It’s back! Join the entire Inside Texas staff as they sort through what they’re looking for this week in the college football landscape, the Big 12, and in Austin.
1. Game of the Week: Florida State vs. Alabama
Eric Nahlin: With the way Ohio State played Thursday this would be a #1 versus #2 contest to start the season if there was a re-vote. As we’ll see in the coming weeks early polls are stupid but this is a fantastic game for obvious reasons. I’m picking Florida State, despite the loss of Dalvin Cook and others, because I’m a buyer of Deandre Francois, especially with another off-season under Fisher’s tutelage. Alabama has a ton of talent to replace on defense, and though it always has the talent laying in wait, it won’t have the experience. They’ll still get their shots on Francois, but he’s shown a granite chin in the past. I would have had questions about the rate of Jalen Hurts’ improvement had there not been more OC turnover, but now those questions are even more pressing.
Justin Wells; Alabama always schedules these big-time out-of-conference games to kick off the season and they usually destroy each of them as well. This Florida State team shouldn’t be much different. Nasty Nick returns Jalen Hurts, ginormous RBs, talent at WR, and that defense. Man, that defense. FSU will stay with them awhile just because of its athletes, but I don’t anticipate this being watchable in the 4th quarter. Saban is probably still pissed off at Clemson. Sorry, Jimbo.
Ian Boyd: I like Florida State to rock CFB world with a week one victory over Alabama. It should be close but that Seminole D is loaded with experienced athletes and their passing game might make a leap in year two with Francois and some of their younger wideouts.
Joe Cook; Two national elites square off in what some are calling a playoff preview. Both have good, young quarterbacks in the Tide’s Jalen Hurts and FSU’s Deondre Francois. Both have stud running backs, though FSU’s Cam Akers isn’t a proven commodity like Bo Scarborough is. I’ll take FSU here, simply because I think this game is where the Tide go through any limited growing pains in OC Brian Daboll’s offense. 27-23 Noles.
Scipio Tex; When #1 plays #3, it’s going to garner the brightest shine of the national spotlight, but the early season mega-matchup is actually pretty smart scheduling for both teams. FSU gains instant SEC slayer credibility with a win or close loss. And an early loss isn’t crippling for playoff considerations as Alabama has branded themselves in the minds of pollsters as an automatic invite, irrespective of their record. If you’re on the Francois bandwagon, this game will be his proving ground. Ultimately, if FSU’s OL can’t protect him better than last year the game is over before it starts.
2. Intriguing game of the week
Eric Nahlin; UCLA – Texas A&M: I almost went with Notre Dame – Temple but with the Bruins and Aggies playing on Sunday like Texas and Notre Dame the year prior, there will be a bright spotlight on this tilt. Last year’s Texas opener was a fantastic fight — between midgets. This game has the potential to recreate the drama of last year’s game in College Station, where A&M won in overtime. Adding to the intrigue, both coaches have major questions about their job security. Each has fared poorly at replacing genuine star power, though there will be enough talent on hand that we should see a compelling and entertaining game. The greatest advantage belongs to UCLA at quarterback. Josh Rosen hasn’t quite lived up to the billing though he’s clearly a talent with experience. Kevin Sumlin is almost assured to give the nod to red-shirt freshman Nick Starkel. A quarterback making his first start on the road in a relatively high profile affair isn’t exactly a recipe for success. That written A&M has enough big play ability in Christian Kirk and Trayveon Williams — players who are easy to get the ball to — to give it a chance. I’m picking UCLA, however, due to built in advantages. UT will be in LA in two weeks to repair whatever damage Aggie fans do to the image of the citizens of this great state.
Justin Wells; Florida Atlantic vs Navy. Lane Kiffin is running Boca right now, and with Baylor’s offense. Half the cast of Last Chance U will be on display, notably DeAndre Johnson, one of the best under-the-radar-but-not-really QBs in the country. It’s old school vs new school when the triple option comes to town. Plus, Lane gonna Lane.
Ian Boyd; I’ll be curious to tune in for West Virginia vs Virginia Tech. The Hokies are in a tough spot on offense having to turn to a young QB sooner than expected after Jerod Evans left early but their D will test Will Grier and give us a lot of insight on whether Holgo’s Mountaineers are a major threat this year or not.
