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Opening Week Is Here

by Mike Mitchell
August 24, 2008

234 days after LSU beat Ohio State to win the BCS title, college football returns with a 5-day weekend beginning Thursday night. While 32 teams face schools from the football championship subdivision (FCS), formerly known as 1-AA, there are numerous games of interest on the schedule.

The top two teams in the Congrove Computer Rankings both entertain state FCS schools. No. 1 Ohio State brings Jim Tressel's former team, Youngstown State, to Columbus for the second straight season. No. 2 Georgia leads off with Georgia Southern as it did in 2004.

No. 3 USC dares to travel across country to take on No. 49 Virginia in Charlottesville. The game draws a somewhat surprising line from the computer with a spread of just 12.96 points. If the Cavaliers keep it that close, the home folks in 'Hoo-ville should feel optimistic about the rest of the schedule. USC is so superior in personnel that this game has a better chance of becoming a 40-point blowout than an upset.

No. 4 Kansas shouldn't draw much resistance from No. 119 FIU. The Golden Panthers avoided a second straight winless season by defeating North Texas on the final weekend of the 2007 season, snapping a string of 23 consecutive losses. Meanwhile, Kansas ascended to historical heights by solidifying a 12-1 campaign with an Orange Bowl upset of Virginia Tech. The Jayhawks are favored by 40.91.

No. 5 Florida hosts a Hawaii team that has lost head coach June Jones and star quarterback Colt Brennan. Otherwise, it may have been interesting to see if the No. 39 Warriors could fare any better against the Gators than they did against Georgia in last year's 41-10 stomping at the Sugar Bowl. In one of the strangest offseason head coaching maneuvers, Hawaii promoted defensive coordinator Greg McMackin to lead a team that Jones built with offense. The computer spread of only 15.84 points looks extremely light.

No. 6 LSU is among the teams opening with an FCS school, but not just any FCS school. The Tigers host Appalachian State, the three-time defending champions of their subdivision and the school that shocked the football world with its opening week 34-32 upset of Michigan in the Big House last year. The Mountaineers of Boone, North Carolina are expected to compete for another FCS title as they return the athletic Armanti Edwards at quarterback (1,588 rushing, 1,948 passing, 38 total TD's) and welcome back the front seven on defense. The computer takes the Bayou Bengals by nearly 42 points, leaving LSU without much to gain and everything to lose.

One of the week's top games for rankings impact will take place in St. Louis where No. 7 Missouri and No. 45 Illinois will hook-up. The Tigers are among the favorites to win the Big 12 title behind returning QB Chase Daniel, while Ron Zook's Fighting Illini are projected by many to gain a second consecutive top-three finish in the Big 10. The computer projects Missouri as a 10-2 team and the only real challenger to Kansas in the Big 12 North. However, it does not share the same enthusiasm for Illinois as it projects a slippage to 7-5 and takes Missouri in this opener by 12.25 points.

No. 8 Texas faces a patsy in disguise when it entertains FAU.  Howard Schnellenberger, the only coach the Owls have ever known, has fast-tracked the team to success. Make no mistake, these teams are inarguably on different planets when you discuss history and 5-star recruits. But the No. 38 Owls are forecasted to go 10-2 which is unheard-of success for a Sun Belt team. This contest is one of the projected FAU losses, but the spread of just 13.84 points is worthy of the Longhorns' attention. FAU's modest goal will be to prove they are deserving of such a respectful spread. Keep in mind that Sun Belt teams had some strong performances last year against teams from the "big 6" conferences as Troy State walloped Oklahoma State, and Louisiana-Monroe won at Alabama. FAU beat Minnesota, and more impressively, played USF to the wire when the Bulls were No. 2 in the BCS Standings.

Oklahoma has played in the Big 12 Championship game the last two years, five of the last six years, and six of the last eight. The No. 9 Sooners tune-up for the 2008 season with a home date against UT-Chattanooga. This is one of those matches where the 38.34-point line is fully justified as the Mocs were just 2-9 in the FCS a year ago.

Rounding out the computer's top 10, Oregon opens the 2008 season as a 22.58-point home pick over Washington. The computer likes the Ducks as the PAC-10's No. 2 team, even without the services of QB Dennis Dixon and RB Jonathan Stewart who were two of the nation's offensive standouts in 2007. The Huskies are once again projected to be a conference bottom-feeder, which can't be good for Ty Willingham.

