Week One Lowe Down: OU squeezes by, Bama rolls

Matt Lowe

September 02, 2016 at 2:44 pm.

Baker Mayfield (6) can hurt teams with his arm and legs. Photo Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Baker Mayfield (6) can hurt teams with his arm and legs. Photo Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Week One of The Lowe Down.

Five, four, three, two, one… The college football season is officially here so grab the favorite stadium seat, maybe the hand-me-down flask, the lucky shaker, the undefeated game-day shirt, the lucky hat, the new game-day kicks, remember the dag ‘um tickets an let’s get ready to roll.

Oh, not to mention: get the grill primed, make sure all systems are go on the RV/camper, loosen up the elbows and get a few pre-game yells in before your favorite team is allowed to unleash controlled chaos on someone other than its own teammates.

Hey folks, listen, college football’s opening weekend is always an “epic” (my son’s definition of awesome) day, but history has proven that it’s never the most important day.

This year, more than any other year, good teams are going head to head with each other. In fact, this year’s non-conference slate of games is the best the sport has ever seen. But one game never defines a season. Just ask Alabama.

Lights, camera, action… and… to the games we go…

Thursday, September 1

Appalachian State (0-0) at No. 9 Tennessee (0-0) 6:30 p.m. CT

Butch Jones inherited a dumpster fire when he arrived in Knoxville four years ago, but he has the program on the verge of an SEC title due to an incredible work ethic, a solid eye for talent and by being a positive influence on his players. I know some have knocked Jones due to questionable decision-making at the end of games last year, but hey, the four games UT lost in 2015 were: Oklahoma (in overtime) at home, at Florida, Arkansas at home and at Alabama. Chumps huh?

I like this year’s Vols team. I think they have all the pieces to make a run at an SEC title, and I especially like their hard-nosed approach. With that said, the Vols roll here.

The Lowe Down: Appalachian State 13, Tennessee 48

In other Thursday games:

Charlotte 10

No. 19 Louisville 49

South Carolina 10

Vanderbilt 17

Friday, September 2

Kansas State (0-0) at No. 8 Stanford 8:00 p.m. CT (0-0)

It’s been nine years (2007 at Auburn) since Kansas State kicked off its season by playing a ranked opponent on the road, so Bill Snyder should get a good feel about how his team is going to look right off the bat.

Quarterback Jesse Ertz is back to lead the charge on O after suffering a torn ACL on the team’s opening offensive possession a year ago. He’s an athletic dual-threat that could be poised for a big year if the Wildcats inexperienced offensive line, which will be tested against a salty Stanford front seven, can gel quickly.

In somewhat of a surprise, Ryan Burns was named Stanford’s new starting signal-caller ahead of Keller Chryst. Like Ertz, Burns is big (6-5, 218) and possesses a live arm, but he’s also cool under pressure. And with Heisman finalist Christian McCaffrey and a slew of talented playmakers at his disposal, he could emerge as one of the top QBs in college football as a junior.

The Lowe Down: Kansas State 23, Stanford 36

In other Friday games:

Colorado State 24

Colorado 30 (Sports Authority Field)

Toledo 27

Arkansas State 23

Saturday, September 3

No. 3 Oklahoma (0-0) vs. No. 15 Houston (0-0) 11:00 a.m. CT (NRG Stadium)

If you like scoring and terrific quarterback play then this is the game for you. Oklahoma gunslinger Baker Mayfield and Houston dual-threat Greg Ward Jr. are two of the top playmakers in America and each return to captain offenses that ranked in the top 10 in scoring a year ago.

Mayfield also has the pleasure of leaning on tailbacks Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, arguably the top running back duo in the country, to chew up yards on the ground, which makes the Sooners offense that much more unpredictable.

Houston was great at stopping the run a year ago (allowed 108.9 yards per game), and it will likely have its hands full stopping OU’s two battering rams, but the Cougars will benefit from the home crowd here and should give the Sooners all they want.

The Lowe Down: Oklahoma 33, Houston 30

No. 5 LSU (0-0) vs. Wisconsin (0-0) 2:30 p.m. CT (Lambeau Field)

LSU has the makings of an SEC title contender but if it wants to take the next step, then quarterback Brandon Harris has to become a better passer. Period. Les Miles’ team can’t beat perennial league champ Alabama by just lining up and playing smash-mouth football with the Crimson Tide — even if it has one of the best players in American at tailback in Leonard Fournette — so Harris becomes the wild card.

Wisconsin lost a number of key performers on defense from last year’s 10-3 team and it must replace starting quarterback Joel Stave. That doesn’t bode well playing against an LSU team that returns 18 starters and is now armed with former Badger defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who will know Whisky’s personnel like the back of his hand.

The Lowe Down: LSU 30, Wisconsin 13

No. 18 Georgia (0-0) vs. North Carolina (0-0) 4:30 p.m. CT (Georgia Dome)

Kirby Smart will get his feet wet as a first-time head coach in a setting (the Georgia Dome) he became quite familiar with during his time as a coordinator under Nick Saban at Alabama. While the DC at Bama, Smart’s defenses helped the Crimson Tide win four conference championships, which earned him a reputation as being one of the top assistant coaches in the land. But all that changes now. Every decision (like the one to start veteran QB Greyson Lambert over highly-touted freshman Jacob Eason against UNC) Smart makes will be under the watchful eye of a Georgia fan base that’s dying to win a championship. He’ll make some good one and bad ones just like every coach does, but ultimately he’ll be judged by how many games he wins. His team faces a tough task, especially defensively, against Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels in the opener so no more sugar coating this head coaching gig. As of now, the pressure gets real. And so does the scrutiny.

