Saturday Football Preview

October 24th, 2009

12:00 PM ET No. 12 Georgia Tech at Virginia
This should be a more interesting game than many would think at first glance. Al Groh has actually done well against the Yellow Jackets, most recently taking care of Paul Johnson's option attack in Atlanta last season. As effective as the option can be, Tech sometimes succeeds in keeping both teams in games due to their tendency to put the ball on the ground. If Josh Nesbitt and Jonathan Dwyer can produce while keeping the fumbles to a minimum Georgia Tech should win. But the Cavaliers haven't been a conventional team this season.

A brutal start resulted in calls for Coach Groh's head, and all they've done is win three straight games and take over the top spot in the ACC Coastal. Does that end on Saturday? No, and the Wahoos will likely credit the "Curse of Scott Sisson" for a win streak against the Jackets in Charlottesville that dates all the way back to 1990 (when Sisson's 37-yard field goal gave Georgia Tech the 41-38 victory). Not sure how they go about doing it, but look for Virginia to find a way to win.

12:00 PM ET Minnesota at No. 19 Ohio State
Terrelle Pryor has been the focus of a lot of criticism in the days following the bad loss at Purdue. Some think he should be benched, others think he should be switched to wide receiver, and there's even an element that blames Jim Tressel for the sophomore's struggles. Pryor's high school coach came out and blamed the play calling, suggesting that Ohio State run more zone read plays. Personally, I'd take a look at the combination of decision-making and throwing mechanics.

There were some throws last weekend that a winning quarterback (or one hoping to be one) simply cannot make. Throwing into coverage is bad enough, but to compound that with very poor mechanics is asking for trouble. The thought here is that while Pryor and the Ohio State offense has some issues moving the ball they'll do enough to beat the Golden Gophers. Penn State did a good job of keeping WR Eric Decker under wraps and they shut out Minnesota. The Buckeyes have good enough corners to avoid being lit up by the senior.

12:00 PM ET USF at No. 20 Pittsburgh
Was last week's loss to Cincinnati the beginning of the "annual" October swoon for the Bulls? Or can they rebound to knock of the Panthers, thus placing themselves back in the middle of the Big East race? B.J. Daniels struggled against the Bearcats, completing less than half his pass attempts and throwing a pair of interceptions. If the Bulls are to rebound the offensive line will need to keep Daniels upright; they're going up against one of the nation's best teams when it comes to sacking the quarterback.

Pittsburgh also has the Big East's most productive running back in freshman Dion Lewis, and if QB Bill Stull is on his game look for receivers Jonathan Baldwin and Dorin Dickerson to have solid afternoons. But USF is also good at getting to the quarterback, most notably junior DE Jason Pierre-Paul, and they may be able to force the Panthers into some mistakes. In a game that likely won't be decided until late, look for USF to head back to Tampa with the win.

12:00 PM ET Connecticut at No. 23 West Virginia
To say the least it's going to be a tough afternoon in Morgantown, with this being the first game the Huskies play following the tragic passing of CB Jasper Howard. Tributes have been planned for the occasion, and while both teams will attempt to get back a sense of "normalcy" once the ball is placed on the tee is there really such a thing? Truth is we really don't know what to expect here. In terms of the all-time series it hasn't been much of a contest; the Mountaineers have won the previous five meetings by a combined score of 210-77.

Two of the Big East's best rushing attacks will be on display, with Connecticut relying upon the tandem of Andre Dixon and Jordan Todman while WVU will lean upon Noel Devine. How this game goes will depend largely upon the Huskies' state of mind; that's something that cannot be predicted one way or the other until the ball is snapped. Also of note is West Virginia's tendency to put the ball of the ground; they've fumbled sixteen times this season, losing eleven. Go with the Mountaineers, but look for the Huskies to keep things competitive.

12:00 PM ET Indiana at Northwestern
Indiana got back on the winning track last weekend, taking care of a reeling Illinois team in Bloomington. Now they face a Northwestern team that's played in quite a few nail biters thus far. Go with the home team for this one despite the presence of defensive stalwarts Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew. 

12:00 PM ET Central Michigan at Bowling Green
The Chippewas have shown themselves to be the class of the MAC to this point in the season, and despite the improvements made by Dave Clawson at Bowling Green it would be a surprise if the Falcons knocked off Dan LeFevour and company.

