Monday, September 28, 2009

Big East Week Four Review


The Big East went 5-2 this weekend lifting the conference’s season out of conference record to 21-7. Let’s take a look at some of the top individual performances, which include a breakthrough win, as well as a defense that is surprisingly struggling.

South Florida 17, Florida State 7
No Grothe No Problem – South Florida defense leads the Bulls to the biggest of wins

A ton of credit needs to be given to South Florida’s quarterback B.J. Daniels. Anytime a freshman makes his first start on the road at a place like Doak Campbell Stadium and comes out with a victory it’s impressive. He only completed 8-of-21 passes and threw two interceptions, but Daniels displayed scrambling ability, arm strength and relentlessness. On the ground, he rushed for 126 yards on 23 carries and when the Tallahassee native did connect through the air, he made it count. Daniels completed a 77-yard pass to Theo Wilson and a 73-yard touchdown connection to Sterling Griffin. But more than anywhere else, the Bulls won this game because of their defense, specifically the front four. They took down Seminole quarterback Christian Ponder five times and held Florida St. to only 19 yards rushing. The defensive line of South Florida is an extremely deep unit as they mixed in eight different players throughout the game. Defensive ends Craig Marshall and George Selvie led the bull rush. Marshall recorded two sacks and recovered a fumble, while the two-time All-American Selvie was on Ponders’ tail every step of the way. There were a total of four turnovers forced by South Florida—all coming by way of the fumble—including a couple in the red zone. Ultimately, that was the story of the game. Any time FSU would get close to scoring they would turn the ball over, either on a fumble or on downs. A third defensive end, Jason Pierre-Paul, picked the perfect time to have a breakout game. The 6’ 6” junior had three tackles for a loss and had a key forced fumble to seal the deal in fourth quarter earning him Big East defensive player of the week honors.

Cincinnati 28, Fresno State 20
Pike to Gilyard – Bearcats survive upset bid and gain more national attention

Another win for Cincinnati and another big game for wide receiver Marshwan Gilyard. The senior extended his streak to six games with at least one touchdown reception dating back to last year, as he snagged two in the team’s win over Fresno State. His 177 yards and nine receptions leaves him atop the conference leader board in both categories. However, it was fellow receiver D.J. Woods who had the catch of the game bringing down an outstanding one-handed grab. The 6’ 1” sophomore is coming along nicely and developing into a solid number two target, giving the ‘Cats yet another weapon. Despite quarterback Tony Pike’s 300 yards and three touchdowns through the air, the offense stalled a bit after a quick start and needed the defense to survive the upset scare. Linebacker Craig Carey made a key interception that set up a Cincinnati touchdown early in the fourth quarter and on Fresno State’s final drive (which reached the Cincinnati 38-yard line), it was Aaron Webster who broke up a pass on fourth down to clinch the win.

North Carolina St. 38, Pittsburgh 31
What happened to the defense?

Nobody was more disappointing out of the Big East than the Pittsburgh defense in week four. They were supposed to be the strength of the team, but the defense was pushed around in Raleigh and a blew a 31-17 lead allowing three consecutive touchdowns by North Carolina St. late in the game. Wolfpack quarterback Russell Wilson threw for 322 yards and for the third straight game, four touchdowns. NC State gained a total of 530 yards and dominated when it came to moving the chains, converting 27 first downs compared to Pitt’s 11. This isn’t the first time this season the Panthers’ secondary has given up big yards through the air, they allowed 433 against Buffalo. Senior cornerback Aaron Berry was supposed to be the team’s lock down corner and one of the best in the Big East, but he allowed to many big plays and drew too many flags. Wilson showed no hesitation throwing the ball to his side. Cornerback Ricky Gray was also burned two times for long strikes, including a touchdown. Even after the comeback, Pittsburgh was given a great opportunity to force overtime when they recovered a botched snap on the North Carolina State eight-yard line. Four plays and zero yards later they were done. The closest they came to a tie came on a nice third down throw by Bill Stull, but Wolfpack safety Brandan Bishop knocked the potential touchdown out of the hands of tight end Dorin Dickerson. Running back Dion Lewis continues to be a freshman standout rushing for 95 yards and two early touchdowns on the day. The Panthers’ loss prevented a clean sweep of the ACC for the Big East.

Rutgers 34, Maryland 13
Here comes Rutgers..

It hasn’t exactly been against the best competition, but following their season-opening loss, Rutgers finds themselves on a three-game winning streak. The defense forced five turnovers, as linebacker Antonio Lowery had an interception and led the team with eight tackles. The player of the game was tailback Joe Martinek who rushed for 147 yards and two touchdowns versus the Terps.

Syracuse 41, Maine 24
Taking care of business

A second-half surge gave the Orange a big win. Delone Carter led the ‘Cuse with four touchdowns, three on the ground and one through the air, while senior quarterback and former Dukie Greg Paulus continues to prove his transition to football was worth it, throwing for 270 yards and two touchdowns.

Connecticut 52, Rhode Island 10
Taking care of business – the sequel

The passing game has usually been a problem for the Huskies, but this week quarterback Cody Endres led the way throwing for 289 yards and two touchdowns.

Utah 30, Louisville 14
Cardinals fail to soar

It didn’t take long for Utah to grab hold, as the Mountain West school jumped out to a 14-0 lead. Louisville could not stop the run allowing a total of 214 yards on the ground, as Utah running back Eddie Wide led all ball carriers with 129 yards. The Cardinals couldn’t run the ball with any success, as star tailback Victor Anderson was held to 22 yards.

Photos Courtesy of USF Athletics Communications & Brian Utesch/NC State

Sunday, September 27, 2009

On Location: Miami (Ohio) @ Kent State

Opening their MAC schedule, the Kent State Golden Flashes played host to the Miami Redhawks of Oxford, Ohio. In a steady rain throughout the night, Kent State won their conference opener 29-19.

The Key Play

Junior tailback Anthony Bowman—a native of Detroit, Michigan—took a first quarter kickoff 92 yards to paydirt to give Kent State a lead they would never relinquish.

Offensive Highlights

Golden Flashes –
With fifth year senior Eugene Jarvis lost for the season, the Kent State faithful had to be reassured by the performance of sophomore running back Jacquise Terry. The converted wide receiver broke the century mark with 103 rushing yards and showed those in attendance that all was not lost when Jarvis went down.

Redhawks – While it’s premature to compare him to former Miami (Ohio) great Ben Roethlisberger, red-shirt freshman Zac Dysert has the wheels, as well as the arm to make things happen for the Redhawks. Compiling 444 yards of total offense—337 passing and 107 rushing—Dysert gave reason to believe he could one day join the long list of stellar MAC quarterbacks.

Defensive Highlights

Golden Flashes –
Junior safety Dan Hartman earned his first interception of his career Saturday night. Hartman, who was a Labrae High School standout (located roughly 30 minutes from Kent State), made six tackles including four solo stops. Two of those six tackles where jaw jarring plays making him the College Football Insiders “On Location hard hitter of the game”.

Redhawks – Standing at only 5’ 9”, sophomore line backer Jerrell Wedge registered nine tackles. Wedge beat the Kent State offensive line twice on the way to quarterback to for 1.5 sacks (minus 11 yards).

Out of Wack Stat

The Miami (Ohio) Redhawks out-produced the Kent State Golden Flashes 552 yards to 250 and won the time of possession battle 34:38 to 25:22, but lost the game. Translation—it’s not about the stat sheet or the clock, it’s about the scoreboard.

Breakout Player

K Freddy Cortez, Kent State –
After missing his first extra point attempt, it didn’t look like the true freshman from Fort Meade, Florida was in for a good evening, not in the rain. However, Cortez didn’t let the conditions or his shaky start hamper his coming out party, as he converted on his first field goal of his college career from 37 yards out, which he followed up with two more through the uprights (42 yards & 34 yards), leaving him three for three on field goal attempts.

