Marshall @ #11 West Virginia
- Game time: 11:00
- TV: FX
- Sirius Channel: 91
- The Spread: West Virginia -25
The Lowdown: Instate rivals Marshall and West Virginia meet on Saturday for the seventh straight season. The Thundering Herd have never beaten West Virginia trailing the all-time series 11-0.
Last season the Mountaineers knocked off Marshall 34-13 in a game that was halted early in the fourth quarter due to a serious storm system that rolled through Morgantown. The final stoppage was the second of the game and followed a three hour delay in the third quarter.
Last season's opener against West Virginia was the first ever start for Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato who got the starting nod as a true freshman. He returns to start again in 2012 with a year of experience under his belt and will lead an offense that returns eight starters from last year's 7-6 team that included a win in the Beef 'O' Brady bowl over Florida International.
For West Virginia, expectations couldn't be much higher as the Mountaineers begin the first season in the Big 12. Dana Holgorsen's team begins the year ranked 11th in both the USA Today Coaches and AP polls. Many expect West Virginia to contend for the Big 12 title in just their first year in the league and they certainly have the fire power on the offense to hang with any team in the country.
Quarterback Geno Smith begins his senior season as a Heisman contender after throwing for 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2011. He'll be flanked by two of the best wide receivers in the country in Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. West Virginia also returns an offensive line that has started a combined 99 games during their careers led by center Joe Madsen who has started 38 games by himself.
Marshall, Keys to the Game: Keep it within reach early. This really goes without saying for any game, but West Virginia' offense can put points on the board in a hurry and before a team has a chance to catch their breath, they're down by 21. That can change a team's game plan before they ever really get into it and then things start to snowball.
Speaking of game plans, with a rather inexperienced defense - Marshall lost their top four tacklers from last season - it'll be up to offense to control the ball and utilize the running game with Travon Van likely to carry the load given that last year's leading rusher, Tron Martinez has been ruled out due to a lingering knee injury.
Marshall also has a pair of talented receivers in Aaron Dobson and Antavious Wilson that will need to do their part to help put points on the board for a team that finished 102nd in the country in 2011 averaging 333 yards per game.
West Virginia, Keys to the Game:
We all know about West Virginia's offense, but this is the first game (at West Virginia, at least) for new co-defensive coordinator's Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson. The Mountaineers spent the spring installing a new 3-4 defensive scheme which will be debuted on Saturday.
Anytime new systems are installed, there are going to be a few hiccups. What West Virginia needs to avoid is communication break downs that get guys out of place and allow Marshall to bust a couple big plays and get some momentum going.
The Prediction: West Virginia rolls. It's always tough predicting what happens in the season's opening game, not to mention one between instate rivals, but West Virginia simply has too many weapons on offense for Marshall to handle. This is year number two in Holgorsen's system for an offense that returns nine starters. The real question should be does West Virginia top 50 points? I say yes. West Virginia 52 Marshall 20.
Tulsa @ Iowa State
- Game time: 2:30
- TV: FSN
- Sirius Channel: 117
- The Spread: Tulsa +1
The Lowdown: From a purely competitive standpoint, this should be the best game of the day in the Big 12. Tulsa will bring a veteran squad to Ames that will include 13 seniors in the starting lineup. This is the second straight season Tulsa will open on the road against a Big 12 opponent after falling to Oklahoma, 47-14, in Norman last season. Iowa State is no Oklahoma but that doesn't mean the Cyclones won't present a stiff challenge for a team expected to contend for the C-USA title.
Iowa State will counter Tulsa's experience with 14 senior starters itself which includes one of the best linebacker duos in the country in A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. ISU will also welcome running back Shontrelle Johnson back to the lineup after recovering from a serious neck injury although he'll share the load with starter James White and backup Jeff Woody.
Iowa State, Keys to the Game: Limit turnovers. Quarterback Steele Jantz had his share of problems throwing interceptions during his stint on the field in 2011. That has been a point of emphasis throughout the spring and fall camp as ISU transitions to offensive coordinator Courtney Messinghman who takes over the reins from the departed Tom Herman. If Jantz can operate with the efficiency that won him the starting job during fall camp, Iowa State should be able to have some success while leaning on their strong running game that includes Jantz himself making plays outside the pocket.
Tulsa, Keys to the Game: Tulsa is breaking in a new quarterback after G.J. Kinnie exhausted his eligibility. Former Nebraska QB Cody Green is now the man in charge. This won't be Green's first start at Jack Trice Stadium, however. He led Nebraska to a 31-30 overtime victory over Iowa State in 2010 playing in place of Taylor Martinez.
Green will need to show poise in his first start at Tulsa, something that should be much easier considering Tulsa will be able to rely on two very good running backs, Ja'Terian Douglas and Trey Watts, who combined to rush for 1,764 yards last season. If Tulsa can approach the 200 yard rushing mark on Saturday, they stand a good chance to head home with victory in their back pocket.
Looking at this game on paper, it's no surprise Tulsa is the slight favorite. My gut tells me, however, Iowa State finds a way to start the season 1-0.
