Saturday Football Preview

    
October 3rd, 2009
12:00 PM ET No. 6 Virginia Tech at Duke
One week removed from a dominant performance at home the Hokies have to avoid the letdown when they visit Duke. David Cutcliffe has a capable quarterback in Thaddeus Lewis and as we saw in their comeback win at Army they've got quite the "reliever" in Sean Renfree. However, that should not be enough to take out the two-time defending ACC champions. Look for the running back tandem of Ryan Williams and Josh Oglesby to stand out in a comfortable Virginia Tech win.

12:00 PM ET No. 22 Michigan at Michigan State
Sometimes the mere sight of a bitter rival can do wonders in turning around a team's season, and that's the hope for 1-3 Michigan State. The last time these two met in East Lansing there was bulletin-board material galore, beginning with then-Michigan running back Michael Hart stating that he and his teammates were having a "moment of silence" on the field for Sparty following the Wolverines' come-from-behind victory. Of course that didn't go over too well in the other locker room, with Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio stating that "pride comes before the fall".

If you didn't fully comprehend the statement the Spartans provided visual evidence in the form of the beating they put on Michigan in Ann Arbor last year. But that was a Michigan team in transition, headed to a 3-9 finish in the first year of the Rich Rodriguez regime, so there is the possibility of a shift should Tate Forcier break too many big plays against a defense that hasn't lived up to the preseason hype thus far.

As for the Spartan offense the question all week was what they would have to do to get their running game untracked. Of course you don't replace a Javon Ringer overnight but you've got to get something in the way of production. Maybe the sight of winged helmets does the trick; Michigan State revives their season with a close win.

12:00 PM ET Clemson at Maryland

Maryland's a struggling football team that has also been hit hard by the injury bug; in other words Clemson should win this game. But if you know the Tigers then you also know that they can make things harder on themselves than they should be, sometimes even dropping games they're expected to win. Kyle Parker rebounds (or Willy Korn comes in to save him if necessary) and Clemson escapes on the road.

12:00 PM ET Wisconsin at Minnesota
The battle for the axe is one of the more intriguing rivalry games in college football; both teams take enormous pride in winning (and holding onto) the trophy. The Badgers have won five straight in the most-played rivalry at the FBS level, and it's been their physical rushing attack that's gotten the job done. In order for Minnesota to beat Wisconsin two things need to happen: the defense slows down the Badgers' running game, and the Minnesota offense doesn't struggle to move the football.

But even with those keys Wisconsin has a "trump card" in the form of QB Scott Tolzien, who has been a larger threat through the air than many expected him to be. Even with Eric Decker having a big game for the Golden Gophers the pick here is Wisconsin.

12:00 PM ET Virginia at North Carolina
North Carolina's run defense didn't look too good in their loss to Georgia Tech last week but the bigger worry may be the offense. Look for T.J. Yates and company get things going this weekend against a bad Virginia team.

12:00 PM ET USF at Syracuse
The Bulls have been the trendy upset "victim" pick by many going into this weekend and I'm struggling for concrete reasons as to why. B.J. Daniels and company just went to Tallahassee and beat a Florida State team that many of those same people declared "back" (I picked USF last week, by the way) and now they're expected to lose at Syracuse? Maybe familiarity has something to do with those picks but that goes both ways. With another week of practice as "the man" under his belt look for better numbers from Daniels, and the front seven could go up their and shut down Syracuse's ground game. As for special teams, where USF had two kicks missed? The Orange had their fair share of issues in that department against Maine last week. They won't blow Syracuse out but the Bulls will win by a solid margin, making their first Top 25 appearance of the season on Sunday.

12:00 PM ET East Carolina at Marshall
This is a battle for first place in the East Division of Conference USA and it's unlikely that many had the Thundering Herd taking part in such a contest. But Mark Snyder's team went on the road and beat Memphis, marking the first time in the history of that series that the visiting team prevailed. Marshall lost last year's meeting with the Pirates in overtime, but Homecoming should provide an atmosphere conducive to a repeat of their 26-7 win in Huntington two years ago.

