Week 1 College Football Preview

Week 1 of College Football is finally here! Hussam Patel gives his top three game previews and games that you need to watch.

Week 1 of the 2022 college football season is finally here. Here are the top three Week 1 college football games you need to watch, and a preview of each.

Arkansas vs. Cincinnati preview

#23 Cincinnati Bearcats v #19 Arkansas Razorbacks. 3:30 P.M. EST, ESPN

  • Line: Arkansas -7, o/u: 52

Cincinnati Week 1 College Football Preview

There might be big talent losses in several areas, but the offensive front is loaded with all-stars and veterans, and it should be among the best in the nation at keeping defenses out of the backfield

Coach Luke Fickell’s comments raise some alarms heading into the Razorbacks stadium. He admitted that the Bearcats are not suited to play against a loud SEC home crowd.

Cincinnati lost a talented quarterback in Desmond Ridder, can they replace his production week 1 against the Razorbacks?

The biggest key in winning this top 25 matchup in week 1 for the Bearcats is containing Arkansas quarterback K.J. Jefferson.

Arkansas Week 1 College Football Preview

Razorbacks quarterback K.J. Jefferson was good last year; however can he be special against a good defense in the Cincinnati Bearcats in week 1?

Without a doubt, Jefferson will be the key for the Razorbacks. Furthermore, their running game should help him out. The team led the SEC in rushing.

The passing efficiency should be there against a revamped Cincinnati secondary that lost a slew of NFL talents. With the loss of Treylon Burks to the NFL, coach Pittman wants to see how good receiver Drew Sanders can be. 

Utah vs. Florida preview

#7 Utah Utes v Florida Gators. 7 P.M. EST, ESPN

  • Line: Utah -2.5, o/u: 53.5

Utah Week 1 College Football Preview

Linebacker Devin Lloyd might be gone, but former Gator Mohamoud Diabate is a good one to try helping the cause. 

The defensive front will once again be a killer in the backfield, and the tackles are massive human beings who’ll gum up the works.

Head coach Kyle Whittingham brings a veteran, disciplined team against the Gators in Week 1. The Utes are led by standout QB Cam Rising, who threw for 2,493 yards and 20 touchdowns to five interceptions, along with 74 rushes for 499 yards and six touchdowns.

Florida Week 1 College Football Preview

Gainesville’s own Anthony Richardson, with his superb athleticism and arm, is the face of the team as its quarterback. Richardson’s supporting cast is full of returning players. 

Head coach Billy Napier squares off against a top-10 team in Week 1 as his first game as the Gators coach. Napier brings along a few of the good parts from Ragin’ Cajun days; the offensive line really will be a strength, and the running back situation is about as deep as any in the SEC.

The Gators will have to rely on a good rotation on the defensive front and return top NFL draft prospects in Brenton Cox Jr., Gervon Dextor, and Jason Marshall Jr.

Florida’s run defense has to prove it can be night-and-day better than it was last season, as Patrick Toney is in charge of the defense this season.

Notre Dame vs. Ohio State preview

#5 Notre Dame at #2 Ohio State. 7:30 P.M. EST, ABC

  • Line: Ohio State -16.5, o/u: 58.5

Notre Dame Week 1 College Football Preview

New head coach Marcus Freeman’s biggest test is right out of the gates Week 1 against last year’s college football finalist Ohio State. No pressure, Marcus.

It’s the debut of new quarterback Tyler Buchner. Notre Dame needs to establish a running game that is much more effective than that in order to support Buchner. Furthermore, stud tight end Michael Mayer will be targeted most of the game due to an injury sustained by wide receiver Avery Davis.

Al Golden is the new defensive coordinator for the Fighting Irish. Will he and his secondary hold up against a talented trio of another batch of Buckeye receivers in Jaxson Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr., and Emeka Egbuka?

Notre Dame fills the loss of Kyle Hamilton with Northwestern transfer Brandon Joseph, and eyes will be on EDGE rusher Isaiah Foskey who has first round potential in this year’s draft cycle.

Ohio State Week 1 College Football Preview

Ryan Day’s squad returns Heisman hopeful quarterback C.J. Stroud against a top-5 team in Notre Dame in Week 1 of college football. No one boasts Ohio State’s skill position talent, and it may very well be the reason why they are heavily favored.

The Buckeyes feature three of the top 12 players in the Heisman odds with quarterback C.J. Stroud, running back TreVeyon Henderson, and receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba. 

The Buckeyes defense was its major problem last season against top teams in Alabama, Michigan, and Oregon. Ryan Day brought in Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State to shore up the run defense. 

