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Our picks of the top 10 games this weekend and what we may learn
By Monday evening, a good portion of an offseason’s worth of predictions and debates may be out of date.
That’s part of the anticipation for the first weekend of the season, which will stretch from Thursday through Monday night. Plenty of games with plenty to learn, pretty much.
Here’s a quick guide to the games we watching closely and what lessons he hope to gain for each team.
1. Georgia at Clemson
Need to know: Saturday, 8 p.m., ABC
What we will learn about Georgia: A great deal about Todd Grantham’s defense. The results didn’t match the talent last season. The Bulldogs allowed 4.1 yards per carry last season, ranking 11th in the SEC. And that was with first-round draft picks Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree (granted, Ogletree was suspended the first four games). Missing oversized safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, who is serving a one-game suspension, and returning only three starters will put stress on the Georgia defense against one country’s best quarterbacks.
What we will learn about Clemson: If the secondary is good enough for a top-10 team. The Tigers’ secondary is the weak link on the defense. Safety Travis Blanks is the only returning starter here, and he needs to have a breakout season as a sophomore. The lingering pass defense problem from 2012 can’t extend into the 2013 opener against Georgia’s Aaron Murray.
2. LSU vs. TCU in Arlington, Texas
Need to know: Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN
What we will learn about LSU: Who is ready to take charge. Will the young defense be ready to play at normal LSU levels? Will Zach Mettenberger be able to take the next step under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron? TCU's Casey Pachall and Waymon James have proven they can put stress on a defense when healthy and available. And Mettenberger will be tested against a Gary Patterson defense that proved it could translate success from the Mountain West to the Big 12.
What we will learn about TCU: What’s up Patterson’s sleeve. Patterson’s not offering many clues for his plans against LSU. He hasn’t announced a starting quarterback between Pachall and Trevone Boykin, though Pachall appears to be the favorite. Patterson also snuck defensive end Devonte Fields, who was supposed to be suspended, onto the depth chart. TCU has been hit by player departures (projected starting linebacker Joel Hasley) and injuries on the offensive line, so perhaps Patterson is grabbing any advantage he can get.
3. North Carolina at South Carolina
Need to know: Thursday, 6 p.m., ESPN
What we will learn about North Carolina: The line is a major question mark for North Carolina’s offense, which was one of the most consistent in the ACC last season. If the offensive line can anchor an ACC contender. Three starters are gone, including first-round draft pick, Jonathan Cooper. Left tackle James Hurst will have his hands full with Jadeveon Clowney, but the good news is he won’t face anyone better for the rest of the season.
What we will learn about South Carolina: Are the defensive players not named Jadeveon ready to win the SEC? South Carolina has some holes at linebacker and to a lesser extent in the secondary. South Carolina needs to prove it can handle North Carolina and quarterback Bryn Renner before facing Georgia and Aaron Murray in the second week of the season.
4. Boise State at Washington
Need to know: Saturday, 10 p.m., Fox Sports 1
What we will learn about Boise State: If Joe Southwick is ready to carry Boise State. The quarterback was much improved in the final games of last season, throwing nine touchdowns and no interceptions in the final four games last season. He was 26 of 38 for 264 yards with two TDs in the bowl game against Washington, but Southwick will need to be a road performer. Besides Washington, the Broncos face Fresno State, Utah State, BYU and San Diego State on the road this season.
What we will learn about Washington: If more experience will turn the offense around. The Huskies repaired one of the worst defenses in the Pac-12 during the 2012 offseason. They’ll need to upgrade the offense this season if they’re going to get over the seven-win hump. A banged-up offensive line didn’t help Keith Price at all last season. Now, Washington has a healthy line, skill position talent (especially if Mackey Award contender Austin Seferian-Jenkins plays) and up-tempo tweaks in the scheme.
5. Ole Miss at Vanderbilt
Need to know: Thursday, 9:15 p.m., ESPN
What we will learn about Ole Miss: A bit about how this brutal start will go. Ole Miss has a ton of momentum after closing last season with a win over Mississippi State, a bowl victory and a star-studded signing class. But the Rebels have to play games, and the early part of the schedule includes four of the first five on the road. If the Rebels can’t defeat Vanderbilt, how confident will they be against Texas (Sept. 14) and Alabama (Sept. 28)?
