Home fields give USF, Fresno an edge; USC's D too much for Ohio State
I'm coming off a solid week against the line in which I went 11-7-2, putting me two games over .500 for the season. The good: picking Oregon to pound Utah State; the bad: picking Cincinnati to keep it fairly close against Oklahoma; and the ugly: picking USF to blow out UCF. Here are this week's guesses:
Thursday, Sept. 11
Rutgers 21, UNC 14
The Scarlet Knights are coming off a dismal opening performance against Fresno State in which they moved the ball fairly well but struggled to score. My hunch is they'll have more answers with Mike Teel spreading the ball around against UNC, which got shut out 23-0 at Virginia in its last Thursday night special. RU's recent history in Thursday nighters at home is much better, with big wins over No. 3 Louisville and No. 2 USF the past two years.
Friday, Sept. 12
USF 24, Kansas 17
KU has surrendered only 10 points in two games, but Matt Grothe and the USF attack are a big step up from the Jayhawks' first two opponents, Florida International and Louisiana Tech. Then again, KU's Todd Reesing is more of a threat than the UCF bunch that took the Bulls to OT this past Saturday. Expect USF's speed on the edges of its D to force some mistakes and be the difference. That, and a spirited home-field edge.
Saturday, Sept. 13
Cal 35, Maryland 17
Kevin Riley has a lot of firepower at his disposal, and his confidence is soaring. The Terps' QB situation isn't as optimistic. Maryland has a dangerous RB, Da'Rel Scott, and one of the country's best WRs, Darrius Heyward-Bey, but unless it can get some consistency from the rest of its offense, it'll be a long day. Illinois 55, UL-Lafayette 14
Juice Williams and the Illini offense have been sizzling thus far, piling up 89 points and a ton of yards. ULL, meanwhile, gave up 633 yards to a young Southern Miss attack. Expect another huge day for the Illinois offense. Mizzou 38, Nevada 14
The return of safety William Moore to the Tigers' defense will be a huge boost. In addition, Nevada's stacked backfield took a hit when the Pack's Luke Lippincott was lost for the season with an ACL injury this past weekend. Nevada's D did give Texas Tech's passing game some troubles, but the Tigers' ground game should be more of an answer. East Carolina 28, Tulane 10
The Pirates are riding high behind a physical defense and QB Patrick Pinkney, but Tulane is coming off a respectable showing against Alabama. The Green Wave should hold up for at least a half if they can provide the same type of pass-rush heat they did against Alabama. Georgia 27, South Carolina 10
Can Steve Spurrier rally his offense? I doubt it. He does have a capable RB in Mike Davis, but I think the Dawgs' defense will dominate the suspect Carolina front. I also see this UGA offense, which was held out of the end zone against the Gamecocks last season, eventually hitting some big plays and breaking open a tight game. Oregon 38, Purdue 20
The Ducks' versatile offense will have too much speed and too many options for Purdue. Better still, Oregon's talented and very experienced secondary will be able to slow QB Curtis Painter. Penn State 48, Syracuse 10
Off-field distractions notwithstanding, the Nittany Lions still are averaging 56 points per game, and now they get to face an Orange D that has given up 72 points to Northwestern and Akron this season. It is worth noting that PSU is 2-6 in its past eight road openers. Then again, almost all those teams were a lot better than SU.
The Cougars have an outstanding offense, but UCLA's defense is solid and D coordinator DeWayne Walker is a whiz at finding ways to confuse quarterbacks. Max Hall should be up to it and should be able to keep the chains moving. In two meetings last season, the Bruins held BYU to 17 points each time, so expect another tight game without a lot of big plays. Notre Dame 21, Michigan 13
Two offenses struggling to establish identities. The Irish have more time in their system and are playing at home. I'll go with ND, as this will be the first road game for the green Wolverines QBs. Auburn 27, Mississippi State 7
Chris Todd started to get into a rhythm this past weekend, and the Tigers' backs should get a lot of yards, as both runners and receivers will do well -- provided they can avoid fumbles. State's one-dimensional offense is too limited to challenge the Auburn D. Alabama 33, W. Kentucky 3
The Tide O-line is coming off a shaky performance, but I expect it to bounce back and maul a WKU defense that gave up almost 300 rushing yards to Indiana in its opener. Texas Tech 59, SMU 17
Graham Harrell wasn't sharp this past weekend, but SMU's defense isn't as good as Nevada's. The Mustangs gave up 465 yards to a Texas State offense that has nowhere near as much firepower as Tech. Oklahoma 45, Washington 14
Jake Locker's team battled hard against a good BYU team, but the letdown and the haze from all the talk about last week's celebration penalty will be too tough for the Huskies to overcome as a loaded OU team comes to town. USC 31, Ohio State 13
The health of Beanie Wells is a big question mark, but how well OSU QB Todd Boeckman plays in this big game will be just as vital. In four games against ranked opponents last season, Boeckman threw seven TDs and seven INTs, and this Trojans back seven is much better than those other defenses. Utah 49, Utah State 17
The Utes have dominated this series, having won 10 straight. USU's defense, which gave up almost 700 yards to Oregon this past weekend, is porous, and the Utes have a dynamic offense. They don't have as much speed as the Ducks, but they do have two very physical backs and a terrific triggerman in Brian Johnson, who also is a very dangerous runner. Arizona State 42, UNLV 14
Rudy Carpenter has been outstanding thus far, completing almost 77 percent of his passes and taking only three sacks. Recent history isn't on the Rebels' side, either. UNLV has lost 21 of its past 22 road games by an average of 21 points per game. Fresno State 24, Wisconsin 17
Tom Brandstater is the best QB the Badgers will face this year. Wisconsin's road performance from 2007 also doesn't bode well, as the Badgers (2-3 on the road last year) will need to out-hit the feisty Bulldogs, who will be riding a huge emotional burst. Bruce Feldman is a senior writer with ESPN The Magazine. His new book, "Meat Market: Inside the Smash-Mouth World of College Football Recruiting," is on sale now.