College Football Kickoff 2012: Predictions for Every Thursday Night Week 1 Game

David Luther@@davidrlutherFeatured ColumnistAugust 28, 2012

College Football Kickoff 2012: Predictions for Every Thursday Night Week 1 Game

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    The 2012 college football season is finally upon us, and it's time to get down the business.

    The season gets under way with its traditional Thursday night kickoff, and there are 17 games featuring 26 FBS programs to whet your appetite for the rest of the season.

    So lets take a look at these 2012 appetizers and get the prognosticating started with our predictions for every Thursday night Week 1 game.

Minnesota at UNLV

1 of 17

    11 p.m. Eastern, CBS Sports Network

    We'll get started with one of the few FBS vs. FBS games featuring a BCS-AQ program that won't be on many people's radar screens on Thursday.

    Minnesota may be a proud, historical program from the mighty Big Ten, but the Golden Gophers have fallen on some very hard times lately. Minnesota finished 3-9 last season and was dead last in the Legends Division with a 2-6 conference mark.

    Unfortunately, there's not much on the horizon that points to a dramatic turnaround in 2012.

    UNLV, a member of the Mountain West Conference since 1999, is in very much the same boat as Minnesota. The Rebels were just 2-10 last season, which followed a 2-10 performance in 2010.

    The Rebels haven't seen a bowl game since the end of the 2000 season, and that streak is sure to continue as the Mountain West looks to be very competitive at the top of the conference.

    Maybe when programs like Boise State and San Diego State move over to the Big East as football-only members in 2013, the Rebels will have more luck.

    Minnesota 27, UNLV 13

Northern Arizona at Arizona State

2 of 17

    10:30 p.m. Eastern, Pac-12 Network

    The first of eight FCS vs. FBS games on our list we'll talk about is Northern Arizona at Arizona State.

    This game will clearly mean a lot more to Northern Arizona than it will to Arizona State. The Lumberjacks are coming off of a 4-7 season when they were a disappointing 3-5 in the Big Sky Conference.

    The Sun Devils, for their part, are also trying to rebound from a disappointment of sorts. Arizona State was widely expected to compete for a Pac-12 title last season, with 21 returning starters from a 2010 team that finished nine points shy of a 10-2 record (ASU was 6-6 with four losses by a combined nine points).

    So 2011 was going to be the year, right?

    It didn't quite turn out that way, and the Devils weren't considered a legitimate contender to knock off Oregon by season's end—and even failed to make the Pac-12 championship game.

    But that doesn't mean Arizona State is in any trouble of losing to Northern Arizona. This should still be a cakewalk for the Sun Devils.

    We mentioned this game will mean a lot more to Northern Arizona. How, exactly? Well, the Northern Arizona athletic department will get a nice influx of cash, and if the Lumberjacks can make a decent showing, so much the better.

    Arizona State 38, Northern Arizona 10

Washington State at Brigham Young

3 of 17

    10:15 p.m. Eastern, ESPN

    It's a new era at Washington State, and to say that Cougars fans are fired up is an understatement.

    Washington State hasn't made a bowl game since 2003. Mike Leach, in his 10 seasons as a head coach at Texas Tech, never missed earning a bowl invitation.

    Something has to give.

    If you ask us, we're probably going to go with the bowl-less streak in Pullman falling this season. Washington State is clearly improving, and Mike Leach has a lot of talent returning from last season's Paul Wulff-coached Cougars that finished 4-8.

    Is there enough momentum to pick up at least two extra wins in 2012?

    We might have to wait longer than one week to find out.

    BYU is back and looking to make an improvement on their 10-3 finish as a football independent in 2011. These Cougars have their own bowl streak to protect, as they are looking for their eighth straight trip this fall.

    With 16 returning starters (nine on offense), it's possible that bowl game could include the three letters every team wants: B-C-S.

    Washington State will be improved and might even make that long-awaited bowl game. But beating BYU in its own stadium is going to be a very tall task in 2012.

    Brigham Young 35, Washington State 21

Eastern Washington at Idaho

4 of 17

    9 p.m. Eastern, No National Broadcast

    In the world of college football, there are plenty of great, unique stadiums in which to hold a football game.

