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2010 Sun Belt Fearless Predictions - Sept. 4

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Sep 1, 2010


Fearless Predictions for every Sun Belt game, Sept. 4

2010 Sun Belt Fearless Predictions

Week 1 ... Sept. 4 Games

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GAME OF THE WEEK

Minnesota (0-0) at Middle Tennessee (0-0) Sept. 2, 7:30, ESPNU

Here’s The Deal … There’s a good chance this could be the best Big Ten game of the opening weekend if the Blue Raiders can rally past the adversity of losing its star. Middle Tennessee is coming off a ten-win season and is on a seven-game winning streak going back to last year and were able to beat Maryland while losing to Mississippi State and Clemson, and to start off 2010, getting a win over a BCS Conference team would do wonders for the program and the Sun Belt. However, star QB Dwight Dasher is ineligible meaning the rest of the team will have to pick up the slack (more about that in a moment). Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster is already on a hot seat, and the last thing he needs it to start off the season losing to a Sun Belt team, even one that might be the best in the league by a ten-mile wide margin. Even without Dasher, with a fearsome pass rush and just enough athletes to keep up, it’s all there for MT to come up with the win, while Minnesota has to establish right away that things have changed since an inconsistent and disappointing 6-7 2009. The Gophers have USC coming up in a few weeks, so anything positive they can do now is a must to avoid a rough start.
Why Minnesota Might Win: The pressure is all on Middle Tennessee. Coming off a huge 2009 and with everyone praising the Blue Raider offense all offseason, the expectations are there to not only play well against a BCS conference team, but win. While the Minnesota defense has a ton of issues and concerns, it should be more aggressive this year and should do a solid job in the takeaway department as the year goes on and gets a huge help with the loss of Dasher. Offensively, the Gophers are loaded with veterans and will hardly have a problem going on the road to start the season.
Why Middle Tennessee Might Win: Blue Raider defensive coordinator Randall McCray knows the Gophers. After spending the last four years at Wisconsin, McCray is just familiar enough with Minnesota to know what the offense is going to try to do and should have his athletic defensive front ready. Yeah, there might be a lot of talk around Minnesota about doing more for the running game, but this game will be all about the passing attack trying to click, and that’s going to be hard to do with QB Adam Weber under pressure for most of the game. The Minnesota offensive front should be better than last year, but it’s still going to struggle a bit after finishing 113th in the nation in sacks allowed. Middle Tennessee finished sixth in the nation in sacks last season and second in tackles for loss.
What To Watch Out For: Logan Kilgore vs. the Minnesota linebackers. Dasher was suspended indefinitely for accept a loan when he wasn’t supposed to, and now it’s up to Kilgore, a 6-3, 174-pound bomber from Bakersfield College who throws darts. That means the very, very shaky Gopher linebacking corps will be under fire to keep the gains off the short pass plays to a minimum and keep the yards after the catch to zero. With star defensive back Kim Royston likely out as his injured leg is still healing, the linebackers will have to make most of the big plays.
What Will Happen: Minnesota is fed up, and it’s not going to take it anymore. This won’t be a thing of beauty as QB Adam Weber will be under pressure for most of the game, but the Gopher offensive front will pound away in the second half as the ground game will come up with one of its best performances in the Brewster era. Kilgore will put up big numbers, but he’ll also throw three drive-crushing picks.
CFN Prediction: Minnesota 27 … Middle Tennessee 17 … Line: Middle Tennessee -4
Must See Rating: Season Premiere: Keeping Up with the Kardashians 5 - Eat, Pray, Love 1 … 3
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Florida Atlantic (0-0) at UAB (0-0) Sept. 2, 8:00 ET

