Labor Day weekend full of high school & college matchups
Labor Day weekend marks the unofficial end of summer and the official start of the football season.
This weekend, high school stadiums across the state will be filled with screaming fans as they gather to watch their favorite teams begin their 2018 seasons. That will be the case in Aldine ISD where all five of the district’s varsity programs will begin their seasons with hopes of landing one of the four playoff spots up for grabs in District 16-6A.
AISD has two new head coaches who will be making their debuts this weekend. Eric Jackson is the new head coach at Eisenhower. He served as the team’s defensive coordinator prior to being named head coach last February. Wayne Crawford is the new head coach at MacArthur after serving as the Generals’ offensive coordinator. Crawford was also promoted last February. Both men are excited about their new positions and would like nothing more than to open their respective seasons with a victory.
Labor Day weekend will also be the official kickoff for the 2018 NCAA season (four games were played last weekend), as fans will have plenty of intriguing games to watch in the first full weekend of competition.
No. 1-ranked Alabama begins defense of its most recent national title (the Crimson Tide have won five national crowns under head coach Nick Saban’s leadership) on Saturday evening in Orlando against Louisville, while Texas travels to College Park, MD to take on Maryland and avenge last year’s 51-41 loss at the hands of the Terrapins. The Maryland program could be distracted by the probe centered on suspended head coach D.J. Durkin. Durkin has been placed on administrative leave as the school investigates charges that Durkin verbally abused his players. In addition, offensive lineman Jordan McNair lost his life due to heat stroke after collapsing in May after a conditioning drill. To say the Maryland program is could be a bit distracted would be an understatement.
Texas fans are hoping they begin seeing some return on their investment in second-year head coach Tom Herman, who was lured away from the University of Houston in December of 2016. UT fans are hoping Herman can return the Longhorns to the prominence they enjoyed under former head coach Mack Brown.
Other games of note this weekend have Michigan and Notre Dame renewing their longtime rivalry in prime time in South Bend on Saturday night, a Pac 10 and SEC matchup pitting Washington against Auburn in Auburn, Miami taking on LSU at AT&T Stadium in Arlington and a biggies in the ACC on Labor Day evening featuring Virginia Tech against Florida State.
MacArthur vs. Klein Forest – Crawford’s Generals open the 2018 season on Thursday night at Thorne Stadium against Klein Forest. The Generals returns seven offensive and six defensive starters from last year’s 2-6 squad. Crawford will rely on running backs Romelle Marks and Darius Gatson to lead the way offensively. The two combined for 800 yards rushing in 2017. Two-way starter Armando Ordenana (wide receiver and defensive back) will be another key performer for the Generals, as will be defensive back Xavier Ruiz (75 tackles, 2 interceptions in 2017). Klein Forest is coming off a 2-7 season and returns five offensive and five defensive starters. My pick, MacArthur 23, Klein Forest 20
Nimitz at Channelview – Head coach Richard Slater’s Cougars open the season at Channelview on Friday night looking to improve on last year’s 4-5 finish. Austin Remo returns at quarterback and he will have two veteran targets to throw to in wide receivers Karl Reynolds (6- 1, 180 pounds, 4.5 speed in the 40) and Timberland Sanders. On defense, linebacker Ahshaad Curry (5-10, 200 pounds) returns to lead the way on that side of the ball. Nimitz returns four offensive and five defensive starters, while Channelview (3-6 in 2017) returns six offensive and seven defensive starters. This will be a good road test for Slater and his team. My pick, Nimitz 26, Channelview 24
Davis vs. College Park – James Showers’ Falcons open the season on Friday night in Thorne Stadium when they host College Park. Davis finished 3-6 a year ago and return three offensive and three defensive starters. The Falcons will count on big offensive lineman Emmanuel Lavinge (6-2, 315 pounds) to open holes for the running game, while the defense will count on defensive lineman Xavier Henderson (6-2, 285 pounds) and linebacker Janzell Prudhomme (6-2, 220 pounds, 40 tackles, 4 sacks in 2017) to lead the way on defense. College Park finished 1-8 in 2017 and returns seven offensive and four defensive starters. My pick, Davis 20, College Park 16
