire season. N.C. State’s tendency for slow starts under coach Tom O’Brien will finally come to an end as the Wolfpack hold on in this high-stakes contest by the skin of its teeth over Tyler Bray and company.
Prediction: N.C. State 20, Tennessee 17
Clemson at Auburn
Last season, Clemson clawed away with a 38-24 victory over Auburn and ended the Tigers’ 17-game winning streak.
QB Tajh Boyd was firing on all cylinders, completing 30 of 42 passes for 386 yards and four scores. While he won’t have his favorite target, Sammy Watkins, who is serving a two-game suspension for an arrest in the offseason, there will bea couple of dangerous weapons at his disposal in RB Andre Ellington and WR DeAndre Hopkins.
The Tigers (of Auburn) were torched last year through the air, but the secondary should surrender fewer yards after going through those growing pains, in addition to the arrival of aggressive defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder.
Auburn looks to take advantage of Clemson’s inexperience in the trenches and apply as much pressure as possible when Dabo Swinney’s offense takes the field. In the end, expect a strong showing from both these teams and the game to stay close, but all of Auburn’s distractions in the offeseason will hurt them early this season.
Prediction: Clemson 31, Auburn 24
Vanderbilt vs. South Carolina
While he no longer has WR Alshon Jeffery at his disposal, QB Connor Shaw put on a show near the end of last year, completing 41 of 55 passes for 657 yards and eight touchdowns. He also rushed for 239 yards and three TDs in the Gamecocks’ final three games.
In addition, Shaw threw just one pick and enters the year 8-1 as a starter at South Carolina. Furthermore, he achieved all of this without the presence of star RB Marcus Lattimore and will have plenty of help this year from several talented receivers.
However, recent history indicates this will be a tough test for Shaw and South Carolina. Vanderbilt has lost its last three games against the Gamecocks, but each of the three games were hard-fought. Moreover, the last time the Commodores were underdogs entering a Thursday night affair with South Carolina was in 2008, and on that night, Vanderbilt was a nine-point underdog and managed to pull off a 24-17 upset.
Vanderbilt finished the season with a record of 7-6, capped off by a bowl victory. Now the Commodores are coming off another successful season in 2011. While their 6-7 record was less-than-impressive, Vanderbilt advanced to a bowl game under first year coach James Franklin and enters the year chock-full of confidence.
Look for South Carolina to try to establish the ground game early with Marcus Lattimore and attempt to control the clock, creating fewer issues for Connor Saw and his receivers and avoiding a more hostile home crowd.
The potential for an upset here definitely exists, but in the end, expect South Carolina to advance.
Author’s Note: This post was published after this game got underway, but the analysis and the score prediction is always given before the start of each game. and never changed. If you want proof, we tweeted out the score prediction moments before the action began.
Prediction: South Carolina 34, Vanderbilt 27
Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech
The Hokies host the Yellow Jackets at 8:00 ET Monday night in prime time on Labor Day. Since the two-division format was adopted in 2005, the winning team in this matchup has represented the ACC in all seven conference championship games.
Since Paul Johnson brought the spread option offense to Atlanta and became the head coach at Georgia Tech, the Hokies have won three out of four games head-to-head against the Yellow Jackets, but yet the Hokies have lost their past three season openers against FBS teams (Boise State in 2010, Alabama in 2009 and East Carolina in 2008).
Georgia Tech had a chance to seize the Coastal Division crown at home in 2011, but Hokies QB Logan Thomas proved to be too much to handle, as he accounted for five TDs and 175 rushing yards in VA Tech’s 37-26 victory.
Look for a close contest, as Georgia Tech attempts to control the clock with its veteran offensive line and lethal option attack. If the Jackets start to trail, they could be in trouble. Not a single wide receiver on the roster has caught a pass in college.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Georgia Tech 23
Verse of This Piece: “My son, keep your father’s commands, and don’t forget your mother’s teaching. Keep their words in mind forever as though you had them tied around your neck.”—Proverbs 6:20-21
Michael Gartman is a College Football and NFL Senior Writer, the AFC South and NFC West Lead Writer and the Founder, CEO of GridironGrit.com. He also writes for RantPolitical.com, where he reports on topics across all sides of the political spectrum and analyzes important issues in the liberty movement. Follow @_MichaelGartman, @RantPolitical and @GridironGrit on Twitter!