College Football: Saturday Preview

    
October 18th, 2008

Another weekend is upon us, and it was kicked off with yet another undefeated Top 10 team falling. Eighth-ranked BYU was the latest victim, getting manhandled by a now 7-1 TCU team 32-7 in Fort Worth. Who gained the most from the Cougars defeat when it comes to BCS crashers? It was most likely #15 Boise State, who took control of things in the second quarter to knock off Hawaii 27-7 and remain undefeated all-time in WAC home games.

But Saturday is a day for the BCS leagues to begin the process of elimination in their respective races in some cases, and determine the frontrunner in others. Missouri heads to Austin looking to avoid their second consecutive conference loss, but the good news for them is that even if they do fall to the top-ranked Longhorns the two league defeats would be against the South. Unlike a loss to a North Division opponent, the Tigers wouldn't have to worry about any tiebreaker scenarios in that situation. And Ohio State visits Michigan State in a game that will determine whether or not Mark Dantonio's Spartans can compete for the Big Ten crown. Here's the schedule for Saturday.

12:00 PM ET Syracuse at No. 19 South Florida on ESPN GamePlan

Not sure how much longer Greg Robinson will have at Syracuse, but the Big East schedule makers didn't do him any favors by scheduling back-to-back road games with West Virginia and USF. Look for Bulls DE George Selvie to have a big day harassing Syracuse QB Cameron Dantley in a USF win.

12:00 PM ET No. 21 Wake Forest at Maryland on ESPN GamePlan

With Florida State taking care of NC State on Thursday, the Demon Deacons could declare themselves the clear frontrunner in the ACC Atlantic race with a win in College Park. Wake has already won at Florida State and hung tough in winning a sloppy home game over a reeling Clemson team to stay undefeated in league play. But which Maryland team shows up for the noon start? If it's the one that was on full alert when Cal visited, they can win. But if they show up in the same form that led to the 31-0 pasting at the hands of Virginia, Ralph Friedgen's bunch will be in some serious trouble. Close game here, but Alphonso Smith will make a big play on defense to seal the Wake victory.

12:00 PM ET Purdue at Northwestern on ESPN2

The Boilers have been struggling mightily on offense this season, not putting up enough points or staying on the field long enough to supplement the defense. And that's bad news when they have to visit a Northwestern team that right now looks to be headed to a warm locale in January if they can keep up their solid play. Yes, they suffered their first loss at the hands of Michigan State last weekend, but Purdue hasn't shown the same firepower or toughness that Michigan State brought to Evanston a week ago. Look for Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcats to get the job done.

12:00 PM ET Connecticut at Rutgers on ESPNU

Could this be a rivalry game? Possibly, but it seems as if in their haste to declare themselves a national power fans of the Scarlet Knights ignored the challenge that Randy Edsall's program would bring. But that's a conversation for another time as Rutgers is not a very good football team right now. UConn may not be any more explosive on offense, but they've got Donald Brown, who by the way hails from New Jersey. Look for the Huskies to win a game that will have an impact on recruiting in the Northeast.

12:00 PM ET Miami (OH) at Bowling Green on ESPN GamePlan

The Redhawks were thought to be a team capable of winning the MAC East when the season began, but they've looked terrible so far. Look for the Falcons to win this game behind the arm of Tyler Sheehan and a cabale offensive attack.

12:00 PM ET Georgia Tech at Clemson on ESPN

In regards to the Tigers, who are without C.J. Spiller and will start redshirt freshman Willy Korn at quarterback, this is a game that is interesting only to find out what else could go wrong. There really hasn't been much team unity so far, and do they use the turmoil as an excuse to mail it in or as motivation to prove all the naysayers wrong? As for the Yellow Jackets, Josh Nesbitt will be back at quarterback after missing last week's 10-7 win over Gardner-Webb (yes, that Gardner-Webb) due to injury. But he'll be able to get the ball into the hands of RB Jonathan Dwyer and WR Demaryius Thomas, both of whom can make plays in the open field. As much as it can be said that Clemson will show their character, they've had more than a few opportunities to do so before Tommy Bowden was dismissed and didn't. Georgia Tech wins.

12:00 PM ET Western Michigan at Central Michigan on ESPN GamePlan

This game will go a long way in determining which team can pose the stiffest challenge to Ball State in the MAC West. Thanks to the home-field advantage and QB Dan LeFevour, look for the Chippewas to get the job done as they look to defend their MAC crown.

