College Football: Saturday Preview

    
September 13th, 2008

Friday night provided a headliner that gave viewers all they wanted and then some as #19 USF recovered from a 20-10 halftime deficit to outlast #13 Kansas 37-34. The game was a tale of two halves, with the Jayhawks neutralizing the USF front four in the first half and Todd Reesing picking apart the Bulls secondary. The third quarter provided a significant change, with the USF lines taking control of the action to head into the final fifteen minutes with a 27-20 lead. Kansas was able to score fourteen unanswered points to even things at 34, and looked on their way to a game-winning field goal attempt with forty seconds remaining. But an interception and return by Nate Allen put USF in position to win the game, which they did thanks to the foot of freshman Maikon Bonani. A big win for Jim Leavitt's program, and just as importantly a big win for the Big East.

The other major news of the night was the declaration by Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel that RB Chris "Beanie" Wells will not play in their showdown against #1 USC tomorrow night. But given the roller coaster nature of injury reports on Wells this week I'm not holding my breath either way. And there were two other games on the docket, with Baylor blowing out Washington State (45-17) and Louisiana-Monroe taking care of Alabama A&M (37-15). Here's the schedule for Saturday along with game previews.

11:00 AM ET Air Force at Houston on CBS College Sports

As a result of Hurricane Ike this game will be played in Dallas at SMU's Ford Stadium, and those who show up should be treated to a game with a lot of scoring. Kevin Sumlin's Cougars are averaging 46 points per game, even though their defense had a tough time slowing down Oklahoma State last week. So they go from a spread to an option, and the Air Force Falcons of Troy Calhoun have one of the nation's best rushing attacks at 347 yards per game thus far. Both teams have to change their routines somewhat for this one, and I'm not expecting a home-field advantage for the Cougars. But Air Force doesn't have the ability to hurt them through the air that Oklahoma State did, do I like Houston in a close one.

12:00 PM ET No. 23 California at Maryland on ESPN 

The explosive Golden Bears travel across the country to take on a Maryland team that has not received consistent play at the quarterback position. In their 24-14 loss to Middle Tennessee last weekend Maryland QB Chris Turner tossed three interceptions, and the Terps' time of possession was 20:11. Didn't get it done against the Blue Raiders, and Cal's a better football team than Middle Tennessee. I like QB Kevin Riley and RB Jahvid Best to have productive days in a Cal victory.

12:00 PM ET Louisiana-Lafayette at No. 24 Illinois on Big Ten Network 

There isn't much to say here. Illinois will win this one, but the question is how much improvement can the defense show in this one. After being shredded by Missouri in the opener, they had trouble at times with Eastern Illinois at home. Let's see if the defense can get things in working order heading into Big Ten play.

12:00 PM ET Florida Atlantic at Michigan State on ESPN2

No bulletin-board material from FAU head coach Howard Schnellenberger, who riled up Texas heading into their season opener in Austin. While the Owls can score some points and make this a tough one for the Spartans, I like Javon Ringer to have a big day running the football. Michigan State defends their home turf.

12:00 PM ET Montana State at Minnesota on Big Ten Network 

Minnesota found a way to lose to North Dakota State last season, but the Gophers are a better team this season and Montana State isn't as good as NDSU was. But just like Illinois, the Golden Gophers need to show improvement on the defensive side of the football, since they were a sieve last year and have a number of newcomers on the unit. Look for Minnesota to win, but they may give up a few points in doing so.

12:00 PM ET Navy at Duke on ESPNU

After dropping a close one to Northwestern last weekend, the Blue Devils will look to get back above .500 in what should be a close contest. The Midshipmen are the first of three consecutive opponents who went to bowl games last season for Duke, and they will give the Devils all they want and then some. The two teams staged a classic last season, with Navy winning on the game's final play 46-43. More than 1,000 yards of offense in the game, and I don't think it's impossible that this game could match those numbers. If Thaddeus Lewis can throw for 429 yards against Navy before David Cutcliffe, could he possibly exceed that number this time around? I like Duke to exact some revenge in winning a close affair.

