Sunday/Monday Preview

September 6th, 2009

Conference showdowns on Labor Day


Saturday brought about a number of surprises, beginning with the sprained shoulder suffered by Oklahoma quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford. Redshirt freshman Landry Jones had to take over, and while he wasn’t bad the Sooners couldn’t do enough to hold off BYU (14-13). Other surprises include Michigan’s response to a week of criticism and Illinois practically lying down against Missouri. But the Tigers deserve credit as well; many expected this to be the beginning of a downward cycle for Gary Pinkel’s team and they made a rather loud statement to the rest of the Big 12 North.


And how about FCS schools and other underdogs on the first Saturday of the season? Appalachian State made a late run at ECU, and that was without star QB Armanti Edwards. Northern Iowa had Iowa on the ropes in Iowa City before the Hawkeyes blocked a pair of kicks to survive 17-16. Ohio State struggled with Navy until the bitter end, needing an interception return on a Midshipmen two-point conversion attempt to hang on. But for all the good that Virginia Tech’s competitive effort could have done for the ACC despite losing to Alabama, Duke and Virginia managed to send it all up in flames.


Duke lost to defending national champion Richmond in Durham 24-16, but the Blue Devils needed a late touchdown to get the game to within one score. Virginia seemed to fall asleep at the wheel following an impressive opening drive, turning the ball over in a sound 26-14 home loss to William & Mary. Add to this a loss by Wake Forest to a decent Baylor team due in large part to a turnover margin of minus-3 and Maryland getting embarrassed on the West Coast and you’ve got the makings of a pretty bad weekend for the ACC.


But there’s also more football to be played, with two games apiece on Sunday and Monday.


(8) Ole Miss @ Memphis (Sunday, 3:30 PM on ESPN)

This is actually a decent rivalry game, and the Tigers could hang around despite the fact that Houston Nutt’s Rebels come in as a trendy pick to make noise in the ACC. QB Jevan Snead is thought by many to be the second-best draft prospect at his position in the country. With players such as Dexter McCluster, Shay Hodge and Cordera Eason at his disposal the junior is in line for an even better 2009. Tommy West’s team has some talented skill position players as well, but do they have enough defense to keep up with the Rebels? The answer here is no, but Memphis will hang around.


Colorado State @ Colorado (Sunday, 7 PM on FSN)

I’m with the Colorado State supporters on this game: the Rocky Mountain Showdown belongs in Denver. If this were a case of both teams getting an equal number of home games in the series then it would be tolerable. But I doubt that’s the case, with the BCS resident Buffaloes getting the better end of the deal most likely. That could serve as a motivating factor for Steve Fairchild’s Rams, who have lost four of the last five meetings in the series. Before last season they’d been close games, but CSU has lost some key players from last year’s New Mexico Bowl champion team.


There’s a lot more pressure upon the shoulders of the Buffaloes, who really need to challenge for the Big 12 North crown this season. QB Cody Hawkins may not have the services of WR Josh Smith (transfer), but the Buffs have some solid running backs in Demetrius Sumler, Rodney Stewart and Darrell Scott. The defense has some holes to fill but there’s enough talent on offense to make up for that. A loss here could derail Colorado’s season before it even begins; look for CU to win a close one.


Cincinnati @ Rutgers (Monday, 4 PM on ESPN)

The season opener for both is also the Big East opener, with the winner enjoying the satisfaction of leading the conference for the remainder of the month (no other conference games will be played in September). A lot has been made about the fact that the Bearcats have to replace ten starters on defense, but how much of an issue is that? It’s a new scheme (switching from the 4-3 to the 3-4) with a new coordinator (Bob Diaco), so it might be a positive to essentially start fresh with a number of new faces. The offense will remain explosive behind QB Tony Pike and an explosive receiving corps, meaning that Brian Kelly’s team will put points on the board.


Rutgers wishes that they were as established at quarterback and receiver, having to replace QB Mike Teel and receivers Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood. Either Domenic Natale or freshman Tom Savage will take the first snap of the season, but both will likely play as will Jabu Lovelace (Wildcat formation). The Scarlet Knights have one of the better offensive lines in the Big East and a few different options at running back. The defense is also solid, and the combination has made Greg Schiano’s team a trendy pick in national media circles to win the conference. But why would the media that cover the league on a daily basis pick Rutgers to finish fifth? The nation seems to be selling Cincinnati short; you won’t see that here. Bearcats win.


Miami @ (18) Florida State (Monday, 8 PM on ESPN)

The rivalry that helped shape college football in the 90s is back on Labor Day night, with both teams hoping to use the game as a springboard to bigger things. Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews has gone on record with the statement that his Seminole defense is the fastest that he’s had at the school despite the heavy personnel losses from 2008. The defense hasn’t been the issue for Florida State in recent years; the rather pedestrian offense has been the problem. Christian Ponder is a year older and should be more mature under center, and there are some good skill position players as well. But can line coach Rick Trickett get that group going? They’ve struggled with consistency, and the running game is still a sore spot for FSU.


As for the Hurricanes, is this the year in which Randy Shannon’s team makes the transition from “Baby Canes” to ACC title contender? Jacory Harris will be the unquestioned starter but if he happens to go down they’re in serious trouble with the lone backup being true freshman A.J. Highsmith. But Miami is in very good shape at the skill position, and backs Graig Cooper and Javarris James will give teams fits all year long. The defense is a year older and most likely a year better. Florida State will also have to replace the indispensable Graham Gano on special teams, and if you know anything about this rivalry then you know how important the kicking game can be. In recent years this has been an ugly football game, but also an entertaining one. The Hurricanes have lost three of the last five, including the last two, but they settle a score in Tallahassee.