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Final Thoughts Before The Weekend
Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins
Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins
Posted Sep 1, 2011

The 2011 season is finally here. The CFNers give their Final Thoughts before the year kicks off tonight.

Final Thoughts 

Before The Week 1 Games

- Final Thoughts  2010
- 2011 Fearless Predictions

E-mail Pete Fiutak
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- I don’t care that the matchups stink. It’s college football time again with actual games to talk about. I'm ready. Bring them all on.

- However, I do have my limits. God bless the college football fan who’s going to watch Howard vs. Eastern Michigan.

- Cal Poly vs. San Diego State. Weber State vs. Wyoming. Delaware vs. Navy. Northern Iowa vs. Iowa State. Richmond vs. Duke. Villanova vs. Temple. New Hampshire vs. Toledo. Montana vs. Tennessee.

- The FCSers are going to win at least half of those.

- Yes, Tennessee. Be careful.

- With just hours before the official start of the season, I don’t give a flying fig about Nevin Shapiro.

- What happens if Georgia loses to Boise State and LSU loses to Oregon? There’s nothing neutral in these neutral site games, and if the SEC goes 0-2, it’ll be brought up over and over and over again by non-SEC fans throughout the season.

- And somewhere an ESPN executive will break something tasteful.

- But if LSU wins, the new Pac-12 will become an afterthought just when everything appeared to be starting to turn its way. It might not seem right, and it might not seem fair, but Oregon can’t lose this game.

- My over/under on Georgia rushing yards vs. Boise State: 78.

- After an entire offseason of hearing about the Rose Bowl and how it failed to run the ball enough against TCU, be shocked if Wisconsin doesn't batter and bruise UNLV into an ugly pulp.

- Russell Wilson’s stat-line against the Rebels will be 13-of-16 for 185 yards and two touchdowns. He'll run for 30 yards and a score.

- Florida, after all the problems of last year, and with a new coaching staff looking to set a tone, you have my permission to run it up against Florida Atlantic just to prove that you can.

- Texas, after all the problems of last year, and with the coaching staff looking to set a tone, you have my permission to run it up against Rice just to prove that you can.

- Auburn, with a new quarterback in place and considering you want to show the world that you're the defending national champion, you have my permission to run it up against Utah State just to prove that you can.

- Michigan, after all the problems of the last few years, and with a new coaching staff looking to set a tone, you have my permission to run it up against Western Michigan just to prove that you can.

- Against WMU, I don't think Michigan can.

- The most intriguing game of the weekend that no one’s really talking about: UCLA at Houston. Cougar quarterback Case Keenum is going to end the year as the NCAA’s all-time leading passer, and Houston is going to be in the thick of the Conference USA title hunt all season long. UCLA, win the game anyway. It’s time for the Bruins to be good again.

- The three most important things to watch for that don’t involve the two big games on Saturday night ...

1) Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez. From all indications he’s healthy and moving like he did over the first half of last year. Watch for him to come out roaring against Chattanooga.
2) Texas QB Garrett Gilbert and Florida QB John Brantley. They have to be great right out of the gate. Anything less than near perfection will get the respective fan bases grumbling.
3) The West Virginia offense. Alright, Dana, let's see if you can make the attack go Oklahoma State on Marshall.

- I’ll demand my money back if Oklahoma and Tulsa don’t combine for at least 75 points and 750 passing yards.

- The over/under on OU and Tulsa is 64.5. The Sooners could get that by themselves.

- If you were my close, personal friend and you were going off to Vegas to legally “invest” what little money you might have left, I’d suggest taking a look-see at Indiana -6 vs. Ball State, TCU -4.5 vs. Baylor, Auburn -21 vs. Utah State, and my favorite on the lot, USF +10 vs. Notre Dame.

- Watch out for BYU. The Cougars have a brutal schedule early on, starting out at Ole Miss, but the pieces appear to be there to be one of the big national storylines over the first half of the season.

