2009 Big 12 Fearless Predictions
Week 1 ... Sept. 6 Games
Big 12 Fearless Predictions
Week 1, Part 2 (BYU vs.
Oklahoma, and More)
Game of the Week
Georgia (0-0) at Oklahoma State (0-0),3:30 EST, ABC and ESPN GamePlan, Saturday, September 5
Why to watch: The Alabama – Virginia Tech tussle is supposed to be the best matchup of the opening weekend with both teams ranked in the top seven, but don't believe it. The showdown between the Bulldogs and the Cowboys, the Big 12 and the SEC, is far more important on a national scale, at least it will be as the season rolls along, and is a huge moment for the two best conferences in college football (at the moment). For Oklahoma State, this is a chance to show it has arrived. It was strong throughout last season with its high-octane offense and a solid win at Missouri, but it got its doors blown off by Oklahoma (61-41) and Texas Tech (56-20) along with a 28-24 heartbreaker to Texas. Making matters worse was the loss to Oregon in the Holiday Bowl that fed fuel to the fire that OSU was all show and no substance. Beating Georgia would provide the one really, really big win the program needs to show that it belongs among the elite of the elite.
This is a statement game for the Big 12. If Oklahoma State can't win at home against, arguably, the fourth best team in the SEC, then it'll be hard for the league to get much in the way of national respect in the SEC vs. Big 12 debate.
For Georgia, this is a chance to show that the loss of Knowshon Moreno and Matthew Stafford really wasn't all that big a deal. For a team that came into last season as the "it" squad, complete with a preseason No. 1 ranking, it had a disappointing year, even though it was a solid season by almost anyone else's standards. Now the Dawgs get to fly in under the radar with Florida getting all the preseason respect, Lane Kiffin hogging the spotlight at Tennessee, and with several West teams, most notably, Ole Miss, being touted as players for the SEC title. Georgia has the talent to not just win the SEC, but to win it all if everything breaks the right way. However, just getting through the first half of the season will be a challenge with games against Arizona State, LSU, at Tennessee, at Arkansas, and against Florida as part of the slate after the trip to Stillwater. On the plus side, Georgia has been one of the nation's premier road teams since Mark Richt took the reins as head coach and it will know how to handle the hostile environment and a frothing-at-the-mouth team looking to put a monster number on the board.
Why Georgia might win: Pound … the … rock. The big question mark will be the hamstring of No. 1 tailback, Caleb King, but he has been able to practice and could be a gametime decision. Even if he's able to go the Dawgs have a slew of excellent runners, led by the slick Richard Samuel, to shine behind one of the nation's best offensive lines. The Dawgs are deep, talented, and still improving up front helped by the return of NFL prospect Trinton Sturdivant from a knee injury. The OSU defensive front seven put up decent numbers against the run last season, but when push came to shove, it got flattened by Oregon and Oklahoma. Now it'll be without starting LB Orie Lemon, who suffered a torn ACL, that'll take away a key run stopper. Georgia needs to run for over 200 yards and control the game to win, and it should be able to.
Why Oklahoma State might win: Fine, so Georgia might end winning the time of possession battle, but that might partly be due to some quick strikes from the OSU offense. Georgia has NFL-caliber offensive weapons, but this isn't likely to be an explosive attack from the get-go. QB Joe Cox is more of a move-the-chains type of passer and the Bulldog offense might have to rely on being opportunistic early on. If the defense isn't forcing big mistakes, or if it's not doing enough for the Dawgs to win the field position battle, Cox and the offense could be in comeback mode for most of the game. Considering the secondary could be Georgia's shakiest unit coming into the season, at least compared to the rest of the loaded team, it could be bombs away.
Who to watch: The NFL scouts will watch this game dozens of times over the next several months with the keenest eyes likely to be on the superstar wide receivers. Last season was supposed to be all about the arrival of top receiver prospect Julio Jones at Alabama, but Georgia then-freshman A.J. Green had the better year. He has the size, the speed, and the hands to make big play after big play to keep drives alive and to give the mediocre OSU secondary a nightmare of a day. On the other side, the spotlight will be on Dez Bryant, the breakout star of last season who's being talked about as a possible top five overall pick if he comes out next season. The knock on him, unfair as it turned out to be, was that he was terrific against the mediocre teams and struggled against the elite. He lit up Oregon and scored twice against Oklahoma, but the top scouts will scratch their heads a bit if he's held under wraps by the Bulldogs.
