Week 1 Fearless Predictions - MW, Thur/Fri

Posted Aug 29, 2013

Week 1 Fearless Predictions - Mountain West, Thursday & Friday Games

UNLV (0-0) at Minnesota (0-0) Aug. 29, 7:00, BTN

Why You Should Give A Hoot: It was one of the best games of last season that no one really paid attention to. Minnesota survived a three overtime thriller in Las Vegas despite UNLV coming up with just 275 yards of total offense. It turned out to be one of the high points in a miserable season for the Rebels, while the Gophers turned out to desperately need the Opening Night win as a part of the six to get to a bowl game. Jerry Kill's team has improved, but it still can't afford to blow a relatively easy home game if it wants to get back to the post-season. For Bobby Hauck's Rebels, a victory would be the biggest in his miserable era and a sign that things are finally turning around.
Why UNLV Might Win: Can the Gophers handle the Rebel ground game? All the pieces are there for the UNLV offense to be far better after years of building to this point, but the attack has to be far more consistent and more explosive. Minnesota should be stout up front, but the linebackers still have to prove they can be consistent – they're the X factor. UNLV should have its most potent ground attack yet under Hauck. UNLV might be loaded with veterans on defense, but …
Why Minnesota Might Win: It's not like the Rebels stopped anyone from doing much of anything last season. There's experience on the D, but not a lot of proven talent. The Gophers are expected to step up their power ground game, and UNLV isn't built to handle it. The Rebels allowed 29 rushing touchdowns last year and 208 yards per game, and while it's a new team and a new season, the line is hardly going to be a brick wall. Minnesota should be able to run with strength.

Who To Watch Out For: UNLV senior running back Tim Cornett should be one of the best backs the Gopher defense has to face all season long. A good, tough runner with a lot of flash, he can make big plays from anywhere on the field. With an improved line and good-looking passing game, he should have even more room to move. Last year he started off the season with a big 127-yard, two score day in the loss.
- At 6-32 for his career at UNLV, Hauck needs something really, really big and splashy. He hasn't had any luck so far, and the program seems like it's in constant rebuilding mode, but a win over the Gophers would do wonders with Arizona coming into town next week.

- Minnesota hasn't been good enough over the years to take anything for granted, but with New Mexico State and Western Illinois up next, and home dates with San Jose State and Iowa, this has to be the start of a big first half of the season. This needs to be a tune-up game and not a dogfight.

- Philip Nelson needs to prove right out of the gate that he's ready to be the face of the Minnesota program. The young quarterback had a rough overall season, but he showed upside with good mobility and playmaking skills. The pressure is on.

What Will Happen: UNLV really is better, but Minnesota will come out tough, efficient and effective on the way to a strong first win. Forget about the drama of last year's game.
Prediction: Minnesota 37 … UNLV 17
Line: Minnesota -14 o/u: 51
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 2.5

Utah State (0-0) at Utah (0-0) Aug. 29, 8:00, Fox Sports 1

Why You Should Give A Hoot: Utah has played the role of the big brother in this century-old rivalry, but the pendulum has begun to shift in the Beehive State.

The Utes have largely dominated over the span of 110 games, but Utah State has narrowed the divide, snapping a 12-game slide with last September's thrilling overtime win. The Aggies are coming off a school-best 11-win campaign that included a WAC championship. But staying hot comes with challenges in 2013, including a move to a much tougher Mountain West and the start of the Matt Wells regime now that Gary Andersen is the head coach of Wisconsin.

Utah has been humbled thus far in its promotion to the Pac-12, going 13-12 in its two years in a new conference. Last season, the Utes slipped to 5-7 and missed a bowl game for the first time in a decade. Head coach Kyle Whittingham enters his ninth year in Salt Lake City with plenty of unanswered questions and a sense of urgency to bounce back after last season's unacceptable results.

Why Utah State Might Win: While the Aggies might not erupt on offense, they'll still outscore the Utes. Chuckie Keeton is the best quarterback in this game, a couple of grades higher than young Ute Travis Wilson. Plus, Utah State returns its entire O-line, led by potential next-level blockers Tyler Larsen and Eric Schultz. On defense, the Aggies are vastly underrated and unwilling to take a backseat to this week's host.
Why Utah Might Win: Yeah, a bunch of key players, like NT Star Lotulelei and DE Joe Kruger, are gone, but the Utes' D always seem to find a way. It's a scrappy bunch of defenders, with all-star contenders at each level. DE Trevor Reilly, LB Brian Blechen and FS Eric Rowe are the cornerstones of a unit that's going to be especially feisty versus the run. With an entire offseason to prepare, Utah ought to be ready.

Who To Watch Out For: Who replaces 1,500-yard rusher Kerwynn Williams for Utah State? Next in line is junior Joe Hill, who has sizable shoes to fill in Logan.

- Welcome back to the Pac-12, Dennis Erickson. The former head man at Arizona State and Oregon State will be coaching his first game as Utah's co-offensive coordinator.

- Besides Reilly, that stout Utah State O-line will need to neutralize DT Tenny Palepoi, a powerful Ute looking to make a statement in his senior year.

