Week 1 Fearless Predictions - Sun Belt
Week 1 Fearless Predictions - Sun Belt. ULM vs. Oklahoma & More
Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-0) at Arkansas State (0-0) Aug. 29, 7:00, ESPNU
Why You Should Give A Hoot: This in-state game takes one of the best FCS teams in the Southwest to one of the best teams in the Sun Belt. Both teams are led by their offensive prowess, but Arkansas-Pine Bluff has one of the best defenses in FCS. The Red Wolves are gearing up for a trip to Auburn next week.
Why Arkansas State Might Win: Arkansas State has plenty of weapons to work with on offense. David Oku returns at running back after running for more than 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns last year and J.D. McKissic looks to improve upon his 103 catches and 1,022 yards from his redshirt freshman year.
Why Arkansas-Pine Bluff Might Win: The Golden Lions have a lot of experienced players returning on offense including preseason SWAC Offensive Player of the Year Ben Anderson at quarterback. The plethora of receivers returning will give him plenty of reliable options to dissect the Arkansas State defense.
Who To Watch Out For: After transferring from Utah State, the pressure is on Adam Kennedy to lead Arkansas State to another Sun Belt title. He led the Aggies in 2011 to their first bowl game in more than 10 years before losing the job in spring ball, but he came to Arkansas to prove he still can be a starter at the FBS level.
- Arkansas-Pine Bluff's linebacker duo of Jer-ryan Harris and Xavier Lofton combined for more than 200 tackles last season and it will be up to them to shut down the dynamic Red Wolves running game. They have the talent to stuff the rushing attack, but it will be a tough task for this pair.
What Will Happen: Arkansas-Pine Bluff's defense will keep the Golden Lions into the game early, but Oku will eventually wear down Arkansas-Pine Bluff and McKissic will lead Arkansas State to a comfortable win.
Prediction: Arkansas State 44 … Arkansas Pine-Bluff 17
Line: Arkansas State -25.5
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 1
Kentucky (0-0) at Western Kentucky (0-0) Aug. 31, 7:00, ESPNews
Why You Should Give A Hoot: How many times in the history of mankind has an SEC team played a Sun Belt team with two new head coaches and the far, FAR better head man is on the Sun Belt sidelines? Bobby Petrino is paying his year of penance at Western Kentucky before almost assuredly being the No. 1 prospect for every coaching vacancy next year, but Kentucky's Mark Stoops is eager to show that there's life in the Wildcat football program. Considering UK is probably the 14th best team in a 14-team league, it can ill-afford to come up with a clunker in the opener. No, Stoops wouldn't be on any sort of a hot seat in Game One of his career if his team didn't show up, but after a 32-31 loss last year, it certainly wouldn't be a plus for the program. Meanwhile, the Hilltoppers have their sights set on a Sun Belt title, but beating UK would probably be the high point of the season.
Why Kentucky Might Win: Let's get this thing moving. The Kentucky offense is going to be a lot faster with a lot better pace and more pop. The idea is to ramp up the passing game and keep defenses on their heels, and while WKU has a decent-looking defense and should turn out to be fine, the secondary is coming off a season when it gave up way too many yards. Even so, it's a deep, veteran secondary with good potential, but it allowed 200 yards or more in nine games including a 332-yard, two score day against UK's Morgan Newton. Expect the air show to be entertaining.
Why WKU Might Win: The focus might be on the Kentucky offense after such a woeful campaign, but it's the defense that needs a ton of work without a ton of experience to match all the speed and athleticism. This might not be a disruptive D right away and it probably won't get into the backfield on a regular basis. Meanwhile, the secondary will likely be the biggest concern, meaning WKU has to take its shots down the field and not rely solely on …
Who To Watch Out For: RB Antonio Andrews, who came up with a special year coming very, very close to breaking Barry Sanders' record for all-purpose yards in a season. The 6-0, 211-pounder did everything for the offense running for 1,728 yards and 11 scores, catching 37 passes for 432 yards and three scores, averaging 12.3 yards per punt return and a score and 27.4 yards per kickoff return. He destroyed the Wildcats last season with 125 yards and three scores on 34 carries along with 36 yards of catches.