But the Pirates could be primed to turn the corner after beating UCF last week. Patrick Pinkney and company took their lumps from West Virginia and North Carolina early; the step up in competition outside of conference play could do wonders for them as they look to repeat as conference champions. The game will be close but look for ECU to escape with a close win.

12:00 PM ET Tulane at Army
This is a big game for Rich Ellerson's team; if they want to entertain any thoughts of a bowl bid they'll likely need to beat the Green Wave. The Black Knights rushed for nearly 300 yards in last season's meeting, and with the option attack being improved by Coach Ellerson and his staff they could duplicate that feat. Under Bob Toledo the Green Wave is just 2-9 on the road, which isn't the recipe for success this weekend. Army wins.

12:00 PM ET Toledo at Ball State
This doesn't look like a year in which anyone in the MAC can chalk up a conference win (Central Michigan may be the best bet for that distinction) but the Rockets will invade Muncie as the favorites. Aaron Opelt and company returned to Earth in their shutout loss at the hands of Ohio State a couple of weeks ago but bounced back with a win at FIU.

They've dropped the last three in the series, failing to score a point in last season's meeting (31-0). But Brady Hoke and Nate Davis are gone, two losses that have had a major impact (and understandably so) on the Ball State program. But they still have the services of RB Miquale Lewis, who has the ability to make things close. But he can't do it all by himself. Rockets pick up the conference win.

12:00 PM ET Northwestern at Purdue
Purdue has the unenviable task of recovering from their painful loss at the hands of Notre Dame last week. Northwestern simply became the most recent victim of one Eric Decker, but the sooner they (and we) acknowledge that it's near impossible to stop the Minnesota WR the better off everyone will be. There's no doubt that either team can put points on the board; whoever gets the final defensive stop will be the one that picks up the conference win. And that team will be Northwestern, who features a solid defensive end in senior Corey Wootton.

12:05 PM ET Arkansas State at No. 13 Iowa
The Red Wolves have made strides in recent years but it's hard to see them leaving Iowa City with a win. Now can they scare the Hawkeyes? Certainly, especially if Kirk Ferentz's team spends too much time thinking back to their win at Penn State last week. But that won't happen. Hawkeyes win by a comfortable margin.

12:21 PM ET No. 3 Alabama at Kentucky
Alabama is the football equivalent of that sound investment that while you may not get the initial fireworks in the beginning you'll end up with a nice profit. All last week the talk was about Tim Tebow, who was knocked out of the Kentucky game once things were well in hand for the Gators. But is it a lock that Florida is the best team in the SEC right now? They do have the hardware but the Crimson Tide could conceivably be the better team; when you lack "flash" you can sometimes float under the radar.

QB Greg McElroy has done all that's been expected of him and then some thus far, and when you add that to a strong running game and a stout defense you have a national title contender. Kentucky definitely has some talent on both sides of the ball, led by CB Trevard Lindley, RB Derek Locke and WR Randall Cobb, but they don't have enough to knock off Alabama unless things get out of hand. Nick Saban won't allow that to happen. Also the Lindley/Julio Jones matchup could be worth the price of admission itself.

1:00 PM ET No. 10 Cincinnati at Miami (OH)
The goals for the Bearcats are quite simple: win (shouldn't be a problem) and avoid any major injuries. The Redhawks aren't very good; this one gets out of hand early.

1:00 PM ET Temple at Eastern Michigan
Temple may be one of those "Jekyll and Hyde" kind of football teams; lost to Villanova in the season opener yet blow out Buffalo last week. Vaughn Charlton and company took better care of the football while the defense and special teams each came through with a touchdown. Can they lose to the Eagles on the road? Definitely, but EMU's season took a turn for the worst when QB Andy Schmitt went down last weekend with a torn ACL. Owls win.

3:00 PM ET Kansas State vs. Iowa State (in Kansas City)
The powers that be have decided to move this game to Arrowhead Stadium over the next two seasons after seeing how successful the move was for Kansas and Missouri. Well those games featured nationally-ranked teams so don't be surprised if every seat isn't filled for this one. But for those who will be in attendance (or watching on TV) a few words of advice: if Iowa State is kicking off or punting pay attention. The Wildcats have one of the most dangerous return men in the country in WR Brandon Banks, and he's already struck a couple of times in 2009. Outside of Banks this is a toss-up, so the pick here is Kansas State.

