Pigskin Punditry 2009: Week One Preview

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Pigskin Punditry 2009: Week One Preview
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

(Author's Note: Due to the recent news that Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Mark Ingram have been reinstated, the selection of the Alabama vs. Virginia Tech game has been revised. The initial pick was Virginia Tech 17, Alabama 10.)


I can hear the siren’s song of college football calling out to me.

It’s inescapable. I can’t help but be drawn in as the calendar page has turned from August to September.

Sure, by the end of the season, I usually find myself ranting about the illogical Bowl Championship Series and some team getting screwed out of a major bowl game.

But right now? In the time right before week one kicks off?

I am weak.

Yes, the Pigskin Pundit has returned for a second season, offering some wit, some wisdom, and some picks each and every week during the football season.

With the increase of Thursday and Friday night games, I am aiming to be more consistent this season and have the column up on Thursday mornings.

Without further ado, let’s begin with "Four Downs"—four quick takes on college football news, notes and issues.


The Michigan Situation

I wrote a blog about this earlier in the week, but I wanted to briefly revisit the current state of things in Ann Arbor.

We all know that winning is what matters to most (if not all) schools. If the players that complained anonymously had experienced victories last year, there would not have been a peep from them.

But losing (and losing badly) can breed discontent.

It’s imperative that the Wolverines get off to a good start this season. A 4-0 start (or even a 3-1 start with a close loss to Notre Dame) would do wonders for taking the heat off.

Of course, if the Wolverines were to get upset by Western Michigan on Saturday—which would be the third straight season opening upset by a non-BCS opponent—it could be the start of a very long season.


Matt Barkley Named USC Starting QB

With Aaron Corp still not 100 percent, and Mitch Mustain an afterthought (more on that here), Pete Carroll is starting the first true freshman in the history of the program.

The concern about Barkley is that he has a propensity for throwing the ball to the other team (see 18 interceptions last season at Mater Dei in Santa Ana).

USC has an excellent offensive line and a bunch of running backs. I don’t think Barkley will be asked to throw the ball 35 times a game.

But considering that USC faces a ball-hawking defense in San Jose State’s 4-2-5 alignment, and then faces a traditionally salty Ohio State defense at Ohio Stadium, it will truly be a baptism by fire.

If Barkley can win both of these games, the Pac-10 race becomes USC’s to lose (again).


Greg Paulus Named Syracuse Starting QB

Meanwhile, across the country, a college football program with a proud tradition is also starting a QB with no collegiate football experience, although he has spent the last four years as a point guard at Duke University.

Greg Paulus returned home to northern New York to play college football as a fifth-year senior for a rebuilding Syracuse program. New coach Doug Marrone has elected to start his career off by taking a chance on the former local hero.

It’s not a bad move.

Syracuse football can only go up from where it has been recently. Taking a shot on Paulus for one season isn’t going to make or break the program. It also gives Marrone and offensive coordinator Rob Spence more time to prepare backup quarterback Ryan Nassib to take over for real next season.

Now, it will be tough for Paulus, because he hasn’t been hit by a football player in nearly five years. It will be interesting to see how he reacts when he gets pounded by one of the Minnesota defensive players on Saturday. Also, I would expect Minnesota to disguise coverage and maybe dial up a few zone blitzes to make his head spin.


NCAA Clearinghouse

Every day there seems to be a note or two from a school announcing that another one of their incoming freshman has (finally!) been cleared to play by the NCAA Clearinghouse.

In college basketball, the NCAA Clearinghouse was part of the problem in allowing Derrick Rose to be considered okay to play—even though he submitted an allegedly fraudulent SAT score.

Now, as someone who works in higher education on the academic affairs side of the house, this whole concept of the NCAA Clearinghouse somewhat troubles me. Why is the NCAA making what I would consider to be secondary decisions about who a school can or cannot admit?

The NCAA has a sliding scale of high school GPA and SAT score that determines initial eligibility.

But if I am a school, and I admit the student, why can’t he be eligible? He (or she) met my admissions standards as a student; why is the word of the academic institution not considered good enough?

Don’t tell me that it would lead to fraud; the current system has done that quite well, thank you very much.

I think the NCAA means well, but the implementation of those well-meaning individuals in Indianapolis has been grossly mishandled and underfunded.