- Army and Northern Illinois could combine for over 500 rushing yards. It’ll be the fastest game of the weekend.

- Your big beef come Monday: the new 10-second run-off rule. Some team is going to be driving for the game-winning score only to see if all fall apart with a penalty that’ll drain the clock dry.

- And you just know it's going to happen to Oregon against LSU.

By Richard Cirminiello

About the only thing that can thwart the excitement over the start of another season is the actual slate of games. Yikes! Now, there’s no shame in opening with a sparring partner, but with so many FCS teams cashing checks, Week 1 could wind up looking like the Grapefruit League in early March.

Is it just me, or are too many coaches keeping a poker face about their starting quarterbacks compared to recent years? I mean, is Connecticut’s Paul Pasqualoni, for instance, looking for a little extra edge in his game with Fordham?

Even though UNLV will be on the other side of the field, I’m still eager to get a first good look at new Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson. If he’s ready to roll, it’s hard to imagine many teams stopping an offense that has the former ACC all-star and backs Montee Ball and James White in the same backfield.

RG3 vs. TCU. Friday night’s game in Waco could wind up being the most entertaining contest of the entire opening weekend. This is an ideal opportunity for Robert Griffin and his Baylor Bears to make some rare national waves.

It’ll be good to get Dan Persa back in action this weekend. The Northwestern quarterback, who missed the end of 2010 with Achilles’ injury, is one of the best-kept secrets behind center in America.

For that matter, it’ll be nice to see Houston’s Case Keenum back in the saddle as well. The record-setting hurler gets to make an ironic return versus UCLA, the opponent when he tore his ACL trying to make a tackle last September.

Doak Campbell Stadium will have an unusual buzz for a visit from a Sun Belt also-ran. The folks in Tallahassee sense 2011 could be something special, and have eagerly awaiting this opener since last December’s Chick-fil-A Bowl ended.

Clemson ought to be very, very careful on Saturday afternoon. Troy is not the kind of opening day opponent that can be taken lightly. If the Tigers show any rust, they could get picked off by a seasoned and talented Trojans program.

With Skip Holtz and Brian Kelly in South Bend at the same time, who needs the game? Actually, South Florida’s first trip to Notre Dame promises to be pivotal for both sides. The Bulls are looking to build on their budding reputation, while the Irish are seeking a continuation of last season’s hot finish.

Newly Independent BYU could be one of 2011’s really big surprises, especially with so many returning starters on offense. A win in Oxford, even over a poor Ole Miss squad, could serve as a nice propulsion for the upwardly-mobile Cougars.

Even with Florida Atlantic in town, expect plenty of excitement in Gainesville Saturday night. Not only is it the dawn of the Will Muschamp/Charlie Weis era for the Gators, but it’ll be fun to see all of those young defensive stars turned loose at the same time.

If Oregon-LSU hasn’t been dubbed the Willie Lyles Bowl yet, it should be … not officially, of course. To me, the Tigers appeared overrated even before the recent legal troubles of QB Jordan Jefferson. That said, this is one of those ideal venues for head coach Les Miles to pull another rabbit from his hat in a wild, last-second LSU victory. Nothing about this showdown in Texas will surprise me.

Does anyone on the schedule need a fast start more than Texas? Okay, maybe Georgia, but the ‘Horns are pining for some offensive pop and a quick disposal of in-state Rice.

For those who felt Tulsa might put a scare into Oklahoma for a half or more, the Golden Hurricane isn’t the same team without WR Damaris Johnson. The do-everything senior is such a key cog on offense and special teams that his suspension could mean as much as a 10-point swing in this game.

If Boise State can handle Georgia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff, prepare for the Broncos to become legitimate contenders for a national championship. This might be Chris Petersen’s best team, and a win in SEC territory would have a lasting effect for as long as Boise remains unbeaten.

Although they’ll never be on the field at the same time, the battle between Boise State’s Kellen Moore and Georgia’s Aaron Murray will be one of the more intriguing ones of the weekend. That said, the backs, Bronco Doug Martin and Bulldog rookie Isaiah Crowell, could end up playing as big a role in the outcome as the quarterbacks.

