Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
03 Sep 2009
by Bill Connelly, Brian Fremeau, and Rob Weintraub
Welcome back to Seventh Day Adventure, FO's preview of the weekend in college football. With Russell Levine departed to the land of Real Jobs, SDA is returning to the land of the written word (no more podcast, sorry) as a group exercise. Each week, you'll get writeups on the top games and picks according to Brian Fremeau's FEI, Bill Connelly's S&P, and Rob Weintraub's old-fashioned human brain. Each FO college football writer will also provide their take on an important storyline of that week's games.
One more important note: This year, instead of using SDA as the weekly open thread for college football, we've created a new college football discussion board in the same place where we have the open NFL discussions all-day Sunday. Go check that out and leave your comments all day Saturday (and Thursday night, and any other time they feel like playing college football).
With the housekeeping out of the way, we can move on to the annual Staggering FBS-FCS Blowouts Week. Amid the cupcake feasts, there are still quite a few intriguing games to watch, and the season kicks off with an interesting battle in Raleigh and a huge game in Boise.
Steve Spurrier's tenure at South Carolina will go as far as quarterback Stephen Garcia can carry it, and while similarity scores for Garcia aren't exactly shining (Wake Forest's Ben Mauk? Baylor's Blake "Blyzzle Szyzzle" Szymanski?), he does still have, in theory, a pretty good quarterbacks coach leading the way. He also gets to start against an N.C. State defense that was less than stellar in 2008. For the Wolfpack, it is all about getting quarterback Russell Wilson and an inexperienced backfield rolling on the ground and getting the home crowd rocking, as the Gamecocks should hold the advantage in the air. One of the season's first official games should be an entertaining one.
The Picks -- Rob: S.C. | FEI: S.C. | S&P+: S.C.
This may be the most inspired scheduling for an opening night match-up in recent memory. The Pacific-10 took it on the chin against a slew of non-BCS conference teams last year, including a 37-32 knockout of Oregon in Eugene at the hands of the Boise State Broncos. Led by new coach Chip Kelly, the Ducks are getting a fair bit of preseason love this year but must travel to the blue turf of Boise to exact revenge. Chris Petersen's Broncos received the highest preseason poll ranking for a non-BCS team in at least a decade (if not ever), and are touting this one as the biggest game in its program history. Put the cheerleaders on engagement alert.
The Picks -- Rob: Boise State | FEI: Oregon | S&P+: Boise State
Even before Rich Rodriguez's waterworks, and subsequent interest from the NCAA po-po, the Broncos loomed as a tough challenge for the reeling Maize and Blue. Quarterback Tim Hiller plays in the shadow of Central Michigan star Dan LeFevour, but he was the better player in 2008, throwing for more than 3,700 yards. WMU can score on anyone, but the team has major defensive issues -- they graduated several key defenders. That said, it will be difficult for Michigan to establish an offensive rhythm, as RichRod plans to play three quarterbacks -- returning starter Nick Sheridan and freshmen Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. Of the three, "Shoelace" Robinson may be the most dynamic, if he can keep his kicks on -- he swears he has played every game since pee-wee with his laces undone. Adding to Michigan's difficulties, starting running back Brandon Minor is questionable with an ankle injury.
The Picks -- Rob: WMU | FEI: Michigan | S&P+: Michigan
Which lasting memory of Notre Dame's 2008 season will carry forward into the new year? Flopping around in the opener against San Diego State? Losing in humiliating fashion to Syracuse and Southern California to end the regular season? Or throttling Hawaii in a scoreboard frenzy to break the epic bowl losing streak? The Irish face their second straight Western Athletic Conference opponent on Saturday, and Jimmy Clausen and Co. should keep the Wolfpack defensive backfield busy. On the other side of the ball, fleet-of-foot quarterback Colin Kaepernick should get his as well, running and passing out of the pistol offense. This could be the highest-scoring game of the opening weekend.
The Picks -- Rob: Nevada | FEI: Notre Dame | S&P+: Nevada (LOCK)
Folks in Stillwater, Okla., are calling this the biggest home game in OSU history. Big things are expected at T. Boone U, thanks to the brilliance of quarterback Zac Robinson, running back Kendall Hunter, and wide receiver Dez Bryant. The Cowboys will put it in the end zone. Snag is, so will the other guys. The Cowboys' defense is grim even by Big 12 standards. Most folks figure this will be a rebuilding year for Georgia, and the Dawgs rarely travel out of the southeast for games (a trend Athletic Director Damon Evans is determined to reverse). But Mark Richt's teams are dangerous with low expectations, and play well on the road (an amazing 30-4 since 2001). This will be a tough environment for quarterback Joe Cox to get his first start in, but Georgia's powerful offensive line should work the porous Cowboys defense, allowing a group of backs to find room to run.
The Picks -- Rob: Georgia (LOCK) | FEI: Georgia | S&P+: Georgia
If you tuned into last year's Wake-Baylor clash, you were treated to the most unlikely match-up of top NFL prospects of the season. Even without top-four picks Jason Smith (Baylor) and Aaron Curry (Wake Forest) on the field, this year's rematch deserves more than the fleeting glance usually granted to once-perennial doormats. Baylor's sophomore quarterback Robert Griffin has everyone in Waco, Texas, believing they're watching the next Vince Young -- and for college football fans, that's a good thing. The Demon Deacons are anything but flashy, but they've built a conservative, ball-control, defense-above-all-else reputation that has carried them in these kinds of matchups for the last three years.
