Monday Football News and Notes

Monday Football News and Notes

No. 18 Vols open against new-look Bruins
By ASSOCIATED PRESS

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -Tennessee had a rocky stop in California last year. The Volunteers hope for a smoother visit this time.

Humbled 45-31 by California in the 2007 opener at Berkeley, No. 18 Tennessee kicks off on the West Coast again, facing coach Rick Neuheisel's new-look UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl on Monday night.

''Openers are always tough, but when you have a coaching switch as UCLA did, it makes it especially tough for us,'' Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. ''It will be a process of adjusting and learning throughout the game. Both teams will have to adjust as the game moves along.''

Vols defensive end Wes Brown likes the way the nationally televised game shapes up.

''It's going to be a heck of a lot of fun,'' he said. ''Getting the national spotlight on Monday night football, two quality teams. It doesn't get much better than that.''

Neuheisel, the former UCLA quarterback who returned to Westwood last December to replace the fired Karl Dorrell, knows the Bruins face a big test against the Vols, last year's SEC East Division champions. The Bruins slogged through a 6-7 season.

''We certainly understand the stature of their program and the challenge that lies ahead of us,'' Neuheisel said. ''We're eager to find out where we are. We're aware we have a formidable foe in an SEC mainstay like Tennessee.

''We know we're going to have play our level best to be in the game, but that's exciting. If you choose to look at it that way, I think you give yourself a better chance of actually pulling it off.''

Both teams have new offensive coordinators and new quarterbacks. Dave Clawson joined Fulmer's Tennessee staff, and Neuheisel brought in Norm Chow to oversee the Bruins' offense.

In an orderly transition, Jonathan Crompton has replaced Erik Ainge as the Vols' quarterback. In a considerably more disruptive change, third-stringer Kevin Craft became the Bruins' starter because Patrick Cowan is out for the year with a knee injury and Ben Olson will miss at least the first few games because of a foot injury.

''The unknown in this deal is how fast our offense responds to coach Chow and how fast their offense responds to their new coordinator,'' Neuheisel said. ''And the two new quarterbacks. That will be of interest.''

Craft, a juco transfer who started five games at San Diego State in 2006, got the job when Olson broke his right foot on Aug. 9.

''I was in a similar situation at San Diego State, where I was the third quarterback and three games into the season, I'm in there,'' he said, recalling how injuries sidelined the Aztecs' first two quarterbacks two years ago. ''The first game I started was at BYU, so I know what to expect.''

Craft, a 6-foot-5, 205-pounder, was mostly solid in that game against BYU, going 20-of-32 for 216 yards with one interception. The Aztecs still lost 45-17.

He may face considerably tougher working conditions than Crompton does Monday night. The Vols have five starters back on an offensive line that allowed a nation-low four sacks last season. Craft will be operating behind a group of blockers that already was short on experience and has been thinned even more by injuries.

''Guys are stepping up, not just at quarterback,'' Craft said. ''A lot of linemen got hurt and guys stepped up. We've been moving guys around, and everybody's been improving.''

Neuheisel, who had a combined 66-30 record coaching four years each at Colorado and Washington, believes the Bruins, picked to finish fifth in the Pac-10 preseason poll, may have some added motivation.

''I think this group has a little chip on its shoulder, feels like it's been cast off as also-rans,'' the Bruins' coach said. ''I think they're anxious to show that we're more than that.''

The defense, led by tackle Brigham Harwell, linebacker Reggie Carter and cornerback Alterraun Verner, figures to be the Bruins' strong suit. The offense will feature tailback Kahlil Bell, last year's leading rusher with 795 yards.

The Vols will depend heavily on Arian Foster, who ran for 1,193 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, and Lucas Taylor, who had 73 receptions for 1,000 yards and five TDs.

Tennessee's defense gets a boost with the return of safety Demetrice Morley, back after being academically ineligible for a year. Rico McCoy anchors a solid linebacking corps.

The Vols hold a 7-4-2 edge in the series, winning the most recent meeting 30-24 in Pasadena 11 years ago. Peyton Manning threw a pair of touchdown passes in the victory.

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Fresno St. at Rutgers
By Brian Edwards

For more than a decade now, Pat Hill’s program has thrived on the mantra of “we’ll play any team, anytime, anywhere.” And it’s not just talk.

Since 2001, Fresno State (9-4 straight up, 7-5 against the spread) has gone on the road and won outright at Colorado, at Wisconsin, at Kansas St. and at Washington. The Bulldogs have also covered the spread as underdogs in road games at Oregon, at Tennessee, at Oklahoma, at UCLA and at Texas A&M.

