Games and Players to Watch on Thursday September 3rd

At 5 PM on Thursday, things really get going for football starved mad men such as myself. I will wipe the saliva off of my face and settle down with my trusty computer and my remote control and get busy being a college football nerd.

A word of wisdom for the general football fan, take your eyes off of the ball and watch the real action. The line of scrimmage is where it’s at, but don’t only focus on that. Watch some Linebacker play and see what some of other players are doing while our heroes, the Quarterbacks, are going through their progressions.

You can watch the ball on the replay. I love the Quarterbacks and the Running Backs, too, but you miss a lot of the more fun action while concentrating on the ball.

At 5 PM on Thursday, the South Carolina Gamecocks of the SEC are taking on the North Carolina Tar Heels in Charlotte. This isn’t basketball. The Tar Heels would murder the Gamecocks on the hardwoods, but on the gridiron look for a Gamecock win. South Carolina may struggle a bit, too, just like last year with a new Quarterback breaking in. But, they should have a good defense and a solid running game.

Connor Mitch has won the Quarterback battle, but he threw all of 6 passes last season. This won’t be like last season when Quarterback Dylan Thompson had played a lot the previous season because of injuries to starter Connor Shaw. Mitch has played almost no time in a real game. This could be a huge factor.

On the positive side, Pharoh Cooper returns and is one of the top players in the country at Wide Receiver. Expect Cooper to tear up the SEC this season and announce for the NFL.

Keeping with the skill position theme, the Gamecocks have talent at Running Back with Brandon Wilds and David Williams.

The problem for them may come up front where they struggled a season ago and then lost their best player in four year starter A.J. Cann. Last year’s Left Tackle Brandon Shell moved over to Right Tackle and they have several new starters in the lineup.

 

When facing a North Carolina Tar Heel team, they will be up against one of the worst defenses in college football a season ago. The Tar Heels head coach Larry Fedora fired last season’s Defensive Coordinator and brought in former Auburn head coach Gene Chizek out of the broadcast booth. Chizek won a national title at Auburn in 2010 and was gone within two seasons when the Tigers went 3-9 in 2012. Hey, what have you done for me lately comes to play mightily in the game of football.

Chizek was Defensive Coordinator at Texas when they won a national title in 2005, so the man knows winning. He also knows defense and was hired to install a 4-3 defense in Chapel Hill.

Chizek may be a defensive genius, but he’s not a magician and it will take at least a little time before the Tar Heel defense is competitive, at least.

The Tar Heel defensive front four could be talented, but they will be very young as the season

begins.

This may be the perfect opportunity for the Gamecocks to work on their offense before they get into SEC play.

On the Tar Heel defense, keep an eye on Middle Linebacker Jeff Schoettmer and Defensive Back Des Lawrence. Also, former Linebacker Donnie Miles lines up at Strong Safety this season and he could be good. If a couple of young Defensive Tackles like  Nazair Jones step up, North Carolina could be well on it’s way to having a good team.

The Tar Heel Offense was pretty good last year and they return veteran Quarterback Marquise Williams and exciting Wide Receiver/return man Ryan Switzer who is not related to old Sooner football coach, Barry Switzer.

I predicted great things out of freshman Running Back Elijah Hood a year ago and he may be on target to get there a season later. But, hopefully he will get there and he won’t leave my prediction hanging.

Also, Right Tackle for North Carolina is Jon Heck. His father, Andy, played Tight End for Notre Dame for three years before converting to Offensive Tackle. He was a starting Offensive Tackle for the Irish when they won the national championship in 1988 and then Heck went on to play 12 seasons in the NFL. Andy Heck is currently the Offensive Line coach for the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Tar Heel Offense will have it’s hands full with new Defensive End Marquavius Lewis, a junior college transfer. The rest of the Defensive Line should be solid, including the two Gerald Dixons.

One Gerald Dixon should start at Defensive Tackle and Gerald S. Dixon may start at Defensive End, if he can hold off talented Dante Sawyer.

Keep an eye on Middle Linebacker Skai Moore and Safety Isaiah Johnson.

This game is the gateway to many others, but it could be a good one, too.

 

There is TCU visiting Minnesota on the evening schedule as well. The Horn Frogs should have little trouble with the Gophers, but tune in to at least see what TCU is all about and whether Trevone Boykin is a legit Heisman contender.

 

The other game that I, personally, am extremely interested in is the Michigan at Utah game. Of course, the main reason for interest is the return to college coaching by former Michigan Quarterback and Stanford head coach, Jim Harbaugh.

We don’t know who the Wolverines will trot out there to open up at Quarterback, but lost in all of the drama about that is that the Utah Utes return 16 starters from a pretty competitive team in 2014.

On Offense, the Utes return All Conference Left Tackle Jeremiah Poutasi and All Conference Running Back Devontae Booker. The Junior College transfer Booker ran for 1,512 yards and 10 Touchdowns and caught 42 passes for another 311 yards and 2 Touchdowns.