Texas A&M has been rumored to have one foot out of the Big 12. SMU has expressed an interest in taking the Aggies’ place. The two meet in College Station on Sunday, with conference realignment as an unavoidable undertone to an otherwise entertaining offensive showcase.

Al Golden is playing with house money Monday night. If his Hurricanes beat Maryland on the road, he’s an instant hero and an amazing leader during crisis. If he loses, he’s a victim of a renegade culture that preceded his hiring last year.

By Matt Zemek

UNLV-WISCONSIN: I’m expecting student journalists in Missoula, Montana, to enjoy the bejeezus out of this game. (PS – It’s the least attractive Thursday night season opener I can remember.)

WAKE FOREST-SYRACUSE: This is the most interesting Thursday lid-lifter. Will Wake Forest sport a credible offense? Will Syracuse win a home game against someone other than Maine? Yes, this is the most interesting Thursday lid-lifter. (Tells you something about the Thursday slate, which has 15 games in all.)

TCU-BAYLOR: Now this, THIS is a compelling clash. TCU wears a huge bulls-eye, but it will do so with a new quarterback and the uncertainty that comes from being in a new position (having to follow an unbeaten season and all its attendant hype). Baylor, meanwhile, crashed and burned – nothing less – after a blazing 7-2 start. Do the Bears have room to climb, or did they hit their ceiling in a 2010 made easier by Texas’s implosion? As Rafael Nadal would say, “We gonna see, no?”

MIAMI UNIVERSITY-MISSOURI: Let’s see here: Miami is a pesky team. Missouri almost lost at home to San Diego State last September. The Tigers break in a new quarterback and lost their best offensive lineman. Could be interesting.

NORTHWESTERN-BOSTON COLLEGE: This is by far the best game in the early noon Eastern window of games. It would be so very Northwestern of the Cats to stumble in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, but does BC have the passing game to do the deed? This contest will go down to the wire.

SOUTH FLORIDA-NOTRE DAME: The Fighting Irish are not going to be a great team this year, but South Florida loves to slip on banana peels. Count on B.J. Daniels to make the key plays Notre Dame will need to win the game.

JAMES MADISON-NORTH CAROLINA: Don’t be shocked if James Madison wins… right, Frank Beamer?

TROY-CLEMSON: Dabo Swinney, losing this game is not an option. Troy, playing a game worse than the clunker which marked your last trip to the Palmetto State is well nigh impossible… we think.

UCLA-HOUSTON: If only Dick Enberg was doing the play-by-play deep in the heart of Texas, and a Hayes-Alcindor war was taking place on the court, with John Wooden and Guy Lewis on the benches. At any rate, “The Ballad Of Case Keenum’s Revenge” is the song Houston hopes to be singing come Saturday evening. Meanwhile, if UCLA’s last trip to the state of Texas was half as good as this one, say goodnight, Cougars.

BYU-OLE MISS: A lot of Ole Miss red, two-team whites, and BYU blue will be on display in this game. Perfect for a BYU version of “Independents Day.”

FRESNO STATE-CALIFORNIA: This game will be played at AT&T Park, meaning that San Francisco Giant fans can actually see some scoring by the home team for once. No, Fresno State, we don’t trust you anymore. Win the WAC before you leave it, why dontcha?

ARMY-NORTHERN ILLINOIS: Hard to believe, but true: Army, as well as it truly did perform last season, did not beat a single team that finished with a winning record. Hello, DeKalb! Chandler Harnish will be a rude host to the gridiron regiment of the United States Military Academy. Kudos, though, to Army for scheduling big in 2011 and expecting to compete at a higher level. Rich Ellerson “gets it.”