The jury is still out on Steele Jantz, but I think he will have a much better year than he did in 2011. He's now 100% healthy and has plenty of time to acclimate himself to BCS level football after taking the junior college route. Behind a strong opening performance from Jantz and a Cyclone defense that is able to slow down the Tulsa rushing attack, the Cyclones win. Iowa State 27 Tulsa 21.
South Dakota State @ Kansas
- Game time: 6:00
- TV: Jayhawk Network
- Sirius Channel: 104
- The Spread: N/A
The Lowdown: The Charlie Weis era begins. There's plenty of excitement in Lawrence surrounding their football team following two disastrous seasons under Turner Gill. Of course excitement might not been more wins, but you have to start somewhere.
South Dakota State comes in after a 5-6 season and a 4-4 finish in the Missouri Valley. The Jackrabbits are picked to finish sixth in the preseason MVC poll. SDSU will most likely enter the contest minus their starting quarterback, Austin Sumner, who was injured last week in practice and is doubtful to play on Saturday. He started the final eight games of the year in 2011. If Sumner can't go, the starting job falls to redshirt freshman Eric Kline.
The Prediction: Kansas rolls. There will be plenty of speed bumps of Kansas this season but this won't be one of them. The Jayhawks have better-than-you-think talent on offense plus Weis' system with Dayne Crist running it. The defense will be a different story throughout the season, but the Jackrabbits simply don't have the talent to exploit it. Kansas 44 South Dakota State 17.
Savannah State @ #19 Oklahoma State
- Game time: 6:00
- TV: Fox College Sports
- Sirius Channel: 138
- The Spread: N/A
The Lowdown: Let's keep this one short. Savannah State is coming off a 1-10 season which followed another 1-10 season, which followed a 2-8 season and on down the line. Freshman quarterback Wes Lunt will likely have some growing pains during his first year as a college quarterback, but on Saturday night, he will probably look a lot like Brandon Weeden.
The Prediction: Oklahoma State - A lot, Savannah State - not very much.
Northwestern State @ Texas Tech
- Game time: 6:00
- TV: FSSW+
- Sirius Channel: 125
- The Spread: N/A
The Lowdown: Northwestern State played at LSU last season (a 49-3 loss) so they've played on the biggest of stages. Jones AT&T Stadium isn't Death Valley, but it is still a very tough place to play.
The Demons are coming off back-to-back 5-6 seasons after finishing 0-11 in 2009. They've also played SMU, Air Force, Houston, and Baylor over the time albeit with little success getting outscored by a combined score of 277-52 in those matchups.
Northwestern State returns quarterback Brad Henderson who led the Demons in both rushing and passing a season ago. Defensively, NWSU has a couple FCS preseason All-American returning, but it's doubtful is they can do much to slow down what should be a very good Red Raider offense in 2012.
The Prediction: The Demon's have improved over the past couple seasons, but this shouldn't be anything more than a relatively easy tune up as Texas Tech begins their road back to postseason eligibility. All eyes should be on Tech's defense to see exactly how much different they look from a season ago, although this won't be the best barometer to judge just how much they have improved. Texas Tech 48 Northwestern State 14.
Missouri State @ #21 Kansas State
- Game time: 6:00
- TV: K-StateHD.TV
- Sirius Channel: 106
- The Spread: N/A
The Lowdown: For the second straight year, Missouri State opens on the road against a member of a BCS conference. Last season they traveled to Fayetteville to take on Arkansas (KSU's Cotton Bowl opponent) and left with a 51-7 loss. Two weeks later took on Oregon and ended with a similar result, a 56-7 drubbing. Even though they were one-sided affairs, you have to admire their willingness to play the best.
The Bears will head to Manhattan coming off a 2-9 season in 2011. They return quarterback Kierra Harris who started last season as a true freshman. The Bears also have Missouri transfer quarterback, Ashton Glaser, as their backup QB who could see playing time against K-State, as well.
Kansas State will be looking to pick up where they left off after winning 10 games a season ago. Saturday's game should provide a solid opportunity for KSU to break in a couple new offensive lineman that will be key to continuing the success of last season.
The Prediction: Kansas State shouldn't have much trouble with the Bears and if all goes as planned, KSU will be able to give quarterback Collin Klein a breather in the second half to save some of the pounding he'll take for later in the season. Of course, KSU needed a late fourth quarter touchdown to edge Eastern Kentucky 10-7 in last year's opener so anything is possible. I'd be shocked, however, if this one wasn't in the bag early in the second half. Kansas State 42 Missouri State 14.
Wyoming @ #15 Texas
- Game Time: 7:00
- TV: Longhorn Network
- Sirius Channel: 117
- The Spread: -31.5
The Lowdown: The has been plenty of debate this offseason on when Texas will return to the upper echelon of college football. While Saturday's game against Wyoming won't answer that question, it'll be our first glimpse into how much David Ash and the Texas offense has improved after a very mediocre showing last year.
