Oregon St (-3) @ Stanford
The Pac-10 season kicks off with an interesting matchup here, as the Beavers travel to Palo Alto looking to build on a strong finish to 2007 while Stanford tries to take the first step forward on the road to bowl eligibility. It's a very big game for both teams, as Stanford needs to get a fast start on the year if they want a shot at the postseason, while Oregon St's early slate is brutal enough that they really don't want to risk seeing 1-4 after they're done with Utah.
At first glance, it seems like Stanford ought to win this game. Oregon St has a lot of potential, but they need to get much better quarterback play, they need to find out whether or not their running game is up to the task of leading the offense, and they need to find out whether or not their defense can do the job. For a team which pretty much always struggles early, that's not a good set of circumstances to have.
On the Other Hand:
Stanford has plenty of issues of their own. For now, they've settled on Pritchard at quarterback, but his hold on the job is likely tenuous. There's a fair amount of talent at running back, but they need to turn that into production, something that hasn't happened yet. The defense looks solid, but far from scary. Injuries have started to take a toll on the Cardinal roster over the last week or two. And if Oregon St can find a way to put everything together early, they have the potential to not just win, but win big.
This is a fairly tough game to pick, largely because it's almost impossible to know what to expect from the Beavers. That said, I lean towards the home team, mainly because they have fewer holes to plug, and because until proven otherwise, Oregon St just doesn't do well in early season road games.
@ Stanford 24, Oregon St 21
Washington @ Oregon (-14)
It's not often you see a Pac-10 rivalry game on opening weekend, but this year we get just that, with the Huskies traveling to Autzen Stadium looking to finally turn things around against a team that has repeatedly gotten the better of them in the last few years. As if there wasn't enough drama in coach Willingham's desperate need to save his job by finding six wins and a bowl berth, now they get added emotion right off the bat. And the Ducks, meanwhile, need to show themselves that they're ready to win again after 2007's late-season tailspin.
On paper, this barely seems like a contest. Oregon has arguably the nation's best secondary, a strong offensive line, talent at running back and receiver, talent on defense… the list just keeps going on. Washington, meanwhile, has Locker and not all that much else. The Husky D took a huge hit when EJ Savannah got suspended for the year, and wasn't going to be great even before that happened. Throw in how nasty Autzen can get and it's easy to see rout potential
On the Other Hand:
Somehow, I have a really weird feeling about this game. Part of it is because Willingham teams are always good for a big upset or two, part of it is because Oregon will probably start off the year slow (losing Costa hurt a lot, and they already had some work to do on offense beforehand), and part of it is simply because in heated series like this, you really can often throw out simple logic and how well the teams match up on paper.
Call me crazy, but I actually think Washington has a chance here. Yes, it could be a blowout, but I think that this is going to turn into a shootout instead. Oregon should be too good to lose here, but it ought to go down to the wire before the Ducks pull away right at the very end.
@ Oregon 37, Washington 27
Michigan St @ Cal (-5)
This is a really interesting game, between a team in Michigan St that is looking to finally turn the corner and become a legitimate factor in the Big Ten and Cal, a team looking to recapture the relevance that they had as recently as the middle of last season, before the late-season meltdown.
Talent-wise, Cal is ahead, as the Spartans will certainly miss leading receiver Devin Thomas, co-running back Jehuu Caulcrick, and big chunks of their front seven on defense. In this matchup, it's the front seven that will really come into play, as this team simply isn't ready to stop Cal's talented offensive line and running backs, led by Jahvid Best, and doesn't have the explosiveness on offense to score points in bunches.
On the Other Hand:
This is Michigan State, a team well-known for giant-slaying. Moreover, even with a number of question marks, this is also a hard-hitting team that will physically challenge the Bears as much as possible, something they certainly aren't very used to dealing with. Throw in a passing game that needs a lot of time to break in an all-new receiving corps, and if the Spartans can find a way to somehow contain Cal's running game, they can conceivably turn this game into a defensive struggle and take advantage of a mistake or two to come out of Berkeley with a big win.
