That works for me. I got my first taste of football that counts over the weekend, as UMD beat Chadron State 28-17 down in Nebraska. It was cool to see a game that actually counted. Now, we all get to see games that count, as the big boys open up the regular season on Saturday.
Throughout the season, we'll pick select games, focusing on Big Ten games, as well as the biggest and most intriguing matchups around the nation. Most of the non-Big Ten games we pick will be games that end up on national television. All times are Central because that's where I live. I'm sure you guys can handle the math.
Thursday, September 1
Vanderbilt at Wake Forest (6pm, ESPNU)--> This matchup is an intriguing one because it matches two teams in elite conferences that are dying to get better. I like Wake to improve, but it will be hard for them to stay out of the ACC basement. Vanderbilt looks like they'll end up being better than Kentucky, but it won't be easy to rise more than one spot in the East Division standings. Anyway, Wake has RB Chris Barclay, and Vandy has QB Jay Cutler. I'll take the home team with the underrated offense (coach Jim Grobe likes to run the ball with a lot of misdirection).
The pick: Wake Forest
Minnesota at Tulsa (9:15pm, ESPN2)--> The Gophers aren't playing the cream of the Conference USA crop, but Tulsa has a shot at maybe giving the Gophers a game here. They won't slow down Laurence Maroney, and they'll have trouble covering Ernie Wheelwright, but the Gophers' defense will be tested by the Golden Hurricane's receivers, namely Ashlan Davis, along with TE Garrett Mills. That said, Maroney will be too much, and he may top 250 yards in a season-opening Gopher win.
The pick: Minnesota
Friday, September 2
Indiana at Central Michigan (6:30pm, ESPNU)--> This is a tough pick. No Big Ten team has ever played in Kelly-Shorts Stadium before. IU beat CMU 41-10 a year ago in Bloomington. However, IU is a bad football team, and CMU may be much improved this year now that they have found a QB (Kent Smith) for Brian Kelly's spread offense. As much as I'd love to see the upset here, I don't have the guts to call it. It will be close, but...
The pick: Indiana
Saturday, September 3
Miami (Ohio) at Ohio State (11am, ABC)--> Pat Forde made a good point in his column on ESPN.com. For once, Ted Ginn might not be the obvious pick for Best Athlete on the Field. Miami LB Terna Nande is 6'1" and 228 pounds. He runs a 4.45 40-yard dash and benches 520 pounds. Yes, I just said he benches 520. Eat your heart out, Ted. Even with Justin Zwick at QB, the Buckeyes probably have enough to win this game, though Miami will give a strong effort in their first game under new coach Shane Montgomery.
The pick: tOSU
Bowling Green at Wisconsin (11am, ESPN)--> Bowling Green brings the best QB in the nation not named "Matt Leinart" to Madison, as Omar Jacobs tries to follow up on a year where he threw 41 TDs to four picks. Wisconsin, meanwhile, is trying like dogs to rebuild a defense that was near the top of the nation in most statistical categories a year ago, but only returns four starters. Bret Bielema is one of the better defensive coaches in the country, but not even he will be able to keep Jacobs from lighting up the Camp Randall Stadium scoreboard. And anyone has a good chance to win a high-scoring game against Wisconsin. This one has the look of the 2001 Fresno State game in Madison where David Carr lit up the Badgers.
The pick: Bowling Green
Rutgers at Illinois (11am, ESPN2)--> While they haven't won a lot of games under Greg Schiano, Rutgers' talent certainly has been upgraded. Despite that, they lost to New Hampshire last year, and they struggled badly on the road. Until they can win a close game away from Piscataway, no one can take Rutgers seriously as a potential bowl contender. Enter Illinois. Ron Zook's strength is recruting, not coaching. With a team in bad need of a talent upgrade, the Illini present a great chance for the Scarlet Knights to open their season on the right foot.
The pick: Rutgers
Ohio at Northwestern (11am, ESPNU)--> Frank Solich debuts at Ohio, and the Bobcats have a much better chance here than most people think. Northwestern has been hit hard by injuries (especially to DE Loren Howard), but they have enough experience back on offense to score some points, and Ohio will struggle to develop an offensive identity of their own this season. Ohio will be improved, but Northwestern will get a home win here.
The pick: Northwestern
South Florida at Penn State (2:30pm, ESPNU)--> Paterno isn't going anywhere anytime soon, and this year's team could be the kind that encourages JoePa to stick around. The defense may be one of the nation's best, and the offense should be improved enough to get Penn State eight wins...maybe more. USF is a building program, and the Big East move was a good one for them. RB Andre Hall won't have a great game, though, against this Nittany Lion defense.
The pick: Penn State
Northern Illinois at Michigan (2:30pm, ABC)--> Another MAC/Big Ten matchup. And another game that will be closer than many people believe. NIU has enough to hang with Michigan, especially if the Wolverines have Domers on the brain. The underdogs in these matchups are much better football teams than in past years, and it's only a matter of time before a MAC team upsets an "elite" Big Ten team. Not this time. I trust that Henne, Hart, and friends will figure out a way to win this game by a couple scores.