12:03 PM ET Wisconsin at Iowa on Big Ten Network 

Finally a little relief for the Badgers, who after facing Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State on consecutive weekends get to dress in the pink locker room of Nile Kinnick Stadium. And a trophy will be on the line as well, with the winner receiving Floyd of Rosedale (it's an interesting rivalry trophy...a bronzed pig). The Badgers are a tough football team, but you have to wonder just how much they have in the tank mentally following that three-game stretch (especially after the beating Penn State laid on them last week). Iowa wins in a mild upset.

12:07 PM ET Memphis at East Carolina 

Two teams who were thought to be a part of the wide-open Conference USA East race before the season began are attempting to keep their heads abovw water with a win here. Being at home against an opponent that they're more talented than should be just what the doctor ordered for Skip Holtz's Pirates.

12:10 PM ET No. 7 Texas Tech at Texas A&M on FSN

This game is one of the more underrated rivalries in college football, as these two schools don't care much for one another. In fact, the statue of Texas Tech's mascot on campus is oriented so that its hind quarters face in the direction of College Station. And the product hasn't been very pretty on the field for the Aggies this season either, which could mean a serious blowout on national television. But the Kyle Field crowd won't allow them to quit, meaning that they may hang around for about a half or so. The Graham Harrell, Michael Crabtree and the rest of Mike Leach's offense will be too much to handle.

12:30 PM ET No. 22 Vanderbilt at No. 10 Georgia on ESPN GamePlan

This week marks the first time in school history that Vanderbilt has played in four consecutive games as a ranked team. But while Georgia will be breaking in their fourth left tackle of the young season between the hedges, Vandy's streak won't get to five games. Georgia wins on the legs of backs Knowshon Moreno and Caleb King, with a little Matthew Stafford to A.J. Green mixed in for good measure.

12:30 PM ET Nebraska at Iowa State on Versus

It seems like just about everyone associated with the Iowa State program has been pleased with the progress of young QB Austen Arnaud, with one notable exception. That would be Phillip Bates, the quarterback who announced his decision to transfer in search of more playing time. That can happen when one guy takes full control of a job that was up for grabs when the season began. As for the Huskers, their defense really hasn't improved much over last season, but they've not up against players the caliber of the Missouri offense that shredded them two weeks ago. But the Cyclones will still find a way to win this game.

1:00 PM ET Akron at Eastern Michigan 

"Fear the Roo". Akron goes on the road and knocks off the Eagles.

2:00 PM ET Colorado State at No. 14 Utah on The Mtn. 

After watching the rival Cougars fall on Thursday Utah looks to continue their run towards an undefeated season at home against Steve Fairchild's Rams. Eventually this game will have more meaning when Fairchild gets the program back to where it was five years ago. But right now it's just another win for Kyle Whittingham's Utes.

3:00 PM ET Baylor at No. 8 Oklahoma State 

While big games usually take precedence in measuring the growth of a program, games that that a team should handle can go a long way in determining just how far a program has to go. That's the scenario for an Oklahoma State team coming off of a big win at Missouri, and they've got a date with Texas next weekend. Good programs take care of business in "sandwich games", adding a little more meaning to a game that some would dismiss because "it's just Baylor". But Art Briles is slowly but surely building something in Waco behind freshman QB Robert Griffin III. But for all the potential Griffin possesses, he's no Zac Robinson. Look for the Cowboys to win this game.

3:05 PM ET Southern Miss at Rice 

Opposites attract? Despite the change in philosophy under new head coach Larry Fedora, the Golden Eagles are still a team that leans upon their defense for wins. And that defense will have quite the task on its hands in the form of QB Chase Clement and WR Jarrett Dillard. But to focus solely on those two weapons is something that Southern Miss would do at their own peril. If the game's low scoring, Southern Miss will win. But if not, look for the Owls to defend their home field. Rice wins.

3:30 PM ET Mississippi at No. 2 Alabama on CBS

This is a dangerous football game for the Crimson Tide, even though it's in Tucaloosa. Two reasons why: Ole Miss won't be intimidated by the crowd since they're already won at Florida; and Alabama is still an extremely young football team. That being said, Nick Saban won't allow a serious letdown occur, so Alabama wins a close game similar to their win over Kentucky two weeks ago.

