As always, week one of the college football season answered a lot of questions. Alabama could be really good, Clemson and Pitt are overrated, Michigan is in for a struggle, the Big 10 still stinks, and the SEC is as loaded as ever.
What are the intriguing stories of week 2?? Well, obviously the debut of the Notre Dame season is always exciting and highly anticipated, and I'm curious to see how Miami (Fl) looks in the Swamp. Is Miami really back?? Also should be interesting to see how Penn State looks this week against Oregon State, and I'm going to keep a close eye on the BC-Georgia Tech and West Virginia-East Carolina games.
The games in week two are not quite as strong as the games from week one, but there are some good ones out there.
Let's move on to the picks:
Thursday September 4, 2008
South Carolina -9 at Vanderbilt (ESPN 8:30 pm) -
Matt: Vanderbilt +10
I watched most of the South Carolina game with a bunch of ‘Cocks alums, and I have to say I wasn’t too impressed. Their new QB Tommy Beecher was bad, and most of that final margin was due to NC State’s ineptitude. Vandy has made the transition from SEC Doormat, to Frisky SEC Doormat. I don’t think they win, but they’ll keep it close
USC 20 Vandy 14
Mike: Vanderbilt (+10)
Thanks to the new college football season viewing setup in my apartment, which allows my roommates and me to watch four games at once, I was able to watch both of these teams play last week (as well as Wake Forest-Baylor and UTEP-Buffalo, all while enjoying a bottle of 2006 Domaine Des Deux Mâcon-Villages that turned out to be a delightful match with Fritos and citrus flavored Skoal). Vanderbilt turned in an impressive performance at Miami (OH), led by QB Chris Nickson and strong secondary play. In Columbia, South Carolina’s defense pummeled a punchless NC State offense into submission, while QB Chris Smelley replaced an ineffective Tommy Beecher and performed well in garbage time. Nickson and crew will struggle to move the ball against the Gamecocks, but their defense will keep this game close enough for the cover.
South Carolina 20 Vanderbilt 13
Doug: Vandy +9
How about Vandy destroying Miami(Ohio) on the road last week?? Pretty impressive. Honestly, I think Vandy has a real shot to win this game, and I definitely think they can cover at home. Vandy beat South Carolina on the road last year. South Carolina has some QB issues, and I'm not sure how good their offense is.
Vandy very nearly won 7 games last year. I don't see any reason why they can't hang around here and make this game close. Give me the under as well.
South Carolina 20 Vandy 14
Saturday September 6, 2008
Georgia Tech +8 at Boston College (ESPN Gameplan 12 pm):
Matt: Georgia Tech +7
I didn’t see a second of the BC-Kent State game. I didn’t see a highlight. But something about BC 21 Kent 0 just doesn’t impress me. On the other hand, Paul Johnson had Georgia Tech flying around the field (granted against an overwhelmed Jacksonville State team led by Ryan Perriloux and his 2 int’s). I smell a straight out upset here – give me the money line!
Georgia Tech 24 BC 17
Mike: Georgia Tech +7
In an age of spread offenses, quirky formations and 5 wide shotgun plays on 3rd-and-1, it’s refreshing to see Paul Johnson restore some masculinity to the game of football with his triple option attack. BC handled their business at Kent State, but I think Tech’s ferocious front four will pose plenty of problems for new QB Chris Crane and the Eagles. Look for the Jackets pull the upset outright in front of an underwhelming BC crowd at their glorified high school stadium.
G’Tech 27 BC 20
Doug: Georgia Tech +7
VERY interesting game. I'm high on Paul Johnson and think he will do a great job at Georgia Tech. Going from Chan Gailey to Paul Johnson was a significant upgrade for the Yellow Jackets. The same people who are saying that his offense won't work at Georgia Tech are the same people who said Urban Meyer's offense wouldn't work at Florida. It's not the scheme. It's the execution. If you execute your offense really well, you can run just about any offense. Paul Johnson is comfortable with the spread option attack, and they are going to run it well eventually. It's not like Georgia Tech will be the only team running that offense. West Virginia basically runs that offense now, and last time I checked, no one is dogging that offense. Paul Johnson is a world class coach, and I am all but guaranteeing that he will do great things at Georgia Tech. I would love to see ND line up a home and home with Georgia Tech again in the near future.