The linebacker play from Steele Chambers and Tommy Eichenberg will come into focus to stop the Fighting Irish ground attack.

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Darrian Beavers Scouting Report

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Background

Darrian Beavers is a linebacker from Cincinnati and a prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft. Beavers played wide receiver and safety for Colerain High School in Cincinnati. He earned all-conference honors twice and led his team to three conference titles. Beavers was only a three-star recruit at safety and earned a handful of offers from Group of Five schools. He chose to attend UConn and began bulking up to switch to linebacker.

Beavers played in all 24 possible games during his first two seasons with the Huskies. He cracked the starting lineup in 2018, making six starts. Before the 2019 season, Beavers elected to transfer and return home to Cincinnati. He played in all 14 games in 2019, starting 10. In 2020, Beavers started all 10 games for the Bearcats on his way to earning All-AAC 2nd-Team. He finished second on the team in total tackles with 58. 

In 2021, Beavers started all 15 games for Cincinnati. He was a finalist for the Butkus Award and earned All-AAC 1st-Team. He finished second on the team in total tackles and fumbles forced, tied for second in tackles for loss, and third in sacks. In the postseason, Beavers earned invitations to the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine

In the Cincinnati defense, Beavers filled many roles. He frequently moved around before the snap, moving back and forth from the line of scrimmage. When he was at UConn, he was used almost exclusively as an on-ball outside linebacker. But with the Bearcats, Beavers played much more off the ball, but usually between the tackles. He frequently rushes the passer, is utilized on stunts and twists, and also drops into short zone coverage over the middle of the field. 

Statistics

Career Stats: 63 games played, 41 games started, 230 tackles (129 solos), 27.5 TFLs, 3 forced fumbles, 4 passes defensed, 3 interceptions, 54 pressures (26 hurries, 14 QB hits, 13.5 sacks). 

2021 Stats: 15 GP/GS, 99 tackles (47 solos), 12.0 TFLs, 2 forced fumbles, 2 passes defensed, 1 interception, 21 pressures (9 hurries, 6 QB hits, 5 sacks). 

2021 PFF Grades (20% snap minimum): 77.7 Defense (t-23rd), 73.7 Run Defense (t-49th), 59.6 Tackling (284th), 86.1 Pass Rush (17th), 68.0 Coverage (t-110th). 

Darrian Beavers Scouting Report

Strengths
  • Very good mental processing: able to diagnose and trigger downhill quickly. Recognizes concepts quickly and knows how to attack them. Displays excellent zone awareness in the passing game. 
  • Good play strength, with better passive strength than active strength. Almost never gets pushed backwards by blockers of any size. 
  • Good in run defense between the tackles: very disciplined in his run fits, understanding how his assignment fits into the whole of the defense. Gets into the hole quickly and can stack blockers there. 
  • Good in short zones in the middle of the field, shuffling well between the hashes and reading QB’s eyes. Understands how route concepts are developing around and behind him, subtly moving to take them away. 
  • Over 700 special teams snaps in career, with more than 100 in all except FG/XP kicks. Can be an immediate contributor there and seize leadership role early on. 
Weaknesses
  • Sub-par athletic ability: stiffly built and struggles to change direction. Not particularly explosive from standstill or when changing direction. 
  • Lacks foot speed and desire to be a sideline-to-sideline player; if play is to the opposite side of the field, will most likely not make an impact. 
  • Active strength is lacking. Rarely pushes blockers back and struggles to shed blockers. Doesn’t take on blocks aggressively, instead trying to knife through gaps and avoid them. 
  • Frequently misses tackles in the open field and between the tackles. Can be out-athleted in space with relative ease. Struggles to maintain consistent tackling technique as well, allowing ballcarriers to slough him off. Too aggressive and puts head down without following through. 
  • Despite usage, struggles to defeat offensive linemen when rushing the passer. Does not have the athletic ability to win around the edge, nor the strength or technique to win through linemen. 
  • Very rarely used in man coverage against tight ends or even running backs, possibly indicating the coaching staff did not trust him to do so. 

Summary

Darrian Beavers is somewhat of a relic, relative to the modern game of professional football. He is a born safety in an edge defender’s body playing linebacker. He’s a very smart player with extensive experience; he knows where to be at all times and is difficult to move.

However, Beavers suffers from a significant lack of speed and athletic ability. He is stiff and slow to change direction, hampering his ability to pursue ball carriers and make tackles in the open field. Despite his build, he is not particularly effective as a pass rusher when his blitzes are not schemed up via twists and stunts. 

