College Football: Saturday Preview

    
September 27th, 2008

Friday night's game is now over, with a Lawrence Wilson interception return providing the final margin in Connecticut's 26-21 win at Louisville. Even with QB Tyler Lorenzen (foot) and TE Steve Brouse (leg), the Huskies (5-0, 1-0 Big East) were able to hang around due to the solid play of backup quarterback Zach Frazer (8-15 for 89 yards and a touchdown) and two second-half interceptions. Louisville (2-2, 0-1 Big East) also had to deal with some injuries, most notably the ankle injury suffered by QB Hunter Cantwell. Cantwell looked uncomfortable in the pocket following the injury, and the inability to stand in the pocket with some stability caused some errant throws. Next up for Connecticut is a trip to North Carolina, while the Cards will visit Memphis on October 10th. 

Here's the schedule for Saturday, along with game previews.

12:00 PM ET Minnesota at No. 14 Ohio State on Big Ten Network 

The Golden Gophers stroll into the Horseshoe with a 4-0 record on the season, and things are looking up for Tim Brewster's program. However, they haven't played a team at the level of the defending Big Ten champs, who will also welcome Chris Wells back to the lineup after he missed three games with a foot injury. I like the added dimension that Terrelle Pryor's insertion as starting quarterback has given Ohio State, and that's why I like them to win this one.

12:00 PM ET Maryland at No. 20 Clemson on ESPN GamePlan 

A big game in the ACC Atlantic race that's tough to call since you really don't know what you'll get from either of these teams on a weekly basis. Clemson has running backs James Davis and C.J. Spiller at their disposal, but the thought so far has been that they've been used less than they should be. Maryland did pick up a nice win over Cal a couple of weeks ago, but how do they explain the loss at Middle Tennessee a week before that upset? Da'Rel Scott is a solid running back in his own right, but the Tigers seem to play at another level when they're at home in Death Valley. I'll take Clemson, but I wouldn't be shocked if they lost this one in shocking fashion either.

12:00 PM ET Michigan State at Indiana on ESPN

The Spartans arrive in Bloomington with one of the nation's best running backs in Javon Ringer. You know he's going to get 30-plus carries, but it's still a chore to slow the man down. That task falls to an Indiana defense that was embarassed last week by Ball State. But the Hoosiers can put up some numbers themselves, led by quarterback Kellen Lewis. The key for Michigan State will be the play of QB Brian Hoyer, who needs to stretch the defense in order to keep them honest. Michigan State was my darkhorse in the Big Ten before the season began, so I'll go with them here.

12:00 PM ET Virginia at Duke on ESPNU 

No Peter Lalich for the Cavaliers, and they didn't look too good in their last road trip without him (a 45-10 loss at Connecticut). And the Duke team they visit is nothing like the Blue Devil team they beat 24-13 in Charlottesville last season. Duke wins by double digits.

12:00 PM ET Pittsburgh at Syracuse on ESPN GamePlan

Now Pitt should win this game with ease. But they've made a habit of losing games they should win in recent years, so maybe Syracuse can start off Big East play 1-0 for the second consecutive year. But I wouldn't count on it, so instead pay attention to the margin of victory, as that may have a direct impact on the job status of Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson.

12:00 PM ET Kent State at Ball State on ESPN GamePlan 

The Cardinals were impressive in their win at Indiana last week, but they lost WR Dante Love to a possible career-ending neck injury. So they'll be looking to win a game in his honor most likely, something that they'll get done against the Golden Flashes.

12:00 PM ET Northern Illinois at Eastern Michigan on ESPN GamePlan 

An NIU team with a new coach heads to Ypsilanti to take on the conventional pick to finish last in the MAC West. I'll take the Huskies in this one, but they'll have to fight it out for the full sixty minutes in order to ruin Homecoming at EMU.

12:00 PM ET Northwestern at Iowa on ESPN Classic

This is a big game for both, as they could find themselves in need of wins come November in regards to bowl eligibility. While Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcats enter the game 4-0, Iowa lost a tough 21-20 decision at Pittsburgh last weekend. Who's the quarterback for the Hawkeyes this week? Ricky Stanzi, who started two weeks ago, was replaced by Jake Christiansen (last year's starter) and he didn't exactly set the world on fire. Why not play both? Either way, the defense will have to find a way to slow down RB Tyrell Sutton and QB C.J. Bacher, the leaders of a potent Wildcat offense. But playing in front of the home crowd should be just the trick for the Hawkeyes, helping carry them to an important victory.