12:00 PM ET UAB at Marshall
The Thundering Herd struggled offensively against in-state rival West Virginia last week, but look for RB Darius Marshall to be his productive self in front of the home folks in Huntington. UAB's Joe Webb is one of the more dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks that few people know about and he will get his share of yards on Saturday. But it won't be enough to pick up the road win.

12:00 PM ET Illinois at Purdue
There's no way to tiptoe around this: Illinois is a bad football team. Period. There's definitely some individual talent but nothing has gone right for Ron Zook's team this year. Boilers build on the momentum gained in their upset of Ohio State last week.

12:21 PM ET Arkansas at Mississippi
The pick this week is Arkansas, who let one get away at Florida last weekend (of course that personal foul call didn't help matters). Jevan Snead hasn't looked comfortable this season and the Rebels have also failed to get playmaker Dexter McCluster the ball at times for lengthy stretches. Look for a good day from Ryan Mallett, who will face a defense that isn't on the same level of the unit he ran into last weekend.

12:30 PM ET No. 15 Oklahoma State at Baylor
The presence of Robert Griffin III would have given the Bears a puncher's chance against the team most likely to be Texas' main challenger in the Big 12 South. But with Griffin done for the year with a torn ACL it's hard to pick Baylor, even if the Cowboys get caught looking ahead to their game in Stillwater against the Longhorns next weekend.

12:30 PM ET Iowa State at Nebraska
A mere 24 hours after being given back their Blackshirts the Nebraska defense had all sorts of trouble slowing down Steven Sheffield and the Texas Tech offense, going down by the final score of 31-10. Iowa State's offense isn't as good as the Red Raiders' attack, and this should lend itself to a big day from DT Ndamukong Suh. It also remains to be seen whether or not Bo Pelini sticks with Zac Lee under center; it's reportedly a game-time decision between Lee and freshman Cody Green. Whoever gets the nod would be well-served to hand the ball off to RB Roy Helu Jr. in what should be a Nebraska victory.

12:30 PM ET Colorado at Kansas State
Both teams posted surprising wins last weekend; the Buffaloes beat Kansas in Boulder and K-State hung 62 points on Texas A&M just one week after giving up 66 to Texas Tech. The question here is how well Colorado travels, especially QB Tyler Hansen, who took over for an inconsistent Cody Hawkins. Hansen, who was originally supposed to redshirt, did a good job of leading the offense last week. The pick here is that it was the Wildcats' performance that was the anomaly last week; Buffs win.

1:00 PM ET Northern Illinois at Miami (OH)
Truth be told first-year head coach Mike Haywood walked into one of the toughest rebuilding jobs at the FBS level. Northern Illinois doesn't have the kind of offense that can hang fifty on you, but they should do enough defensively to handle the Redhawks.

1:00 PM ET Ball State at Eastern Michigan
Wow. That's all you can really say about a game in which the two teams "boast" a combined record of 0-13. And looking at the upcoming schedules for both teams, a win would be huge since both could approach ten losses on the year before they sniff a victory. My pick: Ball State. They've got RB Miquale Lewis.

1:30 PM ET Maryland at Duke
Maryland's been pretty bad this season outside of a home win over Clemson. That's not a good thing when you're going up against one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC in Thaddeus Lewis. Duke just looks like the more stable football team and program, something that will be quite evident in the final score.

2:00 PM ET Kent State at Ohio
This is a big matchup in the MAC East; the Golden Flashes sit a game behind the undefeated (in league play) Bobcats in the standings. This should be a league race that goes down to the final weekend of the regular season but if Kent State wants to be a factor they need to pick up the road victory. But the Bobcats have been hot of late, winning their last three and holding their last two opponents to seven points apiece. That's not good news for Kent State's freshman QB Spencer Keith, who's been solid but still leads one of the less productive offenses in the MAC. Look for Theo Scott to lead Ohio to the win.

