If I’m really lucky, this will post before LU Nation tunes in en masse to see Wake Forest hosting one of our all-time FCS favorites, the Presbyterian Blue Hose (motto: “Just try to diss that nickname as imperialist cultural appropriation, bozos”) on ESPN. How can you not love the Blue Hose? What goes better with Presbyterians, and for that matter with dead white European males in general, than blue hose?
Hah. Knock yourselves out, SJWs. Can’t touch this one. (Note: I didn’t get so lucky. Wake Forest has already prevailed 51-7.)
We do have one regrettable update for today. The entire NFL is playing the last pre-season games today (31 August), except for Dallas and Houston. They were scheduled to play each other, but as you can imagine, they are otherwise preoccupied.
A more extended than usual Inner Circle roundup, as we preview highlights from our favorite teams’ peeps and prospects this year.
The University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane, which beat Notre Dame 28-27 on 30 October 2010, pounces quickly this week, running out on Boone Pickens’ turf at 6:30 PM Central to take on in-state rival #10 Oklahoma State. Tulsa takes one of these nosebleed fliers every season, with either OU or OSU (when not participating in target practice for that other OSU, The Ohio State, of course).
(Update as this goes to post: Tulsa is taking a drubbing, but I’m proud the Golden H managed to score in the first half, at least. They haven’t been total chopped liver so far.)
Naturally, the main thing I think we’re all interested in is the season’s first official, on-field glimpse of OK-State coach Mike Gundy’s coiffure. Never has a mid-life crisis required quite so much hair product.
— Tim Ryan (@TheSportsHernia) September 1, 2017
But there will be some football too. TU head coach Phillip Montgomery (previously the long-time OC at Baylor) is back for his third season, after boosting TU to a 10-win 2016 and a bowl victory in Miami. Record-setting QB Dane Evans has gone on to the NFL now (back-up bench for the Eagles), and as we count down to kickoff, Montgomery still hasn’t designated his new starter behind center. The options are sophomore Chad President, who was out most of last year with an injury, or red-shirt frosh Luke Skipper. (It seems Montgomery hasn’t ruled out a 2-QB offense, in fact. Ugh.)
This might seem to bode ill for Tulsa’s season, but Montgomery’s specialty is making new offenses hum. RB D’Angelo Brewer is also back to rack up convincing scampers. In any case, with the Golden H, it’s usually better to worry, if you must, about the other side of the ball. We’re keen to see if the open-field tackling and ball-sniffing by the linebacker corps have improved.
The Tulsa D will have its hands full with Cowboy QB phenom Mason Rudolph, back for a final season instead of breaking for the pros. The Pokes start the season knee-deep in top-shelf receivers, with James Washington, Jalen McCleskey, and Chris Lacy leading the pack.
The OSU D is more of a wild card, with six starters having departed after the 2016 season. The Poke D has never been known for, you know, serious D-ness, and this year doesn’t look like changing that.
Still, it’s a lopsided matchup, no question. OK-State is giving 18.
#7 Oklahoma will host UTEP on Saturday, and although you might think an overmatched, out-of-conference game like this one would be restricted to PPV, it looks like Fox will be airing it. UTEP (C-USA Remnant) sucks ostrich eggs, sorry guys, so we’ll concentrate on the Sooners.
Spanking new head coach Lincoln Riley is, like, 12, so we’ve got that going for us. He actually got a lot of experience preparing offenses for the Tulsa D during his stint as OC for East Carolina during the C-USA glory days. Hailing from Lubbock, and a graduate of Muleshoe High and Texas Tech, Riley was hired by Bob Stoops as OU’s OC in 2015, and gets a lot of credit for putting the Sooners in CFP bowls the last two seasons.
Did I mention Riley is 12? (OK, almost 34.) The unusual thinness of his experience tree has to be worrying to some. That said, I’ve been saying for a while now that the Sooners needed a head coach with a fresh, more agile game-strategy look – in the Orange Bowl with Clemson it became obvious that the players could do faster and funnier, but the head dude in charge wasn’t getting ahead of it – and Riley has good potential in that area.
I figure the Sooners won’t get off top dead center on D with Mike Stoops still at the helm. Stoops and McNeill are competent, not creative. Somebody’s got to step up and get some mojo to the secondary.