What will happen: The Cowboys will get their yards and their points, but the Dawgs will pull away in the fourth quarter. This will be a shootout by necessity for Georgia, with OSU getting up early and setting the tone with some home runs to fire up the base, but the Dawg O line and the running game will slowly lead the team back. The Georgia defense will come up with a few key turnovers, and a few bigger stops, to allow the Dawgs to escape from Stillwater after winning a classic.
CFN Prediction: Georgia 37 … Oklahoma State 35 ... Line: Oklahoma State -6
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 … NYC Prep 1) … 5
North Dakota State (0-0) at Iowa State (0-0),8:00 EST, Thursday, September 3
Why to watch: Gene Chizik stunk it up as the head coach for Iowa State, and for his troubles he was rewarded with a plum gig at Auburn. Call it a possible addition by subtraction as Paul Rhoades takes over to try to turn around a team that went 5-19 over the last two years. An attacking defensive coach, Rhoades will be looking to set the tone right away in preparation for the in-state showdown with Iowa coming up next week, but the Cyclones can't take NDSU lightly. The Bison became the underground darlings of the FCS world two years ago with a 10-1 record and a win over Minnesota, but last year was a disappointment with a 6-5 record and an inconsistent attack. Even so, the offense is there to come up with an upset if ISU isn't sharp.
Why North Dakota State might win: The ISU defense should be better in time, Rhoades isn't going to settle for a mediocre D, but it might take a little while. The front seven is nothing special after having a nightmare of a time with efficient passers and offenses with any semblance of balance. NDSU's Nick Mertins will make mistakes, but the veteran quarterback has some nice weapon around him and he won't be thrown off by playing in a BCS team's stadium. If he can avoid throwing more than one pick, this could be close.
Why Iowa State might win: The Bison will turn the ball over. Considering NDSU had one of the nation's top FCS defenses last year, and led the nation in pass defense and was second in sacks, it didn't do enough to take the ball away. Meanwhile, Mertins and the offense coughed it up way too much. It's a new year and the team has been working on being stingier with the ball, but ISU, if it's as aggressive on defense as Rhoads want, should provide the edge in the turnover battle.
Who to watch: If NDSU wants to win this game, its linebackers have to keep the Iowa State backfield in check. RB Alexander Robinson and QB Austen Arnaud should have room to move in the team's new shotgun, no-huddle attack, and the Bison linebackers have to be disciplined.
What will happen: Iowa State will be in for a dogfight with the Bison defense keeping this close. But Rhoads will start out his career with a win after Arnaud comes through with a solid fourth quarter and the defense hangs on in the final five minutes.
CFN Prediction: Iowa State 24 … North Dakota State 20 ... Line: NL
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 … NYC Prep 1) … 1.5
Missouri (0-0) at Illinois (0-0),3:40 EST, ESPN, Saturday, September 5
Why to watch: Oh, this will be fun. Fans of tough defensive battles look away; this should be an up-and-down shootout with the numbers rolling up like a pinball machine … at least in theory. These are two of the nation's biggest X factor teams with more question marks than sure-things to rely on, but one thing is for sure, these two teams will put up yards and points, and no lead will be safe.
Missouri is 4-0 in the series in St. Louis that started in 2002 highlighted by a 2007 40-34 shootout between two BCS bowl-caliber teams, and last year's 52-42 firefight was one of the opening weekend's wildest games. But now the Tigers are in a massive rebuilding mode, even though the coaching staff thinks of it as reloading. There's no immediately replacing the lost firepower of WR Jeremy Maclin and TE Chase Coffman, and not having a heady field general like Chase Daniel around anymore certainly isn't a plus, but the cupboard is hardly bare. Mizzou QB Blaine Gabbert is considered a far better pro prospect than Daniel was, and there are plenty of big weapons returning led by RB Derrick Washington. A win against the Illini would show that head coach Gary Pinkel might just have the program on cruise control, and that the talent flowing through Columbia will keep the recent success rolling.
