Clear Your Schedule 2016 | Week 1

By Brian Wilmer -

Man, time flies, doesn’t it?

You’ll notice every day that children — if you have any — keep growing, your hair — again, if you have any — gets a little more on the “salt” side of “salt-and-pepper”, and that money that used to go toward bad food and worse beverages now goes to mortgages and other stupid adult stuff.

If you take a quick look, you’ll also note that you’ll need more than one hand to count the lifespan of this humble little column.

It’s again my privilege to tee it up for one of the best bosses a guy could have — along with one of the best groups of readers — for another year. We’ve made some changes in this space over the last couple of years, and we’ll make another this year. The weekly picks contest will be linked here, but is, again, not affiliated with FBSchedules. There will also be no wagering involved, but if you crave bragging rights, come join us here. We’ll start picking with next week’s games.

We’ll also focus on six national games — which I still informally call The Sixer, and here’s why I do so — each week. The plan is to eliminate the weekly ACC feature, though the option is still there to bring it back, if it’s part of your regular reading. We’ll do some “theme” weeks here, and occasionally focus on some teams that don’t get a ton of run in other spaces.

So yeah, Brian, about focusing on six national games…maybe it’s time you do that now. Off we go, friends…after a brief detour to the first trivia question of the year!

Trivia, Week 1 (answer at the end of the column): Houston holds the longest active winning streak (four) by a non-P5 school against P5 teams. Which four teams have Houston defeated as part of that streak?

Keyword Search (all times Eastern and rankings AP)

#3 Oklahoma vs. #15 Houston | Advocare Texas Kickoff (NRG Stadium, Houston, TX)
Noon | ABC

  • Good news and bad news: Houston coach Tom Herman clearly transformed the Cougar program in his first year at the helm last season, joining just three other coaches — and only Chris Petersen since 1892 — in winning 13 games in his first full season leading a team. His Cougars last faced a ranked team in a lid-lifter 39 years ago, and led then by Bill Yeoman, they defeated then-number 11 UCLA 17-13 in the Astrodome. Conversely, third-ranked Oklahoma represents the highest-ranked opponent to face the Cougars…since second-ranked Oklahoma hammered Houston by 50 in 2004. That Houston club lost six of its first seven games, including that Oklahoma loss, en route to a 3-8 finish.
  • September success: The last six seasons have seen the ninth month be really good to Bob Stoops and his Sooners. Oklahoma is 18-1 in September in that span, with Kansas State handing Stoops and company their lone defeat in that month. K-State clipped the Sooners, 24-19, in Norman on September 22, 2012.
  • What gives?: The Cougars’ high-powered offense was just one of three — Oregon and Baylor the others — to average greater than 235 yards per game both on the ground and through the air in 2015. Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. finished 27th in Division I in total offense last season, compiling 281.1 yards per contest. Ward threw for 202 yards per game and ran for 79-plus. Oklahoma’s 2015 defense significantly outperformed that 235 yards per game number, yielding just 202.8 passing yards and 161.7 rushing yards per game. That Sooner pass defense was greatly aided by games against Akron, Texas and Kansas State, where they allowed a combined 20-for-60 passing for 188 yards.

Print that, tweet that, whatever: Houston nearly lost Herman after one successful year. A statement win here would only boost his popularity, despite a new five-year pact.

#16 UCLA at Texas A&M
3:30pm | CBS

  • A new order: Texas A&M welcomes in another new starting quarterback, and this one gets to have a bit of a homecoming. Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight returns to the Lone Star State (he hails from San Antonio) to lead the Aggies onto Kyle Field. Knight is 280-for-490 (57.1 percent) through the air in parts of three collegiate seasons, finding the end zone 25 times against 19 picks. The grad student has also averaged 5.6 yards per carry on the ground, tallying eight rushing touchdowns. Ryan Tannehill (2013) was the last grad student to start a game as the Aggies’ signal-caller.
  • Dr. Rosenrosen: UCLA sophomore passer Josh Rosen finds himself on the Maxwell watch list off a stellar first year in Westwood, and he’ll face his first-ever SEC opponent. Rosen completed 60 percent of his throws in year one, with three games in which he completed two-thirds — or greater — of his passes. The Aggies’ pass defense was particularly stingy last season, ranking fourth in the nation. A&M allowed just over 166 yards per game through the air in 2015.
  • Unexpected visitors: With all of the memorable games that have taken place at Kyle Field through the years, it seems odd to think that Saturday will mark the first time in 27 years that a non-conference top-25 team will begin the season in College Station. Interestingly enough, the Aggies’ opponent that day, LSU, would later become an in-conference foe. A&M beat LSU 28-16 to begin the 1989 season, marking the first win for R.C. Slocum as the Aggies’ head coach.

Print that, tweet that, whatever: Kevin Sumlin’s team is 11-13 in their last 24 SEC games. A loss to UCLA after a tumultuous 2015 could be a nightmare in College Station.