12:00 PM ET North Carolina State at Clemson on ESPN GamePlan

Neither team has been too impressive in their first two games, with both getting pasted by superior opponents and recovering to beat FCS foes in their second game. Clemson has won the last four meetings in the series, and I'd expect them to make it five. But they'd better be careful, as Cullen Harper goes up against a secondary that currently leads the nation in interceptions (6).

12:00 PM ET Temple at Buffalo on ESPN GamePlan 

The MAC opener for both teams, and the winner will go a long way in cementing themselves as a contender in the East Division. Temple dropped an overtime heartbreaker to Connecticut last weekend, and Buffalo fell to Pittsburgh in a game that was tougher than Pitt bargained for. QB Drew Willy is one of the best in the conference, but he'll have his hands full with a Temple defense led by LB Amara Kamara. Temple leads the MAC in scoring and pass defense, but they're 12th against the run. Overall, the Bulls are the better defensive team in regards to statistics (3rd in the MAC to Temple's 5th) and I like them to win on their home field.

12:00 PM ET Toledo at Eastern Michigan

I don't see either of these teams contending for the MAC West crown, but I like Toledo to end this one in first place with a 1-0 league mark.

12:03 PM ET Southern Illinois at Northwestern on Big Ten Network 

Southern Illinois is a pretty good football program, ranking as one of the FCS level's best last season. But with Jerry Kill moving on to NIU, and a running back by the name of Tyrell Sutton on the other side of the field, I like the Wildcats to take care of business and move to 3-0 on the season.

12:05 PM ET Iowa State at Iowa on Big Ten Network 

In regards to national perception, the Hawkeyes should have little trouble with the Cyclones. But rivalvy games aren't played on paper or by the water cooler, which explains why Kirk Ferentz has had difficulties with ISU in recent years. The Cyclones have won seven of the last ten meetings in the series, meaning that Iowa had better not underestimate Gene Chizik's squad even though they haven't been tested in their two wins. Sophomore Ricky Stanzi gets the start under center for Iowa, who also comes into the game at an untested 2-0. I like the Hawks to regain possession of the Cy-Hawk Trophy (they've won the last two meetings in Iowa City), but they'll have to work hard to get it.

12:30 PM ET UAB at Tennessee on ESPN GamePlan

I like the Vols to take care of business and work out some kinks heading into their showdown with Florida next weekend. But UAB can hang around for a bit if Tennessee looks past them.

12:37 PM ET Nevada at No. 6 Missouri on Fox Sports Net 

Nevada gave Graham Harrell a tough time in their loss to Texas Tech last weekend, but I don't see that happening this weekend. Overall the Tigers have more playmakers on offense than the Red Raiders, and this one is in Columbia. But the Wolf Pack can give the Mizzou defense a hard time with their Pistol offense.

1:00 PM ET Ball State at Akron 

QB Nate Davis cements his status as one of the best quarterbacks, and WR Dante Love shows why he just might be the most versatile player in the MAC in a Ball State road victory.

1:00 PM ET Stanford at TCU on The Mtn.

This one was moved up in anticipation of Hurricane Ike, and it provides the Horned Frogs a good opportunity to knock off an opponent from a BCS conference. I like them to do so, given the uneven play at quarterback for Stanford along with Cardinal WR Richard Sherman heading into this game a little banged up.

1:05 PM ET Missouri State at Oklahoma State 

Pokes roll in this one.

2:00 PM ET Central Michigan at Ohio 

Both teams went on the road for stiff tests last week (Ohio at Ohio State and CMU at Georgia), but the Chippewas are a much better offensive team than the Bobcats. I like Central to begin defense of their MAC crown with a win in Athens (Ohio, not Georgia).

2:00 PM ET Delaware State at Kent State

Tempting FCS over FBS pick here, but I'm going to go with the Golden Flashes. But the game could be a tight one for four quarters.

3:00 PM ET No. 14 East Carolina at Tulane 

When dealing with possible BCS crashers, these are the types of games that trip teams up on their way to glory. Just knocked off a name opponent, now heading on the road to take on an inferior (on paper) foe in a stadium that certainly won't be packed. Remember, if not for some costly breakdowns in the kicking games last weekend the Green Wave could have knocked off Alabama in Tuscaloosa. I like the Pirates to win their Conference USA opener, but I wouldn't be shocked at all if they got off to a sluggish start.