Time for the weekly "Pick Six," where I take a guess at predicting the outcome of six games every week. Pick Six is not conducted with the point spread in mind; we are simply picking winners.


Oregon 34, Boise State 31

The Ducks have wings this year. They also have revenge on their mind for losing to Boise State at home in Autzen Stadium last year, 37-32. Oh, and some of the Oregon players accused Boise State for taking some cheap shots during the game—including one that knocked quarterback Jeremiah Masoli out of the game.

Boise State almost never loses at home, but this is by far the biggest regular season non-conference game in school history. I think the Ducks will grab a quick lead and hold off a valiant comeback effort by Kellen Moore and company.


Notre Dame 40, Nevada 21

I am on the Nevada bandwagon this year. I think that Colin Kapernick is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the NCAA right now. I think that the backfield is loaded with Vai Taua and Luke Lippincott.

But that Nevada defense was a sieve at times last year.

Defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta has had time all summer to prepare for the Pistol offense and devise a game plan that will shut down the high-powered attack. This might be a time where Notre Dame has the schematic advantage, and I figure that Charlie Weis, Jimmy Clausen, and Golden Tate have been licking their chops all offseason when they’ve cued up Nevada game tape. This might be close early, but Notre Dame should pull away late.


Oklahoma 52, BYU 17

The first college football game being played in the House that Jerry built will display two very good quarterbacks in Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford and BYU’s Max Hall.

The difference, though, is that Max Hall tends to struggle in his biggest games (see TCU, Utah, and Arizona games from 2008). Also, Oklahoma has more talent than BYU on both sides of the ball.

Yes, some of that talent has left, and both teams are rebuilding their offensive lines. I just think that Hall will be rattled more by Oklahoma’s defense than Bradford will be by BYU’s front. National title game notwithstanding, Oklahoma’s threshing machine was rarely stopped last season. I don’t think BYU can offer resistance.


Oklahoma State 28, Georgia 14

This is one of the harder games to call this weekend, because I think there are a variety of unknowns. Georgia is bringing in a new quarterback, new starting running back, but a veteran defense to Stillwater, Oklahoma for a game against an explosive set of triplets in quarterback Zac Robinson, running back Kendall Hunter, and wide receiver Dez Bryant.

The key will be Georgia’s defense. Can they disrupt this high octane, versatile attack and shorten the field for their offense? Joe Cox will be able to target AJ Green, but I think he will make a couple of critical mistakes—and that will be the difference in the game in the end.


Alabama 24, Virgina Tech 17

This will be an all-out slugfest. Virginia Tech hangs its hopes on good defense, special teams, and some dynamic play from junior quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Without Sean Glennon looking over his shoulder, this is now Taylor’s team—although the loss of running back Darren Evans has to give some Hokies fans pause.

Meanwhile, Alabama has been dealing with their own off-the-field issues. Starting defensive end Brandon Deaderick was shot in the arm earlier this week when someone tried to rob him and a friend. Also, there are questions surrounding the eligibility of wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Mark Ingram after the two participated in a fishing trip that has caught the attention of the NCAA.

As of this writing, the NCAA has not ruled on the eligibility of the two offensive players, but an Alabama internal investigation has determined that the two players did not commit a violation. However, considering Alabama’s past history with the NCAA (including recent sanctions for a textbook scandal), you can understand why the program might be cautious about this.

Given that the two players have been reinstated on the condition of repayment of the cost of the fishing trip, I think that having both playmakers back will make the difference.


Michigan 28, Western Michigan 24

To bring things full circle for this week one column. I think Michigan avoids the dreaded three-game home opener losing streak and will barely get by Western Michigan. This has more to do with my continued lack of confidence in the Michigan quarterback situation—although I would say that the addition of freshmen Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson increases the overall talent level at the position compared to last season.

Western Michigan is just as dangerous an opponent as Appalachian State was two years ago. Tim Hiller has been somewhat overshadowed in the MAC West by Central Michigan’s Dan Lefevour, but Hiller has put up some impressive numbers of his own. Western Michigan also went 9-4 last season, so they are definitely a threat.

This will be a close game, but Michigan will make a play late to pull out the victory.

Okay, enough talk. Let’s get it on!

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