2:00 PM ET Buffalo at Western Michigan
Sandwiched in between losses to Northern Illinois and Central Michigan for the Broncos was an impressive win over Toledo, but that 1-2 stretch essentially ensures WMU that they won't win the MAC West this season. The Bulls are hanging on by a thread in the East, but it's not a good sign that their league win came at the expense of a bad Akron team by four points. It's hard to see them being able to go on the road and beat a WMU team that still has QB Tim Hiller and a few solid options at the skill positions. Broncos win.

3:00 PM ET Louisiana Tech at Utah State
This could be an upset opportunity for the Aggies; Diondre Borel can move the football on offense and the Bulldogs haven't exactly been unstoppable offensively this season. But it's tough to see Derek Dooley's team falling in Logan; they will be tested but ultimately escape with the win.

3:30 PM ET Tennessee at No. 2 Alabama
Greg McElroy has struggled in recent weeks, and it's going to be tough to get back on the right track personally when going up against a stout Tennessee defense led by defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. But there's also the matter of the Vols finding a way to slow down RB Mark Ingram, who practically carried the Crimson Tide to a win over South Carolina last weekend. He is essentially the difference in this heated rivalry on Saturday; Tennessee doesn't have an offensive player of that caliber to make plays against a tough defense led by LB Rolando McClain. Roll Tide.

3:30 PM ET Louisville at No. 5 Cincinnati
Even with the status of QB Tony Pike (forearm) unknown this will likely go the way of the Bearcats. Backup QB Zach Collaros has more than enough weapons at his disposal, and the time working with the first team this week should do wonders for his timing. The Cardinals will put up a fight, but they're lacking compared to the Bearcats when it comes to the talent level.

3:30 PM ET Clemson at No. 10 Miami (FL)
Another tribute to the late Jasper Howard will take place in this game, with Clemson DB Chris Chancellor switching his number from 38 to 6 in honor of his friend and high school teammate. As for the game itself, the quality likely depends upon which Tigers show up at Land Shark Stadium. They manhandled Wake Forest last weekend, but this is also a team that went on the road and lost at Maryland. The Hurricanes have played well since the loss to Virginia Tech, and they seem to find new options at the skill positions on a weekly basis. That, along with their discipline, will prove to be too much for Dabo Swinney's team.

3:30 PM ET No. 11 Oregon at Washington
Oregon's quarterback will be a game-time decision due to the health of starter Jeremiah Masoli, but it shouldn't matter much who runs the show provided they take care of the football. Defensively they'll need to contain QB Jake Locker, which is what they'll be able to do on the road. Ducks win.

3:30 PM ET No. 13 Penn State at Michigan
Is Penn State a true contender for the Big Ten title? If you look at their record yes, but all they've done is handle the teams they're supposed to and lost in their one test (Penn State) thus far. The Wolverines have been tested against the likes of Notre Dame, Michigan State and Iowa, so they won't be intimidated at all by the Nittany Lions. Add to this the motivation of being soundly whipped in Happy Valley last season and you've got the makings of an upset in the Big House. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson combine to take out Penn State.

3:30 PM ET Oklahoma at No. 25 Kansas
For all the attention being paid to Sam Bradford, who won't even play this weekend, a lot of people don't realize that there will still be a pretty good quarterback on the field in Lawrence. Senior Todd Reesing has practically rewritten the Kansas record book, and with wide receivers Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier he's got enough weapons to stretch the vaunted Sooner defense. But the question for the Jayhawks will be the performance of the defense, which didn't fare too well last week in the upset loss at Colorado. And it isn't as if Landry Jones hasn't experienced being the starting quarterback. If Oklahoma's offensive line keeps the redshirt freshman upright they should win a hotly-contested game.

3:30 PM ET Boston College at Notre Dame
The Eagles, who tend to play this game with a chip on their shoulder every year, have won the last six meetings in the series. Last year's game was a disaster for Jimmy Clausen and company with their offense rendered inept by a tough BC defense in the 17-0 shutout at The Heights. Things should be different this time around with Clausen and the passing game vastly improved, and the Eagles' offense hasn't always gotten on the plane when hitting the road.

The key in this meeting will be the play of QB Dave Shinskie. When he plays well things open up on the ground for Montel Harris, with last week's whipping of NC State being a prime example. With this game immediately following USC on the schedule we'll find out just how much beating Boston College truly means to the Irish. Their intensity level hasn't matched that of BC's in recent meetings, but that changes this weekend.

