College Football: Saturday Preview

    
October 31st, 2008

A good Saturday of college football for all those who celebrate Halloween with a little too much vigor, most notably rivalry games in the Big 12 and SEC that will go a long way in clarifying both division and national title aspirations for all teams involved. But there's also a noon matinee in the Big East that should determine the frontrunner for that BCS berth and upset alerts for the top two teams in the Mountain West. Here's the schedule for Saturday.

12:00 PM ET Northwestern at No. 17 Minnesota on ESPN2

Given what happened with last year's BCS selections there's the thought in some circles that if the Golden Gophers were to win out (and Penn State were to do the same and reach the BCS Championship Game) they could find themselves in Pasadena. That kind of turnaround could make second-year head coach Tim Brewster a shoo-in for National Coach of the Year, and they face a banged-up Northwestern team that will be without Tyrell Sutton and possibly QB C.J. Bacher. Omar Conteh is a solid back, but the Wildcats will miss Sutton dearly. Gophers win and move to 7-1.

12:00 PM ET Wisconsin at No. 21 Michigan State on ESPN

A couple of years ago conventional wisdom would have P.J. Hill as the best running back on the field. But injuries have once again slowed the "Wisconsin Winnebago" down, and John Clay was the man with twenty-five carries last weekend. But the best back in the Big Ten? That would be Javon Ringer, who has essentially carried the Spartan offense this year. So despite the uneven play of QB Brian Hoyer, look for the Spartans to take advantage of Badger QB Dustin Sherer.

12:00 PM ET West Virginia at No. 25 Connecticut on ESPN GamePlan

To say that this game got out of hand in the second half last year would be a serious understatement. You have to admit, when you get 66 points hung on you with a conference title on the line it forces you to re-evaluate some things. Such was life in the offseason for UConn head coach Randy Edsall and his staff, who came to the decision that the defense needed to become faster. And when you give up more than five hundred yards on the ground in one game that's a logical conclusion. There's no shame in having a hard time corraling Pat White, but they've got to contain RB Noel Devine.

In Devine and UConn's Donald Brown you've got the top two backs in the Big East on the field, and neither team has shown more than brief moments of good play through the air. Look for the Mountaineers to win this game and let the rest of the Big East know that they still, in fact, run things. But they won't score 66 again.

12:00 PM ET Central Michigan at Indiana on Big Ten Network 

CMU has had its share of issues with BCS conference opponents in recent years, which makes this a tough pick. Indiana played better last week in their win over Northwestern, but that was as much a product of the Wildcats' level of execution as it was anything that the Hoosiers did. Look for the Chippewas to win a game that would have looked much better for the resume early in the season than it does in November.

12:00 PM ET Miami (FL) at Virginia on ESPNU

These two teams are the epitome of how frustrating it is to forecast the ACC on a weekly basis. Just when want to bury Virginia and talk of possible successors to Al Groh they move into first place in the Coastal Division. And just when you want to convince yourself that the Canes are headed back to dominance they go out and remind you that Randy Shannon's team is dominated by freshmen and sophomores. A Virginia win here puts them in great shape to represent the division in Tampa on December 6th. But watch the Hurricanes steal one and throw the division into utter chaos.

12:00 PM ET Air Force at Army on ESPN Classic

The Black Knights have played better of late, winning three of their last four games. And the lone loss was an overtime thriller at Buffalo. And while they'll be fired up for this rivalry game with the Falcons (an Army win would set up a winner-take-all scenario for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy when they play Navy in December), the question is whether or not they've got enough to slow down Troy Calhoun's offense. Air Force wins a close one.

12:00 PM ET Michigan at Purdue on Big Ten Network 

Normally this is a game that ESPN picks up, but the Wolverines and Boilermakers have been that bad this season. Michigan will play hard, but it's a matter of how well they execute on offense. And what helps a bad offense put some points on the board? Turnovers, and the Boilers have been quite generous when it comes to turnovers. But Purdue will still win this game, and Curtis Painter will snap out of it in the process.

