Saturday Football News and Notes

Saturday Football News and Notes

Alabama vs. Clemson
By Brian Edwards

For a season opener, it doesn’t get much better than what we’ll get Saturday night at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. We have an ACC-SEC matchup on a neutral field in what promises to be a raucous environment.

We have Alabama entering the second season of the Nick Saban Era, matched up against a Clemson team that’s undoubtedly the most talented of Tommy Bowden’s 10-year tenure.

We have the debut of wide receiver Julio Jones, ‘Bama’s most decorated recruit of the last decade. We also have the debut of defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, who might be Clemson’s best recruiting catch ever.

This showdown falls in the prime-time slot, meaning fans have all day to enjoy bets, ballgames and most importantly – Budweisers. Even better, beer will be served in the stadium during the first half to make an already hostile crowd even more electric.

Need more? No problem.

This game will be the tone-setter for both teams’ respective seasons. The winner will most likely cruise to a 4-0 start and be in the top 10 come late September.

For the loser, there’s a check in the ‘L’ column before the end of August. If that loser is Alabama, Saban’s record would fall to a mediocre 7-7 since he bolted South Florida for the fattest contract a college football coach has ever signed.

If Clemson goes down, you know Bowden will come under heavy scrutiny just like he seemingly does each and every year. He has endured the ‘can’t-win-the-big-one’ stigma for years, and a loss to the Tide would only strengthen that notion.

The Tigers finished 9-4 straight up and 6-6 against the spread in 2007. They return eight starters apiece on both offense and defense.

Clemson has one of the nation’s best set of skill players. Senior QB Cullen Harper completed 65.1 percent of his passes for 2,991 yards last year. He had an outstanding 27/6 touchdown-interception ratio.

Harper’s two favorite targets – seniors Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham – are both back. Kelly garnered first-team All-ACC honors after hauling in 88 receptions for 1,081 yards and 11 TDs in ’07. Grisham had 66 catches for 653 yards and four TDs.

Clemson’s aerial attack is strong, but the running game is even more lethal. The Tigers have the country’s best 1-2 punch of running backs in James Davis and C.J. Spiller, who are also known as ‘Thunder and Lightning.’

Davis bypassed the NFL Draft to return for his senior year. He is already the school’s second all-time leading rusher with 3,130 yards. Davis needs 837 more rushing yards to overtake Raymond Priester as the program’s all-time leader.

Davis is the ‘Thunder’ in the ground game and Spiller provides the ‘Lightning.’ While Davis is more of a between-the-tackles bruiser, Spiller can take it to the house on any given touch. The junior RB averaged 5.3 yards per carry in ’07.

Alabama (7-6 SU, 3-8-1 ATS) had eventual national-champ LSU on the ropes last year, only to allow a seven-point lead to get away at crunch time. That led to a four-game losing streak to close the regular season.

The Crimson Tide bounced back with a 30-24 win over Colorado at the Independence Bowl to stop the bleeding. A month later, they got a huge boost when Saban brought in the country’s No. 1 recruiting class.

Jones, who has a Randy-Moss-like frame, was the highlight of the class. He arrives at the perfect time since ‘Bama lost its three top wideouts – D.J. Hall, Keith Brown and Matt Caddell.

Jones has been turning heads since arriving in Tuscaloosa, making plays galore in Alabama’s pre-season scrimmages. Not only will he start, but he will be John Parker Wilson’s favorite target from the get-go.

Speaking of Wilson, I’ve been saying all summer that I think he’s poised to have a stellar senior year. He has had his ups (41-17 win vs. Tennessee) and downs (17-12 loss at Mississippi St.) since replacing Brodie Croyle, but it’s understandably difficult for ‘Bama fans to look beyond his 13-13 record in 26 starts.

That’s mediocre by most standards, especially those set at Alabama. Therefore, Wilson has a lot to prove to his own fan base. I say it happens in 2008.