Eisenhower at Fort Bend Marshall – Jackson’s Eagles face a tough test in Week 1 when they face a Marshall team that finished 10-3 in 2017 and reached the Class 5A Region III semifinals. The Eagles, who finished 4-5 in 2017, return seven offensive and seven defensive starters. The defense should be solid behind the veteran play of linebacker Tyrique Matthews (6-0, 205 pounds, 80 tackles in 2017), defensive lineman Ja’Dyn Fonteneaux (6-2, 275 pounds, 80 tackles in 2017) and defensive backs Deon Allen and Robert Turner. My pick, Eisenhower 17, Marshall 14
Aldine vs. Cy Falls – Hank Semler’s Mustangs open the 2018 season on Saturday evening in Thorne Stadium when they host Cy Falls. The Mustangs had a rough go of it in 2017 finishing 0-9 and will count on quarterback Jacorey Howard to lead them to bigger and better things in 2018. Howard, the Northeast News’ Offensive Player of the Year in 2017, is a dual threat QB. He accounted for 1,164 yards of total offense last year and scored 10 touchdowns. He should be even more effective this year with a year of Semler’s offense under his belt. When he put the ball in the air, he will be looking for wide receivers Isaiah Rocha (2 TDs in 2017) and Kelvin Bonilla to make plays downfield. Bonilla will also handle kicking duties for Aldine. Cy Falls finished 5-5 in 2017 and returns six offensive and six defensive starters. My pick, Aldine 23, Cy Falls 20
Texas Tech vs. Ole Miss – Texas Tech and Mississippi will meet in NRG Stadium in the Advocare Texas Kickoff on Saturday with hopes of getting their seasons off on a positive note. This could be a make or break year for Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury who has struggled the last couple of season. The Red Raiders needed a second-half comeback against Texas in their final game in 2017 to become bowl eligible and Tech fans are expecting more than 6-6 seasons. Many experts consider Tech could be a sleeper in the Big 12 thanks to a defense that returns 10 starters. Even though 10 starters return, the 2017 defense allowed 32 points per game (down from 43 per game in 2016), but they were good at forcing turnovers. The defense might have to carry this team until the offense finds itself (who ever thought that would be the case in Lubbock!). Kingsbury has to decide between two inexperienced quarterbacks in McLane Carter and Jeff Duffey to run the offense. The Tech defense, especially the secondary, will have their hands full on Saturday with Ole Miss’ star receiver A.J. Brown (75 receptions, 1,252 yards receiving, 11 TDs). The Rebels are also rebuilding, so this might be a good time for the Red Raiders to catch them and start the season on a high note. My pick, Texas Tech 24, Ole Miss 20
Texas at Maryland – You can bet Herman’s team won’t get caught looking past Maryland as they did in the season opener a year ago in Austin. The Terps jumped out to a big lead that UT could not make up and began the Herman era with a thud. Herman has named sophomore Sam Ehlinger (1,915 yards passing, 11 TDs) as the starting quarterback over junior Shane Buechele. Ehlinger is a better runner but must do a better job of protecting the football in 2018. UT has a veteran offensive line and will look to wear down the Maryland defense. Texas could have one of the top defenses in the Big 12 thanks to a stout front seven and a young and talented secondary. Look for the ‘Horns to get off to a much better start in 2018 as Year 2 of the Herman looks a lot better this time around. My pick, Texas 32, Maryland 18
Washington at Auburn – This game will feature two talented quarterbacks as Washington’s Jake Browning (2,719 yards passing, 19 TDs) and Jarrett Stidham (3,158 yards passing, 18 TDs) do battle in Jordan Hare Stadium. The Huskies could be a sleeper pick for one of the four College Football Playoff (CFP) slots and a win on the road against a solid SEC team would be a huge confidence boost. But the Tigers won’t make it easy. They are tough to beat at home (just ask Alabama) and playing in the heat of the south could be a huge factor in Gus Malzan’s teams favor. Look for Browning and Stidham to put on a show on Saturday, but I’m going with the home team in this one. My pick, Auburn 26, Washington 24
