UCLA (-17) @ Stanford
This game features 2007’s trendy Pac-10 team in UCLA, and the “trendy to finish last team” in Stanford. UCLA returns virtually everyone of consequence from the same team that beat USC, should have beaten Notre Dame, and thrashed Utah. So it sure looks like the Bruins should be well improved from last year’s 7-6 campaign, especially if Ben Olson finally finds the form that everyone has been expecting from the beginning and that (almost) all-senior defense can be as dominating as some people think they can be.
Stanford? Not quite so much. Yes, they return quite a few players, but QB Trent Edwards is gone and there are already reports that the receivers are having some injury issues. That adds up to a not-so-good prognosis in this game for the Cardinal.
On the Other Hand:
It’s still UCLA on the road. The Bruins have a very spotty record away from the Rose Bowl, and they’ve historically proven to be very vulnerable to games where no one expects them to lose.
Moreover, Stanford, while obviously not good, shouldn’t be terrible. The defense is a lot more experienced than last year, and the offensive line certainly can’t be any worse. So there’s hope.
UCLA is just too good, especially on defense, for there to be any real upset chance.
UCLA 24, @ Stanford 6
Tennessee @ Cal (-6)
This is one of the biggest, most hyped matchups of the first weekend, featuring two teams that aren’t in the national title discussion but that could still produce very solid seasons. Cal comes in looking for revenge for last year’s embarrassing loss to the Vols, and on paper it looks like they’ve got a good shot at it. They’ve got a good QB in Longshore, a great receiver corps, their line is more experienced, and their secondary isn’t banged up like it was for that game. Moreover, for Tennessee Justin Harrell is gone, as is Robert Meacham and the rest of the receiving corps. So it’s safe to say we won’t see a repeat of what happened in 2006, when Tennessee’s D-line and receivers dominated the game.
And at least in the passing game, it looks like a reversal may well be at hand. This time, Cal has the deep, talented, experienced receiver corps and Tennessee has the inexperienced and seemingly vulnerable secondary. If Cal doesn’t put up a bunch of yards and points, it’ll be a big surprise.
On the Other Hand:
Cal’s defense still looks vulnerable. They’ve had a major rebuilding effort going on in the front seven, and that’s not good against a team that has this much talent on offensive line and at running back. Moreover, QB Erik Ainge was already pretty good, and now he’s a senior. Even with a depleted set of receivers, he’s very capable of doing damage.
This isn’t quite a tossup, as Cal again seems to have the better team, and home-field and the revenge factor seem like added edges. Still, it seems silly to lay anything more than a field goal on this game. Cal should win, but it could easily go the other way.
@ Cal 34, Tennessee 31
Utah @ Oregon St (-6.5)
This is a battle between one team in Oregon State who had a great year in 2006 and wants to show that they’re still as good as they were then, and another in Utah that has struggled a bit ever since Urban Meyer left and wants to move back towards the top. On paper, it might actually seem like the Utes have a bit of an edge. With QB Brian Johnson and just about all of the rest of the offense returning as well as most of the defense, Utah seems like it should be appreciably better than last year, and they were pretty solid last year.
Oregon State, meanwhile, is breaking in a new quarterback (and Mike Riley has been terrible at breaking in new quarterbacks), and probably lost receiver Sammie Stroughter for the year. That means the bulk of the work will be done in the running game, and that plays right into the strength of Utah’s defense. That’s a great recipe for an upset unless the Beavers are very careful.
On the Other Hand:
Utah really seems to struggle in early season road games (TCU, UNC and CSU in 2005, UCLA in 2006), and Reser is a terrible place for a team like that to be playing. Moreover, Oregon State has a very strong defense, and it’s tough to see where Utah’s big threats are. The receiver corps is decent but not outstanding, and the same is true for the running backs. If they want to reverse their recent bad luck, they’ll need a standout performance somewhere, and it’s not clear they have the personnel to pull it off. Plus, the Beavers have a great running back in Bernard, and though he’s had injury issues before he seems to be perfectly healthy right now, which is again bad news for the Utes.
Unless Canfield throws up a bunch of picks, Oregon State will probably win. Utah will keep it close and make Beaver fans sweat, but they won’t pull off the upset.
@ Oregon State 24, Utah 20
Arizona (+4.5) @ BYU
This game features a rematch of 2006’s meeting, which went all the way down to the wire with Arizona winning on a last-second field goal. Now the game shifts to Provo, where the Cougars look for payback. However, BYU has to deal with the loss of great quarterback John Beck and solid running back Curtis Brown, as well as the loss of last year’s receiving corps. Against a Wildcat team experienced across the board, that’s not a good thing.
U of A has done well against the run and the pass before, and now they return basically the whole defense against an offense rebuilding everywhere but the line. Even at home, that’s a tall task for the Cougars to overcome. Unless Max Hall is fantastic right out of the gate, it’s tough to see them having much success moving the ball.