Before Las Vegas Sports Consultants released its opening lines, I thought we would see Clemson as a three-point favorite. But LVSC sent the number out at five. Since then, we’ve a seen a bunch of books go up to 5 ½, while others have gone down to 4 ½ this week. As of Thursday night, most spots had Clemson favored by five.

The total opened at 46 this week. After an initial surge into the 47-48 range, most spots have settled at 46 or 46½. ‘Bama is plus 170 on the money line (risk $100 to win $170).

Since Dennis Franchione left Alabama, this team has struggled mightily for our purposes. In fact, the Tide has an abysmal 23-35-3 spread record since 2003. They went 0-2 ATS in a pair of underdog roles last year.

Clemson was 5-6 ATS in 11 games as a favorite in ’07. The Tigers played at the Georgia Dome in the post-season, losing a 23-20 decision to Auburn in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

ABC will provide television coverage Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

--Clemson owns a 32-1 record when rushing for 200 yards or more under Bowden.

--Alabama has won 11 of 14 head-to-head meetings against Clemson, but these schools haven’t played each other since 1975.

--Saban won’t have a walk-through practice at the Georgia Dome. Here’s why.

--Clemson’s defensive coordinator Vic Koenning caused quite a stir with a few comments earlier this week, but we feel like it’s a non-story. Here’s the scoop if you didn’t hear about it.

--Although tickets have been split 50/50, it says here that the Alabama contingent will have at least a 60/40 advantage.

--Whether it’s relevant or not is debatable, but we’ll nonetheless point out that ‘Bama lost 21-14 to FSU last year in a similar neutral-field game in Jacksonville.

--Is it just me, or has Hannah Storm only gotten better with age?

--For more Week 1 Nuggets, check out my blog page and feel free to add that page to your favorites.

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Games to Watch Saturday - Week 1
By Chris David

Hawaii at Florida

Skinny

The Gators and reigning Heisman-winning quarterback Tim Tebow open the season with a test against WAC powerhouse Hawaii. Florida's attack posted 42.5 PPG last season and is expected to be better. However, the defense should determine how far head coach Urban Meyer and company go. Week 1 will be a good test for the unit, especially against a pass-happy opponent. Unfortunately for the Warriors, gone are QB Colt Brennan, all of his sure-handed wide receivers and more importantly coach June Jones (SMU). Until the QB position is solidified, new head coach Greg McMackin should experience some growing pains.   

Gambling Notes
Based on the number (35, 70) in this matchup, the oddsmakers are expecting a Florida victory by a margin of 53-17. Last year, the Gators only won three of their nine victories by more than the current spread. Possible look-ahead spot for UF, with a battle on tap next week versus Miami, Fl. in the Swamp. Florida has faced WAC schools on five occasions, going 5-0 with a winning margin if 43 PPG. The Warriors are 3-7 all-time versus the SEC, including a humbling 41-10 loss to Georgia in last year's Sugar Bowl.


Southern California at Virginia
   
Skinny

Third-ranked Southern California kicks off its season with a trip to the East Coast against Virginia. Once again, head coach Pete Carroll and the Trojans are reloading rather than rebuilding. On paper, the defense led by LBs Ray Maualuga and Brian Cushing is ahead of the offense, but that can all change if QB Mark Sanchez rises to the occasion. Virginia closed the 2007 season with a solid 9-4 mark, but six of the victories came by five points or less. UVA's lucky streak ran out in the Gator Bowl when they blew a 17-point lead in a 31-28 loss to Texas Tech. Those kind of setbacks could be a sign of things to come this year, especially when the Cavs can't match the talent level on the other sideline.   

