Scandals, Pac 12 predictions, Heisman watch, title contenders, and big games of the week.
Miami quarterback Jacory Harris will have to sit out the first game of the season for his involvement in a major scandal. Photo by Wilfredo Lee (AP)
Following a scandal-plagued off season, the 2011 college football campaign can’t get kicked off soon enough.
That has to be the overwhelming feeling of coaches, athletic directors and officials at the NCAA after allegations of rule breaking surfaced at programs such as Oregon and Miami (FL.).
True, when action gets underway Thursday evening all of the game’s problems won’t be forgotten.
Beginning Saturday, LSU will likely be without its starting quarterback and several other players after they were allegedly involved in a brawl a few weeks back in the parking lot of a bar in Louisiana.
And then there are the Miami Hurricanes.
After former booster Nevin Shapiro’s story appeared on Yahoo! Sports, the once vaunted “U” has been left staggering. Shapiro alleges that he provided benefits to numerous players, including several on the current team.
Starting quarterback Jacory Harris was named by Shapiro, and on Tuesday, was reprimanded by the NCAA and told to sit out one game, along with seven other teammates, whose penalties varied.
With the Ohio State and Auburn NCAA-led probes still ongoing, the battle for the BCS trophy is a welcome development.
Cam Newton’s one-year run at Auburn surprised everyone. Auburn was ranked in the ‘20s to begin the season and picked to go to a nice bowl game.
Most prognosticators picked the defending champion Alabama Crimson Tide to repeat. Others (including me) went with the Terrell Pryor-led Buckeyes.
Neither team met expectations, but Newton proved he was up to the challenge.
It’ll be interesting to see if another player off the radar emerges this season. For now, here is my Pac-12, Heisman and National championship picks for 2011-12.
Oregon’s LaMichael James will be in the Heisman Trophy race, and he can lead his team to the national championship. Photo by Jeff Lewis
Aside from a surprise season by teams such as USC, Arizona or Oregon State, chances are, there will be a repeat of last year’s fight for the top spot in the conference.
Oregon and Stanford, ranked No. 4 and 7 in the preseason AP poll, respectively, are the favorites.
Oregon’s last game was a loss to Auburn in the BCS championship; however, the Ducks mostly breezed through the former Pac-10.
Losing defensive players such as Casey Matthews and Kenny Rowe will hurt, but Oregon played numerous players on that side of the ball, so experience shouldn’t be a problem.
Heisman contending tailback LaMichael James is back and leading the nation’s No. 1 ranked offense (47 points per game).
James will have more than enough help. Quarterback Darron Thomas and tailback Kenjon Barner will also be among the conference’s standouts.
Andrew Luck will lead Stanford after the departure of head coach Jim Harbaugh to the NFL. The late-season game at home against Oregon could decide the new Pac 12’s North Division.
Stanford will also be tested during road games at Arizona and back-to-back contests at USC and Oregon State.
Meanwhile in the South Division, USC and Arizona are my favorites. Utah could cause some problems, but they don’t look strong enough to win the division outright.
The Trojans and Wildcats both got off to nice starts last season, but both teams finished poorly. Whichever squad is better down the stretch will likely determine the division’s winner.
The pick: Oregon
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is probably the clear cut favorite heading into the season, however, several other players will give Heisman voters something to think about.
Luck could join Oregon’s James and Boise State’s Kellen Moore, who were all invited to the presentation last season along with eventual winner, Newton.
James rushed for 1700-plus yards for six yards per carry and finished with 21 touchdowns. Moore guided the 12-1 Broncos behind 3845 yards passing to go along with 35 touchdown throws.
Two SEC tailbacks, Alabama’s Trent Richardson and South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore, will certainly have a shot at the award.
Lattimore’s teammate, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, finished with 79 receptions for 1387 yards and nine touchdowns in a run-first offense. If coach Steve Spurrier chooses to throw the ball more, Jeffery could be a sleeper pick.
Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles and Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon are the only other wideouts in the nation who can match Jeffery talent wise.
Michigan’s Denard Robinson and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III have the talent and may put up Heisman-like numbers; however, neither team will garner the wins necessary to compete for the trophy.
Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones was prolific last season. Entering the season ranked No. 1 in the AP has its advantages.
One of which is that if the Sooners can run the table and Jones puts up numbers, he’s likely a shoo-in to win the Heisman.
The pick: Andrew Luck
National Title Contenders
For the past five seasons, SEC teams have been the victors and held the coveted BCS Trophy after usually dominating performances.
Last season was no different. Oregon put up a good effort, but ultimately, Auburn’s defensive and offensive lines proved to be too strong.
I think we’ll see a repeat for the 2011-12 season. There are several teams that could win it all in the Louisiana Superdome, but that team will likely be a school from below the Mason Dixon Line.
Coach Nick Saban has yet to choose a starting quarterback. He said AJ McCarron and the highly touted Phillip Sims could alternate.
Remember, two years ago when the Crimson Tide won the national title; Greg McElroy wasn’t all that experienced. That season, tailback Mark Ingram won the Heisman and the defense featured a ton of guys that now play on Sundays.
This year should be no different. Both quarterbacks will be asked to play field position and not to commit turnovers, while Richardson carries the offense.
Alabama returns 10 of 11 starters on a defense that finished third in the nation last season, after allowing 13.5 points per game.
Look for linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Don’Ta Hightower to have big seasons. Josh Chapman will anchor the defensive line while Mark Barron, Robert Lester and Dre Kirkpatrick cause havoc for opponents in the secondary.
A tougher than nails schedule could upend the Crimson Tide. They visit Penn State, Florida, Mississippi State and Auburn.
LSU and South Carolina are other SEC teams to watch out for. Both return a number of starters, but questions at quarterback could derail their championship hopes.
Outside of the SEC, Oklahoma figures to be a contender. The September 17 game at Florida State will tell us a lot about the Sooners.
Oregon, Stanford and Texas A&M have enough special players to also merit a mention.
The pick: Alabama
Big Games This Week
Saturday evening’s two match ups are why I, along with millions of other fans, love college football.
Instead of being stuck watching the less-than spectacular baseball pennant races, I’ll be checking out No. 3 Oregon versus No. 4 LSU, and No. 5 Boise State versus No. 19 Georgia.
Both west coast teams will be at a decided disadvantage, because although both games are technically on neutral fields, the LSU and Georgia faithful will travel.
Oregon, which has had their own off-the-field issues, will play the Tigers in Arlington, Texas. LSU will likely be without quarterback Jordan Jefferson after his alleged role in a brawl and will rely on senior Jarrett Lee.
The Georgia Dome is sure to be packed with Bulldogs fans when they face the Broncos. Once again, Boise State is playing the Cinderella role and needs to finish undefeated if they have any notions of playing for the title. Beating Georgia would be a good start.
Other interesting games are No. 20 Mississippi State at Memphis and No. 14 TCU at Baylor.
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