12:00 PM ET North Carolina at Miami (FL) on ESPN2

This was setting up to be a battle for second (or even first) place in the ACC Coastal until three things happened: 1. North Carolina's offense returned to its struggles in 2007; 2. They lost their starting QB (T.J. Yates) for six weeks with a non-displaced fracture in his left ankle; 3. Those Baby Hurricanes had the look of a team starting to figure things out in pasting Texas A&M at Kyle Field last week. I like the 'Canes, but they'd better keep an eye on the explosive Brandon Tate.

12:30 PM ET Mississippi at No. 4 Florida on ESPN GamePlan 

This is a new Ole Miss program with a new quarterback (Jevan Snead) and they're headed in the right direction under Houston Nutt. But they're not at the level of the Gators, and I don't see them pulling off what would be a huge upset in "The Swamp".

12:30 PM ET Army at Texas A&M on Versus 

Texas A&M hasn't played very well this season, but Army is one of the worst teams at the FBS level. Look for the Aggies to cure a few ills heading into Big 12 play.

1:00 PM ET Rhode Island at Boston College 

The Eagles blew out defending Conference USA champ UCF last week, a UCF team that took USF to overtime a few weeks ago. If that happened to the Golden Knights in Chestunt Hill, imagine what could happen to the Rams. But hey, at least it's a short trek from Kingston.

2:00 PM ET Virginia Military at Ohio 

Maybe this would be a decent basketball game when VMI had Jason Conley (before he transferred to Missouri). But football...look for Frank Solich's Bobcats to do some damage by way of the running game in a big win.

2:00 PM ET Western Michigan at Temple 

After two straight losses on the final play of the game, Temple ran into a buzzsaw in Happy Valley last week, getting throttled by Penn State 45-3. Western Michigan, while they will be a tough challenge for the Owls, is no Penn State. I like Temple, but keep an eye on their body language in the early going. That will be a definitive sign as to how much the program has improved unde Al Golden.

2:00 PM ET Arkansas State at Memphis

Memphis is 1-3, and they haven't looked too good this season. Arkansas State won at Texas A&M, so I don't think they'll have much of a problem dealing with a half-filled Liberty Bowl. Red Wolves win.

3:30 PM ET Arkansas at No. 7 Texas on ABC

Thanks to Hurricane Ike, people who didn't know how Arkansas got to 2-0 found out exactly why they were lucky last week when Alabama blew their doors off. After getting manhandled at home, they're supposed to knock off former Southwest Conference rival Texas in Austin? If you're looking for hours of fun, you'd be better served checking out the Austin City Limits shows. This one will be that bad.

3:30 PM ET No. 9 Wisconsin at Michigan on ABC 

This should be a routine win for the Badgers, but I use the word "should" because they've had a hard time in recent years when they visit Ann Arbor. The last time Wisconsin won at Michigan? That would be 1994, which was also the year following their first-ever trip to the Rose Bowl. A win here, before games against Ohio State and Penn State (the first time in league history someone has opened with that trio), could get the ball rolling for a return to Pasadena, or maybe even a trip to Miami. Look for P.J. Hill and Zach Brown to batter the Michigan defense and lead Wisconsin to victory.

3:30 PM ET Tennessee at No. 15 Auburn on CBS

Auburn may have struggled on offense last weekend, but at least they provided a challenge in their big game. I didn't like what I saw from the Volunteers at home against Florida, so I'm not going to pick them to improve enough to win in Jordan-Hare. War Eagle.

3:30 PM ET Houston at No. 23 East Carolina on CBS College Sports 

Another dangerous game for the Pirates, who need to refocus on their goal at the start of the year: win Conference USA. While a loss to Houston won't cripple them since it's an interdivisional game, but it sure won't help the cause. I'll go with the Pirates because Houston has turned the ball over eight times in four games (tied for 10th in C-USA in turnover margin).

3:30 PM ET No. 25 Fresno State at UCLA on ABC

Look for the Bulldogs to physically impose their will upon the slumping Bruins in the Rose Bowl. Fresno State survived last week in Toledo, but I don't see such a nailbiter on the horizon this week.

3:30 PM ET Colorado at Florida State on ABC 

Last week's loss to Wake Forest showed that the offense in Florida State's two wins was just as much a product of their competition (Western Carolina and Chattanooga) as it was improvement by the unit. But how much has the offense really improved? They couldn't establish anything on the ground, and QB Christian Ponder was yanked at halftime. Now they take on a Colorado team that should be flying high after their overtime win against West Virginia last Thursday. One program looks to be heading up, while it's hard to tell where the other is headed right now. I like Colorado.