Final Thoughts

Saturday night was damp, dark and rainy, but it was worth the trip for the 15,235 in attendance at Dix Stadium. The MAC schools provided an action packed game, which saw a total of 802 yards of offense and the home team come away a 29-19 winner. The Golden Flashes have now won back to back games over Miami (Ohio) for the first time since 1986, when Kent State took three straight.

Photos Courtesy of

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Big East: Week 4 Predictions

We’re still a week away from conference play, so it’ll be another weekend to earn respect and make an impression around the nation. Three games versus the ACC should give a little extra juice and incentive for Big East fans rooting interest.

Florida State 26, South Florida 14

I wish they could play this game with Matt Grothe under center for USF–it would have been the perfect opportunity for him and the program. But he’s not, and freshman B.J, Daniels is the starter. Even though Daniels is athletic and has shown potential in practice–it just that, potential in practice. Florida State’s defense is a daunting unit with speed all around. What will keep South Florida in the game is their defensive line, led by two-time All-American George Selvie. They’ll put pressure on Seminole quarterback Christian Ponder and will be able to contain the run. But in the end, South Florida won’t have enough in the passing game to pull off the upset.

Pittsburgh 21, NC State 17

Wolfpack quarterback Russell Wilson is real good and is coming off back-to-back four touchdown performances. Don’t expect a third. Pittsburgh will be physical with NC State and win the battle up front. Look for a big game from senior defensive end Mick Williams. Pittsburgh linebacker freshman Dan Mason is another player to watch–the Wolfpack has had trouble blocking blitzes this season and Mason has shown glimpses of being a strong pass rusher. Freshman Dion Lewis will be the difference maker, as he has been thus far this season for the Panthers. In case you haven’t noticed, he leads the Big East in rushing with 389 yards and five touchdowns.

Louisville 32, Utah 28

I’m calling for the upset here. Utah has had trouble against the run, and if Louisville can run the ball well at Kentucky, why against the Utes? Sophomore Victor Anderson has rushed for 203 yards and three touchdowns in two games for a 5.8 yards per a carry average.

Rutgers 25, Maryland 20

The Maryland Terrapins are in a tailspin. So far this season they’ve been spanked by California, needed overtime to beat James Madison and then last week they lost to Middle Tennessee State. Now, in comes Rutgers, who were blown out themselves in their season opener. The Knights have bounced back with two straight wins over cream puffs. Freshman quarterback Tom Savage is questionable for the game, but I can’t imagine the Knights not being able to move the ball against a Terps defense, that has been awful to this point. If Savage is out, Dom Natale will start.

Cincinnati 44, Fresno State 28

The scoreboard will be lighting up in this match-up. Fresno State running back Ryan Mathews is the real deal. The senior is explosive and he displayed his big play ability last week against Boise State when he rushed for 234 yards, including three long touchdown runs. Quarterback Ryan Colburn is a gunslinger, but has had trouble keeping his interceptions to a minimum. This will be a good test for the Bearcat defense, but for the offense, not so much. Tony Pike won’t have any problems picking apart the Bulldog defense. Somewhat quietly, he’s been putting up Heisman numbers.

Connecticut 37, Rhode Island 13

This is a chance for Connecticut to get their passing game going, as there’s no doubt the Huskies come out on top. It’s a special game for head coach Randy Edsall. This will be the 122nd game atop the helm at UConn, making him the longest-tenured coach in school history.

Syracuse 28, Maine 10

That’s right, the Orange will be on a winning streak–only two games but their first since 2006 nevertheless. Expect the running game to be on point, as senior Delone Carter has been strong on the ground for the 'Cuse.

Last week: 7-1; Season: 21-1

Photos Courtesy of USF Athletics Communications & Tom Ciszak Rutgers Athletics

Friday, September 25, 2009

Big Ten Conference Open Preview: Spoiler Alerts


When was this torch officially passed, the one that said, “Oh, we’re really good, but it just doesn’t show up in the records for our teams because they beat each other up in conference play”, from the Big Ten to the SEC? Isn’t it interesting how the Big Ten was ONCE considered so tough near the top that we excused conference losses because the competition was that deep? Contrast to nowadays where pundits dismiss the Big Ten by stating that the teams at the top lose to their rivaled foes because the conference is so weak. Certainly the last few years have been plagued by a lack of national attention (beyond Ohio State), and the only real exception I would argue was 2006 when number one Ohio State hosted and defeated number two Michigan in The Game, essentially knocking the Wolverines out of the National Title game, despite a one-loss Florida sliding in place (of course it didn’t help that Florida eventually went on to dismantle the Buckeyes. But let’s forget that for the moment.).

Nonetheless, we come across a make-or-break weekend right off the bat for the conference elite where only time will tell if this week was tough-versus-tough or meek-versus-meek. In the pre-season I dubbed this the “spoiler alert” weekend where the underdogs have a decent chance of wreaking havoc on the favorites:

Iowa at Penn State:
I don’t want to get in the way of the importance of this game early in the season. Although Penn State can’t erase their sole conference loss from last year, they can send a message early and convince doubters that the team has patched up the cracks in their units, namely power rushing and unproven pass defense. Iowa has recovered nicely from the opening day scare against Northern Iowa. As important as the notches in the win column is the development of their offense. Shonn Greene is missed in the backfield thus far (3.8 yards/carry), but the Hawkeyes are still managing to put points on the board (26 points/game). What to watch for: Make no mistake that the best units on the field for both teams will be their defenses. Penn State has given up only 20 points in three games and is yet to surrender a rushing touchdown. The huge question marks, however, is the health of linebackers Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman (Lee is unlikely to play and Bowman is probable). The Hawkeyes have been brilliant stopping aerial attacks, which have only completed 48 percent passing and 5.1 yards/attempt. The big turnover killed Penn State’s chances last year and Iowa looks to be ball-hawking thus far (six interceptions, two fumbles). As this will be defense versus defense, the key to the game will be which offense escapes making the big mistake. Look for the ability of Penn State’s Daryll Clark to be the playmaking quarterback while looking for Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi to be the protector of the ball, limiting big plays by the Nittany Lions’ defense.
Prediction: Home team wins in the rocking Whitehouse. Penn State 24, Iowa 13

Illinois at Ohio State:
The injury bug has seemed to nest and multiply within the Champaign community. Quarterback Juice Williams, receiver Arrelious Benn and linebacker Martez Wilson (out for the year) have all lost significant playing time in this young season. Losing Wilson is back-breaking for the defense that has given up a whopping 680 yards passing between Missouri and Illinois St. Against a quality opponent in Missouri, Williams was mediocre with 179 yards and one interception (albeit without Benn for most of the game), and the Illinois State game proves nothing as the team thrived despite Williams’ absence. The week off with a bye certainly helped. For the Buckeyes, they brushed up nicely ripping Toledo with a 38-0 shutout. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor showcased his athletic abilities, finally eclipsing 100 yards rushing. I say finally, because this should be at least a threat for every opponent trying to gameplan against the Buckeyes. What to watch for: The quarterbacks. This is somewhat obvious and a safe call, but the best player on both teams happens to be the guy holding the ball after every snap. I am unsettled by Pryor’s two interceptions last week (he hasn’t had an interception-free game yet this year and is one behind Purdue’s Joey Elliott for forking the ball over to the other team through the air the most in the conference). On the flip-side, Pryor leads the Big Ten in total offense (263 total yards/game). With Williams healthy, the outcome of the game will undoubtedly come down to which athlete does the most damage.
Prediction: Ohio State pitched a shutout last week and has seemed to shaken the cob-webs from their home loss to USC two weeks ago. Illinois is still settling into the season with the discontinuity brought about from injuries.
Ohio State 33, Illinois 21