3:30 PM ET Akron at Syracuse
For all the snickers and jokes directed towards the Orange for picking up Greg Paulus, at least they didn't have to advertise their quarterback needs in the school paper. 2009 was likely doomed from the get-go for J.D. Brookhart and company, with returning starter Chris Jacquemain being suspended for the year. And don't think that Syracuse forgot about their embarrassing loss at the hands of the Zips last season. It's payback time.

3:30 PM ET UCF at Rice
This may be one of Rice's best opportunities to pick up a win this season; more than a few pundits expected a drop given who they lost but 0-7? Definitely not in the cards, so look for the Knights to pick up a hard-fought road victory.

3:30 PM ET Western Kentucky at Middle Tennessee State
Can the Hilltoppers contain the versatile Dwight Dasher? Not too confident that they do, but Western Kentucky has played better football in recent weeks. Look for this game to be closer than many expect it to be.

3:30 PM ET Wake Forest at Navy
Wake Forest is another one of those ACC Atlantic teams that's extremely hard to define on a weekly basis. One week they look like they can beat anyone, only to go out the following week and have their heads handed to them. The familiarity with Navy (this is their third meeting in the last two seasons) could help Jim Grobe's team but there's no Aaron Curry or Stanley Arnoux on that defense this year. But with Ricky Dobbs out with a knee injury, the pick switches to Wake.

3:30 PM ET North Texas at Troy
The Mean Green can definitely pose a challenge for the reigning Sun Belt champs but if Riley Dodge is either hindered or can't go due to the injury he suffered last week it's tough to see them winning on the road. Look for the Trojans to remain undefeated in conference play.

4:00 PM ET Air Force at No. 18 Utah
If the Falcons can get their ground game rolling this is a possible upset in the making. But given their meager output against Wyoming last weekend (10 points, but they did win 10-0) it's tough to see them running wild on the Utes. Add to this the number of weapons that Utah has on offense, even with RB Matt Asiata out for the year, and it's likely that the Utes defend their home turf.

4:00 PM ET San Diego State at Colorado State
After starting the season 3-0 things have gone downhill for the Rams, who have lost their last four games. San Diego State is a much improved team over the outfit that went 2-10 a season ago, so look for Brady Hoke's team to hang around. But if Grant Stucker can avoid the costly interception CSU will win this game.

4:05 PM ET Idaho at Nevada
It's been a great run for the Vandals, who hope to continue doling out beatings to those who took advantage of their misfortune in prior meetings. Next up is a tough Nevada team that seems to be hitting its stride at just the right time; Idaho will have their hands full in trying to slow down Colin Kaepernick and company. Robb Akey's team has found a way to win football games but that all comes to an end in Reno. Nevada wins by two scores.

4:30 PM ET Washington State at California
Not to say that there's no way in which the Golden Bears lose to the Cougars, but it would be an absolute stunner if they did. Jahvid Best goes off in a blowout win.

5:00 PM ET Florida Atlantic at UL Lafayette
The Owls finally picked up their first win of the season last week, but blowing a big lead in the process at North Texas isn't the best way to go about cementing one's status as a player in the Sun Belt race. Ricky Bustle's team is currently undefeated in league play and they've got the ability to continue on that path whether or not starting QB Trey Revell is able to play this week. Not sure if the Ragin' Cajuns have enough firepower to win the conference, but they've shown the ability to find ways in which to win. That happens again Saturday afternoon.

6:30 PM ET UCLA at No. 22 Arizona
The nation's leading quarterback when it comes to completion percentage is...Arizona's Nick Foles, and his insertion into the starting lineup has coincided with the rapid improvement of the Wildcat offense. If Arizona can get consistent production out of Nic Grigsby and Greg Nwoko on the ground this can be one of the most explosive offenses on the West Coast. And it should help matters that the defense will be dealing with a UCLA offense that has struggled to consistently move the football against solid competition. Arizona wins.

