It’s the first full weekend of big time college football and none of the match-ups will top FSU and Alabama in Atlanta, but nevertheless there are three other ranked state schools in action and here’s how it lays out:
12:30 p.m. Bethune-Cookman at Miami
Year two of the Mark Richt Miami make-over gets an easy test with the Wildcats at Hard Rock Stadium. The Canes have elected to go with Malik Rosier after an extensive off season QB battle to replace the departed Brad Kaaya. One big thing in Miami’s favor is one of the ACC’s top rushers, Mark Walton, is back and should bolster the offense no matter whom is under center. Canes should blow this one open early and name the score.
3:30 p.m. Michigan vs. Florida (Arlington, TX)
In what was supposed to be a “Co-Main Event” to the Noles and Tide in prime time, the Gators and Wolverines will tangle at AT & T Stadium in a large Big Ten vs. SEC showdown. But, the biggest backdrop is the myriad of suspensions involving a credit card fraud scandal and other incidents. And, the second biggest story line is the Gators opening the season with a red shirt freshman QB (Feliepe Franks) for the first time since Kerwin Bell in 1984.
For their part, the Wolverines, who were in position to make the College Football Playoff until back to back road losses at Iowa and Ohio State ruined that, have personnel issues, too. Michigan lost 11 players off the ’16 squad to the NFL, including RB De’Veon Smith and All American safety Jabril Peppers. They will have numerous players “learning by fire” in this one.
4:00 p.m. Stony Brook at USF
A week ago, the Bulls opened on the road at San Jose State and fell behind immediately, 16-0. Then, they showed their offensive weapons led by last year’s AAC Offensive Player of the Year, Quinton Flowers throwing two TDs and new starting running back D’Ernest Johnson running for two more. It turned out to be an easy second half and win. Now, USF will be a heavy favorite to roll the Seawolves of FCS fame. It is new coach Charlie Strong’s home opener and the Bulls should have an easy time of it.
And finally, 8:00 p.m. Alabama vs. Florida State (Atlanta)
Well, after an entire off season of build up, arguably the best opening game match-up ever is finally here. Preseason #1 Alabama will take on #3 FSU in a game at the new Mercedes Benz Stadium that will be talked about for all those reasons for some time to come. Alabama brings back, now sophomore star QB Jalen Hurts (above) who as a duel threat freshman a year ago led the Tide to within a whisker of winning back to back national titles. He will give the Noles all kinds of challenges, especially with his elusiveness and ability to break long runs. Bama also has another in the long line outstanding running backs in Bo Scarbrough ready to pound it between the tackles. Not unlike Mark Ingram, Eddie Lacy, Trent Richardson and Derrick Henry, Scarbrough will bash the defense. Also, remember Scarborough has recovered this off season from a broken leg in the second half of the dramatic title game loss to Clemson in January.
For Florida State, their equally outstanding QB Deondre Francois will lead them in this game. The biggest question is will the Seminole offensive line protect him or will he be like a pinata out there, like he was many Saturdays a year ago. FSU has to also replace outstanding RB Dalvin Cook, who left for the NFL. They, will do so with Jacques Patrick, a reserve, who carried a little a year ago. Also, Florida State welcomes back a fully healthy Derwin James, after suffering a knee injury in game two and electing to have micro-fracture surgery to give it the best chance to heal last year and early this year. James is the kind of player that lives for games like this Bama one and he may very well make a huge play or two in this one.
We look forward to recapping all of the Labor Day weekend Saturday action!
Coaches and rosters finalized for East-West Shrine Bowl
The NFL and the newly-renamed East-West Shrine Bowl are finalizing not only their player rosters, but their coaching staffs for next Saturday’s game in St Petersburg, FL.
Late this week, the longest running college all-star game, the East West Shrine Bowl, named its head coaches, both of whom have ties to the Tampa Bay Area.
Bucs inside linebackers coach Mike Caldwell will coach one of the teams, while former Buccaneers and current Falcons tight end coach, Ben Steele will be in charge of the other.
