Thursday, August 21

College Football Preview: Week 1

Week 1: Kickoff Weekend!

It's the last weekend of August. College football kicks off! There's a lot of interesting/non-traditional matchups, but unfortunately not a lot of games that should be close and high-quality. (watching JoePa's offense grind to a halt in a 10-3 win over Coastal Carolina does not qualify as "good" even if the Staters do miraculously find a way to make it close) But hey, it's something to do, right? We know you'll be itching for something to watch now that the Olympics and all their olymptastic coverage are over.

In the early weeks, the polls are traditionally the most fluid. That is, it's harder to jump a team if you both win in week 10 than if you both win in week 2. Voters haven't made up their minds as much yet, so your level of play can change opinions. (LSU did this last season to jump USC early on when they played near-perfect football in September)

What this means is that there's a lot of poll position at stake here, even if nobody's actually losing. For example Missouri may not be able to jump Georgia, but the top, middle, and bottom groups of the top ten may shuffle around and even a team ranked in the low-teens could make a run at the top ten with two or three impressive victories.

We'll be going through things week by week - hopefully staying at least a full week ahead of the games being played - and projecting how the season may shape out. (ideally I'd like to post the entire month before it begins, the post each week's revision one week before kickoff) Why? I have no idea. Anyway on to the selected games!

Hawaii @ Florida
Hawaii was embarassed in the only game they played last season against a team with a pulse. Granted, Georgia's "pulse" is a giant throbbing bulldog cock, but Florida's basically the same story. Expect Tim Tebow to account for seven total TDs before leaving the game at halftime to get shoulder blade-deep in Hawaiian Green - to the dismay of Gator fans; Spurrier wouldn't pull a starter at a mere 49-0!
Pick: Florida

Oklahoma State @ Washington State
These are two programs who are typically in the middle of their conference's pack, looking to make a statement in this game. This one could go either way and should be a very exciting game with absolutely no national implications! I'll go with the better QB here.
Pick: Oklahoma State

Utah @ Michigan
Following the Wolverines' final two games of the 2006 season, I predicted that Lloyd Carr would lose his job. AND IT HAPPENED! If the losses to Ohio State and USC didn't already seal his fate, the final nail in the coffin was a home opener loss to Appalachian State for the first time in NCAA history that a top 5 team lost to a lower division team. Can the Wolverines make it consecutive home opener losses?
Breaking it down, you're looking at a team with a new coach and a new offensive system. They lost their four year starter at QB and then lost his backup to transfer. They lost their four year starter at RB, and his backup may be out for this game as well! Utah has experience with Brian Johnson and Darrell Mack entering their senior years.
Pick: Utah

USC @ Virginia
Virginia was one of those teams who had a ton of lucky wins in 2007 (three by 1 point, another two by 2 points). Shutting out Miami was awesome... so was giving up 17 points in about 3 minutes to Texas Tech to blow a late lead. The real reason to watch this is to see what's going on with USC's quarterback situation; the game itself will be a massacre.
In the likely event that Sanchez is out for this game, you can expect to see Pete Carroll try out Aaron Corp, as Mitch Mustain's overratedness shone through at the Cardinal and Gold game. Corp is a player you'll want to watch out for when he eventually takes over this offense... right now, even if he has the worst freshman game imaginable (excluding Chris Simms-level of suck), the RBs and defense can win this one by themselves.
Pick: USC

Appalachian State @ LSU
As we all fondly remember, Appy State went into the Little House and blew out Michigan 73-6 to start a fairly typical season for Lloyd Carr. We all know LSU is going to destroy Appy... I mean, it's not like they lost 10 starters and then had their new starting QB get kicked off the team... right? Eh, it'd be hilarious if it did happen.
However, the major difference is the defensive speed of LSU. The Tigers may have the top defensive line in the NCAA. Their linebacking corps is also a strong one. While the secondary has plenty of personnel to replace, we don't expect them to get torched by FCS-caliber receivers. The Tigers also have a strong offensive line and a deep RB corps.
Pick: LSU

