Take a good look at the Pac 10 schedule for the opening week of the season. Do you see a theme developing here? Washington is the only team that is playing a BCS team to open the season. You have to give credit to Oregon for traveling to Boise State but you have to wonder who was the knucklehead scheduling a road game in Boise.
Oregon at Boise State
College football starts on Thursday when the nation watches Boise State's giant killers host Nike U on the smurf turf. The Bronco faithful are fired up for this one, as chances are they won't lose another game this season should they beat Oregon. If they beat the Ducks they are odds on favorites to play in one of the big bowl games on New Years Day.
There is a lot of smart money on Boise in this game. The Bronco's are rated higher and they aren't going through a coaching change like the Ducks are. The coaching change could be an over-rated factor because it isn't like Kelley just drove in from Syracuse. I think the transfer in power was pretty seamless. Bellotti even hang around to coach the QB's last spring.
Boise did upset the Ducks on the road last season in a thriller. That should give them plenty of confidence taking them on at home. I can see this one going down to the last play of the game.
The Ducks have an edge on offense with a great stable of running backs and a fringe Heisman candidate in Masoli at QB. I have to take the Ducks over the Bronco's. The reason is simple...an upper echeleon Pac 10 team should be able to handle the best of what the WAC can throw at them at home or on the road. A good example was Washington beating Boise State at home three seasons ago and the Huskies were not exactly what you call upper echeleon.
Oregon by 7
Central Michigan at Arizona
Central Michigan isn't a pushover just because they come from the MAC. The Chippewa's are supposed to contend for the MAC championship in 2009. Central's offense can score against Arizona. The real question in this one is if Arizona can score more points that Central Michigan. I know that is the case in every game but Central has a very potent offense led by a QB that probably has an NFL future. Dan LeFavour has thrown for over 2500 yards the three past seasons.
Defensively the Chippewa's are going to have trouble stopping Arizona even though they are breaking in a new QB. So what we have here is the potential for a track meet since I truly believe that Arizona's defense is suspect.
Arizona is a notoriously slow starter. Remember losses to teams like New Mexico which should never have happened? This is the type of game that Mike Stoops tends to lose. The fact that Arizona hasn't named a starting QB yet looms large!
Central by 3
Idaho State at Arizona State
The Sun Devils have no problem scheduling a team from the Big Sky conference to practice against. Make no mistake about it this will be nothing more than a scrimmage.
ASU by 31
Portland State at Oregon State
The Beavers chartered a bus to get the Vikings down to Corvallis. Jerry Glannville deserves a short bus ride home after the long day his Vikings are going to have at Potato Salad Stadium. There is no way a middle of the road Big Sky team has a chance in this one.
Once again I question if scheduling PSU will make your team better. One thing I don't question is the extra cash it will create for Portland State. So if you are going to schedule outside of the division keeping the money home makes sense.
Oregon State by 35
San Diego State at UCLA
Even though the Aztecs are traditionally bad they just may have enough staying power to give a weak UCLA team a bit of a contest. UCLA is beaking a new QB and still is strying to fill holes on the offensive line. On the plus sides the Bruins are being highly touted on the defensive side of the ball.
UCLA by 17
San Jose State at USC
SJSU under Dick Tomey hasn't been a push over and he has made steady progress with the rebuilding of this have-not program. Defensively the Spartans are going to challenge the Trojans more than you would expect since this will be the first start for Matt Barkley. Despite the loss of a couple of CB's that could have played anywhere last season the Spartan's will sport a Tomey-esque defense that will give opponents problems in 2009. On offense Tomey has made some strides installing an Arena League like passing game that will challenge USC underneath. In the end depth, talent and speed will win out but the Spartans have the ability to keep it interesting for awhile
USC by 24
Maryland at California (Late Addition)
The Terps upset California last year at home and surprised us all. This season they head to Berkeley and I am pretty sure the outcome is going to be much different. California has a lot of talent this season ans some think they can unseat USC in the Pac 10. Maryland is 6-2 vs top 25 teams over the past two years so they won't be a pushover and they return a lot of the talent that beat Cal last season. Cal on the other hand is pretty tough to beat at home going 27-4 since 2004.
California by 10
Stanford at Washington State (Late Addition)
The Coug's open year two of the Paul Wulff era at home against a steadily improving Stanford program. The experts don't respect WSU. In fact they have set the line at 16 1/2 points in Stanford's favor. So if Washington is a 17 point dog to LSU is Stanford on a par with LSU since the experts rank UW pretty much near WSU? This will be an interesting one to watch because it will give us a pretty good idea how good the Cardinal are. If they struggle with the Cougs they aren't ready fo the first division. If they pound them like the pundits are thinking the Cards could be a bowl team this season and finish arounf fifth in the conference.
I think Washington State is going to be terrible this season and Stanford will be better prepared going into this one. The Cards will hand it to Gephart all day and coast to a respectable win.