3:00 PM ET Charleston Southern at Miami (OH) 

The second Miami this season for Charleston Southern, but this one isn't as talented as the Hurricane team that blew them out 52-7 in the season opener. I still like the Redhawks to get their first win of the season.

3:00 PM ET North Dakota State at Wyoming  

I get the feeling this is going to be a game that you'll keep an eye on when you see it on the "bottom line" while watching other games. NDSU was one of the nation's best teams at the FCS level last season, with their newcomer status preventing them from competing for the national title. And they were able to knock off Minnesota on the road last season. The Cowboys were handled with ease by Air Force at home last weekend, and you have to wonder if they're in more trouble this week with a Bison team ranked either 1st or 2nd in the latest FCS polls visting this week. I'll pick the Cowboys to win a close one, but I'm not completely confident in that selection.

3:30 PM ET No. 16 Oregon at Purdue on ABC 

Lots of points to be had here, but the Oregon defense could be one of the Pac-10's best units right now. Neither team has had much trouble putting up points so far, but they haven't been tested either. The question will be how does the Purdue secondary match up with Oregon's wide receivers, and the front four has two different types of running back to deal with in Jeremiah Johnson and LaGarrette Blount. Curtis Painter is one of Purdue's most prolific quarterbacks ever, and head coach Joe Tiller becomes the school'd winningest coach with a win over the Ducks. But I don't see that record falling this week as Oregon wins a big one on the road.

3:30 PM ET No. 17 Penn State at Syracuse on ABC

The release of a movie on the life of Syracuse great Ernie Davis is about all that Orange fans have to look forward to. Just hope that Syracuse doesn't get embarassed, but receivers the quality of Penn State's unit combined with a fast track means bad news for the Syracuse defense.

3:30 PM ET UCLA at No. 18 Brigham Young on Versus 

BYU has been in the papers all week thanks to how their game at Washington ended, and you have to wonder if people expect the Cougars to apologize for winning the game. It wasn't their fault the penalty was called, and they weren't the ones who allowed four guys through the line to block the extra point either. So expect them to be duly motivated to put on a show at home. As for the Bruins, which Kevin Craft will we see: the one who threw four picks in the first half of their opener against Tennessee, or the quarterback who led the team back to win the game? It's a rubber match of sorts, with this being the third meeting between the schools in less than a year, and I like BYU to win the game at home.

3:30 PM ET Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech on ABC

Tyrod Taylor is back on the field at Virginia Tech, and he led the Hokies in rushing last weekend in their win over Furman. But they still struggled on offense against the Paladins. Georgia Tech has a much better defense than the one Virginia Tech saw last weekend, and Paul Johnson's offensive system has done well in his first two games in Atlanta. When this one is over, we'll have a favorite in the ACC Coastal Division: Georgia Tech. 

3:35 PM ET No. 2 Georgia at South Carolina on CBS 

On paper the Bulldogs should beat the Gamecocks like they stole something. But as I noted earlier, rivalry games aren't played on paper. In Georgia's seven games against South Carolina under Mark Richt, five have been decided by six points or less. So even though Steve Spurrier is still searching for an answer under center (Stephen Garcia is also expected to see some reps Saturday), look for their defense to keep them in the game. But I like the Dawgs to kick off SEC play with a win, primarily due to the fact that they have a surefire answer at quarterback in Matthew Stafford. And that Knowshon Moreno guy isn't too bad either.

3:43 PM ET Michigan at Notre Dame NBC 

These two programs have fallen on hard times of late, but that shouldn't take much of the luster off of this storied series. Notre Dame will also unveil a statue in honor of former head coach Lou Holtz with this being the 20th anniversary of their last national title. Neither team looked great on offense last week, but the important thing is that they both won. Even with all the emotion surrounding this game, I like Michigan to ruin things and win in South Bend. Their defense is much better than the San Diego State unit they faced last weekend.

3:45 PM ET Chattanooga at Florida State on ESPNU 

Game Two of Florida State's "survive the suspensions" tour, and they're going to hang a serious beating on Chattanooga.

