C-USA Fearless Predictions, Sept. 8, Part 2

Posted Sep 6, 2007

Previews and Predictions for the Week 2 Conference USA Games, Part 2

Conference USA

East  UAB | UCF | East Carolina | Marshall | Memphis | Southern Miss
West  Houston | Rice | SMU | Tulane | Tulsa | UTEP

CUSA Fearless Predictions Sept. 1Sept. 15Sept. 22 | Sept. 29 
Oct. 6Oct. 13 | Oct. 20Oct. 27 | Nov. 3Nov. 10 | Nov. 17Nov. 24Dec. 1   

How are the picks so far? SU: 7-4 ... ATS: 5-4

C-USA Fearless Predictions, Week Two, Part 1

Mississippi State (0-1) at Tulane (0-0)  7:00 PM
Why to watch: After failing miserably in its first crack at an opponent from Louisiana, Mississippi State gets a second chance with this week’s visit to New Orleans to play Tulane.  Already in dire need of a win after getting stuffed 45-0 by LSU in a turnover-fest, the Bulldogs and Sylvester Croom can ill afford another sloppy effort.  The head coach’s eventual fate in Starkville might depend on the progress of his feeble offense, specifically QB Michael Henig, who threw six picks to the Tiger defense last Thursday night.  Tulane pops the cork on its 2007 season after being one of a handful of programs that was idle last weekend.  The game marks the debut of Bob Toledo, best known for his offensive ingenuity and up-and-down stint as UCLA’s head coach.  It’s been five years since the Green Wave finished above .500, and a win over any SEC team would give a much-needed boost to a wobbly program.
Why Mississippi State might win: Dig beneath the Bulldogs’ 45-0 loss to LSU, and you’ll notice a defense that played surprisingly well, and only trailed 3-0 just before halftime.  Strong up front with DE Titus Brown and solid in the secondary behind the playmaking of FS Derek Pegues, Mississippi State will frustrate new Tulane QB Scott Elliott and the flimsy Green Wave front wall.  If the offense doesn’t put them in constant holes, Mississippi State has the defenders to shut down a Tulane offense that’s still digesting a new system.
Why Tulane might win: If Mississippi State continues to struggle with turnovers, it’ll be tough to beat anyone.  Henig’s confidence is clearly shaken after last week’s debacle, something the Green Wave will attack with a veteran and underrated front seven.  When healthy, Tulane RB Matt Forte is the best offensive weapon in this game.  Forte’s healthy, and capable of carrying an offense that’ll take some time breaking in Elliott and the new passing game.
Who to watch: With the Bulldog staff looking to take some pressure off Henig this week, it’s an ideal opportunity for powerful RB Anthony Dixon to have a monster game.  At 6-1 and 235 pounds, he’s a downhill runner, who’ll rumble for his first 100-yard game of the season after going over the century mark twice as a true freshman last November.
What will happen: Dixon will go blow-for-blow with Forte for player of the game honors, pulling away with a career day and a Mississippi State victory.  The Bulldogs defensive line will control the line of scrimmage, getting a bunch of quarterback hurries from Brown.
CFN Prediction: Mississippi State 27 ... Tulane 13 ... Line: Mississippi State -6
Must See Rating: (5 Mad Men - 1 Chelsea Lately) ... 2
Final Score: 