The Lowe Down: North Carolina 23, Georgia 19

No. 20 USC (0-0) vs. No. 1 Alabama (0-0) 7:00 p.m. CT

Wash, rinse, repeat. Again, wash, rinse, repeat. Alabama’s consistency over the last seven years has been nothing short of remarkable. It’s like the old reliable dishwasher that can be counted on to clean the dishes on a nightly basis no matter how much ya load it. In fact, over the last four years, the Crimson Tide is 48-6 overall and 28-4 in the SEC, which rounds out to 12 wins per (yeah, I know, pretty sick right there).

The recipe for success is pretty simple when it comes down to it. Run the ball, play suffocating run defense — which leads to exotic blitz packages (with great athletes at linebacker and in the secondary) when teams get behind the chains, which leads to sacks and turnovers — all the while not turning the ball over and playing sound on special teams.

Nick Saban announced earlier in the week that Cooper Bateman and Blake Barnett would share reps at quarterback after a lot of buzz surrounding dual-threat Jalen Hurts potentially starting was squashed by the team’s head coach. The decision to roll with Bateman and Barnett likely came down to having more experience in the offense, which Saban prefers.

Like usual, USC has great athletes.

Receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, the Trojans’ best player, and left tackle Zach Banner, all 6-9, 360 pounds of him, are first-team Lindy’s preseason All-Americans. Quarterback Max Browne was the No. 1 prep QB in the country in 2013, and tailbacks Justin Davis and Ronald Jones form a good one-two punch at running back. Oh, and USC’s offensive line is rated by Lindy’s as the nation’s top unit. But outside of cornerbacks Adoree’ Jackson and Iman Marshall, the Trojans are pretty green on defense in the front seven, and that will be the team’s downfall against Alabama’s power running attack.

The Lowe Down: USC 13, Alabama 30

No. 2 Clemson (0-0) at Auburn (0-0) 8:00 p.m. CT

A few adjectives to describe Deshaun Watson could go something like this: athletic, big, smooth, quick, fast, poised. But the one thing that makes him great is his ability to lead his team to wins.

Cam Newton was arguably the greatest football player (a dollar to Bo Jackson) to ever play at Auburn and he led his team to victories with his sheer God-given ability. Watson is in the same mold. And to be honest, he’s the closest thing I’ve seen to Newton in the college game.

But Watson isn’t alone when it comes to Clemson’s offensive skill. Running back Wayne Gallman is one of the nation’s better backs. Artavis Scott leads a talented receiving corps that has size and speed. Jordan Legett is the nation’s top tight end. And left tackle Mitch Hyatt and center Jay Guillermo are two of the country’s premier linemen.

So in short, Auburn’s defense has its hands full. I talked to defensive line coach Rodney Garner back in the spring and he told me he felt like he had 12 guys on the D-line, which is led by Carl Lawson, that he felt like could play and there wouldn’t be a significant dip in talent. That’s strong if the unit can take the next step and become a dominant group.

Look, Auburn will run the ball on Clemson’s front seven and it should score some points, but the Tigers’ (from Lee County) D-line and linebackers, which will feature good playmaking ability and depth with Tre’ Williams, Darrell Williams, whom I really like as a player, T.J. Neal and Deshaun Davis all expected to see time, will have to play out of their minds to pull the upset.

The Lowe Down: Clemson 33, Auburn 27

In other Saturday games:

Georgia Tech 20 (Dublin, Ireland)

Boston College 17

Western Michigan 20

Northwestern 34

Hawaii 10

No. 7 Michigan 49

Bowling Green 14

No. 6 Ohio State 45

Rutgers 10

No. 14 Washington 45

No. 16 UCLA 27

Texas A&M 33

UMass 7

No. 25 Florida 45

BYU 45

Arizona 38

Sunday, September 4

No. 10 Notre Dame (0-0) at Texas (0-0) 6:30 p.m. CT

DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire will share reps at quarterback when the Irish travel to Austin to clash with the Longhorns. But if Brian Kelly’s team wants to steal a road win it will need to play a sound defensive game against a Texas offense that has playmakers. In the final two games of the 2015 season, the Irish gave up a combined 82 points in losses to Stanford and Ohio State, two perennial college football heavyweights, and they were especially bad against the run. Charlie Strong has yet to name a starter at QB, but veteran Tyron Swoopes and hotshot freshman Shane Buechele (son of former major leaguer Steve) are two talented quarterbacks that can run. And tailbacks D’Onta Foreman (6-0, 238) and Chris Warren (6-2, 255) are returning sledgehammers for a ground game that was one of the nation’s best a year ago. If Texas can run it, it can win it. Hook ‘em!

The Lowe Down: Notre Dame 20, Texas 27

Monday, September 5

No. 11 Ole Miss (0-0) vs. No. 4 Florida State (0-0)

Ole Miss lost some serious star power (wideout Laquon Treadwell, defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and left tackle Laremy Tunsil) from last year’s 10-3 Sugar Bowl winning team, but it does return the top QB in the SEC in Chad Kelly and another quality batch of skill position players to go along with a good defensive line and secondary.

Will all those pieces be enough to pull out the W over a Florida State team that will be missing starting quarterback Sean McGuire and starting several new faces on defense?

Only time will tell, but losing McGuire may not be as big of a blow as was to be expected due to the development of redshirt freshman Deondre Francois. Francois has a big arm and doubles as talented runner, but head coach Jimbo Fisher has praised him for his decision-making during fall camp. His development could play a big role in FSU contending for an ACC title considering the Seminoles feature one of the nation’s best running backs (Dalvin Cook), a talented receiving corps and a veteran offensive line to go along with a talented defense.

The Lowe Down: Ole Miss 23, Florida State 26


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