3:30 PM ET No. 16 Kansas at No. 4 Oklahoma on ABC

The line for this game has the Sooners as a near three-touchdown favorite. While they should be quite angry following their loss to rival Texas last week, three touchdowns is quite the spread against a team like the Jayhawks. Kansas will have success on offense if they can keep QB Todd Reesing upright, and doing so will enable them to exploit the middle of the field against an OU defense that doesn't have MLB Ryan Reynolds (knee) for the remainder of the season. Do the Jayhawks have the athletes or pass rush as capable at Texas'? No, and that's why they won't win this game. But they'll be closer than many think.

3:30 PM ET No. 6 USC at Washington State on Fox Sports Net

Make sure the batteries in your remote work. This one will be over by halftime, even if USC comes out sluggish as they're wont to do against subpar (from an athletic standpoint) foes. Wazzu is just that bad.

3:30 PM ET No. 12 Ohio State at No. 20 Michigan State on ABC 

Two years ago these two teams met in Columbus, and one play showed why people utter the phrase "that's why they're Michigan State". The blocked field goal at the end of the first half cost Michigan State a total of ten points (three for the kick and the seven Ohio State gained by returning it for a score) and essentially cost John L. Smith his job (who can forget his on-camera interview about the coaches "screwing it all up" for the hard-fighting players?). But it's a new day in East Lansing, for Mark Dantonio has brought a level of professionalism and discipline to a program once notorious for lacking either.

His mentor? None other than Jim Tressel, who brings in an Ohio State team that hasn't done a whole lot through the air with Terrelle Pryor under center. But the running game has performed well thanks in large part to the return of Beanie Wells, and the Buckeyes simply know how to win games. Michigan State will lean on RB Javon Ringer, but linebackers James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman could put a stop to all of that, placing the game upon the shoulders of QB Brian Hoyer. Can Hoyer make enough plays through the air to win this game? Can the Michigan State defense slow down the Buckeye running game? In a game that reminds viewers of the old "three yards and a cloud of dust" era, Ohio State lets everyone know who the frontrunner in the Big Ten still is.

3:30 PM ET No. 18 North Carolina at Virginia on ABC

Two questions in this one: 1. How well can the young Tar Heels deal with success? 2. Which Virginia team shows up for this one? Butch Davis' team has done well in dealing with success so far, but they did get off to a slow start against Notre Dame last Saturday. Add to this the loss of Brandon Tate for the season and you have a game that could head downhill in a hurry if they aren't careful. The Cavaliers have played better football the past couple of weeks, knocking off Maryland and East Carolina at home. And North Carolina has traditionally had a hard time winning in Charlottesville, so there is the opportunity for an upset. But neither Maryland of ECU had defenders the quality of some of the guys who will be suiting up for the Tar Heels, meaning that Virginia QB Marc Verica will be in for a long day at Scott Stadium.  

3:30 PM ET No. 23 Pittsburgh at Navy on CBS College Sports

This is a dangerous game for the Panthers, who despite a season-opening loss to Bowling Green find themselves as the early favorite in the Big East race. Both teams will look to their ground game to set the tone, and Navy will face the best back they've seen all year in LeSean McCoy. But the Panthers also have some very good athletes at wide receivers, tall pass-catchers who could take advantage of the smaller Navy defensive backs. Add to this a QB in Bill Stull who's been playing pretty well of late and you have all the makings for a Pitt road win.

3:30 PM ET Middle Tennessee State at Louisville on ESPN GamePlan

The Blue Raiders have shown themselves to be capable of pulling an upset, beating Maryland and nearly knocking off Kentucky on the road. But have they seen a backfield as good as the tandem of Victor Anderson and Brock Bolen? The answer here says no, which means a Cardinal victory.

3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) at Duke on ESPNU

Who would have thought that a game between Miami and Duke would feature two teams in need of wins to reach bowl eligibility? That's how much David Cutcliffle and his staff have meant to the Blue Devlis...and that's just how young Randy Shannon's Hurricanes are this season. The last time Miami visited Durham they needed and interception late to hang on, and they may not be so lucky this time around. But look for Robert Marve and Graig Cooper to lead Miami to a close road win.

3:30 PM ET Army at Buffalo on ESPN GamePlan

The Black Knights have won two straight football games, but they don't have the offensive firepower to keep up with Drew Willy and the Bulls on the road. Buffalo wins.

4:00 PM ET Marshall at UAB 

This is a game that the Thundering Herd have to get, even though it's a road game. Not sure about how hot the seat is under head coach Mark Snyder, but a loss to a struggling UAB team would make things rather uncomfortable in Huntington for he and his staff.

