Clemson-Auburn is a key ACC-SEC showdown in Atlanta
College football's first weekend of action features games on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Here's a prediction on every game this weekend.
No. 24 Boise State at No. 18 Michigan State (Fri.)
Much of the focus will be on the first-time starters at quarterback, Joe Southwick for Boise State and Andrew Maxwell for Michigan State, but the key matchups will be on the line of scrimmage. Michigan State will look to attack Boise State’s inexperienced defense — only one full-time starter is back — with a heavy dose of tailback Le’Veon Bell.
Michigan State 28–14
No. 98 San Jose State at No. 21 Stanford (Fri.)
Josh Nunes gets his first start at Stanford after beating out Brett Nottingham for the right to replace Andrew Luck at quarterback. The Cardinal have won four straight and eight of nine vs. San Jose State, including a 57–3 win in last year’s opener.
No. 28 NC State vs. No. 37 Tennessee (in Atlanta) (Friday)
It’s always dangerous to put too much stock in one game, but Tennessee coach Derek Dooley could really use a win to begin his third season in Knoxville. Dooley is 11–14 overall, and only one of the wins (vs. Cincinnati in 2011) came against an FBS team that ended the season with a winning record.
Villanova at No. 73 Temple (Fri.)
Temple opens up with Villanova for the fourth straight season. The Owls rolled last year, winning 42–7, but struggled in ’10 (won 31–24) and lost in ’09 (lost 27–24). Villanova went 2–9 last year and won only one game in the Colonial.
Wagner at No. 120 Florida Atlantic
FAU scored 17 points or less in nine of 12 games en route to a 1–11 season in the final year of Howard Schnellenberger’s legendary career. Carl Pelini, the brother of Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, is now in charge in South Florida.
Florida Atlantic 20–10
No. 108 Hawaii at No. 1 USC
Norm Chow makes his debut as a head coach against the No. 1 team in the land. Chow and current USC coach Lane Kiffin served on the same USC staff from 2001-04, with Chow as the offensive coordinator and Kiffin a the tight ends (’01) and wide receivers (’02-04) coach.
No. 104 North Texas at No. 2 LSU
When he signed with Georgia as a 4-star recruit in 2009, Zach Mettenberger probably didn’t think it would be four years before he would be starting his first game in the FBS ranks. But that is the reality for the 6-5, 230-pound fourth-year junior who arrived at LSU after a stop at Butler (Kan.) Community College.
No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 7 Michigan (at Arlington, Texas)
There is one school of thought that says that it’s best to play Alabama early, especially with so many new starters on the defense. That’s probably true, but the Crimson Tide defense should be more than ready to slow down the Wolverines.
No. 64 Arkansas State at No. 4 Oregon
Two of the top offensive minds in college will meet in Eugene, with Gus Malzahn making his head coaching debut against Chip Kelly and the Ducks. Ryan Aplin leads an Arkansas State offense that should be able to score some points, but the Red Wolves won’t be able to stop the Oregon attack.
No. 5 Oklahoma at No. 105 UTEP
UTEP is 0–9 vs. current power conference teams during the 11-year Mike Price era. That will be 0–10 sometime last Saturday night.
No. 99 Miami (Ohio) at No. 6 Ohio State
Don’t expect much production on the ground from Miami on Saturday. Last year, there were 68 players in the nation who had more rushing yards than the entire Miami team. The Redhawks netted only 886 yards on the ground.
Ohio State 41–14
No. 111 Buffalo at No. 8 Georgia
Mark Richt said earlier this week that “Coach (Jeff) Quinn is in his third season. He’s doing an outstanding job there — no doubt about it.” Quinn is 5–19 overall and 3–13 in the MAC. Not sure what is “outstanding” about that.
Murray State at No. 9 Florida State
Murray State averaged 39.9 points in 10 games vs. FCS competition last year but scored only nine in a season-opening loss at Louisville last year.
Florida State 44–10
No. 88 Wyoming at No. 11 Texas
Wyoming could be a sleeper in the Mountain West, but the Cowboys will be outmatched in Austin on Saturday. The Longhorns will run all over a Wyoming defense that ranked 115th in the nation in stopping the run in 2011.