As for BC, it looks like they are shaping up to be another classic BC team. Good defense, take care of the ball, grind out points, efficient offense. It seems like it doesn't matter who they have on the roster or who the coach is. They have the same type of team every year. It sounds like Chris Crane played ok last week, so they should be solid again this year.
Seems like a pretty even matchup, so I'll take the points.
BC 21 Georgia Tech 20
West Virginia -9 at East Carolina (ESPN 4:30 pm) -
Matt: West Virginia (-9)
You gotta love the fightin’ Skip Holtzes. Just not against West Virginia the week after beating VT. By the way, I had to look at the schedule to make sure I wasn’t misreading that this game was in Greenville. Kudos to West Virginia to taking a road trip.
West Virginia 37 ECU 17
Mike: East Carolina +9
Can lightning strike twice for Skip Holtz’s Pirates? Perhaps not, but last week against Va. Tech was no fluke and East Carolina returns home to face a Mountaineers squad that was outgained in total yardage by Villanova. The Mountaineers also lost star linebacker Reed Williams in the game as well, which should weaken a suspect WVU defense. Look for a tight one in Greenville.
West Virginia 30 East Carolina 23
Doug: West Virginia - 9
As much as I would like to pick East Carolina in this game, I just can't do it here. This game is a trap. West Virginia is too experienced and too explosive to mess around in this game. They are going to be ready for East Carolina. East Carolina is coming off the high of the huge win against Virginia Tech, so I'm expecting them to come down to earth a little bit. The only way they can hang in this game is to put up 35+ points, and I can't see that happening.
I don't know about Bill Stewart's long term future at West Virginia, but this current team is still loaded. Their offense is a joy to watch.
By the way, just throwing it out there. If Skip Holtz continues to do good things at ECU and eventually moves on and does good things at a BCS school, could he put himself on the radar for the ND job someday?? Seeing a Holtz on the sideline back at ND would be pretty special if you ask me (although only if Skip is qualified for the job).
West Virginia 38 ECU 24
Northwestern -6.5 at Duke (No Tv 7 pm):
Matt: Duke +6.5
I’m on record as predicting a 4-0 start to the season for the Dukies. That big 31-7 win over James Madison gives me no reason to change my pick now. In fact, I don’t even think that Duke will have the worst record in the ACC this year. How’s that for a bold prediction (sorry UVA fans, it’s all you in the cellar)
Duke 37 Northwestern 34
Mike: Duke +6.5
In this classic “brains over brawn” game, Northwestern looks to avenge its shocking home loss to Duke last year, which was the Blue Devils’ only win in 2007. I thought Ole Miss made a big mistake when it dumped David Cutcliffe and his arrival should immediately strengthen Duke. Notwithstanding the fact that Northwestern is slightly stronger and its standout DT John Gill returns this week, I think Duke will run the ball effectively and slow down the Wildcats enough to cover the spread.
Northwestern 23 Duke 21
Doug: Northwestern -6.5
The All Academic Bowl. Northwestern could be a sleeper this year. The David Cutcliffe era is underway, but I'll take Northwestern and the points.
Northwestern 27 Duke 13
Cincinnati +21 at Oklahoma (ABC 3:30 pm)-
Matt: Oklahoma -21
Wow, intriguing game. This game is kind of flying under the radar nationally, like everyone assumes that Oklahoma will roll over Cincy. I kind of think that UC keeps it close for a while, but a few 2nd half turnovers transform this one into a blowout.
On a separate note, consider me a little nervous about the prospects of the Big East this year. I really thought that the conference had taken huge strides last year, but with West Virginia losing Rich Rod, Rutgers getting smoked at home by Fresno State, Pitt gagging per normal and Syracuse showing less life than a dead dog, I’m hoping that the league can maintain the level of credibility it has built up the last two years.
Mike: Oklahoma -21
Interesting intersectional matchup here. I like what Brian Kelly is doing in the Queen City, but Oklahoma is a wrecking crew right now.
Oklahoma 45 Cincinnati 14
Doug: Cincinnati +21
Intriguing!! I think Cincy is for real and very easily could be the second or third best team in the Big East this year, but Oklahoma is a monster. When OU is focused, they are a machine. I could see them jumping out to a 28-0 type lead in the first quarter.
