Last week, Crystal Ball Run debuted a new segment called “The Monday Morning Look Ahead.” The concept of The Look Ahead is simple, and so too is the execution: While every other college football website spends Monday mornings reflecting back on the previous weekend, we’re already looking ahead and tipping you off on the biggest story lines for the coming week.
And with just 10 days left to the start of college football season, the storylines, well, they are a plentiful. Camps are starting to wind down, position battles are being decided and coaches are accumulating plenty of grey hairs, all as we get set for kick-off next Thursday.
So what do you need to watch out for this week, let’s take a look.
The injuries continue in Tuscaloosa, what will Alabama do next?
In last week’s edition of the “Monday Morning Look Ahead” we touched base on the litany of injuries which was limiting Alabama’s ability to build depth at the wide receiver position. At the time the Crimson Tide had just lost freshman Chris Black to a shoulder injury (likely costing him his true freshman season) and because of injuries in the secondary, freshman stud Eddie Williams was moved away from wide out and over to the other side of the ball as well.
At the time, things weren’t looking good in Tuscaloosa, and frankly, they’re not any better a week later, with a number of other guys getting bumped and bruised these past few practices.
The No. 1 cause of concern has to be at running back, where Eddie Lacy- the heir apparent to Trent Richardson- missed some time at practice this week with both ankle and knee problems. And while Alabama’s depth at running back isn’t in question, at this point, Lacy’s ability to stay healthy and on the field has to be. The junior running back battled through a turf toe injury last year and eventually required surgery in the off-season that cost him the entire spring. Look for freshmen Dee Hart and T.J. Yeldon to get the bulk of the carries in his absence this week, as Lacy looks to get back healthy in time for the September 1 showdown with Michigan.
Really though, the place where the biggest injury concerns remain is in the defensive secondary. The Tide already lost a ton of talent there (in case you hadn’t heard Dre Kirkpatrick and Mark Barron were both first-round NFL Draft picks) and things weren’t helped when nickel back (no relation to the band) Jarrick Williams was lost for the season as well.
And because of it, a number of true freshman and relatively inexperienced could see the field. Highly touted safety Landon Collins is playing well, as is Geno Smith, with junior Nick Perry emerging as well. Saban has already said that all three could see the field this season.
But while all that sounds good on paper, remember this: Most of Alabama’s struggles during the 2010 season came in large part to an inexperienced and overwhelmed secondary. Could the same thing plague the 2012 club? Especially against a daunting schedule that includes matchups with some of college football’s top signal-callers (Tyler Wilson and Tyler Bray in specific)?
It’ll be one of the Tide’s biggest storylines entering the fall.
Texas A&M has their answer at quarterback, but now what?
It’s hard to think of a single guy in college football who has had more of a personality makeover over the last few months than Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. In the spring, he was considered a little too erratic to run Kevin Sumlin’s high-octane attack, and it was believed that sophomore Jameill Showers would eventually win the Aggies quarterback derby. Then Manziel followed that up with an arrest earlier this summer. And now, in August? Well, he just went out and won the Texas A&M starting quarterback job.
In all seriousness, reading the reports on Manziel, we’ve got to give him a ton of credit: The kid wasn’t handed the starting quarterback job by default. He went out and earned it, with both Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury spending this past week praising his newfound maturity and confidence.
Of course the biggest question now becomes how Manziel will handle working full-time with the ones?
The simple truth is that when looking at what A&M returns on offense, it isn’t inconceivable to see them putting up points. Lots of them. The Aggies return all five starters on the offensive line, including future NFL first rounder Luke Joeckel, not to mention that wide receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu combined for a staggering 139 catches last year (add in the departed Jeff Fuller’s 70, and you wonder how A&M ever lost a game).
Ultimately though, whether the offense is decent, great or somewhere in between will be entirely on Manziel’s freshman shoulders. He’s got the players around him, but can Manziel handle everything that’s about to be thrown his way? He’s the first freshman to ever open a season at quarterback for the Aggies, in one of the most important seasons in school history. You know, that whole “moving to the SEC thing” we’ve been talking about these last few months? Well it’s put up or shut up time down in College Station and there will be a lot of eyes on Manziel in the coming weeks.
We’ll find out soon whether he can handle the workload. The Aggies open with Louisiana Tech in Shreveport before hosting the Florida Gators in Week 2.
Speaking of the Gators…
What the heck is up with Florida’s offense?
Late last week my colleague Allen Kenney did an excellent job of breaking down college football’s top quarterback battles. Even in the here and now, the situations at Oregon, Texas and Florida don’t appear to be settled.
However the one that is of particular interest to us on this Monday morning comes from Gainesville, where both Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel continue to do whatever it is that’s the opposite of “impressing.”
That’s right, after neither was able to distinguish themselves in the spring or early fall camp (Will Muschamp has said that Brissett might have the slight lead) each may have hit rock bottom in a Saturday scrimmage which was open to the public. To break down the numbers as simply as I can, they went a little something like this: Neither quarterback completed half his passes (Brissett was at 46 percent; Driskel 47), and the offense combined for four fumbles (no word on how many were lost) and three interceptions. Not exactly the kind of stats that make Gators fans confident heading into the 2012 season.
More importantly, it makes us wonder how good the Florida offense can actually be this season. We all know this group struggled last year (the Gators finished 105th in total offense), and with so few dynamic playmakers returning (outside of running back Mike Gillislee) the Gators will need improved quarterback play to have any chance at improving on last year’s 7-6 mark. Simply put, not even getting a 50 percent completion percentage from your quarterback probably won’t do it.
At this point the question isn’t about who will win the quarterback battle at Florida.
What we need to know is whether either can have any actual impact.
A couple quick hitters:
– Like me (someone who is very down on Ohio State entering this year), Urban Meyer is wondering if he’s got the personnel to run his offense the way he wants to.
– As things stand, USC’s offense already appears on paper to be the best in the country. And if George Farmer- a former five-star recruit- can establish himself as the team’s No. 3 receiver? Watch out. This team might put up 80 points a game.
– The story at Texas remains the battle under center. But aside of the Great Quarterback Debate of 2012 (I’m team David Ash if anyone was wondering), the bigger question might be this: With just 10 scholarship seniors and a whole bunch of freshman expected to play, can the Longhorns match everyone’s lofty expectations of them?
– And finally at Oregon, Chip Kelly tries to figure out a “problem” that every college football coach wishes they had: How do we get De’Anthony Thomas more touches on offense.
Tough life, huh Chip?
For all his college football opinions, articles and analysis be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.