Sun Belt Fearless Picks - ASU-Oregon & more
Posted Aug 30, 2012

Week 1 CFN Fearless Predictions - Arkanas State at Oregon & more

2012 Fearless Predictions 

Sun Belt Week 1 - Part 1

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Fearless Predictions
- Arkansas State at Oregon & more
- Troy at UAB & more
- FIU at Duke & more

Arkansas State (0-0) at Oregon (0-0) Sept. 1, 10:30, ESPN

Here's The Deal: The return of USC to the Pac-12 and national championship races changes absolutely nothing for Oregon; the Ducks still have their sights fixed firmly on winning a fourth straight league crown. And who could blame them? Sure, there are new hurdles, most notably in the backfield, but recent history has shown that the program isn't going to skip a beat as long as Chip Kelly is at the helm. Not only does Oregon remain loaded on offense, but the defense and special teams will be secret weapons that not enough people are talking about this offseason. A visit from Arkansas State, the first-ever meeting between the schools, will give the Ducks a tougher than usual sparring partner. One of the favorites in the Sun Belt Conference, the Red Wolves are a veteran program coming off a 10-win season. New head coach Gus Malzahn last saw Oregon in 2011 when he coached the Auburn offense in the BCS National Championship Game. He and Kelly are two of the brightest young offensive minds at this level.

Why Arkansas State Might Win: To have a fighter's chance of knocking off Oregon in Eugene, you better be able to put points on the board. The Red Wolves can do that. They'll be led for one final season by senior QB Ryan Aplin, the kind of multi-dimensional playmaker who operates as if he should've been recruited by Kelly. Arkansas State will be forced to throw it often, which it can do with both pop and efficiency. Aplin is surrounded on the outside by a trio of gifted senior targets, Josh Jarboe, Taylor Stockemer and Allen Muse. Once the Ducks put their foot on the gas, the Red Wolves are one of the few small-school programs with enough firepower to hang for a while.

Why Oregon Might Win: Arkansas State will score. Oregon will score more … and faster. Just because the Ducks are breaking in new quarterback Marcus Mariota, who beat out Bryan Bennett for the starting job, and have lost LaMichael James does not mean that the attack is going on hiatus. On the contrary. Kelly has crafted a plug-and-play system that caters to the speed and athleticism of the quarterbacks and James' successors, Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas. Oregon might have been a tad vulnerable in the first game with a new leader under center, but not against a Red Wolves defense breaking in seven new starters and assimilating to a new staff.

What To Watch Out For: This is going to be a good test for a Ducks D that's going to sneak up on a lot of people in 2012. In fact, there's so much burgeoning talent in Eugene that the defense might trump the offense at times during the year. Aplin will have to pay particular attention to DE Dion Jordan, one of the country's top pass rushers. If someone can't keep the long arms of No. 96 out of the quarterback's face, the Red Wolves will be hard-pressed to reach the end zone.

What Will Happen: Unlike a year ago, when Oregon fell to LSU in the opener, the Ducks won't have to dig out of a hole this year. It's been a somewhat rocky offseason in Eugene, but the squad is excited to get back on the field, and start proving that it's still the defending Pac-12 champs for a reason. All eyes are sure to be on the new quarterback who'll get three games against inferior defenses before Pac-12 play begins with a visit from Arizona on Sept. 22. Thomas will do something, either on offense or on special teams, to make the locals roar with excitement.

CFN Prediction: Oregon 49 … Arkansas State 17
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Oregon -36; O/U: 68
Must Watch Rating (5 – Boss, 1 - Married To Jonas): 2.5  

McNeese State (0-0) vs. Middle Tennessee (0-0) August 30, 8:00

Here's The Deal: Middle Tennessee really, really needs an easy blowout win. There weren't any McNeese State's on last year's schedule as the Blue Raiders stumbled and struggled through a 2-10 season. This year's team is more experience and should be far stronger, but McNeese State should be a factor in the Southland coming off a 6-5 season and with just enough talent to make this a bit of a game.

Why McNeese State Might Win: Have the turnover problems stopped. Middle Tennessee has been a disaster at times over the years in turnover margin and struggled in a big way when it came to mistakes last season. The Cowboys weren't exactly stingy with the ball, but if the Blue Raiders aren't sharp to start out, several opportunities should be there for the taking.

Why Middle Tennessee Might Win: Pass rush. McNeese State doesn't have one and Middle Tennessee's should ramp up in a big way. The Blue Raiders were able to get into the backfield from time to time last season, but one of the their biggest strengths should be on the defensive front against an MSU line that was blown away by a soft breeze last season. On the other side of the ball, the Cowboys shouldn't be able to get into the backfield to give Logan Kilgore and the passing game any real problems.

What To Watch Out For: The tone for the Blue Raiders has to be set right away by the defense that was hit-or-miss last season. The run D didn't do anything and the pass rush stunk. 6-3, 242-pound Omar McClendon did a decent job with 54 tackles and 2.5 sacks, but the potential is there to do far, far more. He was a star recruit who was expected to become a perennial all-star, but he has been average and nothing too special. With veterans around him, the chance will be there to turn it loose and become the breakout pass rushing star the defense desperately needs.

What Will Happen: October 22. It has been a long, long time since Middle Tennessee came up with a win, losing six straight to close out the season. It's a new year with a new attitude, and while McNeese State should be in for a solid season, Middle Tennessee will come out strong.

CFN Prediction: Middle Tennessee 41 … McNeese State 17
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) None; O/U: None
Must Watch Rating (5 – Boss, 1 - Married To Jonas): 1

Wagner (0-0) at Florida Atlantic (0-0) August 31, 7:00,

Here's The Deal: It's a new era for Florida Atlantic football with Carl Pelini taking over for the founder and father of the program, Howard Schnellenberger. There's a massive rebuilding job to be done for a team that went 1-11 last season and doesn't have a slew of talent waiting to be developed, but it's a veteran team that has to use this as a warm-up before kicking off Sun Belt play next week at Middle Tennessee. Wagner is coming off a 4-7 season, but it won its final three games of the season and returns 52 lettermen and 17 starters.

Why Wagner Might Win: The Seahawks didn't have much of a passing game last season and the ground game wasn't much until the end of the year, but with four starting offensive linemen returning the hope will be to . The FAU offense that finished last in the nation isn't going to put big points up on the board without the defense generating a slew of turnovers, but Wagner was extra tight with the ball last season while the Owls were among the worst in the nation in turnover margin.

Why FAU Might Win: If Wagner isn't running the ball, it's not moving. The Seahawks finished 117th in the FCS in passing and needed to pound away to have any chance, but linebacker is FAU's biggest strength with tackling machines David Hinds and Randell Johnson among the Sun Belt's best. The Owl offense might be a work in progress, but Pelini will get the defense ramped up right away.

What To Watch Out For: The Owls have to stop Wagner junior Dominique Williams, a talented veteran back who cranked out 1,338 rushing yards and 14 scores last season hitting the 100-yard mark in each of the last four games highlighted by 216 yards and four scores against Robert Morris. For FAU, the focus will be on whether or not the quarterback play has improved. The problem is that top option Marvin German has been suspended indefinitely. Veteran Graham Wilbert it the safest option, but sophomore Stephen Curtis has been given every opportunity.

What Will Happen: The Owls will equal last year's win total before September starts. The defensive front will hold its own, and while the offense won't be explosive, the veteran receiving corps should make life a bit easier with all the quarterback concerns.

CFN Prediction: Florida Atlantic 31 … Wagner 13
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) None; O/U: None
Must Watch Rating (5 – Boss, 1 - Married To Jonas): 1