12:30 PM ET Auburn at Mississippi on ESPN GamePlan

Tommy Tuberville parlayed his success at Ole Miss into a gig at Auburn, so it's a bit ironic that some folks believe he needs this win to keep his current job. Personally I say no, but I'm not the athletic director who gets paid to make those decisions. Houston Nutt, fresh off of a win at Arkansas, has the Rebels playing hard and together despite the fact that they're .500. Auburn's defense can compete with just about anyone in the SEC, but that offense...Ole Miss wins.

12:40 PM ET Kansas State at Kansas on Fox Sports Net

Usually when you get 63 points hung on you the prevailing feeling is that "someone's going to pay for this". That's why it's not good to be a KSU Wildcat heading into Lawrence this weekend after what Texas Tech did to the Jayhawks last Saturday. Josh Freeman and the Wildcats will score some points, but Todd Reesing and friends will score a lot more.

2:00 PM ET No. 18 Tulsa at Arkansas on ESPN GamePlan

The Golden Hurricane have not seen a team with the level of talent, especially RB Michael Smith, that the Razorbacks will bring to the stadium on Saturday. And they're one of the poorer teams in the SEC. Arkansas has run into two explosive offenses (Texas and Florida) and had their heads handed to them in both games. They don't get blown out here, but QB Daivd Johnson and Tulsa have enough firepower to take down the Hogs.

2:00 PM ET Kent State at Bowling Green

Look for the Falcons to pull out a close one at home.

2:00 PM ET Eastern Michigan at Western Michigan

Western has a shot at the MAC West title. Eastern does not. It's that simple in my book.

2:00 PM ET San Diego State at Wyoming on The Mtn.

The Aztecs showed some fight last week after getting trounced 70-7 by New Mexico two weeks ago. Do they have enough to beat a similarly struggling Wyoming team on the road? No. Cowboys by a field goal.

2:05 PM ET Colorado at Texas A&M

Aggies finally figure out how to win at home this season against a respectable opponent. Colorado, on the other hand, has gone into nosedive mode since that big home win over West Virginia.

2:30 PM ET Kentucky at Mississippi State on ESPN GamePlan

Both teams have struggled on offense, with Kentucky losing two key players in RB Derek Locke and WR Dicky Lyons Jr. to knee injuries. Mississippi State, on the other hand, doesn't have an injury excuse to fall back on...they've been bad. Wildcats win.

2:30 PM ET Fresno State at Louisiana Tech 

What do we honestly make of Fresno State? They should have lost at Utah State last weekend, but a 57-yard field goal as time expired saved them from national humiliation. Now they visit a dangerous Louisiana Tech team that has struggled to find itself in head coach Derek Dooley's second season in charge. Fresno's the pick here, but it wouldn't be a surprise if the Bulldogs pulled off the upset.

2:43 PM ET Pittsburgh at Notre Dame on NBC 

Even when taking into account the quality of recent opponents, you have to admit that QB Jimmy Clausen and the Notre Dame offense have looked better in recent weeks. As for the Panthers, they took that driver's seat in the Big East race and flushed it down the drain in a 54-34 loss to Rutgers. LeSean McCoy is an outstanding back, and he'll have to be if Pitt is to win this game. Pat Bostick gets the nod after Bill Stull was knocked out last week, and that's just enough of an opening for the Irish to win this game. The Panthers at this point are a team that you're better off being wrong for picking against them than watching them underachieve after hearing their praises sung all week.

3:00 PM ET Arkansas State at No. 2 Alabama on ESPN GamePlan

Arkansas State has already won at Texas A&M, but the Crimson Tide are light years ahead of the Aggies. Roll Tide.

3:00 PM ET No. 14 Missouri at Baylor 

Robert Griffin III is good, but this game is going to get ugly. Missouri wins big.

3:00 PM ET Hawaii at Utah State 

The Aggies had their hearts broken last week thanks to a 57-yard field goal at the gun. But don't worry about Hawaii's Dan Kelly doing the honors this week for the Warriors won't need such heroics. Hawaii win by two touchdowns.