3:30 PM ET No. 4 LSU at No. 18 Georgia
There's no doubt that the Tigers are a good football team. But should there be concern when looking at the defense? John Chavis was a definite upgrade to the staff but they still gave up twenty-six points to a Mississippi State team that was among the nation's worst offenses in 2008. Georgia's had some of the same issues in conference play thus far and like LSU they're still undefeated in the SEC. Something has to give, and I'm not sure that the motivation of watching Georgia surpass fifty points in Baton Rouge last year will be enough to get Les Miles' team the win.

Plus, Jordan Jefferson's going into a road environment that's a bit more hostile than the ones he's seen in either Seattle or Starkville, not to mention the difference in skill. The two best players on the field are likely to be LSU safety Chad Jones and Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green and the impact of each will play a major role in who wins. Look for Green to make a few big plays on the outside in a close Bulldog victory.

3:30 PM ET No. 15 Penn State at Illinois
The Nittany Lions are a tougher team to figure out due to their loss to Iowa last week. They hadn't played anyone prior to, making it tough to figure out how they'd respond to a solid opponent. The fourth quarter returns weren't good and this week they take on an opponent that should be desperate. The Illini showed very little in the way of fight last week against Ohio State, and overall the individual talent has not added up to team improvement.

There was talk from the players in the preseason about Illinois having solved their chemistry issues from 2008; now we'll see how they respond with their season likely on the line. Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn are two of the best pure athletes in the Big Ten; it's time for them and the rest of their talented teammates to show up. Illinois plays better this week but can they be trusted to win a game like this? With the jury still being out on that answer, look for Penn State to even their conference record.

3:30 PM ET UCLA at Stanford
Not sure how many people are sold on the Cardinal but you can add this guy to the group. Toby Gerhart will find it tougher to gain yards against a solid Bruin defense but QB Andrew Luck will come through for Stanford through the air. In what should be a good game look for the Cardinal to move to 3-0 in the Pac-10.

3:30 PM ET Washington at Notre Dame
Many have boiled down Notre Dame's season to their game with USC in two weeks, ignoring the fact that the Irish haven't exactly looked like a stone wall defensively outside of their win over Nevada. You could even argue that if not for a mystifying timeout called by Purdue they'd be 2-2 but it's not Notre Dame's fault that the Boilermakers made that decision.

But how will they deal with Jake Locker, who's tough as nails and can make plays with either his arm or his feet? He can keep the Huskies in the thick of things throughout, but the defense is worrisome in light of what Toby Gerhart did last week. Notre Dame wins but it wouldn't be a surprise if they needed late heroics to do so.

3:30 PM ET Florida State at Boston College
Another tough game to call due in large part to the schizophrenic nature of the visitors. So many people wanted to declare the Seminoles "back" following their win at BYU that few paid attention to the fact that there are still nearly two months left to play this season. Of course USF went into Tallahassee and left with the win, dominating the Seminoles up front. That's not a good way to enter a game against the Eagles, who traditionally have players on the offensive line that produce in college then go on to have productive professional careers.

QB Dave Shiniskie played very well in BC's overtime win against Wake Forest, showing that he could possibly take advantage of an overall weak FSU secondary. But there is CB Greg Reid, a youngster who many expect to eventually join the list of Seminole greats in the secondary. The last time Florida State visited Chestnut Hill they quieted a frenzied crowd, knocking the second-ranked Eagles out of national title contention. With "College Gameday" in attendance expect the "Superfans" to be revved up, but Florida State doesn't have enough to pull out the win. Boston College thrills the home folks with another close victory.

3:30 PM ET NC State at Wake Forest
I know that the Demon Deacons are a dangerous team but too often they give the ball away to be considered a true threat to win the ACC. Add to this the fact that State QB hasn't thrown an interception in nearly 370 pass attempts and it's difficult to see Wake pulling off the win. In a close win that could signal the return of the "Cardiac Pack" Tom O'Brien's team leaves Winston-Salem with a win that puts them in the Atlantic Division driver's seat.