UAB (0-1) at Florida State (0-1) 5:00 PM ESPNU
Why to Watch: This one can be instructional if only to see whether FSU can rebound after a lousy outing, at least for around three quarters, in the 24-18 Bowden Bowl loss to Clemson. The ‘Noles fell into a 24-3 halftime hole, and though they fought back late, they couldn’t get all the way out. Most disconcerting were the myriad errors made on both sides of the ball. Mental mistakes, lack of discipline, dropped passes and missed tackles all contributed to the shaky debut. As for UAB, its fans are wondering what in the world happened at Michigan State, even though this is supposed to be a rebuilding year in every way. Early in the second quarter, the Spartans held a 35-0 lead and were on their way to a laugher. New coach Neil Callaway could use a breather, and he isn’t going to get it with a visit to Tallahassee against a mad team.
Why UAB Might Win: The only hope to keep this close is if FSU is a bit cashed after a short week. The Blazers looked awful against Michigan State, and it will take a dramatic turnaround to hang in. Some good news came from quarterback Sam Hunt, who threw for 214 yards and a score, but the UAB ground attack must improve, after managing just 13 yards on 25 carries. That was bad, but so were the 298 yards and five TDs amassed by the Spartans against the Blazers. FSU’s front offensive wall is shaky, so UAB has a chance to get better against the run.
Why Florida State Might Win: There’s no possible way the Seminoles can be as inept as they were against Clemson, is there? The first half alone was a disgrace: 62 yards of total offense, eight punts and no success in nine third-down conversion attempts. Blame part of it on nerves, since the team was clearly tight playing in coordinator Jimbo Fisher’s new attack. You can credit an offensive line that had a true freshman, redshirt frosh and sophomore among its starters. But FSU wasn’t buttoned down on either side of the ball, and you can’t blame youth on captains De’Cody Fagg and Greg Carr, each of whom dropped two passes that would have been first-down conversions. So, FSU will be looser and more focused, and the defense that missed so many tackles will be more disciplined. That’s why UAB is the perfect opponent. The Blazers look to be extremely overmatched, something which should give the Seminoles confidence. Even though QB Drew Weatherford wasn’t spectacular (17-of-34, 142 yards), he did complete 10-of-18 after intermission for 114 yards and two scores. And the defense that looked rotten in the first half, pitched a shutout and allowed just 82 total yards in the second.
Who to Watch: It’s all about Fisher, who was advertised as the man who would fix the FSU offense. There is still time for that to happen, but he had better make sure this team doesn’t have the same mental lapses it did against Clemson. Players lined up in the wrong spots. Assignments were missed. Passes were dropped. Fisher brings a new creativity to the offense, but he had better make sure there is sufficient discipline, too, because the ‘Noles don’t have the pure talent on that side of the ball to overcome mistakes.
What Will Happen: It’s all about Florida State’s mood. If it comes out focused and fired up, it’ll roll with ease. More than likely, this will be a workmanlike performance by Florida State with a few big plays sprinkled in here and there to get the Nole fans happy for a little while.

CFN Prediction: Florida State 45 ... UAB 10
... Line:  FSU -34
Must See Rating: (5 Mad Men - 1 Chelsea Lately) ... 1.5
Final Score:

Southern Miss (1-0) at Tennessee (0-1)  7:00 PM GamePlan
Why to watch: For just the second time in 16 years under Phil Fulmer, Tennessee has to get off the mat and bounce back from an opening day loss.  With a trip to Gainesville waiting in the on-deck circle, this Saturday’s visit from Southern Miss already qualifies as a must-win if the Vols have any thoughts of a January bowl game.  While the UT offense was in mid-season form in the 45-31 loss to Cal, the defense was brutal, allowing 471 yards and missing nearly as many tackles.  Running the new hurry-up offense, Erik Ainge showed no ill-effects from his broken pinky, going 32-of-47 for 271 yards and three touchdowns.  Southern Miss has the reputation as a giant killer, but hasn’t had many notable non-conference wins this decade.  A trip to Knoxville gives the Eagles a chance to change that while taking an early lead in the race to become this year’s Boise State.  USM hardly broke a sweat in last week’s win over Tennessee-Martin, relying on two fixtures, a potent running attack and a solid D.
Why Southern Miss might win: An uncharacteristically vulnerable Tennessee defense must now move forward without top pass-rusher Xavier Mitchell, who’s out indefinitely with a concussion.  Southern Miss certainly isn’t Cal, but the Volunteers had no answers for the Golden Bear running game or passing attack.  The Golden Eagles will establish a ground game behind Freshman All-American Damion Fletcher and backup Tory Harrison, putting the onus on QB Jeremy Young to locate TE Shawn Nelson and WR Torris Magee in the passing game.
Why Tennessee might win
: Led by Eric Young and the entire left side of the line, the Vols have a borderline dominant interior that’s good enough to offset Southern Miss’ strength in the front seven.  With time, Ainge will carve up a suspect and beatable Golden Eagle secondary.  An already balanced Tennessee offense gets a lift from the return of last-year’s leading rusher RB LaMarcus Coker, who was suspended for the opener and will join Arian Foster in the backfield.
Who to watch: It’s only a matter of time before Tennessee true freshman DB Eric Berry emerges into a full-fledged star on the Volunteer defense.  Already on the doorstep of a starting assignment, he had seven tackles in his debut, and has the size and cover skills to play either safety or corner.
What will happen: With something to prove, Tennessee will play with a sense of purpose, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.  Southern Miss lacks the passing game to really damage the Vol D and the cornerbacks to effectively shut down Ainge and the passing game.  
CFN Prediction: Tennessee 33 ... Southern Miss 14... Line: -13.5
Must See Rating: (5 Mad Men - 1 Chelsea Lately) ... 2.5
Final Score: 

UTEP (1-0) at Texas Tech (1-0) 7:00 PM
Why to Watch: UTEP had them. In one of the best games of the early part of last year, UTEP had several chances to pull off a win over Texas Tech, but ended up succumbing 38-35 in overtime. The Miners' opening day 10-6 win over New Mexico wasn't remotely close to being as thrilling, but was more to their liking, with 36-yard Terrell Jackson getting the winning touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. Texas Tech had a far easier time on Monday with a 49-9 laugher over SMU, with 553 yards of total offense and 473 through the air. The Red Raider offense, with several new starting receivers, could use all the warm-up games it can get before the Big 12 season, while UTEP would like to make a statement with its first win over a now-BCS program since beating Arizona State in 1974.
Why UTEP Might Win: The only chance the Miners have to keep this close is to control the clock, pound away with the running game, and hope to catch several breaks from a Red Raider team coming off an extremely short week. With just four days to rest after facing SMU, the legs might not be back yet for Texas Tech, and the Miners have to take advantage by running well behind a veteran offensive line and keeping the defensive front moving. The UTEP secondary did a nice job of keeping a good New Mexico receiving corps in check last week.
Why Texas Tech Might Win: UTEP's offense doesn't have nearly enough firepower to keep up if this gets into any sort of a shootout. The Miners are struggling at quarterback, got 81 yards passing against New Mexico, and only came up with one big offensive play to pull out the win. Worse yet, the defense didn't generate any pressure into the backfield. If Tech QB Graham Harrell gets ten days to throw like he had against SMU, this won't be pretty.
Who to Watch: Trevor Vittatoe has to be better. The young UTEP quarterback didn't get any help from a receiving corps that couldn't hang on to the ball, but he didn't have a good game, completing just six of 21 passes for 59 yards. Lorne Sam will see a little bit of work, but this is VIttatoe's team to run. For Texas Tech, freshman Michael Crabtree appears to be the team's newest receiving star. He broke open the SMU game with three straight touchdowns with scores from one, 42, and two yards out on the way to a 12-catch, 106-yard day. Danny Amendola chipped in with ten catches for 149 yards and a scores.
What Will Happen: UTEP's offense will open it up a bit, but it won't matter. Texas Tech will be sluggish for about a half before opening it up once the game starts to get tight.
CFN Prediction: Texas Tech 34 ... UTEP 16
... Line: Texas Tech -16
Must See Rating: (5 Mad Men - 1 Chelsea Lately) ... 2.5
Final Score: 

C-USA Fearless Predictions, Week Two, Part 1


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