But screw it. I'm going with my heart on this one and taking the Bearcats to cover. If UC actually covers in this game, it would be a great accomplishment. The Bearcats have had the whole offseason to scout this game, and I believe that Brian Kelly is one of the best coaches in all the land. They are going to scrap and claw their way
to a cover here.
And if I look up at the ND scoreboard on Saturday and see a score along the lines of
4th quarter 11:42 left
I might have to head to Legends.
Oklahoma 30 Cincinnati 13
Miami (FL) +21 at Florida (ESPN 8 pm)-
Matt: Florida -21.5
Man, I wish this was the mid-90’s and we could watch these two go at it. The way the Gators just embarrassed Hawaii last week made me think that they are going to take care of business in a big way again this week. Then again, it’s a state rivalry game, so you never know. This game is either close into the 4th, or Florida scores on their opening drive, picks off a Jacory Harris pass for a TD, and it’s lights out 5 minutes into the game. I’ll take the latter.
Florida 52 Miami 13
Mike: Florida -21.5
Huge blowout here. Florida is teeming with talent at almost every position and they should be sky high for this rivalry game against many of their former high school teammates and opponents on Miami. By contrast, Miami still has plenty of question marks, as well as a fresh quarterback controversy following Jacory Harris’s solid debut against Charleston Southern. I don’t expect Urban Meyer to take it easy on Randy Shannon in this one.
Florida 56 Miami 10
Doug: Florida -21
Goosebumps! Just seeing those two uniforms on the field will be great stuff. There is going to be a ton of athleticism flying around the ball all night long. Florida-Miami in the Swamp. Can't beat it.
Last week, I was planning to go with Florida to cover all along and then changed my mind at the last minute and picked Hawaii to cover. I'm not making the same mistake again this week. Florida is a team on a mission this year, and I'm sticking with them as my pick for the national title. I think they are going to blow the doors off Miami. I've been reading about the collection of great freshmen at Miami, but I still like the Gators to win big in this game. Miami has a freshman QB, and Florida is going to be able to score at will on the Canes.
Florida 49 Miami 17
Oregon State +16.5 at Penn State (ABC 3:30 pm)-
Matt: Oregon State +16.5
I just don’t buy Penn State. Plain and simple. They’re not going to lose this game, but they’re not going to be impressive either.
Penn State 27 Oregon State 17
Mike: Oregon State +16.5
Penn State’s “Spread HD” offense sparkled in its debut against Coastal Carolina, as the Nittany Lions drubbed the Chanticleers 66-14. Meanwhile, on Thursday night in Palo Alto, Oregon State’s defense was gashed on the ground by Stanford in an exciting, though sloppy, 36-28 loss. In the process, however, the Beavers discovered a passing game with Lyle Moevao, who started in place of the injured Sean Canfield (great last name, by the way). I think the Beavers will bounce back in a big way this week and give Joe Paterno a big scare this week. This, of course, will represent a significant role reversal, as Paterno has been doing plenty of scaring during his time on Earth as a ghost following his death in ca. 1997.
Penn State 28 Oregon State 24
Doug: Oregon State +16.5
As we've seen in the last few years, Penn State is a different team at home than they are on the road. Get them in front of the Happy Valley crowd, and they play great. Take them out on the road, and they could literally lose to anyone. Their running game could be pretty explosive with Evan Royster and Stephon Green, and Daryl Clark played well last week. I know, Division I-AA team, but it sounds like Penn State could be pretty good this year.
With all that said, 14 points is too many points in this game if you ask me. I watched the Oregon State-Stanford game, and Oregon State didn't play that poorly. They moved the ball all over Stanford, and I see no reason that they won't be competitive with Penn State.
Oregon State is not all that much worse than Penn State, so I think they can cover here. Penn State wins a competitive game.
Penn State 27 Oregon State 17
Stanford +14 at Arizona State (FSN 10 pm)-
Matt: Stanford +14
If a gutty, well-coached, resurgent team pulls an upset in the first game of the season, but no one is there to see it, did it really happen? OK, maybe we’re piling on here at WeisND, but that showing by the Cardinal “Nation” was pathetic last week. On to the game… I want to pick Stanford to beat ASU. I really do. I’ll give myself a helmet sticker for calling the mini-upset over Oregon State last week, but I’m not going to call it again this week. I think Rudy Carpenter and his 11 years of college experience pull off a 4th quarter comeback.