    The Kibbie Dome at Idaho certainly qualifies as unique, as its 16,000-seat indoor layout is currently the smallest stadium in the FBS.

    By comparison, there are 45 FCS programs with larger stadiums. Eastern Washington isn't among those 45, but it does have one unique quality: the red FieldTurf.

    Unfortunately, the fields may be the only thing of interest in this game.

    Idaho is an absolutely terrible team. The Vandals finished 2-10 last season without playing Boise State.

    The only wins Idaho managed were against FCS North Dakota and San Jose State—and Eastern Washington is no North Dakota.

    The Eagles have taken a step back from their 2010 FCS National Championship-winning ways, but there's still enough talent hanging around Cheney, Wash., to field a team capable of competing with the bottom rungs of the FBS.

    Last season, Eastern Washington even gave the Washington Huskies all they could handle, and Washington barely escaped with a 30-27 victory.

    And Idaho is no Washington. Chalk up another win for the FCS over the “big boys.”

    Eastern Washington 28, Idaho 24

Southern Utah at Utah State

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    8 p.m. Eastern, No National Broadcast

    Utah State almost had a great start to the 2011 season.

    The Aggies came within a heartbeat of knocking off the defending BCS champions—Auburn—in Week 1 last year. Still, we have to consider 2011 a rousing success for Utah State, as it secured its first bowl trip since 1997.

    The next step starts with a visit from FCS Southern Utah.

    Southern Utah is making a move from the Great West Conference to the Big Sky, after the Great West dropped football as a sponsored sport following the 2011 season.

    Southern Utah has never made the playoffs or participated in any postseason game in its history (2012 is the 50th season of football at SUU). The Thunderbirds finished just 6-5 last year.

    It's hard to envision a typically underachieving FCS team beating a bowl-eligible FBS team, even if it's an in-state game between two programs that don't receive much attention.

    Still, a close loss to Auburn will prove to provide the Aggies more coverage than a blowout win against an in-state FCS team.

    Utah State 45, Southern Utah 13

Sacramento State at New Mexico State

6 of 17

    8 p.m. Eastern, No National Broadcast

    It's difficult to call a 4-9 record a success, but in the case of New Mexico State, it's a lot better than the type of season to which Aggies fans are accustomed.

    For the first time since 2007, NMSU actually won four games in a single season. The Aggies still aren't even close to resembling a bowl-bound program, and head coach DeWayne Walker's 9-29 overall record as Aggies head coach probably won't improve too much in 2012.

    But if you're a down-on-your-luck program and you're looking to jump-start the new season, why not add a little FCS fluff to your schedule?

    That's exactly what the Aggies did with Sacramento State.

    Sacramento State is a member of the Big Sky Conference and coming off of an up-and-down, back-and-forth season. The Hornets finished just 4-7, but one of those wins came against national FCS powerhouse Montana (which finished 11-3 and made it all the way to the national semifinals).

    As important as that win was for the Hornets, they'll need a similar effort to get past New Mexico State—and for much less payoff.

    We're more than willing to give the Hornets their due, as they've proven capable of competing against some very good teams (and New Mexico State is not a good team). But the Aggies still have 22 more scholarships to spread around the field, and that will prove to be the difference.

    New Mexico State 28, Sacramento State 24

McNeese State at Middle Tennessee State

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    7:30 p.m. Eastern, No National Broadcast

    The tale of Middle Tennessee State is a vision of the quick collapses of so many non-AQ programs across the nation.

    Very few programs outside of the “power six” have been able to find consistency (with Boise State and formerly Utah being the exceptions). It wasn't all that long ago that Middle Tennessee State was winning 10 games in a season (2009).

    But it proved to be just another non-AQ flash in the pan, as the Blue Raiders fell to 6-7 in 2010 and then 2-10 in 2011.

    And if things don't turn around in a hurry, MTSU could have its hands full right off the bat when it welcomes its own FCS foe to Murfreesboro—McNeese State.

    The Cowboys aren't exactly what anyone could call an FCS power these days, but they have been known to make a playoff appearance every now and then (most recently 2009). McNeese has also been on the receiving end of some decidedly one-sided beatings against FBS opponents (42-24 at Kansas last season; 50-6 at Missouri the year before).