Notre Dame at Purdue:
The Fighting Irish (2-1) march in to West Lafayette after escaping a last second drive by Michigan State last week. Notre Dame looks to be quickly evolving with the loss of wide receiver Michael Floyd on the outside and the addition of a more determined rushing attack lead by Armando Allen. Allen (23-for 115 yards and one touchdown last week) has strung together back-to-back 100 yard rushing games (both against Big Ten foes), something escaping his early career. In fact, the only game he rushed over 73 yards last year was against, well, Purdue and he went bananas (17-for-134 yards, one touchdown). Purdue (1-2) is already reeling after a tough loss to Northern Illinois last week, tallying their second loss in as many weeks. The big alarm here is surrendering 454 total yards, 270 of them on the ground. This also spelled a huge time-of-possession deficit of nearly 2:1 (18:20). What to watch for: Obviously I see this coming down to how well Purdue can stop Allen, who is not 100 percent nursing a sore ankle. Surprisingly I previewed Notre Dame without talking about Jimmy Clausen, but I guess I just did. But I feel that Charlie Weis has decided to balance out his offensive scheme by folding in more action from the backfield. Allen is rushing well and that will set up the play-action for wideout Golden Tate deep or tight end Kyle Rudolph over the top of the biting linebackers. If Purdue loses the time of possession battle again, that will spell disaster for a tiring defense playing against a potent offense like Notre Dame’s. To this end, I also expect Purdue to pound the ball themselves, as they are averaging 210 yards on the ground.
Prediction: Purdue hasn’t shown the defensive prowess to slow down anyone, so I don’t expect much of a change with a visit from the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame 34, Purdue 20

Michigan State at Wisconsin: What to watch for: Wisconsin’s 200 yards rushing per game behind tailbacks Zach Brown and John Clay versus the Spartans' stingy rush defense (87 yards/game, 2.8 yards/carry). If the Badgers stall rushing, fear not, Michigan State’s Achilles’ heel so far has been stopping talented quarterbacks. Can the Badgers’ signal caller Scott Tolzien carry the load if called upon? For Michigan State, their quarterback combination has been successful (eight touchdowns, one interception, converting the most first downs in the conference passing with 44). Also, penalties may come in to play–Michigan state opponents are tops in penalties committed (24 total, 76.7 yards/game) and Wisconsin is ninth in the conference in penalties committed (19 total, 61.7 yards/game)
Prediction: Michigan State 30, Wisconsin 27

Indiana at Michigan: What to watch for:
Indiana leads the conference in three categories–kickoff returns (27.9 avergae), turnover margin (plus three) and sacks against (one, for one yard loss). In fact, if there were a sack margin (sacks for – sacks against) Indiana would be tops with a +8 (followed by Michigan State at +7). Defensive ends Jammie Kilrew and Greg Middleton are as good as it gets as a duo off the edge (Can Tate Forcier be more consistent in his crash-reads of one of the ends? This may be a very intriguing individual offense-defense match-up). Michigan’s offensive line is credible, but suffered a big loss with an injury to center David Molk. So the battle in trenches should be the marquee for the match-up in Ann Arbor. If Michigan’s quarterbacks find more time looking up at the sky from ground, the Hoosiers may be able to hang tough. I am tremendously skeptical of that fact considering the team speed and athleticism heavily tilted towards Michigan.
Prediction: Michigan 28, Indiana 10

Minnesota at Northwestern: What to watch for:
I was looking forward to this game during the pre-season because of the potential both squads posed heading in to the season. But after disappointing losses last week for both teams, the luster has worn just a bit. Northwestern’s gunslinger Mike Kafka has filled in nicely for the graduated C.J. Bacher, completing 75 percent of his passes for almost 250 yards/game (second in the Big Ten), with a conference leading 164.9 passing efficiency (which includes some statistical combination of blue moons, green diamonds and purple horseshoes). He’s managed to distribute the ball evenly amongst his receiving corps as four wideouts have hauled in at least 10 receptions so far. For the Gophers, they have also celebrated a strong passing attack, although quarterback Adam Weber has again fallen in love with senior receiver Erick Decker (27 receptions, 415 yards, two touchdowns). Will this game be a shootout? I doubt it; I feel that the Gophers are begrudgingly trying to prove they can play smashmouth football by running right at their opponents and failing. (Dead last in the conference with 85.7 yards/game).
Prediction: Northwestern is coming in with a better defense, which will again expose Minnesota’s one-sided offense. Northwestern 17, Minnesota 9

Photos Courtesy of Mark Selders/Penn State Athletic Communications & Michigan State Athletic Communications

BCS Busters Week Three Preview


Game of the Week: Texas Tech at Houston

Both teams are coming off big time games and have offenses that can put a ton of points on the board. Houston ranks fifth in the nation in total yards-per-game (525) and third in points-per-game (50). Both quarterbacks are playing extremely well; Taylor Potts has already thrown for 1,281 yards, 12 touchdowns, and four interceptions while Case Keenum is playing as well as anybody right now with 725 yards passing, seven touchdowns and only one interception. He’s putting up these great numbers while completing 72.4 percent of his passes. This game should produce fireworks as the Cougars look to make it two straight against Big XII opponents and prove their win over Oklahoma State was no fluke.
Prediction: Houston 37, Texas Tech 33

Others to Watch

Louisville at Utah:
The longest winning-streak in the country was snapped at 16 games, and now the Utes look to start another one up against a formidable Louisville team. If they allow the Cardinals to run all over them like the Oregon Ducks did, they could be starting a losing-streak instead.
Prediction: Utah 24, Louisville 13

Colorado State at BYU: This should be a fun one. Fans will get to see if Colorado State is for real and if BYU is going to collapse completely after getting walloped by Florida State. I’m sure if they drop this one, their biggest upset in school history against Oklahoma in the first game of the season will be a distant memory for Cougar fans.
Prediction: BYU 30, Colorado State 14

Boise State at Bowling Green:
Another good match-up of a pass-happy offense versus a solid pass defense. Bowling Green averages 50 passes a game, so look for them to try and get the ground game going first to open up the passing against the Broncos strong secondary. Oh, and watch for Kellen Moore to keep doing what he does best, winning ball games.
Prediction: Boise State 40, Bowling Green 20

TCU at Clemson: TCU plays its second ACC opponent in three games. They already beat Virginia handily and aim their sights on a much tougher Clemson team in Death Valley. The Frogs are averaging 244.5 yards rushing this season and will need to continue to run the ball well this week if they have a shot at winning this game.
Prediction: Clemson 23, TCU 17

Photo Courtesy of University of Houston

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Gophers vs. California: Summary & Analysis


First Quarter:
The first quarter belonged to the Bears, as they recorded 159 yards of offense compared to the Gophers’ 39. Jahvid Best scored twice in the first quarter while rushing for 69 yards on just six carries. Penalties caused the Minnesota offense to stagnate; it wasn’t until the final drive of the quarter that the Gophers started clicking and Eric Decker began to get involved in the passing game.
Score: Cal 14, Gophers 0

Second Quarter:
Adam Weber
got Minnesota on the board on the first play, hooking up with Decker who made an incredible catch while getting drilled by a Cal defender. Best answered later in the quarter with an impressive 27-yard touchdown run to put the Bears up 21-7. After a personal foul and a pass interference call, the Gophers had great field position with 1:11 left in the half. A few plays later, Weber found Decker again wide open in the end-zone for a twelve-yard score to cut the lead to 21-14. Even though the Bears dominated time of possession 12:03 to 2:57, the Gophers were able to make plays and build some momentum going into halftime.
Score: Cal 21, Gophers 14

Third Quarter:
The Gophers defense came out of the locker room firing on all cylinders. They held Best at bay and didn’t allow a single first-down to the Bears offense, holding them to 22 yards in the quarter. The Gophers showed their offense truly does run through Decker as he completed a seven-yard touchdown pass to freshman MarQueis Gray to tie the game at 21.
Score: Cal 21, Gophers 21

Fourth Quarter:
Things were looking up for the Gophers when they had the Bears pinned on their own 22 yard-line facing 3rd and 16. But Kevin Riley had other plans as he hooked up with Jeremy Ross for a 35-yard pass, keeping the drive alive. Five plays later, Best found the end-zone again for his fourth score of the day to put the Bears up for good, 28-21. Weber tried to make something happen on the very next play, but ended up throwing a crucial interception. That was that, as Best ended up adding another score to make it 35-21, ending the comeback attempt.
Final Score: Cal 35, Gophers 21

The Turning Point:
Facing a 3rd and 16 on their own 22 yard-line, Riley connected with receiver Ross for 35 yards to keep the drive going. Five plays later, Best punched in the decisive score.