The Picks -- Rob: Wake | FEI: Wake | S&P+: Wake
How much can change in one offseason? Missouri begins life after Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, and Chase Coffman on Saturday. Will the new edition of the Tigers -- leaning heavily on running back Derrick Washington, receiver Danario Alexander, and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon -- be up-to-speed this early in the year, especially with a new quarterback (star recruit Blaine Gabbert)? FEI projections still see a Big 12 North title in play this year. Meanwhile, does anybody really know what to expect from Illinois this year? Can the star power of quarterback Juice Williams, receiver Arrelious Benn, and potential star newcomer Jarred Fayson (also a receiver) overcome deficiencies in the Fighting Illini's defensive back seven? The early questions for both teams will be answered Saturday.
The Picks -- Rob: Illinois | FEI: Missouri (LOCK) | S&P+: Missouri
ESPN's Andre Ware made headlines recently, calling for Oklahoma to finish 8-4 in 2009, losing to, among other teams, BYU in the opener. The offensive line is the main culprit for lesser Oklahoma projections, but Ware and others don't seem to have noticed that BYU's offensive line is even thinner and less experienced than the Sooners', and only one of the two lines has to face Oklahoma's front four. Max Hall will be on the run, and he will have to perform better under pressure than he did last year, when against harassing Texas Christian University and Utah defenses he completed only 52 percent of his passes with zero touchdowns and seven interceptions. A couple picks early, and this one could get out of hand.
The Picks -- Rob: OU | FEI: BYU | S&P+: BYU
Around Atlanta they are calling this new annual Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game "College Football's Daytona 500" -- it's a big event to open the season, albeit without quite as many mullets on display. Last year 'Bama destroyed Clemson in the Georgia Dome to propel its undefeated regular season. Virginia Tech, even without injured tailback Darren Evans, is a much tougher foe. With a defense as good as Alabama's (if not better), and a more experienced quarterback in Tyrod Taylor, the Hokies like their chances to pull the minor upset. Much is dependent on the status of two Tide stars, wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Mark Ingram, whose fishing trip portends to be the most damaging since the Pequod set sail. If they play, 'Bama should score despite the game being junior Greg McElroy's first start for the Crimson Tide. Given Nick Saban's recruiting success, better beat the Tide now, before they get really good.
The Picks -- Rob: VT | FEI: VT | S&P+: 'Bama
The Seminoles and Hurricanes haven't had an "instant classic" since the ACC expansion, and most of the games have been flat-out duds. Oddly, the winner of the game has finished the year with a better conference record than the loser only once in four seasons. Neither team should be in the national championship hunt this season, though both may be able to make more noise than usual. All of which makes this Labor Day opener more important than ever -- especially for Miami, which kicks off its first of four straight against ranked opponents.
THE PICKS -- Rob: Miami | FEI: Miami | S&P+: Miami
Rob Weintraub: Miami is expected to cave in under a brutal schedule and a bevy of young starters. Depth certainly is a concern, especially at quarterback. Sophomore Jacory Harris' only backups are untried freshmen. But the talent, while green, is undeniable, and got a lot of playing time last season. The Labor Day battle with old rival Florida State is a winnable game that could jump-start a return to prominence in Coral Gables, Florida, a year earlier than expected, a la Alabama in 2008. And for those who are enjoying The U's mediocrity, coach Randy Shannon is recruiting well despite Florida's ascension. And Miami Northwestern -- the high school powerhouse that pipelines studs (like Harris) to the Hurricanes -- is loaded again.
Brian Fremeau: All eyes are on the Southeastern Conference. "The Conference of Record" has claimed three straight national championships, and by most measures, represents the best collection of teams in college football today. Unfortunately, with the preponderance of FBS vs. FCS games (Florida tips off its Dream Team season against Angola, er, Charleston Southern), we don't get too many cross-sectional match-ups in college football in the first week. But several key exceptions involve the SEC: Georgia, LSU, and Mississippi all open on the road, and the Bulldogs' game against Oklahoma State should be one of the best of the weekend. The ACC-SEC challenge in the Georgia Dome went very well for Alabama a year ago, but Virginia Tech thinks they may be a real live contender as well. Tennessee and Auburn weren't their usual selves in 2008, but blowout victories against an inferior opponents in this year's openers may make the rest of the conference look over their shoulders. We certainly won't learn everything we need to know, but we'll get to see which SEC teams, if any, appear ready to wade into the swamp with Florida.
Bill Connelly: Never has a potential Sports Illustrated cover jinx struck so quickly and so mercilessly.
While a whopping 37 FBS teams are facing FCS opponents this opening weekend, the most intriguing heavyweight drama of the week could be taking place in T. Boone Pickens Stadium in northern Oklahoma. Oklahoma State hosts Georgia, and the Cowboys have to overcome more than just a stout openent and the expectations stemming from their highest-ever preseason ranking. Quarterback Zac Robinson has been nagged by a hamstring injury, starting cornerback Perrish Cox was arrested last week for driving with a suspended license, co-starting tight end Jamal Mosley was dismissed from the team, and perhaps most significantly, senior linebacker Orie Lemon was lost for the season with a torn ACL. And all of this happened within the last couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, Georgia comes to town as a team with recruiting prowess, stout lines and solid Ewing Theory potential: They lost both Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno to the NFL draft after an overall disappointing 2008 season. Is this the first step in a surprise 10- or 11-win season for a supposedly rebuilding Georgia squad, or can Oklahoma State overcome expectations, arrests, dismissals, and multiple injuries?
While Alabama-Virginia Tech is the most marquee matchup on the slate this weekend, pitting two top-10 teams in a tense neutral setting -- the most interesting, tense -- makes for a fascinating battle in the land of rodeos and Eskimo Joe's.
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|South Carolina||+5||N.C. State||S.C.||S.C.||S.C.|
|Nevada||+14||Notre Dame||Nevada||Notre Dame||Nevada*|
Remember to discuss games all weekend long on our new college football discussion board.
14 comments, Last at 04 Sep 2009, 2:14pm by Bill Barnwell