Illinois, by the admission of its own players, coasted last year assuming that the success of the Rose Bowl-bound 2007 season would continue. Instead, the Illini had an uneven season complete with a clunker against Western Michigan and four losses in the last five games. The team didn't put in the work necessary, and again, from the mouths of several of the players, the hunger wasn't there. That doesn't appear to be the case going into this season with so many thinking the breakthrough season of two years ago was a fluke. With the deepest and most talented receiving corps in the nation, a veteran QB in Juice Williams, and a defense that's expected to be far better, the sky is the limit for a team picked to finish in the middle of the Big Ten pack. But now the Illini has to go out and produce, and it all starts in St. Louis.
Why Illinois might win: Missouri's defense is going to be better, it can't be much worse than last year, but the secondary is suspect going into the season. The Tigers could've desperately used a tune-up game before dealing with this receiving corps. Arrelious Benn is shooting for a big season with NFL millions waiting for him, but he's hardly alone. Jeff Cumberland and Michael Hoomanawanui are more than just running mates for Benn, they're dangerous targets who'll make the Tigers pay for all the attention given to Benn. Williams has been rock-solid sharp with his receivers throughout the offseason and he could be in for a 350+ yard game if he's not under consistent pressure.
Why Missouri might win: The Illini defensive front could get pounded on. While this will likely be a track meet, Missouri has the better ground game and should be able to use its talented offensive front to crack open huge holes for Washington. Illinois has never been stingy when it comes to stopping the tougher ground games, and there's just enough turnover in the front seven to have problems to start the season. The Illini defensive front will get pressure into the backfield, but it's not going to be consistent enough to keep Washington under 100 yards.
Who to watch: The answer for the Illinois running game will be … not even the coaching staff is sure. Thanks to the mobility of Williams, the Illini put up good rushing numbers last season, but the running backs weren't consistent and there wasn't any one back who took the job by the horns. The offense will go with the hot hand against the Tigers with veteran Daniel Dufrene trying to go on a gimpy ankle and underclassmen Mikel Leshoure, Jason Ford, Justin Green, and Troy Pollard all trying to earn work. The bread will still be buttered with the passing game, but it wouldn't be a bad thing to have more balance. Illinois will try to find it in the opener.
What will happen: The script will be flipped. In past games it was Missouri who set the pace with the Illini needing to furiously rally to come back. This year, Illinois will jump out early as the Tigers try to settle in, but the gap will be closed with a huge second half from Gabbert. It won't be enough.
CFN Prediction: Illinois 45 … Missouri 31 ... Line: Illinois -7
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 ... NYC Prep 1) … 4.5
BYU (0-0) vs. Oklahoma (0-0) in Arlington, TX,7:00 EST, ESPN, Saturday, September 5
Why to watch: It might not seem like it, but this could be a BCS bowl battle. BYU has the experience, the make-up, and the schedule to be the star team from outside of the big six BCS conferences, and while an appearance in a BCS game would be a huge step for head coach Bronco Mendenhall and the Cougars, they'll have a chance to think bigger, much, much bigger, if they can pull off a win over a team that could be every bit as strong as the one that came so achingly close to winning the national championship last season.
Oklahoma is starting off the year as almost everyone's No. 3 team, mainly because everyone feels bad that Texas got hosed last year, but that could quickly change. There are concerns in the receiving corps and the offensive line is undergoing a major personnel change, but the stars of the team that put up 60 point games with regularity are back, and the defense is expected to be even better. This is a nice opening day game for Sam Bradford and company with layups against Idaho State and Tulsa to follow, but it's also a dangerous trap. BYU is more than good enough to win this game if the Sooners aren't sharp, but on the flip side, OU is more than good enough to crank out a business-as-usual 65 points and make everyone's jaws drop.
Why BYU might win: The plan is for BYU to try to generate pressure, and lots of it. This was a constant issue throughout last season as the supposedly great defensive front was underwhelming at best, non-existent at worst, and it proved costly in key moments. This offseason there was more of a focus on figuring out how to get into the backfield on a regular basis, and with a tremendous end in Jan Jorgensen leading the way, the line could end up bothering Bradford more than he's used to. The OU O line will be good, but it might take a game or two to be great. BYU has to take advantage if it's planning on having any shot at pulling off the upset.