In the NFL, Darrian Beavers projects as a middle/inside linebacker or an on-ball strong-side linebacker. He will be one of the larger linebackers in the NFL, edge defenders excluded. He projects as a role-player who takes the field against heavier personnel groups in likely run situations. Beavers has extensive special teams experience, so he should be comfortable taking snaps there immediately.

However, it seems unlikely that he will develop into an every-down defensive player. While he may survive in a zone-heavy defense that moves him around, Beavers should not see the field on passing downs against NFL athletes where he has to cover them in man. 

Grade: 6.0 / 10

Comparison: Kyle Wilber (2012, R4 #113, Dallas Cowboys)

Myjai Sanders Scouting Report

Mitchell Wolfe provides his scouting report on Cincinnati’s Myjai Sanders, a defensive end / outside linebacker in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Cincinnati EDGE Myjai Sanders Scouting Report
Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Background

Myjai Sanders is an edge rusher from Cincinnati and a prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft. Sanders played for two high schools early in his career, moving from Georgia to Florida halfway through. He earned all-conference honors at both schools and was a consensus three-star recruit. Sanders earned scholarship offers from over 20 schools across the SEC, Big Ten, ACC, AAC, and C-USA. 

Sanders played in 10 games as a true freshman in 2018, only logging 49 snaps on defense. But in his second season with the Bearcats, he started all 14 games and finished second on the team in sacks. Sanders started 10 games in 2020, earning All-AAC 1st-Team and finishing second in the conference in sacks. He started all 14 games in 2021 and earned All-AAC 1st-Team honors again. 

In Cincinnati’s defense, Sanders had to play somewhat out of position. He is very tall, long, and relatively skinny, but the defense asked him to play over the tackle and two-gap to defend against the run. Sanders is built to rush the passer off the edge, not hold up and skirmish with offensive tackles. With that being said, he is still very competent there and displays excellent versatility. Let’s dive into the Myjai Sanders scouting report.

Statistics

Career Stats: 48 GP, 38 GS, 119 tackles (60 solos), 25 TFLs, 12 passes defensed, 140 pressures (107 hurries, 14 QB hits, 13.5 sacks), 2 forced fumbles, 29 penalties. 

2021 Stats: 14 GP/GS, 41 tackles (17 solos), 7.5 TFLs, 5 passes defensed, 62 pressures (54 hurries, 3 QB hits, 2.5 sacks), 1 forced fumble, 13 penalties

2021 PFF Grades (20% snap minimum): 80.2 Defense (t-47th), 75.8 Run Defense (t-67th), 48.6 Tackling (t-419th), 87.3 Pass Rush (t-30th), 73.5 Coverage (t-30th). 

Myjai Sanders Scouting Report

Strengths
  • Good burst, coming out of stance well and in a hurry; flashes ability to time snap count and get the jump on the tackle. 
  • Solid athletic ability: good agility, explosiveness, and change of direction. Good foot speed in the open field and has displayed the ability to jump the snap to win the edge. 
  • Good against the run: diagnoses run very well, identifying blocking schemes and pullers; holds up against single blocks in Gap and Zone schemes and sheds blocks with great timing to meet ballcarrier. 
  • Good hand usage: good timing to use hands to attack or deflect, possessing the strength to remove and shed from the opponent; has a few pass rush moves to win both inside and out. 
  • Displayed the ability to win in a variety of ways in college. Exceptionally long arms allow him to keep OTs at a distance and deflect passes. 
  • Fills numerous roles for defense; played anywhere from 3T-9T, and in 2, 3, and 4-point stances. 1- and 2-gapped against the run, rushed from between and outside the tackles, and can drop into coverage from linebacker alignments/stances.
Weaknesses
  • His body is not ideally constructed; his hips are very high and somewhat tight, preventing him from getting lower in his stance and limiting his ability to bend around the edge.
  • Mediocre balance and flexibility allow him to be pushed over. Length and tightness lead to occasional issues with maintaining low pad level and consistent leverage. 
  • Lack of weight/strength/power is apparent in pass rush, as he rarely wins using a bull rush to collapse the pocket. Run blocking double teams frequently move him with ease. 
  • Needs to add more pass rush moves to arsenal; primarily won with length, speed, and agility in college, not relying on technique as much. Rarely has a backup plan if initially stymied and QB does not leave the pocket. 
  • Struggled with missed tackles last two seasons; tightness limits his ability to break down and get wide to swallow ballcarrier, who can out-juke in him the open field. 
  • Penalties (offsides) were an issue in college (29 in career, 13 in 2021); less-gimmicky NFL offenses may mitigate the issue but is something to monitor. 