Michigan at Notre Dame – Two of college football’s winningest programs meet in South Bend in prime time on NBC. Both teams have CFP dreams and the winner of this one gets a huge momentum boost heading into the rest of the season. Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh needs a big season in Ann Arbor to quiet his critics and he is pinning his hopes on former Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson (2,259 yards passing, 17 TDs) to be the man to get the Wolverines over the hump in 2018 and be a factor in the Big 10 race. Michigan also returns a solid defense and it will get tested by a Notre Dame offense that is loaded with big-play performers. Brian Kelly’s team is led by quarterback Brandon Wimbush (1,870 yards passing, 16 TDs; 803 yards rushing, 14 TDs), who should be improved after an up-and-down season in 2017. Should Wimbush struggle, Kelly can turn to backup QB Ian Book (456 yards passing, 4 TDs). Book led the Irish to a bowl victory over LSU to cap a 10-3 season. While the Irish lost two offensive linemen to the NFL draft, there is plenty of depth around to fill their shoes. ND should also be better on defense, which should be the difference maker in the season opener. My pick, Notre Dame 24, Michigan 20
Alabama vs. Louisville – Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide open defense of their national title in Orlando against a Louisville team that will be looking to fill a huge void with the departure of quarterback Lamar Jackson. Jackson (3,660 yards passing, 27 TDs; 1,601 yards rushing, 18 TDs) was one of the most productive offensive players in the country over the last two years and won the Heisman Trophy in 2016. His successor gets the treat of facing an Alabama defense that also lost a ton of talent, but has plenty of 5-stat talent in the wings waiting to prove itself to the ‘Bama faithful. Saban may turn to his offense to set the tone early in the season while his young defenders get their bearings set. There is plenty of returning talent led by quarterbacks Jalen Hurts (2,081 yards passing, 17 TDs; 855 yards rushing, 8 TDs) and national champion game savior Tua Tagovailoa. As of this writing, Saban has not named a starter, but expect both QBs to see plenty of action this season. The running game will be in the capable hands of tailback Damien Harris (1,000 yards rushing, 11 TDs). Look for Alabama to send a message to the rest of the country that they aren’t going anywhere, any time soon. My pick, Alabama 30, Louisville 13
Miami vs. LSU – The Hurricane and Tigers go at it on Sunday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington in what should be an interesting game to watch. This game pits Miami’s high-charged offense against LSU’s stingy defense, so something has to give. Miami gets the edge on offense thanks to returning quarterback Malik Rosier (3,120 yards passing, 26 TDs). Rosier led Marc Richt’s team to a 10- victory season in 2017 and ‘Cane fans believe the Miami swagger and good times are back. LSU will turn to Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow to lead the way on offense. Burrow has a big arm and a stable of talented receivers to throw to. What he will need is a strong running game to allow him play fake and make plays down field. The Tigers are inexperienced at running back and that could favor the ‘Canes in this one. Look for Rosier to be the difference maker in the season opener at Miami opens the season with a quality win. My pick, Miami 27, LSU 23
Virginia Tech at Florida State – The Labor Day football feast concludes on Monday night in Tallahassee as Virginia Tech and FSU meet in not only their season openers, but also their ACC openers. What a way to open the season! This will be FSU head coach Willie Taggert’s debut as the Seminoles head coach. He was hired away from Oregon after former head coach Jimbo Fisher bolted FSU for College Station. Taggert inherits a FSU team loaded with offensive talent, led by running back Sam Akers (1,024 yards rushing, 7 TDs) and two talented quarterbacks in Deondre Francois and James Blackman (2,230 yards passing, 19 TDs). Francois suffered a knee injury in the season opener against Alabama last year and Blackmon stepped in and led the Seminoles to a bowl victory. Taggert has a luxury most coaches don’t have with two talented QBs to call on. Va. Tech has a pretty good signal caller themselves in sophomore Josh Jackson (2,991 yards passing, 20 TDs; 324 yards rushing, 6 TDs). Look for Akers to be the difference maker in this one as the Taggert era at FSU starts on a high note. My pick, Florida State 31, Virginia Tech 28