Bohls, Golden: Just like starting over — at Texas, and Bama, and Clemson, and Ohio State
A new coach at Texas. And a new quarterback.
New quarterbacks at Alabama and Clemson and Ohio State, too. The 2021 season kicks off in earnest Saturday, and American-Statesman columnists Kirk Bohls and Cedric Golden weigh in on 10 topics of interest:
1. What's the key to the Texas-Louisiana game?
Bohls: The Longhorns must have superior ball security. Make three turnovers, and they’ll lose, but it says here they won’t have more than one and will win 27-24. Oh, and Texas better not give up two returns for touchdowns and a 78-yard touchdown pass like Iowa State in last year’s season-opening loss to the Ragin’ Cajuns.
Golden: It will all come down to the performance of young Hudson Card. Bijan Robinson will get his rushing yards, but Card must play clean, push the first-game nerves aside and handle business. It won’t be easy, but Texas will get out of there with a 34-28 win.
2. How many series would you play Casey Thompson?
Bohls: Assuming Card plays well enough in the bulk of the game, I’d play Thompson at least three series in the second quarter to give him a legitimate opportunity to showcase his skills and a chance to unseat the Gifted One.
Golden: I would play him three series, but he won’t get that many because Card will do pretty well and the game will stay close. Thompson is good enough to start for this team, and Steve Sarkisian knows it, so it’s up to him to keep the veteran engaged. Somewhere down the line this season — shoot, it might even be Saturday — the Horns are going to need Thompson.
3. Texas A&M just gave Jimbo Fisher a four-year extension and $9 million a year. Smart move?
Bohls: Nope. The Aggies were bidding against themselves. I’ve never even heard a whisper of Fisher ever going to the NFL. I believe he's right where he wants to be in the middle of arguably the best recruiting state, plus he has serious momentum after last year’s College Football Playoff near miss, and he loves living on his ranch outside College Station near his beloved hunting leases and fishing holes. Plus, there’s very little pressure at A&M since it hasn’t won a title since 1939. Even if LSU comes open, I think he’d stay put.
Golden: They were smart to hire him, but not smart to extend him. This was simply an example of great agent work by Jimmy Sexton, who reportedly represents 11 of the 14 coaches in the SEC. The Aggies are afraid someone will swoop in and nab Jimbo, but they should know that any coach can be bought out. How do you think they landed him in the first place?
4. Who'll be the most improved team in the Big 12?
Bohls: My guns are up. Texas Tech will make the biggest advance with the arrival of 15 transfers, including Oregon quarterback Tyler Shough, not to mention favorite son and new play-caller Sonny Cumbie. The Red Raiders will win six games to be bowl-eligible, and Matt Wells will escape the hot seat.
Golden: Fans in this conference always sleep on West Virginia. The Mountaineers went 6-4 last year and bring back some key pieces for Neal Brown’s third season, including star running back Leddie Brown, a big-play threat who ran for 1,010 yards and nine touchdowns. If they can get past tough nonconference games at Maryland and at home against border rival Virginia Tech, they'll open up Big 12 play at 3-0 against Oklahoma. They also get Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Texas at home.
5. Pick your winners of every Power Five conference.
Bohls: Georgia unseats Alabama to win the SEC. Clemson cake-walks to another ACC title, thanks to the best defense in the country. OU wins the Big 12 for a seventh straight time. Ohio State edges out Wisconsin in the Big Ten. And Utah topples Oregon in the Pac-12.
Golden: Georgia is my pick to win a natty, so it'll take out Alabama in the SEC. Clemson breezes to another ACC title despite a spirited season from Mack Brown’s North Carolina Tar Heels. Oklahoma, ho-hum, wins another Big 12 crown over Iowa State. Wisconsin shocks Ohio State to win the Big Ten, and the Pac-12 has the most exciting title game of them all when USC takes out Oregon in overtime.
6. Is Saturday's Clemson-Georgia loser out of the CFP race?
Bohls: Absolutely not. The strength of schedule component will heavily support the loser’s chances of staying in the CFP hunt, but the Bulldogs need this win more than the Tigers, given the toughness of the SEC. I’m picking Clemson, 31-28.
Golden: Of course not. It’s more important for Georgia to win because the Dawgs don't want to face the prospect of having to run the table in the SEC and then beat Bama in the title game. If Clemson loses, it's so much better than the other schools in the ACC that it could still go unbeaten the rest of the way to get to the playoff.
7. Will Indiana sustain last year's success and stay nationally relevant?
Bohls: Yes. Tom Allen’s got it going after beating three ranked teams last season. He’s got 17 returning starters, including versatile quarterback Michael Penix Jr.
Golden: Yes, but Penix will have to be all the way back from that late-season knee injury. The Hoosiers can't expect Michigan and Penn State both to be horrible again, but the good news is they don't have to play conference title threat Wisconsin. If the pieces fall right, they can go 9-3, which would have them on the doorstep of the Top 10.
8. Will Florida State knock off Notre Dame?
Bohls: Not a chance. The Seminoles are a minimum two years away from being a contender. The Irish will fall off somewhat with new quarterback Jack Coan and only three offensive starters back, but FSU will be no match for the Golden Domers and is just shooting for a winning record.
Golden: Won't happen unless Charlie Ward or Jameis Winston comes back to play quarterback. Notre Dame opened as a two-touchdown favorite, but that number has come down to 7½ points, possibly because the Irish return only two starters on offense and have a new offensive line. Either way, FSU wasn’t very good last year at 3-6 and just isn't ready to beat a Top 10 team.
9. Do you give Miami any shot at upsetting Alabama?
Bohls: Yes, I really do, but the Crimson Tide will find a way to win 31-28. Manny Diaz will frustrate Bryce Young in his first start, and D’Eriq King has a world of experience to keep the Hurricanes competitive in this game.
Golden: I do because Miami has an experienced quarterback in King, who's back after that gruesome ACL tear in the Cheez-It Bowl. Young might be a millionaire, but the Alabama quarterback is lacking in experience, and his team lost Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith at wideout, running back Najee Harris and play-caller Steve Sarkisian. That said, Bama picks reloading over rebuilding. I’ll take the Tide by a touchdown.
10. Pick an eventual replacement for Nick Saban at Alabama.
Bohls: I think the best coach in football history will stick around another four years before Iowa State's Matt Campbell takes his place. Campbell will bide his time, and besides, few others will want to follow Saban.
Golden: Saint Nick can't coach forever, but the 69-year-old has the body of a man half his age. He'll coach another five years before Kirby Smart, his former assistant, leaves Georgia for another run in Tuscaloosa.