No. 83 Marshall at No. 12 West Virginia
Marshall is 0–11 all-time against West Virginia and only twice has the game been decided by less than 10 points — 24–21 in 2010 and 17–15 in 1911. Last year, the Herd held WVU to 291 yards, by far the fewest of the season for the Mountaineers.
West Virginia 38-14
Jacksonville State at No. 13 Arkansas
Jacksonville State coach Jack Crowe was on the losing end the last time Arkansas lost to an FCS (or Division I-AA school). That was in 1992, when the Hogs lost 10–3 to The Citadel in the season-opener. Crowe was fired after the loss.
No. 82 Southern Miss at No. 14 Nebraska
Southern Miss won 12 games last year but figures to take a step back with quarterback Austin Davis no longer around. New coach Ellis Johnson, formerly the defensive boss at South Carolina, will turn to junior Chris Campbell, who has yet to throw a pass in college.
No. 15 Clemson vs. No. 30 Auburn
Don’t be surprised if the Auburn defense, now coordinated by Brian VanGorder, is vastly improved in 2012. But also don’t be surprised if the Auburn defense struggles in Week 1, even though Clemson is missing All-America wideout Sammy Watkins. The Tigers still have weapons.
Northern Iowa at No. 17 Wisconsin
Danny O’Brien makes his debut at quarterback for the Badgers, but the Wisconsin offense will still feature heavy doses of tailbacks Montee Ball and James White.
Savannah State at No. 19 Oklahoma State
Savannah State is 2–20 over the last two seasons with both wins coming over North Carolina Central. This is a colossal mismatch.
Oklahoma State 51-6
No. 65 Navy vs. No. 20 Notre Dame (Dublin, Ireland)
The storyline for this game — other than the fact that it is being played in Ireland — is the debut of redshirt freshman Everett Golson at quarterback for Notre Dame. Golson is far from a finished product, but he is an outstanding athlete who has taken care of the ball — a huge focus for the Irish this season — in scrimmages.
Notre Dame 34-14
No. 95 San Diego State at No. 25 Washington
Oregon State transfer Ryan Katz will make his debut for San Diego State against a familiar foe. Katz lost his only start vs. UW — he threw for 206 yards but was picked off three times in a 35–34 loss in 2009 — but Oregon State went 2–1 vs. the Huskies in his three seasons in Corvallis.
No. 94 Bowling Green at No. 26 Florida
Florida is hoping to find some answers at quarterback this Saturday. Here’s a question: Will Matt Schilz, Bowling Green’s third-year starter, be the best quarterback on the field? My guess is yes.
Missouri State at No. 27 Kansas State
K-State struggled in its 2011 opener vs. an FCS team, holding on to beat Eastern Kentucky 10–7. It shouldn’t be so difficult this time around. Missouri State went 2–9 last season and was among the worst defensive teams in the nation.
Kansas State 41–0
Elon at No. 29 North Carolina
North Carolina is the better team, but the best player on the field might be Elon wide receiver Aaron Mellette, who caught 113 passes for 1,639 yards last season, including 11 for 180 in the opener vs. Vanderbilt.
North Carolina 33–14
SE Louisiana at No. 31Missouri
The Lions from Southeastern Louisiana gave up a total of 99 points in two games vs. FBS foes last year — 47 to Tulane and 52 to Southern Miss. Points should be easy to come by for the Tigers.
Chattanooga at No. 34 South Florida
Chattanooga went 5–6 last year with a future NFL Draft pick (B.J. Coleman, seventh round to Green Bay) playing quarterback. The Mocs don’t have a future pro under center this year.
South Florida 44-10
Richmond at No. 36 Virginia
Richmond opened the 2011 season with three straight wins, highlighted by a 23–21 victory at Duke, but then lost its final eight games. That’s not very Spider-like.
No. 54 Nevada at No. 38 California
This is a tricky opener for the Golden Bears. Two years, ago Cal made the short trip to Reno and came home with a 52–31 loss. Zach Maynard must play well for Cal to win.
No. 79 Toledo at No. 43 Arizona
RichRod’s first game at Arizona is against a Toledo team that knows how to put points on the board. The Rockets averaged 42.2 points per game last season and hit the 60-point mark on two occasions.