4:00 PM ET Utah State at Nevada 

Utah State has gotten better this season, but they still lack the weapons to hang with the Wolf Pack. The Pistol attack takes care of the Aggies.

4:00 PM ET Toledo at Northern Illinois on ESPN GamePlan

This game is pretty much a toss-up. Not sure why, but Toledo will steal this one on the road.

4:08 PM ET Stanford at UCLA on Fox College Sports

Stanford heads into this one flying high following their comeback win over Arizona despite three turnovers and being down to their third-string quarterback. The Bruins have struggled mightily on offense this season, but more Cardinal turnovers would give them a very good chance to win this game in the Rose Bowl. But don't look for that kind of play for Stanford again this week, with the ground game getting the job done on the road.

4:30 PM ET Michigan at No. 3 Penn State on ESPN

Given how bad Michigan has looked on offense and what Penn State did at Wisconsin last week, do you really think the Wolverines have a shot to silence 110,000-plus fans and pull off the biggest upset of the year? Thought so. Nittany Lions win big.

6:00 PM ET San Diego State at New Mexico on The Mtn. 

This should be a close game, regardless of the Aztecs' struggles on the road under Chuck Long in Mountain West play. But look for New Mexico, behind RB Rodney Ferguson, to win this one.

7:00 PM ET Arkansas at Kentucky on ESPNU

Kentucky has fought hard yet lost close games to Alabama and South Carolina in consecutive weeks while Arkansas is coming off an upset win at Auburn. Momentum is clearly on the side of the Razorbacks, who can win this game if they force some turnovers on defense. The young QB Mike Hartline has shown his inexperience the last two games, but he's a competitor who will come out firing in this one. And that's why Kentucky wins this one by a field goal.

7:00 PM ET Florida Atlantic at Western Kentucky 

Another preview of what the Hilltoppers can expect once they play football in the Sun Belt in 2009, but this game suddenly isn't as daunting as it looked when the schedule was released. Rusty Smith and the FAU offense have struggledeven after getting away from their tough non-conference schedule, and they'll be looking to fix the issues before heading back to Sun Belt play for the remainder of the season. Look for FAU to win this game, but it will be close.

7:00 PM ET Oregon State at Washington 

While this game won't get severely out of hand, don't expect the Huskies to win this game. Pretty bad with Jake Locker, they're brutal without him.

7:00 PM ET Arkansas State at Louisiana-Lafayette

The Red Wolves should pick up a Sun Belt road win in this one, and they will.

7:00 PM ET Idaho at Louisiana Tech on ESPN GamePlan

How do you go about picking up the spirits of a team that looked terrible in losing at Hawaii last week? You send Idaho to town, and that should be just the thing to get Derek Dooley's team back in the win column.

7:00 PM ET North Texas at Louisiana-Monroe 

In picking North Texas to beat FIU last week and subsequently watching them get blown out at home, I have to admit I underestimated how long a season it'll be for Todd Dodge's team. Not again. The Warharks win this one by a nice margin.

7:00 PM ET Mississippi State at Tennessee on ESPN GamePlan

Two offenses that for the most part have been brutal so far, but there has to be a sense of desperation in the Tennessee locker room. A tense situation surrounding Phil Fulmer's program could get downright volatile should his team drop this one, so while it won't be pretty look for the Vols to pull out the close win.

7:00 PM ET Florida International at Troy on ESPN GamePlan

Look for the Trojans to win the game at home, even though the Panthers looked pretty good in winning at North Texas. Troy is signifcantly better than North Texas at the point in time.

7:10 PM ET Kansas State at Colorado on Fox College Sports

Colorado hasn't looked very good in recent weeks, with the Buffaloes' fall being all the more surprising of the two considering their home win over West Virginia (which has lost some of its luster) in September. The Wildcats haven't performed well in games against teams with similar or better talent, losing to Louisville and Texas Tech without being very competitive in either game. Colorado isn't on that level, which is why Ron Prince's team will win this one.

8:00 PM ET No. 11 Missouri at No. 1 Texas on ABC 

The Longhorns haven't played a game as the nation's top-ranked team in the regular season since 1977, so this is a special day in Austin. Add to that a visit from the favorite to win the Big 12 North and a bonafide Heisman candidate in native Texas Chase Daniel and you've got all the makings of a showdown on the Forty Acres. But the Tigers have struggled on defense, a fact that isn't a good thing given how well Colt McCoy has been playing of late. Missouri's got some weapons on offense as well, but they couldn't get anything going on the ground in their loss to Oklahoma State last week. The one-dimensional play led to three Mizzou turnovers in the game, and they could be in even more trouble facing a Will Muschamp defense that features DE Frank Okam. The game should be close but Texas will remain atop the polls for another week.