Why Oklahoma might win: The BYU secondary simply isn't good enough to stay with the OU receivers. Yes, there might be some key losses, most notably Juaquin Iglesias, but the Sooners are loaded with very big, very fast, very talented wideout prospects to work
with not that everyone's All-America tight end, Jermaine Gresham,
is out with a knee injury. Adron Tennell and Brandon Caleb are just a few of the new stars who'll flourish with Bradford throwing their way, and while BYU might have enough firepower to put up some nice numbers, it won't have enough to keep up the pace if Bradford gets in a groove.
Who to watch: It's a shame to think about what might have been. It's not like Oklahoma RB DeMarco Murray's career is over, far from it, but he had all the makings of a truly special back before he was hit with a variety of injuries, the latest being a hamstring that limited him this offseason. He'll still combine with Chris Brown to form an NFL-caliber 1-2 rushing punch, but he won't be returning kickoffs despite being one of the nation's best. The coaching staff can't risk getting him hurt. On the other side, BYU star RB Harvey Unga has a hamstring injury of his own, but he's expected to play. However, he might end up getting a lighter workload if he's not going 100% in the second half, which would put even more pressure on QB Max Hall and the Cougar passing game.
What will happen: Hall will throw for 350 yards, but Bradford will throw five touchdown passes as the Sooners open it up in the second half. BYU will make it interesting for at least 30 minutes, and then the OU defensive front seven will take over and will stop the running game, sit on Hall's head, and the run will begin.
CFN Prediction: Oklahoma 45 … BYU 20 ... Line: Oklahoma -21.5
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 ... NYC Prep 1) … 3
ULM (0-0) at Texas (0-0),7:00 EST, Saturday, September 5
Why to watch: The Texas cupcake tour begins with no challenging non-conference games to speak of and Texas Tech not on the docket for a few weeks. The nation's No. 2 ranked team isn't going to make much of a national statement if it blows away ULM, but it'll be a chance for the offense to stretch its legs a little bit and for Colt McCoy to put up some nice stats in his Heisman chase. ULM has pulled off major upsets before, most notably against Alabama two years ago, and it pushed Arkansas to the wall last season in a 28-27 loss, but this year's team won't likely provide more than a light scrimmage.
Why ULM might win: The only chance the WarHawks have of keeping this close is to get the ground game going. A disappointment last year averaging just 153 yards per game, ULM will have to break in some new starters in the backfield, but they're speedy. Running back Frank Goodin, who's hurt but will play, and true freshman Isaiah Newsome, could make things tough on the outside if the Longhorn defensive front isn't getting into the backfield to stop the option before it starts. If the running game works at all, ULM has the receivers to make a few big plays for the passing game.
Why Texas might win: The ULM defensive front will struggle. It was a disaster last season and it has no prayer of getting a hand on McCoy unless there are a variety of funky, risky blitzes and stunts. The Longhorn offensive line should be able to beat on the ULM front all game long and wear it down by early in the second half.
Who to watch: Will Texas finally get enough production out of a running back to keep McCoy from having to be the team's leading rusher? Fozzy Whitaker has a dinged up knee, meaning the starting job, for now, will go to Vondrell McGee, a decent back, but hardly a special one. He'll go as long as he's productive, but if he's not cranking out yards in chunks, it might be uh-oh time for the running game. Cody Johnson is a thumper who'll get a little bit of work, and McGee is expected back, but the more McGee can do, the less McCoy will have to take off.
What will happen: Give it a quarter and then the rout will be on. ULM will struggle to score as the reconfigured offensive line will get ripped apart, while the defense will give up points in bunches in the second quarter. McCoy won't play much in the second half.
CFN Prediction: Texas 52 … ULM 0 ... Line: Texas -41
Must See Rating: (Mad Men 5 ... NYC Prep 1) … 1.5
Week 1, Part 2 (BYU vs.
Oklahoma, and More)