Week 1 Fearless Predictions - C-USA

Posted Aug 30, 2013

Week 1 Fearless Predictions - Conference USA, Rice-Texas A&M & More

Louisiana Tech (0-0) at NC State (0-0) Aug. 31, 12:30, ACC Network

Why You Should Give A Hoot: New coaching staffs in both locker rooms will be looking for the kind of fast start in Raleigh that builds player confidence and a head of steam.

NC State canned underachieving Tom O'Brien last year, replacing him with upwardly-mobile Dave Doeren, who earned his promotion while at Northern Illinois. Mired in mediocrity for far too long, the Pack last won at least 10 games more than a decade ago, and last wore an ACC crown in 1979. While there are no quick-fixes here, Doeren was rather hasty in his two seasons in DeKalb.

When Sonny Dykes got promoted to Cal, Louisiana Tech looked to a familiar face in college football circles, filling its opening with deposed South Florida coach Skip Holtz. Holtz takes over a Bulldogs' team that peaked with nine wins in 2012, but begins its first year in Conference USA with just a handful of returning starters on both sides of the ball.
Why Louisiana Tech Might Win: The offense may be undergoing an overhaul, both staff and personnel, but it still has a chance to be rather potent in 2013. Texas Tech transfer Scotty Young is a former four-star recruit, and RB Kenneth Dixon is coming off a Freshman All-American season in 2012. If WR Paul Turner, an import from LSU, is given the green light to join South Florida transfer Sterling Griffin right away, they'll face an overhauled Pack secondary breaking in three new starters.
Why NC State Might Win: The Louisiana Tech D was arguably the flimsiest in America last year. It won't be much improved this year. The Wolfpack has yet to announce who'll be the starting quarterback, but that guy is going to enjoy throwing on an FCS-caliber defensive backfield. Even as Quintin Payton nurses a protracted injury, State's receivers remain deep with the return of Bryan Underwood. RB Tony Creecy is capable of carrying the load on the ground now that Shadrach Thornton has been suspended for the opener.
Who To Watch Out For: Compelling game for those who like to watch quality D-linemen in action. Both teams are stacked up front; State will get after Young with ends Art Norman and Darryl Cato-Bishop and underrated tackles T.Y. McGill and Thomas Teal. Tech's best defenders are DE IK Enemkpali and DT Justin Ellis.

- Doeren will keep everyone in the dark until game day on his choice for quarterback. It's narrowed to two transfers, Colorado State's Pete Thomas or Arkansas' Brandon Mitchell. The smart money is on Thomas.

- Young has a very live, but will Holtz unleash it? The coach has had a penchant for running offenses that are—too—conservative.

- NC State is looking for breakout stars on defense. Senior CB Dontae Johnson, for one, is ready to answer the call, beginning with this Saturday's opener.

What Will Happen: Someone is going to capture his first win on a new campus. And that someone is Doeren. Yeah, his team is a work-in-progress, but this week's opponent is starting at an even more rudimentary stage. The Pack will have its way with the Bulldogs' defense, racing out to a lead that it never surrenders.
Prediction: NC State 38 … Louisiana Tech 20
Line: NC State -13.5 O/U: 62.5
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 N'Sync at the VMAs) … 2

Rice (0-0) at Texas A&M (0-0) Aug. 31, 1:00, ESPN

Why You Should Give A Hoot: So who'll be under center for the home team?

For those who've been off the grid for the past few months, Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel has had a rather tumultuous offseason, culminating in allegations that the reigning Heisman winner was paid to sign autographs. If true, Manziel would have violated an NCAA rule and put his eligibility in jeopardy, but now he's only going to miss one half - ooooooh. The Aggies' season, which is rife with so much possibility, could boil down to the status and availability of No. 2 going forward – if there's anything else out there to get him in trouble. With him, there's no limit to how far A&M might climb in 2013. Without him, this could be an ordinary team very quickly.

Rice could be catching its old Southwest Conference rival at an opportune time. The Owls house the horses to emerge as a major surprise out of the West Division of Conference USA this season. They return almost everyone from a team that capped a season-ending five-game winning streak by pounding Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. This is not the kind of non-AQ program to be taken lightly in 2013.