Other games to watch:
Thursday

Vanderbilt at Miami (Ohio) - The MAC gets an SEC team on its own turf. It's an opportunity for a big RedHawk win, and a bad loss for a Commodore team that's forecasted by the computer to go 2-10. I don't think it's a reach to say that Vandy head coach Bobby Johnson needs this game worse than Shane Montgomery, but which team will deliver?

Wake Forest at Baylor - The Demon Deacons enter dangerous territory by playing a road game against a team that's poised for an upset. The Bears can either show their teeth or become victims of the 20-point Wake Forest cakewalk that the computer expects.

Troy at Middle Tennessee - The computer says Troy is FAU's top challenger for the Sun Belt title and makes it an 11.11.-point favorite over an MTSU team picked to go 2-10. Other preseason forecasts have consistently put Troy at 2nd or 3rd in the conference, but the Blue Raiders can be found all over the map. Athlon's preseason annual puts them at No. 3 while Blue Ribbon/ESPN relegates them to the bottom of the conference barrel.

N.C. State at South Carolina - Tom O'Brien's first year in Raleigh was a 4-8 train wreck while his former team at Boston College went to the ACC Championship under Jeff Jagodzinski. Even worse, the computer forecasts his second season to be a 1-11 disaster. Meanwhile, Steve Spurrier hasn't exactly registered the kind of success that Gamecock fans hoped for with a 21-16 record over three seasons, and no bowl appearance last year.

Oregon State at Stanford - The Cardinal look to get off to a fast start with an upset home win over Oregon State. The Beavers are favored by 11.35 points.

Friday
SMU at Rice - June Jones makes his debut as head coach of the Mustangs.

Saturday
Virginia Tech vs. East Carolina - The Hokies had 8 players selected in April's NFL draft, and 3 more signed as rookie free agents. The computer spread is a conservative 3.27 points in favor of Virginia Tech, the projected repeat champions of a depleted ACC that saw 33 conference players go to the pros.

Clemson vs. Alabama - The Tigers are a slim 1.11-point computer pick in Atlanta. The universe of football pundits has been heaping huge expectations on Clemson while the computer puts the Tigers at 10-2 but trailing Wake Forest and Boston College in the Atlantic Division. Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden needs to win this game to keep his many detractors at bay. The Crimson Tide faithful are looking for a reason to jump on the Nick Saban bandwagon as last year's 7-6 record and Independence Bowl win over Colorado hardly seemed like fair compensation for his $4 million salary.

Boston College vs. Kent State - How will the Eagles adjust to life without Matt Ryan? The Golden Flashes possess the top returning rusher in the FBS - Eugene Jarvis (1,669 yards). B.C. is still favored by 21.36 and is expected to contend for the ACC Atlantic title.

Bowling Green at Pitt - The Panther fans have had a pleasant taste in their mouth during the entire offseason after concluding the 2007 slate with an upset win over West Virginia that knocked their hated rival out of the BCS title game. That victory, and the emergence of RB LaSean McCoy, increased expectations for this season but Dave Wannstedt is one bad beat away from a return to derision in Pittsburgh.

Michigan State at California - The Spartans improved from 4-8 to 7-6 in their first season under Mark Dantonio. The Golden Bears fell to 7-6 last year after going 10-3 in 2006. Both teams are picked to go 7-5 this year. The computer takes Cal by 2.23 points in this game.

Southern Miss at Louisiana-Lafayette - The opening game for Larry Fedora as head coach of the Golden Eagles. The Ragin' Cajuns and head coach Rickey Bustle would see their future take a turn in the right direction with a home upset win. This is Southern Miss' first game under a new head coach since Jeff Bower replaced Curly Hallman for the December 28, 1990 loss (31-27) to N.C. State in the All-American Bowl in Birmingham. Ironically, Bower concluded his 17-year career with a 31-21 loss to Cincinnati in last year's PapaJohn's.com Bowl that was also played in Birmingham. Over-all, Southern Miss was 6-5 in bowl games under Bower. Louisiana-Lafayette has never played in a bowl game.

Mississippi State at Louisiana Tech - Bulldogs are everywhere. Louisiana Tech head coach Derek Dooley, the son of Vince Dooley who was the long-time coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, leads his Bulldogs against the Mississippi State Bulldogs. The computer likes Mississippi State by 10.72, but the game is in Ruston, Louisiana where the hometown Bulldog fans will be rabid.

Memphis at Mississippi - Ole Miss has won three straight by 4 points or less.

