UPDATE: After the action from Saturday, I threw in the final score at the end of each preview to compare my pregame thoughts with what actually went down in the game. Overall, the picks were 5-1 straight up and 3-2 against the spread. The game thoughts? Well, I'll let you be the judge of that.
Northern Illinois at Iowa State
- Game time: Thursday 9/2 @ 7:00
- TV: Fox Sports Net (regional)
- Sirius Channel 153
- The Spread: Iowa State -4.5
The Lowdown: Paul Rhoads returns for his second season leading the Cyclones. In his first season as head coach, ISU exceeded expecations while finishing 7-6 and beating Minnesota in the Insigh Bowl. Iowa State hopes to return to a bowl for the second straight year, but will have to overcome one of the most difficult schedules in the country in order to do it.
Northern Illinois is one of the early favorites to win the MAC title. The Huskies will be experienced returning 15 starters from last year’s 7-6 squad. This will be the first of three match ups for NIU against BCS foes as they also travel to Illinois and Minnesota as part of their non-conference slate.
Northern Illinois, What to Watch For: The Huskies should be solid on offense as they return their top three skill position players; running back Chad Spann, quarterback Chandler Harnish and receiver Landon Cox. Harnish had a solid 2009 season throwing for 1670 yards while also rushing for 351 before taking away yards for sacks. Spann is one of the top returning backs in the MAC and should have a big year in 2010.
On defense, NIU finished first in the MAC last year giving up 330 yards a game. The Huskies return eight starters on that side of the ball and will provide a stern test for the Cyclones.
Iowa State, What to Watch For: The Cyclones should be solid on offense and need to get running back Alexander Robinson going in this one early. ISU will lean on Robinson, senior QB Austen Arnaud , and an experienced offense line looking to establish the run to help out an a defense which will feature several first year starters.
Speaking of defense, this won’t be any easy match up to open the season for Iowa State. Northern Illinois will try and exploit and inexperienced front seven for the Cyclones. ISU will start three linebackers with no starting experience that have combined for 40 career tackles. Iowa State will lean heavily on defensive end Rashawn Parker who returns after having his 2009 season end after four games due to a knee injury.
Final Take: Iowa State will be the first Big 12 school to take the field with this being a Thursday night match up. This should be one of the more competitive games of the weekend in the Big 12. If the young Cyclone defense can make a few stops, I like their chances. This should be close throughout, with Iowa State holding on at the end. Iowa State 28 - N. Illinois 27.
- The Line Iowa State -4.5
- Predicted: Iowa State 28 - N. Illinois 27
- Final Score: 27-10
Comment: Iowa State's offense looked as expected and their young defense stepped up in the opener. NIU has to be disappointed with their season opening effort.
Colorado vs. Colorado State (in Denver)
- Game time: 1:00
- TV: The Mountain Network
- Sirius Channel 126
- The Spread: Colorado -12
The Lowdown: Colorado State is coming off a 3-9 record, including an 0-8 mark in the Mountain West. They will lean on an experienced defense that returns eight starters. The pressure will be on the offense early in the season with a young offensive line and a true freshman starting at quarterback
The Buffaloes are also coming off a 3-9 season. They took a step back in the right direction naming Tyler Hansen the starting quarterback in fall camp, who won the battle over Cody Hawkins. The Buffaloes will look to avenge the season opening loss to CSU last year and gain some momentum in a crucial year for head coach Dan Hawkins who is 16-33 in his four years at CU.
Colorado State, What to Watch For: True freshman Pete Thomas will get the start for Colorado State at quarterback. The Rams will rely on UCLA transfer Raymond Carter in the running game to help take some of the early pressure off of Thomas. The Rams expect to rotate the backs with John Mosure also getting some carries early. Mosure rushed for 667 and seven TD’s last season.
Colorado, What to Watch For: Colorado finally decided on a starter at quarterback, junior Tyler Hansen. Good for Colorado. Now will they stick with him if things don’t go well early? He’ll have some talented receivers to work with in Scotty McKnight and Michigan transfer Toney Clemons. The offensive line includes preseason All-Big 12 selections Nate Solder and tackle and guard Ryan Miller. This unit needs to show improvement, however. They gave up a Big 12 worst 44 sacks in 2009.
Final Take: Saying this is an important season for Dan Hawkins is an understatement. Many believed he should have been let go after missing a bowl game again last year. But, he is back and should have an improved team if they can stay healthy. I would expect that Colorado takes care of business here and starts the season on the right foot. Let’s go with Colorado 31, Colorado State 14.
- The Line: Colorado -12
- Predicted: Colorado 31 Colorado State 14
- Final: Colorado 24 - Colorado Sate 3
Comment: It went about as expected. The Buffs D had a good first game giving up only 245 yards and only 49 rushing yards.