ASU 34 Stanford 28
Mike: Arizona State -14
Jim Harbaugh’s squad was impressive last week against Oregon State. The Cardinal ran the ball effectively with Caucasian sensation Toby Gerhart (thereby inducing an endless barrage of tortured stereotypical comparisons to Tommy Vardell) and played with plenty of emotion on defense. This week, however, they run into a well-coached Arizona State team led by veteran Rudy Carpenter at QB. In 2006 and 2007, the Sun Devils throttled Stanford by the combined score of 79-6 and, while this year’s game will be closer, ASU has too much firepower for the Cardinal.
Arizona State 41 Stanford 21
Doug: Arizona State -14
Stanford is showing signs of life, but it's going to be an uphill battle in Tempe. Stanford doesn't have the personnel to come out early in the year on the road and go toe to toe with a team like Arizona State.
ASU 31 Stanford 7
Mississippi +8.5 at Wake Forest (ABC 3:30 pm)-
Matt: Wake Forest -8.5
It’s only taken 4 weeks in “The Dash” (Winston “Dash” Salem for those not up to speed on their Winston-Salem nicknames) for me to swallow the Jim Grobe kool-aid. The guy knows how to coach football, and he knows how to win football games (Say that sentence in your best Bob Davie voice for extra emphasis). I’ll be at BB&T Field to see the QB showdown between Riley Skinner and Jevon Snead. I actually think this is going to be a really good game, but when Wake is firing on all cylinders like they were at Baylor, they are going to be tough to beat.
Wake 41 Ole Miss 24
Mike: Wake Forest -8.5
Tough game to call here. Wake handled the quarterback-challenged Baylor in a workmanlike fashion last week in Waco and, given Clemson’s struggles, the Demon Deacons seem to be the presumptive favorites in a wide open (read: terrible) ACC. For the Rebels, Ed Orgeron, despite being a terrible coach, lured some highly touted recruits to Oxford, thus leaving Houston Nutt with some decent talent with which to work. Although I am not crazy about laying more than 7 points in this spot, I think Wake will pull away from Ole Miss late in the game and get the cover.
Wake 28 Mississippi 17
Doug: Mississippi +8.5
This game is an ABC game?? Wow, I did not expect that. The talk of the ACC is Wake Forest, and it appears that they are the favorite now. I'm pretty sure Matt is printing out his ACC champs banner as we speak. I think Wake is good, but it always makes me leery to pick an ACC team against an SEC team (even an SEC bottom feeder). Houston Nutt is a much better coach than he got credit for, and it appears that Coach O has left behind some talented players (as anyone could tell after reading Meat Market). Jevan Snead looks like he could be a solid player for the Rebels.
Do people realize that Houston Nutt was 75-48 at Arkansas, won 2 SEC West titles, and actually had a winning record in the SEC (42-38)?? The guy is a good coach, and it never made any sense to me why fans were so upset about him. It's not like Arkansas is some juggernaut of talent, so I think he is a little underrated on the coaching front.
I don't know. I guess it's just a hunch, but I think Ole Miss will cover in this game. I've been reading that their fans have been pointing to this game all offseason, so they will be geared up. Wake Forest is a good squad, but more in the BC mold. Solid defense, good coaching, efficient offense. That's not a model prone for blowing teams out. I know Ole Miss has to go on the road, but it's Wake Forest! How many fans go to their games?? 30,000?? It's not like it's going to LSU at night. There will probably be 5000 Ole Miss fans in the stands anyway. I think Wake will win, but I don't like giving them 10 points.
By the way, if Wake loses this game, the ACC should just disband this year.
Wake Forest 24 Ole Miss 17
Cal (-13) at Washington State (FSN 6:30 pm)-
Matt: Cal -13
Last week told me everything I need to know about these two teams. Cal took care of business against a decent Michigan State team, and Wazzu got pummeled by a 41 year old coach of a mediocre Big 12 team.
Cal 37 Wazzu 21
Mike: Cal (-13)
Starring as my “lock” of last week, Wazzu looked inept against Oklahoma State in Seattle last week under new coach Paul Wulff. More importantly, the Cougars appeared to be undermanned against Oklahoma State. Cal ran wild on Michigan State at home and the Bears should have their way with the Cougs in Week 2 with Kevin Riley replacing Nate Longshore under center.