But no need to dwell on the alt-positive. Baker Mayfield is back behind center, and a big, tough, deep-ish O-line may just give him the time he needs to flip the ball to the catch-and-skitter Replacements who haven’t made a name for themselves yet, after the big exit of big names over the last two years. (Keep an eye on Jeff Badet, the receiver coming in from Kentucky.)
We’ll miss ya, Bob. Sooners are favored by 43.
The Navy Midshipmen head to Florida Atlantic on Friday evening, where the Owls are famous mainly for having lately hired Lane Kiffin as their head coach. We have no comment, and wish everyone well there in Boca Raton.
Kiffin reportedly hasn’t settled on a starting QB yet, but Navy will be sticking with Zach Abey, the third-stringer who stepped up with the triple-option offense last year and managed to finish a winning season by losing to Army, amid all the interceptions.
He’s had some practice since then. Head coach Ken Niumatalolo (Indian name: Needs a Nickname) is back, having fought off the usual round of courtship from bigger programs. Navy gives 10.
Army, which didn’t totally suck last year, hosts Fordham (FCS, Patriot League) for the opener on Friday evening. The outings with FCS clubs haven’t gone well for Army in recent years, but we’re not counting the Black Knights out, with their new, friskier look. Air Force racked up a very respectable 10-3 in 2016, and also starts the season hosting an FCS foe on Saturday, when VMI (Southern) rolls into town. We don’t anticipate the Falcons having too much trouble with the Keydets.
#21 Virginia Tech will play #22 West Virginia, pride of the Big 12, on Sunday at FedEx Field in Landover, to decide who’s really freaking Number 21. Hokie head coach Justin Fuente, suddenly looking about 10 years older, turned in a good (if nail-biting) first-year season, and now has his work cut out for him in 2017 with red-shirt freshman Joshua Jackson graduating to the starting spot behind center, and a whole lot of starters gone on both sides of the ball. The go-to Hokie D has been hit as hard as the O, now starting sophomores and juniors on the line.
WR Cam Phillips, however, is back to thrill and delight fans – and is ably backed up by guys like Eric Kumah and C.J. Carroll. Halfback Steve Peoples has some skitter in him, and catches as good as he runs.
We note with…bemusement…that Tom Brady will reportedly be calling Josh Jackson before the game on Sunday, apparently due to Jackson père’s connection with Wolverine football during the Brady years. We are sure this call will have nothing whatever to do with the regulation inflation of footballs, and we always thought that whole thing was overblown anyway (like the Patriots weren’t going to hammer the Colts regardless).
For more Hokie chat, don’t miss Mighty Fahvaag and BlueLoneWolf at Gobbler Country. We hear they’re in like Flynn with the press passes for another fine VT season. VT gives 4 at FedEx on Sunday.
Nevada kicks off the season on the road, taking on Northwestern on Saturday afternoon. After a near-weekly second-half implosion in last year’s 5-7 season, we’re hopeful about the Wolf Pack’s prospects in 2017. Jay Norvell, the former receiver for the Raiders and Colts, comes in as the new head coach, having previously coached receivers at Arizona State, Texas, and Oklahoma.
We hear Norvell, who brought in some other new offensive staff, is shifting Nevada to the uptempo, air-raid style of offense. In that regard, returning WR Wyatt Demps should be his cup of tea.
The news is less good that Norvell hasn’t named his starting QB yet. Ty Gangi is returning from his successful pick-up role in 2016 after Tyler Stewart was injured – but David Cornwell rolled in off-season from Alabama with the coaching change, and both are still in the running.
It can hardly help being a rebuilding year for the Pack. The oddsdudes are unimpressed: Northwestern is favored by 24. We project Nevada to cover.
#13 LSU meets BYU in the Tigers’ season opener on Saturday. The game was originally scheduled to be in Houston, but I don’t have to explain why that fell through. It will be in the Superdome in New Orleans instead, which so far looks to have avoided the worst of the flooding, and is projected to be free of significant rain between now and game time.
LSU has had one of this year’s popular down-to-the-wire QB competitions, but managed to come up with Danny Etling, senior coming off back surgery but said to be 100%, as starter before the opening kickoff. He’ll be handing off to super-productive Derrius Guice, one of the top RBs in the country, and throwing to proven WR D.J. Chark. LSU has a deep bench of young, less-proven talent at the skill positions.