If you remember to watch the guys in the trenches, keep an eye on #73, Poutasi. The senior from Las Vegas is a good one.

6-7 Quarterback Travis Wilson also returns and for a tall guy he runs really well. He threw for over 2,100 yards last year and ran for over 300. I’m sure that Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham doesn’t want Wilson running much due to injury problems a year ago.

 

The Utes will be facing a fairly formidable Michigan defense. It was one that finished 7th in total defense in the entire country a year ago. Michigan had problems in 2014, but defense wasn’t part of that. The Wolverines return quite a bit of experience up front with Willie Henry, All Name Team Member Taco Charlton, Mario Ojemudia, Ryan Glasgow, Chris Wormley and Matthew Godin. They lost leading tackler Jake Ryan, but return sidekick Joe Bolden.

The most exciting player of all, maybe, will be sophomore Defensive Back Jabrill Peppers. The Jersey product was one of the very best recruits in the country a season ago, but after starting early on, Peppers had injury problems and was forced to sit out. He could take a redshirt season, but it won’t matter because he will be gone after the 2016 season, anyway. He’s that good.

 

As already stated, Jim Harbaugh has yet to announce a starting Quarterback. As I wrote about when we peeped over, under and around the fences in Ann Arbor, and our running from the cops, Shane Morris was lined up at Quarterback. You can read about that experience here if you so desire:  Michigan Wolverines

General thinking is that Iowa graduate transfer Jake Rudock wins the Quarterback race, but Morris has hung in there and we won’t know probably until kickoff on Thursday Night.

If you should heed my advice about watching the line of scrimmage, and I think you should, keep an eye on true sophomore Left Tackle Mason Cole #52. Even as bad as Michigan was on Offense in

2014, Cole was good enough to start in the Spring before his freshman season and for the entire 2014 playing season. Nobody on this site is saying he is the next Tony Boselli, but he has enormous potential.

Tight End Jake Butt is another on the Michigan Offense with endless room for development. At 6-5, 250, he is that big body that creates mismatches with defenses on every level. He also appears to have excellent feet, with good speed and hands. With Harbaugh as head coach, expect much use out of a quality Tight End like Jake Butt. A prospect that many Michigan fans will be keeping an eye on is freshman Tyrone Wheatley Jr. The Older Wheatley was a Wolverine legend at Running Back and was a burner with great size at 6-0, 235. Junior is 6-6, 250 and probably still growing. I know I will be interested in Junior’s development as I was a big fan of the father.

The Wolverines have a lot of bodies at Running Back with the headliners being De’Veon Smith, Derrick Green and USC transfer Ty Isaac. In the off season, Isaac was the favorite to win the job by some, but has not made the move yet.

 

Michigan returns several Wide Receivers, but it’s hard to say at this point how good they will be. Their top guy in 2014 was Devin Funchess and he is now a Carolina Panther.

 

Just like on Offense, the Utah Defense returns 8 starters. They did lose exceptional Defensive End Nate Orchard who is presently a rookie with the Cleveland Browns. Orchard was tough off the edge and recorded 18.5 Quarterback sacks a year ago and that will be missed.
But, the Utes return a star from other side in Hunter Dimick who crushed the opposing Quarterbacks 10 times on his own. Another talent was back up Jason Fanaika who had 5 Quarterback sacks on his own.

Also returning up front is Nose Guard Lowell Lotulelei and at 6-1, 310 he is a handful for about any Center.

At Linebacker, Ute leading tackler Jarred Norris returns as does Gionni Paul.

 

There’s no doubt in my mind that Jim Harbaugh will lead Michigan to places they haven’t been in a while, but it probably will have to wait until after Thursday Night.

This should be a very fun game to watch even if you are not a fan of either school. Harbaugh wore out his welcome in San Francisco, but you are fooling yourself if you think that was on Harbaugh. He proved himself at Stanford and the NFL is another sort of animal which has little to do with a college coaches’ ability to win at this level.

 

 

There are an unusual 18 Thursday Night games on September 3rd as a lot of smaller Division 1 schools try to get noticed. Most of the other games will be huge mismatches like a 5-9 Defensive Back trying to cover a 6-7 Tight End.

Alcorn State takes on Georgia Tech and I will be watching to see one of the most exciting option

Quarterbacks in Justin Thomas and also to see who the Yellow Jackets play at their A Back and B Back positions. I am hoping Stanford transfer  Patrick Skov starts at Fullback, or the B Back,  for Georgia Tech.

This game won’t be great for the casual fan.

Texas San Antonio plays at Arizona and Duke plays at Tulane. Duke head coach David Cutcliffe has developed something of a program with the Blue Devils which is no small deal and I will be interested to see who plays Quarterback and how good this year’s version may be.

If you call yourself a football fan, it’s time to plop yourself in your favorite chair, or even better get out to some of the games.

2015 promises to be another great season.

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