Saturday Football Picks
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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