It's go time, baby.
Let's get it on!
Week One couldn't come any sooner. While I will be in Bemidji tonight for UMD's season opener, meaning that I'm going to miss tonight's action, but I have a full slate of 22 games available to me on Saturday.
For those following our AOL venture, I'll be live-blogging the Wisconsin-Bowling Green game on Saturday.
Division I-A games I plan to watch
Nevada at Fresno State (Friday night)
Vanderbilt at Michigan
North Texas at Texas
Montana at Iowa
Idaho at Michigan State
Northern Illinois at Ohio State
Akron at Penn State
Louisiana Tech at Nebraska
Florida Atlantic at Clemson
Marshall at West Virginia
California at Tennessee
East Carolina at Navy
UAB at Oklahoma
Utah at UCLA
Virginia at Pittsburgh
Wisconsin vs Bowling Green
Washington State at Auburn
Notre Dame at Georgia Tech
USC at Arkansas
Houston at Rice
BYU at Arizona
Florida State at Miami
Last year: 90-40
Northwestern at Miami (Ohio) --> Emotion should rule the night in Oxford, as both teams honor Randy Walker, who played at Miami before becoming their all-time winningest coach and eventually moving to Northwestern. Walker died of a heart attack in late June, leaving the Northwestern job to former Wildcat star Pat Fitzgerald. The spread offense has to be retooled a bit, as Brett Basanez has graduated. Luckily for Northwestern, the RedHawks debut a new quarterback tonight, too, as Josh Betts has moved on. It's a tough game to call because of the heavy emotions on both sides, but I'll take the Big Ten team to pull it out.
The pick: Northwestern
Minnesota at Kent State --> It's a homecoming of sorts for Glen Mason, whose head-coaching career began at Kent State. Mason went 12-10 in two years there before bolting for Kansas. The Golden Flashes have some talent, especially in quarterback Michael Machen, but they don't have the size or depth to hold up against the physical Gophers. Minnesota will have some trouble running the ball this season because of the heavy personnel losses on the line and at running back, but Kent State won't be able to expose those deficiencies.
The pick: Minnesota
Idaho at Michigan State --> Dennis Erickson returns as Idaho's coach with an interesting sidebar. Before last year's NFL scouting combine, about three months before Erickson took the Idaho job, the family of MSU QB Drew Stanton asked him for advice on whether Stanton should turn pro. Erickson told them that Stanton should return to school. Now, Erickson's defense, which lacks size, speed, and depth when compared to a Big Ten team, has to figure out a way to slow Stanton down. I have a piece of advice: a billy club.
The pick: Michigan State
Vanderbilt at Michigan --> Wow. It sure would have been interesting to see Jay Cutler carve up the Wolverines' defense last year. Instead, we get what looks like a pretty big mismatch. Henne and Hart are healthy, and Michigan has to be motivated to show that last year's 7-5 was nothing more than a hiccup.
The pick: Michigan
Montana at Iowa --> The Grizzlies are getting something like $650,000 in exchange for a big-time pounding. Iowa will be more than happy to deliver said pounding.
The pick: Iowa
Indiana State at Purdue --> In case you're wondering, the policy is that I pick every game involving a Big Ten team. No exceptions.
The pick: Purdue
Akron at Penn State --> Not as big a no-brainer as one might expect. The Nittany Lions lose some big-time players, and Akron returns 17 starters from a bowl team, including senior QB Luke Getsy. I doubt that Akron can win this game, especially if they can't find a way to slow down a returning Reggie Williams, who flashed brilliance as a receiver and returner for Penn State before having his season cut short last year.
The pick: Penn State
Northern Illinois at Ohio State --> The Buckeyes are touted as a national championship contender, but they have to contend with NIU star Garrett Wolfe, who may run like crazy against a tOSU defense crippled by graduation and NFL defections. The spread offense is going to be greatly successful in Columbus this year, and the Buckeyes will score more than enough to cruise past NIU and into next week's showdown in Austin.
The pick: tOSU
Western Michigan at Indiana --> I'm sure that one of these MAC teams has a good chance to prove me wrong, but I'm picking all the Big Ten teams in these head-to-head matchups this weekend. Indiana has some ability on offense, especially with receiver James Hardy and QB Blake Powers. Western can score, but their defense is sorely lacking.
The pick: Indiana
Wisconsin vs Bowling Green at Cleveland --> The Falcons are out their starting QB (Anthony Turner) and their top returning WR (Corey Partridge) for this game, and that means an offense that was already in some kind of trouble is going to have a ton of problems scoring against the Badgers' defense. This has the makings of a 21-6 type of game if Wisconsin can't get their offense cranked up, but a win is a win.
The pick: Wisconsin
Eastern Illinois at Illinois --> See "Indiana State at Purdue".
