Week One Lowe Down: Bama flexes, Jackets sting

Matt Lowe

September 01, 2017 at 11:46 am.

Jalen Hurts should have opportunites to attack the Florida State secondary down-field due to Alabama's powerful running game. Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Jalen Hurts should have opportunites to attack the Florida State secondary down-field due to Alabama’s powerful running game. Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Week One of The Lowe Down.

Glenn Frey’s famous hit song “The Heat is On” was produced for the motion picture Beverly Hills Cop in 1984, but it would be a fine segue to a number of fantastic matchups on the docket for Labor Day weekend, which signals the start of the 2017 college football season.

Look, we always make too big a deal about an early-season loss for teams, especially when it’s a clash of powerhouse programs, much like the Florida State/Alabama showdown. But most coaches will tell you that losing a game to a quality opponent in the opening weeks can be a good thing for a team because it allows a coaching staff an opportunity to gauge what areas need improvement.

For every team, there are always unknowns at the outset of a new campaign. But it’s great for college football when programs such as Florida, Michigan, South Carolina, NC State West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, UCLA, Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Clemson, Auburn, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Georgia and Notre Dame, to name a few, are willing to risk a defeat to a non-conference foe early in the year to see where they stand within the first two weeks of the season.

With that said, securing a victory in a big out-of-conference meeting can give a team a tremendous amount of confidence. It can also be a springboard to a special season.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all the families and people who have lost loved ones and have been displaced by Hurricane Harvey. May the good Lord look out for all affected.

To the games we go…

Thursday, August 31

Tulsa (0-0) at No. 10 Oklahoma State (0-0) 6:30 p.m. CT

With Mason Rudolph at quarterback, Justice Hill at running back and James Washington at wideout, along with an offensive line that’s combined to start 95 career games, Oklahoma State should possess one of the best offenses in all of college football. But the main piece to a Big 12 championship puzzle may lie in the hands of a retooling Pokes’ defense, which had trouble stopping the run all last season. If OSU can patch up the shoddy run D and force turnovers at a higher rate this season, it might have a shot at the College Football Playoff.
The Lowe Down: Oklahoma State 48, Tulsa 23

No. 2 Ohio State at Indiana (0-0) 7:00 p.m. CT
Little bit of irony here. Former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson, who is now calling plays and coaching tight ends for Urban Meyer, returns to what used to be his home-field. Wilson resigned as coach of the Hoosiers last December due to “philosophical differences” with the IU hierarchy, but he is a known offensive guru who could really help Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett improve as a passer. The Buckeyes have all the places in place to be a national title contender, but Barrett has to take the next step as a passer for the scarlet and grey to win it all. And, keep an eye on Indiana QB Richard Lagow. He can play. But the Hoosiers lost arguably the best offensive lineman in school history (Dan Feeney) and a two-time 1,000-yard rusher (Devine Redding) off a six-win team a season ago, which doesn’t bode well squaring off against an Ohio State defense that may have the best front seven in college football by season’s end. Also keep in mind that the Buckeyes got smoked 31-0 the last time they played.

The Lowe Down: Ohio State 34, Indiana 13

In other Thursday games:

Buffalo 13
Minnesota 29

Florida A&M 10
Arkansas 42

Louisiana-Monroe 20
Memphis 46

Friday, September 1

No. 8 Washington (0-0) at Rutgers (0-0) 7:00 p.m. CT

Quarterback Jake Browning, running back Myles Gaskin and receiver Dante Pettis + the Huskies’ s stout offensive/defensive lines and weak schedule = strong Pac-12 title contender. But Washington must be aware of where dynamic Rutgers’ speedster Janarion Grant is at all times. Grant (5-10, 172) is small in stature, but he is quick as lightning and can score from anywhere on the field at any time. Problem is, Rutgers only has one player who can do that.
The Lowe Down: Washington 47, Rutgers 10

In other Friday games:

Utah State 9
No. 9 Wisconsin 38

Boston College 23
Northern Illinois 17

Saturday, September 2

NC State (0-0) vs. South Carolina (0-0) 2:00 p.m. CT
I’m not sure if either of these teams will win their respective conference, but I do think NC State — led offensively by QB Ryan Finley, Swiss Army Knife Jaylen Samuels and a stingy defense — will be able to hang right there with Clemson, Florida State and Louisville in the ACC Atlantic Division. And I think South Carolina has the offensive firepower to be a factor in the SEC East. The biggest difference between these two teams however will be along the defensive front. NC State’s D-line, led by potential first-round pick Bradley Chubb and rugged tackles Justin Jones and B.J. Hill, is one of the top units in college football and was a major reason why the Wolfpack finished eighth in the country in run defense a year ago. South Carolina’s front, however, is a work in progress. I love everything about Jake Bentley’s game as a quarterback and think he will have an opportunity to put the Gamecocks in position to play in Atlanta before he leaves Columbia. But he and his offensive mates will be put to the test by a salty front seven of NC State.