On the Other Hand:
Arizona doesn’t exactly look super on offense themselves. Tuitama is still an up and down guy, the receivers haven’t done much, and the running game gets virtually zero production. If the Wildcats had a good running game, that might work well against BYU’s rebuilding front seven, but they don’t, which means that they’re going to have to pass to win, and that’s not good against BYU’s ball-hawking defense, which forced almost two turnovers a game last year and could well post similar stats this time around. So don’t expect U of A to be lighting it up either.
The Cougars don’t have a proven running game, and they don’t have a proven quarterback. That’s not going to fly against the Wildcat defense. It’ll be low-scoring, but the more experienced team will pull it out.
Arizona 17, @ BYU 14
WSU (+14.5) @ Wisconsin
Boy, the Cougars have it rough. Last year they opened with a trip to Auburn, then considered a national title contender, and now they do it again in their trip to Wisconsin. And the Badgers really do seem to be stacked this time around. The offensive line returns almost intact, running back PJ Hill is coming off a great freshman campaign, and the defense again looks very strong. The only question mark is at quarterback, and with a great O-line and a strong receiver corps, unless Donovan is really bad, he’ll put up numbers and find success with the talent around him.
Wazzu, by contrast, has a great quarterback in Alex Brink, but doesn’t look so good everywhere else. Running back Dwight Tardy had a good freshman year, but there’s rebuilding work to do on the line, so the numbers might not get much, if any, better. And the defense needs a lot of work, having replaced just about all of their best players. That’s not a good thing against a Badger team that loves to ram it down opposing teams’ throats.
On the Other Hand:
Don’t count out Alex Brink. He’s a good enough quarterback to put the team on his back and carry the team to one or two victories no one sees coming. Why can’t this be one of them?
Brink will have to be awesome, or Donovan terrible, or maybe both, for an upset to happen. The talent difference is just far too great. The Cougs will get in a couple of shots, but Wisconsin will run away with it sooner rather than later.
@ Wisconsin 31, Washington State 10
Houston @ Oregon (-16)
Remember all of those bad home upsets I talked about Oregon suffering, just about every year? Well, this could easily be another one of them, except for one small thing: Houston is actually pretty decent. Yes, they lost Kevin Kolb, but they return some of his receivers, plus a running back who had over a 10.0 ypc last year. Yes, you read that right. And their defense should be decent too, with seven returning starters, and 23 forced turnovers and no glaring weaknesses (the South Carolina’s offensive explosion in the bowl game aside). If Dennis Dixon comes up with another of his bad performances, this could easily be a repeat of that Indiana game a couple of years ago, except this time Houston won’t need seven turnovers to pull it off.
On the Other Hand:
There’s one thing the Ducks have now that they didn’t then: Jonathan Stewart. Houston’s defense is decent, but it’s extremely rare for them to see a back of his caliber. Stewart alone can and should be the difference here, whatever else may happen.
This is a scary game for Oregon, especially if they’re looking forward to Michigan (likely) and Houston will give them all they can handle, but the Ducks have just a bit too much talent for the upset to hold.
@ Oregon 28, Houston 20
Washington (-3) @ Syracuse
All around the country, college football fans are busy talking about… something else. The Huskies aren’t good and have all their hopes resting on the shoulders of a freshman quarterback. The Orange isn’t (aren’t?) good, and their hopes rest on… nothing I can see. The defense was decent last time around, maybe it’ll be so again. But I’ll still take the Huskies. The Carrier Dome just isn’t the home-field advantage it used to be.
@ Washington 24, Syracuse 17
San Jose State @ Arizona State (-14.5)
ASU always beats the tar out of the low-level OOC guys they face, and Erickson will be looking to make a strong first impression. Yawn.
@ ASU 38, San Jose State 10.
Idaho @ USC (-46)
USC will be resting some starters by the end of the first quarter, halftime at the latest. Double yawn.
@ USC 51, Idaho 7
National Games of the Week:
Georgia Tech @ Notre Dame (-2.5)
Notre Dame is a really, really tough team to peg before seeing them on the field, since they’ve got so many new players to fill in. They’ve certainly got the raw talent, but I lean towards the Yellow Jackets this time around, on the strength of their running game and D-line.
Georgia Tech 24, @ Notre Dame 21
Oklahoma State @ Georgia (-6.5)
A lot of people seem to think the Cowboys could be the real deal this year, and I’m starting to think they may well be right. Still, a week one trip to Athens is a very tough test, and the link seems just a bit low.
@ Georgia 24, OK State 14
Colorado St vs Colorado (-2.5)
It’s not one of the nationally highlighted games, but it’s been tight for years, and what more can you ask from a rivalry game? The Buffs ought to be better than last year, but the Rams should be too. This should be another fun game that will be tight to the finish.
@ Colorado State 28, Colorado 24
Florida St (-3.5) @ Clemson
Baby Bowden has been doing well in this game the past few years, and it’s at Clemson, so there’s reason to think the Tigers have a chance, but FSU will be too good to be beaten in this game.
Florida State 24, Clemson 14
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