3:30 PM ET No. 8 Florida at No. 6 Georgia on CBS

See "Three Games, Two Views" for more info on this one.

3:30 PM ET Iowa State at No. 9 Oklahoma State on ABC

Nebraska put 32 on the board in Ames last week. Oklahoma has a much better offense than Nebraska's. Not good for the Cyclones.

3:30 PM ET No. 15 Florida State at Georgia Tech on ABC

See "Three Games, Two Views" for more information.

3:30 PM ET No. 24 Oregon at California on ABC

While it looks like USC is well on its way to winning yet another Pac-10 title, the winner of this game could be the biggest threat in regards to ending that run. The Ducks were already blown out in Los Angeles, and the Golden Bears get to make that trek in a couple of weeks. Cal has been dealing with quarterback issues, going from Kevin Riley to Nate Longshore and back to Riley due to a level of play not up to head coach Jeff Tedford's standards. But at least they're healthy, for the Ducks have lost three quarterbacks to injury this season. Jeremiah Masoli has played well for Mike Belottti's team, but do they have the balance needed to win this game on the road? No, but they win anyway. Backs Jeremiah Johnson and LaGarrette Blount are pretty good without a consistent passing game.

3:30 PM ET Clemson at Boston College on ESPNU

Boston College has conference games remaining with Florida State, Wake Forest and Maryland. Simply put: they need this game to keep pace in the Atlantic. Clemson, on the other hand, is trying to find some stability period within its program. C.J. Spiller is back, and Cullen Harper will most likely be the guy getting the snaps at QB. But it's hard to see the Tigers banding together and winning this game. BC wins.

3:30 PM ET Duke at Wake Forest 

Duke took some blows the past few weeks, then they won at Vanderbilt last weekend. But this one comes down to how generous the Wake offense is with the football. If they take care of the football they'll win. If not, look for the Blue Devils to pull off the upset. Take Wake Forest.

3:30 PM ET Iowa at Illinois on ABC

Iowa has looked pretty good on offense the past couple of weeks while the Illini didn't get the job done at Wisconsin last weekend. But Illinois will win this game because of QB Juice Williams.

3:30 PM ET Temple at Navy on CBS College Sports 

The Midshipmen win this one due to their ability to put points on the board. It's almost as if Temple's offense, despite the win over Ohio, has regressed as the season has progressed.

4:30 PM ET North Texas at Western Kentucky on ESPN GamePlan

This was supposed to be another game for the Hilltoppers to get used to the caliber of opponent they'll see when they join the Sun Belt in 2009. Then fifteen North Texas players tested positive on a team-wide drug test earlier this week. One of two FBS teams without a win (Washington) remains that way thanks to a WKU victory.

5:00 PM ET Washington State at Stanford 

Stanford wins this one on the strength of their running game. Wazzu is flat-out bad. On another note, has anyone seen the Washington State flag at "College Gameday" sights this year? I haven't seen it, which is a surprise since it's shown up every week for years on that show.

5:00 PM ET San Jose State at Idaho 

The Spartans are a bad offensive team, which could make them ripe for an upset in this one. But I just don't see it happening. SJSU wins.

5:05 PM ET Florida International at Louisiana-Lafayette

This is a big game for both teams. If the Panthers want to entertain any thought of getting back into the Sun Belt race they need this game. But the Ragin' Cajuns are tied with Troy in the loss column and could very well be in that position when they visit the Trojans on November 22nd. Look for Lafayette to win a close game.

6:00 PM ET No. 20 Brigham Young at Colorado State on The Mtn.

UNLV gave BYU a serious scare last week, but I don't see that happening in Fort Collins. Cougars roll.

6:30 PM ET Washington at No. 5 USC on Fox Sports Net

Hopefully Pete Carroll shows the compassion he displayed against Washington State a couple of weeks ago, taking out starters after the first quarter. He won that one 69-0? I'm shaking my head as I think of what will happen in the Coliseum to the Huskies.

