Thursday/Friday Preview

September 3rd, 2009

Pregame handshakes and payback


The college football season opens tonight with a nine-game slate, and the headliner is Oregon visiting Boise State (10:15 PM on ESPN). The Broncos won in Eugene last season, and there is some bad blood between the two teams. Boise State picked up two late-hit personal fouls, one of which resulted in an ejection and Oregon’s Jeremiah Masoli being knocked out of the game with a concussion. Add this subplot to the NCAA’s mandate that teams will shake hands before the game and you have all the makings for a possibly volatile situation.


When both quarterbacks state in the weeks leading up to the game that they don’t want to shake hands, imagine what the linemen are thinking. Personally I think the new rule is a bad idea; guys spend the hours before a game getting keyed up and focused on knocking the taste out of someone’s mouth. How are they expected to calm down momentarily to shake hands? The NCAA means well by instituting this rule, but it may be best to limit the hand-shaking to after the game.


As for the game itself, expect a lot of points on the scoreboard. Quarterbacks Masoli and Kellen Moore do things in different ways but they’re both outstanding at leading their teams down the field. And in head coaches Chris Petersen and Chip Kelly, who replaces the retired Mike Bellotti, you’ll have two of the brighter offensive minds in the game. Boise State will use their spread as a pass-first offense, mixing in the run to maintain a balanced attack. Oregon, on the other hand, likes to run the option out of its system and can throw as well. Keep and eye on the Ducks’ “TZR” idea, developed to make sure that players LaMichael James (T; running back), Ed Dickson (Z; tight end) and Kenjon Barner (R; slot receiver) are involved in some way, shape or form.


The winner most likely will come down to which defense can make the critical stop and you’ve got two of the better cornerbacks in the nation on display in BSU’s Kyle Wilson and Oregon’s Walter Thurmond III. Both teams have some fresh faces on defense so do not expect a defensive struggle. Since I like the Broncos to reach the BCS this season they’ll be my pick, but this will be an explosive beginning to the college football season. Here’s the rest of the schedule for Thursday and Friday.


7:00 PM ET    South Carolina at North Carolina State (ESPN)

Last year’s meeting got out of hand, with the Gamecocks romping to a 34-0 win in which NC State QB Russell Wilson was knocked out of the game with a concussion. Wilson, who is expected to be one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC, returns for a sophomore campaign that follows a First Team All-ACC selection in 2008. The Gamecocks lost two of their top three tacklers but they do return senior LB Eric Norwood, who finished with seventy-five tackles and nine sacks as a defensive end last season.


The questions for Steve Spurrier’s team lie on the other side of the football, where Stephen Garcia has to be the answer at quarterback. There are no other experienced answers on the roster, and he’ll need to produce without the graduated Kenny McKinley and Jared Cook. Despite some solid options at running back for South Carolina and injuries to Tom O’Brien’s defense, look for the Wolfpack to avenge last year’s defeat in a close home victory.


7:00 PM ET    Troy at Bowling Green

The reigning Sun Belt champs take their show on the road, visiting a Bowling Green squad playing its first game under new head coach Dave Clawson. Seven starters return on offense for the Falcons, including QB Tyler Sheehan, but they’ll also have to replace eight defensive starters. And with the Trojans returning practically all of their key offensive contributors from 2008, it isn’t too difficult to see them heading back home with a victory.


7:00 PM ET    Villanova at Temple  

Not exactly the Big 5, but the newly created Mayor’s Cup. The Wildcats did give West Virginia some trouble for a little while in last season’s opener, and they could do the same to the Owls tonight. But there’s something about the Owls that leads some to believe that they can be a contender in the MAC East. They lose Adam DiMichele and will need to revamp an offense that was among the nation’s worst in 2008, but there is a lot of talent on defense that used the last two seasons to mature. Close game, but Temple wins.


7:00 PM ET    Coastal Carolina at Kent State

The Golden Flashes did lose QB Julian Edelman, but RB Eugene Jarvis is back and healthy going into his senior campaign. The Chanticleers may give them a run in the first half but look for Kent State to pull away.


7:30 PM ET    North Texas at Ball State

There are some who think the Mean Green has a chance to knock off Stan Parrish’s Cardinals in Muncie. You won’t find that opinion here, especially when the visitors have a record of 8-39 over the last four seasons, including 4-23 in the road. Ball State has a lot of adjustments to make in replacing QB Nate Davis, but they should have enough to take care of North Texas.             


8:00 PM ET    North Dakota State at Iowa State   

The first game of the Paul Rhoads era in Ames, and they take on a North Dakota State team that will pose a serious challenge despite their FCS status. Over the last ten seasons the Cyclones are 9-1 in home openers, but the Bison have won three of their last five games against FBS opponents. QB Austen Arnaud lends a steady hand to the ISU offense, and besides WR RJ Sumrall the Cyclones return the majority of their key offensive playmakers. A year older and a year wiser, look for Iowa State to hold off North Dakota State.                


8:00 PM ET    Eastern Kentucky at Indiana (Big Ten Network)   

Even with the loss of Kellen Lewis the Hoosiers should not lose to the Colonels. They’ve had more than enough time to get used to the playmaker being gone (kicked off of the team in the offseason), and even with the lack of explosive offensive threats they do welcome back senior DE Jammie Kirlew. Look for him to spend a lot of time in the EKU backfield, and QB Ben Chappell to move the offense down the field in an Indiana victory.                        


9:00 PM ET    Utah State at No. 19 Utah

The Utes own the nation’s longest winning streak, having won their last fourteen ball games. Therefore it will be an extremely tough task for the Aggies to go into Salt Lake City and leave with a win. New head coach Gary Andersen will be very familiar with Utah’s personnel, having been the defensive coordinator over the previous three seasons. But he’ll also be familiar with the disparity in talent, and if he forgot the Utes will definitely remind him. Look for Utah to get their young quarterbacks some work in a routine victory, extending their win streaks to fifteen (overall) and twelve (in the series) respectively.


8:00 PM ET (Friday) Tulsa at Tulane

A lot of points may end up on the scoreboard, with the majority coming from Todd Graham’s Golden Hurricane in the regular season and conference opener for both. Bob Toledo’s team may have improved some, but the quarterback position is still an iffy proposition and the Green Wave simply do not have the firepower required to keep up with Tulsa. Turnovers will make this interesting if Tulane can force a few; otherwise look for the Golden Hurricane to take care of business in the Big Easy.