No. 59 Ohio at No. 44 Penn State
The Bill O’Brien era begins Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium when the Nittany Lions host Ohio, one of the top mid-major programs in the nation. Ohio is fresh off a 10-win season and features one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the nation, junior Tyler Tettleton. A true dual-threat, Tettleton threw for 3,202 yards and 28 touchdowns (with only 10 INTs) and added 658 yards on the ground in 2012.
Penn State 21–13
Youngstown State at No. 45 Pittsburgh
With Ray Graham out with an injury, don’t be surprised if Pitt freshman Rushel Shell has a huge — as in 200-plus yards — game in the coaching debut of Paul Chryst.
No. 46 Rutgers at No. 113 Tulane
Tulane has some solid skill-position players — most notably quarterback Ryan Griffin and tailback Orleans Darkwa — but Rutgers’ defense will be a bit too strong for the Green Wave.
Jackson State at No. 47 Mississippi State
Jackson Sate went 9–2 in the FCS ranks last season but shouldn’t pose too much of a threat to Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs.
Mississippi State 41–10
No. 48 Miami (Fla.) at No. 86 Boston College
I realize expectations aren’t high at Miami this fall, but it’s got to be a bit alarming that the Hurricanes are only favored by two points over a Boston College team that is picked by most to finish in last place in the ACC Atlantic — even behind Maryland.
No. 49 Northwestern at No. 67 Syracuse
Syracuse is eager to get the 2012 season off on a good note after losing the final five games in 2011. Northwestern opens the season with three straight non-conference games vs. BCS foes. The Wildcats host Vanderbilt and Boston College in the next two weeks.
No. 50 Iowa vs. No. 85 Northern Illinois (Chicago)
Northern Illinois brings a nine-game winning streak into the 2012 opener, but the Huskies only return three starters on offense. They figure to take a step back in the competitive MAC West.
No. 77 Western Michigan at No. 52 Illinois
Western Michigan went 1–3 outright vs. teams vs. BCS conferences in 2011, with a win at UConn, a lopsided loss at Michigan (34–10) and close losses at Illinois (23–20) and vs. Purdue (37–32) in the Little Caesers Pizza Bowl. This is a team with a senior quarterback (Alex Carder) and a veteran offensive line that will not be intimidated by playing on the road at a Big Ten school.
Western Michigan 30–27
Eastern Kentucky at No. 53 Purdue
It will be an emotional day for Purdue coach Danny Hope. He served as the head coach at Eastern Kentucky, his alma mater, from 2003-07 and guided the Colonials to a 35–22 record in five seasons.
Liberty at No. 57 Wake Forest
Wake Forest ended the 2011 season with five losses in its last six games, with the only win coming at home vs. Maryland. Liberty, a solid FCS team, will not be a pushover.
Wake Forest 31–17
Northwestern State at No. 58 Texas Tech
Northwestern State scored a total of 10 points in two games vs. FBS competition last year — three vs. LSU and seven vs. SMU. Texas Tech should roll in Week 1.
Texas Tech 48–7
No. 74 Tulsa at No. 60 Iowa State
Iowa State is the only AQ conference home team that is an underdog vs. a non-AQ conference opponent. Tulsa is solid, but the Golden Hurricane didn’t play well last year against top competition. I think the wrong team is favored.
Iowa State 33–28
Nicholls State at No. 61 Oregon State
Oregon State was stunned at home in its 2011 opener, losing in overtime, 29–28, to Sacramento State. Don’t expect a repeat. Nicholls State went 1–10 last season, with its only win coming vs. Evangel.
Oregon State 41–0
No. 68 FIU at No. 80 Duke
Duke rallied from 10 down in the fourth quarter to win at FIU, 31–27, last season. The Golden Panthers had little trouble moving the ball, with 392 yards passing and 176 yards rushing. However, two of their top skill players (quarterback Wesley Carroll and wideout T.Y. Hilton) are gone.
No. 121 Texas State at No. 70 Houston
Dennis Franchione and Texas State make the short trip to Houston to face Houston and new coach Tony Levine. The Cougars, who won 13 games last year, will send out sophomore David Piland to replace record-setting quarterback Case Keenum. Piland threw for 2,669 yards and 24 touchdowns two years ago while filling in for the injured Keenum.