8:00 PM ET No. 13 LSU at South Carolina on ESPN

The Gamecocks are beginning to play like the team that some thought could challenge in the SEC East. The improved play for Steve Spurrier's team, along with an LSU team that went down hard at Florida last week could mean an upset. But even with the disparity in game experience at the quarterback position, is there really a large gap between Stephen Garcia/Chris Smelley and Jarrett Lee/Andrew Hatch? My answer is no, most likely meaning that someone on defense will make the play that decides this one. LSU by a field goal.

8:00 PM ET No. 17 Virginia Tech at Boston College on ESPN2 

These two split their two meetings last season, with Virginia Tech avenging their last-minute home loss with a win in the ACC Championship Game. Could this be the first of two meetings in 2008? Due to the improved play of Boston College QB Chris Crane it very well could be. But in the other game this season in which he went up against a top-quality defense, he didn't play too well in a close loss to Georgia Tech. Virginia Tech has to get over the loss of RB Kenny Lewis Jr. due to a ruptured Achilles, but the running back position was handled by committee for the most part. The man is QB Tyrod Taylor, essentially the only true playmaker on the unit. It's tempting to pick against the Hokies on the road, but it seems that just when everyone finds reasons why they can't repeat as ACC champs they win another game. Frank Beamer's team comes through yet again.

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

This one is a toss-up in the WAC, and it takes on even more importance with the winner possibly being the biggest roadblock down the line for Boise State (SJSU gets the Broncos at home next Friday). QB Chase Holbrook is among the league leaders on most passing categories for Hal Mumme's Aggies, but he'd better be careful when throwing at either Christopher Owens or Coye Francies. Both are possible NFL Draft selections in April for Dick Tomey's program. Look for the Spartans to steal one on the road, as the Aggie defense isn't one of the WAC's best.

8:00 PM ET UTEP at Tulsa on CBS College Sports

UTEP may be playing with more confidence of late, but the last time they ran into a team with an offense as potent as Tulsa's, Texas ran them right out of their own stadium. Tulsa wins big.

8:00 PM ET Indiana at Illinois on Big Ten Network 

The Illini need this win in the worst way to help salvage a season that has slid downhill in recent weeks. Luckily for them they face an Indiana team that was blown out at home by a mediocre Iowa team last weekend. Juice Williams and the Illinois offense get back on track in a game that should provide a lot of points on both sides of the field.

8:00 PM ET Houston at Southern Methodist 

Sorry, but the Mustangs aren't very good at stopping anyone. The only thing they do worse is hold onto the football, as they're one of the nation's worst in turnover margin. Case Keenum and the Cougars have also had their issues in the turnover department, but they've haven't even begun to approach the generosity of June Jones' offense. Cougars win.

10:00 PM ET No. 25 California at Arizona on Fox College Sports

Arizona is one of those teams that you're afraid to praise, especially before they play against an opponent that they should beat. Such was the case last week on The Farm, when they let Stanford off the hook by allowing nearly 300 yards on the ground in a surprising 24-23 loss. Now a game that could have decided which team has sole possession of first place in the Pac-10 becomes a game the Wildcats need in order to keep things from snowballing with USC visiting next week. QB Nate Longshore has been playing well since regaining the starting job. Look for Cal to win a close one in the fourth quarter.

10:00 PM ET Air Force at UNLV on The Mtn. 

This should be an interesting (and entertaining) football game to watch. Can the Rebels slow down the Air Force running game? Can the Falcons bring down RB Frank "The Tank" Summers? UNLV comes into this game on the heels of a much-needed bye week, which followed inexplicable whippings at the hands of Nevada and Colorado State. Why were those losses so puzzling? Because they followed wins over Arizona State (who we've now learned isn't that good) and Iowa State. Air Force needs the win despite their 2-1 record in Mountain West play to keep within striking distance of TCU and Utah (they've already lost to the Utes). And the fact that UNLV is eighth in the conference in rush defense doesn't bode well for them. Look for Air Force to win the game.

BONUS PICK: In an upset, I like Bernard Hopkins to beat Kelly Pavlik by a unanimous decision.