College football is here again—believe it or not—and with it brings back my weekly edition of picking a wild, off-the-radar upset within the college football universe.
If you’re unfamiliar with how I do this, I try to avoid trendy picks while also making sure I pick a legitimate upset. Last year, I managed to get two right (Texas A&M over Oklahoma and Kentucky over South Carolina) and missed several picks rather badly. That’s okay, though. I’m not expecting to get every single pick right. I will, however, shoot for four correctly picked upsets this season.
After a rather tumultuous offseason, it’s nice to finally get back to the field. College football’s image continues to take a beating with all the scandals, cheating, violations, etc., so hopefully 2011 will bring some life to the game.
Who will it be in week one?
Troy Trojans over the Clemson Tigers.
The Line: Clemson -16
Time: 2:30, CST
There’s a chance Dabo Swinney won’t be resting easier, come Saturday night.
Clemson is coming off a disappointing 6-7 season under Swinney, who is entering his fourth season as head coach for the Tigers. Swinney is certainly on the hot seat and the pressure is at its peak to do well this year. The expectations are always high in Clemson, and his squad is expected to compete with Florida State for the ACC Coastal Division. While a loss to Troy wouldn’t hinder those hopes, it would be a huge blow to Swinney’s job security.
Troy has proven that they can hang with the bigger programs under coach Larry Blakeney, who has been with the program since 1991. Last season, they lost by three at Oklahoma State. In 2008, they led LSU 28-3 at the half only to have a meltdown in the 4th quarter and eventually lose the game. They have come close on several occasions, but have failed to get the big win.
The Trojans have a few things working in their favor against Clemson:
- Solid offense
- Day Game
- Experience at QB
Sophomore quarterback, Corey Robinson, returns to head a passing attack that saw him throw for 3,700 yards as a freshman. Troy wasn’t just a one-dimensional offense, though. Not only did they have an effective passing game, but they were productive on the ground as well—ranking 56th in the NCAA with an average of 156.6 yards per game. The Trojans had no problem scoring last season, averaging 34.1 points per game. Troy only failed to post 28 points in a game two times last season, though I’ll admit that the level of competition is not as steep in the Sun Belt Conference.
There are a lot of question marks surrounding Clemson’s offense coming into the 2011 season. The Tigers’ offense struggled last season and it doesn’t seem to be trending in the right direction. They lost their seasoned quarterback, Kyle Parker, to baseball, and their leading rusher, Jamie Harper, to the NFL.
First-year starting quarterback, Tajh Boyd, will guide the Tigers’ offense in 2011 and he’s expected to lead them to an ACC title. No biggie, right? Boyd is no slouch; he’s athletic and has a strong arm, but he lacks is experience, which is especially important at his position. Troy’s strong defensive line will put Boyd’s decision-making to the test and force a turnover or two.
Troy has produced some NFL-caliber trench warriors (Osi Umenyiora, Demarcus Ware) in the past and last year was no different for them. Defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi, anchored a line that ranked 5th in the NCAA with an average of 3.08 sacks per game. Massaquoi was 3rd on the team in tackles (76), 9th in the country in tackles for loss (1.58 per game), and tied for 3rd in the NCAA with 13.5 sacks last season. I expect Massaquoi to have a strong game, as well as the rest of Troy’s defensive line.
Teams usually have a lot of kinks to work out in the 1st week, and neither of these teams will be immune to that. The Trojans aren’t necessarily athletically superior to the Clemson Tigers, but they are likely to be a handful since they are returning most of their starters from last season. Troy gets the added benefit of not playing under the lights in Death Valley and stuns Clemson—winning 38-35.
Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment box below. You can e-mail me suggestions or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @JoeSportswriter.