Summary

Myjai Sanders’ scouting report paints the picture of an unorthodox prospect. He was a productive and effective starter in college. But a few critical flaws in his game limit his potential. Sanders’ build is the root cause of those issues. He is high-hipped with long legs; generally, he is somewhat stiff, especially in his hips and ankles. These physical issues limit Sanders’ ability to bend, causing problems when turning the corner and when breaking down to make tackles in the open field.

Overall, Sanders is a well-rounded edge rusher. He has good burst and athletic ability to get off at the snap and threaten the outside edge. He also defends the run surprisingly well for a sub-250 pound edge defender. Sanders has the strength to hold up against most tackles against the run and the power to shock and push them back when rushing the passer. He is aided by his length, allowing him to long-arm offensive linemen. In addition, Sanders uses his hands well against the run and the pass.

However, besides the aforementioned physical issues, Sanders is still far from a perfect prospect. While he is well-rounded, he also lacks a tremendous or elite trait to fall back on. Combined with his build, Sanders struggles to reduce the distance and angle needed to reach the quarterback, whether by speed, bend, or power. Additionally, he may experience difficulties defeating NFL offensive tackles without a go-to ability.

Projection

In the NFL, Myjai Sanders projects best as a strong-side on-ball linebacker. He is a dependable run defender that can execute a variety of techniques. In addition, he offers valuable pass-rush upside, as he can defeat linemen in diverse ways.

However, given some of his physical limitations, he needs to work with an experienced, creative coach to teach him more ways to win against NFL linemen. Sanders should see the field right away but will most likely not be an every-down defender as a rookie. With these flaws in mind, he should be a Day-2 selection.

Grade: 6.5 / 10

Comparison: Derek Rivers (2017, R3 #83, New England Patriots)

Ahmad Gardner Scouting Report

Cincinnati Bearcats DB Ahmad Gardner Scouting Report
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Background

“Sauce” is a cornerback from Cincinnati and a prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft. Let’s dive into the Ahmad Gardner scouting report.

Gardner hails from Detroit, Michigan where he played wide receiver and cornerback in high school. As a senior, he helped lead his team to a state championship. He was a consensus three-star recruit and a top-40 player in Michigan. Gardner earned scholarship offers from Cincinnati, Indiana, Iowa State, Kentucky, Syracuse, and most of the schools in the MAC. 

Gardner chose Cincinnati and earned playing time early. As the 2019 season progressed, the true freshman played more every week. After seven games, he finally broke into the starting lineup and never looked back. Gardner started the final six games and earned 1st-Team All-AAC honors along with several Freshman All-American nods. In 2020, he played in all but the bowl game, and started all but one game; he earned All-AAC 1st-Team and All-American again. 

Gardner took his game to another level in 2021, earning AAC Defensive Player of the Year (unanimously), All-AAC 1st-Team, and consensus All-American honors. In three seasons, with 1124 coverage snaps and 138 targets, he never allowed a touchdown. During the 2021 season, Gardner only allowed 20 catches on 40 targets for 131 yards, with the longest reception going for only 17 yards. 

Statistics

Career Stats: 36 GP, 28 GS, 99 tackles (68 solos), 5.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, 24 passes defensed, 9 interceptions, 32.6 NFL passer rating when targeted, 14 penalties. 

2021 Stats: 14 GP/GS, 40 tackles (28 solos), 5 TFLs, 3 sacks, 4 passes defensed, 3 interceptions, 26.1 NFL passer rating when targeted, 2 penalties. 

2021 PFF Grades (20% snap minimum): 87.1 Defense (t-7th), 77.8 Run Defense (73rd), 70.9 Tackling (t-155th), 78.5 Pass Rush (40th), 87.2 Coverage (10th). 

Ahmad Gardner Scouting Report

Strengths

  • Elite build with exceptionally long arms and very good height; muscularly built, but not overly so. 
  • Great athletic ability with excellent long speed, explosiveness, change of direction, and agility. Surprisingly smooth for a corner with his build and length. 
  • Very good line of scrimmage skills, using length to gain an immediate advantage in press-jam. Good strike power and placement to shock receiver and disrupt route. Mirrors releases very well with quick feet and fluid hips, displaying excellent patience at the line.
  • Comfortable playing in trail technique against most routes. He uses his long strides and speed to quickly eliminate separation, and long arms allow him to deflect passes/affect the catch point from further distance. 
  • Drastically improved zone awareness and understanding of spacing in 2021; read concepts better to remain equidistant from targets and prevent throws. Quickly reads concepts and triggers well to go after the ball and the receiver. 
  • Very good in man coverage, utilizing superior athleticism and length to prevent and minimize separation. Has a great understand of leverage and how to stay in the hip pocket of his opponent; great hip fluidity allows him to mirror receivers without fully turning to get vertical. 
  • Good ball skills, using length to disrupt passes with good timing. Three interceptions every season, displaying good ball tracking with surprisingly decent hands for a CB. 
  • Willing (perhaps not enthusiastic) tackler, with length allowing him to close quickly and present wide tackling radius.
  • Length allows him to be a blitzing weapon from the boundary, as he can cover ground quickly and affect the quarterback. 