Gambling Notes
This matchup is the first meeting between the two schools. Al Groh has gone 6-1 SU in his seven home openers at UVA. The Cavaliers have been solid as a home 'dog under Groh, posting a 14-4 ATS mark including 4-1 the past two seasons. USC isn't afraid to play on the road, evidenced by its schedule that has included six-road games the past four seasons. In the last three road openers under Carroll, USC has blasted Nebraska (49-31), Arkansas (50-14), Hawaii (63-17). The Trojans have seen the 'under' go 3-0 in their last three contests against ACC schools.


Illinois vs. Missouri
   
Skinny

The "Arch Rivalry" continues in Week 1 from Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, MO where Illinois and Missouri meet in a battle of Top-25 teams. The Tigers' offense is led by QB Chase Daniel, WR Jeremy Maclin and TE Chase Coffman. The defense doesn't get much press in Columbia, but the team did hold Arkansas to 7 points in last season's Cotton Bowl and is arguably the best unit in head coach Gary Pinkel's tenure. Reports out of Champaign have said that Illinois quarterback Juice Williams has become a much better passer this offseason. If that's the case, then the Illini might not miss last year's best running back in the Big Ten Rashard Mendenhall. Illini head coach Ron Zook has been known to pull off big wins, similar to last year's upset against No. 1 Ohio State. Capturing this opener would certainly be in the same category.   

Gambling Notes
Missouri owns the all-time series (14-7) against Illinois, including a 40-34 victory last year. The Tigers held a 37-13 lead midway through the third quarter before the Illini ripped off 24 straight points. Daniel passed for 359 yards and 3 TDs in the victory. The 74 points easily jumped 'over' the closing total of 58 points. Illinois was 2-3 last year when listed as an underdog, with two of the losses coming on neutral fields.

   
Alabama vs. Clemson

Skinny

The Georgia Dome welcomes a classic SEC-ACC showdown between the Crimson Tide and Tigers. Clemson comes in as the favorite to win the ACC, while hopes are high in Tuscaloosa as well behind head coach Nick Saban. Clemson returns a dangerous duo of running backs in James Davis and C.J. Spiller. Quarterback Cullen Harper has proven to be accurate (65%) and he returns all of his top wide receivers. The defense gave up 18.7 PPG last year and brings back eight starters. Alabama counters with a solid quarterback of its own in John Parker Wilson (2,846 yards, 18 TDS) plus a potential superstar in freshman wide out Julio Jones.   

Gambling Notes
This is the first meeting since 1975, when 'Bama blanked Clemson 56-0. Alabama has won 11 straight in the head-to-head series and owns an all-time mark of 11-3. Clemson is 4-0 both SU and ATS in its last four openers under Tommy Bowden. 'Bama is 0-3 ATS in its last three battles against ACC schools, including a 21-14 setback to Florida State last year. Clemson hasn't fared much better against the SEC, going 2-3 SU and 1-4 ATS in its last five meetings versus the powerhouse conference. Against similar foes (SEC), the Tigers have watched the 'under' 6-1 in the previous seven encounters.


Tennessee at UCLA

Skinny

The Volunteers should be prepared for this West Coast trip, considering the team was blasted by Cal 45-31 last year in Week 1 from Berkley. Fortunately, UT won't be facing an explosive attack when they meet UCLA in this year's opener. The Volunteers boast a strong offensive line, which means they'll be handing the ball off a lot to running back Arian Foster (1,231 yards). The Bruins begin the Rick Neuheisel era and not only do they face a ranked team, but they're banged up as well. Junior QB Kevin Craft gets the start and news out of camp hasn't been good, yet he is being taught by offensive genius Norm Chow.   

Gambling Notes
Despite the loss last year to Cal, UT had won its three previous meetings against the Pac 10. The Vols are 12-2 in their last 14 season openers, but both losses came to Pac 10 opponents. UCLA has been a solid play in home openers, going 3-0 SU and ATS in its last three, plus all three came by double digits. The Bruins haven't faced a Pac 10 opponent since 2001, but are 3-1 ATS in the last four matchups. UCLA is 5-0 in its last five games as a home underdog over the past two seasons


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The Arch Rivalry
By Judd Hall

Last year was one of the wildest seasons in college football that I can remember. I guess we could say that for any year that starts with an FCS program beating a traditional power on the road and ends with a two-loss team winning the national championship.