Cal 30 Washington State 14
Doug: Cal -13
I had a chance to watch Wazzou a little in their opener in Seattle against Oklahoma State, and they are truly awful. They might get better as the season goes along, but Cal has a balanced offense that should be able to put up a ton of points in Pullman. Oklahoma State ran all over Wazzou last week, and I would expect the same out of Cal.
By the way, I never realized how remote Pullman actually is. I had heard it was in the middle of nowhere, but it is remarkable how far away from civilization Pullman is. How would you even get there?? It has to be the most remote major college campus in the country.
Cal 35 Washington State 17
Buffalo (+12) at Pitt (ESPN Gameplan 6:00 pm)-
Matt: Pitt -12
I think it’s hilarious that we’re even picking this game. Are one of my fellow handicappers Doug or Mike, um, gutsy enough to pick a Buffalo win? I think Pitt has been hearing how terrible they are for the last week and come out with something to prove. Not that there is really anything to prove by beating Buffalo.
Pitt 47 Buffalo 17
Mike: Buffalo +12
This game features the biggest coaching mismatch on the board this week, as Buffalo’s rising star, Turner Gill, matches wits with Dave Wannstedt, who reportedly scored lower than Vince Young on the Wonderlic test. Pittsburgh obviously has a clear talent edge, but Buffalo will score some points and battle the Panthers to the wire at Heinz Field.
Pittsburgh 28 Buffalo 20
Doug: Buffalo +12
Nobody circles the wagons like the Buffalo....err..Bulls!! Wow, dominant performance for Buffalo last week, and Turner Gill is starting to turn (pardon the pun) some heads there. Could be a name to watch in the offseason for some BCS conference jobs.
College football is a wacky game, so it wouldn't surprise me if Pitt played much better in this game, but 12.5 points still seems a little high. Again, Pitt went 5-7 last year. Considering that they just lost by double digits at home to a MAC school, is there any reason for them to be 12.5 point favorites over anyone??
Pitt 23 Buffalo 20
BYU at Washington (no line yet) (FSN 3 pm)-
The Dead Man Walking Tour – Stop 2. I don’t need to see a line on this game. I don’t need to know if Jake Locker is playing or not. If Tyrone Willingham is roaming the sidelines, my money is on BYU.
BYU 38 Washington 27
One of my biggest pet peeves in college football is the analysts’ undue emphasis on the concept of “team speed.” In particular, commentators tend to overstate the speed advantage of one team (usually from the SEC) vis-à-vis its opponent, while also overemphasizing the relevance of a speed advantage. Having said that, Washington’s defense seemed glacial last week against Oregon. Perhaps it was the low-definition picture on FSN, or perhaps it was my impaired state of mind at the time, but the Huskies looked like they were stuck in quicksand. Accordingly, BYU should roll over UW with their superior Mountain West speed.
BYU 31 Washington 10
Since the line appears to be off the board for this one, I'll just go ahead and take BYU to win and feel great about it. I'm still smarting about picking the Huskies to cover last week. Should be a good atmosphere at Husky Stadium. One of the better settings in college football right on the water with the mountains and the city of Seattle in the backdrop.
By the way, BYU is like the Colorado Rockies of fantasy college football. It's borderline unfair to have them as one of the teams available to use. All these guys on BYU put up absurd stats.
BYU 31 Washington 17
Minnesota (-6) at Bowling Green (ESPNU 8:30 pm)-
Matt: Minnesota +5
Wow, how tough are times in the land of Kirby Puckett and Prince when they are almost a TD underdog to a MAC team. I think BG makes it two for two against BCS teams, with a late field goal.
Bowling Green 24 Minnesota 21
Mike: Minnesota +6
Possible letdown game here for BGSU following their aforementioned upset over the Fighting Wannys at Pitt. Although Tim Brewster has a long way to go before Minnesota can become respectable in the Big 10, the Gophers have enough talent to keep this game close and possibly steal one on the road.
Bowling Green 27 Minnesota 24
Doug: BG -6
I'm a little leery of BG coming back to Earth this week. BC beat Minnesota at UM last year, they're coming off a big win at Pitt, and the locals should be fired up to see the Falcons at home. I'll take BC in a blowout. I don't trust Tim Brewster, and BC appears to be a good team this year. I'm an unabashed MAC supporter, so I'll stick with the MAC and take BG to win easily.
