Week 1 Fearless Predictions - AAC Thu/Fri

Posted Aug 29, 2013

Week 1 Fearless Predictions & Analysis - AAC Thursday and Friday

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
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 1.5

Towson (0-0) at Connecticut (0-0) Aug. 29, 6:30, ESPN3.com

Why You Should Give A Hoot: How much trouble will Paul Pasqualoni be in if his team has another losing season, or gets pushed on Thursday by an FCS visitor? The Huskies' offense was dreadful a season ago, but they do have a boatload of starters back that should be improved.

Why Towson Might Win: Being ranked No. 12 in the FCS preseason poll is an indication that the Tigers are fully capable of giving the Huskies a run for their money. Towson went 7-4 last year, while ranking 15th in total offense at 441 yards a game. The rushing attack will be critical if the Tigers expect to keep this one closer than expected. Towson's strength is running the rock, led by 1,000-yard rusher Terrance West.

Why Connecticut Might Win: The Huskies offense was abysmal last season, ranking, 110th in the nation at a pedestrian 318.3 yards per game. There is no chance they come close to appearing in a bowl if that continues, and the onus needs to be put on their backfield. RB Lyle McCombs and QB Chandler Whitmer are way too talented to not produce at a higher level. Four offensive linemen return to UConn, which will allow it to quietly gash the Towson front.

Who To Watch Out For:
What Will Happen: This won't be rocket science; the Towson Tigers can play with a few FBS programs, because they are simply that talented. However, Connecticut is a respectable program. The defense is too relentless and this is the game that should help put the Huskies back towards the right direction. It may not be pretty, but the Huskies will steamroll in the fourth quarter.

Prediction: Connecticut 44 … Towson 14
Line: Connecticut -20
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 1

Southern (0-0) at Houston (0-0) Aug. 30, 8:30

Why You Should Give A Hoot: Houston is kicking off a new era, which couldn't have come at a better time. The Cougars, one of the new members of the American Athletic Conference, are banking on a rebound from last season's disappointing 5-7 collapse. They'll be opening the campaign against Southern of the SWAC, which went 4-7 a year ago. The Jaguars will earn $350,000 for making the trip to Houston on Friday night.
Why Southern Might Win: The Houston D will begin this season with plenty of question marks and concerns. The Jaguars will look to catch their opponent in transition, with help from the potent pitch-and-catch combo of QB Dray Joseph and WR Lee Doss.
Why Houston Might Win: The Cougars expect very little resistance from the Southern defenders on Friday night. Even without Charles Sims, who transferred to West Virginia, Houston will grind out yards on the ground, with Kenneth Farrow rumbling behind a veteran line. The David Piland-led passing attack will be potent this season.
Who To Watch Out For: Houston WR Deontay Greenberry is set to explode in 2013. The five-star recruit from a year ago is a gamebreaker, with enormous physical skills.

- Coordinator David Gibbs was brought about to fix the Cougars D. He inherits a group that can attack out of the back seven with the likes of LB Derrick Mathews and FS Trevon Stewart.

- Houston head coach Tony Levine is in dire need of a fast start after last season's debacle. Regardless of the score, he'll be on his kids for all 60 minutes.
What Will Happen: Houston begins 2013 with a chip on its shoulder and a pebble in its shoe. It'll roll to an easy victory over an inferior opponent behind 600 yards of total offense.
Prediction: Houston 57 … Southern 13
Line: Houston -40
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 1

Rutgers (0-0) at Fresno State (0-0) Aug. 29, 10:30, ESPNU

Why You Should Give A Hoot: Every wannabe BCS buster has a non-conference game on the schedule that provides a postseason litmus test. This is it for Fresno State.

The Bulldogs are riding high these days. In the rear view mirror is a nine-win season in Tim DeRuyter's debut in the Valley. Up ahead is co-favorite status along with Boise State to win the newly-realigned Mountain West Conference. Is this the year that Fresno State finally arrives with a January bowl game, a dream dashed so many times during Pat Hill's tenure? It all starts with a cross-country visit from the Scarlet Knights.

Rutgers is beginning its transition year. It's got one season in the American before becoming a full-fledged member of the Big Ten in 2014. The Scarlet Knights have had their own frustrating near-misses with the BCS, squandering a golden opportunity to win the Big East outright last fall. Rutgers lost a ton of talent and leadership, especially on defense, which will test the team's ability to elevate higher in Kyle Flood's second season on the job.
Why Rutgers Might Win: Even in the face of a veteran Fresno State D-line, the Scarlet Knights believe they'll be able to control the line of scrimmage on Thursday. Four starters return up front for Rutgers, headed by next-level OG Kaleb Johnson. The unit is blue-collar and physical by nature, which will help open holes for RB Savon Huggins and provide time for QB Gary Nova to spot field-stretching WR Brandon Coleman.
Why Fresno State Might Win: Rutgers lost a number of defensive players to the NFL. Fresno State is poised to capitalize on a unit suddenly short on star power. The Knights must slow down Derek Carr, one of the country's premier senior quarterbacks. Not only does No. 4 possess an NFL arm, but he also returns last year's top two receivers, Davante Adams and Isaiah Burse. DeRuyter's D brings back enough starters on the first and final levels to offset the rebuilt linebacker corps and at least approach last year's unexpectedly good No. 22 ranking.
Who To Watch Out For: Both team's running backs need a fast start on Thursday night. Huggins hasn't played like a five-star recruit in his first two years. BYU transfer Josh Quezada is aiming to bring a physical element to the Fresno State offense this year.