3:30 PM ET Morgan State at Rutgers on ESPN GamePlan 

Some frustration bolied over in their close loss at Navy last week, but don't look for any punches to be thrown on the Rutgers bench this week. Playing Morgan State can have that kind of effect on a struggling team.

3:30 PM ET Marshall at West Virginia on ESPN GamePlan 

This is a dangerous game for the 1-2 Mountaineers, who have to take on in-state rival Marshall in a somewhat damaged state. The talk of looking to pass more this year has fallen by the wayside, as WVU has struggled to get anything done consistently through the air. And the Thundering Herd gave Wisconsin a game for a half before the Badger ground attack wore them down. I'll pick the Mountaineers, in large part because I expect Pat White to have a huge game. But if he doesn't, Marshall just may spring the upset.

3:30 PM ET Cincinnati at Akron on ESPN GamePlan 

J.D. Brookhart may have some tricks up his sleeve when the Zips host Cincinnati, but Brian Kelly has better athletes in his locker room. This will serve as another tune-up for Cincy QB Tony Pike, who looked pretty good in their win last week.

3:35 PM ET Louisiana-Lafayette at Kansas State

The Wildcats should be able to blow out the Ragin' Cajuns. And I predict they will.

3:43 PM ET Purdue at Notre Dame on NBC

These two old foes meet again, but I like the Boilers to win in South Bend. Their defense is better than advertised, and has Notre Dame's offense truly improved since last season? The numbers may be better, but when faced with a quality opponent last week they scuffled at Michigan State. They'll drop to 2-2 after this home defeat.

3:45 PM ET Navy at No. 16 Wake Forest on ESPNU

Navy's option will give the Demon Deacons some trouble, but not enough to pull off the upset on the road. I like Wake.

4:00 PM ET Buffalo at Central Michigan

Buffalo made the highlights with their win over Temple two weeks ago, but they're going to find out just how ready they are to contend for a MAC title in this one. I still think they can win the East, but I don't see them knocking off Dan LeFevour on the road.

4:06 PM ET Bowling Green at Wyoming on The Mtn. 

This is a tough one to pick. Bowling Green won at Pitt earlier this season, but winning in Laramie is a tough task when you're not used to the elevation. But I'll go with the Falcons anyway since it's hard to get a read on Wyoming. But at least they're (Wyoming) not playing at BYU this weekend, given their 44-0 loss in Provo.

5:00 PM ET North Texas at Rice

Eventually Todd Dodge will get the North Texas program back to contender status in the Sun Belt. But even in a high-scoring game, I don't see them knocking off Rice.

6:15 PM ET Colorado State at California

I like the Golden Bears to win by a comfortable margin.

6:15 PM ET Oregon at Washington State 

Two teams who have watched quarterbacks drop like flies in this one. But there's one major difference: Oregon has much better players at just about every other position on the field, which is why they'll win in the Paloose.

7:00 PM ET No. 24 TCU at No. 2 Oklahoma on Fox Sports Net 

Believe it or not, the last two times TCU visited Norman they left with a win. While the Horned Frogs, led by a stout defense and QB Andy Dalton, are moer than capable of winning again the Sooners will be primed and ready for this one. QB Sam Bradford hasn't been talked about much in regards to the early Heisman race, but I think this game could change that. Gary Patterson's team will play hard and pop OU in the mouth early, but I like the Sooners to get the job done and slide into the recently vacated #1 ranking.

7:00 PM ET Western Kentucky at Kentucky on ESPN GamePlan 

Kentucky struggled with Middle Tennessee, and the offense hasn't been as explosive as last year's group led by Andre Woodson. But I still like them to take care of WKU.

7:00 PM ET UAB at South Carolina on ESPN GamePlan 

Can the Gamecocks get consistent quarterback play from anyone? That's the question heading into their game with a UAB team that while improving shouldn't be able to beat South Carolina. But if Steve Spurrier's quarterbacks struggle again, this one could be close until late, just like their win over Wofford last week.

7:05 PM ET Troy at Oklahoma State 

Troy blew out the Cowboys last season, a game that was the beginning of the end for one Bobby Reid in Stillwater. While the Pokes still have some issues to resolve on defense, their offense is far too explosive for the Trojans. Look for QB Zac Robinson to have a big evening.

7:05 PM ET Central Arkansas at Tulsa 

Central Arkansas won't be a bad team at the FCS level this year, but Coach Graham's Golden Hurricane look poised to win Conference USA right now. I like Tulsa to continue racking up big offensive numbers.

7:07 PM ET Florida International at Toledo 

Toledo should recover from their heartbreaking loss to Fresno State last weekend with the Owls in town.