Michigan St always has the potential to throw a wrench into any analysis, but between the individual matchups and home-field advantage, I think the Bears have too much of an edge to be overcome.
@ Cal 24, Michigan St 14
Tennessee @ UCLA (+7)
On paper, this isn't even a contest. Tennessee is loaded, with talent and experience throughout their roster. UCLA, meanwhile, is rebuilding just about everywhere, has a second-string quarterback starting after Olson's injury, and generally doesn't look like they should be competitive.
On the Other Hand:
There's still plenty of talent at UCLA, and the coaching is obviously very good. It's conceivable that things will be well ahead of schedule by opening kickoff. Moreover, this is a difficult cross-country trip for Tennessee into a hostile environment, a difficult situation for a new quarterback to come into. If the Bruins can generate pressure, force some mistakes, and keep the crowd in the game throughout, an upset is possible.
Maybe UCLA is a lot better than I think, and maybe Tennessee lays an egg. But the most likely outcome is the Vols win this one easily.
Tennessee 31, @ UCLA 10
Oklahoma St @ Washington St (+7.5)
On paper, the Cowboys look like the better team here. However, they are a run-first team that just graduated their main running back in Dontrell Savage, and they've got a few holes to plug on a defense that was anything but good in 2007 (they held one AA team, FAU, to less than ten point, and only two others, Nebraska and Baylor, to less than 20, despite a schedule that really wasn't that tough). Throw in their consistently awful performance away from Stillwater the last few years, and the minor upset becomes very possible. Look for the Cougars to make a statement in game one of the Wulff era against a favorite that will be very vulnerable to getting knocked off.
@ Washington St 35, Oklahoma St 31
USC (-19) @ Virginia
I just don't see Virginia being competitive here. Yes, USC has some issues, and yes, they probably won't bring their A game, but the Cavs are just so depleted it's really hard to see it making much of a difference.
USC 34, @ Virginia 10
Idaho @ Arizona (-27)
This is one of those games where a generally mediocre team like Arizona comes out guns blazing and really takes it to their opponent. The Wildcats are built to explode through the air, and they'll be aggressive in throwing deep, blitzing on defense, and working through their issues as much as possible. Idaho just isn't a good enough opponent to take advantage of Arizona's weaknesses, which means this one should get ugly.
@ Arizona 42, Idaho 10
NAU @ Arizona St (NL)
@ Arizona St 45, NAU 3
National Games of the Week:
Alabama vs Clemson (-4.5)
I get that Clemson is a tough team to believe in because of all of the disappointments they've had in the past, but when exactly did Bama become a dangerous threat? This line looks way too low.
Clemson 28, Alabama 13
Fresno St @ Rutgers (-5.5)
I think both of these teams are capable of a lot this year. That said, Fresno has proven year in and year out that they can win these games, and I think that Rutgers will need some time to adjust to not having Ray Rice anymore to rely on for offense. In what looks like a true tossup, I'll go with my gut.
Fresno 21, @ Rutgers 17
Colorado St vs Colorado (-11)
I flat-out love this game. Where else can you find a week one rivalry that is ALWAYS close and competitive? Colorado is better, but not double digits better, especially in this game.
Colorado 31, Colorado St 28
Utah @ Michigan (-3.5)
As always, Michigan has a boatload of talent, but I think Utah will be too good to be denied here.
Utah 24, @ Michigan 21
Illinois vs Missouri (-8.5)
Mizzou looks like they're for real, while I really don't think the same of the Illini. The Tigers should roll.
Missouri 38, Illinois 17
I've got to ask: when did New Mexico suddenly start looking good to Vegas? The Lobos got decimated by graduation, and have gotten blasted by TCU two of the last three meetings. I'm honestly surprised this line is less than 10 points.
South Carolina -13.5
At first glance, it's tempting to take the points. It's a week one game, it's almost two touchdowns, and South Carolina hasn't been super-consistent. That said, NC State isn't even the same team as they were last year, when they went 5-7 against a light schedule. And they're on the road against a team with a lot of motivation to start off in a big way, with a suffocating defense, and with plenty of talent on offense.
Mr Pac-10's 2008 Blog
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