4:07 PM ET Hawaii at Oregon State 

Tyler Graunke lit up Weber State in the second half to lead the Warriors to a come from behind win in their home opener. Now it's back to the mainland to take on an Oregon State team that was pasted at Penn State last weekend. Lyle Moevao has been inconsistent under center for the Beavers, but does Hawaii have enough on defense to make sure that carries over to a third week? Maybe. But I like OSU to get their first win of the season in a close one.

5:00 PM ET Western Michigan at Idaho 

Even though the Vandals won last week, I still think they're one of the worst teams in college football. I like Western to win on the road.

7:00 PM ET No. 9 Auburn at Mississippi State on ESPN2 

Payback time for the Tigers? It could be, given how little the Bulldogs have done through the air in their first two games of the season. But Auburn turned the ball over four times in their win over Southern Miss last weekend, something they can't afford to do in Starkville. Last year, Mississippi State forced five turnovers in their upset win at Jordan-Hare. I like Auburn to win this one, but look for the game to be an absolute slugfest.

7:00 PM ET Western Kentucky at No. 11 Alabama on ESPN GamePlan

The Crimson Tide should be more focused than they were in last week's home opener against Tulane, where they looked as if they spent the entire week of preparation reading about how good they were following the whipping of Clemson. A few words of advice for the Hilltoppers: DO NOT KICK THE BALL TO JAVIER ARENAS. The Tide will roll in this one.

7:00 PM ET Southern Methodist at No. 12 Texas Tech 

Both coaches will have their quarterbacks put the ball in the air early and often. But Graham Harrell is a senior and Bo Levi Mitchell a freshman. Red Raiders will roll, with Harrell bouncing back from last week's uncharacteristically poor performance.

7:00 PM ET Middle Tennessee at Kentucky on ESPN GamePlan

Middle Tennesse knocked off Maryland last weekend, but Kentucky is better on both sides of the ball than the Terrapins. Plus they're at home, so look for the Wildcats to move to 3-0.

7:00 PM ET Samford at Mississippi

Houston Nutt's Rebels should have little trouble recovering from last week's tough loss at Wake Forest.

7:00 PM ET New Mexico State at Nebraska 

Had this game been played last season I'd expect New Mexico State QB Chase Holbrook to hang some serious numbers on the Nebraska defense. But this is a new unit, despite the fact they really haven't been tested. Look for the Huskers to move to 3-0 under Bo Pelini.

7:00 PM ET Rice at Vanderbilt

One of these teams is going to be 3-0 when this game ends, and I don't think many people expected that to be the case when the season began. But I like Vanderbilt from two reasons: the game's in Nashville, and their defense is pretty doggone good. Nagurski Defensive Player of the Week Patrick Benoist leads a unit that leads the SEC in interceptions and is tied with Florida for the lead in sacks. Rice has a nice pitch and catch combo in QB Chase Clement and WR Jarrett Dillard, but I don't know if they have enough to pull out a win on the road. Vandy by a field goal.

7:00 PM ET Memphis at Marshall 

A game that Memphis should win if they want to entertain any thoughts about competing for the East Division crown in C-USA, but going to Huntington, WV is a tough chore for anyone. I like Marshall in a mild upset.

7:00 PM ET Southern Miss at Arkansas State

Southern Miss was able to move the ball last week at Auburn, but they were unable to finish drives. Arkansas State owns a win at Texas A&M this season and is more than capable of knocking off the Eagles. But I like Larry Fedora's bunch to get the job done on the road.

7:00 PM ET Alcorn State at Troy 

Trojans win this one.

7:30 PM ET Virginia at Connecticut on ESPNU

Last year's game in Charlottesville was close, with the Cavaliers winning 17-16. But their lone signal caller with game experience (Peter Lalich) was left home to take care of some legal issues, and the offense hasn't looked pretty in either of their two games thus far. Enter sophomore QB Marc Verica, who gets the start against one of the better defenses Virginia will face all year. But the Huskies aren't exactly spectacular through the air either, but they do have Donald Brown and Andre Dixon to run the football. Virginia will counter with Cedric Peerman and Mikell Simpson. Whoever can get something (anything!) from the passing game will most likely win. And with a sellout crowd behind them, I like the Huskies to win a game closer than many expect it to be. 