BG 23 Minnesota 3
Akron (+6) at Syracuse (FSN 3:30 pm) -
Matt: Syracuse -6
Syracuse has to win this one don’t they? They aren’t really going to lose at home to the worst team in the MAC. If Greg Robinson wants to be able to see the light of day, he better find a way to win this one.
Syracuse 28 Akron 21
Mike: Syracuse -6
The odds makers are just begging gamblers to take Syracuse, which battled gamely against a superior Northwestern team last week before running out of gas in the second half. Syracuse appears to be a lock for the basement in the Big East, but they should have enough to beat an Akron team that does not figure to contend seriously in the MAC. The ‘Cuse will have more success on the ground this week in their home opener at the Dome against the Zips, thus allowing them to control the clock and cover the spread.
Syracuse 28 Akron 17
Doug: Syracuse -6
Tough opener for Syracuse last week getting blown out at home by Northwestern. The Gregg Robinson farewell tour continues this week. Should be a raucous atmospher in the Carrier Dome in front of dozens of excited fans. I have no reason to take the Cuse, but Akron is awful and I'll go with the home team.
Honestly, the Cuse should just turnt the team over to Jim Boeheim and let him run the show. Then again, Boeheim would probably sit back in a soft zone and give up 500 yards passing every game. Sorry Mike, the truth hurts! Boeheim has lost a step.
Syracuse 20 Akron 10
Connecticut (+6) at Temple (ESPNU 12 pm)-
Matt: Temple +6
I’m so glad we are picking this game! They are still steaming in Philadelphia about that out of bounds call in the back of the endzone on the last play of last year’s game. Temple was flat out robbed by the refs, and then by the replay official. The NCAA had to freaking apologize and basically say, yeah, our bad, you should have won that one. Anyway, most people didn’t notice, but Temple quietly went to Army last week and laid the hammer down 35-7. To most, not a huge deal, but those are the types of games Temple used to lose 35-7. I really think that Al Golden is in the midst of a Greg Schiano type Rutgers revival at Temple. It’s a shame he didn’t get there a few years earlier to maintain their Big East membership. Anyway, I think Temple straight up wins this game, and I think they’re going bowling this year for the first time since the 1979 Garden State Bowl.
Temple 34 Uconn 31
Mike: Connecticut -6
Al Golden is quietly doing a fantastic job at Temple. Last week, the Owls trounced Army 35-7 in West Point, while Connecticut defeated Hofstra in an unimpressive fashion at home. I expect Connecticut to rebound from its sluggish debut, particularly on offense, and pull out a road win against Temple. I would not be shocked, however, if Temple finds a way to win.
Connecticut 24 Temple 17
Doug: Temple +6
Temple?? Really?? We are really scraping the bottom of the barrel by picking this game. Guess everyone is excited about the Al Golden era. Actually, Temple has made some major strides in the last couple years.
And then I came across this story about the game, and now I'm going with the upset.
I guess last year's game ended in controversy, and Temple is fired up with revenge on the brain.
Give me the Owls. Somewhere John Cheney, Mark Macon, and Pepe Sanchez are pumping their fists.
Temple 17 UConn 10
Notre Dame - San Diego State (NBC 3:30 pm)(just picking the winners to avoid a conflict of interest)
Matt: Notre Dame
I don’t bet on the Irish, so I’m not even worried what the line is. Let me just say 5 things that I am most interested to see from our first game, which should be more like a scrimmage with the once proud Aztecs losing last week to Cal Poly.
1. Offensive Identity – I keep hearing we are going to be a smashmouth team. Let’s see it. No excuse not to be with Hughes and Allen along with a supposedly improved Aldridge in the backfield.
2. Offensive Line – Pretty self explanatory. I hope the matador blocking is a thing of the past
3. Tenuta’s impact on defense – I hope we bring a safety blitz on the first play and keep it coming after that. Really excited to see Bruton and the D-line play.
4. Clausen – Let’s face it. The hype is in the background. It doesn’t matter any more what he did in high school or that he showed up to a press conference in a stretch Hummer. Time to prove it on the field. I think he’s gonna be good.
5. Charlie – He won’t have that huge laminated play sheet coming out of his, ahhh, waist. How can he handle being a manager, not a playcaller. Again, I think he’ll be fine.