Gophers coach Tim Brewster proved that he has turned this program around and has them heading in the right direction. They fought back numerous times against a good Cal football team and sent a message to the powers of the Big Ten that they aren’t to be taken lightly. Although Brewster was pleased with how his team played, he was disappointed that they didn’t find a way to come out with a victory.

“It’s hard. You know, you pour your heart and your soul into an effort…every player and every coach poured their heart and soul into this game and we weathered an early storm and our kids really showed some resilience and resolve," Brewster said following the game. "I’m extremely proud of our football team, the way that they competed against the #8 ranked team in the country. What I’m really disappointed in is that we didn’t find a way to win the game. We didn’t make the plays at the end of the game…we had opportunities on the defensive end, had some opportunities on the offensive end. When you’re playing a great opponent like we were playing today, the team that’s going to win is the team that makes the plays at the end of the football game.”

The score was not indicative of how the game was played. The Gophers fought hard and battled all game and seemed to answer every Cal score, but the lack of a ground game was too much to overcome in the end. They only managed 37 yards rushing which allowed the defense to put pressure on Weber the majority of the game. If the Gophers plan on contending against Ohio State and Penn State in the Big Ten, this needs to be corrected. Decker can only do so much on offense and the ground game needs to be there to take pressure of Weber when he drops back to pass.

On the other side of the ball, the stout Cal defense looked shaky against the pass, allowing 233 yards through the air. Decker was a one-man wrecking crew who had the challenge of going up against potential All-America corner Syd’Quan Thompson. He stepped up to the challenge, catching eight passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns and had Thompson scratching his head for most of the game. The Bears run defense bottled up the Gophers rushing attack, allowing them to blitz Weber and force him into mistakes which proved costly for the Gophers at the end of the game.

Best showed why he is considered the best running back in the country, rushing for 131 yards on 26 attempts and scoring five touchdowns. The Gophers shut down the Cal passing game for most of this contest and forced Best to beat them, which he did. Gopher linebacker Lee Campbell said this of Best, “He’s fast. He’s probably one of the fastest running backs I’ve ever played against. You just have to try and keep him corralled and you saw what happens when he gets to the outside.” He ran through and around the Gophers defense and was the reason the Bears won this football game.

It was a hard fought game for both teams and they both should be proud of the effort they put forth. For the Gophers, it’s about taking that next step to become a contender in the Big Ten. For Cal, it’s about shutting teams down when they have their foot on their throat.

Photos Courtesy of University of Minnesota Athletic Communications, University of California

Friday, September 18, 2009

Big East: Week Three Preview


If you can imagine the college football season as an academic year, then week three is like mid-term week in the first semester. This Saturday will tell us whole lot about where some Big East teams stack up against the rest of the country, and how good they could be in 2009. Let’s take a look at the syllabus and see which tests are slated for this weekend:

Philosophy: If a team plays well but doesn’t get a win, do they still get any love? After just two games there has been more optimism and attention around the Syracuse football program then there has been in the past two or three years. But the ‘Cuse are 0-2 and are not earning any bowl births with moral victories. This week they play their third straight Big Ten opponent hosting Northwestern at the Carrier Dome.

The Prediction: Syracuse 26, Northwestern 21 - Head coach Doug Marrone gets his first win. The star of the game will be senior defensive tackle Arthur Jones with his first breakout game of the season.

History: A Cincinnati football team has not played a road game against a Pac-10 opponent since 1976, a win over Arizona State. Playing a road game across the country can sometimes take a toll on a team and sway the game one way or another. This week the Bearcats play at Oregon State, and as well as the 'Cats' defense played in week one at Rutgers, they didn’t have to defend a dynamic player like Jacquizz Rodgers.

The Prediction: Cincinnati 41, Oregon State 30 – Expect to see Tony Pike early and often. The Bearcats will jump out to a fast start and never relinquish the lead. Oregon State has had some offensive line troubles, which could allow Cincinnati seniors Curtis Young and Ricardo Matthews to have big days pressuring the quarterback.

Geography: The Mountaineers have been on a groove against the SEC, representing the Big East against what is widely considered the top conference in the country. In the past four seasons they’ve gone 4-0 including a win over Auburn last year, 35-17. The game will be a test for the WVU offense playing against a very talented and athletic Tiger defense. Watch for the play quarterback Jarrett Brown, he’s athletic like Patrick White but can be the winner that White was?

The Prediction: Auburn 21, West Virginia 16 - Both of these teams are underrated and the speed alone is a reason to watch. In the end, the Tigers’ home crowed and better defensive play propels them to a win as WVU fails to capture the South.

Nautical Studies:
Pittsburgh has won comfortably in their first two games. However, the Navy triple-option can always throw a team off guard and translate into an upset. This will be the third straight year these two schools have squared-up, the road team has won each battle so far.

The Prediction: Pittsburgh 28, Navy 20 - I just have a feeling that Navy will keep it close, I don’t know if it’s because the Panthers have a history of playing to their competition or the scare that the Midshipmen delivered in Columbus. For the second straight week I have high expectations for Pittsburgh receiver Jonathon Baldwin to have a big game, he will not disappoint.

Psychology: Talk about a Freudian slip-up. Last week Connecticut collapsed and lost on a safety by ways of a hold in the end zone. Can UConn recover from blowing a 10-point second-half lead to North Carolina? They’re going to have to bounce back at Baylor without their starting quarterback Zach Frazer. this is a good test for this blitz-burg defense against a star in the making—Baylor sophomore quarterback Robert Griffin III. The offense will need someone to lean on.

Prediction: Baylor 23, Connecticut 14 -
It’s another bad match-up for the Huskies. The offense has not shown that they can do anything consistently. A turnover or two lead to a couple of easy Baylor scores.

How can Louisville rebuild their program? For starters, not losing to Kentucky again. A loss would make it three wins in a row for the Wildcats, something that has not happened since the two schools starting playing regularly in 1994. How well Lexington native and Cardinal quarterback Justin Burke plays will be the key in this one. Keep this match-up on your radar: (CB) Trevard Lindley, Kentucky vs. (WR) Doug Beaumont, Louisville.

Prediction: Kentucky 27, Louisville 13 -
A real underrated rivalry game. I’m seeing big things for quarterback Mike Hartline.

Recess: It will be walk in the park for Rutgers and South Florida. Rutgers tries to make it two in row hosting Sun Belt foe Florida International, while the Bulls play Charleston-Southern. Remember them? They lost to Florida 62-3.

Prediction: South Florida 48, Charleston Southern 6 - Start planning for next week and the team’s trip to Tallahassee.

Prediction: Rutgers 33, Florida International 14 -
Next week at Maryland is a road game that could swing the Scarlet Knights’ season. This is will be just a tune-up for the Terps.

Last week: 7-0; Season: 14-0

Photo Courtesy of Syracuse University Athletics & University of Pittsburgh

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Big East: Week Two Review


We take a look back on a record set, a game-losing safety, and the week that was in the Big East.

Game of the Week: Sloppy field, sloppy offenses, and a sloppy finish. That’s the best way to describe Connecticut’s 12-10 loss to 16th ranked North Carolina in a game that saw the deciding points come on a safety. Neither team ran or passed the ball well, and each gave up two turnovers. The Tar Heels’ valiant fourth quarter comeback was sparked by the offensive line winning the battle in the trenches. Running back Ryan Houston’s clutch 30 yards on six carries led North Carolina on a game-tying touchdown drive. The player of the game was Lindsey Witten. The 6’ 4” senior sacked the quarterback 3.5 times and is the conference leader with a seven on the season. Unfortunately for the Huskies, a holding penalty in the end zone committed by Dan Ryan was just enough for North Carolina to grab the win.