Central Arkansas at No. 71 Ole Miss
After leading Arkansas State to its first-ever Sun Belt title in 2011, Hugh Freeze is now charged with making Ole Miss relevant in the brutal SEC West. Winning this week won’t be a problem. Winning more than four games this year could be.
Ole Miss 30–7
William & Mary at No. 72 Maryland
I can’t even imagine what would happen to Randy Edsall if he opened Year 2 with a loss to an FCS school that went 5–6 last year.
Lamar at No. 76 UL-Lafayette
Mark Hudspeth did a tremendous job in his first season at UL-Lafayette, leading the Ragin’ Cajuns to a 9–4 record capped with a thrilling 32–30 win over San Diego State in the New Orleans bowl. The Cajuns should win with ease in Week 1.
Appalachian State at No. 78 East Carolina
This won’t be easy for ECU. Appalachian State went 8–4 last year and is ranked No. 8 in the 2012 FCS preseason top 25 by Athlon Sports. The Pirates, though, are set up for a nice season in Conference USA. If Rio Johnson plays well at quarterback, ECU should contend in the East Division.
East Carolina 30–17
South Dakota State at No. 81 Kansas
Charlie Weis makes his debut at KU against a South Dakota State club that went 5–6 last year and lost to Illinois 56–3 in its only game vs. an FBS opponent. Dayne Crist, a former top recruit at Notre Dame, is the starting quarterback at Kansas.
No. 91 Colorado State vs. No. 84 Colorado (Denver)
This rivalry has lost some of its luster in recent years, but it’s still an important game in the Centennial State. Former Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, who won two national titles with the Tide, is the man in charge at Colorado State. The Rams will need a big game from underrated tailback Chris Nwoke.
Weber State at No. 87 Fresno State
New Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter has a defensive background, but the Bulldogs will be fun to watch on offense this fall with star power at quarterback in Derek Carr (David’s brother) and tailback Robbie Rouse.
Fresno State 44–14
Indiana State at No. 89 Indiana
The Hoosiers were the only AQ conference team that did not beat an FBS opponent last year. Indiana lost to Ball State in Indianapolis and at North Texas. Indiana State will make Kevin Wilson and the Hoosiers sweat, but IU should prevail.
Idaho State at No. 92 Air Force
Idaho State is bad. Very bad. The Bengals went 2–9 last year and ranked in the 100s in the FCS ranks in both scoring offense and scoring defense. The Air Force option attack could roll up over 400 yards on the ground.
Air Force 44–0
Austin Peay at No. 101 Western Kentucky
Austin Peay lost its two games vs. FBS opponents last season by a combined score of 99–16 — and one of those games was against Memphis. The Governors will be hard-pressed to keep this game close.
Western Kentucky 41–10
No. 109 Troy at No. 106 UAB
Troy rallied from nine down in the fourth quarter to beat UAB 24–23 last fall in a game that featured some questionable officiating down the stretch. “Everybody saw the game — bad calls by some Sun Belt referees,” UAB safety Jamie Bender said after the game. This year, the Blazers will be at home, with Conference USA officials.
Tennessee-Martin at No. 115 Memphis
The Larry Porter era mercifully came to an end after two miserable seasons. Now, it’s Justin Feunte’s turn to make Memphis a factor as it gets ready to make the move from Conference USA to the Big East. The first season figures to be a struggle, but the first week should produce a victory.
Southern at No. 117 New Mexico
Bob Davie is back in coaching for the first time since 2001. He inherited a New Mexico program that has been alarmingly uncompetitive in recent years. This is a big rebuilding project.
New Mexico 21–3
No. 124 UTSA at No. 123 South Alabama
It’s classic battle between two of the four new members of the FBS ranks. Since we’ve got South Alabama ranked higher and the Jags are at home, the pick is obvious.
South Alabama 34-30
No. 75 Kentucky at No. 23 Louisville
Establishing a running game is always important, but it takes on extra meaning in this intra-state rivalry. Consider the following: The team that has won the rushing battle has won the last 13 Kentucky-Louisville games.
No. 93 SMU at No. 40 Baylor
Former Texas Longhorn Garrett Gilbert, a one-time Gatorade National Player of the Year, makes his debut as the starting quarterback at SMU. He will be operating behind an offensive line that features five new starters.
Virginia Tech 24–17
— by Mitch Light