    The Cowboys should be able to make a better showing this season against MTSU, but there won't be any miracle upset.

    Middle Tennessee State 31, McNeese State 24

Texas A&M at Louisiana Tech

8 of 17

    7:30 p.m. Eastern, ESPNU

    Ah, back to the realm of FBS-only football.

    Texas A&M gets its 2012 inaugural SEC season under way with a potential landmine of a road game.

    The Aggies make the trip to sleepy Shreveport, La., to take on the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs.

    Why is this game so dangerous? Simply because La. Tech has proven to be a very dangerous team to some top AQ competition over the years.

    In 2002, the Bulldogs topped Oklahoma State, 39-36.

    Back in 2003, the Bulldogs stunned a Michigan State crowd after most of the fans had left Spartan Stadium, only to learn of the Bulldogs' epic comeback to a 20-19 victory late in the fourth quarter.

    In 2008, they knocked off mighty Mississippi State, 22-14, and almost did the same thing last season, as it took Mississippi State to overtime to take care of business.

    In 2009, they put a scare into both Boise State and LSU, losing 45-35 and 24-16, respectively.

    And last season, in addition to the overtime loss against Mississippi State, Louisiana Tech nearly did the unthinkable against a ranked TCU team in the Poinsettia Bowl.

    So what's the secret to the Bulldogs' success?

    We're not entirely sure, but it's likely a combination of sleeping opponents and “any given Saturday syndrome.”

    But the Aggies are looking to make a real bang with their first impressions in the SEC, and an opening-day loss to a non-AQ upstart isn't in their script.

    Texas A&M is returning a boatload of starters, including nine on offense. The Aggies have a talented group of receivers, and the offensive line returns intact to protect new freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel.

    The Aggies have also seen this team before, and unlike some of their AQ counterparts, the Bulldogs haven't come close.

    The 2012 edition won't be any different.

    Texas A&M 37, Louisiana Tech 17

UCLA at Rice

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    7:30 p.m. Eastern, CBS Sports Network

    You really have to feel kinda sorry for UCLA.

    Unless you're a fan of USC, Cal or Stanford.

    But seriously, the Bruins have had some of the worst luck over the past few seasons, and it almost doesn't seem fair, never mind the schadenfreude felt by those across town.

    Losing to Houston was a painful and embarrassing way to start last season, and things never really seemed to rebound.

    When the dust settled, a mediocre-at-best UCLA team won the Pac-12 South Division title only because USC was ineligible and the two other contenders, Arizona State and Utah, fell all over themselves down the stretch.

    And almost as if to prove how undeserving the Bruins really were in their South Division championship, head coach and one-time savior of the program Rick Neuheisel was unceremoniously fired before coaching in the Pac-12 Championship Game.


    Luckily, 2012 should get off to a much better start.

    UCLA will take on Rice to start the season, and unlike Houston, Rice doesn't have a one-man team taking the snaps, nor is there any other phenom bolting around the field in an Owls jersey.

    It may not be the most exciting game to watch on Thursday, but UCLA fans should still get a cheap thrill out of watching the Bruins finally win a game big against a team they should demolish.

    UCLA 38, Rice 16

Massachusetts at Connecticut

10 of 17

    7:30 p.m. Eastern, Big East Network (ESPN+)

    It's almost fitting that Massachusetts' first game as an FBS program is against their neighbors to the south, Connecticut.

    Is it time to start worrying about a UMass-UConn rivalry in football?

    Not quite. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't catch this game if you can.

    UMass is making the jump to the big time this season, but don't expect anything big out of the Minutemen anytime soon.

    First, UMass is coming off of a 5-6 season in the not-all-that-competitive Colonial Athletic Association. Secondly, UMass' conference affiliation—the MAC—should give you an indication of what the expectation level is for the Minutemen; let's face it, the MAC isn't exactly the conference of champions and BCS busters.

    The last team to make the move to the FBS—Western Kentucky in 2008—took two-and-a-half seasons to beat any other FBS program, and it still hasn't knocked off a team from a BCS-AQ conference.

