Week 1 Fearless Predictions - MAC Thu/Fri

Posted Aug 29, 2013

Week 1 Fearless Predictions - MAC, Thursday & Friday

Tulsa (0-0) at Bowling Green (0-0) Aug. 29, 7:00, ESPNU

Why You Should Give A Hoot: It's the fourth-ever meeting between a pair of non-AQ programs that combined for 19 wins a season ago. The Golden Hurricane, which is off to the American in 2014, begins this season as a favorite to win back-to-back conference titles. Tulsa has become an ultra-steady program that's won 10 games in four of the last six years. The Falcons have been on the uptick as well, winning eight games last fall. With nine starters back on both sides of the ball, the Falcons are aiming to win the MAC East, a step toward their first league crown since 1992.
Why Tulsa Might Win: The Falcons are stout defensively, but the Hurricane offense will be a tall order for the hosts. Back from the team that ranked No. 9 nationally in rushing is senior QB Cody Green, leading rushers Trey Watts and Ja'Terian Douglas and big-play WR Keyarris Garrett.
Why Bowling Green Might Win: With wholesale changes on both lines, this is the kind of season that Tulsa head coach Bill Blankenship wishes he was opening with an FCS opponent. Instead, the Hurricane must go on the road to face an underrated Falcons O-line and a sturdy D-line led by all-star NG Ted Ouellet.
Who To Watch Out For:
- Huge night for the Bowling Green backfield. Leading rusher Anthon Samuel left a big hole when he transferred to Florida International, and quarterbacks Matt Schilz and Matt Johnson battled for reps right through August.
- Tulsa LB Shawn Jackson is downright nasty, the one defender most likely to keep the Bowling Green ground game from getting out of the blocks.
- Falcons quarterbacks want to exploit the new Tulsa starting corners, with plenty of help from 6-4, 221-pound WR Chris Gallon.
- Tulsa needs pass rushers to emerge this season after losing all four starting D-linemen to graduation. Junior Brentom Todd gets his first opportunistic crack at filling the void.
What Will Happen: This is a very tough opening night road draw for Tulsa, which is rebuilding in key areas. Bowling Green will battle hard throughout before giving way to the relentless one-two running punch of Watts and Douglas.
Prediction: Tulsa 27 … Bowling Green 21 …

Line: Bowling Green -3 o/u: 48
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 3

Akron (0-0) at UCF (0-0) Aug. 29, 7:00, ESPN3

Why You Should Give A Hoot: Having graduated from Conference USA, UCF is set to play its first game as a member of the American Athletic Conference. The Knights are coming off their third 10-win season under George O'Leary, and they've got a shot of playing their way into a BCS bowl game with a league title in 2013. It all begins with a visit from Akron, a team UCF slayed in last year's opener, 56-14. The Zips are slowly building for second-year coach Terry Bowden, but they haven't beaten an FBS opponent since 2010. After earning a few moral victories in 2012, Bowden wants to capture the kinds of wins that impact the standings and player morale.
Why Akron Might Win: The Zips are the first team that'll get a crack at UCF's rebuilding defense. The Knights lost a lot of production and leadership to graduation. Akron will counter with the running of Jawon Chisholm and a passing game that led the MAC in output a year ago.
Why UCF Might Win: The one-two punch of QB Blake Bortles and RB Storm Johnson will overwhelm a Zips D that's still in the developmental stage. Bortles has an NFL to go along with a talented corps of receivers. Johnson is a punishing runner, with the quickness and cutback ability to break free into the secondary
Who To Watch Out For:
- Bortles could spend his junior season auditioning for pro scouts. He's got that good of an arm.
- Bowden loves the arm talent of his quarterback, sophomore Kyle Pohl, who's done a solid job of holding off the challenge of Colorado transfer Nick Hirschman.
- Be patient with Bowden and defensive coordinator Chuck Amato. They may not have the talent yet, but they've got the blueprint to turn Akron into a winner in time.
- No. 69 in the home sweater will spend plenty of time in the Akron backfield. Thomas Niles has made a smooth transition to end after playing tackle in 2012, and his quickness and drive will frustrate the Zips.
What Will Happen: Akron has a long way to go. And a trip to Orlando won't help the Zips' confidence. On this night, it'll be too much Bortles, who'll open his much-anticipated junior year by throwing for 250 yards and three scores in a rout.
Prediction: UCF 48 … Akron 14 …
Line: UCF -21 o/u: 55
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 1.5

Liberty (0-0) at Kent State (0-0) Aug. 29, 6:00, ESPNU

Why You Should Give A Hoot: Liberty gave Wake Forest a scare in Winston-Salem last season and coach Turner Gill knows how to navigate the MAC, winning a conference title in 2008 with Buffalo. Kent State has one of the more electrifying players in the country in Dri Archer and it will be interesting to see how the Golden Flashes incorporate him into the offense after his move to wide receiver this offseason.
Why Kent State Might Win: The Golden Flashes put a lot of pressure on the quarterback with 35 sacks and 23 interceptions last season. Kent State has one of the best running games in the nation to help take the pressure off fifth-year senior quarterback David Fisher.
Why Liberty Might Win: The Flames rely heavily on running the ball and controlling the clock which will keep Kent State's explosive offense off the field. Liberty only gave up nine touchdowns through the air, which should keep Archer in check at his new position.