Utah at Michigan - Utah is favored by less than a point (-0.70) in the first game for Michigan under new head coach Rich Rodriguez. It's the first home opener for the Maize and Blue since falling to Appalachian State last year. The Utes are forecasted to finish tied with BYU for the Mountain West title and possibly earn an at-large BCS bowl berth.

Northern Illinois at Minnesota - The Golden Gophers are favored to end their 10-game losing streak with a 2.49-point home escape of Northern Illinois. The Huskies will be playing their first game under new head coach Jerry Kill after being guided by Joe Novak for the last 12 seasons. Tim Brewster is beginning his second year at Minnesota after going 1-11 in his inaugural campaign with losses to Bowling Green and FAU, and a lone win over Miami (Ohio) in overtime.

Western Michigan at Nebraska - The last time the 'Huskers hosted a MAC team, they nearly bit the bullet against Ball State in a 41-40 thriller last September 22nd. However, that was under the misguided direction of Bill Callahan. This Saturday's game signals the beginning of the Bo Pelini era. This game will be a barometer as to whether or not the computer has grossly underestimated Nebraska with its' microscopic 0.58-point edge over the Broncos and prediction of a 6-6 season. By the way, Pelini already has a coaching victory at Nebraska as he guided the team to a 17-3 Alamo Bowl win over Michigan State while serving as interim head coach in 2003 after Frank Solich was dismissed.

TCU at New Mexico - The computer puts the Lobos in a 3-way tie with Utah and BYU at 7-1 in the Mountain West and they are a 2.81-point pick in this contest. The Horned Frogs are projected to finish fourth in the conference, two games behind the lead pack, at 5-3.

Sunday
Colorado vs. Colorado State - Sonny Lubick was forced out after 15 season. His offensive coordinator, Steve Fairchild, takes over a team that has not finished above .500 since 2003 and debuts as a 10-point underdog in Denver.

Kentucky at Louisville - This state rivalry game moves back to opening day where it was scheduled to be played for 13 straight seasons from 1994-2006. It was the third game on each teams' schedule last year, a move that bode well for the Wildcats who ended a 4-game losing skid to the Cards with a 40-34 win in Lexington when Louisville was ranked in the top 10. Kentucky is 2-3 all-time against the Cards in Louisville with losses in the last two visits. Both teams will miss star quarterbacks as Brian Brohm (Louisville) and Andre Woodson have each moved on. The Cardinals are hoping to rebound from an ugly 6-6 debut under head coach Steve Kragthorpe in 2007, and prove the computer's 5-7 projection for 2008 is wrong. Despite the loss of Woodson, the computer tags the 'Cats with an 8-4 forecast which would actually be a one-game improvement over last year.

Monday
Fresno State at Rutgers - The Bulldogs captured the WAC title in 1999, the first season of the conference's reconfigured team lineup. They haven't returned to the top spot since then, but about half of the major preseason publications pick them to do so this year. The computer still has them playing second banana to Boise State but favors the San Joaquin Valley boys by 1.28 points in this road opener.

Tennessee at UCLA - The Vols are 4-1-1 against the Bruins since 1978 and won the last match eleven years ago in Pasadena, 30-24. Former Bruin QB Rick Neuheisel (1983) will be on the sideline as a collegiate head coach for the first time since his firing from Washington after the 2002 season when it was discovered he participated in an NCAA basketball tournament pool. He later won a wrongful termination suit for that dismissal. Neuheisel was 33-16 in four seasons with the Huskies from 1999-2002, and 33-14 at Colorado from 1995-1998. After Neuheisel left Colorado, the Buffaloes were placed on two years probation by the NCAA for numerous recruiting violations under his command. He replaces Karl Dorrell who went 35-27 in five seasons. Ironically, Dorrell caught two TD passes from Neuheisel in UCLA's 45-9 Rose Bowl win over Illinois to cap the 1983 season.

See You Next Week:
These six teams won't open until next week: Florida State, New Mexico State, Notre Dame, Purdue, Tulane and Toledo.

UNBEATEN TEAMS:
Only Hawaii made it through the 2007 regular season unbeaten, and the Warriors were blown out 41-10 by Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. It was the first season since 2002 that no team recorded a perfect record.

Boise State was the only team to finish the entire 2006 season unscathed, while Texas did it in 2005. Auburn, USC and Utah all went undefeated in 2004.

WINLESS TEAMS:
FIU defeated North Texas 38-19 in its final 2007 game to avoid ending the season as the only winless team. The Golden Panthers had lost 23 straight games and were one of two schools to go winless in 2006 (Duke was the other).