North Dakota State @ Kansas
- Game time: 6:00
- TV: Fox College Sports
- Sirius Channel 127
- The Spread: None (NDSU is a FCS school)
The Lowdown: Turner Gill will make his coaching debut for Kansas on Saturday night. Ironically, he will be matched up against NDSU who is coached by Craig Bohl. Bohl and Gill coached together while they served on Nebraska’s staff so they know each other well. Kansas hopes to get off to a good start after losing their three biggest playmakers from a year ago and put the Mark Mangino era officially in the rear view mirror.
North Dakota State, What to Watch For: The Bison are coming off a year in which they finished 3-8. They are predicted to finish sixth in the Missouri Valley preseason football poll. Jose Mohler will return at quarterback after starting the final four games last season as a freshman. The Bison also return their leading receiver, Warren Holloway. Overall, the Bison will field a young team with 15 freshmen on the two deep depth chart.
Kansas, What to Watch For: All eyes will be on Kale Pick who will open the season at quarterback. KU hasn’t ruled out using redshirt freshman Jordan Webb as well, but for now, Pick is the man. He will have big shoes to fill replacing the recording setting Todd Reesing under center.
In the backfield, sixth year senior Angus Quigley hopes to go out with bang. He started his career at running back, before spending 2009 at linebacker. He’s back and ready to carry the load for Kansas.
Final Take: North Dakota State won’t go easily, but KU should be able to overmatch the Bison in the trenches and start the Turner Gill era on a winning note. How about Kansas 31 – NDSU 17.
- Predicted: Kansas 31 - NDSU 17
- Final: NDSU 6 Kansas 3
Comment: A disappointing effort for the Jayhawks. The offense struggled all night despite changing QB's in the 2nd half. Costly interception in the end zone and two missed field goals were a killer. The defense did it's part giving up only 73 yards rushing and 95 passing but it still wasn't enough.
Missouri vs. Illinois (in St. Louis)
- Game time: 11:30
- TV: FSN
- Sirius Channel 91 (Mizzou broadcast) & 125 (Illinois broadcast)
- The Spread: Missouri -11.5
The Lowdown: Illinois finished a disappointing 3-9 last year but bring in two new coordinators in Paul Petrino and Vic Koenning. Petrino ran the offense last year at Arkansas and Koenning comes to Illinois via Kansas State. Despite the poor record, the Illini have the talent to make a jump up in the Big 10 standings and adding coordinators like Petrino and Koenning will make a big difference for Illinois.
Missouri got off to a fast start last season by beating Illinois 37-9. It was the first start for quarterback Blaine Gabbert who surprised many with his strong showing against the Illini. Gabbert is back for his junior season and figures to be one of the better QB’s in the Big 12. The Tigers will be without running back Derrick Washington who was dismissed from the team for an offseason felony charge.
Illinois, What to Watch For: Juice Williams graduated so Illinois will enter the contest with highly touted redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase running the offense. Scheelhaase is dual threat quarterback who could cause some issues for the Missouri D. Last year’s leading rusher, Mikel Leshoure, returns, giving Illinois a solid option on the ground.
Missouri, What to Watch For: Despite the loss of running back Derrick Washington, the Tigers should still have a potent offense with Gabbert running the show. The question, as usual with Missouri, is the defense. Last year’s defensive leader, Sean Weatherspoon, is now playing in the NFL. Replacing Spoon will not be easy. However, Mizzou returns one of the best defenders in the country, defense end, Aldon Smith. The combo of Smith rushing off the edge and Mizzou’s experienced secondary should give Scheelhaase problems in his first career start.
Final Take: Missouri took care of Illinois in surprisingly easy fashion to open the season last year. They will do it again, but the Illini should put up more of a fight this time around. Illinois defensive coordinator Vic Koenning knows the Missouri personnel from his time at Kansas State, but Gabbert will still put up big numbers. Missouri will score 30 plus points in the opener, beating the Illini 34-20.
- The Line: Missouri - 11.5
- Predicted Score: Missouri 34 - Illinois 20
- Final Score: Missouri 23 - Illiois 13
Comment: Missouri got out of the gate slowly, trailing 13-3 at halftime. Gabbert got it going in the 2nd half and the defense stepped up for the Tigers.
UCLA @ Kansas State
- Game time: 2:30
- TV: ABC (Regional)
- Sirius Channel 130 (UCLA broadcast) 122 (Kansas State broadcast)
- The Spread: Kansas State -1.5
The Lowdown: Bill Snyder begins his second season back in Manhattan after leading KSU to a 6-6 record and a 4-4 record in the Big 12 a season ago. Carson Coffman regained the starting quarterback job in fall camp after being replaced a by Grant Gregory last year. The Wildcars will play UCLA for the second straight season. The Bruins knocked off KSU 23-9 in Los Angeles last year.
The Bruins are coming off a 7-6 season including a win in the EagleBank Bowl over Temple. UCLA is returning 13 starters, eight of those on offense. They face a tough schedule in 2010, adding Houston and Texas to the non-conference in addition to KSU.