To open the 2008 campaign, Fresno State comes all the way to New Jersey to take on Rutgers. Las Vegas Sports Consultants opened the Scarlet Knights as five-point favorites with a total of 54. As of Saturday afternoon, most spots had RU at 4 ½ with the total adjusted all the way up to 59.

The Bulldogs are plus 180 on the money line (risk $100 to win $180).

The emergence of Rutgers (8-5 SU, 6-6 ATS) as a prominent national program is one of the best stories in college football in years (if not decades). When Greg Schiano took over in his native New Jersey, the Scarlet Knights were probably the worst program in America. They had not gone bowling since 1978.

Things didn’t get better right away by any means. In fact, Schiano’s first two teams lost 20 of 23 games in 2001 and 2002. In ’01, Rutgers got beaten up by a combined score of 233-7 in four games against Miami, Va. Tech, West Virginia and Pitt.

But in 2003, things started to change at RU. For our purposes, the Scarlet Knights were dynamite with the nation’s best spread record (10-1-1). They finished 4-7 SU in ’03 and 5-7 SU in ’04. Then in ’05, Rutgers went to the first of three straight bowl games behind the legs of Ray Rice and Brian Leonard.

But Rice and Leonard are gone now. Will this lead to the demise of Rutgers? Don’t count on it as the Scarlet Knights return seven starters on offense and eight on defense.

I do think we’ll see a more pass-happy RU offense this season instead of a team that focused more on the ground game with Rice. Will four-year starting QB Mike Teel be up to the task? Opinions were varied at last week’s VI Seminar. Marc Lawrence said, “Until Teel shows me, I’m going to doubt him.”

He has 5,965 career passing yards, but his 34/36 touchdown-interception ratio is alarming. There’s no doubt about one thing, though. Rutgers has two of the Big East’s best wideouts this season in Tiquan Underwood and Kenny Britt.

Underwood had 65 receptions for 1,100 yards and seven TDs last year, while Britt hauled in 62 catches for 1,232 yards and eight TDs. Those numbers will most likely improve in 2008.

Fresno St. has 10 starters back on offense and seven on defense. The Bulldogs also have a veteran QB in Tom Brandstater, who completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 2,654 yards in 2007. He had an outstanding 15/5 TD-INT ratio.

Sophomore running back Ryan Mathews is the featured back. He ran for 866 yards and 14 TDs last year, averaging 6.0 yards per carry.

Rutgers is 8-5 ATS as a home favorite since 2005. Meanwhile, Fresno St. was a money-making 4-1 ATS as a road ‘dog last season.

“I’ll probably end up fading all the Fresno State talk,” VI handicapper Bryan Leonard said. “Not only are the TV talking heads praising them but a few of my wise guy friends are buying in. Cross country travel could do them in.”

ESPN will provide television coverage at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

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INDIAN COWBOY'S NCAAF RESEARCH

Fresno State vs. Rutgers


Note that the line of this game originally opened at -5 and has consistently gone down to -4 and some places -3.5. But, that is typical if the public is split on a game so that doesn't necessarily mean anything. Remember, Fresno State was a big player last year on the road as they were 4-1 ATS. Note, the total opened up at 54 and has steadily gone up as well to 57 in most books, which indicates an active dog and an over. Fresno State returns a total of 16 players, this is the first meeting between the 2 teams. Note, that Fresno State went 9-4 last year and returns the majority of players from that team - 16 of the 22 are returners and this team beat Georgia Tech and Kansas State last year.

There is a great blogspot written on this game that you should check out, note that this game goes off at 4pm and I apologize for my belated reserach on it, but if you have time, you should certainly read it.

Having said that, the quarterback comparisons between these 2 are the same as they both return seniors. But, the running attack clearly will favor Fresno State here as they have the personnel to do some serious damage as with the loss of Ray Rice, Rutgers is weak on the running attack. The Scarlet Knights do return 7 starters on defense however so they will have the clear edge on defense. When it comes to this game, I lean on the over more than anything else as I would hate to go against Schiano in the season opener. However, I can see both teams putting up some points today, I do think there are some better games to wager on today in other sports. Which is why I was planning to skip this game from the get-go.