Eastern Washington @ Texas Tech
Every year, we all think nobody is going to break Georgia Tech's record of scoring 222 points against Cumberland College back in 1916. And then we look at Texas Tech's nonconference schedule. According to Wikipedia, GT ran 28 times for 1978 yards and 40 TDs in that game. Nevermind that 40 TDs is more than their number of rushing attempts, and that it would give them 240 points even if they missed every PAT. Okay, so maybe 222 is a bit lofty of a goal. The NCAA record is 100 points, scored by Houston against Tulsa in 1968. I'm not saying it's gonna happen, I'm just saying that in my NCAA Football 2009 Campus Legend season, a freshman quarterback named Sexy Rexy threw for 652 yards and 12 TDs on 36 attempts (fuck it, I'm going deep) coming off the bench to help the Red Raiders win their opener 143-0.
Pick: Over

Michigan State @ California
These are two teams who had their relevence in the BCS era, and had it slip on by. Now it's a Pac 10-Big 10 conference rivalry game between two teams who are supposed to be on the up-and-up. Both teams lost a lot of talent, so it'll be interesting to see if any of the hype is legit. (no)
Pick: Cal

Alabama @ Clemson
The greatest coach in the history of Alabama football enters his second season at the helm, and Tide fans have a national title on their mind. Their hopes for victory in this game lie with Clemson's secret offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden, who vows to go to a more balanced attack by taking the ball out of Davis'/Spiller's hands and calling more jump balls into triple coverage.
If we look closer at Clemson, though, playing well in their first four or five games is necessary to build the kind of expectations that can be brought crashing down when they mysteriously decide to throw the ball 90% of the time against the #105 run defense in the country. So expect the RB duo to rack up 250 yards and a gritty Tigers win.
Pick: Clemson

Illinois vs Missouri
We didn't realize how big of a matchup this was last season when it happened; this year, the game should be circled on every college football fan's calendar. Expect Missouri to rock the hell out of the team that nobody quite understands what the Rose Bowl selection committee saw in them that Mizzou didn't have.
Missouri really doesn't lose a lot compared to last season. I mean sure, losing Rucker sucks, but Coffman's just as good. I'm mildly concerned about their running game without Tony Temple, but only mildly. Besides I'm much more worried about Illinois sans Mendenhall.
Pick: Missouri

Washington @ Oregon
With Jake Locker, Washington was supposed to make a move into that second tier of the conference last season, then challenge for the title this year. Well, that didn't happen. However, they've got high expectations again... then on the other side, we've got Oregon who wants to prove that their lone Dixon-less win to finish 2007 was a sign of things to come.
Pick: Oregon

Fresno St @ Rutgers
It's an intriguing matchup, especially now that Ray Rice is gone. Fresno State has gone toe to toe with major Big 6 programs over the last ten years... if they want a BCS bid, they need to open the season with a statement win to generate some hype.
Pick: Fresno State

Tennessee @ UCLA
For whatever (awesome) reason, Tennessee seems to have decided to start each season with a game against a marquee Pac 10 program. These are two conferences that typically enter into the discussion of a) which conference is that season's toughest and b) who should get invited to the BCS Championship game, so it's great to see them actually facing off. The last two seasons the Vols' opponent has been Cal, which was split 1-1 with the home team winning both games. Unfortunately UCLA is in a bit of a slump, so expect a pretty comfortable win by Tennessee here.
Another exciting thing to watch for will be how Tennessee's offense has changed with new coordinator Dave Clawson coming in from Richmond (lost to Appa State in FCS semis... yes, I just called it the FCS).
Pick: Tennessee

I've looked at the schedule for the top 25 and it's truly pathetic in week 1. You've got Clemson/Alabama, Illinois/Missouri, and... um... yeah. Tennessee @ UCLA? Utah @ Michigan? Eh. On top of that, 30 "Football Bowl Subdivision" teams will be playing against lower division opposition. (just 40 games between FBS teams) So don't expect any shake-ups before September rolls around.

Projected ESPN/USA Top Ten
1. Georgia
2. USC
3. Ohio State
4. Oklahoma
5. Florida
6. Missouri (+1)
7. LSU (-1)
8. Clemson (+1)
9. West Virginia (-1)
10. Texas