7:30 PM ET Mississippi State at No. 5 LSU on ESPN2

Mississippi State has looked dreadful on offense this season, so it won't help to play a night game in Baton Rouge against one of the nation's fiercest defenses. Add to this Jarrett Lee seemingly hitting his stride in the second half of their win at Auburn last week and you have all the makings for a beatdown on the bayou.

7:30 PM ET No. 13 South Florida at North Carolina State on ESPNU 

This is a dangerous game for the Bulls, even though the Wolfpack will be without QB Russell Wilson due to injury. The Bulls will be shorthanded as well, most notably DE George Selvie, who will sit out with an ankle injury. I like State to keep it close, but in the end Matt Grothe will be too much.

7:45 PM ET No. 8 Alabama at No. 3 Georgia on ESPN 

A game with enough buzz got an added boost earlier in the week thanks to the words of Alabama head strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran during prepractice stretch on Tuesday. Seems that Coach Cochran told the players that Georgia fans and players would be dressed in black (for the encouraged blackout) because they were "headed to an (expletive) funeral". Them's fighting words, but if you need to be motivated for a game of this magnitude then you honestly shouldn't be on the field. This SEC battle will be won on the lines, with the Crimson Tide holding the advantage on paper. But for all their experience up front and young talent at the skill positions, Alabama doesn't have a player the caliber of one Knowshon Moreno. And that's why I like the Dawgs in a close one.

8:00 PM ET No. 22 Illinois at No. 12 Penn State on ABC 

A "Whiteout" in Happy Valley and the Nittany Lions will also welcome back defensive players Abe Koroma and Maurice Evans after they sat out due to suspension. All this doesn't bode well for an Illinois team that has struggled on defense as well as in the passing game. I like Penn State to stake their claim as a national title contender in this one.

8:00 PM ET Weber State at No. 17 Utah 

Look for the Utes to win big in this one.

8:00 PM ET Virginia Tech at Nebraska on ABC

The first major test of the Bo Pelini era in Lincoln, and it's a game that many people may be expecting them to win thanks to the recent struggles of the Virginia Tech offense. But the Huskers haven't dealt with a palyer as athletic as Tyrod Taylor this season, which will make this game a tough one. Joe Ganz has played well under center for the Huskers, but Bud Foster's defense can be an absolute headache for opposing offenses. Home field advantage would lead me to believe that Nebraska will win the game. But I've picked against the Hokies two straight weeks, only to watch them win each time. I'm not falling for that again. The Hokies will score a big road win for the ACC.

8:00 PM ET New Mexico at New Mexico State on ESPN GamePlan 

The two bitter rivals get together again, this time in Las Cruces and there could be a lot of points on the scoreboard by game's end. New Mexico State has the more powerful attack, led by QB Chase Holbrook, but they also have one of the nation's most porous defenses. New Mexico QB Donovan Porterie was knocked out of last week's game at Tulsa with a knee injury, and he was replaced by Brad Gruner. RB Rodney Ferguson will be crucial for the Lobos, as the more success he has the more time NMSU's offense will spend on the sideline. But I like the Aggies to win the 99th edition of this one.

8:00 PM ET UCF at UTEP 

It may be on the road, but I like the Golden Knights to win this one. Haven't been too impressed with the Miners this season.

8:07 PM ET Idaho at San Diego State

The Aztecs should win this game. Then again, they should have beaten Cal Poly in the season opener. But I don't see that happening this time around.

10:00 PM ET Stanford at Washington 

This is the first game in a three-game stretch that many are expecting the Huskies to be competitive in, if not win all three. They've at least got a better shot than the Oregon/BYU/Oklahoma trio that started 2008 for Washington. But they'll have their hands full with Stanford RB Toby Gerhart, who has the ability to milk the clock when the Cardinal have things under control. But I have a feeling the Huskies will get their first win of the season behind QB Jake Locker.

10:00 PM ET Nevada at UNLV on The Mtn. 

The Fremont Cannon is up for grabs in this one, and with it being the largest rivalry trophy in college football you don't have to worry about any thefts. The Pistol offense employed by Nevada will give the Rebels problems, but UNLV will be around for four quarters in this one. In fact, I'll pick the Rebels to win this one, led by RB Frank "The Tank" Summers.

12:05 AM ET San Jose State at Hawaii on ESPN GamePlan 

San Jose State has a pair of solid corners in Christopher Owens and Coye Francies, which could give the Warriors some problems. But if not, do the Spartans have enough offense to keep up should the Tyler Graunke-led offense rack up the points? I don't think so, which means that I'll take Hawaii.