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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Games to Watch in Week 2

Miami (-21.5) [NA] at Florida [1-0, +11.5]

Why we care: Two big names, one big rivalry and a Saturday at the Swamp. And if that’s not enough, throw in a Heisman winner, three Mr. Floridas, and a ton of trash talk from U fans on the comment boards because their team looked good against Wilson Academy for the Deaf and Blind.

What to watch for: With speed and playmakers at the skill positions for both teams, this game will be decided . . . at the line of scrimmage. The Miami #1 and #2 at QB are both freshmen with 1 game of experience between them. The receivers also don’t strike fear in anyone, which is really too bad for the Canes, because that was Florida’s achilles heel last year. Instead, Miami will need to run the ball behind a massive offensive line that should be able to wear down the smaller Florida front.

On the other side, Miami will use a lot of nickel and dime packages to keep tags on Florida’s receivers and speedy, but not bulky, running backs. If Miami can get pressure on Tebow with the four down linemen, Miami may be able to slow down the Gator offensive juggernaut.

Miami’s inexperience may play a role, but it was Florida’s lack of execution against Hawaii that kept the Warriors in the game for the first 18 minutes.

Misc: Miami and Florida are currently 16th and 17th all time in average margin of victory, respectively (7.24 and 7.19). If Florida wins this game by 30 points or more, they will pass Miami and move up to 16th all time.

Pick: Florida by 20

West Virginia (-8) [NA] at East Carolina [1-0, +14]

Why we care: If East Carolina can win this game, watch out BCS because you might just have a very deserving party crasher. And West Virginia looked beatable as they got outgained by Villanova.

What to watch: How many people does East Carolina put in the box and get away with it. East Carolina’s DL isn’t bad, but West Virginia’s offensive line is arguably the best in the land. And, by the way, WVU has a RB and QB that are pretty dangerous with the ball. East Carolina has to force QB White to put the ball in the air while still having one or two guys back in the secondary to play defense. If they can hold WVU to under 400 total yards (a task Villanova achieved), East Carolina’s offense is good enough (and West Virginia’s defense bad enough) that they just might score enough points to win.

Misc: I wonder if Skip Holtz will get really goofy like his dad when he gets really old, too.

Pick: East Carolina by .5

Texas Tech (-10) [NA] at Nevada [NA]

Why we care: Last year, these two teams scored a combined 987 points and gave up 755 points. That's a lot.

What to watch for: Tech will get its first test against a good offense this season. Tech will score plenty of points to win, but if Nevada is able to get its running game going, things will open downfield and Nevada will put its own mark on the scoreboard. This will all come down to Nevada’s ability to win the battle at the line of scrimmage—if the undersized Nevada O-line can open some holes, the Texas and OU lines will open up bigger holes down the road.

Misc: Nevada was averaging 36.25 points a game last year until they were shutout in their bowl game against New Mexico. That is the largest drop in production from regular season to bowl game in college football history.

Pick: Tech by enough (covers)

BYU (-6.5) [NA] at Washington [0-1, -20.5]

Why we care: Because it’s important

What to watch for (extended edition): This year, Jake Locker was supposed to make good on all the grandiose promise he brought with him to Washington. He proved his mobility in 2007, but he completed a paltry 47.3% of his passes. He struggled with making both the correct read and then the accurate pass. But last weekend Locker was good on only 12 of 28 passes, amassing less than 4 yards per attempt. And Locker wasn’t the only Husky to struggle offensively; RB Chris Polk used 14 carries to amass 19 rushing yards, making Lockers 3.7 yards per attempt much more appealing.

BYU’s offense, on the other hand, looked like it was going through the Friday runthrough. Max Hall was 34 of 41 for 486 yards and 2 TDs, TE Dennis Pitta showed that the Cougar run of NFL quality tight ends was not coming to an end just yet, and RB Harvey Unga picked up where he left off in 2007—which means he ran like a truck with quick feet.

But all was not roses for when the Cougars had the ball. Four turnovers in one quarter helped Northern Iowa stay in the game into the 4th quarter, and, most disconcerting, one of the fumbles was another example of Hall’s small hands letting go when he gets hit. Fumble bugs make upsets possible.

BYU’s defense was good, but not far from perfect. Two of Northern Iowa’s scores (and almost all of their yards) came from plays of 69 and 76 yards, exposing again a potential weakness at the second level of the defense. QB Pat Grace also gave BYU fits, again demonstrating that the Cougar defense struggles against athletic quarterbacks (ala Jake Locker).

Oregon’s defense, on the other hand, was never given a real chance because they were forced all day against Oregon to defend short fields. If the Huskies fail to move the ball again, expect BYU to rattle off another 40+ points against Washington with Unga racking in 150+ yards rushing. If Locker can make some big plays with his legs and, more important, hit some receivers down field, Washington could make this a game.

Misc: Max Hall transferred from Arizona State because he couldn’t win the starting job at QB. In 2007, ASU QBs were sacked 55 times and BYU QBs were sacked only 20-proof that sometimes not winning can be a small victory in itself.

Pick: BYU by 15

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