The pick: Illinois
Boston College at Central Michigan --> This is not an easy road game for BC, but the Eagles should be able to prevail. CMU shows an improved defense on paper, but they have to break in a new QB and they just don't have the kind of athleticism that BC does. If the Eagles come out flat, they could be in trouble, but I don't see an upset here.
The pick: Boston College
Toledo at Iowa State --> Toledo is another MAC team with a challenging opener that has a new QB. Bruce Gradkowski will be sorely missed, but the spread offens should still run efficiently. Iowa State has a very talented offensive group, led by QB Bret Meyer, and I think they'll pull it out at home tonight.
The pick: Iowa State
Nevada at Fresno State --> The Pistol offense returns this year, but coaches have a year's worth of film to look at. Jeff Rowe is back to lead the Wolf Pack, and this team is brimming with confidence after nine wins a year ago. While Paul Pinegar will be missed, the biggest loss for Fresno State might be on the sideline, where offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti left for North Carolina. This matchup might turn out differently later in the season, once Fresno has gotten into an offensive rhythm, but Nevada opens with a win on the road.
The pick: Nevada
Rutgers at North Carolina --> For once, Rutgers has expectations. They went to the Insight Bowl last year, and even though they have to replace QB Ryan Hart, they have two great running backs in Brian Leonard and Ray Rice. Leonard is a terrific player who can run people over and also has enough speed to break big plays. North Carolina starts Nebraska transfer Joe Dailey, and I think they'll really struggle to move the ball, even against Rutgers' somewhat substandard defense.
The pick: Rutgers
California at Tennessee --> With Marshawn Lynch and Nate Longshore back in the offensive backfield, and a loaded defense, Cal is prepped for a run at the Pac 10 title. Tennessee will be better this year, especially on offense, where David Cutcliffe returns as coordinator. But they won't get off to a good start at home. Cal has too much talent on offense for Cutcliffe's troops to keep up.
The pick: California
Southern Mississippi at Florida --> USM has pulled off some road upsets in the past, but the Golden Eagles have too tall of a task in Gainesville. The Gators have talent and experience on offense, and should be greatly improved in their second year in Urban Meyer's system. For USM, a close game would be an achievement, and an upset is just not a realistic thought.
The pick: Florida
Virginia at Pittsburgh --> Two programs looking to get back into conference title contention open the season with what could be a very good game. Virginia loses plenty of talent, but Al Groh has recruited well, and they should be motivated after a somewhat subpar season. Pitt didn't qualify for a bowl game in Dave Wannstedt's first year, and the Panthers are looking to take the first step toward the postseason on Saturday. Pitt's at home, and they have a solid veteran QB in Tyler Palko, so I'll go with the Panthers.
The pick: Pittsburgh
Utah at UCLA --> As I noted in my Pac-10 notes, UCLA was outgained on the season, but still won ten games last year. I think they're going to come back to the pack a bit this season, especially without RB Maurice Drew and TE Marcedes Lewis. Utah is heading in the other direction, thanks to a stout defense and improved consistency at QB. I'm picking Utah to get the mild upset on the road.
The pick: Utah
Hawai'i at Alabama --> The run-n-shoot is going to go like crazy this year, but they could have troubles in this game. Colt Brennan has a great group of receivers to throw to, and they will score plenty of points. The defense is still bad, and it might be bad enough to make people forget about the heavy losses at Alabama.
The pick: Alabama
Notre Dame at Georgia Tech --> Is it Notre Dame's offense, or Georgia Tech's defense? Can Reggie Ball protect the football well enough to give his team a chance? Will Brady Quinn take a step towards the H*i*m*n, or is he going to fall victim to the heavy preseason hype? Believe it or not, I think the Ball-Calvin Johnson combo will come up big for Tech, and they get the upset over the Irish.
The pick: Georgia Tech
USC at Arkansas --> With or without Darren McFadden, the Hogs are going to have trouble keeping up. USC still has talent, they still have speed, and they have the advantage, despite the losses of Leinart and Bush. Someone will trip up the Men of Troy, but it won't be Arkansas.
The pick: USC
BYU at Arizona --> Look out, Mike Stoops. The Wildcats are improved on defense, and the insertion of Willie Tuitama at quarterback really seemed to ignite their offense last year. That said, BYU is also improved on defense, and they have another in a long line of quality quarterbacks in John Beck. Even on the road, I think BYU has a slight advantage. Then again, maybe I'm losing it.
The pick: BYU
Florida State at Miami --> It was absolutely ugly last year. In fact, these two teams have played more ugly games than good ones in their head-to-head meetings recently. In this one, the advantage, however slight, goes to the Seminoles. Miami has just too many suspended players, and they already had plenty of holes. FSU had a flawed season last year, but it ended on a high note with the ACC title win and a good performance in the bowl loss to Penn State. I think they hold off the short-handed Hurricanes.
The pick: Florida State