The Cowboys are coming off an 8-5 season which included a a 37-15 loss to Temple in the New Mexico Bowl. Wyoming also battled Nebraska last season if you're looking for a competitive comparison to how Texas may (or may not) fare on Saturday. The Cowboys fell to the Huskers 38-14 in Laramie.
Wyoming is led by quarterback Brett Smith who had a very successful season in 2011 in his freshman season. He threw for over 2,600 yards and also led the Cowboys in rushing with another 710 yards coming on the ground. You can rest assured Manny Diaz's defense will be dialed in the Wyoming QB when things get underway on Saturday night.
Texas, Keys to the Game: While Brian Harsin and the Texas offense aren't going to put all their cards on the table in the season opener, the Longhorns need to prove they can move the ball consistently against a inferior opponent. Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron will get plenty of touches in the early going which should help open up things in the passing game for Ash, Jordan Shipley and the Texas receiving corps. Can Ash answer the bell? I say yes, mainly because Harsin is likely to call a good dose of high percentage passes to help Ash build some confidence.
If Texas fails to mount any kind of momentum against Wyoming, questions will continue to linger at the position that has given the Longhorns headaches the past two seasons.
Wyoming, Keys to the Game: The Cowboys head coach, Dave Christensen, is an excellent offensive mind and he has a quarterback that's more than capable of running his offense. That being said, can the Cowboys put a dent in one of the best defenses in the country? Look for the Cowboys to run plenty of jailbreak screen type plays (and screens in general) in hopes of catching Texas napping while trying to generate a couple long gains, not to mentio trying to thwart a Texas pass rush that will be tough for the average sized Wyoming O-line to handle. If they can break a big play or two early, who knows what can happen.
The Prediction: Wyoming could provide a nice opening test for Texas, but the Cowboys are simply going to be outmanned. I would expect Texas to eclipse the 200 yard mark rushing and for Ash to play a decent if now solid first game as the full-time starter. On defense, Texas will looking for a shutout but here's guessing Wyoming puts at least one score on the board even if it comes in garbage time. Texas 38 Wyoming 10
#4 Oklahoma @ UTEP
- Game Time: 9:30
- TV: FSN
- Sirius Channel: 92
- The Spread: OU -30
The Lowdown: The last time Oklahoma opened away from home was 2009 when they played BYU at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. Sam Bradford had decided to return for his senior season and promptly injured his shoulder in the first half effectively ending his season. Some guy named Landry Jones replaced him and led the Sooners to an 8-5 season amid of myriad of other injuries. Oklahoma started that season ranked #3 in the country.
That game will have absolutely no bearing on what happens Saturday night in El Paso other than to note a few of the similarities, namely traveling away from home, a highly touted quarterback returns, and OU starts the season near the top of the polls.
Of course, UTEP isn't nearly the team was BYU was in 2009 (the Cougars finished 11-2 in '09). Saturday night's tilt in the Sun Bowl shouldn't be anything more than a tune up for an offensive line missing a few key parts, the debut of a couple new OU wide receivers, and it will also provide a glimpse of a Sooner defense once again led by Mike Stoops.
Texas-El Paso does return their quarterback from a season ago. Nick Lamaison enters his senior season after throwing for 1718 yards as a junior and their leading receiver Mike Edwards is also back after catches 50 balls in 2011. The Miners return the bulk of their offensive line from last season, replacing only their left guard from last year's team.
On defense, UTEP brings backs 13 players that have started a game in their career. The only player who will be making his first collegiate start is left cornerback Darren Woodard. The first team defense lists eight seniors and three juniors as starters so even though only two of the top five tacklers from last season return, it's an experienced group overall.
Oklahoma, Keys to the Game: Get off to a fast start. Even though they're playing an inferior opponent, the Sooners don't want to leave any doubt who the better team is when they head into halftime. Crazy things can happen on the road so they'll want to put their foot on UTEP's throat early and keep it there.
Landry Jones wasn't his usual self the last part of the 2011 season and it'll be important for him to show that's behind him. Penn State transfer, receiver Justin Brown, should play a big part in making that happen. Who will become Jones go-to target remains to be seeen (Stills, Brown, or Metoyer most likely), but he needs develop that chemistry with his receiving corps sooner rather than later.
UTEP, Keys to the Game: The Miners' defense need to adjust to the tempo of OU's offense early in the game. Oklahoma will try and get as many offensive snaps off as they possibly can and if UTEP can't get lined up when and where they need too, it'll be 21-0 before they even knew what hit them.
Oklahoma's defense doesn't have many weaknesses, but if there is one, it may be in the depth of their interior defensive line. If the Miners can develop some resemblance of a running game - between the tackles - behind their experienced offensive line that could be a recipe for success on Saturday night. Otherwise, it could be a long night for a defense looking to prove it will once again be one of the best in the country.
The Prediction: The Sooners enter the contest as a 30 point favorite and if I was a betting man, let's just say I wouldn't be putting any money on UTEP. Oklahoma could have 30 points by halftime in cruising behind Jones and a defense that will be playing with a chip on their shoulder. Oklahoma 48 UTEP 14.
**Sunday night's Baylor - SMU preview will be posted on Saturday.