The pick: Michigan
Kent State at Michigan State (No TV)--> Ugh. Do I have to? Michigan State's the pick, provided that they can actually field a 11-man defense, and they can keep Drew Stanton upright. Kent is an interesting team in the MAC, because if the new QB comes around, they have the defense to compete. But they're just not as talented as even a Big Ten mid-carder like MSU.
The pick: Michigan State
Ball State at Iowa (no TV)--> Ball State lost three NFL draftees from a bad team. I don't think they will be that much better than a year ago as a result. Iowa has Drew Tate, and their coach is still Kirk Ferentz, so we know they'll be good. If they can find a running game (less than 80 yards and only 2.0 yards per rush a year ago), they'll be really good.
The pick: Iowa
UAB at Tennessee (no TV)--> UAB has stiffarm king Darrell Hackney at QB, but who will he throw to now that Roddy White has taken his talents to the NFL? The Blazers are favored in Conference USA, but this is a bit heady for them. Tennessee is a strong outfit...certainly strong enough to hold off what should be a stiff challenge. UAB will keep it close, but Tennessee is too much, and they will win by double digits.
The pick: Tennessee
Colorado State at Colorado (2:30pm, TBS)--> There's no question in my mind that Colorado State won't go 4-7 again. And as bad as they were a year ago, they still only lost to Colorado because of poor clock management. Colorado doesn't look any better than a year ago, though Joel Klatt is a good-enough passer that the Buffs will win a game or two thanks to his arm. I like the upset here, as Justin Holland atones for last year's late-game blunder.
The pick: Colorado State
Boise State at Georgia (4:30pm, ESPN)--> Boise has a quirky-enough offense that it will probably give the bigger and stronger Dawgs some fits. QB Jared Zabransky may have a big game, but can Boise's undersized defense hold up against the Georgia offensive line, which is quite physical. It's a good test for new staring QB D.J. Shockley, but I think he'll pass it, and I think the home team will wear down a pesky Boise squad in the fourth quarter.
The pick: Georgia
USC at Hawai'i (6pm, ESPN2)--> I'm not going to be goofy and pick Hawai'i or anything like that, but the Warriors are traditionally tough at home, and I smell Ewing Theory on the island now that Timmy Chang has departed. With that in mind, USC wins this game, and they do it rather convincingly.
The pick: USC
Texas A&M at Clemson (7pm, ABC)--> Can mad scientist/offensive coordinator Rob Spence get more out of Charlie Whitehurst than we saw last year (7 TD/17 INT)? Is Reggie McNeal a real candidate for the H*i*m*n? We'll find out in prime time. Death Valley is a tough place to play, but I'm high on A&M, and Death Valley isn't what it used to be.
The pick: Texas A&M
Notre Dame at Pittsburgh (7pm, ABC)--> Former NFL coaches go head to head as Dave Wannstedt's Panthers host Charlie Weis' Irish. I really think Notre Dame could be in for a big year, as Brady Quinn looks ready to run Weis' offense. With their tough schedule, they will still need to win their winnable game to assure a bowl bid. This is one of those winnable games. Pittsburgh will be very good offensively as long as QB Tyler Palko and WR Greg Lee are healthy and productive, but the defense is shaky.
The pick: Notre Dame
Georgia Tech at Auburn (7:45pm, ESPN)--> If Reggie Ball can play more consistently and give 100 percent effort at all times, Tech could make some noise this year. That's a big "if", however. The chances of it happening are about as good as the chances of Ball getting benched. Auburn has a stout defense, and they'll rebuild the skill positions on offense quicker than people think. I like them at home.
The pick: Auburn
Sunday, September 4
West Virginia at Syracuse (12:30pm, ABC)--> Greg Robinson is going to do some good work with the Orange. SU has a good challenge in their opener, taking on a West Virginia team that looks to atone for an underachieving 2004 season. Syracuse threw the ball enough last year that the transition to the West Coast offense shouldn't be culture shock, and they have an underrated defense (led by stud DE James Wyche, who may be better than Dwight Freeney).
The pick: Syracuse
Virginia Tech at North Carolina State (6:15pm, ESPN2)--> This is a trendy upset special pick. NC State has issues on offense, where they need better QB play to be a threat in the ACC. Reggie Herring built a top-notch defense, but he is now the coordinator at Arkansas. The defense will still be good, but Virginia Tech is too strong. They'll ride Marcus Vick, a pretty good defense of their own, and the usual strong special teams to a season-opening road win.
The pick: Virginia Tech
Monday, September 5
Mississippi at Memphis (3:30pm, ESPN)--> Can DeAngelo Williams improve on his amazing numbers from 2004? Can the Ole Miss defense slow him down? Can new Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron keep his head from exploding if the defense plays poorly? This is must-see TV.
The pick: Memphis
Miami at Florida State (7pm, ABC)--> Both teams debut new QBs, with Kyle Wright starting in Miami, while Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee will split the work for FSU. Both teams have talent, and we all know this will probably come down to a missed field goal. This time around, it's Larry Coker who will agonize over what might have been.
The pick: Florida State