Here we are! It’s August 25th, 2008 and NCAA football games are just a few short days away. Summer is on the way out, and fall is just about to turn the leaves red. That means school for you young scholarly types and just colder weather for the rest of you – but it also means football! It all starts with a little NCAA action. For Week 1 I went ahead and picked out 10 winners… Enjoy the first edition of my NCAA Free Picks for 2008…
Vanderbilt Commodores @ Miami-Ohio Redhawks (-4): (7:30pm EST, 8-28-2008)
Vanderbilt loses their best player in wide receiver Earl Bennett. He was by far their most effective and productive offensive player. Their leading returning receiver is out with a stress fracture (George Smith). If that weren’t enough, the Commodores also said goodbye to their leading rusher from last year, as well as their entire starting offensive line – that’s the kicker. Miami has a stout defense with very talented linebackers. They may be a smaller college, but they can play football. The Commodores don’t have much cohesion right now, as new starters are still being decided. The starting quarterback for this Thursday’s game wasn’t decided by the weekend, leaving much to be answered in the four days before kickoff. While Vanderbilt has all the questions, Miami of Ohio looks to be full of answers.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons (-12) @ Baylor Bears: (8:00pm EST, 8-28-2008)
Wake Forest is the real deal. Despite winning 8 of their last 10 games and then spanking Connecticut in the 2nd half of their bowl game, the Deacons just can’t seem to get the credit they deserve. THe Deacons return their freshman quarterback sensation, Riley Skinner, and while they lose their top receiver from ’07, Wake is full of young talent at receiver. Head coach Jim Grobe knows what he’s doing. The Deacons are off and on on the road, but they’ve been a darn good football team with Riley Skinner at quarterback. I expect them to start off the season hot, and ride their quarterback to the top of the ACC. Take them over the Bears by a couple touchdowns.
Oregon State Beavers (-3) @ Stanford Cardinal: (9:00pm EST, 8-28-2008)
The Oregon State Beavers seem like the forgotten Pac-10 team heading into the season. Everyone seems to forget that the Beavers won 7 of their last 8 games including an upset victory over Maryland in their bowl game. During the last 8 games of the season, the Beavers’ only loss came against USC in Southern California. Last year, when the Beavers played Stanford, a tough Oregon State defense held the Cardinal out of the end-zone, winning 23-6. The Beavers lost their talented tail-back, Yvenson Bernard, to graduation – but they have a nice offensive line and a couple new running backs that have impressed when given the chance. One player that should have a great bounce back season is Sammie Stroughter, the speed demon that was a 2006 3rd team All-American. With family problems and injury woes, Stroughter struggled in 2007, playing only 3 games. He was awarded a medical red-shirt, and now he has one more chance to prove himself in the Pac-10. Every time he touches the ball, touchdowns can happen. Look for the Beavers to out-talent the Cardinal all over the field, dominating this early-season conference match-up.
Temple Owls (-7) @ Army Black Knights: (7:00pm EST, 8-29-2008)
Temple, amazingly, won 4 of their last 7 games, have three Pre-Seasons All Conference players returning, and were voted “Program on the Rise” by the MAC conference. They return their leading passer and an offensive line that found cohesion late last year. Defensively, Temple is better than expected, as Army will find out. Army switched their entire offense around this summer, moving from a no-huddle spread to an option based rushing attack. When that happens originally, teams seem to struggle because of the recruiting differences for offenses like that. I never thought I’d consider taking a Temple team on the road and favored by a touchdown, but that’s exactly what I’m doing and I’m confident about it.
Bowling Green Falcons (+13) @ Pittsburgh Panthers: (12:00pm EST, 8-30-2008)
The Bowling Green Falcons bring 17 of 22 starters back to a team that is expected to compete for a WAC crown this season. The Falcons won 5 of their last 6 regular season games in 2007 before getting absolutely crushed in their bowl game against Tulsa. I like that last part. The Falcons have waited all summer, 17 returning starters and many other frustrated kids, to get back on the football field and prove that bowl game was a fluke. In comes the Panthers with one of the best running backs in the Nation and a former pro-football head coach. I like the Falcons’ chances – take them and all those points.
Akron Zips @ Wisconsin Badgers (-26): (12:00pm EST, 8-30-2008)
As if going into Wisconsin to play the 12th ranked team in the Nation wasn’t a tough enough opener, the Zips have really struggled with injuries during football camp. With a couple junior college transfers and position battles being effected by these injuries, the Zips preparation time for a tough Wisconsin team will be shortened. The Badgers return big names, it seems, when looking at their 2008 starters. P.J. Hill, the ultra talented tailback, and Travis Beckum, one of the most highly touted TEs in college football. Defensively, the Badgers are senior laden with an elite linebacking crew. It may be his first season as a starter, but senior quarterback Allen Evridge has been around for a while. Look for the Badgers to lean heavily on the run and really pound it to the Zips.
Utah Utes (+3.5) @ Michigan Wolverines: (3:30pm EST, 8-30-2008)
The Utes are very good and should win their conference this season. Michigan lost too many good players and are in the midst of a complete turn-around with their new head coach, Rich Rodriguez. I don’t know what else to say besides this, Utah is the better team with a better mentality and they also have nothing to lose in this one. Sign me up for that every single week.
Oklahoma State Cowboys (-6) @ Washington State Cougars: (3:30pm EST, 8-30-2008)
The Cougars weren’t very good a year ago, usually open the season soft, don’t have much of a home-field advantage during the first few weeks of the college football season, lost their star quarterback to graduation, and don’t have much confidence either. Hmm… I don’t like Pac-10 teams that open their seasons against tougher conferences, and that’s what I think this is. The Cowboys might not finish above .500 and they’ll probably look really bad in some games – but not this one. This is a team that, last year showed they can play tight with Kansas and Texas, beat Kansas State, Texas Tech, and Indiana – so I surely like them against the Cougars.
Michigan State Spartans (+5) @ California Golden Bears (8:00pm EST, 8-30-2008)
This isn’t me loving the Spartans as much as me down on the Bears. Cal has a super talented and amazingly fast sophomore running back in Jahvid Best, but besides that I’m not too impressed. They are supposed to have one of the top rated offenses in the Pac-10, but without a quarterback to deliver the bread, I’m not sure that will be the case. Michigan State’s defense isn’t dynamic, but I think they’ll stack the box and make Cal’s quarterbacks beat them. That’s what will be the undoing of the Bears in Week 1, I just don’t think they can beat the Spartans through the air.
Idaho Vandals @ Arizona Wildcats (-27): (10:00pm EST, 8-30-2008)
It seems like a lot of points, and it is, but I just have a feeling the Wildcats are going to go off for about 45 points in this one. They always run the ball hard and Idaho consistently can’t stop anybody else’s ground game. The Wildcats finished the season well, beating Washington, UCLA, and Oregon before losing to ASU by 3 points. The Wildcats really played well all season last year, losing to Stanford by 1, USC by 7, Oregon State by 2 scores. I like the Wildcats to get a little luck to sway their way this season – but that shouldn’t matter against the Vandals. Idaho was 1-11 in the WAC last season, and I expect much of the same this time around. This game wouldn’t surprise me if it was a 45-7 WIldcat blowout.