As unpredictable as the year was, we did get one matchup in the first weekend that gave us a glimpse into a pair of teams that would do well.

Missouri came into 2007 as a darkhorse in the Big XII race, while Illinois was looked at as a club that was up and coming in the Big Ten.

These two clubs combined for 74 points and a game that was up for grabs into the final minutes of the game. Yet this game was more of an anomaly than you’d think after looking closer.

Mizzou came into the game as a 5 ½-point favorite at the Edward Jones Dome with the total coming in at 58. And the Tigers didn’t disappoint as Chase Daniel lit up the sky by connecting on 37 of 54 passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns in the 40-34 victory. They were also able to move the chains, converting on eight of 19 third downs.

The Tigers were able to do everything the really wanted to do, but they couldn’t account for Eddie McGee.

Illinois’ backup quarterback entered in the second quarter for Juice Williams, who was knocked out by a shot to the head. And McGee went on a tear, guiding the Fighting Illini to 21 unanswered points. He completed 17 of 31 passes for 257 yards with a touchdown and two picks. The second of those picks coming on the Missouri one-yard line with just 51 seconds left in regulation.

Fast forward to 2008 and we see both sides take to the field once again in St. Louis. And once again Missouri is listed as an 8½-point “chalk” with the total coming in at 59½. Gamblers can take a chance on the Illini to win outright for a return of plus 330 (risk $100 to win $330).

As tempting as it might be to take Illinois on any level, you may want to reconsider.

Williams will be back under center, but he won’t have the same stable of receivers this time around. Gone is Rashard Mendenhall and Jacob Willis, replaced by Daniel Dufrene and Arrelious Benn. While Benn was the top receiver for Illinois, there weren’t many options for him to score (only two touchdowns last year). It is hard to think that Ron Zook will have found a way to make Williams a better passer this season, especially after throwing almost as many interceptions as he did touchdowns (12 to 13).

Illinois will also be in a tough spot at running back with Dufrene taking over the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. Not because of his speed, there is plenty of that to go around. Dufrene does not seem willing to run between the tackles for the tough yards. Especially against a Tigers’ defense that allowed just 118.8 yards per game and 81 first downs on the ground in all of 2007.

As far as the Missouri offense goes, Daniel will still be the man under center. He’ll also have Jeremy Maclin to pass/hand off to this year. Maclin led the team in total touchdowns at 13 and was the top receiver, snaring 80 passes for 1,055 yards. It could be a banner day for this duo considering that the Illini gave up 240.9 YPG through the air last season. And Illinois is return just half of its secondary this season.

The Tigers have held control of this series for a while as evidenced by their 5-2 record SU while going 6-1 ATS since 1991. Plus, Gary Pinkel has done well in Week 1 for Mizzou, going 6-1 SU and 4-2 ATS in season openers.

ESPN will be broadcasting this game nationally, starting at 8:30 pm EDT.

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Rivalry Openers
By Judd Hall

Intrastate rivalries are just one piece of what makes college football great. As the first weekend of the season winds down, we get to see bragging rights for the year awarded in Colorado and Kentucky.

Who will get to puff out their chests? Let’s break down the games…

Kentucky at Louisville

The “Battle for the Bluegrass” has been synonymous with Kentucky and Louisville basketball. All that has changed over the past few seasons as these schools have pieced together quality programs on the gridiron.

The Cardinals and Wildcats have played at the highest levels at the same time in the past few seasons. Louisville taking the 2006 matchup en route to a Orange Bowl berth, while UK came out the victors last season to help make 2007 one of its more memorable campaigns.