Joe Cook; Navy vs. FAU. The prestige, honor, and discipline of the Naval Academy travel to Boca Raton to take on Lane Kiffin’s FAU Owls. Kiffin brought in (sigh) former Baylor coach Kendall Briles to run the offense, which means we’re going to get a triple option vs. veer and shoot matchup. Difference in discipline, difference in styles, and I think Navy is on the right end of the difference in scores.
Scipio Tex; Michigan vs. Florida. Florida has suspended half of their team for being Floridians doing Florida things and neither head coach would release a depth chart until midweek to tip off their starting QB. Jim Harbaugh involved in any big game makes it fun, because he’s obnoxious and a great coach. The Big 10 also has a substantial chip on its shoulder regarding the SEC and Harbaugh is happy to carry that block of wood.
3. Big 12 Storyline of the week
Eric Nahlin; West Virginia is the only other Big 12 team playing a P5 opponent this weekend (entertaining game versus Virginia Tech on Sunday) so all eyes will be on Texas and Tom Herman’s debut. The game will be broken down microscopically. People will try to find any little bit of evidence that reaffirms their wishes of Texas being back or Texas still being the team that lost to Kansas last year. And Iowa State the year prior in a shutout. And TCU three straight years. The only thing keeping hysterics from breaking out from either side after this one is a close Texas victory.
Justin Wells; It’s all about the Longhorns. Everybody has their eyes on Texas this weekend to see what Tom Herman and company have been doing for the last nine months. A good showing will add to the exposure of the 23rd ranked Horns, a poor showing will send message boards into flames. This is probably the start of something really good. We’ll know more after lunch tomorrow.
Ian Boyd; Probably our own Longhorns and whether they’ve grown enough in the last nine months to be able to put away a team like Maryland without too much difficulty.
Joe Cook; There are some snoozers on the Big 12 slate, but one game I’m looking at is WVU and VT. The Hokies and DC Bud Foster’s top 40 defense from last year will have to play against Florida transfer QB Will Grier. I think this game is a good test of not only where the Mountaineers want to be on offense, but where the conference wants to be.
Scipio Tex; Is Texas out of the wilderness? The Big 12 is a miserable dead end of a conference, but it can go out with some minor glory in its dying days if the Longhorns can get back into the conference and national conversation. A decisive, no-nonsense win in the home opener could signal just that.
4. Texas top question mark
Eric Nahlin; The run game. Maryland was miserable against the run last year and they returned nearly everyone across the d-line. Tom Herman has stated his intentions of pounding the rock. If UT is forced to run the quarterback to get the run game going it could be cause for alarm. If they run the quarterback as part of some all-inclusive offensive barrage, that’s different.
Justin Wells; Running backs. UT boasts some good ones – Chris Warren III, Kyle Porter, Kirk Johnson – but which one will stand out? Which one will stay healthy? Which one will be the most reliable? The answer doesn’t necessarily have to be one. A RB-by-committee would work. But if Texas can’t run the ball, this will be a problem in 2017.
Ian Boyd; Can they play sound, fundamental run D well enough to set up what will almost certainly be a brilliant pass-rush?
Joe Cook; RT. RT. RT. Did I mention RT?
Scipio Tex; Tim Beck, RT, RB. Tim Beck has a slim, spare resume for a coordinator on the other side of 50 and he has plenty of doubters and detractors to disprove. Right tackle will be a weakness all year, with Denzel Okafor’s ability to develop more assignment readiness determining our upside. Running back has talent/scheme fit/health concerns and it’s important that the Longhorn offensive staff manage them like the bullpen they are. Randy Johnson isn’t walking out there as the starter – we need to play Johnny Allstaff and match skill sets to opponents.