#18 Georgia vs. #22 North Carolina | Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game (Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA)
5:30pm | ESPN

  • History never repeats: Newly-minted (reminted?) Georgia quarterback Greyson Lambert is no stranger to lining up opposite the Tar Heels. Lambert connected on 20-of-40 throws in an October 2014 tilt as Virginia’s starting quarterback in Scott Stadium, collecting 261 yards and two scores. Lambert also threw two picks against Carolina that day, with the second a Nazair Jones rip that set up the game-winning score, as the Tar Heels defeated Virginia 28-27. He also played sparingly in a game in a 45-14 loss in Chapel Hill as a freshman, completing 8-of-13 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown.
  • Reversing a trend: North Carolina’s sports information department notes that, while the Heels are 6-2 in their last eight openers, all of those victories have come against FCS squads. Carl Torbush’s 2000 Carolina club provided the last seal-breaking victory against an FBS team, a 30-9 decision in Chapel Hill. A 23-6 win over Indiana in 1997 marked the last Power 5 club to fall to Carolina to begin a year.
  • There’s no place like (sorta) home: There should be a considerable amount of red and black in the stands Saturday night, as it will be a rare opportunity for Peach Staters to see their Dawgs without having to pack up the car. The drive from Athens to Atlanta is a reasonably short one, taking a bit of the sting out of the fact that Georgia will tee it up between the hedges just once (next week against Nicholls) before seeing three-of-four October games come to Sanford Stadium.

Print that, tweet that, whatever: Every year seems to be Georgia’s “year” before the season. With a new coach and a rowdy crowd, can they announce their presence early?

#20 USC vs. #1 Alabama (AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX)
8:00pm | ESPN

  • Quarterbacks, part 846: The recurring Week 1 theme of quarterbacks again rears its head in ths tilt. USC will go with Max Browne, who will attempt to be the first starter to defeat a Saban-coached Alabama club in his first start in four tries. Browne has completed just 11-of-19 tries in two seasons at USC, throwing for 143 yards. The Tide, on the other hand, list the dreaded “OR” on their two-deep. Redshirt junior Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman Blake Barnett and true freshman Jalen Hurts may all see time under center. Bateman was 37-for-52 in six games last year, throwing for 291 yards, a touchdown and two picks.
  • A lot of 1-0s: Alabama has won every season-opener since a 20-17 loss to then-17th ranked UCLA at Bryant-Denny to start the 2001 campaign. That 2001 game marked the first for Dennis Franchione as Alabama’s head coach. The last time USC began 0-1 came when they fell 14-7 to fifth-ranked Florida State in the Coliseum in 1997. That season was John Robinson’s last at the helm for the Trojans.
  • Scheduling up: As one might expect from these two “Mount Rushmore” collegiate programs, there will be very few weeks off for either this season. The clubs will combine to play 20 bowl teams from 2015 (USC 11, Alabama 9). Colorado is the only squad on USC’s 2016 slate not to qualify for the postseason last year, while Kent State, Kentucky and Chattanooga (FCS) are the three non-bowl teams Alabama will face.

Print that, tweet that, whatever: Conventional wisdom suggests Alabama either hammers USC or falls in an upset. Alabama should win, but it’ll be close either way.

#2 Clemson at Auburn
9:00pm | ESPN

  • Tim’s Tweets: We have often extolled the virtues of legendary Clemson SID Tim Bourret’s tweets, and he brought another dandy this week.

  • Jordan-Hare holds the key: Auburn has won 34 of the 49 prior meetings between the two schools, with 20 of those wins (in 24 tries) coming on the Plains. The Alabama version of the Tigers last fell victim to the South Carolina version at home 66 years ago, a span of seven games.
  • We’ve been here before: These teams should certainly be able to call on experience as what is likely to be a close game nears its close. Auburn and Clemson return a combined 33 (of a possible 44) starters. Both teams are flush with sophomore talent that played key roles last season, including Clemson star left tackle Mitch Hyatt and slot receiver Hunter Renfrow, and Auburn quarterback Sean White.

Print that, tweet that, whatever: Two reasonably closely-matched teams should put on a classic. Auburn lost a lot of running back depth, though, and must replenish it.

#11 Ole Miss vs. #4 Florida State (Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL)
8:00pm (Monday) | ESPN

  • A new start: This game marks the first in a series of games scheduled for Orlando’s Camping World Stadium. Alabama-Louisville (2018) and Miami-Florida State (2019) also have agreements to open their respective seasons in Central Florida.
  • Controlling the air attack: Florida State posted the 21st-ranked pass defense among FBS teams in 2015, but will face a challenge they rarely see in ACC play. Ole Miss signal-caller Chad Kelly claimed 14 single-season records last year, including, per the ACC, total offense (4,542 yards), completion percentage (65.1), passing efficiency (155.9) and touchdown responsibility (41). Kelly alone threw for nearly twice the passing yardage the Seminoles allowed (2491) during the 2015 campaign.
  • Old home week: Jimbo Fisher, as you are likely aware, spent a considerable amount of time as an SEC assistant. He will face a member of his former conference other than Florida for the first time as a head coach — during the regular season, at least. Fisher owns seven wins over SEC teams (five against Florida and one apiece over South Carolina and Auburn) in eight tries. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze has faced exactly one ACC opponent during his tenure, as his Rebels knocked off Georgia Tech in the 2013 edition of the Music City Bowl.

Print that, tweet that, whatever: Ole Miss looks, as usual, loaded on the offensive side of the ball. This battle of offensive superpowers may fall to a late defensive stop.

Trivia answer: I asked earlier: Houston holds the longest active winning streak (four) by a non-P5 school against P5 teams. Which four teams have Houston defeated as part of that streak?

Houston has wins over Pittsburgh, Louisville, Vanderbilt and Florida State in their still-active streak against P5 schools.