As heated as the rivalry has become, this year’s chapter shows two clubs that will be down. Louisville is welcoming back 11 starters from last season, while Kentucky has 14 first-stringers coming back to Lexington.

Perhaps the new blood is why the sportsbooks have opened up with the Cards as 3 ½-point home favorites with the total holding steady at 56 ½. Bettors can back the Wildcats to win outright for a plus 145 return (risk $100 to win $145).

Louisville appears to have the advantage on offense here thanks to the man under center, Hunter Cantwell. The Paducah, KY native has been chomping at the bit to take over the Cardinals’ offense. He completed 64.3 percent of his passes last year for 700 yards and five touchdowns. Not great numbers, but his 3-1 record as a starter is nothing to toss away lightly.

What might take its toll on Cantwell and the Cardinals’ offense is the Kentucky defense. The Wildcats are bringing back eight starters on the defensive unit. Unfortunately, they have just one starter back on a secondary that gave up 23 passing touchdowns in 2007.

The Wildcats will be starting the season with sophomore Mike Hartline at quarterback after Curtis Pulley was kicked off the team. This normally would sound like a drop off in talent since UK was blessed by Andre Woodson last year. Hartline should be okay with the front line making sure he stays upright to connect with lone returning wideout, Dicky Lyons Jr.

Home teams have been positive bets for the public in this series as evidenced by the 3-1 SU and 4-0 ATS record they posted in the last four meetings. Meanwhile, the ‘under’ has gone 3-1 in that stretch as well.

Louisville is 7-1 SU and 5-2 ATS in home openers since 2000.

This matchup will be shown on ESPN at 3:30 pm EDT.

Colorado vs. Colorado State, in Denver

When you watched the Rams and Buffaloes face off in Denver over the past few years, you expected a great game. I guess that was destined to change eventually…like this season.

Gone from Colorado State’s sideline is Sonny Lubick, who did nothing short than bring respectability to the program in 15 seasons. Enter alum Steve Fairchild to take over the team, along with a rebuilt staff.

Fairchild will have a decent offense coming back, with seven starters returning. Although, he’s going to need new signal caller Billy Farris to prove he can be the leader they need to have any chance at going bowling in 2008.

Farris’ debut will no doubt be a bumpy one as he faces a stout Colorado defense. The Buffs were able to pick off 17 passes last season, while allowing 261.8 yards per game through the air. And those numbers are bound to improve with nine starters back from that unit.

Knowing that info makes it easy to under stand why Colorado is an 11 ½-point favorite with a total of 57. A line that large means you can take a flier on the Rams to win SU at plus 360 (risk $100 to win $360).

It also doesn’t help when the Buffaloes are 4-1 SU and 2-3 ATS in the last five meetings of these rivals.

Fox Sports Net will be showing this battle at 7:30 pm EDT.

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TheSpread.com NCAAF Picks and Predictions

College Football is back with a full slate of games for Saturday, August 30. Our writers and handicappers chose six games and give their picks for each one.

Akron at Wisconsin, 12:00pm ET

With another new quarterback at the helm and a difficult Big Ten schedule ahead, there are questions about whether Wisconsin will be able to contend for its first league title since 1999.

What seems almost certain, however, is that the 13th-ranked Badgers will be tough to stop on the ground.

Anchored by a powerful running game and veteran offensive line, Wisconsin will look to remain unbeaten at Camp Randall Stadium under coach Bret Bielema when it begins its season against Akron on Saturday.

The Badgers are 25-1 at home since 2004, the second-best such record over that span behind defending national champion LSU. They've also won 10 straight season openers and 16 in a row in the regular season against non-conference opponents.

Akron (4-8) went 1-6 on the road last year, including a pair of losses to Big Ten opponents. The Zips played at Ohio State on Sept. 8, trailing 3-2 at halftime before fading in a 20-2 defeat.