- Four Aggies caught five touchdown passes in 2012. All have graduated. Who steps up to become Keeton's favorite target this season?

- Utah RB Kelvin York is a man on a mission this year. The 5-11, 220-pound downhill runner is out to prove he's NFL timber after being hamstrung by injuries in his debut out of Fullerton (Calif.) College.

What Will Happen: Utah has home field advantage and a far more experienced staff. Utah State has Keeton. Edge, Aggies. No. 16 is that much of a difference-maker, a game-changer behind center who can quiet a rowdy crowd. With the outcome hanging in the balance, he'll deliver key plays, while Wilson won't. Utah State is a veteran squad that matured exponentially after taking down the Utes a year ago.
Prediction: Utah State 24 … Utah 20
Line: Utah -3
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync at VMAs) … 3

Sacramento State (0-0) at San Jose State (0-0) Aug. 29, 10:00

Why You Should Give A Hoot: Sacramento State can play a little bit. The Hornets came up with a shocking win over Colorado last season on the way to a 6-5 season and beat Oregon State in 2011, and while this is hardly a juggernaut of an FCS power, the offense should be able to move the ball. This is the opener for new San Jose State head man Ron Caragher, and after the success of the team last year, anything less than a dominant win will be cause for alarm.
Why Sacramento State Might Win: The passing game should be able to keep up the pace. Quarterback Garrett Safron is a smart, effective all-around playmaker who can run a little bit, and while he throws a few too many interceptions, he should be able to match SJSU's David Fales punch for punch. Safron threw for 312 yards and two scores in last year's win over Colorado.
Why San Jose State Might Win: Can the Hornets hang on to the ball? This might be an experienced Sacramento State team, but turnovers were a major problem last season with 24 while coming up with a mere four fumbles on defense. San Jose State isn't looking to change the world defensively after coming up with a huge year taking the ball away.
Who To Watch Out For: Will the San Jose State pass rush keep on working without Travis Johnson? All eyes will be on Travis Raciti and a defensive line that has to establish itself right away to show that it's business as usual up front in time for the trip up the road to Stanford next week.
What Will Happen: David Fales will bomb away, but the Hornets will make this interesting well into the second half. Expect a fun shootout.
Prediction: San Jose State 45 … Sacramento State 27
Line: San Jose State -18.5
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 1.5

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

USC (0-0) at Hawaii (0-0) Aug. 29, 11:00, CBS Sports Network

Why You Should Give A Hoot: USC kicks off a crossroads season for head coach Lane Kiffin at Aloha Stadium versus old friend Norm Chow. The Trojans are eager to get back to work after last season's 7-6 disaster that essentially got Kiffin placed on probation. Naturally, there's an abundance of talent at Troy, but there's also an equal number of question marks, especially as the post-Matt Barkley era begins behind center. Chow won just three games in his Hawaii debut, though the Warriors did win the final two games of 2012. While eight returning starters on both sides of the ball ought to signal improvement, a nasty first-half schedule will likely prevent progress from appearing in the standings.
Why USC Might Win: The Trojans not only enjoy a substantial edge in talent, but last season's collapse guarantees that they'll remain motivated against a weaker opponent as well. New defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has spent the offseason crafting an attacking group that pressures from all angles. LB Morgan Breslin and ends Leonard Williams and George Uko will school a troubled Hawaii O-line for all 60 minutes, generating sacks, errant throws and turnovers.
Why Hawaii Might Win: The Warriors are a year older, improved behind center and just outside Honolulu, where they do their best work. Chow is pumped about the upside of QB Taylor Graham, a hard-throwing 6-5, 235-pound transfer from Ohio State. Graham will want to challenge a USC secondary that's getting overhauled, particularly the cornerbacks. Hawaii won't hesitate to use rookie receivers, as it looks for threats on the outside.

Who To Watch Out For: Chow fired offensive coordinator Aaron Price at the beginning of the month, testament to the chaos that Hawaii is currently enduring. Chow is likely to call plays and handle the position.

- So who replaces Barkley at USC? Sophomore Cody Kessler has had the best offseason, and he'll look to carry that momentum through the month of September as he learns on the job. However, Max Wittek will be getting his chances, too. The situation is still unsettled.

- Marqise Lee is the unquestioned star of the USC offense, but fellow WR Nelson Agholor is on the tarmac and preparing for liftoff in 2013. The sophomore is the next big thing at the position for the Trojans.

- Yeah, Silas Redd is the energized leader of the USC backfield, but rookie Justin Davis is a budding superstar at the position. The 6-1, 215-pounder might only carry the ball seven or eight, but don't be shocked if produces 65 yards and a couple of scores.

- Troy would love to jump all over Hawaii, building the kind of lead that allows the staff to work on its questionable depth before the schedule stiffens.

What Will Happen: At least for one week, Kiffin can breathe a little sigh of relief. USC figures to have few problems with a Hawaii team still very much in transition. The two storylines will be the new Trojans' quarterback and the newly-configured defense. Pendergast's first outing will be resounding success, with his defenders flying all over the field to create mayhem and shut down the Warriors' sputtering attack.
Prediction: USC 40 … Hawaii 13
Line: USC -22.5
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync at VMAs) … 2.5