ND 41 SDSU 17
Mike: Notre Dame
SDSU is a complete mess, especially in the offensive and defensive trenches. I expect Weis to follow through on his avowed intention to “pound the ball” against a severely undermanned Aztec squad, which will allow Hughes, Allen and Aldridge to amass gaudy rushing numbers. On the other side of the ball, Jon Tenuta’s influence should pay immediate dividends for the Irish defense, given SDSU’s woes along the offensive line. I am also cautiously optimistic that Weis will deliver on his promise to improve the special teams as well, perhaps resulting in a touchdown in the return game.
Notre Dame 35 San Diego State 10
Doug: Notre Dame
Honestly, I'm not even concerned with the score of this game. I know we are going to beat San Diego State. They are one of the worst teams in the country and lost to Cal Poly last week. We are going to score a bunch of points, they are going to be inept and turn it over, and it will be a fun day at the Stadium. I'm looking forward to getting up to South Bend, enjoying the day, tailgating, watching an Irish home victory for the first time in what seems like forever, and hopefully getting a good feel for how we are going to look this year.
I know it's just SDSU, but I think we will be able to tell a lot of things from that game alone. If we come out and absolutely roll them with a power running attack, big plays, much more aggressive defense (instead of the bend but don't break stuff we've seen the last 10 years), and a feisty special teams attack, I'm going to start getting really excited about what this team can do.
Personally, I'm more interested in seeing what we look like than the final score. Even in years when we've "won" (ie 9-3 type years), we rarely have looked dominant. How often in the last decade have you felt like ND looked nasty and just came out smoking?? I would say the first half of the 2005 season and the 2006 Penn State game, and that's just about it. I'd like to see us play at that level ALL THE TIME. Our version of "good" defense in the last 10 years was to let them come down to our 10 yard line and then hold or block a field goal. I'd like to see us start forcing more 3 and outs, getting pressure on Qbs, and dominating the field position game.
Other things I'm looking for:
1) Clausen - While I don't think Clausen is the biggest question mark or concern by any stretch, I am going to be looking to see how much he has developed. I think Clausen is going to have very good stats this year, and I expect him to play well for the most part. I have no doubt that Clausen will be a very productive player at ND. He has the arm and the ability, he has put on weight, he knows the offense, and Charlie Weis knows how to get production out of his quarterbacks. At this point, I am really just looking to see if Clausen is truly the "special" QB that we have heard about for the last two years. How tough is he?? Does he stay in the pocket and make the tough throws under pressure?? Do his teammates want to run through walls for him?? What is he like in a clutch situation??
We've never really seen Clausen perform in a meaningful game situation. Last year was basically Clausen running for his life and running out of bounds at the first sign of pressure. This year, we are going to find out a lot more about whether he can be a championship level QB.
2) Robert Hughes - Is there any reason why we shouldn't be able to pound the ball this year against at least 75% of this schedule?? I'm not talking about the Darius Walker draw plays and traps and delays. Give me off tackle to Robert Hughes for 7 yards. We have a HUGE offensive line, a stud running back who average 5.5 yards a carry last year, and a good change of pace guy. We should be able to run the ball all over the Purdues and Stanfords of the world, and I would like to see us pound the ground game against Michigan. Robert Hughes needs 20-25 touches EVERY GAME, and the o-line needs to give him a push. If he has any type of hole, he's getting you 5 yards. Late in the game, he should be able to close out games for us by getting first downs. This is the first time in a long time that I'm actually kind of excited about our running game. Probably since Julius' senior year. If anything, this team is set up to be a running team with inexperienced receivers and a line built for the ground game. We should build this team around our strengths. If Hughes gets carries, he is going to produce.
3) Can we stop the run?? - Our run defense last year was maybe the worst I've ever seen at ND. Georgia flipping Tech ran it down our throats last year. Georgia Tech!! At home!! People were talking about Tashard Choice like he was a Heisman candidate after that game, and they ended up 7-6. Michigan started a freshman QB who couldn't throw and everyone in the building knew that they were running Mike Hart down our throats, and we still couldn't stop them. Michigan State ran for almost 5 yards a carry against us. USC ran for over 6 yards a carry against us. Freaking Navy and Air Force ran it all over us. Just pathetic in every way.
I am hoping that stopping the run was the #1 priority for this entire team going into the offseason as far as I'm concerned. If you can't stop the run in college football, you aren't going to win games. Our linebackers stunk last year, and the d-line was only marginally better (and that was with Laws).