Pick: Wisconsin


Hawaii at Florida, 12:30pm ET

Led by reigning Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, Florida should again boast one of the top offenses in the nation. On defense, though, the Gators likely need some major improvement to have any chance of making the BCS title game.

Fifth-ranked Florida hopes its defense can catch up with its high-powered offense and give a strong effort in Saturday's season opener against Hawaii.

After winning the national championship in 2006, Florida was a bit of a disappointment last season. The Gators went 9-4 and ended the year with a 41-35 defeat to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl - a loss that still haunts their defensive players after they allowed the Wolverines to score twice in the final six minutes.

Florida was third in the nation in scoring (42.5) last season, and Tebow is coming off arguably the best offensive season by any player in college football history.

The Warriors won their first 12 games last season to receive a berth in the Sugar Bowl against Georgia, but they were completely dominated and lost 41-10.

Pick: Hawaii


USC at Virginia, 3:30pm ET

For a Southern California team that has set an NCAA record with six straight 11-win seasons with a top four finish in the final AP poll, it might be easy to look past the season opener to its next game - against the second-ranked team in the country.

In his seven years at the helm, coach Pete Carroll has managed to help the team avoid such oversights.

The third-ranked Trojans look to take their first step toward extending their dominance Saturday when they open the 2008 season by visiting Virginia.

While a lack of experience on offense could be a concern, the Trojans appear to be as loaded as ever defensively. Linebackers Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing - the Rose Bowl defensive MVPs from the last two seasons - opted against the NFL draft to return for their senior seasons, prompting linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. to call his current group "no doubt the best I've had."

"I'm sure everybody's confident on the defensive side that we're going to be somebody," Maualuga said.

Cushing sprained his left wrist a couple of weeks ago, and was wearing a wrap Monday, but doesn't expect to miss the opener.

"I'm playing. I'm practicing every day," he said. "I'm ready to go."

The Trojans could certainly use him against a Virginia team coming off its first nine-win season since 2002. The Cavaliers were ranked 21st before a 31-28 loss to Texas Tech in the Gator Bowl knocked them out of the Top 25, but enter this year unranked with only 10 starters returning - their fewest since 1986.

Pick: Virginia


Illinois at Missouri, 8:30pm ET

After one of the best seasons in school history, Missouri has its sights set even higher in 2008.

Illinois, meanwhile, was one of the big surprises in college football last season, and coach Ron Zook believes his team could be better this year.

Both programs will get an early test and find out right away just how good they are when the sixth-ranked Tigers meet the 20th-ranked Fighting Illini Saturday at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

Led by Heisman Trophy finalist Chase Daniels, Missouri finished with 12 wins and a No. 4 ranking in the final AP poll last season, both highs for a school that is usually overshadowed in the Big 12 by Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska. The only two losses for the Tigers last season both came at the hands of the Sooners, and Missouri's 38-17 loss in the Big 12 championship game knocked it out of contention for a BCS bowl and national title.

The Illini allowed the fifth-most yards in the Big Ten (376.8 per game) and was fifth in the league in scoring (21.8) last year, but Zook believes the defense will be one of the strengths of the team this season.

Pick: Missouri


Alabama at Clemson, 8:00pm ET

Clemson has earned the reputation of an underachiever in Tommy Bowden's nine seasons on the sidelines, routinely landing in second-tier bowl games despite possessing some routinely impressive talent.

It'll only get worse if Bowden's team can't win the ACC in 2008, when they'll be preseason favorites for the first time in his tenure.

The No. 9 Tigers won't have to wait to get their first major test, as they open the season Saturday in Atlanta against 24th-ranked Alabama, which is looking for improvement in Nick Saban's second season.

Clemson (9-4) started 8-0 in 2000, Bowden's second year at the helm, before losing three of its final four, including a blowout loss in the Gator Bowl. In 2006, the Tigers got off to a 7-1 start before losing four of their final five games.