Here’s The Deal … Yeah, there’ll be life after Joe Webb in Birmingham. It just won’t be nearly as interesting. UAB is moving forward without its quarterback and arguably the best player in school history. Despite the massive hurdle, Neil Callaway has to find a way to keep the Blazers from regressing after nearly coaching them to the .500 mark. Offsetting the loss of Webb is a veteran roster littered with upperclassmen throughout the two-deep. Florida Atlantic, too, believes as if it has a little breeze at its back, also going 5-7 and feeling optimistic about the future. The Owls won three of the final four games under long-time head coach Howard Schnellenberger, and are an improved defense away from sneaking up on the rest of the Sun Belt.
Why Florida Atlantic Might Win: The Owls harbor the ingredients of an offense that’ll be balanced and, at times, explosive. The star is RB Alfred Morris, who led the Sun Belt with 1,392 yards on the ground a year ago. At quarterback, Jeff Van Camp is back after a torrid finish to the second half of 2009. He’ll spend most of his time in the pocket looking for WR Lester Jean and TE Rob Housler, who have the edge versus a spotty and vulnerable UAB defensive backfield.
Why UAB Might Win: The Blazer D may have its hands full, but the Owls have a bigger predicament—they’re a sieve on that side of the ball. This is a good spot for David Isabelle to make his debut as Webb’s heir apparent. He’s the kind of athlete who needs to be monitored at all times, and has access to a solid cast of receivers, including Frantrell Forrest, Jeffery Anderson, and Nick Adams. If line play still matters, UAB has the upper hand with a seasoned group on offense and Bryant Turner and Elliott Henigan on defense.
What To Watch Out For: Certainly in the early going, UAB is going to be fueled by a defense that’s flying under the radar in Conference USA. They’ve got talent up front and really pack a punch at all levels. The safeties, Chase Daniel and Hiram Atwater, in particular, are like undersized linebackers, roaming around the field and looking for something to hit. Because of the presence of Morris, both will spend a lot of time pinching up to stop the run.
What Will Happen: In the quest for six wins, this qualifies as a big opener for UAB and Florida Atlantic. After falling one game short of .500 in 2009, it could end up being the difference between a bowl run or not. While the Owls have more star power at the skill positions, the Blazers have the edge up front, where the game will be won. They’ll control both lines and escape with a close victory at home.
CFN Prediction: UAB 31 … Florida Atlantic 26 … Line: UAB -12
Must See Rating: Season Premiere: Keeping Up with the Kardashians 5 - Eat, Pray, Love 1 … 2
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Louisiana (0-0) at Georgia (0-0) Sept. 4, 12:21, ESPN3.com

Here’s The Deal … After a disappointing 8-5 season, despite a nice finish winning four of the final five games including a 44-20 win over Texas A&M in the Independence Bowl, Georgia has to come out roaring. Unlike last year when the Dawgs started out with a brutal trip to Oklahoma State (and a loss), they get a tune-up before diving into the SEC slate with a date at South Carolina next week. With three conference games in a row followed up by a trip to Colorado, anything less than a stomping over the Sun Belt will send Dawg fans into their panic room. Louisiana has the depth and the experience to be extremely pesky, and considering this is the opening week, the potential is there for this to be an occasionally tight, sloppy game. The Ragin’ Cajuns get a key Sun Belt game against Arkansas State next week, but they’re hoping to get the inconsistent Georgia team of last year and they’re not simply looking to hang around.
Why Louisiana Might Win: The ULL offensive is just quirky enough to be more than a pushover. QB Chris Masson is one of the Sun Belt’s better passers with a live, accurate arm, and now the training wheels will be off as the offense is his to run. With backup quarterback Blaine Gautier hurt, former starter-turned-running back Brad McGuire will be the No. 2, and he’s a good Wildcat option who could throw a curveball at the Georgia defense. The Dawgs were miserable last year at taking the ball away, while Louisiana was among the Sun Belt’s best in turnover margin. If the Ragin’ Cajuns can be +2 or better, they’ll keep it close.
Why Georgia Might Win: The Louisiana defensive front is hurting. The last thing the Ragin’ Cajuns need is to have problems on the line against Georgia’s offensive front, possibly the best in America, but that’s what they’re dealing with as top pass rushing prospect, Terrell Richardson, has a head injury while Nate Douglas and Tyrell Gaddies have hamstring problems. There’s decent depth, but not enough to provide any sort of consistent pressure into the Dawg backfield. That’s a huge plus considering all eyes will be on …
What To Watch Out For: Georgia starting QB Aaron Murray. It’s not like last year’s starter, Joe Cox was miserable, but he wasn’t Matthew Stafford and he was wildly inconsistent. Almost everything else should be in place for Georgia with an improved defensive scheme, an amazing defensive backfield, a killer offensive line, and great running backs and receivers that can explode. Now it’s up to Murray, a short, big-armed redshirt freshman, to earn his stripes right away. With a road game at South Carolina next week, he has to use this game to show that he can be the conductor of a loaded team.
What Will Happen: Running game, running game, running game. Georgia will control the game and the tempo on the ground, while the field will be tilted to Louisiana’s side of the field for most of the game. This isn’t going to be pretty, but Georgia will be efficient, effective, and it’ll come away with a good tune-up win before diving into bigger and better things.
CFN Prediction: Georgia 37 … Louisiana 6 … Line: Georgia -28
Must See Rating: Season Premiere: Keeping Up with the Kardashians 5 - Eat, Pray, Love 1 … 2
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North Texas (0-0) at Clemson (0-0) Sept. 4, 3:30 ET, ESPNU