3:30 PM ET Central Michigan at Buffalo
It may be "circle the wagons" time in western New York in light of what happened to the defending MAC champs at Temple last weekend. Zach Maynard struggled mightily with turnovers against the Owls but he wasn't the only Bull to have a tough afternoon. Now they have to deal with Dan LeFevour and company, and that won't be an easy task at all. Buffalo puts up a far better effort than they did the week prior but it won't be enough to knock off the Chippewas.

3:30 PM ET Memphis at UCF
The Tigers are searching for answers, having already switched starting quarterbacks. But I'm afraid that Tommy West and company don't have the answers needed to avoid a truly dismal season. This one's close, but the Knights defend their home field in the end.

3:30 PM ET Air Force at Navy
It's the first installment in the three-game series for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy and the winner of this game has won the last twelve trophies (Army last won it in 1996). If Air Force is to end the Midshipmen's stranglehold on the rivalry (Navy has won six straight) they'll need to account for QB Ricky Dobbs. Easier said than done, but the Falcons are just as potent on the ground. Navy's never won more than six straight against the Air Force...until Saturday. Middies win by a touchdown.

3:30 PM ET Western Michigan at Northern Illinois
It's looking like the Broncos have come to life offensively, but it needs to be remembered that they've won two straight against Miami (Ohio) and Hofstra. Neither has a defense on par with the Huskies, who will need to force Tim Hiller and company into some mistakes if they're to win. It's hard to see Chandler Harnish and the rest of the Huskies putting up enough points to win a shootout with WMU. The winner can continue to entertain serious thoughts of winning the MAC West while the loser will need significant help in order to get to Detroit. The winner will be...Northern Illinois in a tight affair.

3:30 PM ET New Mexico at Texas Tech
Which is the worse way to enter a game: off of a one-point loss that was followed up by a "skirmish" with social networking or a three-point loss to a rival combined with the head coach punching an assistant? Go with the latter (New Mexico), also taking into consideration that the Lobos aren't a very good football team. Red Raiders unleash their anger in Lubbock.

3:37 PM ET FIU at UL Monroe
Things are going to be tight within the Sun Belt this year, so there should be no surprise if this game goes right down to the wire. FIU still hasn't won a game while UL Monroe won at FAU last weekend. Mario Cristobal's program has improved but it's tough to pick them against a team they've only beaten once in five meetings. Warhawks win by a field goal.

4:00 PM ET Ohio at Bowling Green
The Bobcats did win the last meeting at Bowling Green two years ago but they've been dominated by the Falcons over the last twenty-five seasons (just five wins for Ohio). Ohio gave Tennessee a fight last weekend but they're going to need far more than twenty-one yards on the ground if they're to beat Bowling Green. Theo Scott threw for more than three hundred yards last week but a number like that means nothing for Ohio unless there's offensive balance. As for Dave Clawson's offense they've moved the ball behind QB Tyler Sheehan but they've lost three straight. The pick here is that Bowling Green ends their skid while preserving their dominance over the Bobcats.

4:00 PM ET Wyoming at Florida Atlantic
The Cowboys have improved under Dave Christiansen and this would be a huge win for the program since it would come on the road. However it's hard to see them ready to get the job done right now even though the Owls come into this game at 0-3. Look for Rusty Smith and company to do just enough to pick up their first win of the season.

4:05 PM ET UNLV at Nevada
The battle for the Fremont cannon, although the winner isn't expected to carry the large object off of the field at the end of the game. The Rebels have been involved in some nail biters, losing to Oregon State but beating Hawaii. The Wolf Pack, on the other hand, remain winless despite a solid effort against Missouri last week. Omar Clayton and Colin Kaepernick are two of the better quarterbacks out west, but Kaepernick has received the bulk of the hype over the last two years. Look for the senior Clayton to step up and make some plays in a close Rebel victory.

7:00 PM ET No. 9 Ohio State at Indiana
In most years this would be a blowout; the Hoosiers haven't beaten the Buckeyes since 1988 so an upset here would make waves nationally. But it's not out of the realm of possibility; Indiana has some weapons on offense and a pair of defensive ends in Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton who can wreak havoc on opposing backfields. But the key for IU will be the play of their defensive tackles; if they can collapse the inside of the Ohio State offensive line they'll be able to get the ball out of Terrelle Pryor's hands quicker than the Buckeye quarterback would want.