    UMass may not take as long to get its bearings, but the Minutemen are a long way off from beating a team like Connecticut.

    Connecticut 45, Massachusetts 17

Texas-San Antonio at South Alabama

11 of 17

    7:30 p.m. Eastern, No National Broadcast

    If you're a fan of shiny new things, this is the game for you!

    Here we have two nice new FBS programs in Texas-San Antonio and South Alabama. UTSA enters 2012 as a member of the WAC, while South Alabama has joined up with the Sun Belt.

    Talk about a tough game to predict. There's so little history of either of these two programs (three combined NCAA seasons between them) that there's almost nothing on which to base any sensible prediction.

    After fluffing their record books with a 10-0 season to start their program's NCAA journey in 2010, South Alabama was snapped back to reality last season by actually playing some competitive teams, finishing 6-4 (the 2010 schedule was a mix of Division II bottom-feeders, FCS laughing stocks and NAIA programs).

    Don't hold your breath, Jaguars fans; there won't be anything resembling six wins this season.

    Not that UTSA will fare much better.

    To their credit, the Roadrunners didn't puff up their ego with a embarrassingly weak schedule in their first season of NCAA football, which was just last season.

    As an FCS independent, Texas-San Antonio found a solid mix of programs from across the spectrum, including last season's national runners-up, Sam Houston State.

    Interestingly enough, the Roadrunners showcased a surprisingly good defense against SHSU, losing 22-7, the third-lowest point total for the Bearkats all season (SHSU averaged 37 points per game).

    UTSA and South Alabama did meet last season, with the Jaguars taking a narrow 30-27 victory. Our best stab at this game is going to give the edge to the team with revenge on its mind.

    Texas-San Antonio 31, South Alabama 30

Northern Colorado at Utah

12 of 17

    7:15 p.m. Eastern, Pac-12 Network

    Utah gets its second season in the Pac-12 under way with a game broadcast on the conference's own network.

    The Utes' 2011 season was a mixed bag, and depending on how you look at it, it could be considered a success or a failure.

    From an overall standpoint, Utah won eight games, including an entertaining 30-27 victory over Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.

    But in Pac-12 play, Utah fell well short of its own expectations. The Utes finished just 4-5 in the conference and finished in a tie for the third-best record in the generally weak South Division.

    With nine offensive starters returning for 2012 and seven on defense, Utah is hoping to make a better showing this time out.

    The schedule seems to favor the Utes this year, with no Oregon or Stanford. It's possible that USC may be the only thing standing between Utah and the South Division title in 2012.

    Utah will ease into the hot waters of the Pac-12 this season by beginning the year with a cakewalk against FCS Northern Colorado.

    The Bears are a relatively recent addition to the FCS, making the jump up from Division II and playing their first full FCS schedule in 2004.

    In what could be seen as a cautionary tale for D-II programs, Northern Colorado went from a nationally-ranked powerhouse with annual playoff runs to a program that is downright terrible in the FCS.

    In the decade prior to joining the FCS, Northern Colorado posted an overall record of 90-36, which included six playoff berths and two national championships.

    Since the beginning of 2004, the Bears are just 15-74.

    Last season, Northern Colorado turned in a 0-11 performance.

    And we can guarantee the Bears will start 2012 at 0-1.

    Utah 56, Northern Colorado 6

Towson at Kent State

13 of 17

    7 p.m. Eastern, No National Broadcast

    What could possibly be more exciting that watching a MAC team host an FCS team?

    Watching paint dry or grass grow are just two suggestions.

    And we're not just talking about any MAC vs. FCS matchup—no, sir. We're talking about Kent State and Towson, two of the more consistently mediocre teams at their respective levels.

    The last time either of these programs won 10 or more games was 1983 (Towson was 10-2 as a Division II program). Kent State has never reached double-digit wins in a single season, and the program dates back to 1920.

    Towson did come close last season, however, with a 9-3 finish in the Colonial Athletic Association, earning the program's first-ever FCS playoff appearance (a 40-38 loss to Lehigh) as conference champions (it's worth noting that the CAA produced an FCS-leading five playoff teams last season).