Team of the week:
This is cautious praise because it was against Buffalo, but this week Pittsburgh did something they rarely did last year—looked good on offense. Quarterback Bill Stull threw for three touchdowns for the first time in his career. The 54-27 win was charged by true freshman Dion Lewis. If his debut wasn’t impressive enough—20 carries for 137 yards and a pair of TDs versus Youngstown St.—this week he put on a clinic, rushing for 190 yards and two touchdowns. Four Buffalo turnovers left them with little chance to match the Panthers’ firepower. When was the last time you heard that? It’s the most points Pittsburgh has scored since 1999. The only blemish in the win was Pitt’s inability to stop Buffalo wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt, who racked up 157 receiving yards and scored two touchdowns.

Record Setter: Congratulations to Matt Grothe for passing Pat White as the all-time Big East career yardage leader. Grothe broke the record on a 12-yard scramble in the Bulls’ 35-13 victory over Western Kentucky. The senior threw for 208 yards and two touchdowns.

Don't Forget About: Jarrett Brown was just too much for East Carolina to handle, as the West Virginia quarterback threw for 334 yards and four touchdowns in the Mountaineers 35-10 win. A key hookup with wide receiver Alric Arnett for a touchdown put the game away in the third quarter.

Freshman Watch: A win over Howard isn’t likely to stem the tide of panic at Rutgers just yet, but quarterback Tom Savage surely gave Knights fans something to smile about. The true freshman threw for 223 yards and displayed a cannon of an arm. He connected twice with Tim Brown on big plays, including a 49-yard bomb on his first throw of the day.

Wide Out Week: Four different Big East wide receivers put up big performances in week two: The 'nice hands award' goes to Jock Sanders (West Virginia) for the second consecutive week. The Mountaineer led all wide outs in receptions, pulling down nine balls for 99 yards. In the ‘it’s been a while’ category, Carlton Mitchell (South Florida) hit the century mark (130 yards) for the first time since his freshman year (2007). You can call Tim Brown (Rutgers) ‘Big Plays’. He led the conference in yards, racking up 132 for the Scarlet Knights on just three catches. Finally, it should come as 'no surprise' that Marshwan Gilyard (Cincinnati), had his way with SE Missouri State, posting 111 yards and two touchdowns.

Photo Courtesy of USF Athletics Communications

BCS Buster: Week Three Preview


Game of the Week: Florida State @ BYU

BYU gets their first home game of the season against a Florida State team that survived a scare against Jacksonville St. Max Hall will attempt to add his name to the short list of Heisman Trophy candidates by beating a second storied program in three weeks. He has thrown for more than 300 yards in his first two games of the season and will look to continue that streak against an inexperienced Seminoles’ secondary that has given up more than 200 yards passing in both of their games this season. It will be running backs Bryan Kariya, J.J. Di Luigi and hopefully Harvey Unga who will need to get the ground game going to control the clock and wear down the solid run defense of the 'Noles, who have yet to allow either team they have faced to rush for more than 100 yards. Although the Seminoles looked rusty in their second game, they are not a team to be taken lightly. They have enough offensive firepower to put points on the board with veteran quarterback Christian Ponder and wide receiver Richard Goodman breaking out of his shell. The Cougars will also have to contain Florida State’s explosive return man Greg Reid, who can be a Devin Hester-like game changer. If the Cougs’ defense can be as strong as they have shown in their first two games, then the offense will do the rest. If they fail to contain the Seminoles’ offense, this could turn into a shoot-out. I believe the defense will come through again.

Players to Watch - BYU: QB Max Hall, TE Dennis Pitta, RB Bryan Kariya, RB J.J. Di Luigi

Players to Watch - FSU: QB Christian Ponder, WR Richard Goodman, CB/KR Greg Reid

Prediction: BYU 26, FSU 19

Other Games to Watch:

Boise State @ Fresno State:

Kellen Moore leads the Blue Turf Darlings to Fresno for their first road game of the season. He has turned into the leader of this team in the season’s early going and will be the key to a Boise St. victory. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs look to get back on track after letting a 14-point lead slip away and losing in overtime at Camp Randall against the Badgers. This will be a fun match-up to watch as the high-powered Bulldog offense looks to put a dent in the physical Broncos’ defense.
Prediction: Boise State 34, Fresno State 24

Tulsa @ Oklahoma:

In-state rivals collide as the Sooners look to make it two straight wins after the injury to Sam Bradford. Red-shirt freshman quarterback Landry Jones will try to repeat his performance of last week where he was 18-of-32 for 286 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. The Sooners’ defense will have its hands full against the high-powered Tulsa offense, which has led the nation in total offense the past two seasons. They have averaged 450 yards in their first two games this season and this battle will come down to the Golden Hurricane offense versus the Oklahoma defense.
Prediction: Oklahoma 45, Tulsa 31

TCU vs. Texas State:

The Frogs’ defense looked sharp in their season opener in Virginia and will hope to build on that momentum. Their offense looked stagnant at times and will try and get it together against a Texas State defense that allowed 28 points to Angelo State in their season opener.
Prediction: TCU 30, Texas State 10

Utah @ Oregon:

The Utes will take the nation’s longest current winning streak to Eugene to take on the Ducks. Quarterback Terrance Cain and running back Matt Asiata look to get the offense back on track after a mediocre performance last week against San Jose St. The task will not be easy, though, as the Ducks are 5-0 against ranked opponents at Autzen Stadium since 1995.
Prediction: Utah 27, Oregon 23

Photos Courtesy of Jaren Wilkey/BYU, Boise St. University

Monday, September 14, 2009

2010 NFL Draft Top 10 Tight End Prospects

NFL Draft Guru Justin Van Fulpen ranks his Top 10 tight ends for the 2010 NFL Draft.

1. Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma - Gresham is out for the whole season this season with a knee injury, but he is expected to be back at 100% by April, the question will be will he use this as a red-shirt year and come back next season or will he enter the NFL Draft. If he entered last year draft he would have been a top fifteen pick if he would have entered this year draft. He has the size and speed that teams look for in a receiving tight end. He is a better receiver then Brandon Pettigrew would was a first round pick in this pass year NFL draft, but in not as good of a blocker and need to get better in that aspect of his game. He could use to get stronger and add some bulk and I think that would help his blocking come along. Last season Gresham has 66 catches for 950 yards, and lead the team with 14 touchdowns. His 14 touchdowns is more touchdown grabs during the season than any TE in school history.

2. Ed Dickson, Oregon -
Dickson had a proactive junior season with 35 catches for 508 yards and 3 touchdowns, with three guys playing quarterback. Dickson is a big receiving tight end at 6-5 243, and has good hands, and is a good overall athlete. He needs to working on his blocking ability to become more of a complete tight end, but has the ability to do that. If Oregon has a quarterback that can stay in the starting line-up, Dickson will have the ability to show his skills and can move up teams draft boards.

3. Jeron Mastrud, Kansas State -
Last season Mastrud had 38 catches for 435 yards and 2 touchdowns. He has great size at 6-5 246 and good size and does a nice job in his inline blocking, but also a good enough receiver to get down the field and makes plays in the passing game. He has the ability to be a good tight end at the next level and should put up good stats as senior for Kansas State.

4. Dennis Pitta, Brigham Young -
Talk about a receiving tight end, Pitta caught 83 passes for 1,083 yards and 6 touchdowns last season. He has good hands, and a very good route running and can be used spilt out in the slot to stretch the field. He has good size at 6-4 246, and can block when asked, but catching the ball is his best skill as a tight end. He needs to get better as an inline blocker, and add some strength to become a complete tight end at the next level, but he isn’t that far off now.

5. Anthony McCoy, USC -
McCoy has great size at 6-5 255 pounds, and last season caught 22 passes for 256 yards and only one touchdown. NFL scouts like he size, and think he is a good athlete, he just needs to be more consistent in his route running ability. He has the ability to become a bigger threat in the passing game this season, and if he improves on his blocking, McCoy has a large upside.