Who To Watch Out For: -Trayion Durham had 1,300 yards rushing last year with 14 touchdowns, but was overshadowed by Dri Archer in the backfield. The spotlight is all his now that Archer has moved to wideout.
- Aldreakis Allen ran for more than 1,000 yards and scored 10 touchdowns last season on only 160 carries, an average of 6.4 yards per carry. He will be Liberty's main man in the backfield this season and is poised to raise some eyebrows in the opener.
What Will Happen: Liberty will keep this game close early on, but a late score before half gives Kent State enough momentum to cruise comfortably to victory.
Prediction: Kent State 38 … Liberty 10
Line: Kent State -14
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 1

Illinois State (0-0) at Ball State (0-0) Aug. 29, 7:00, ESPN3

Why You Should Give A Hoot: Illinois State was ranked in the top ten of the preseason poll in FCS despite having to replace 10 starters from last year's team. Ball State is expected to contend in a difficult MAC West and will get a tough test from a regional foe.
Why Ball State Might Win: Every major offensive skill player returns this season for the Cardinals including the top-six receivers from last season. Ball State put up 33.6 points per game last season and there is no reason it won't be able to replicate it in the opener.
Why Illinois State Might Win: The Redbirds return four starters on an offensive line that allowed only 14 sacks last season. The veterans on the line should open up holes for the running backs and give Jared Barnett plenty of time in the pocket to showcase his skills.
Who To Watch Out For: Ball State's Jonathan Newsome wreaked havoc on offenses last year with his 12.5 tackles-for-loss and 8.5 sacks. The fifth-year senior will be the focal point on defense for the Cardinals with Travis Freeman and Tony Martin not behind him playing linebacker.
- Jared Barnett was under center for Iowa State in one of the biggest victories in program history when he threw for 376 yards in the win over then-No. 2 Oklahoma State in 2011. After losing out on the starting job last year he decided to transfer this offseason and it will be interesting to see how he performs with less pressure on him than in Ames.
What Will Happen: Ball State will take advantage of the inexperience of the Illinois State linebackers by keeping the ball on the ground. Barnett will shine in the second half for the Redbirds, but he won't be able to lead the comeback on the road.
Prediction: Ball State 34 … Illinois State 20
Line: Ball State -12
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 2

Western Michigan (0-0) at Michigan State (0-0) Aug. 30, 8:00, BTN

Why You Should Give A Hoot: It's a tone-setter for a Spartan team that should come out hot, but the Broncos could be sneaky-dangerous if the offense comes together right away. Is Michigan State for real? The Spartans should have the Big Ten's best defense, and the pieces are there on offense to get by, but the team that lost close game after close game needs to come out and stomp on a revamped Western Michigan squad that's starting over with young head coach P.J. Fleck. The Broncos were a disappointing 4-8 last season winning just one of the final six games, but the offense worked and the defense wasn't nearly as bad as the overall record might indicate. Can Fleck make the offense more effective and the defense more disruptive? Can Michigan State jump-start the passing attack and get the receivers to start holding on to the ball? Both teams have lots to prove.
Why Western Michigan Might Win: Bombs away. The Spartan secondary should be solid, but the pass rush wasn't consistent last season. If WMU gets time to let the passing attack work, there could be just enough completions to keep the chains moving. It's not crazy to suggest that the Broncos have the best quarterback and receivers in this game.
Why Michigan State Might Win: This isn't the defense to go against if you're trying to figure out the offense. Western Michigan has talent and upside, but it's trying to get everything on track. The Broncos aren't going to change too much, but they're going to need a few tune-up games before the offensive line starts to work. Basically, forget about WMU running the ball against a brick wall of a Spartan front seven.

Who To Watch Out For: The quarterbacks. Western Michigan senior Tyler Van Tubbergen is a good veteran who makes a few too many errors but has the skill and moxie to not be fazed by the big game atmosphere. Michigan State just decided on Andrew Maxwell as its starter, but Connor Cook will see time in the rotation. The Spartan coaching staff will use this game to definitively decide – maybe - on the main man the rest of the way.
- The Spartans have South Florida at home next week as part of a three-game home start before Notre Dame, while the Broncos get a nice layup against Nicholls State before continuing the Big Ten tour at Northwestern and Iowa.

- 1998. That's the last time Western Michigan won a season opener over an FBS team beating Northern Illinois 37-23. Michigan State has won seven of its last eight home openers.

- East Lansing and Kalamazoo are just 79 miles apart, but this is just the seventh meeting between MSU and WMU. The Spartans have never lost.

What Will Happen: The Spartan defense will make up for a mediocre day from the offense. However, after all the focus this offseason, Maxwell and the passing game will be efficient and effective.
Prediction: Michigan State 41 … Western Michigan 10
Line: Michigan State -28 o/u: 44.5
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 2