Ohio State has posted consecutive shutouts, but it's doubtful that they pick up a third. Indiana will fight to the bitter end but they'll be going home with yet another loss to the Buckeyes, who simply find a way to win. The Hoosiers are no longer the type of team that you worry about "style points" with; should you play around too much they can knock you off.

7:00 PM ET No. 21 Ole Miss at Vanderbilt
The Rebels have had more than a week to listen to folks refer to them as "overrated" and you have to imagine that Houston Nutt's team is sick of hearing such talk. Now they take on a Vanderbilt team that's lost both of it's conference games thus far, including a loss on Nashville to Mississippi State two weeks ago. The Commodores averaged just six points per game in those losses, and while they may score more against the Rebels it won't be enough to win.

7:00 PM ET Oregon State at Arizona State
Both teams are looking to rebound from losses; Arizona State dropped a heartbreaker at Georgia while the Beavers were felled at home by Arizona. The Beavers have issues on defense while the Sun Devils need to kick-start an offense that saw a drop in production when faced with an opponent much tougher than their first two wins. In a game that both teams need for slightly different reasons (OSU to stop their skid; ASU to beat a quality opponent) the pick goes to the Rodgers brothers. They should make enough plays to steal the win for Oregon State.

7:00 PM ET Kent State at Baylor
Interesting game if only to see how the Bears adjust in their first game without QB Robert Griffin III (torn ACL). Senior Blake Szymanski will be the man so long as his shoulder is in good enough condition to go; he also was injured in Baylor's win over Northwestern State. This may be close for a half or so but there's really no reason why Baylor would lose this game.

7:00 PM ET South Carolina State at South Carolina
Not much drama to be expected here. Gamecocks take care of business in front of the home folks.

7:30 PM ET No. 25 Georgia Tech at Mississippi State
Dan Mullen has improved the Bulldog program since taking over in January, but can his front four perform well enough to neutralize the Georgia Tech option attack? That will be the key in Starkville; if they can then the Bulldogs have a shot at pulling the upset, especially if Josh Nesbitt and company put the ball on the ground. Mississippi State held LSU to just thirty-one yards rushing last weekend, but the Tigers are a far different team running the football than the Yellow Jackets. Tech survives, and that's no understatement either.

7:30 PM ET Texas A&M vs. Arkansas (in Arlington, TX)
Jerry Jones gets to watch his alma mater in his new stadium, while the fans in maroon will be interested to see how their team performs in their first true test of the season. Head coach Mike Sherman definitely has talent at his fingertips, most notably QB Jerrod Johnson, but how will they perform against a team that can match up athlete for athlete? The A&M defense has been the nation's best at rushing the passer but once again there is the "level of competition" caveat. Look for Ryan Mallett to have a big night through the air with Michael Smith providing a 100-yard game on the ground for the Hogs.

7:30 PM ET Tulsa at Rice
The Golden Hurricane rebounded from a rough loss to Oklahoma with a win over Sam Houston State, and they've got too much firepower for the Owls. Rice lost three of the best players in school history to graduation and David Bailiff's program doesn't have enough depth to negotiate that kind of loss just yet.

7:45 PM ET Auburn at Tennessee
This should be a good test for the Auburn offense; the Volunteers have the top-ranked defense in the SEC right now. But the question is whether or not Tennessee can put up enough points to keep pace with a suddenly-dynamic Tiger offense. We'll have quite the coaching chess match with Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Tennessee's Monte Kiffin matching wits; Kiffin did a very good job of scheming Florida two weeks ago so it wouldn't be a surprise to see him to the same to QB Chris Todd. The difference on this night: the struggles of Jonathan Crompton against SEC defenses. Tigers win by a touchdown.

8:00 PM ET UC Davis at No. 5 Boise State
All the Broncos need to do here is not suffer any major injuries. Other than that they'll be well on their way; UC Davis will be blown out.