Weaknesses

  • Not as fluid when making diametrically opposed cuts (backpedal to come downhill); long legs can get caught and force him to stop for a beat before re-accelerating. 
  • Occasionally beaten by quick in-breaking routes when in press, especially with outside leverage.
  • Gets a bit too aggressive with hands; observant officials could flag him frequently. 
  • Offensive linemen and tight ends can get the better of him in run support, as they can overwhelm him with strength/power. 

Summary

Ahmad Gardner looks like he was built in a laboratory to play in the modern NFL. He has insane length, which he uses to dominate at the line of scrimmage and break up passes downfield. Gardner is an exceptional athlete who can succeed in any type of coverage assignment.

The flaws in his game are very minuscule and any team would be lucky to add him to their roster. He has some issues with being too aggressive and handsy, which could lead to penalties. Furthermore, he will need to adjust to different field dimensions that aren’t so advantageous to him. 

In the NFL, Gardner would be best in a defensive scheme that heavily leans on man coverage assignment and press-jam techniques at the line of scrimmage. He can be an asset in any defensive scheme, but an aggressive approach would take advantage of his unique gifts and skillset. Even if Gardner gets beat, he has the speed, length, and discipline to recover quickly to minimize separation. 

The scouting report on Ahmad Gardner paints a picture of a player who can contribute — and even start — immediately. He is in the running for the best cornerback in this class and is among the top fifteen overall players. On the right team and in the right defense, Gardner could be a Pro Bowl-level player immediately, and be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL for years to come. 

Grade: 8.0/10

Comparison: Antonio Cromartie (2006, R1 #19, San Diego Chargers)

2021 CFP: Can Cincinnati Beat Alabama?

Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder will face Alabama for a chance at a National Championship
Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a storybook year for Cincinnati – an undefeated season that now has the G5 team facing perennial powerhouse Alabama. Can the Bearcats continue this run and pull off a major upset against Alabama? They are currently a 13.5-point favorite over the AAC champion, which is understandable.

No matter what you think about the media and the SEC, Alabama has faced a tougher schedule than the Bearcats. The AAC is not a murderer’s row and, to be fair, UC did struggle at times. That said, there is a way that UC can stay in this game and possibly win. Let’s take a look at they keys to a win for Cincinnati against Alabama.

No John Metchie

First, the defense needs to take advantage of the absence of Alabama wide receiver John Metchie. Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant need to shut down Alabama quarterback (and Heisman winner) Bryce Young’s remaining weapons and force the Tide into running the ball. Alabama turned in poor rushing performances late in the season (six yards against LSU) and taking Young and Jameson Williams (his top receiver) out of the picture will be beneficial for the ‘Cats.

Win time of possession battle

Second, the offense needs to control the ball. Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder will present a major problem for the Alabama defense. A true dual threat, he can beat this defense through the air and on the ground. That said, Ridder and crew will need to control the ball on the ground, then take shots when available. This where Jerome Ford comes in.

Ford rushed for 100 yards five times this season and nearly 200 against Houston in the AAC Championship game. If he can put up this sort of production in the Cotton Bowl, keeping the ball out of Alabama’s hands, Cincinnati could pull off the upset. Positive yardage on first and second downs to keep manageable third-down situations will also help Ridder be effective throwing the ball.

DISCIPLINE

Finally, luck and eliminating mistakes. Face it, UC is the underdog and what does the underdog need to pull off the major upset? Luck. At some point, the ball is going to have to bounce Cincinnati’s way. Perhaps a deflected pass that ends up as an interception, a dropped hand-off that bounces right to a defensive lineman, a gadget play at just the right time to catch Alabama off guard — something weird will happen and it has to go the Bearcats’ way.

Also, Ridder and crew have to protect the ball. Cincinnati can not give this Alabama offense additional opportunities to score – it will be tough enough to stop them without turning the ball over.

Can Cincinnati Beat Alabama?

Is a Cotton Bowl victory and shot at a National Championship in UC’s future? Not many people think so, but if the Bearcats can take advantage of Alabama’s injuries on offense, control the ball, and get a bit of luck … it is possible.

Be sure to check out Around The Block for more coverage of the CFB playoffs.