Here’s The Deal … After knocking on the ACC championship door in 2009 with an Atlantic Division crown, Clemson is hoping to break through it in 2010. Sure, there are some holes needing to be spackled, but the Tigers always recruit well and the next wave of replacements on offense and defense aren’t likely to disappointment. The big sigh of relief out of Death Valley came courtesy of Kyle Parker, who announced in July he’d hold off on Major League Baseball and continue as the Clemson quarterback. The return of No. 11 keeps hopes high in South Carolina. There was a time when North Texas was the Sun Belt bully, winning three straight league championships. Since the last one in 2004, however, the Mean Green has gone 10-49, with no end in sight to the futility. The plugged could be pulled on the Todd Dodge era if the program doesn’t start winning games.
Why North Texas Might Win: The Mean Green employs a pass-happy offense. The Tigers are starting two new cornerbacks. Do the math. North Texas’ only prayer of being competitive rests on the arm of Nathan Tune, who’ll get plenty of help from veteran receiver Jamaal Jackson and Oklahoma transfer Tyler Stradford. No one-trick attack, it’ll keep Clemson on its heels with gifted RB Lance Dunbar, who’s fresh off a breakout, 1,378-yard sophomore year.
Why Clemson Might Win: Against one of the nation’s flimsiest defenses, Clemson will be able to name its final score and empty the bench relatively early in the game. Parker showed off a great arm as a rookie, and will only become more efficient with time. He’ll be well-protected by a line that returns four starters and will toy with the Mean Green defensive line. And while you don’t get better by losing RB C.J. Spiller, the drop-off to Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper is a lot smaller than most imagine. Both backs are itching at the opportunity to showcase their distinct talents this fall.
What To Watch Out For: Out of necessity and choice, North Texas will put the ball in the air a lot on Saturday afternoon. For the Clemson safeties, that means plenty of opportunities to make like a receiver and take passes back the other way. DeAndre McDaniel and Rashard Hall might as well be well-sized cornerbacks, picking off 14 passes last season. Whatever limitations the corners have in the early going, these two ball-hawks are sure to pick up the slack in pass defense.
What Will Happen: While Clemson is officially facing another FBS team, it might as well be an FCS lightweight. North Texas is on par with a Southland Conference member these days, which means the Tigers can treat the opener like a glorified scrimmage. Dunbar is a hidden gem in Denton, but he’ll only be good for preventing a shutout. The stars in this one will be Ellington and Harper, who’ll each average over seven yards a carry, go for 100 yards on the ground, and beginning shedding some anonymity.
CFN Prediction: Clemson 51 … North Texas 10 … Line: -24
Must See Rating: Season Premiere: Keeping Up with the Kardashians 5 - Eat, Pray, Love 1 … 1.5
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Arkansas State (0-0) at Auburn (0-0) Sept. 4, 7:00