6. Nate Byham, Pittsburgh - Byham is a good all-around tight end who can block well and make plays downfield, and last season had 20 catches for 260 yards and scored a touchdown. He underwent off-season knee surgery after sustaining a patellar dislocation in last year's 11th game, and should return 100% healthy but that is something to watch.

7. Michael Hoomanawanui, Illinois - Hoomanawanui is just a big strong tight end at 6-3 270 pounds and can move. He has very good blocking skills and is able to move and could be asked to be an H-Back at the next level. Last season he had 25 catches for 312 yards and 2 touchdowns, which is good for a team where they are run first in Illinois. He could improve his route running ability to become more of an offense weapon.

8. Andrew Quarless, Penn State -
Quarless is another typical Big Ten tight end who is asked to block first and then become a receiver second, and last season only caught 11 passes for 117 yards and 1 touchdown. But Quarless is not just another added offensive linemen, he is a good athlete with good size at 6-5 250 who can move. He should be more involved in the passing game this season, allowing scouts to get a better look at his receiving and route running skills.

9. Nathan Overbay, Eastern Washington -
Overbay has good overall size for a tight end at 6-5 270 pounds and is a very good blocker in both the running and passing game. He has 28 catches for 364 yards and 2 touchdowns last season and has the ability to put up better stats as a senior. He is a good receiver, but doesn’t have great speed to be able to stretch the field and could improve on his route running but is a good overall athlete.

10. Richard Dickson, LSU -
If Dickson wasn’t only 6-2 240 pounds he would be higher on the list, because he does everything well for a tight end, he is a good blocker and a good receiver who had 31 catches for 324 yards and 4 touchdowns last season. Despite his size he has shown the ability to block defensive linemen and can get down the field as a receiver. He isn’t a blazer, but has good enough speed for a tight end, and might end up moving to an H-Back position or FB at the next level.

Photos Courtesy of OU Athletics Department, University of Pittsburgh, SEC Sports Media

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Big Ten: Spartans LeSick with a LeFevour


For Michigan State’s showdown with the Chippewas of Central Michigan, I was figuring the quarterbacks in green would out-play the all-time MAC leader in yards, Dan LeFevour. It’s too late for take-backs, so let’s give LeFevour his due. The “Tim Tebow of the Midwest” finished 33-for-46 for 328 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He also ran for ten yards and caught one pass for 24 yards deep in Michigan State territory on a throwback pass from wide receiver Antonio Brown.

The biggest play came late, when LeFevour connected for his third touchdown pass with under a minute left in the game on a wheel route to Paris Cotton out of the backfield. A failed two-point conversion attempt (going for the win) forced Central Michigan to attempt an onside kick, which was executed perfectly by kicker Andrew Aquila. LeFevour then guided the ball down to Michigan State’s 25, where Aquila squeezed his kick just inside the uprights to solidify the upset 29-27.

On the other side of the ball, Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol combined for 16-of-26 passing, 215 yards and two touchdowns. I like that the new gunslingers are yet to throw an interception. But as a team, the Spartans were unable to give themselves enough possessions to finish off the Chippewas–they lost the time-of-possession battle 33:25 to 26:35. That won’t cut it when Michigan State is lacking consistent quick-strike capabilities, despite marching down the field in exactly 2:00 to score the opening touchdown of the game.

In individual performances, receiver Blair White looks solid, hauling in seven receptions for 105 yards (on top of his 9-for-162, two touchdowns last week). Stud linebacker Greg Jones, without having official statistics, had his name called often, and as predicted, is making life less than pleasant blitzing quarterbacks more so this season.

All is far from lost for Michigan State, but certainly momentum takes a big hit, especially with Notre Dame next on the schedule. I hate to say “must win” just yet, but if they lose next week, they then have Wisconsin sandwiched between their in-state showdown with Michigan to kick off conference action.

Photos Courtesy of Michigan State Athletic Communications, Robert Barclay Central Michigan

Friday, September 11, 2009

Big Ten - Week 2 Preview


USC @ Ohio St. -
Notre Dame @ Michigan - Click to Read Preview

Central Michigan at Michigan State: Quarterback Dan LeFevour (18-for-31, 108 yards, one interception) was abysmal as the Chippewas lost to Arizona, 19-6. Watch him try to get back to potential while he squares off against the Spartans’ quarterbacking duo, Keith Nichol and Kirk Cousins. This will be a better barometer of the Spartans’ defense as well.
MSU 31, CMU 9

Syracuse at Penn State:
Constant disrupter defensive tackle Jared Odrick was certainly the standout last week for Penn State, with the silver going to Daryll Clark (29-for-40, 355 yards, three touchdowns, one interception) and the bronze to Derick Moye, who stepped up big in the receiving corps (6 catches, 138 yards, touchdown). Look for much-improved run blocking this week (they better!) and the front seven forcing Syracuse’s Greg Paulus to make bounce passes through his earhole.
Penn State 37, Syracuse 9

Iowa at Iowa State: Which is worse: last week against FCS Northern Iowa, the Hawkeyes 1) were outgained 354 to 329 in total yards, 2) gave up 270 yards passing, 3) managed only 87 yards rushing, or 4) needed two blocked field goals to steal the win at home? That defense better more inspired, and the Hawkeyes must find a patchwork solution to their vacant rushing attack.
(Only because Iowa can’t start with an almost loss and then a loss)
Iowa 20, Iowa State 17

Purdue at Oregon:
Do I dare set-up for the upset of the week? Disarray in Eugene, the loss of their starting running back for the season, and Purdue looking very strong out of the gate (52-31 over Toledo)? No. Purdue will not have an answer for quarterback Jeremiah Masoli in front of the Duck faithful.
Oregon 27, Purdue 14

Fresno State at Wisconsin: The home-and-home series returns to Camp Randall, where Northern Illinois almost stole one late from the Badgers. Call this one the Battle of the Bulge as Fresno State pounded the ball for 310 yards rushing and a 7.9 average versus the Zach Brown/John Clay tank brigade. If Clay healed this week, the Badgers will out-bruise in a close one.
Wisconsin 21, Fresno State 16

Air Force at Minnesota:
The good–Adam Weber to Eric Decker looks like the passer-receiver combo of the conference. The bad–besides dedicating themselves to a physical rushing attack, the Gophers mustered only 112 yards rushing. The ugly–they almost lost to a team (Syracuse) with a point guard starting at quarterback and face an Air Force squad that put up 474 yards rushing last week. Home/Stadium-opening delight as Minnesota plays host outdoors to Air Force and squeaks by.
Minnesota 21, Air Force 20

Western Michigan at Indiana: Will the real Tim Hiller please stand up? Hopefully for the Hoosiers, he won’t do so this week. Will the real Ben Chappell please stand up? The Indiana quarterback threw for 326 yards on 27-for-36 passing and one touchdown. If that’s for real, then Indiana might be OK in the pistol.
Indiana 24, Western Michigan 21

Eastern Michigan at Northwestern:
Coach Pat Fitzgerald has his team off to a good start as they easily handled Towson last week, 47-14. Eastern Michigan brings former Michigan defensive coordinator Ron English back to the conference. English’s debut wasn’t pretty, as his squad dropped a 27-14 decision to Army. Pssst–Coach Fitz…run-the-football. Central Michigan’s defense gave away real estate in fire-sale fashion, giving up 300 yards to the Black Knights.
Northwestern 33, Eastern Michigan 10

Illinois St at Illinois:
As I picked Illinois as a potential contender for the Big Ten title (which of course is still in hand notwithstanding the drubbing handed out by Missouri last week in St. Louis), I now stand on shaky ground in understanding what to expect this week. It’s against Illinois State, who gave up almost 400 yards to Eastern Illinois last week and managed 20 yards rushing? Oh…
Illinois 56, Illinois State 3

Photos Courtesy of Robert Barclay/Central Michigan, University of Minnesota Athletic Communications

Game Preview: Notre Dame @ Michigan


Last year, I suggested that the Notre-Michigan rivalry was far from dead, which was received about as well as a wet ball on a punt return for the Wolverines. But here we are, looking at this year’s match-up as a tell-all for who might be in BCS contention this year. Has the hype begun to over-inflate worse than the American dollar? Obviously, yes…but even if it is after only one game, both teams look like they are ready to put on perhaps the best, or at least most intriguing, show of the week.

