Jim Sez: NFL Preseason Winds Down and College Cranks Up

JIM SEZ IT'S THE LAST WEEKEND IN AUGUST - NFL PRESEASON WEEK 3 WINDS DOWN, THE COLLEGES GET READY TO CRANK IT UP, AND BASEBALL'S HOT, HOT, HOT TOO

By Jim Hurley:

Just be patient, folks. The "real games" are right around the corner. Yes, it's a rare August where there are no college football games being played - the late Labor Day is reason for that - but just sit tight through these final NFL Preseason games and keep in mind this Thursday there's two handfuls of on-the-board College Football action including the debut of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh (at Utah) and the season debut of #2-ranked TCU (at Minnesota). But, first things first and that means we wrap up our NFL Week 3 Previews with a pair of national TV tilts.

On Sunday, it's ...

HOUSTON (1-1) at NEW ORLEANS (0-2) - 4 p.m. ET, Fox
Can somebody please get Texans' backup QB Ryan Mallett an alarm clock? The news coming down the pike on Friday was that Mallett - named second-string earlier in the week after losing out the battle for the starter's job to fellow journeyman Brian Hoyer - "overslept" and thus missed Thursday's team practice and our sources are claiming ornery head coach Bill O'Brien will sit Mallett here and instead go with a heavy dose of Hoyer (two-plus quarters) and then a bit of third-stringer Tom Savage.

On the Saints' front, well, it may not seem like end-of-the-world stuff after losing preseason games by 3 and 2 points the past two weeks, but Sean Payton's club is keeping fingers crossed that his secondary - all of whom rested last week in the 26-24 loss to New England - will be up to snuff here with S Kenny Vaccaro looking to bounce back from a rough year. Remember the Saints were a minus 13 in the all-important turnover differential category (that was next-to-last in the NFL) last year and so Vaccaro and friends need to show some tough stuff here.

ARIZONA (0-2) at OAKLAND (1-1) - 8 p.m. ET, NBC
There was a whole lot of grousing about the officiating last week in the Cardinals' 22-19 "walk-off" loss to San Diego and it was Arizona head coach Bruce Arians doing the "grousing" - okay, so the Redbirds were flagged only five times for 65 yards overall but Arians protested plenty plus he wasn't too thrilled about the team's 3.3 yards-per carry average on 29 pops for 97 yards. Expect the Cards to get "dancing" rookie RB David Johnson to hit the holes quicker here against an Oakland team that has its own RB issues although reports are Latavius Murray (four carries for 20 yards rushing in last week's weather-interrupted 20-12 loss in Minnesota) has won the starter's job even though undrafted rookie Michael Dyer accounted for 45 yards on 12 carries last Saturday night. Hey, Oakland is acting as if the QB Derek Carr-to-rookie WR Amari Cooper pass/catch tandem is akin to Johnny Unitas-to-Raymond Berry back in the day ... maybe the silver-and-black may want to cool it until further notice!

Jim Hurley is ready for a slam-bang football season ahead! The College Football 2014 campaign swings into high gear with a full week/weekend card scheduled for Thursday and going right through Labor Day evening. You want to be in the winner's circle for all the big opening-week tilts with the college games beginning with South Carolina versus North Carolina (in Charlotte) this Thursday at 6 p.m. ET along with other key holiday weekend games such as Washington at #23 Boise State on Friday, along with #15 Arizona State versus Texas A&M (from Houston) and #20 Wisconsin versus #3 Alabama (from Arlington) next Saturday. And the NFL Preseason Week 3 rolls on this weekend with national TV tilts such as Seattle at San Diego on Saturday night, Houston at New Orleans on Sunday afternoon and then Arizona at Oakland on Sunday night.

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEWS

The College Football Season kicks off on Thursday and we've been previewing all the leagues in recent days - let's wrap things up with our Conference-by-Conference Previews with the ACC and the Mid-American Conference:

ACC

Check out the season-opening Associated Press Top 25 rankings and you'll see #10 Florida State, #12 Clemson and #16 Georgia Tech among the elite - but might this year's Atlantic Coast Conference be chock-filled with surprise teams as Duke and Virginia Tech could be powers in the Coastal Division and Louisville and N.C. State may have a big say in who cops the Atlantic Division.
The bottom line is Florida State - a robust 39-3 SU (straight-up) the past three seasons - will begin life after QB Jameis Winston and while it's true the Seminoles' offense (averaged 33.7 points per game a year ago) has been taking a step back, the defense/special teams will be awesome.

Clemson - which hosts Florida State on November 7th - has plenty of talent stockpiled but it's all gonna come down to the health and well-being of QB Deshaun Watson who missed spring drills after undergoing ACL surgery.

Georgia Tech is fresh off an 11-win season that included triumphs over Clemson, Miami, Georgia and Miss State and a smooth early-season sked could enable these Yellow Jackets to get-out-and-go prior to that September 19th tilt at Notre Dame - and you might wish to put dual-threat QB Justin Thomas into the early-year Heisman Trophy mix after he threw for 1,719 yards and rushed for 1,086 yards while accounting for a total of 26 TDs in all.

Finally, there's plenty of game-breakers all 'round the ACC landscape but we'll be paying close attention to Pittsburgh RB James Conner 1,765 yards rushing and 26 TDs a year ago) - the dude has a whole lot of Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis in his game.

MID-AMERICAN CONFERENCE

Here's a little memo directed to the folks who like to get into the field of prognostications ... don't dare ignore the Northern Illinois Huskies! True, the "flavor of the month" - if you listen to all the college football know-it-alls - is Western Michigan which rebounded from a brutal 1-11 SU season in 2013 to finish with eight wins a year ago but we're here to tell you the NIU Huskies have the MAC in three of the past four seasons and head coach Rod Carey has eight starters back on a defense with more than a little something tp prove after the Dawgs allowed 52 points to Marshall in the Boca Raton Bowl. If QB Drew Hare steers clear of red-zone errors, then North Illinois should win the MAC West - remember they host Western Michigan on November 18th.

If you're looking for a couple of other key storylines in this year's MAC, then consider Toledo's tower of powers at defensive tackle as Orion Jones and Treyvon Hester were the main reasons the Rockets led the league in rush defense in 2014 and what about the respective coaching "hot seats" at Akron and Ohio? Hey, if Zips' boss Terry Bowden can't deliver a winning season - he's 11-25 SU and 13-20 ATS (against the spread) in three prior years here - and if the Ohio Bobcats (just 13-12 SU the last two years) can't make it back to a bowl, then 11th-year head coach Frank Solich could be history.

THE BASEBALL REPORT

Getting ready for crunch time in Major-League Baseball but get a load of this: The National League Central - home of the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs - entered weekend play with the three best teams in the senior circuit but how about the fact the Cardinals (82-45) have a plus 130 runs differential even though RHP Adam Wainwright's been on the DL for months and there's been a slew of key everyday lineup hitters hurt too while Pittsburgh (77-49) is 43-13 against the NL East/NL West, respectively and the Chicago Cubs (73-53) just boosted their wobbly bullpen with the signing of reliever Fernando Rodney - yes, an old pal of one-time Tamp Bay-turned-Cubs manager Joe Maddon. Still, as things stand now only one of these three teams will be able to advance to the NLCS, so no wonder there's lots of folks begging MLB to tweak its playoff format in years to come.

We say, that's the way the cookie crumbles, guys!

NOTE: Lots more NFL and NCAA Football in Monday's edition of Jim Sez, so don't miss out as the College Football Season swings into gear this Thursday night.

25
Sep

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