7:00 PM ET No. 6 Iowa at Michigan State
This is a dangerous game for the Hawkeyes, but while they're the favorites to win this Big Ten tilt there are more than enough naysayers out there to allow Kirk Ferentz to sell his team on their being disrespected by the nation. As was the case last season, when Ricky Stanzi is efficient Iowa more times than not wins the game, but they've gotten away with a few close shaves in 2009. The Spartans, on the other hand, have experienced almost a rebirth following their struggles in non-conference play and a win here would put them right in the thick of the race to Pasadena.

The Michigan State offense has been more productive of late due to the improved play of QB Kirk Cousins combined with a more consistent rushing attack. It would shock no one if the Spartans were to win this game, but that's not the pick here. The Hawkeyes simply find ways to win football games, and thanks to intangibles combined with a very good defense they'll do just that on the road.

7:00 PM ET Vanderbilt at No. 24 South Carolina
The Commodores were supposed to continue progress following a season that saw them go to their first bowl game since 1984. So much for that thought; Vanderbilt is right back at the bottom of the SEC and they'll likely remain winless in conference play due in large part to the South Carolina defense. LB Eric Norwood is one of the best defenders in the nation yet people seem to ignore the senior's body of work, and QB Stephen Garcia should be able to rebound from an off night in Tuscaloosa last weekend. Gamecocks win, but as they're wont to do they'll make it a little more interesting than it needs to be.

7:00 PM ET UL Monroe at Kentucky
While the Wildcats have struggled in conference play, key players such as Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke should find better lanes in which to make plays against the Warhawks. Charle Weatherbie's team will be a tough out but at the end of the evening Kentucky's skill position players will be a little too much to handle.

7:00 PM ET Florida International at Arkansas State
The Red Wolves had the perfect chance to show the nation that they were indeed a threat to win the Sun Belt last Tuesday night, but they fell behind 16-0 at UL Lafayette and fell short in their comeback attempt. If they're to have anything to say about who wins the conference they can afford no more stubs of the toe, most certainly against a winless FIU squad. Mario Cristobal has improved the level of talent at FIU but it hasn't clicked thus far. That remains the case in Jonesboro.

7:00 PM ET Tulane at Southern Miss
The Green Wave have a hard enough time winning at home so it's extremely difficult to see them knocking off Southern Miss in Hattiesburg. Look for Martevious Young to hit DeAndre Brown for a pair of scores in a solid Golden Eagles victory.

7:00 PM ET Texas A&M at Texas Tech
Last week the Red Raiders went to Nebraska and beat the Cornhuskers 31-10, and QB Steven Sheffield looked pretty good in leading the offense. Meanwhile, the Aggies gave up sixty-two points in an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Kansas State. For the second consecutive weekend Mike Sherman's team will be on the receiving end of a serious beating, and this one will be over by halftime.

7:00 PM ET Temple at Toledo
The Owls currently lead the MAC East with an unblemished (3-0) conference mark. QB Vaughn Charlton has played better in recent weeks and the defense has more than held up its end of the bargain. But they'll be tested on the road by Aaron Opelt and company, and to this point in the season it hasn't been difficult to see that the true power in this conference resides in the West. Rockets win at the Glass Bowl.

7:30 PM ET No. 1 Florida at Mississippi State
Some are selling this as the opportunity for Dan Mullen to pick up the first signature win of his tenure, citing his familiarity with the Florida system and its personnel. Yup, and that's exactly what people said about USF defensive coordinator Bob Diaco going up against Cincinnati last Thursday night. The point is, while you can draw up every formation and play your old team is going to run it eventually comes down to skill level and how well your players execute. The Gators have superior athletes right now, and that will be the difference in Starkville.

7:30 PM ET No. 8 TCU at No. 16 Brigham Young
The game of the day is the first of three games that will likely decide who wins the Mountain West, and if there's anything the Cougars can take away from last year's 32-7 loss in Fort Worth it's that they need to block TCU DE Jerry Hughes. Hughes, who already has eight sacks this season, was a man possessed in the last meeting and BYU didn't take care of the football either. If Max Hall has to worry too much about staying upright he's going to be in trouble. If given time the senior can hook up with TE Dennis Pitta and RB Harvey Unga, and as a result the Cougars will put points on the board.