When Notre Dame has the ball

Being on this side of the rivalry, it’s very hard to ignore the potential this year’s Fighting Irish has heaving the ball down the field. Albeit against WAC opponents and reaching back to last year’s Hawaii Bowl, Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen has combined for 37-for-44 passing (84 percent), 716 yards, nine touchdowns and zero interceptions in his last two starts. The bread and butter for Clausen and company is stretching the field vertically with Michael Floyd (last week averaged 47.3 yards/catch and scored three times) and Golden Tate (19.7 yards/catch last week). Look for them to match up with Michigan’s heralded junior cornerback Donovan Warren and upcoming sophomore Boubacar Cissoko. Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, who's Orange upset the Irish in South Bend last season, is installing an attacking approach on all levels of the defense, demonstrated nicely in the Wolverines lock down of Western Michigan’s NFL prospect Tim Hiller, who finished 22-for-38 for 258 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. This newfound aggression, however, led to several Michigan mistakes in the secondary last week, including multiple pass interference calls on Warren, and a horrible bite from the secondary on a long play-action pass, leading to the Broncos only score. Michigan faces a serious upgrade in Notre Dame’s receiving corps, which also includes five-star tight end Kyle Rudolph (6-6, 260). Rudolph finished last week as the second-leading receiver with four grabs and a touchdown. Expect him to be matched up against an undersized opponent in Stevie Brown (6-0, 211), now playing the hybrid linebacker/safety position.

If I were calling the shots for Notre Dame, that is, if I were to score a coaching internship, I would line up in 11 formations (one running back, one tight end, three receivers). Michigan showed a lack of depth in their cornerbacks–when Cissoko went down with an injury last week, Hiller had success passing. Cissoko’s replacement, red-shirt sophomore J.T. Floyd, did not have a good opening day, looking lost in coverage. I would then stretch the field on the outside and counter Michigan’s aggressiveness with double moves and play-action. With the defense stretched, Rudolph and their third receiver (possibly Deion Walker?) should be open all day and in mismatches. Michigan’s safety position has not been solid since Ernie Shazor in 2004, and Michigan is working with inexperience back there with Troy Woolfolk and Michael Williams.

When Michigan has the ball

I think the two people who forgot that true freshmen were starting for the Wolverines were the freshmen themselves–Dernard “Shoelaces” Robinson and Tate Forcier. They played about as well as anyone could have asked, combining for 197 yards passing, 111 yards rushing and four touchdowns. The positive signs after week one were 1) surpassing their game-high rushing total of 2008 on opening day with 242 yards and 2) winning the turnover battle with a +two margin. Expect Michigan to continue to shuffle in speed and playmakers, especially with wide receiver Junior Hemmingway (five receptions, 103 yards, two touchdowns) listed as questionable. Greg Mathews must step up at the X on the outside if Hemmingway is unavailable. If Brandon Minor can return to the backfield, he will only add to a stable of backs loaded with game-breaking potential. I would expect Michigan to establish the run with a mixture of Carlos Brown, Minor, and Kevin Grady between the tackles, complemented by Michael Shaw, Vincent Smith, the slots and the quarterbacks stretching the field horizontally. Notre Dame wreaked havoc on a Nevada offense that is traditionally solid, limiting them to 149 yards passing and two interceptions. The advantage Michigan would seem to have would be their speed and playmaking ability on the ground. I don’t suspect a repeat performance by Forcier with the aerial attack, as Notre Dame’s secondary is solid and augmented by the zone blitzing scheme of a John Tenuta defense.

Prediction The keys to the game for Michigan are to contain Notre Dame’s passing game, to control the offense on the ground and limit quarterback mistakes. This will be a fun one for everyone to watch, but in the end, not so fun for those pulling for the maize and blue.
Notre Dame 41, Michigan 35

Big Ten - Game of the Week


Game of the Week: USC at Ohio State

So last year’s game against the Trojans didn’t work out so well for the Buckeyes as they went down hard, 35-3, and looked overmatched in just about every phase of the game. The difficulty is looking at this year’s game not as the 5th-8th quarters of last year, but as just another chapter in the rivalry. While USC cruised over, through, and around San Jose State with 342 yards rushing (surrendering just nine yards on the ground), last week’s 31-27 escape by the Buckeyes over Navy doesn’t help assuage the feeling for some that Ohio State lacks a chance against the perennial BCS contender.

On paper, the Trojans and Buckeyes share the burden of having to replace playmakers on both sides of the ball, particularly at the linebacker position. The obvious mirror of this game compared to last year’s encounter is that USC will have to roll out a freshman quarterback on the road in a BCS game with Matt Barkley. Although Barkley’s statistics were solid (15-for-19, 233 yards, one touchdown) in his debut, they were obviously inflated against a weak opponent. Likewise, he wasn’t forced to make plays early–his first collegiate touchdown pass came after USC had hit paydirt five consecutive times rushing. My suspicion is that the Trojans will be successful rushing against the Buckeyes; however, Barkley will probably need to make some plays without the luxury of a five-touchdown cushion.

If the Buckeyes have a chance to win at the end of the game, it’s because:
1. Coach Jim Tressel unlocked the playbook and rolled out more option plays for Terrelle Pryor.
2. Pryor didn’t throw the costly interception, Barkley did.
3. The Buckeyes front four got enough gap penetration to close down running lanes for Joe McKnight, Stafon Johnson et al.

If the Trojans have a chance to win at the end of the game, it’s because:
1. The running back stable let their horses run wild like they did last week…
2. Which allowed Barkley to assume the “game manager role”, not be relied upon to dig USC out of 3rd-and-longs.
3. Pryor is contained by the front seven, which left free safety Taylor Mays in centerfield to lock down the secondary.

My knee-jerk reaction to predicting this game was that USC would handle the Buckeyes with a double-digit victory. However, after researching how last year played out, I found some interesting intangibles, which could impact how we perceive the balance of power between the two teams.

Call this the “Why you should think twice before handing the game to the Trojans” List:
1. USC, in preparation for their 2008 showdown against the Buckeyes, cashed in on an extra week of practice with a bye. No such luck this year.
2. All of USC’s scoring last year (five touchdowns) came from players now in the NFL (Mark Sanchez threw four touchdown passes, Rey Maualuga returned an interception).
3. Home field swings back to Columbus–at night.
4. A true freshman starts at quarterback for the Trojans this year.
5. Bad luck struck Ohio State early–running back Beanie Wells was out with an injury and a holding penalty nullified a potential Buckeye touchdown.
6. The quarterback shuffle failed Ohio State–sixth-year senior Todd Boeckman threw a pick-six (two total interceptions) and was sacked four times. Pryor, as a freshman, went 7-for-9 (for only 52 yards) and was sacked only once, but was still able to pick up positive rushing yards (40 yards on 11 carries).

Final Prediction:
I thought twice about it, and after all that, I still think USC wins, but in a lower scoring game with a smaller margin of victory. If the Midshipmen can put up 186 yards rushing in Columbus, I am uncertain USC will fare worse. And that will be the difference.
USC 24, Ohio State 20

Photos Courtesy of The Ohio State Department of Athletics, College Press Box

Big East - Week Two Preview


This week’s theme for the Big East is re-matches–four teams are playing out of conference opponents that they played a year ago. For Connecticut, Syracuse and West Virginia it’s an opportunity to avenge losses. Still, with conference play weeks away, the majority of this Saturday’s games will be tune-ups.