Alabama (7-6) should give the Tigers a solid test. Though the Crimson Tide lost six games last season, they didn't lose by more than a touchdown, and with one of the nation's top recruiting classes, much improvement is expected.

Two of those star recruits are Julio Jones and B.J. Scott, who should give a much-needed injection of talent to a receiving corps that lost its top three players from 2007.

Pick: Alabama


Washington at Oregon, 10:00pm ET

Heading into the 2008 season, Oregon already faced a challenge in trying to replace quarterback Dennis Dixon and running back Jonathan Stewart. This year's projected starting signal-caller being out for the season just makes things more difficult for the Ducks.

The 21st-ranked Ducks will look to sophomore quarterback Justin Roper to lead them to a victory when they open their season against Pac-10 rival Washington on Saturday in Eugene.

Oregon returns six starters from an offense that averaged 467.5 yards per game en route to a 9-4 record last season, including 5-4 in conference play. Max Unger is considered one of the top centers in the nation, and receiver Jaison Williams - a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist in 2006 - and tailback Jeremiah Johnson will be featured players in coordinator Chip Kelly's offense.

"I think we're a great football team, if we don't beat ourselves there are very few teams out there that can beat us," coach Mike Bellotti told Oregon's official Web site.

While Bellotti hopes Washington is one of those teams that can't beat his Ducks, Huskies coach Tyrone Willingham needs all the wins he can get.

Washington went 4-9 overall and 2-7 in the Pac-10 last season to fall to 11-25 in three seasons under Willingham, whose job is rumored to be in jeopardy if the Huskies stumble again this year.

Pick: Oregon

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INDIAN COWBOY'S NCAAF RESEARCH

Big 12

Arkansas State vs. Texas A&M


Texas A&M returns the fewest players back in the conference from last year with 11, 4 on offense, 6 on defense and 1 on special teams. This Arkansas State team is forced with returning their entire secondary but do return 17 players to their benefit and signed a big recruiting class for their standards. Remember, this is the same team that beat SMU and Memphis and barely lost to New Orleans Bowl FAU as well as Texas by a handful of points. So, this team does have some talent. Of course, having an entire new secondary doesn't necessary help. The team also features sound kickoff returners and the 22nd punt returner in the nation from last year. Mike Sherman is looking forward to bringing back a "smash mouth football attitude" back to Texas A&M as the team returns 6 starters on both sides of the ball. It's always tough to go against a coach in his first game with a new ballclub, having said that, this is a game that Arkansas State should be able to hang tough for a while.

Big 10

Syracuse vs. Northwestern


Coach Robinson and Syracuse have struggled miserably the last 4 seasons going 7-28, the question begs is it really going to change this year? I highly doubt it. Syracuse is by and far the worst team in the Big East this year as they are pegged to finish dead last. Northwestern on the other hand is returning a total of 19 starters out of 22 with many players that are thoroughly looking forward to this year and they have banked considerable more experience. This team brings back all of their skill players, a defensive line with 4 starters and 7 total players back on defense including an honorable mention Safety. Their coach is inspiring, this team had a pitiful defense at times last year, but did finish 2nd in the Big 10 in offense which says a lot. Heck, Syracuse offense will make this team likely look above par today.

Utah vs. Michigan

All I'm saying is watch out, this is a game that Utah could very well win outright similar to the Chicago Sky yesterday. Remember, this Utah team is returning the most amount of players from the Mountain West and should compete for the Mountain West title. This team returns 17 players, 8 on offense, 7 on defense and 2 on special teams. The spread in this ballgame opened up at 7 and has been brought down steadily down to -3. I know it is Rich Rodriguez's first game and all but I still believe Utah with as many seniors as they bring down for this game and with the experience they have, could very well win this game outright. Michigan is very, very young. This is a game that is likely to go Utah and the Over.