Brian Smith and Kerry Neal are going to have to carry this unit this year. If they can get some pressure and contain the perimeter runs that killed us last year, that would be a great start. I am really hoping that Harrison Smith can be a difference maker in the linebacker corps. Toryan Smith is our probably our biggest LB, but is he ever going to live up to his billing?? I like Mo Crum's effort, but he's too small to mix it up and be a force inside. Seems like another transition year for the LBs until we start seeing the Fleming/Filer/McDonald/Posluszny type guys.
What about that d-line?? Other than Ian Williams and Pat Kuntz, do you feel good about any of these guys?? Justin Brown...ehh. Just ok. Mo Richardson..cmon. Too small. We're really thin up front. Need the freshmen to come in and at least solidify the position. It just seems like could have more problems stopping the run this year, but I do like having Tenuta around to maybe toughen us up. We're still pretty thin, but maybe we can make up for it with toughness and aggressiveness.
I am looking forward to seeing how aggressive we look on defense on Saturday.
4) Wide receivers - I feel surprisingly good about the WRs. I think that Duval Kamara has a 50-60 catch and 7-8 touchdown season written all over him. He'll probably drop some balls, but make up for it with some sweet catches. I could see Parris making a mini-leap this year as a junior like the Shark did. If Parris doesn't have it this year, give his minutes to Michael Floyd. Grimes is not a top 25 team type #2 WR, but he can fit in as a #3/#4. I love Golden Tate, but what role are we going to use him in?? Is he going to be able to run any routes other than the bomb?? Either way, you have to find ways to get him the ball downfield.
We have plenty of wide receiver talent. I think they'll put up some big numbers as a group this year, but it's probably a lot like the other positions. Who will step up in the big games?? Putting up the stats against SDSU and Navy is one thing, but I'd like to see some big plays against USC for a change.
5) Charlie Weis - As far as Weis is concerned, I like what he has done in the offseason. He has taken a Mark Richt approach. He is more hands-on, more willing to engage with the players, and he's approaching the job more like a head coach and less like an offensive coordinator. That is his job. He's the one with the big office for a reason. You can't just be a playcaller. This isn't a video game. You have to have a program to develop players and develop a team.
At the end of the day, your head coach is out there to be a motivator, a leader, a CEO, a recruiter, a gameplanner, and the guy who sets the overall tone for the program. Weis is starting to realize that, and our new emphasis on toughness and physical play seems to be a direct result of the adjustments that he has made in the offseason.
I feel surprisingly calm about Weis. I think he will deliver results this year, and I think the program is headed for big things in the next couple years.
1) Beat Michigan --- It's a home game and they are in major transition. I don't care what anyone says. We should beat Michigan this year. We have the psychological edge after getting killed by them two years in a row, and we better be fired up for that game. I'm expecting to be celebrating at the Backer after that game.
2) Take at least 2 out of 3 from MSU, BC, Purdue -- Considering that we lose to these clowns every year, I'd like to start changing that. I can understand losing one of these games, but it would be nice to win at least 2.
3) Competitive with USC -- It's one thing to lose to USC, it's another thing to get our lunch handed to us two years in a row like that. Last year's game was the least competitive ND game I've ever seen (with 2003 FSU being a close second). If we get blown out by them again, it will be a tough pill to swallow. I'm not asking for a win by any stretch. I'd just like to see ND be remotely in the game going into the latter stages. And not one of those games where we fall behind 21-0 and claw back to 42-21 with 3 touchdowns in the fourth quarter and then proclaim that we were close in yardage totals (like some people on NDNation were doing after we got plowed in the 2006 game). I'd like to see us actually make USC uncomfortable. Run the ball on them, get some legit 3 and out type stops, get pressure on Sanchez....things like that.
If we do all those things, I think we'll have a really good year. With the schedule shaping up to be much easier than anticipated, I really believe that we have a legit shot at a 10 win type season. I would settle for 8-4 or something along those lines, but I don't see any reason to set the expectations low. We're Notre Dame football. 8-4 is for teams like Texas Tech and Arkansas and Oregon State. We should have the goal of winning 10+ games every year. That is the standard at Texas and USC and Ohio State and Florida and Oklahoma. It should be the same at Notre Dame. Time to ramp up the expectations.
New and Gold Game Highlights
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