West Virginia 32, East Carolina 21:
There’s no doubt the Mountaineers will be looking for revenge this week at home after last year‘s beat down at East Carolina. Motivation and Morgantown aside, Noel Devine will be too much for the Pirates defense in the end. East Carolina’s offense, led by senior quarterback Patrick Pinkney, will put up some points…but not another upset.

North Carolina 23, Connecticut 14: It’s no secret that Connecticut has an aggressive rushing attack led by sophomore Jordan Todman. But the Tar Heels will be gearing up to stop the run and force Huskies quarterback Zach Frazer to beat them, and he won’t. North Carolina has some quarterback questions themselves, but their talented defenders will secure victory in East Hartford.

Penn State 36, Syracuse 20: It’s nice to see this rivalry renewed—it’s just too bad it comes during the dark days of Syracuse football. Sure, there were some positives from last week’s loss to Minnesota but the same problems on the offensive line and a lack of offensive skill players leaves them with little chance of seeing the light in Happy Valley. Watch how Syracuse’s defensive line plays against the fifth-ranked team in the country, especially pro prospect Arthur Jones and the new kid on the block, true freshman Brandon Sharpe. If they are able to hang around in this one, it will be the Orange’s defense that allows them to do so.

Pittsburgh 32, Buffalo 14: The match-up between Buffalo wide-out Naaman Roosevelt and Pittsburgh’s Aaron Berry will be more compelling then the actual game. Last season Roosevelt finished with more receptions than Michael Crabtree, more yards than Jeremy Maclin, and more touchdowns than Marshawn Gilyard. This will be a great battle between two pro prospects. Player Spotlight: With Jonathan Baldwin’s size, how can he not have a big game in Buffalo?

South Florida 28, Western Kentucky 7: The Hilltoppers are currently on a nine-game losing streak and haven’t defeated a FBS school since 2007. The Bulls could drop the ball, look ahead, or not show up and still win this week. Freshman Watch: Lindsey Lamar is a speedy all-purpose back who sees action both as a running back and receiver. A breakout game versus Western Kentucky is not out of the question.

Cincinnati 64, SE Missouri State 14: And you thought Cincinnati looked good last week? Yikes, this one will get ugly.

Rutgers 38, Howard 7: This is a good chance for Rutgers to get last week’s loss out of their heads and out of the minds of the Scarlet Knights faithful. A blowout win is always the best way to turn the page. True freshman quarterback Tom Savage makes his debut as a starter.

Last Week’s Record: 7-0 (kind of, I had Cincinnati only winning by three)

Photos Courtesy of WVU Sports Communication

BCS Busters Week Two Preview

Game of the Week: East Carolina @ West Virginia

The first test for the Pirates will be a hard one. Morgantown is one of the toughest places to play in all of college football. Quarterback Patrick Pinkney needs to get over his week one performance and play the way a veteran quarterback of his caliber can play if ECU is to beat a good West Virginia team. They will also need to stop the Mountaineers’ potent rushing attack led by running back Noel Devine, who rushed for 112 yards and one touchdown on just 17 attempts against Liberty. Mountaineer quarterback Jarrett Brown will be hard to contain due to his ability to get out of the pocket and run. He rushed for 69 yards and a touchdown while going 19-of-26 for 243 yards. If they can contain these two playmakers of West Virginia and limit their turnovers on offense, they should leave Morgantown with a win.

Players to Watch:
East Carolina: QB Patrick Pinkney, RB Dominique Lindsay, DE C.J. Wilson

Players to Watch: West Virginia: QB Jarrett Brown, RB Noel Devine, CB Robert Sands

Prediction: West Virginia 27, East Carolina 20

Other Games to Watch:

TCU @ Virginia:
The Frogs get a lowly ACC opponent in Virginia who is coming off a loss to William & Mary. This should be a good way for the Frogs to get into the swing of things to start their season. Look for Jerry Hughes to get into the backfield and disrupt the offense of Virginia.
Prediction: TCU 24, Virginia 17

Fresno State @ Wisconsin: Fresno State is coming off an offensive outburst against UC Davis, led by a number of backs who are able to carry the ball effectively. They now have to get the ground game going against a much tougher Wisconsin defense if they want to emerge victorious.
Prediction: Wisconsin 35, Fresno State 21

Colorado @ Toledo: After carrying the ball only 22 times and throwing 69 times against Purdue, the Rockets will need to find their run game if they are to have a chance against Colorado.
Prediction: Colorado 39, Toledo 14

Kansas @ UTEP:
The Miners will need to slow down the Jayhawks’ offense and succeed in their balanced attack—as they did against Buffalo—in order to come out of this one with a win.
Prediction: Kansas 31, UTEP 20

Photos Courtesy of East Carolina University Athletic Media Relations, TCU Athletics Media Relations

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Big East Week One Review


Best game: This one wins by default–considering the week consisted of mostly blowouts, Minnesota’s overtime victory over Syracuse was by far the most competitive contest. Greg Paulus played a sound game under center in his collegiate football debut, going 19-for-31 with a touchdown, a strike which found a wide-open Mike Williams late in the first quarter. More impressive was how he and the Syracuse team responded after the first snap of the game sailed over Paulus’ head and was recovered by Minnesota deep in Orange territory. Despite renewed spirit and improved play, the story didn’t have a happy ending: it was Paulus’ interception, thrown in the team’s first series in overtime, which led to the Gophers’ 23-20 victory. The turning point of the game was Syracuse’s inability to move the ball on offense after halftime. They did not score any points and only managed a total of 38 yards in their six second-half possessions.

Team of the week: It was about midway through the first quarter when Cincinnati emerged as the conference favorite once again. Getting ahead of ourselves? Perhaps, but the Bearcats looked that good in their manhandling of Rutgers in a 47-15 romp. Quarterback Tony Pike was perfect on the team’s first drive, leading them 81 yards down the field for a touchdown. He and the Cats never looked back. Pike finished the game with 362 yards passing and three touchdowns. The offense was running on all cylinders, from the line to the wide-outs. Most impressive were Marshwan Gilyard, who pulled down eight receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown, and sophomore D.J Woods, who posted a career-high 71 receiving yards and made an outstanding reaching grab to set up the team’s first touchdown. For a defense that had a ton of question marks, Cincinnati made a lot big plays against the run and picked off three Rutgers passes. Senior Aaron Webster had one of those interceptions and laid the hit of the week on Rutgers receiver Tim Brown. It’s way too early to crown anyone just yet, but Cincinnati couldn’t have started their quest in more impressive fashion.

Laying an egg:
For Rutgers, the season opener was a chance to start off a promising season with a conference victory while they unveiled their newly-renovated stadium…but they were flat-out humiliated. The team looked unprepared and out-coached—on the opening drive the Scarlet Knights’ defense played like they had never seen a no-huddle offense before. The quarterback play was just awful and the offensive line, the unit that was supposed to be the most stable on the team, didn’t provide space for the running backs to shine. It was an all-around disaster.

Freshman Watch: Pittsburgh isn’t ready to anoint Dion Lewis the next LeSean McCoy just yet, although the 5’ 8” tailback surely looked like an all-conference player in week one, propelling the Panthers to a 38-3 victory over Youngstown State. On 20 carriers he rushed for 129 yards and his two touchdowns in the first half put the Penguins away early.

The one bright spot for Rutgers in week one was the play of freshman Mohamed Sano. The 6’ 2” receiver showed good hands and size and caught a couple of tough throws in traffic. The freshman from New Jersey finished with ten total catches for 101 yards. Sano also caught a two-point conversion thrown from fellow freshman, quarterback Tom Savage. This glimpse into the future of Rutgers’ offense was the lone positive in the game for the Knights.

Best player you never heard of: Last year, Connecticut defensive end Lindsey Witten was limited because the Huskies rotated their defensive ends. Now the team is relying on the senior to step up, and he didn’t disappoint in the team’s opener—he was a playmaker, recording two sacks and a safety in Connecticut’s 23-16 win. Expect him to be among the conference’s sack leaders by year’s end.

Photo Courtesy of the University of Cincinnati