SEC

Hawaii vs. Florida


Florida might just kill this team, and I mean just kill them. Remember, Hawaii has a new coach, their starting quarterback is not playing as he is with injury back in Hawaii, Hawaii returns just 11 players back which has 5 on offense and 5 on already a questionable defense and 1 in special teams. Florida underperformed miserably last year compared to their standards including losing their bowl game which they will be furious to offset, it is the first game of the season and Florida will look to score plenty and often and they have some bad blood with some trash talking with this Hawaii team from last year - granted that was when June Jones was there - still it doesn't leave them. The Gators are returning a total of 16 players out of 22 players which itself tells you a lot about their potential, Florida should do very well today.

Memphis vs. Mississippi

Memphis is not a bad team at all and this would explain why the line has actually taken a hit downward upon opening, don't forget Memphis was a 7-6 team last year and played in the New Orleans bowl, Memphis returns some solid starters on the defensive and offensive line, note that they lost their sound running back from last year in Doss, QB Hankins put together a 3,000 yard year last year, although this year's QB situation is a mystery as Memphis has a few options, they should be able to do very well in passing the ball, note Memphis finished in the top 100 last year when it came to defense last year. Given that it is not hard to imagine the total going over with both offenses that should do well. Houston Nutt has taken over for Ole Miss and note that 8 starters have returned on defense and 4 starters return on the offensive line. Nutt is the one that took at 4-7 Arkansas team and went 9-3 in his first year and now is looking to get better with a team that was 0-8 in the SEC last year, having said this, Arkansas gave up its fair share of points on offense as well. Wouldn't be surprised to see an over here.

Alabama vs. Clemson

With as much love as I have for my Alabama Crimson Tide, note that they are starting 10 freshman in this ballgame out of 21, they are still very young and are in Death Valley. Clemson will certainly be up for this ballgame, but do not underestimate my Tide, I usually stay away from Tide ballgames because of a bit of a personal bias, McClain is the only returning starter for Bama on defense, Alabama will rely on heavily on John Parker Wilson and its defensive line as its running back core is not incredible but decent, this team is still very young when compared to its receiving core as they have lost both Hall and others, Clemson on the other hand returns a total of 14 starters, and was the only team in the ACC to be in the top 5 with respect to its running attack and passing attack, Clemson was only top 25 in the year last year in 4 defensive categories as well. Don't get me wrong, #1 recruiting class and all, I love my Bama Boys but this will be a tough game for them without a doubt.

Big East

Bowling Green vs. Pittsburgh


Pitt returns 15 starters for this ballgame, 8 on the offensive side but features 3 quarterbacks who all started because of injuries last year or bad play, 8 on the offensive side of the ball return and 7 on the defensive side return, note that Dave W. is in the fight of his life for his job, but heck, this team did prevenge WVU from going to the National Championship for what its worth, this team's defense is its strength, but Bowling Green returns the receiving core that was responsible for 300 of its 322 catches last year. This team lost 7-62 to Tulsa in the GMAC Championship last year so they are obviously itching to prove themselves and over 70% are riding Pittsburgh here unnecessarily in my opinion as BG has the offense to match up, but having said that, I can't trust a MAC team on the road to keep a Pitt team in check with points although this should be a surprise cover.

Conference USA

UAB vs. Tulsa


Normally, I don't cover Conference USA, but this is an exception as I know UAB via knowing Alabama football well, know that this team returns the most number of players back in Conference USA Football as last year Neil Callaway and his staff that rolled in were in their first year. This team went 2-10 and now has 20 players, 8 on offense and 10 on defense returning. They should be considerably better this year. However, Tulsa returns 16 starters and this team went a stellar 10-4 last year and winning in the GMAC Bowl by blowing out Bowling Green by more than 50 points. I know 66 points here seems like a high total, but heck, one of these teams alone could very well accomplish it. Tulsa beat this team 38-30 last year and remember, that was given the fact that this UAB team was improving and Tulsa returns all of its fire power on offense essentially, should make for some fireworks on both sides of the ball today.

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