What we will learn about Vanderbilt: Who is Austyn Carta-Samuels? Vanderbilt won nine games under Jordan Rodgers last season, and now the job is being handed to a Wyoming transfer. Carta-Samuels had a nice freshman season in Laramie, but that’s a long way from reaching a bowl out of the SEC. Carta-Samuels will be without his No. 2 receiver in Chris Boyd, who was indicted in connection to the campus rape case. Police accuse Boyd of advising another defendant in covering up the crime.
6. Mississippi State vs. Oklahoma State in Houston
Need to know: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC
What we will learn about Mississippi State: If the Bulldogs are ready for the big-time. Mississippi State folded against the top competition in the SEC last season. Oklahoma State is in the crowd atop the Big 12, but Mississippi State can still make a statement in Houston. The Bulldogs have a standout defensive line that will go up against an OSU unit that’s missing starting left tackle Devin Davis, who is out for the season with a torn ACL.
What we will learn about Oklahoma State: An intro to a new offense. On one hand, Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh have had the entire offseason to prepare for starting this season — a year ago, freshman Wes Lunt, who has since transferred, was named the starter in spring. That’s good news, but those veterans are working under new coordinator Mike Yurcich.
7. Virginia Tech vs. Alabama in Atlanta
Need to know: Saturday, 5:30 p.m., ESPN
What we will learn about Virginia Tech: Not much, really. The Crimson Tide embarrassed Michigan 41-14 to open last season. That’s a mark Virginia Tech may strain to avoid.
What we will learn about Alabama: How dominant this team could be. Frank Beamer has said Alabama is the best team Virginia Tech has faced during his tenure. If there’s a breakout offensive star — T.J. Yeldon or Amari Cooper — doing something big against Virginia Tech may be enough to put one or the other in the Heisman conversation along with AJ McCarron.
8. Florida State at Pittsburgh
Need to know: Monday, 8 p.m., ESPN
What we will learn about Florida State: What role Jameis Winston may play. The redshirt freshman quarterback could be one of the breakout stars for 2013, but there may be little reason for coach Jimbo Fisher to play that hand, at least not yet. The Seminoles should have one of the best defenses in the ACC plus plenty of running back depth so Winston doesn’t need to be a star in his first start.
What we will learn about Pittsburgh: The direction of the running back position. Pittsburgh has had a number of deficiencies in its final seasons in the Big East, but running back hasn’t been one of them from LeSean McCoy to Dion Lewis to Ray Graham. The baton could have been passed to decorated recruit Rushel Shell, but he elected to transfer. When he wanted to return, coach Paul Chryst didn’t take him back. Pitt also had injuries to the top two running backs, junior Isaac Bennett and freshman James Conner, during fall practice.
9. Ohio at Louisville
Need to know: Sunday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
What we will learn about Ohio: The Bobcats’ status as a MAC team to watch. Consistency has been the biggest trademark for Ohio in recent years. The Bobcats have won between eight and 10 games in each of the last four seasons. Frank Solich has been here since 2005. But a MAC title has been elusive as flashier teams with transient coaches have won the league. Ohio may have what it takes to win the league this season.
What we will learn about Louisville: If the defense is ready to go undefeated. Teddy Bridgewater and the offense will be fine, but Charlie Strong’s D had its lapses last season. The Cardinals allowed 524 total yards in a loss to Syracuse and struggled to find a pass rush at times last season. Ohio returns the backfield duo of Tyler Tettleton and Beau Blankenship, who combined for 480 total yards against Penn State in the opener last season.
10. Rutgers at Fresno State
Need to know: Thursday, 10:30 p.m., ESPNU
What we will learn about Rutgers: How the defense will replace its stars. The Scarlet Knights lost Big East defensive player of the year Khaseem Greene, lockdown corner Logan Ryan and veterans Scott Vallone and Steve Beauharnais. That’s a lot for Rutgers to lose in one offseason, especially when the first game of 2013 is on the road against Fresno quarterback Derek Carr.
What we will learn about Fresno State: A bit about Fresno State’s Mountain West prospects. The Bulldogs hasn’t won an outright conference title since it’s been the same league with Boise State. The Bulldogs are expected to go toe-to-toe with the Broncos this season, possibly meeting in the first Mountain West title game. Defeating Rutgers at home in the opener would be a signal that Fresno is ready to take on Boise State and San Diego State.