- Stoops is waiting until the last possible second to name a starting quarterback, but no matter what, Jalen Whitlow will be a big part of the equation. At 6-2 and 208 pounds, he has decent size and the best athleticism of all the quarterbacks showing good promise completing 54% of his passes for 801 yards and three touchdowns with two picks. A playmaker, he finished third on the team with 206 yards and three scores. Smart, fast and with a good arm, the tools are all there, but he needs a little more time and polish. However, he'll make up for problems with his quickness.
Louisiana-Lafayette (0-0) at Arkansas (0-0) Aug. 31, 4:00, ESPN3
Why You Should Give A Hoot: Let's see how this new power Hog offense works out. After all of the drama of a wasted 2012 season, Arkansas has its head man in Bret Bielema, and now it's time to see how things have changed. Last season the Hogs were stunned in overtime by ULM and never recovered – looking past another Sun Belt squad from Louisiana won't be a concern. But will Arkansas be sharp enough early on to do all the things Bielema wants? This is a dangerous Ragin' Cajun team with the talent and potential to not only win the Sun Belt title, but also pull off a big upset. Last year ULL came this close to pulling off one of the biggest stunners of the season at Florida, and the pieces are there to start out the season 1-0.
Why Louisiana Might Win: The Hogs defensive back seven is a bit suspect. The line should be fine and the pass should be terrific, but if the Ragin' Cajuns can get their good, talented backfield into the second level, the big plays should be there. Quarterback Terrance Broadway is a crafty veteran with the efficiency and ability to do to the Hog defense what ULM's Kolton Browning did last year. The ULL offense will move.
Why Arkansas Might Win: Yeah, the Hogs are going to be all about running the ball under Bielema, but this is the game to start out chucking. The ULL secondary was a disaster throughout last season, and now it's even more of a work in progress. There's athleticism and upside, but this group has to prove it can stop the forward pass. As long as Arkansas doesn't come up with a slew of big mistakes through the air, it should get a huge day out of …
Who To Watch Out For: 6-3, 214-pound sophomore Brandon Allen, who got in a little work last season but only completed 43% of his passes for 186 yards with a touchdown and three picks. A pure pro-style passer who led the way to the Arkansas state championship with close to 4,000 passing yards and 42 touchdowns, he can throw. He won't run, but he's not a bad athlete.
- Yeah, yeah, yeah … the Arkansas passing game. Everyone wants to see super-recruit Alex Collins. He might not be the be-all-end-all quite yet, but he might be the most talented running back Bielema has ever coached. Jonathan Williams might be the main back early on, but Collins will get his chances.
- Don't be shocked if ULL's power back Alonzo Harris has the best game of any runner on the field. The 6-1, 220-pounder was fantastic when healthy, and he should be effective early on. He has to be.
- With Samford and Southern Miss up next, Arkansas is 3-0 with a win here before going to Rutgers and diving into SEC play. It's more big game hunting for the Ragin' Cajuns with a trip to Kansas State to follow.
What Will Happen: Broadway and company will give Hog fans flashbacks to the ULM nightmare, but the Arkansas ground game will be effective early and the big play passing game will kick in sometime around the third quarter to let everyone breathe a sigh of relief.
Prediction: Arkansas 34 … Louisiana-Lafayette 21
Line: Arkansas -10.5 O/U: 59
- Kentucky has far more speed and athleticism, but it all has to come together. WKU should be sound, but that might not be enough if the UK defense can swarm around the ball better than it did in last year's loss. If the UK offense can do anything, the season will quickly be different.
- WKU's Andrew Jackson might be the best linebacker the Wildcats face all season long. He'll be a leading tackler for some NFL team next year at this time.
What Will Happen: WKU really is good. Kentucky has the athleticism and potential to come up with a stronger season, but Petrino will have the Hilltoppers rolling right out of the gate with a sharp, aggressive game plan. Yes, Kentucky will speed things up on offense, but that might mean the O gets off the field faster. WKU dominated in time of possession last year, and it will again.
Prediction: Western Kentucky 31 … Kentucky 27
Line: Kentucky -4
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 3