Why Rice Might Win: This veteran program has played in a number of large venues and won't become unnerved by College Station or Kyle Field. The offense has pop, especially when QB Taylor McHargue is at full strength. He's the kind of dual-threat that'll cause problems for an Aggies defense with a couple of new starters at every level. The Owls are capable of picking up where they left off late last year, when they averaged 38 points during the five-game winning streak.

Why Texas A&M Might Win: Half a Johnny or not, A&M will run circles around an overmatched Rice defense. With No. 2 in the saddle, the Aggies will reach the 50-point mark. But even if he's left pacing on the sidelines, they'll get at least into the high 30s. A&M is very deep in the backfield, has one of the nation's best linemen, LT Jake Matthews, and will find a way to get the ball into the big mitts of WR Mike Evans. Head coach Kevin Sumlin has had ample time to prepare for any and all scenarios.

Who To Watch Out For:
- Just in case, Manziel's backup is Matt Joeckel, a junior who attempted 11 passes in his first season of action, or freshman Kenny Hill, a dangerous dual-threat prospect with a world of upside. Sound familiar?
- Both teams boast deep backfields. For the Aggies, Ben Malena is the starter, but Trey Williams and transfers Brandon Williams and Tra Carson would start for a slew of other schools.
- In the unlikely event that this one comes down to the kickers, advantage Rice. Owl Chris Boswell leads all active kickers with 11 field goals of at least 50 yards, while Aggie Taylor Bertolet was wildly inconsistent in 2012.
- Can A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder push all the right buttons, like he did last fall? It won't help that starting DT Kirby Ennis has been suspended for this game, and the status of starting defensive backs Deshazor Everett and Floyd Raven remains up in the air.
What Will Happen: No, Texas A&M won't stumble in its opener, but Rice is not a team that should be looked past. Not only has the Manziel saga created an unneeded distraction, but the Owls will begin 2013 underrated and hungry. Regardless of who's taking snaps, the Aggies will shake free from the Rice challenge, cranking out more than 300 yards on the ground.
Prediction: Texas A&M 42 … Rice 20 …
Line: Texas A&M -27 O/U: 67
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync on the VMAs) … 3

Old Dominion (0-0) at East Carolina (0-0) Aug. 31, 6:00, FCS Atlantic

Why You Should Give A Hoot: Old Dominion has the reigning FCS Player of the Year, QB Taylor Heinicke, whose Monarch squad will absolutely thread the needle on opponents if they're not prepared. The East Carolina defense better be on its toes, and it should be since ODU led the FCS in passing, scoring and total offense in 2012.

Why Old Dominion Might Win: Heinicke, just a junior, is coming off a record-setting season for the Monarchs. As a sophomore he threw for 5,076 yards, surpassing Alcorn State's Steve McNair to set the single-season FCS mark for passing yards. The Monarchs paced the FCS with 548 yards per game through the game, a concern for an East Carolina team that perennially struggles in pass defense.

Why East Carolina Might Win: Shane Carden threw for over 3,000 yards a season ago, and he should easily top that level of production if he can stay healthy. Even without WR Justin Jones, who was declared ineligible, this is a team full of solid playmakers. All-conference WR Justin Hardy was a star since he stepped on campus. Nothing new will occur in 2013 as the Pirates offense should be able to hang half a hundred on an Old Dominion defense that will not know what hit it.

Who To Watch Out For: Heinicke. Heinicke is the one to watch, and it is not even that close with the type of numbers he put up last year. East Carolina should be leading for most of the game, which will lead to more yards in the passing game. This stud will need to throw for well over 300 yards in order to offset the number of big plays his defense will give up.

What Will Happen: The Pirates come into this game with a lot to lose due to their high expectations in C-USA, a league Old Dominion joins in 2014. Look for some fireworks early on in this game, but the athleticism on the Pirates is vastly underrated. East Carolina is a darkhorse BCS buster this year, provided the leaky defense can create a few more turnovers. Luckily, this ECU offense can make good defenses, which is exactly what the Pirates will do to the Monarchs in Week 1.
Prediction: East Carolina 49 … Old Dominion 24
Line: East Carolina -14.5
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 N'Sync at the VMAs) 1.5