OREGON-LSU: The Ducks and Tigers waged a spirited competition for offseason waywardness, only to be buried by Miami. Now, Oregon and LSU try to outdo each other on the gridiron. Darron Thomas will be very much under the gun to perform, but the hidden secret of this game is that he doesn’t have to be brilliant. If Oregon’s quarterback merely avoids the big mistake, the likelihood of an LSU implosion under signal caller Jarrett Lee is considerable. This is an NFL game: fewest (big) mistakes wins.

BOISE STATE-GEORGIA: Having Kellen Moore under center in this environment means everything to Boise State. It’s hard to see how Georgia will be able to rattle the brilliant Bronco field general. Aaron Murray better bring his A-game just to keep his team close. And oh, one other thing: Shelve the talk about Boise State in a BCS bowl. Just enjoy the Broncos’ excellence, let the chips fall where they may, and celebrate one of the best stories this sport has to offer. Manufacturing debate and controversy around this team does a disservice to the quality produced by Chris Petersen during his spectacular reign in the state of Idaho. Appreciate a top-flight BSU team while it’s here.

COLORADO-HAWAII: USC started its 2010 season at Hawaii. Colorado evidently wants to follow the lead of the signature program in the Pac-12. Someone, one doesn’t get the sense the Buffaloes will fare as well as the Men Troy did 12 months ago.

MARSHALL-WEST VIRGINIA: If Marshall takes a 21-6 lead in the fourth quarter of THIS year’s game, Dana Holgorsen will think of a cocktail or two, eh?

SMU-TEXAS A&M: Doesn’t this game make you yearn for the days when girls were girls and men were men? Mister we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again. Didn’t need no welfare state. Everybody pulled his weight. Gee, our old LaSalle ran great. Those were the days… the days of the Southwest Conference. Oh, college football, the death of the SWC was a terrible development for the sport of autumnal Saturdays. A&M and the Ponies belong with Texas, Tech, Baylor, Arkansas, Houston, TCU, and Rice. (Those were the daaaaaaaaaaaays…”)

MIAMI-MARYLAND: Donna Shalala is still gainfully employed. It’s one of the worst Labor Day night offerings in a long time. Moreover, it wasn’t going to move the needle even if the Hurricanes had, you know, eligible players.
Barrett Sallee
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- No, the suspensions to LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson, wide receiver Russell Shepard and linebacker Josh Johns won't cause the Tigers to lose to Oregon. Auburn made the BCS Championship Game a slug fest last season by dominating the Ducks at the line of scrimmage. The 2011 LSU Tigers are as capable, if not MORE capable of doing the same. LSU wins, and wins B-I-G.

- Georgia's season and Mark Richt's job do not - I repeat DO NOT - hinge on the outcome of the Boise State game. As a matter of fact, as long as the Bulldogs don't get blown out, and figure some things out in the process, the game will serve as a nice primer to the SEC season, which begins in earnest for the Bulldogs the following week between the hedges against South Carolina. With that said, if Georgia gets in a hole early, look out! The culture of losing crept into Athens last year, which is a dangerous thing for any football team. If Georgia doesn't come out looking sharp against the Broncos, the wheels could come off really quickly, and that's not good news for anybody in Athens.

- There always seems to be a crazy upset or two on opening weekend. If you're looking for some likely candidates on opening weekend, check out East Carolina vs. South Carolina and South Florida vs. Notre Dame. Both East Carolina and South Florida are respectable programs that have sprung big-time upsets in the past, and are very - VERY - capable of doing it again this season.

- With Texas A&M hosting SMU this weekend, will the Aggies leave a spare key to the Big 12 with the Mustangs after the game?

- There's no truth to the rumor that the season has been pushed back to make room for further NCAA drama...I hope.

- Miami visits Maryland on Monday. Without the Nevin Shapiro drama, that game is C+ television. But considering it's Monday night, a conference game on opening weekend and Miami has half the roster suspended, that game is must-see TV. We'll know if the Hurricanes are letting the investigation get to them or are coming together as a team early; and whatever their reaction is will define their season.

- Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson against Vegas on Opening Night? Heisman campaign, engage.