Idaho failed to beat a team from the bowl subdivision.

FBS vs. FCS
The divisions were re-named late in 2006. 1-A was given the new moniker of Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) while 1-AA was labeled the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).

Last season, 78 bowl subdivision teams played a total of 80 games against schools from the championship subdivision (WAC members New Mexico State and Hawaii double-dipped). The FBS schools went 70-10 to improve to 290-35 (.892) since 2003.

The ten losses were:
Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32 (Week 1)
Nicholls State 16, Rice 14 (Week 1)
Northern Iowa 24, Iowa State 13 (Week 2)
Southern Illinois 34, Northern Illinois 31 (Week 2)
New Hampshire 48, Marshall 35 (Week 3)
McNeese State 38, Louisiana-Lafayette 17 (Week 3)
North Dakota State 44, Central Michigan 14 (Week 4)
*-Western Kentucky 20, Middle Tennessee 17 (Week 4)
North Dakota State 27, Minnesota 21 (Week 8)
Delaware 59, Navy 52 (Week 9)

*-Western Kentucky is currently in transition to becoming the ninth Sun Belt Conference football playing institution and the 120th Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) member. The Hilltoppers will play five Sun Belt teams in 2008 and will be eligible for the conference title and a bowl berth in 2009.

The Congrove Computer Rankings regarded Western Kentucky as a lower-division school in 2007 as it played just 6 games against FBS competition. This year, the Hilltoppers play 10 FBS schools so the CCR will no longer classify them as a FCS team.

This year, 82 teams will participate in a total of 87 games that will pit the FCS against the FBS. Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Texas Tech and Western Kentucky each play two such games.

ACC teams have more games versus FCS schools than any other conference. Here is the number of FCS games for each conference:

Conference Teams In Conf. Games vs. FCS Avg. Per Team
ACC 12 14 1.167
Big East 8 7 0.875
Big 12 12 10 0.833
Big 10 11 9 0.818
MWC 9 7 0.778
WAC 9 7 0.778
SEC 12 9 0.750
Independents 3 2 0.667
MAC 13 8 0.615
CUSA 12 7 0.583
Sun Belt 9 5 0.555
PAC-10 10 2 0.200
Totals 120 87 0.725

STREAKS:
Hawaii had its 13-game winning streak stopped by Georgia in a 41-10 Sugar Bowl loss. The Warriors will enter 2008 on a 15-game winning streak against WAC teams.

BYU has won 10 straight games, and 16 consecutive MWC games. The Cougars defeated UCLA 17-16 in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Boise State has won 43 consecutive regular season home games, and has a perfect home record against their fellow WAC conference members (28-0).

Minnesota, Idaho and SMU have each lost 10 straight. All three teams completed the 2007 season with 1-11 records.

NEW COACHES: The 2007 season featured 24 new head coaches. Nine led their team to a bowl game. This year, there are 18 coaching changes.

Coaching Changes For 2008 Season
TEAM RECORD COACH THIS WEEK
Arkansas 0-0 Bobby Petrino 8/30, vs. Western Illinois (FCS)
Baylor 0-0 Art Briles 8/28, vs. Wake Forest
Colorado State 0-0 Steve Fairchild 8/31, vs. Colorado (at Denver)
Duke 0-0 David Cutcliffe 8/30, vs. James Madison (FCS)
Georgia Tech 0-0 Paul Johnson 8/28, vs. Jacksonville St. (FCS)
Hawaii 0-0 Greg McMackin 8/30, at Florida
Houston 0-0 Kevin Sumlin 8/30, vs. Southern (FCS)
Michigan 0-0 Rich Rodriguez 8/30, vs. Utah
Mississippi 0-0 Houston Nutt 8/30, vs. Memphis
Navy 0-0 Ken Nuimatalolo 8/30, vs. Towson (FCS)
Nebraska 0-0 Bo Pelini 8/30, vs. Western Michigan
Northern Illinois 0-0 Jerry Kill 8/30, at Minnesota
SMU 0-0 June Jones 8/29, at Rice
Southern Miss 0-0 Larry Fedora 8/30, vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
Texas A&M 0-0 Mike Sherman 8/30, vs. Arkansas State
UCLA 0-0 Rick Neuheisel 9/1, vs. Tennessee
Washington State 0-0 Paul Wulff 8/30, vs. Oklahoma State (at Seattle)
West Virginia 0-0 Bill Stewart 8/30, vs. Villanova (FCS)