UCLA, What to Watch For: Coach Rick Neuheisal has yet to name a starting quarterback for the opener. Last year’s starter, Kevin Prince, continues to work his way back from an oblique strain. He is practicing this week but it’s unsure whether he will be able to make the start. If Prince is unable to go, the Bruins will turn to sophomore Richard Brehaut who has received most of the first team snaps during fall camp.
UCLA will go with two backs, both of whom should see significant action on Saturday. Jonathan Franklin led the team in rushing last year but fumbling problems cut into playing time towards the end of season. Franklin gained 113 yards on the ground versus Kansas State last year. Franklin will be paired with junior Derrick Coleman who is the bruiser out of the backfield.
Kansas State, What to Watch For: Everyone knows the Wildcats are going to pound it with All-American candidate Daniel Thomas, last year’s leading rushing in the Big 12. But one facet to keep a close eye on are the K-State receivers. They will be breaking in four very talented, although inexperienced receivers. Aubrey Quarles returns after missing last year with an injury. Quarles will see action along with transfers Brodrick Smith and Chris Harper as well as 5’7” redshirt freshman Tramaine Thompson. None of the four receivers had a catch last year so how they perform when the bullets start flying will be worth watching.
Final Take: As the spread indicates, this is going to be a close one. Kansas State is going to pound the ball against a UCLA defense this is replacing five starters from last year’s front seven. Carson Coffman will do just enough at quarterback to help keep the chains moving. I’ll take the Wildcats at home. Kansas State 24 UCLA 20.
- The Line: Kansas State - 1.5
- Predicted Score: Kansas State 24 - UCLA - 20
- Final Score: Kansas State 31 - UCLA 22
Comment: Daniel Thomas picked up right where he left off last season gaining 238 yards on the ground. They will need better QB play when they get to Big 12 play.
Western Kentucky at Nebraska
- Game time: 6:00
- TV: Pay Per View
- Sirius Channel 125
- The Spread: Nebraska -37.5
The Lowdown: Western Kentucky will travel to Lincoln for their first ever meeting against Nebraska. They’ll bring with it a 20 game losing streak and a new coach, Willie Taggert. Taggert returns to WKU after three seasons as the running back coach at Stanford. Previously, Taggert served eights season as a Hilltopper assistant coach after playing quarterback for WKU from 1995-1998.
Nebraska will enter the 2010 season looking to build on the strong finish from 2009. Nebraska won six of their last seven games, including a 33-0 victory over Arizona in the Holiday Bowl. The Huskers only loss during that span came in the Big 12 Championship to Texas, 13-12.
Western Kentucky, What to watch for: There likely won’t be many highlights for the Hilltoppers in this one. WKU finished last season 0-12, its first in the Football Bowl Subdivision. WKU features a solid running back in junior Bobby Rainey who stands 5’7” and checks in at 196 pounds. They also return quarterback KaWaun Jakes. Jakes started eight of the final nine games, throwing for 1516 yards with nine TD’s and nine interceptions. He also rushed for 355 yards and five TD’s
With a first year coach at the helm, Nebraska can’t be sure what to expect out of the Hilltoppers, although it is believed they will run a version of the west coast offense. On defense, WKU is expected to run a 4-3 scheme this season switching from a 3-4 alignment used last year.
Looking at the 2009 Sun Belt Conference stats doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the Hilltoppers. They finished last in the conference in scoring defense giving up 39.6 points a game. On offense, they also finished last in the league, scoring 20.4 points per game, hence the 0-11 record.
Nebraska, What to Watch for: All the talk this preseason camp has been who will start at quarterback. From Bo Pelini’s comments this week, no one will know who that will be until he runs on the field Saturday night. With this expected to a lopsided game, it wouldn’t be surprising to see all three QB’s and possibly more, depending how the game goes.
The Huskers look to be set at running back with Roy Helu, Rex Burkhead, and Dontrayevous Robinson getting the bulk of the carries. Another area to keep an eye offensively; who takes the bulk of the snaps at wide receiver joining expected starters Niles Paul and Brandon Kinnie?
On defense, keep an eye on the defensive tackle position as the Huskers look to replace Ndamukong Suh. Jared Crick is a given, but who will line up next to him and how much? Also, the Huskers need to replace linebacker Phillip Dillard. One player to keep an eye on is juco linebacker LaVonte David who has been drawing praise from the coaching staff since arriving on campus this summer.
Final Take: This one should be decided by halftime, if not sooner. WKU opened last season at Tennessee and fell 63-7. A score similar to that won’t be out of the question. It will be tough to gauge the Huskers top units on Saturday, as they will most likely substitute heavily, especially as the game wears on. WKU hasn’t been shut out in a game since 2002 but that streak might be in jeopardy Saturday night. I’ll go with a 55-6 Huskers romp.
- The Line: Nebraska -37.5
- Predicted: Nebraska 55 - WKU - 6
- Final: Nebraska 49 - WKU - 10
Comment: Nice effort for the offense picking up 536 total yards. The defense was diappointing, however, giving up 179 rushing yards to a team clearly overmatched.