As for TCU's offense, senior Andy Dalton is a winner that can hurt you with either his arm or his legs. Four Horned Frogs have rushed for at least 200 yards this season, led by senior Joseph Turner's 399 yards and seven touchdowns. It will be interesting to see how Bronco Mendenhall's defense deals with slot receiver Jeremy Kerley; if you want him to run wild just try to cover him with a linebacker. Kerley is also a threat in the return game, but the number of options that TCU has could ultimately be the difference. Look for TCU to win the turnover battle and escape Provo with a three-point victory.

7:30 PM ET Auburn at No. 9 LSU
No, Auburn hasn't looked good in losses to Arkansas and Kentucky, but this is a game they can win. Why? Because LSU hasn't exactly hit its stride offensively this season, especially QB Jordan Jefferson. Without consistency in the passing game it's been tough for backs Charles Scott and Keiland Williams to consistently find holes as a result. I get the feeling that this will be a high-scoring game, and in that case look for Chris Todd to make enough plays to wrap up the upset.

7:30 PM ET SMU at No. 17 Houston
This could be the highest-scoring game in the country on Saturday. June Jones has turned around the Mustangs in good fashion to this point in the season; he's extremely successful in the second year of his tenure no matter where he's been. But they will be tested by Case Keenum and company, and Houston can ill-afford another league loss with UTEP sitting there with one league loss (and the head-to-head tiebreaker). Bo Levi Mitchell has progressed nicely for SMU, but the pick here is Houston because their defense looks more capable of getting that one stop that could determine the outcome.

8:00 PM ET No. 3 Texas at Missouri
Blaine Gabbert looked very good in replacing Chase Daniel in the early stages of the season. But he learned quickly that there's a definite difference when you get to conference play, struggling in losses to Nebraska and Oklahoma State. Now he's got to deal with Texas, whose defensive line proved last weekend that they can get after the quarterback. Add to that the presence of Colt McCoy and you've got a Longhorn victory. The score will be close but in the end Texas wins by a touchdown.

8:00 PM ET Oregon State at No. 7 USC
The last two times USC has visited Corvallis they've lost, but at least their players were alive (and can likely remember) for a successful trip north. Oregon State, on the other hand, hasn't won at USC since 1969 and if the Beavers have any players who were alive for that meeting then he shouldn't be playing. Jacquizz Rodgers is beginning to get back into his comfort zone following a mediocre stretch that coincided with a two-game losing streak. Can Sean Canfield and company move the ball consistently on the vaunted Trojan defense? Can Oregon State slow down Matt Barkley and the USC passing attack? This one doesn't get out of hand but look for USC to be more than motivated for this rematch. Trojans win by a comfortable margin.

8:00 PM ET UNLV at New Mexico
The loser of this game will likely be considered, without a doubt, the worst team in the Mountain West. The Lobos have more punches landed by a head coach (1) than they do wins (0) at this point in the season, and Mike Sanford is likely in serious danger of losing his job due to UNLV's recent nosedive. This game likely comes down to a "take your pick" involving the quarterbacks, and I'd take Omar Clayton over Donovan Porterie. Not by much, but just enough to give UNLV a much-needed victory.

10:15 PM ET Fresno State at New Mexico State
The Aggies have been a pleasant surprise under DeWayne Walker, playing solid defense while remaining competitive offensively. But they don't have the firepower to match what the Bulldogs bring to the table, most notably RB Ryan Mathews. NMSU will hang around for much of the game but in the end Pat Hill's team is a bit too strong.

10:25 PM ET Arizona State at Stanford
The problem for the Sun Devils, even in victory, hasn't been the defense. With freshman phenom Vontaze Burfict on the prowl this is a unit that can make plays. They'll have their hands full with Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck, but the bigger issue is how well QB Danny Sullivan will play. He wasn't great against Washington last week but made the play that won the game in the final seconds. If he has issues with the Stanford defense it will be hard for the Sun Devils to pick up the win. And with these two teams likely being in the middle of the Pac-10 standings come season's end this result could go a long way in determining bowl assignments. Stanford by a touchdown.

11:05 PM ET No. 4 Boise State at Hawaii
No disrespect to Bryant Moniz but the Warriors have a far better chance of winning if Greg Alexander weren't out for the year with a torn ACL. Chris Petersen's squad continues on their march towards a second consecutive WAC title.