Here’s The Deal … Get in, tune up, say healthy, and move on. Auburn has bigger fish to fry just a few days later in a Thursday night SEC battle against Mississippi State, but Arkansas State has the potential to be the Sun Belt champion and isn’t going to be a layup. It’ll take a special effort for the Red Wolves to pull off the major upset, but with a great offensive backfield and a strong linebacking corps Auburn has to show up. With a new starting quarterback and the hope to overcome an inconsistent year, the Tiger offense is looking to come out roaring like it did last year, while the hope is for the experience to shine through early on for a defense that needs to prove it can do more against the run. ASU kicks off its Sun Belt season against Louisiana next week, and while this isn’t exactly a game to use as a tune-up, any success will be a major plus.
Why Arkansas State Might Win: The game might be fast. Auburn is going to want to get the ground game going, but it’ll do it with an up-tempo offense that will want to get into a rhythm. The same goes for ASU and an offense that’s going from highlighting the ground attack to using a more balanced, no-huddle style. If ASU can keep Auburn on its heels and mix things up a bit, a few early scores could keep this close late if the game moves along. If this becomes a grinding game, it favors Auburn. It won’t be that, and before Auburn knows it, it’ll be the middle of the third quarter and the pressure might be on.
Why Auburn Might Win: ASU hasn’t blocked anyone in pass protection over the last three years. The quarterbacks have been mobile and have taken some sacks by trying to move around and make something happen, but the line hasn’t been a plus. This is a group built to shove people around for the ground game, but that’s not going to work against the Tiger defensive front that might be a bit of a question mark, but is extremely strong. With a good rotation expected in the front four, the Tigers should be regulars into the backfield and should ruin most plays before they get started.
What To Watch Out For: Cameron Newton. The Auburn running backs will be the stars of the show with Onterio McCalebb, Mario Fannin, and star of the summer, top recruit Michael Dyer, all capable of coming up with big games, but everyone wants to see if Newton, a transfer from Florida, can be the type of quarterback who can take Auburn from good to special. The 6-6, 242-pound junior has phenomenal all-around talent with a live arm and great mobility, and if he can put it all together right away, it’s look out time for the rest of the SEC West.
What Will Happen: Arkansas State had the best defense in the Sun Belt last year and is good enough this season to keep this close. Auburn has won its last four games against Sun Belt teams by a combined score of 190 to 21 (fine, so all four were against Louisiana-Monroe), and it’ll come out with a few big haymakers early on before sputtering a bit in the middle. The Tigers will win comfortably, but they won’t be able to take their foot off the gas.
CFN Prediction: Auburn 41 … Arkansas State 17 … Line: Auburn -29
Must See Rating: Season Premiere: Keeping Up with the Kardashians 5 - Eat, Pray, Love 1 … … 2
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Western Kentucky (0-0) at Nebraska (0-0) Sept. 4, 7:00, TV