    So can we count on another good showing for the Towson Tigers, or will the Kent State Golden Flashes get things back on track?

    Towson has a difficult season ahead of it, with two games against FBS opponents—including a September 29 date at LSU. If Towson hopes to live up to expectations this time around, it will need to win at least one of the games against FBS teams—and there's no way they're beating LSU.

    With a bevy of talented players returning for Towson, the Tigers will begin 2012 in the preseason FCS top 10. Kent State, on the other hand, might not even be in the top 10 in the MAC.

    Towson 28, Kent State 20

Southeast Missouri State at Central Michigan

14 of 17

    7 p.m. Eastern, No National Broadcast

    Oh goodie. Another MAC-FCS game.

    Lucky for the FBS, this game doesn't include a top FCS program ready to make some headlines by knocking off a weak FBS opponents.

    Not that there isn't a weak FBS opponent playing in this game.

    The Central Michigan Chippewas just haven't been the same program since Heisman candidate Dan LeFevour took his talents to the pro ranks.

    The Chips were busy chasing down a MAC title with Brian Kelly at the helm and a pair of titles under Butch Jones with LeFevour taking the snaps, but those days seem like a distant memory now.

    In 2011, CMU finished with a grand total of three wins, and only two of those were against fellow MAC teams.

    Thankfully, Southeast Missouri State was in much the same boat last season.

    The Redhawks were 3-8 (2-6 in the Ohio Valley Conference). So while we could harp on the fact that Central Michigan isn't a quality FBS program, the fact of the matter is the Chips should still be able to beat up on the Redhawks pretty easily.

    Central Michigan 32, Southeast Missouri State 13

Eastern Michigan at Ball State

15 of 17

    7 p.m. Eastern, No National Broadcast

    In the Week 1 MAC conference game, we're going to see a pair of teams that have recently found themselves unusually clustered in the middle of the MAC-West standings.

    Ball State is a long way from the program of Brady Hoke's design, while Eastern Michigan seems to be shaking off the dirt after years of being constantly knocked to the ground by their MAC compatriots.

    Both Ball State and EMU won six games last season, and both had 4-4 conference marks, but Eastern Michigan was not bowl eligible, as two of its wins came against FCS opponents (a team must have five FBS wins, and six overall wins to become bowl eligible).

    Even with six wins against FBS opponents, Ball State was not selected for a bowl game at the end of 2011.

    Ball State took last year's meeting, 33-31, and the two teams appeared to be about as evenly matched as their season results indicated.

    This season may be more of the same, but this time, we're going to give Eastern Michigan the edge, as the Eagles have home field in 2012.

    Eastern Michigan 28, Ball State 27

Central Florida at Akron

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    7 p.m. Eastern, No National Broadcast

    There aren't many teams in the nation worse than Akron.

    The Zips were just 1-11 last season and finished dead last in the MAC-East with an 0-8 conference mark.

    Central Florida, on the other hand, is one of a few programs facing a postseason ban in 2012 for NCAA rule violations.

    That means the Golden Knights, like the Ohio State Buckeyes and Penn State Nittany Lions, will have nothing more to play for than pride this season. A great way to put the difficult past behind them would be for the Knights to take out some of their frustration on the Zips.

    And there's likely nothing the Zips will be able to do to stop it.

    Central Florida 38, Akron 17

No. 9 South Carolina at Vanderbilt

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    7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN

    There's only one Thursday night game featuring a B/R Top 25 team, as No. 9 South Carolina gets an early start to the SEC season with an East Division showdown at Vanderbilt.

    We haven't pulled any punches yet, and we're not going to stop now: Vanderbilt has almost no chance of winning this game.

    South Carolina is a deserving top-10 preseason team with eight offensive starters returning in 2012. The Gamecocks finished just behind Georgia last season for the East Division title, and there's no reason at this point to believe South Carolina won't be right in the SEC title race come November.

    Vanderbilt is a much weaker program and is to the SEC what teams like Minnesota, Iowa State or Oregon State are to their respective conferences. South Carolina should cruise in the first of many wins in 2012.

    South Carolina 38, Vanderbilt 17