- Nova's inconsistencies have been well-documented. If his decision-making hasn't improved, Bulldogs' DBs Derron Smith, L.J. Jones and Sean Alston will pick his pocket clean.

- The matchup inside between Johnson and Fresno State NG Tyeler Davison will capture the attention of NFL scouts.

- Among the top four cornerbacks set to face Carr and his gifted receivers are two true freshmen. One of them, Ian Thomas, is maintaining a hold on the starting job. This is a brutal draw for a secondary breaking in three new regulars around Lorenzo Waters.

- If the Scarlet Knights focus too much attention on Adams and Burse, 6-6, 257-pound Bulldogs' TE Marcel Jensen will abuse them over the middle and in the flats.

What Will Happen: This is not a great spot for Rutgers to be opening a season. The Knights must travel to the opposite coast, with a retooled defense, to face Carr and a Fresno State team that'll be sky high by the opening kickoff. The Bulldogs will start fast, yet won't cruise against an RU team that can slow down the pace with its rushing attack. However, the Knights will fall short in comeback mode, turning the ball over when Nova is pressed into obvious passing situations. One down and 11 to go for Fresno State to deliver that long-awaited magical season.
Prediction: Fresno State 31 … Rutgers 23
Line: Fresno State -11 o/u: 54.5
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 3.5

Texas Tech (0-0) at SMU (0-0) Aug. 30, 8:00, ESPN

Why You Should Give A Hoot: It's the old guard among offensive innovators versus one of the new kids on the block, as SMU hosts one-time Southwest Conference rival, Texas Tech.

Former Red Raiders QB Kliff Kingsbury makes his debut as a head coach at his alma mater. Predecessor Tommy Tuberville left on his own volition, but Texas Tech may prove in time to have upgraded on the sidelines. The program had become kind of stale since Mike Leach had been fired, and the locals hope that the 33-year-old Kingsbury can provide some fresh energy and ideas in Lubbock.

June Jones is back for his sixth season on the Hilltop, and his first as a coach of an American Athletic Conference squad. Jones and his Mustangs have sort of hit a wall of late, hovering around the .500 mark as a member of Conference USA. Forward progress will not be easy at SMU since the team lost a ton of productive players to graduation and the schedule is the thorniest the school has faced in decades.
Why Texas Tech Might Win: Tech is going to be the much tougher team at the point of contact. Back on defense is the entire front seven, namely linemen Kerry Ryder and Dartwan Bush, a stark contrast to the depleted SMU D-line. The Mustangs also lack the size and the experience on their O-line to prevent Gilbert from being flushed from the pocket. The Ponies better be dramatically improved in pass defense this week, because the coach is different, but the guns are still up in Lubbock.
Why SMU Might Win: The Red Raiders lost their entire defensive backfield to graduation; not exactly an ideal situation with a June Jones-led team first on the schedule. Yeah, Mustangs' QB Garrett Gilbert lacked consistency in 2012, but he'll be tighter in his second year in the Run N' Shoot. He'll also benefit from the returns of two of his top receivers from a year ago, Jeremy Johnson and Der'rikk Thompson.
Who To Watch Out For: Kingsbury's first triggerman at Tech will be sophomore Michael Brewer, a talented young distributor poised to pile up monster numbers. First, though, he has to shake a back injury that's sidelined him this month.

- Zach Line is no longer in Dallas, but the SMU ground game remains in capable hands now that Traylon Shead is eligible. The 6-2, 225-pound Texas transfer is a battering ram coming off a great offseason.

- Brewer, or whoever, gets the call from Kingsbury must get the ball in the hands of WR Eric Ward and TE Jace Amaro, easily Tech's most consistent targets.

- If SMU gets torched through the air Friday night, don't blame CB Kenneth Acker. He's an NFL-caliber defensive back and special teamer, who'll do something really special at least once or twice against Tech.

What Will Happen: Lots of uncertainty and new starters will make for a sloppy opener in Dallas. Neither team is close to being a finished product, so the staffs will feel their way through the game, making substitutions on the fly. The Red Raiders will lean on their edge in the trenches, winning the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Turnovers will be the key, with Tech turning one of Gilbert's sailed throws into a crucial quick-six. Kingsbury will open with a win and a lengthy to-do list to take into Week 2.
Prediction: Texas Tech 38 … SMU 28
Line: Texas Tech -6 o/u: 59.5
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 2