7:45 PM ET No. 3 Oklahoma at Washington on ESPN 

After last weekend some would probably feel that it would be justice for the Huskies to upset the Sooners. But the level of talent that the Sooners possess make that a moot point. But the Sooners would be well-served to blow this one open early, as they and their fans should have a clear memory of their last trip into Pac-10 territory (another case of highway robbery). Boomer Sooner.

8:00 PM ET No. 5 Ohio State at No. 1 USC on ABC

The game that America's been waiting for since fall camp began is here, but Ohio State will be without their workhorse running back in Chris Wells. The load now falls upon the shoulders of Brandon Saine, Dan Herron and Maurice Wells with a little Terrelle Pryor sprinkled in. USC has "The Stable" at running back, and Mark Sanchez looked quite impressive in their win at Virginia two weeks ago. Also on display will be four of the best linebackers in the nation (OSU's James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman; USC's Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing), all of whom should be first round selections in April's NFL Draft. But it seems as if people think this game is but a formality for the Trojans, citing Ohio State's last two national title game appearances.

But I ask this: since when has the Buckeye program been solely about one player? Yes they've had more than enough stars, but it's been a long time since you could easily dismiss Ohio State due to the loss of one player. I'm not saying that Ohio State will pull the upset; I'm just saying that the 10.5 point spread is a little high when you consider the power of the underdog.

8:00 PM ET North Texas at No. 7 LSU on ESPN GamePlan

One of the best teams in the SEC against a team hoping to move into the middle of the Sun Belt. Should be an easy day at the office for the Bayou Bengals.

8:00 PM ET No. 22 Utah at Utah State on ESPN GamePlan

I guess this would qualify as a rivalry game, but the Aggies aren't very good. Utah needs to start better than they did against UNLV last week, when they allowed a clearly inferior team to jump on them before waking up and taking care of business in the second half. It would be best to get QB Brian Johnson some rest, since he has shown the ability to get banged up during his career.

8:00 PM ET San Diego State at San Jose State 

This could be a close game, but I think the San Jose State corners (Christopher Owens and Coye Francies) can pick off a couple of Aztec passes in leading the Spartans to a victory.

8:00 PM ET Bowling Green at Boise State on ESPN GamePlan

Another game that could end in a high score, but I don't like Bowling Green to leave with a win like they did in their opener at Pitt. Call it the power of the "smurf turf", unless you have another explanation for how good the Broncos are at home (read: talented players).

8:00 PM ET Arizona at New Mexico on CBS College Sports 

The Wildcats haven't been tested in either of their first two games, and they may be in Albuquerque. But then the second half will begin, and the Lobos don't have the offensive firepower to keep up for four quarters.

10:07 PM ET UNLV at No. 15 Arizona State 

Final tune-up for the Sun Devils before they host Georgia next weekend, and they should have little trouble with the Rebels.

10:30 PM ET No. 10 Wisconsin at No. 21 Fresno State on ESPN2

FSU head coach Pat Hill called this one the biggest game in the history of the city, and he's right since this is the highest-ranked opponent to visit the Bulldogs. Give Wisconsin credit for even taking this game, as it would have been much easier to host a MAC school and rake in some more dollars from gate receipts. Both teams like to hammer opponents with the run, making this game the ultimate test of toughness in the trenches. And two of the nation's best tight ends could be on display: Wisconsin's Travis Beckum and Fresno State's Bear Pascoe. Beckum missed the first two games of the season due to a hamstring injury.

The Badgers will have to handle the early storm, with a raucous crowd looking for the upset. And with backs P.J. Hill, Zach Brown and John Clay Bret Bielema will have three weapons from which to choose in quieting the hostile locals. But even after the intial wave, don't expect a Fresno State program that's taken on all comers in the Pat Hill era to back down from the Badgers.. If Allan Evridge can throw the ball as well as he did against Marshall last week (17-26 for 308 yards and a score), Wisconsin can win. But if they become one-dimensional, they're in trouble. I like the Bulldogs in a close one, but don't jump on Wisconsin's case should they lose. More BCS teams should take on games like this.