Sun Belt Fearless Picks - FIU-Duke & more
Posted Aug 30, 2012

Week 1 CFN Fearless Predictions -- FIU-Duke & more

2012 Fearless Predictions 

Sun Belt Week 1 - Part 3

Follow Us @ColFootballNews | E-mail Us

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

Florida International (0-0) at Duke (0-0) Sept. 1, 7:00, ESPN3

Here’s The Deal: Despite being tempted by more than one larger program, head coach Mario Cristobal has stuck around at Florida International, determined to continue what he started. And the Golden Panthers couldn’t be much happier about the situation. The program, which won eight games and bowled in 2011, is well-positioned on both sides of the line to compete for its first-ever Sun Belt Conference championship.

Duke’s quest to appear in the postseason for the first time since 1994, however, drags on with no immediate end in sight. Although fifth-year head coach David Cutcliffe has made undeniable strides in Durham, too few of them have actually reached the bottom line. For a program that has perennially wallowed near the bottom of the ACC pack, winning non-conference games, especially at Wallace Wade Stadium, is a must.

Why Florida International Might Win: The Golden Panthers might call the Sun Belt home, but Duke is going to feel as if it’s entertaining an ACC-caliber D Saturday night. Florida International welcomes back almost every starter from a unit that yielded less than 20 points a game in 2011. The team is fast, experienced and well-coached, a tough combination for a Blue Devils offense that lacks balance. At each level, the Panthers boast a senior stopper, from DE Tourek Williams and LB Winston Fraser on the front seven to SS Jonathan Cyprien in the defensive backfield. Duke’s struggles in 2011 to produce big plays will continue into the opener.

Why Duke Might Win: The Blue Devils won last year’s meeting in Miami largely off of the right arm of QB Sean Renfree. Renfree is back for his senior year, looking to sweep the Golden Panthers. The veteran went 28-of-43 for 335 yards and two scores a season ago, spurring a 31-27 victory. He’ll once again be hooking up with Conner Vernon, his favorite target and one of the top wide receivers in the ACC. Florida International, on the contrary, will begin the season with a new man behind center, sophomore Jake Medlock. While Medlock played some last year, he no longer has WR T.Y. Hilton to help with his development.

What To Watch Out For: The “X” factor will be Florida International’s Kedrick Rhodes, easily the best running back in the game. Unlike Duke, which hasn’t been able to mount a ground game in many years, Rhodes gives the Panthers an option to wear down defenses, and take a lot of pressure away from the passing attack. If the junior can roll downhill, it’ll help neutralize DE Kenny Anunike, the Blue Devils top pass rusher who had his 2011 campaign cut short by an injury. FIU plans to do whatever is necessary to keep No. 84 from messing with Medlock’s confidence and rhythm.

What Will Happen: It matters not that Duke is a conference bottom-feeder. Florida International is no less geeked about an opportunity to take down a team from the ACC. The Golden Panthers are still peaking as a program under Cristobal, improving defensively as the offense seeks out more stability under center. The combination of that assertive D and the running of Rhodes will spearhead a meaningful victory over the Blue Devils, avenging last October’s loss. FIU actually has fewer holes in this one, a credit to Cristobal and a major concern for Cutcliffe.

CFN Prediction: Florida International 28 … Duke 24
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Duke -3.5; O/U: 53
Must Watch Rating (5 – Boss, 1 - Married To Jonas): 2

North Texas (0-0) at LSU (0-0) Sept, 1, 7:00, ESPNU

Here’s The Deal: When the world last saw LSU it was being thumped by Alabama to end one of the greatest seasons in college football history with a thud. The Tigers have reloaded and appear ready to once again be in the BCS championship mix all season long. First, they need to come out with the same fire, cockiness and attitude they had last year when they kicked things off against Oregon, but North Texas is at a different level. The Mean Green is improving in a hurry under Dan McCarney, and it should be among the stars of the Sun Belt with nine returning starters, but it’s about to have a world of problems. However, the bigger overall storyline is the weather with LSU players and coaches dealing with a lot more than the Mean Green. The worst of Hurricane Isaac is expected to be gone by Saturday night, but the weather is still expected to be a factor.

Why North Texas Might Win: The only chance UNT has is if LSU is completely and totally distracted by Isaac, and even then if might not matter. With Tyrann Mathieu gone and the secondary a little bit of a question mark, LSU could have a few problems with a North Texas offense that’s going to start focusing more on Derek Thompson and the passing game. With star running back Lance Dunbar done, Thompson and the veteran receivers should be far improved. It’s not exactly going to be the second coming of the Green Bay air show, but it could be enough to keep the Tigers working.

Why LSU Might Win: The North Texas defense doesn’t have a prayer of holding up against the pounding LSU ground game. Three starters are back on the Mean Green line, and it should be stronger and better as the season goes on, but there isn’t enough size other than a few 300 pounders for the rotation. It won’t work; the LSU line will still pound, pound and pound some more. North Texas won’t be able to run the ball, but the passing game probably won’t work if the rains are falling. LSU’s ground game is set up perfectly for the lousy weather, but it would rumble without a problem against the Mean Green in a dome, too. However, everyone knows the Tigers will be able to run, but the focus will be on …

What To Watch Out For: Zach Mettenberger. The one thing missing from LSU last season was a quarterback who could come through against Alabama. This game isn’t about North Texas, it’s about whether or not Mettenberger can be a positive and not just be along for the ride as the new starting quarterback. A night-and-day different passer than what the Tigers had last year in Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, he’s a pro-style bomber who can push the ball all over the field. He’s not going to run, but he’ll stretch the field more and should add far more pop to the nation’s 106th-ranked passing game. It won’t be time to get too over-the-top if he blows up against a Sun Belt team, but if he falls flat and struggles a bit, it will ramp up the pressure for the Washington game next week.

What Will Happen: The Tiger formula will work again. Let the offensive line blast away, wait for the defense to crumble, and let the defense and special teams clean everything up. LSU won’t just be a speed bump for a little while, but the end result won’t be pretty.

CFN Prediction: LSU 48 … North Texas 10
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) LSU -43; O/U: 52
Must Watch Rating (5 – Boss, 1 - Married To Jonas): 1.5