Tennessee vs. UCLA

I am a fan of the SEC and biased to the SEC. Having said this, UCLA's 2 starting quarterbacks in Olson and Cowan are out. The public favors Tennessee to the tune of 60%+ here and I have never trusted UCLA football. They do have a new coach who will look to make an impression in his first game. The line opened up at -5.5 and has gone all the way up to -7 quickly. The total has remained steady. Tennessee's defensive line returns 3 of 4 starters so they will be stacked on defense, on top of that, UCLA will be a bit out of sync on offense and the SEC speed is simply disgusting, David Cutliff is not the head coach at Duke so Tennessee has a new offenisve coordinator and Fulmer actually went outside his "family" to hire an offensive coordinator so that shows that he is willing to be open this year. Adrian Foster is a great looking running back that can do all elements of the game well and Clawson is known to spread the ball around and spread his receivers to all corners of the field. Lucas Taylor, Austin Rodgers and Josh Briscoe combined for 185 passes last year - so the team's weakness was the receiving core last year, but nothing could be further from the trust this year as that is part of their team's strength. On top of that, this team returns 4 members of the offensive line and led the nation in fewest sacks allowed which should allow first time, but senior starter Jonathan Crompton. The only thing that worries me is that he might be over excited for this game and make some mistakes early, but he does have a vet offensive line, running back and recieving core. Still a new offensive is displayed today. UCLA has a motley crew of new offensive lineman that start today, 3 of which are converted tight ends and other positions and they have just 1 returning secondary member coming back as well. I think Tennessee should do very well today, no opinion on the total.

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Tips and Trends

Fresno State at Rutgers [ESPN | 4 PM ET]

Fresno State: As usual, Fresno State starts the year off on the road against a BCS Conference opponent. The long trip and hype should not be a big problem for the veteran Bulldogs, who return 16 starters, including 10 on offense and have visions of crashing the BCS party at the end of the year much like Hawaii did a season ago. The Bulldogs return a trio of returning running backs?Lonyae Miller, Ryan Mathews and Anthony Harding? who combined for 1,924 yards and 25 touchdowns last season. Fresno State needs to get better on defense, where they ranked 73rd in the country last year.

Fresno State is 8-19 ATS in its last 27 games.
Fresno State is 4-1 ATS in its last five road games.

Key Injuries - None

PROJECTED SCORE: 34 (OVER - Total Play of the Day)

Rutgers (-4, O/U 58): It?s Game 1 for the Scarlet Knights without career-rushing leader Ray Rice. With Rice now in the NFL, more of an onus will be on quarterback Mike Teel and the passing game to make plays. Teel is equipped with two good receivers as well, so expect Rutgers to take to the air much more often this season. Filling the big shoes left by Rice will be the tandem of Mason Robinson and Kordell Young. Neither won the job outright, so Greg Schiano will employ a committee approach to start the year. Rutgers has won 12 of their last 14 non-conf home games but is just 8-9 as a home favorite under Schiano.

Rutgers is 19-7-1 ATS in its last 27 non-conference games.
The OVER is 7-3-1 in Rutgers last 11 road games.

Key Injuries - None

PROJECTED SCORE: 31


#18 Tennessee at UCLA [ESPN | 8 PM ET]

Tennessee (-7, O/U 46): Tennessee is not only making a cross-country trip to face the Bruins, they are doing so with a new starting quarterback. Jonathan Crompton replaces Erik Ainge as the leader of the Vols offense. Crompton has a strong arm and is much more mobile than Ainge. New offensive coordinator Dave Clawson said he will move Crompton out of the pocket a lot this season. Crompton has the luxury of handing the ball off to Arian Foster, throwing to Lucas Taylor and being protected by a veteran offensive line. On defense, the Vols have one of the best secondary?s in the country, led by future first-round draft pick Eric Berry

Tennessee is 4-0 ATS in its last four non-conference games.
The UNDER is 6-1 in Tennessee's last seven games.

Key Injuries - RB Arian Foster (knee) is probable.

PROJECTED SCORE: 24 (Side Play of the Day)

UCLA: When Rick Neuheisel took over at UCLA, he probably wasn?t expecting to get off to such a rocky start before even playing a game. With injuries to Pat Cowan and Ben Olson, the Bruins are down to their third option at quarterback, junior college transfer Kevin Craft. Neuheisel is hoping that early on, Craft can manage the game and not make mistakes. To make things even harder on Craft, the Bruins offensive line is a mess right now. A lot of pressure is going to put on UCLA?s defense. The unit will need to be the strength of the team until the offense gets going. UCLA has won seven straight games as a home underdog.

UCLA is 4-0 ATS in its last four games versus the SEC.
UCLA is 20-7 ATS in its last 27 home games.

Key Injuries - NONE

PROJECTED SCORE: 13

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Tennessee at UCLA
By Brian Edwards

For the second straight year, Tennessee will face a Pac-10 opponent on the West coast to start the season. This time around, the Volunteers are hoping for a different result after taking a 45-31 beating at California last year.