5. What offensive and defensive player stands out vs. Maryland?
Eric Nahlin; Shane Buechele and Poona Ford. I do think Texas will run the ball well, probably by tandem, and that will make the passing game easy pickings for #7. I expect him to hit a deep play-action or two and to play composed overall. Because Maryland will be forced to try to run the ball, then run it some more, I almost went with Malik Jefferson. That may sound off to some, but Maryland prefers to run outside. I also almost went with Locke as well, because of his linebacker-ish duties in contain and defending the slot. He should see plenty of action. I’m going with Ford, however, because I’m expecting some darting TFL’s. I reserve the right to call myself correct if any of the three win this prestigious acknowledgement.
Justin Wells; On offense, it’ll be Collin Johnson. Buechele will have his hands full with the new offense and Johnson will be there to help.
On defense, I’ll say Poona Ford. The DL must stop the run and be disruptive. Those are Ford’s specialties. If he can help collapse the pocket, the LBs will be teeing off on Maryland’s signal-caller.
Ian Boyd; How well Shane Buechele utilizes the tools he has around him in attacking the Maryland offense will be very telling for how this season will go. It’s okay if he takes some time to find a rhythm but you hope to see that he can attack the Terrapins with what he has. On defense, anytime you’re facing a running QB I think Malik Jefferson becomes a big factor, but I’m keen to see how DeShon Elliott is used and whether he can a free hitter around the box that erases opposing run games.
Joe Cook; I believe Shane Buechele puts in a solid performance, taking care of the football while also making use of his great touch on deep balls. On defense, I see the Texas DL stepping up, allowing for Orlando to bring pass-rushers like McCulloch and Hager on the field in third down situations, where they will thrive on Saturday afternoon.
Scipio Tex; Shane Buechele is an accurate touch passer with a gifted receiver corps and 80% of a good OL. People are overthinking this and the weird Longhorn fan desire to manufacture QB controversy and anoint savior true freshmen is tedious. It’s Shane’s gig so long as he’s healthy. Elliott is a trendy breakout pick, but I’m selecting him more for the match-up. He’ll play a valuable role in run support and keeping eyes on a dual threat QB who may not demonstrate elite ball security.
6. Game Prediction: Texas – Maryland
Eric Nahlin; Texas 35, Maryland 17: Anything with Texas in the 28-35 range and Maryland between 10-17 sounds about right to me. Maryland has some obvious weaknesses on offense and I’m convinced Todd Orlando will have the right plan to exploit them. The first half may prove a bit uncomfortable on the offensive side of the ball, but Texas will win the game rather convincingly. I’ll maintain this team isn’t designed to necessarily light up the scoreboard and Herman is fine with that.
Justin Wells; 31-17, Texas. The Longhorns open the Herman Era 1-0 thanks to a defensive or special teams score.
Ian Boyd; Texas: 34-13
Joe Cook; 31-16 Texas. 19 points is a lot to cover.
Scipio Tex; Texas- 34, Maryland- 13. I’m all in on the early season indicators for the Horns defense and I’ll wait-and-see what the Horns offense brings. I expect a solid team win and for Maryland to do its best offensive work in the first quarter and in the last minutes of the final quarter when Texas has the game in hand. Now cue up the 59-45 shootout….
7. Upset pick of the week
Eric Nahlin; I picked FSU earlier but for this I’ll go with Colorado State over Colorado. CSU has a major advantage in having played last week and I’ll be interested to see Colorado without defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, who I probably disproportionately credit for McIntyre’s success last year. If I was betting real units I wouldn’t money line this, but I’d definitely put 10 gallons of gas and three cases of water on the points. What is this, Mad Max?
Justin Wells; WVU takes Virginia Tech. Will Grier to the rescue.
Ian Boyd; West Virginia over Virginia Tech (-4).
Joe Cook; Georgia Tech over Tennessee. I guess I have a thing for the triple option. Paul Johnson knocks flattens Rocky Top.
Scipio Tex; Wyoming over Iowa. Wyoming are double digit dogs on the road and their defense deserves that disrespect, but if Cowboy signal caller Josh Allen really is the only other guy in the #1 NFL draft pick conversation with Trojan Sam Darnold, he may have enough juice to singlehandedly elevate Wyoming over a Hakweye team that has a penchant for starting slow. Of course, Greg Davis retired, which may have addressed that issue. I have a nagging desire to pick Eastern Washington over Texas Tech. Seeing Kingsbury fired after a season opener would be interesting.