Stanford by 17
LSU at Washington
Washington had an opening on their schedule for 2009 to fill last summer. According to AD Scott Woodward he couldn't find any other major college opponent other than LSU to fill that void. Washington wants to keep their record intact of only playing bowl division schools even though Montana State might have been a more sensible fill in when you are enduring a 14 game losing streak. For example Dennis Erickson at ASU has absolutely no problem lining up against Idaho State this coming weekend.
Emmert and Woodward are both from LSU so I guess the matchup made some sense. The stadium will be full and the game will be on national TV which produces a decent pay day. The problem is they also have to play Notre Dame on the road. That means a likely 1-2 out of conference record in a season where the Huskies will play five conference games on the road. Not exactly the type of smooth landing you want to give any first year coach.
On the positive side LSU is beatable if they turn the ball over. A LSU poster noted that the game will be tight if Washington can maintain a plus two turnover ratio in the game. He makes a very good point because I think the Tigers won't exactly be a finished product on Saturday night. They have a tremendous amount of talent but getting it all on the same page playing cohesively together is always a challenge.
Defensively the Tigers didn't get into the oppositions backfield enough last season. With three new starters on the defensive line for opening night that could create some opportunity for Jake Locker. The defensive backfield however is built on pure speed. Washington will have its chances on Saturday but they have to convert on offense when the opportunities present themselves. When we get in the red zone we need to score 7!
On defense the Huskies have their work cut out for them because LSU can just flat out run. The only team we play this season with better team speed will be USC and that could be debatable. UW needs to make up for that by playing smart and not blowing coverages. LSU isn't going to run the Wildcat all night but expect to see them use it as changeup throughout the game. Just one more thing for the opposition to worry about.
Special teams are going to be key. Keeping the ball out of the hands of the speedy LSU return team is crucial. If we kick line drive punts they will be returned for touchdowns. Will Mahan has done a good job this fall but this will be the first time he has been tested in a regular season game. It is absolutely essential that he achieves the optimum hang time and placement he is capable of.
Erik Folk started the fall strong but has been inconsistent again as of late. A stronger rush than he has seen this fall in practice isn't a good thing to look forward to. Like Mahan he has to keep the ball out of the hands of the LSU kick returners. He has a strong leg so perhaps he is capable of going deep on his kickoffs and forcing some touch backs.
I think our return unit is going to surprise some people this season. I think Polk, Richardson, Fogerson, and Aguilar are all very capable of doing well if the guys ahead of them make some blocks. The coverage units still frighten me because the return units have done well in practice. Once again the kicker needs to take away chances with hang time and distance.
A big factor to consider is how far LSU has to come to get to Seattle. It is a late start in a loud and rainy stadium. LSU of course has seen it all since they play in the SEC but I really think travel will be a factor in the opener. You can discount travel all you want but it can be a distraction when you are visiting a place you have never been to before.
Weather can be a factor. LSU is used to playing the rain down South but as we all know a cold rainy night in Seattle is something that is completely different. California teams have a history of coming up here in similar situations and not playing to their potential.
Getting an early lead and making LSU play from behind is another thing UW has to strive for. Teams that fall behind tend to throw the ball more than they like. That puts pressure on an inexperienced QB who could be forced into making errors.
I think Washington keeps it close most of the way just like they have done against USC and Ohio State in recent years. I expect this game to still be competitive in the third quarter. The big question is if Washington can avoid the big turnarounds they have suffered in games like these. I think a new coaching staff will be a big help in this area.
In summary I can't predict a victory for Washington unless LSU self destructs on offense by turning the ball over all night. I don't think that is a great bet to hang a prediction on. I think Les Miles will make things simple for his QB to minimize errors and let his stable of running backs carry most of the load.
Washington does have the ability to scare these guys at times on Saturday. No matter what Miles and his players say they are expecting a cakewalk. They don't respect Washington. Who intheir right mind respects a team on a 14 game losing streak? Washington needs to get their attention from the onset and throw a little shock into the equation.
Upsets do happen in college football when the opponent has little respect for the underdog. Here are a few prime examples:
2007 Appalachian State 34 Michigan 32...Good-bye Lloyd Carr
2007 Stanford 24 USC 23...This one was willed by Harbaugh...coaching and motivation make a difference.
1985 Oregon State 21 Washington 20...I was in the stands on that miserable wet day. This one is still the largest upset according to the spread in college football history.
1999 Louisiana Tech 29 Alabama 29...Look what happens when you don't respect your opponent.
1998 Temple 28 Virginia Tech 24...Ditto!
2004 Troy 24 Missouri 14...Ditto Ditto!!
1996 Louisiana Lafayette 29 Texas A&M 22...Ditto, Ditto, Ditto!!!
Washington is only a 16-18 point underdog in this one so if they do pull off the upset it will pale in comparison to the shockers listed above. I am just saying that upsets happen. I am also saying that they can happen early in the season especially when you overlook an opponent.
With good conscience I can't predict a Washington victory in this one. The gap in talent, speed, and depth is too great if LSU plays a relatively error free game. I think Miles will do everything he can to keep it as error free as possible. I do think it will closer than people think...similar to when we gave Ohio State 2 3/4 good quarters a couple of years ago. That being said it takes four quarters to win a football game. In the end the game will seem closer than the final score.
LSU by 17