Welcome back to another season of the College Football Weekend Preview. You’ve heard and read plenty about Johnny Manziel in the offseason, but after seven months off for this column, let’s get our discussion of Johnny Football out of the way until we’re talking about him for what he’s doing on the football field.
Unless you live under a rock, you know that Manziel will be suspended for the first half of the season opener of Texas A&M’s game against Rice, announced by both A&M and the NCAA. The suspension is an absolute joke and will have no impact on the outcome of Saturday’s game. The Aggies will romp Rice with or without Manziel.
It’s almost become cliché to say that no player should be suspended for accepting money to sign an autograph, but Manziel knows better and deserves to be suspended for his own ignorance or stupidity.
Times have changed, and the public at large is starting to realize that it’s no longer okay to classify amateur athletes like they were decades ago. Athletic departments can’t continue to make fistfulls of millions of dollars while the players make nothing and can’t capitalize on their own celebrity off the field.
Nobody is arguing that college students deserve millions of dollars like professional athletes, but the archaic, complicated––and seemingly unenforceable––rules have to change, or the NCAA will suffer the consequences.
Change comes slow in college football. Just look at how long it took to institute a playoff in place of the loathed entity that is the BCS. But the next big change is coming slowly but surely, and it appears as if major football institutions may have to make a break from the NCAA.
At some point, the Top 50 or 60 football factories in the nation may have to separate themselves from the so-called mid-majors, and play by their own rules and pay their players. If not, college football as we know it will probably cease to exist.
Just look at the sports of baseball and hockey. The best young players essentially join developmental (minor) leagues coming out of high school, and the NFL could do the same if college football doesn’t change.
For now, the system works. The NFL has to be happy that college football basically operates a minor league for them. But the system won’t work for long. Years from now we can look back and recognize Manziel as an instrument of change.
Where College GameDay Is At
The hopes of an entire conference rest on the shoulders of Clemson as ESPN’s College GameDay will be in town on Saturday for the season opener against Georgia.
If there’s ever an opportunity for the ACC to make a statement and stake its claim as a national-title contender, there’s no better chance than exists this weekend.
Clemson may have lost some offensive firepower in the offseason with the departures of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and running back Andre Ellington, but they’re riding high after beating SEC powerhouse LSU in last season’s Chick-fil-A Bowl.
There’s still plenty of offensive weapons to go around in Clemson with a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in Tajh Boyd and a wide receiver that’s as dangerous as they come in Sammy Watkins.
And if there was ever a time the Georgia defense might be vulnerable, it would be in Week 1 as they attempt to reload after losing eight starters from that unit in the offseason, including seven who were selected in the NFL draft. On top of that, safety Josh Harvey-Clemons is suspended for the first game of the season.
The bulk of the attention might be on the Clemson offense against the Georgia defense, but the inverse will have an equal impact on the outcome of the game.
A Clemson defense that was average at best last season will be tasked with stopping a Georgia offense that was among the best in the nation, led by quarterback Aaron Murray and the running back tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.
Prediction: A shootout will take place in South Carolina on Saturday evening, but the SEC will flex its muscles once again with the Bulldogs besting the Tigers 38-31.
The Wisconsin Connection
The matchup between Wisconsin and FBS patsy UMass may not move the needle nationally, but it is notable in that it represents the beginning of the Gary Andersen era for the Badgers.
Andersen will look to get off to a better start than the Badgers did a season ago when they were seemingly stuck in neutral under former head coach Bret Bielema coming out of the gates.
First the Badgers were given all they could handle by FCS foe Northern Iowa in a closer-than-expected 26-21 victory. They then went out West to Oregon State and could only manage a single touchdown in a 10-7 loss to the Beavers.
It was the third game of the season when Andersen’s former team almost pulled off the upset and probably should have had Utah State not missed a field goal with mere seconds remaining, but Wisconsin escaped with a 16-14 win.
The Badgers rebounded to play better in Big Ten play, but still could not beat the teams in the upper echelon of the conference.
For Andersen to win over the Wisconsin fanbase, all he has to do in the first couple weeks of the season is do what’s expected, and that means winning comfortably in Games 1 and 2 of the season.
It won’t matter if the Badgers don’t cover the nearly 45-point spread, but there’s no reason they cant win by nearly 30 points against an overmatched UMass squad. The same goes for next week against Tennesee Tech when another blowout is in order.
For as much as the coaching staff created a quarterback competition between Joel Stave and Curt Phillips throughout the offseason, it’s hard to believe it was as close as it was made out to be. Based upon last year’s performance, Stave is clearly the better downfield passer, which should hold more weight than any other trait used to compare quarterbacks.
Even if Andersen wants to incorporate more spread looks, he’s advised to do it with a pocket passer instead of a more mobile quarterback. Stave gives the Badgers the best chance to win.
Prediction: It won’t be a replay of last year’s season opener. The Badgers roll up the Minutemen, 42-10.
What Happened Before Saturday
Giving credit where credit’s due, Rebels running back Jeff Scott was the definite hero in Mississippi’s opening night victory on the road at Vanderbilt with a 75-yard touchdown run as time was running out.
But make no mistake, the name to remember from Thursday’s game was Vandy wide receiver Jordan Matthews.
If you were tuned into the telecast of the game, you were not only treated to an SEC conference game the first week of the season, you saw a storyline unfold that was compelling and baffling all at the same time.
Early in the third quarter, Matthews had to leave the game because of severe cramping and received intravenous fluids but later returned.
With just three minutes left in the game, Matthews was hit after a completion over the middle and appeared dazed. Replays showed he had hit his head on the turf in whiplash fashion and one play later the Commodore was on his knees vomiting on the field. Video from the incident is at Deadspin.com.
Observers were quick to assume Matthews had suffered a concussion, and perhaps he did. If the wide receiver did suffer a concussion, however, it would appear the Vanderbilt staff was quick to attribute his vomiting to dehydration from earlier in the game.
After exiting for exactly one play, Matthews was back in the game––inexplicably if you believed he had a concussion. And mere plays later Matthews hauled in a 42-yard reception that set up a go-ahead touchdown for Vanderbilt.
As it turned out, Ole Miss made a comeback of their own and won the game 39-35 in highly entertaining fashion.
This won’t be the last time you hear Matthews’ name as he’s rated the No. 1 senior wide receiver in the nation by OptimumScouting.com. Matthews finished the game with 178 yards on 10 receptions, his 11th career 100-yard receiving game.
And speaking of the NFL draft, I wanted to leave you with one last link from TheSidelineView.com, which takes a look at some of the best individual matchups in college football this weekend. We’ll try to catch-up with this post each week.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email email@example.com.