It’s a little hard to tell if the LSU D will continue to be as experiment-y as last year. I’m hearing it will go to a more solid 3-4 look; the question will be how that performs in the early part of the season. Against last week’s BYU offense, a shifting DE attack threat will give BYU QB Tanner Mangum and his O-line some real problems.
We’d be remiss not to mention that BYU brings the delightfully named RB Squally Canada to Saturday’s game mix. He ran for 98 yards in the Portland State game. LSU’s give of 14.5 looks coverable for the Tigers.
In related news that doesn’t fit in anywhere else, we hear Les Miles has just been hired by Fox News. The only way Fox could have improved on this would have been to hire Donald Rumsfeld to do football commentary.
#20 Kansas State starts the season hosting Central Arkansas (FCS, Southland), although – we are sorry to report – without the services of our correspondent NaCly Dog in the NW concession booth. Apparently the Constitution Bee will have to do with one less Bee-funding opportunity. Sorry to see an era end.
The Wildcats have a returning starter in QB Jesse Ertz, which puts them in pretty tall cotton in our inner circle (cf. Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph, and Logan Woodside and Josh Allen below). With Byron Pringle and Dominique Heath to throw to, and a realistic assessment of the average Big 12 D, we can expect a bigger passing year out of the very mobile Ertz than in 2016. Meanwhile, K-State is bringing back RBs Justin Silmon, Alex Barnes, and Dalvin Warmack, who make up a serious triple threat on the ground.
The Wildcat defense is coming back with more experience than in recent years too, having lost only one marquee lineman, All-American Jordan Willis, since 2016. They come in with two starting corners from last year as well, and some fine talent at safety in Kendall Adams and Denzel Goolsby. The depth chart is not real, well, deep, for the Wildcat D, but if they stay healthy, they’ll be a factor. Add in the all-purpose “Bill Snyder” factor, and we see K-State being a Big 12 contender this season.
TCU has a rougher road ahead, although the first bump, Jacksonville State (FCS, Ohio Valley), isn’t a big one. Should be a nice scrimmage on Saturday for the Toads. Returning QB Kenny Hill excelled at getting picked last season, and needs to work on the QB reflexes (e.g., getting rattled into throwing off the wrong foot). But he also needs a better offensive line than the one we saw in 2016. The receiver corps seems restored to health – KaVontae Turpin, Shaun Nixon, Ty Slanina – and that’s a big boost overall. A lot of fans will want to see RB Kyle Hicks get the ball more, given his ability to shake, rattle, and roll.
The TCU defense has been Gary Patterson’s strong suit (Big-12-ly speaking), and should motor into 2017 unabated. TCU’s not lacking talent on both sides of the ball; the offense, which is much the same as last year’s, but healthier, remains a performance question mark.
Toledo is charging the field as we speak, hosting Elon (FCS, Colonial) in today’s season opener. Head coach Jason Candle brought in a 9-4 season and a bowl match in his first year – following in the big shoes of Matt Campbell, who got recruited off to Iowa State – and can write his own ticket if he keeps it up. (Update at post time: the Rockets are up 47-13 as the 4Q winds down.)
Candle has the advantage this fall of returning QB Logan Woodside, a Heisman candidate in 2016 (and leading TD passer in the FBS, with 45), along with RBs Terry Swanson and Art Thompkins, both back for more after big 2016 seasons. Woodside has hot-running WR Cody Thompson to toss to again as well.
On defense, the Rockets may not have a big name, but they bring the experience this year, with a lot of returnees including LB standouts Ja’Wuan Woodley and Tyler Taafe. Most sportsbabblers see Toledo as the front-runner for the MAC title, and we’re certainly onboard.
Wyoming starts off with a bang at Iowa on Saturday. After a breakout 8-4 regular season, with a heart-stopping 27-24 loss to San Diego State in the Mountain West title game, can the Cowboys pull it off again this year?
Head coach Craig Bohl sure hopes so. Returning QB Josh Allen, a red-shirt junior, is getting buzz as an NFL prospect, in spite of a lingering plague of picks stemming from his penchant for heaving it long. His receiver corps is kind of a black hole in terms of experience, although the talent is there. Sophomore C.J. Johnson is the clutch guy for now. The backfield lost Brian Hill to Atlanta after 2016, and this year’s go-to RBs were largely missing last season due to injuries. Watch for Milo Hall, Nico Evans, and Kellen Overstreet to shoulder the load.
New defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton, who was DC at the North Dakota State Death Star (under Bohl) a few years ago and LB coach for Jacksonville before coming to Laramie, is looking to step up the Wyoming D game. It may not be bulging with big names at the moment, but there’s a good chance the overall Cowboy package can navigate back to the MWC title game and a bowl bid this season. Iowa gives 11.5 in the line.
As every schoolboy knows, #1 Alabama meets #3 Florida State on Saturday in Atlanta, for the first-ever Week 1 meetup between teams in these ranking positions. The line on this one has the Tide giving 7, which can’t be a surprise, but which Seminole fans will think shortchanges Jimbo Fisher’s largely SEC-beating program. Of course, Fisher hasn’t played Saban’s Alabama yet. Marquee slot, ABC, Saturday. Good times.
#2 Ohio State is looking a tad less than dominating in a 13-14 match with Indiana right now. With the 2Q yet to conclude, there’s a ways to go.
#4 USC hosts Western Michigan, 2016 MAC champ, on Saturday. WMU isn’t really a match for USC at any time, although we’re dubious about the current Trojan ranking. USC is favored by 26.
#5 Clemson hosts Kent State, and since this is probably the only time this season we’ll get to say “Golden Flashes,” we’ll go ahead and say it. Tigers give 39.5.
#6, we’re pleased to report, is Penn State, a perennial LU Nation faves hanger-on. Now that Trump is the president, I guess we can go back to calling them the Nittany Lions. They’ll host the Akron Zips on Saturday at noon, giving 30.5 in the line.
Washington, clocking in at #8, will be in Piscataway on Friday to take on Rutgers. The Huskies are favored by 27.5.
#9 Wisconsin hosts Utah State on Friday, giving 27.
Best of the rest
There’s so much “rest” it’s hard to pick, but course, we can’t fail to mention the Rumble in the Rockies rivalry – Colorado State at Colorado (motto: “We take a pounding!”) – which erupts on Friday at 6 PM Mountain. With the teams in different conferences, they have to hold this meet the first or second week of the season these days. The Buffaloes give 3.5, which is interesting after the whupping CSU laid on Oregon State last week.
Maryland heads to #23 Texas for some reason, which seems odd enough to notice. Longhorn give is 18.5.
Possibly the oddest matchup of the week, although don’t hold us to that, is Fresno State hosting Incarnate Word of San Antonio, TX (FCS, Southland), which is about as miscellaneous as it gets, FCS-creampuffs-visiting-FBS-teams-wise. Suffice it to say, we love whatever thinking lies behind this non-obvious meet.
In FCS, McNeese State is over in Thibodaux playing Southland rival Nicholls State as we speak. The Cowboys are down 7-3 in the 1Q. (Holding this game in the open-air Nicholls State stadium is a good sign for the LSU game in New Orleans on Saturday.)
In Div II, Slippery Rock heads to Frankfort on Saturday to take on non-conference foe Kentucky State. The KSU Thorobreds, playing in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association, went 4-7 last year, and won’t be the Rock’s toughest competitor in 2017. Harvey looks to dump a bucketful on this one: raining and mid-60s for the 1:30 PM kickoff.
In Div III, Rose-Hulman plays its first game out of conference at Illinois College on Saturday, in Jacksonville, IL. The IC Blueboys play in the Midwest Conference, and by recent record stack up as about half-bad. RHIT went 8-3 in 2016 and made its first D-III tournament appearance, losing to North Central Illinois in round 1. Overcast and 70-ish for the 7 PM kickoff in Jacksonville.
Christopher Newport University’s Captains will be in Buena Vista, VA Friday night to take on NJAC opponent Southern Virginia. The SVU Knights’ suckage was near-epic last year (2-8, with the last loss being a 41-0 rout by CNU), whereas the Captains went a respectable 7-3. Raining and 60s Saturday night.
The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy hosts Misericordia U, (Dallas, PA) on Saturday to open the Mariners’ 2017 season. Misericordia plays in the Middle Atlantic Conference, and racked up a 1-9 record in 2016. USMMA, on the other hand, had its best season in a long time, finishing 5-4 and with a win over Coast Guard. Cloudy and right around 70 at the 1 PM game start.
We’ll get serious when the pros do: next week, when Kansas City heads to New England on Thursday night.