Football is finally here. Here are our previews and predictions for the ten best college football games this weekend.
TCU (-5) at Baylor (Fri.)
The defending Rose Bowl champs open up with a sneaky tough game against a Baylor team that boasts a ton of firepower on offense. Last year, TCU handled the Bears with ease, holding Robert Griffin & Co. to 263 yards (more than 200 below their season average) in a 45–10 victory in Fort Worth. Gary Patterson has proven over and over that he simply reloads on defense, but with only four starters back on that side of the ball, the veteran head coach has to be a bit concerned heading into the opener. Offensively, TCU will send out sophomore Casey Pachall for his first career start. Pachall has dealt with some shoulder injuries during preseason camp but should be fine for the opener.
TCU 28, Baylor 21
Oregon (-4.5) vs. LSU (at Arlington, Texas)
What drama: Two preseason top-10 teams squaring off on a neutral field on the first Saturday of the college season. Oh, have we mentioned that one team (Oregon) will be without its best defensive player and one of the premier special team threats in the nation (cornerback Cliff Harris is suspended) and the other team (LSU) will be without arguably its most dangerous offensive player (receiver Russell Shepard, suspended for at least the first game due to eligibility issues) and its starting quarterback (Jordan Jefferson, suspended indefinitely after being arrested)? So what about the players who will actually be on the field? Oregon is explosive on offense, but the Ducks have only one starter back on the front seven on defense. Expect LSU to lean heavily on tailback Spencer Ware and its talented offensive line.
LSU 28, Oregon 24
BYU (-2.5) at Ole Miss
BYU’s first game as an Independent will take place in cozy Oxford, Miss. The Cougars improved dramatically on both sides of the ball as the 2010 season progressed, but we’re not quite sure how much of that was due to a much-softer late-season schedule. One thing is for sure: Jake Heaps is a future star at quarterback, and he has plenty of playmakers at his disposal. This is not good news for an Ole Miss defense that struggled mightily last season. The Rebels ranked last in the SEC and 107th in the nation in scoring defense (35.2 ppg). They held one SEC team to under 28 points — Alabama, which beat Ole Miss 23–10. The Rebs, led by senior Brandon Bolden, should be able to run the ball, but BYU simply has too much on the offensive side of the ball.
BYU 34, Ole Miss 24
South Florida (+10) at Notre Dame
It’s the Holtz Bowl, as Skip Holtz takes his South Florida Bulls to face his alma mater — and the school that his father led to the 1988 national title. South Florida expects to be much improved on offense after averaging only 309.4 yards per game last season (105th in the nation). Dynamic quarterback B.J. Daniels will test a Notre Dame defense that allowed an average of just 233.3 yards in its final three regular-season games — wins over Utah, Army and USC. Linebacker Manti Te’o anchors the Irish defense, but he has plenty of help on that side of the ball. All Irish fans will be watching quarterback Dayne Crist, who was recently named the starting quarterback after a heated battle with Tommy Rees, who lost the race despite going 4–0 as the starter last fall.
Notre Dame 27, South Florida 20
Boise State (-3.5) vs. Georgia (at Atlanta)
Boise State has won four straight against BCS conference foes, with wins over Virginia Tech and Oregon State last season, and Oregon in both 2009 and ’08. This Saturday, the Broncos will face a desperate Georgia team that is feeling a ton of pressure coming off a disappointing 6–7 season. Georgia features one of the top quarterbacks in the league in sophomore Aaron Murray, but the Dawgs have some questions on the offensive line and lack a proven playmaker at the wide receiver position. Boise State is known for its offense, but the Broncos are strong on defense and feature one of the nation’s top defensive lines. If Boise can stop Georgia from running the ball with consistency, win No. 5 in a row vs. BCS foes is a strong possibility.
Boise State 28, Georgia 24
Northwestern (+3.5) at Boston College
It’s an intriguing Week 1 matchup between two programs that don’t get a ton of buzz nationally but continue to win games on a consistent basis. Northwestern is thrilled to have Dan Persa back at quarterback. The Wildcats went 0–3 with Persa sidelined with a torn Achilles late last year, losing to Illinois 48–27, Wisconsin 70–23 and Texas Tech 45–38. Boston College, on the other hand, will be without its best offensive player. Tailback Montel Harris is out for the first few weeks with a knee injury, leaving capable backup Andre Williams to handle the rushing load. This is a big swing game for both teams.
Northwestern 28, Boston College 21
East Carolina (+20.5) vs. South Carolina (at Charlotte)
Most South Carolina fans have had the Gamecocks’ Week 2 date at Georgia circled all summer, but this opening game vs. East Carolina in Charlotte could be a bit tricky. Last year, ECU featured one of the most explosive offenses in the country, scoring 35 points or more nine times in 13 games (and 44 points or more four times). The problem? The Pirates ranked last in the nation in total defense (478.8 ypg) and 119th in the scoring defense (44.0 ppg). South Carolina should be able to take care of business as long as it protects the football and doesn’t come up with too many empty trips on offense.
South Carolina 44, East Carolina 27
UCLA (+3) at Houston
Houston had big plans in 2010, but the Cougars’ season took several wrong turns in Week 3 at UCLA when starting quarterback Case Keenum was lost for the season with a torn ACL en route to a surprisingly lopsided 31–13 loss. Keenum is back for his sixth season on campus, and he would like nothing more than to start the year with a win over a BCS conference foe. To get that done, the Houston defense will have to find a way to slow down UCLA’s rushing attack, which ran for 266 yards and four scores in last year’s meeting. Expect more of the same this time. Much is being made about the UCLA quarterback situation — three QBs may play — but this game is all about Johnathan Franklin, Derrick Coleman and the Bruins’ running attack.
UCLA 30, Houston 24
SMU (+15) at Texas A&M (Sun.)
The school that really, really wants to be in the Big 12 meets the team that just announced its intention to leave the Big 12. SMU has not defeated Texas A&M since 1984 in the hey day of the Pony Excess days. And while this looks to be the best Mustang team since the program returned from the Death Penalty in 1989, SMU figures to have a tough time with a very talented Texas A&M club. The Aggies are loaded on offense, and they are very balanced. SMU should be able to move the ball, but it’s tough to envision its defense doing enough to win this game.
Texas A&M 38, SMU 20
Miami (Fla.) (-5.5) at Maryland (Mon.)
The Hurricanes will take to the field for the first time since Nevin Shapiro became a household name in the world of collegiate sports. We’re not quite sure what the Miami lineup will look like on Labor Day night due to possible suspensions. Senior Jacory Harris, who was battling Stephen Morris for the start at quarterback, is reportedly one of eight Hurricanes who have been ruled ineligible — for now. There is a chance Harris could be back, but there is no guarantee he would even start if he is declared eligible. There are no such issues at Maryland, where 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year Danny O’Brien will lead the Terps’ offense in Randy Edsall’s first games as the boss of the Terrapins.
Maryland 24, Miami 14