Wednesday, August 8, 2012

College Football Week One Marquee Matchups- Part Two

by John Huffstetler

Saturday September 1st

Auburn vs. Clemson (in Atlanta, GA)

This rematch of last year’s 38-24 Clemson victory at home in week 3 pits two teams hoping and expecting improved play on the defensive side of the ball this season. Last season, Auburn struggled to stop the run against a litany of strong SEC rushing squads allowing 189 yards rushing per game (up from 109 ypg in their National Championship season). In their first 3 games last season, they allowed 227 to Utah St., 333 to Miss St., and 238 to Clemson in three rather poor outings as they were fortunate to beat both Utah St and Miss St. at home before travelling to Clemson and losing by two td’s. As the season wore on, their defense did show improvements stopping the run, including limiting Florida to just 66 yards on the ground. They will look to continue this improvement with 9 defensive starters returning this season, including their entire defensive line.

Clemson’s major issue last year (as was witnessed in their bowl game thrashing against a mediocre West Virgina squad) was their inability to make stops on defense as well. They allowed almost 30 points per game and 177 yards per game rushing on the ground including a laughable (against ACC competition) 4.4 yards per carry allowed (their worst total by far under Sweeney). Although they lose 3 starters along the defensive line, their rushing stats should improve dramatically. In fact, the loss of three underperforming lineman could pave the way for some younger, hungrier players to jump in and key a turnaround. Clemson’s rush defense should also improve because of their elite, national-caliber linebacking corps littered with depth and young talent (watch out for OLB Tony Steward this year as a potential sleeper defensive POY in the ACC).

Even with potential improvement on the defensive side for both teams, look for some fireworks in the first game of the season, as both Sweeney and Chizik will have several trick plays and gimmicks ready. This matchup will come down to QB play, with Tahj Boyd leading Clemson against an inexperienced Auburn group most likely lead by highly touted but completely unproven Kiehl Frazier (pictured above) at the helm. Clemson should be able to bring pressure from the LB’s and force Frazier (or Moseley or both) into some poor decisions leading to some cheap Clemson points. Boyd, on the other hand, will play a steady game and find his WR’s consistently throughout the game. The suspension of WR Sammy Watkins (pictured to the left) will certainly hurt Clemson's chances, but they still have enough firepower to win this opening game. Clemson 31 Auburn 27

Michigan vs. Alabama (in Dallas, TX)

The problem for any team hoping to challenge the top two teams from last year in Alabama and LSU is that they're both still loaded with talent. Even worse, they both return 4 starters on the offensive line (Alabama- 95 career starts and LSU- 104), historically a strong indicator for success from one year to the next. Alabama's offense should be stronger this year with the only major losses coming at RB in Trent Richardson and WR in Marquis Maze, both of which will be easily replaced with young, talented players to spare at both positions. The questions arise this year defensively for the Crimson Tide with 5 elite players making the jump to the NFL. Undoubtedly, there is still talent on the defensive side and several new players will showcase their NFL-caliber talent, but will they match last years 3.3 yards per play allowed? No. Impossible. There will be a major drop from the clear #1 defense statistically to a well-above average defense. With 3 starters to replace in the secondary, look for the drop defensively to occur with certain teams able to pass the ball with success that just wasn't possible last year.

Michigan enters this season with a remarkably similar team to last year in terms of make-up. The difference this time around for the Wolverines is that this is the second year under Head Coach Brady Hoke, which is traditionally a sign for improvement. They have several skill position players returning who can make game-changing plays, led by Heisman-caliber QB Denard Robinson. The offensive line returns largely in tact with the major exception of Rimington Award winning C David Molk, who keyed the success of the line last season. Ricky Barnum is expected to fill his large shoes in 2012 and his production will go a long way to determining the line's success as a whole this year. Defensively, the LB corps and DB's should be stronger than last year with basically every key component back. The largest question mark for the 2012 Wolverines is on the defensive line. They must replace 3 starters on the D-line including DE Ryan Van Bergen and all-everything DT Mike Martin. Michigan must find some bigs who can stop the run and free up their athletic LB's to make plays if they want to match last season's defensive numbers. Now a Senior, formerly very highly-touted DT Will Campbell is a major candidate to finally emerge and replace Martin's heavy production.

Consequently, this matchup will come down to how well Michigan will be able to stop the Alabama rushing attack. If Bama can control the ground and, as a result, the clock, Michigan has shown the penchant under Denard Robinson for pressing and trying to make plays that aren't there when they've been off the field for extended periods of time. If Michigan can stop new RB Eddie Lacy and the rest of the Bama rushing attack and find success against this young Bama secondary, they have a chance to pull the upset. Alabama has too much talent for this Michigan squad, however, and Denard isn't the type of QB that can find success vertically to exploit this young Bama secondary (watch Bama week 3 at Arkansas for that issue to emerge in a potential Ark upset). Expect a tighter game than the 12-point line would indicate but a Bama win. Alabama 27 Michigan 20

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  1. Watkins is suspended for the first two games of the season including the auburn game.

    1. Thanks, had missed that recent update. Been away on vacation since last Thursday.