Here’s The Deal … Western Kentucky is on a 20-game losing streak, and while it improved at the end of last year losing the final three games in good battles, it was still an ugly year. The start of 2010 isn’t going to be much better with a lamb-for-a-slaughter payday as Nebraska goes on its Big 12 Farewell Tour. The Huskers have one decent non-conference game at Washington, but they’re not exactly taxing themselves before starting out the conference campaign against Kansas State in early October. If this is seen as a preseason game and a chance to get better and improve, then this game is all about getting the passing attack going to give Nebraska some semblance of a dangerous offense to go along with its frothing-at-the-mouth defense. For WKU, anything positive would be a plus as it begins its tour of games against BCS conference teams. The Hilltoppers go to Kentucky next week.
Why Western Kentucky Might Win: WKU might have the best running back in this game. Junior Bobby Rainey is a small, quick back who averaged 6.5 yards per carry and came on late in the year. The offensive line is hardly going to shove around the Husker defensive front, but it’s one of the team’s bigger strengths and should be able to open a few holes to get Rainey a wee bit of space. It’s not like Rainey is going to go ballistic, but he could crank out a few first downs to keep the offense moving early on. New head coach Willie Taggart is running head coach who’ll commit to the ground game, but he’ll be challenged to get anything consistently going since …
Why Nebraska Might Win: … Nebraska finished ninth in the nation against the run and should be at least that strong again. Sure, the line is missing a very big, very rich Heisman finalist in the middle to make things happen, but the returning players are good enough to pick up the slack in a hurry. Throw in the desire of the starting front four to prove that they can still be great without Ndamukong Suh, and sprinkle in the brutal ugliness of the WKU passing game, and the potential is there for Nebraska to gain more yards on the first two drives than the defense will allow all game long.
What To Watch Out For: Yeah, yeah, yeah, Nebraska has quarterback issues and a bit of a controversy, but Tom Osborne could line up under center and the team would still be fine thanks to the defense. The real issue early on will be on the outside of the line where Mike Smith, a key starter on last year’s line and a part of the rotation at several spots going into this year, will be out for the season with a broken leg, while Dreu Young, a spot-starter at tight end, is done with a back problem. The Huskers have replacements, and tight end and tackle aren’t quite their most pressing problems (that would be quarterback, where Zac Lee, Cody Green, and Taylor Martinez are all battling it out), but the offense can’t afford to lose too many key players.
What Will Happen: WKU will be lucky to finish with positive rushing yards and will be really, really lucky to put points on the board. This is when the Husker defense starts to establish its dominance and shows that there’s no rebuilding needing to be done.
CFN Prediction: Nebraska 45 … Western Kentucky 0 … Line: Nebraska -37
Must See Rating: Season Premiere: Keeping Up with the Kardashians 5 - Eat, Pray, Love 1 … 1.5

Bowling Green (0-0) at Troy (0-0) Sept. 4, 7:00

Here’s The Deal … This matchup appeared to be one of the best under-the-radar battles of the 2009 season, but Bowling Green’s passing game came out roaring on the way to a 31-14 win. Both teams are rebuilding and each has some major question marks going into the season, but this should still be a nice GMAC Bowl-like game that goes a long way toward providing conference bragging rights. Considering the Trojans lost to Central Michigan in a classic GMAC Bowl in January, the Sun Belt could use a big non-conference win to make any sort of a claim that it’s better than the MAC, while Bowling Green is simply looking to get a win with a sneaky-nasty schedule coming up.
Why Bowling Green Might Win: The Troy pass defense was a shocking disaster last year finishing 118th in the nation allowing 287 yards per game, and now there’s more work to be done. There’s talent there, but it’s a very young group that’s still going to take its lumps before it figures out what it’s doing. Bowling Green might have lost some major parts of the passing puzzle, but head coach Dave Clawson is still going to want to push the ball down the field with the top-shelf passing game. Is Troy equipped to be better right away? The GMAC Bowl isn’t all that long ago.
Why Troy Might Win: Bowling Green needs a ton of help on the defensive front that did next to nothing against the run last year. Troy’s offensive line might not be the best in the Sun Belt, but it’s not far off and it should be able to pound away with the ground game as long as it wants to. Troy’s passing game will take little while to jell, and it won’t achieve the level it hit last year (finishing fourth in the nation), but it should still be effective. Basically, Troy’s defense should be better than Bowling Green’s.
What To Watch Out For: The Troy quarterback situation is a potential problem. A year after Levi Brown went ballistic and turned into one of the Sun Belt’s top offensive weapons, the Trojans are still trying to decide between Jamie Hampton and Corey Robinson for the gig with the two likely to rotate. Hampton is a good thrower, but he has to keep the interceptions to a minimum, while Robinson is a gunner who set the national high school record with 5,872 passing yards and 91 scores. Bowling Green has to replace longtime veteran Tyler Sheehan, and it’ll be up to 6-2, 184-pound redshirt freshman Matt Schilz to shine right away with several options behind him.
What Will Happen: Troy has issues, but Bowling Green has bigger problems needing to show it can stop someone with the defensive front seven. The offenses won’t be as explosive as last year’s versions, but they’ll still be fun and this should be an entertaining game, even if it’s not played at a high level.
CFN Prediction: Troy 27 … Bowling Green 21 … Line: Troy -13.5
Must See Rating: Season Premiere: Keeping Up with the Kardashians 5 - Eat, Pray, Love 1 … 2
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