Wednesday, September 02, 2009

College Football Weekend Preview: Oregon Travels to Smurf Turf for Intriguing Opener

A team from a highly-regarded conference can afford to lose a non-conference game and still contend for the national championship.

Actually, the right team (Hi, Florida!) can lose a conference game without dropping out of contention.

Boise State is not one of these teams.

The Broncos need to finish the regular season unbeaten to have a shot at any BCS bowl. They have virtually no shot at the National Championship Game, no matter what they accomplish on the field.

With quarterback Kellen Moore and a strong defense, Boise is going to be a handful in the WAC. If they meet their match, it will be Thursday night, when they host Oregon for a non-conference doozy.

The Ducks debut new coach Chip Kelly, and whether they want to admit it or not, there is a revenge factor in this game. Boise jumped to a huge lead, then held on to win last year's game in Eugene. Along the way, quarterback Jeremiah Masoli suffered a concussion on a helmet-to-helmet hit.

Masoli is a wonderful player, and a great fit for the Ducks' spread offense. He isn't the best thrower in the Pac 10, but he's a super athlete, and his speed and skill will cause tons of problems for Boise State's defense.

Not only do the Ducks have memories of last year to motivate them, but there is also history that they can try to beat. The Broncos are an incredible 64-2 over the last ten years at Bronco Stadium, which is the only stadium in college football blanketed by blue turf.

The "Smurf Turf" has become the stuff of legend in the sport, and the 30,000 or so fans who will show up to yell full-throat for the home team only add to the home-field advantage.

But don't mistake the prestige of the schools' conferences as having anything to do with where the pressure lies in this game. The heat is solely on Boise State.

There are a myriad of reasons to believe Oregon can lose this game and still make a major, big-money bowl. It's happened many times in the past with teams from BCS conferences, and this year will be no different. The stakes for Boise and the rest of the WAC, who would share in the revenue from a member school making a BCS game, are much, much higher. A loss, and Boise State (along with the rest of the WAC) can kiss its BCS hopes goodbye.

No pressure, though.

Oregon has athletes at the skill positions. They have a confident, experienced quarterback. After Thursday, they'll have a signature win for their new coach.

The pick: Oregon

Minnesota at Syracuse: Doug Marrone makes his Syracuse debut. There are signs -- despite the naming of Greg Paulus as starting quarterback -- that things are going to improve. Marrone has an appreciation for Syracuse's tradition. He won't allow things to spiral out of control, and he will make sure the players understand the importance of the program. In this game, a defense that has struggled will face a high-tempo run attack led by Adam Weber and Duane Bennett. The Orange might fare better if this game were in November, but this is a very tough draw for a season opener.
The pick: Minnesota

Navy at Ohio State: Normally, this would have "upset" written all over it. The tough, disciplined Navy team goes on the road against a team expecting a cupcake for a season-opening opponent. This is Ohio State, though. A loaded Buckeye team will win this game going away with their superior athletes, especially quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who would be unstoppable, by the way, in Navy's offense. Oh, and a tip of the cap to the normally boorish Ohio State fans, as they have come up with a great idea to pay tribute to their service academy opponent.
The pick: Ohio State

Nevada at Notre Dame: As much as everyone wants to see this upset, it's hard to make the pick. Colin Kaepernick and Vai Taua will make some plays against the Irish defense, but it will be insanely tough for Nevada to slow Jimmy Clausen down.
The pick: Notre Dame

Georgia at Oklahoma State: The Bulldogs have to replace top offensive stars Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno, both high picks in the NFL Draft. The Cowboys return quarterback Zac Robinson, running back Kendall Hunter, and receiver Dez Bryant. Oh, and they're playing at home.
The pick: Oklahoma State

Missouri vs Illinois at St. Louis: The Illini were torched in last year's meeting. Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn will handle the burning this time around.
The pick: Illinois

BYU vs Oklahoma at Dallas:
This Cougars team could be a BCS contender were it not for their near-impossible schedule. The Sooners are too big, too strong, too tough, and should have a significant crowd advantage, no matter how many Texas fans wear blue to this game.
The pick: Oklahoma

Alabama vs Virginia Tech at Atlanta: The Tide are ready after last year's disappointing finish (two straight losses). Coach Nick Saban has the personnel to rack up enough points to win this game, while slowing down Virginia Tech's athletic quarterback, Tyrod Taylor.
The pick: Alabama

Other games (Home team in CAPS)


NORTH CAROLINA STATE over South Carolina

WAKE FOREST over Baylor
MICHIGAN over Western Michigan
WISCONSIN over Northern Illinois
CALIFORNIA over Maryland

RUTGERS over Cincinnati

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