7:00 PM ET No. 11 Boise State at New Mexico State on  ESPN GamePlan

The Aggies could be a good upset pick were it not for one minor problem: their defense isn't very good. Chase Holbrook and the offense will put up decent numbers, but the problem is that Kellen Moore and Boise State will put up very good numbers.

7:00 PM ET Louisville at Syracuse on ESPNU 

Easy win for the Cards, right? Not so fast. Syracuse won 38-35 at Louisville last year, marking the beginning of the end for the 2007 Cardinals. They've got revenge on their minds, and there's the question of whether or not Greg Robinson will be back next year, but they'll be without WR Scott Long. That's OK, the Cards roll anyway.

7:00 PM ET Troy at Louisiana-Monroe 

Trojans win on the road and hold onto first place in the Sun Belt.

7:00 PM ET Tennessee at South Carolina on ESPN2

Stephen Garcia has emerged as the man to lead the Gamecock offense. On the other side of the field, the combination of a bad offense and questions about Phil Fulmer's job status could send this season into a freefall for the Volunteers. Add in South Carolina's defense and you have all the makings for a possible shutout.

8:00 PM ET No. 1 Texas at No. 7 Texas Tech on ABC

See "Three Games, Two Views" for more information.

8:00 PM ET Nebraska at No. 4 Oklahoma on ESPN

If you, like me, watched the 2001 game that was aired on ESPN Classic this afternoon, realize this: tomorrow's game will be nowhere near that one. Nebraska can score some points, but the defense has gotten too good at giving them up. And when you have to visit a potent Oklahoma offense, you're going behind the woodshed.

8:00 PM ET No. 13 TCU at UNLV on CBS College Sports

The Rebels may be 0-4 in the Mountain West but don't be fooled: the Horned Frogs could fall should they get caught looking ahead to Utah next Thursday. UNLV will look to run the football to set up the pass, but TCU is the nation's best against the run. TCU wins, but it could be interesting for a while.

8:00 PM ET Tulane at No. 19 LSU on ESPN GamePlan

Angry LSU team + Tulane without it's best offensive player in RB Andre Anderson = serious beating.

8:07 PM ET UAB at Southern Miss 

While the Blazers are about where many thought they'd be when the season began, the Golden Eagles have been one of the nation's bigger disappointments. A trendy pick by some to win the East Division of Conference USA, Southern Miss finds itself alone in the cellar with an 0-4 league record. They desperately need this win, or else fans may wonder what would have been had Jeff Bower not been run out of town essentially for not having an exciting offense. And they'll win this one.

9:05 PM ET Rice at UTEP 

From an offensive standpoint this should be an entertaining contest. But the combo of Chase Clement and Jarrett Dillard will be too much for the Miners.

9:30 PM ET No. 10 Utah at New Mexico on The Mtn.

Of the two road games for the Mountain West leaders (TCU @ UNLV) this may be the more dangerous of the two. New Mexico has the rushing attack needed to milk the clock and keep the ball away fron QB Brian Johnson and the Utah attack. But do they have the ability to put points on the board and keep up with the Utes? No, and that's why Utah survives this one with a late defensive stop.

10:26 PM ET Arizona State at Oregon State on Fox Sports Net 

It's important to win games, but for the Sun Devils this one is a matter of pride more than anything else. Forget the preseason expectations and all that, just go compete. The offensive line has been a wreck and as a result they've got a banged up backfield. Oregon State seems to be hitting their stride at just the right time; they've been a second-half team the past few years anyway. Beavers win, but for ASU fans keep an eye on the psyche of your players. The only thing worse than losing is quitting.


Sunday 8:15 PM ET East Carolina at UCF on ESPN

Just like Arizona State things went downhill in a hurry for the Pirates, but they're still in the running for the Conference USA East title. The same goes for UCF, who with a home win here would vault themselves right into the title chase. Rob Kass and Patrick Pinkney will share time under center for the Pirates, and a formula that worked for them last year will net them a big conference win.