The Lowe Down: NC State 24, South Carolina 20

No. 11 Michigan (0-0) vs. No. 17 Florida (0-0) 2:30 p.m. CT
Jim Harbaugh and his team made headlines this offseason by heading to Italy. Florida, on the other hand, made headlines for numerous suspensions. And that could wind up biting the Gators, who announced Wednesday that they would start Feleipe Franks behind center. Antonio Calloway, UF’s best player and its most explosive deep threat, can’t stay out of trouble and is one of 10 players suspended for “misusing school-issued funds.” Starting tailback Jordan Scarlett is another big-time starter that will have to ride the pine. Michigan only returns five starters, but one of those is quarterback Wilton Speight, who emerged as a quality college QB last year. Speight has the luxury of having experienced sophomores Chris Evans (tailback) and Kekoa Crawford (receiver) to work with, but keep an eye on true freshman wideout Donovan Peoples-Jones, who has star written all over him. The Wolverines should also be solid in the trenches despite a lot of turnover due to strong recruiting along the offensive and defensive fronts in recent years.
The Lowe Down: Michigan 23, Florida 17

Georgia Southern (0-0) at No. 12 Auburn (0-0) 6:30 p.m. CT
If new starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham can live up to the hype and stay healthy, Auburn should be Alabama’s primary competition in the SEC West. The Tigers possesses a lot of team speed, can run the ball and should be sound again defensively. Gus Malzahn also has the luxury of trotting out the best kicker in America to nail 3-balls basically when his offense reaches the opponents’ 40-yard line. But, until I see it, I still have doubts about the team’s pass-rush ability after losing Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams. Much is expected of emerging stars Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown, who played well as freshmen, but veteran ends Jeff Holland and Paul James III need to emerge to for the D-line to become an elite unit. Also keep an eye on Nick Coe, a 6-6, 270-pound redshirt freshman who linebackers’ coach Travis Williams said “can be as good as he wants to be.” It was announced Wednesday that he’ll start at end.
The Lowe Down: Auburn 48, Georgia Southern 10

No. 3 Florida State (0-0) vs. No. 1 Alabama (0-0) 7:00 p.m. CT
The marquee matchup of the weekend won’t be short on talent. Nor will it lack fan appeal. But I’m not sold on Florida State’s ability to block Alabama’s front seven. Nor do I think Florida’s State’s small but athletic defensive ends can hold up in run support against the Crimson Tide’s notoriously powerful ground attack over four quarters. Left tackle Josh Ball, a redshirt freshman who will be making his first collegiate start as a Seminole, will likely be attacked on a routine basis by Alabama’s defense due to his inexperience. If Ball can hold up, it will make life easier on FSU quarterback Deondre Francois, who developed into one of the nation’s top signal-callers in his first season as a starter. If he’s completely overmatched, well, then Francois will take his share of hits. Defensively, the Seminoles have the speed and athleticism to hang with all the Crimson Tide’s four and five-star athletes. But, like I said previously, the ends are undersized. Josh Sweat is 6-2, 250 and Brian Burns is a wiry 6-5, 218, so it will be interesting to see if new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll throws some two tight-end sets — ala the New England Patriots — at the ‘Noles defense and attacks the flanks. If that’s the formula, it will open up opportunities for Bama QB Jalen Hurts to get the ball downfield with play-action passes. And one more thing: kicker is a big question mark for the Crimson Tide entering the season. If this game were to come down to a field goal, it would favor FSU. But I don’t think it will.
The Lowe Down: Alabama 38, Florida State 24

In other Saturday games:

Wyoming 13
Iowa 31

Akron 10
No. 6 Penn State 52

Kent State 14
No. 5 Clemson 38

Maryland 28
No. 23 Texas 35

Cal 30
North Carolina 42

Nevada 16
Northwestern 33

Troy 37 (Upset Special)
Boise State 34

Appalachian State 13
No. 15 Georgia 34

Sunday, September 3

No. 22 West Virginia (0-0) at No. 21 Virginia Tech (0-0) 6:30 p.m. CT
Both teams will be breaking in new starting quarterbacks, but give the edge to West Virginia in that department considering Will Grier has taken meaningful college snaps — and been successful — while starting for Florida in 2015. The combination of Grier and tailback Justin Crawford, who ran for over 1,000 yards a year ago, give the Mountaineers a nice one-two punch in the backfield. But keep an out for 6-3, 201-pound wideout David Sills in the passing attack. He and Grier have built a nice rapport together. Redshirt freshman Josh Jackson will get the nod for the Hokies behind center and he, like Grier, will have the benefit of operating alongside a talented runner in Travon McMillian. But VT has to replace a number of productive contributors from last year’s offense so it may take a game or two for the Hokies to get into a rhythm.
The Lowe Down: West Virginia 30, Virginia Tech 23

In other Sunday games:

Texas A&M 30

Monday, September 4

No. 25 Tennessee (0-0) at Georgia Tech (0-0) 7:00 p.m. CT
The Heat is on. The heat is on, on… Man oh man, can you imagine if Butch Jones’ team loses this tricky opener? I can. And let me assure you, the Chip Kelly talk will begin almost immediately if that happens. After failing to lock up the SEC East a year ago, Tennessee fans are at a breaking point with their coach. Sure, he inherited a dumpster fire and has somewhat restored order, but sooner or later a title has to be won. The Vols will likely have to play without starting inside linebacker Darrin Kirkland, who injured his knee before the close of fall camp. The loss of Kirkland is huge considering he’s the D’s heart and soul and a player the Vols could ill-afford to lose squaring off against Georgia Tech’s vaunted triple-option offense. Offensively, Tennessee will be breaking in a new starting quarterback. But it won’t have the services of starting left tackle Drew Richmond, who was suspended for the opener for a violation of team rules. Not exactly the start Jones’ needs considering he’s probably coaching for his job this season.
The Lowe Down: Georgia Tech 27, Tennessee 24