Caldwell, who came to the Buccaneers in Bruce Arians’ first season has been in the NFL for a total of 11 years and had previously served as the assistant head coach and linebackers coach for the New York Jets under Todd Bowles for 4 seasons.
Steele, who has coached in the NFL for seven seasons reunited with Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter in Atlanta after previously having been his tight end coach in Tampa Bay last year.
Bob Roller, executive director of the East-West Shrine Bowl, said in a statement about the coaching selections,
“We’re very excited to have Mike Caldwell and Ben Steele as head coaches for our East-West Shrine Bowl all-stars,” said Bob Roller, executive director of the East-West Shrine Bowl. “Ben was a coordinator for our 2019 game and both coaches have ties to the Tampa/St. Pete area. They will lead two strong staffs of NFL assistant coaches that will be invaluable to our players as they begin their own journey to the NFL”
Meanwhile, the rosters do have some Florida flair, as several noteworthy names will be on the East team. That’s led by speedy UCF running back Adrian Killins, Gators wide receiver Freddie Swain and USF tight end Mitchell Wilcox. On the East defensive squad, FAU linebacker Rashad Smith, Miami linebacker Shaq quarterman and UCF defensive back Neville Clark are part of the roster.
This will be the 95th playing of the East-West Shrine Bowl and it boasts 71 Pro Football Hall of Famers that have played in their game. And, they also had more than 300 players who were on an NFL roster for Week 1 last year that have played in the East-West Shrine Bowl.
The game also announced that there will be four legendary mentors working with the players in practices later this week in St Pete. Those include: Hall of Fame offensive lineman Will Shields, Super Bowl Champion defensive end Willie McGinest, as well as, long time safety Bobby Taylor and long time wide receiver Amani Toomer.
The game will be played at Tropicana Field, the home of Major League Baseball Tampa Bay Rays and televised nationally on the NFL Network at 3 p.m., Eastern Time next Saturday.
New Year’s Day has prominent teams in Florida Bowls
As the new year begins, traditional college football bowl games will be taking place. And even though there are no Florida teams battling on New Year’s Day, there are two prominent bowl games in the state.
First, two of college football’s “Blue Bloods” play Wednesday afternoon, the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Michigan Wolverines will do battle in the VRBO Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
Both programs come off of disappointing end to their regular-season, as they both lost to their rivals. Alabama dropping a wild 48 – 45 game in the Iron Bowl to Auburn and Michigan losing badly 56-27 to Ohio State and their finale at home.
The Tide are without All American caliber quarterback Tua Tagovailoa who suffered a fractured hip late in the year. However, Nick Saban has arguably the best wide receiving corps in all of college football to compensate for Tagovailoa’s absence.
Michigan has perennially under-achieved under coach Jim Harbaugh, but would love nothing better than to score a head-to-head win against Bama in this one.
Meanwhile across I-4 in Tampa, the 25th playing of the Outback Bowl will take place and it’s a first-time matchup between the SEC Auburn Tigers and the big Ten’s Minnesota Golden Gophers.
The Gophers were Darlings of the Big Ten late in the year that they got to 9 – 0 for only the second time in program history before faltering with losses to Iowa and Wisconsin which knock them out of the Big Ten championship game. Their coach P.J. Fleck is the Big Ten coach of the year and has done an amazing job of making Minnesota nationally relevant.
As for the Tigers, we mentioned the victory over Alabama which was particularly sweet for Coach Gus Malzahn, who has been under fire in recent years for not living up to success earlier in the 2010s. Auburn freshman quarterback Bo Nix, the son of the former Auburn star Patrick Nix, leads a high-powered attack that will look to finish the season on a winning note. The Tigers lost their three biggest games of the year to Florida, LSU, and Georgia, but wins over Alabama and Minnesota will help.
The Gophers have had their most important season since they played in the Rose Bowl in 1962 and would love nothing better than to upset the Tigers in this one.