8:00 PM ET No. 7 USC at No. 24 California
Some may see this as an "eliminator" in the Pac-10 but this is far too balanced a league for either to be completely counted out of the race just yet. The Golden Bears looked terrible at Oregon last week, with Jahvid Best being shut down and the passing game getting very little done in the 42-3 loss. The Trojans recovered from their loss to Washington with a win over Washington State, and Matt Barkley's shoulder continues to improve. But they lost RB Stafon Johnson to a terrible weightlifting accident earlier this week, meaning that other members of "The Stable" need to step up in his absence.

Cal will need to establish Best early, working him in on the ground as well as in the passing game if they're to entertain thoughts of beating USC. Games like this are the ones in which Pete Carroll does his best work. For those who may have forgotten why USC has won seven straight Pac-10 titles you'll get a reminder in Berkeley on Saturday night. Fight on.

8:00 PM ET No. 8 Oklahoma at No. 17 Miami (FL)
Landry Jones gets the start for the Sooners and he could be in store for a big night. The Hurricanes aren't doing a very good job of rushing the passer this season and starting safety Randy Phillips and backup JoJo Nicolas will both miss the game due to injury. The secondary has made some plays for Miami but by no means are they unbeatable. Look for Ryan Broyles and the rest of the receivers to find open spots in the Miami secondary.

As for Jacory Harris, he should have a better game than he did in Blacksburg last week but the Oklahoma front seven may be better man for man than Virginia Tech's. If the offensive line can't give him time to find receivers and open holes for Graig Cooper and Javarris James the Sooners may win by double digits. This is the end of a treacherous four-game start for the Hurricanes, and maybe some fatigue shows given the number of injuries they've picked up in the last two weeks. Oklahoma wins by a touchdown.

8:00 PM ET SMU at No. 11 TCU
The Mustangs have definitely improved since last season's one-win campaign, but do they have enough to contend with the tough Horned Frog defense? If Bo Levi Mitchell and company can turn this into a finesse game SMU can make things interesting. But it's hard to see Gary Patterson and company allowing that to happen on their field; TCU will be physical to say the least. And in regards to not making the key mistake there should be more confidence in senior Andy Dalton; he's won't blow you away with numbers but he's a winner. Horned Frogs remain undefeated.

8:00 PM ET New Mexico State at San Diego State
The Aggies picked up the first win of the DeWayne Walker era last week, beating in-state rival New Mexico. However they're going to face an improved program in San Diego State, who should have enough to defend their home turf.

9:05 PM ET No. 12 Houston at UTEP
The Miners can move the football due to the presence of QB Trevor Vittatoe, which could turn this into a high-scoring shootout. But when you have to account for Case Keenum and Bryce Beall (just to name two playmakers) it's tough to see UTEP keeping up with the Cougars for all four quarters. Look for Houston to eventually pull away in the second half.

9:15 PM ET Washington State at No. 16 Oregon
The Cougars will go with true freshman Jeff Tuel, who had some good moments in the second half of their loss at USC last week. But he's going into the belly of the beast on Saturday night, and it's tough to see him (or any other Cougar) making enough big plays to beat the Ducks in Eugene. The talk surrounding the Oregon program may be in regards to what LaGarrette Blount's future is but people should keep an eye on Chip Kelly's team. They haven't lost a conference game and so long as QB Jeremiah Masoli and company keep putting points on the board Pasadena certainly isn't out of the realm of possibility. Ducks roll.

10:30 PM ET Colorado State at Idaho
So, how good are Rob Akey's Vandals (3-1)? We're going to find out in the Kibbie Dome when the Rams show up. Steve Fairchild's team has just one loss and there should be little shame in losing to BYU on the road; they're going to be physical at the point of attack and if Idaho can't answer the call they'll be in trouble. QB Nathan Enderle has played well for Idaho, completing 63.6% of his passes with five touchdowns and two interceptions, and RB DeMaundray Woolridge is a serious threat on the ground with Princeton McCarty offering a change-up.

CSU will counter with backs Leonard Mason and John Mosure, but they need Grant Stucker to avoid interceptions. He's got six touchdown passes but five picks is a little much at this point in the season. Colorado State is the pick, but it's going to be an escape as opposed to a convincing win.