While Phillip Fulmer is entering his 17th season at UT, this game will be Rick Neuheisel’s first at his alma mater. After taking a pink slip at Washington for participating in an NCAA basketball March Madness pool, Neuheisel spent several years as an assistant in the NFL before UCLA came calling in January.

Neuheisel scored a major coup by luring Norm Chow back to Tinseltown as his offensive coordinator. However, Chow and Neuheisel are without their top two quarterbacks, Ben Olson and Patrick Cowan, so junior-college transfer Kevin Craft will get the starting nod.
   
Tennessee (10-4 straight up, 8-4-2 against the spread) is also breaking in a new QB – Jonathan Crompton. The junior signal caller got one start when Erik Ainge was injured in 2006, but he only saw playing time in mop-up duty last season. Crompton, who was considered among the top handful of prep QB recruits in ’06, has 498 career passing yards and a 5/4 touchdown-interception ratio.

The strength of this UT squad should be its running game. The Vols have one of the nation’s premier offensive lines and a big-time running back in Arian Foster, who rushed for 1,193 yards and 12 TDs in 2007.

UT, which has eight starters back on offense and six on defense, has a pair of All-American candidates on the defensive side of the ball. Junior LB Rico McCoy was second on the team in tackles with 106 stops last year. Sophomore safety Eric Berry is a bona fide star. As a true freshman, Berry started all 14 games, making 86 tackles and intercepting five passes.

UCLA (6-7 SU, 9-4 ATS) has just four starters returning on offense and five on defense. The Bruins lost five of their last six games in ’07, leading to the dismissal of Karl Dorrell after five seasons at the helm.

The defense will be led by junior LB Reggie Carter, who had 10 tackles behind the line of scrimmage last season. Carter will face a daunting task in trying to contain UT’s Foster.

Las Vegas Sports Consultants opened the Vols as 5½-point favorites with a total of 46. The number is now 7½ at most spots, while the total is either 46 or 46 ½. Gamblers can back the Bruins on the money line for a plus 220 return (risk $100 to win $220).

Since 2003, UCLA has a perfect 7-0 spread record as a home underdog. In 2007, the Bruins cashed tickets at a 6-1 ATS clip. Likewise, the Vols have thrived as road favorites, compiling a 7-2 spread record since 2005.

Kick-off is slated for 8:00 p.m. Eastern with ESPN providing television coverage.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

--Georgia senior DT Jeff Owens injured his knee in the season-opening win over Ga. Southern. Owens will be out a long time, possibly the rest of the season. That’s a big loss for Mark Richt and Co.

--I might fade Syracuse every single game until it takes my money.

--Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson and Michael Vick are the fastest football players I’ve ever seen. I might be adding Florida’s Jeff Demps to that trio here soon. If you missed his TD run in UF’s 56-10 win over Hawaii, I can tell you that it was absolutely jaw-dropping.

--If I’m a Clemson fan (I’m not!), I’m embarrassed by my team’s pathetic performance in Saturday’s 34-10 loss to Alabama. Nick Saban’s team dealt out a “good ol’ backyard Mississippi beatdown.” Saban gave Bowden a coaching clinic in the process. As I’ve been saying all summer, I think John Parker Wilson is going to enjoy an outstanding senior season. Saturday was a good start.

--Clemson fans are soft – and lame! Very lame.

--I want to thank Lisa Caldwell for the sweet seat she hooked me up with for free to watch the Crimson Tide deal out that pimpslap at the Georgia Dome. And believe me, that was a good old-fashioned open-handed pimpslap from the get-go.

--Don’t be surprised if this week’s LSU-Troy game gets cancelled.

--When discussing Louisville during the off-season, I think I said a few different times that the Cardinals wouldn't have much falloff at the QB position even though Brian Brohm was gone. Um, I think I want to take that one back. Hunter Cantwell looked horrible against Kentucky. Horrible!

--Biggest Winners in Week 1:
1-East Carolina
2-Louisiana Tech
3-Alabama
4-USC
5-Vanderbilt

--Biggest Losers in Week 1:
1-Clemson
2-Michigan
3-Mississippi St.
4-Pittsburgh
5-Washington

--Coaches on the Hot Seat:
1-Greg Williams (Syracuse)
2-Steve Kragthorpe (Louisville)
3-Dave Wannstedt (Pittsburgh)
4-Kirk Ferentz (Iowa)
5-Tommy Bowden (Clemson)

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