At last. The long wait is over and the glorious college football season is upon us. I know its been beaten into the ground, but this season is one of the most wide-open college football seasons in recent memory. Hopefully it lives up to its potential. Here at Statistically Speaking, you can count on a stat heavy look at the sport this season. Today, I'll preview some of the more important and intriguing pre-weekend games.
South Carolina at Mississippi State
The Gamecocks roll into Starkville with designs on another upper-division finish in the SEC East. In order to accomplish that task, they need to take care of business against what can best be described as the dregs of the SEC. With that being said, the dregs of the SEC will probably be tougher than mos of South Carolina's non-conference opponents. Mississippi State return 8 starters to a defense that was pretty good at home last season (22.8 points allowed in conference home games versus 30 points allowed in conference road games). Unfortunately, aside from the drubbing they put on Ole Miss in the season finale last year, the offense was terrible everywhere. Expect more of the same in a defensive struggle that the Cocks eke out by about a touchdown.
Winner: South Carolina
Northwestern at Miami (Ohio)
What was to be a glorious homecoming, with Randy Walker leading his upstart Wildcats against his former Redhawks, is now a melancholy memorial for a coach, and a man, who left the game too soon. Northwestern, a deeply flawed team that wins with a gimmick offense and smoke and mirrors, must go on the road to face a legitimate MAC team while breaking in a new starting quarterback. The Wildcats still have super soph tailback Tyrell Sutton and will surely be playing with a ot of emotion. However, while many folks lend creedence to the idea that emotion is undefeated in college football play, I tend to take a more cynical view that 'emotional' teams fall just as often as they prevail. Miami is no pushover, and they'll knock off Northwestern in a minor upset.
Winner: Miami (Ohio)
Toledo at Iowa State
This is an intriguing game for the Cyclones. Toledo has emerged in recent years as a MAC power, and with a difficult Big 12 schedule ahead, Iowa State cannot afford a slip up here. Last year Iowa State opened the season at home against non-Division I Illinois State and won a closely contested battle 32-21. Later, in a non-conference road game at Army the Cyclones were locked in a mortal struggle, but survived 28-21. In between, they routed archrival Iowa at home. So there is precedent for taking some non-conference teams lightly in Iowa State's recent history. Still, with thir version of the triplets (Bret Meyer, Stevie Hicks, and Todd Blythe), Iowa State should have Toledo outmanned.
Winner: Iowa State
UTEP at San Diego State
A recent Conference USA power, and a Mountain West trendy sleeper get together late Thursday night. Carson Palmer's younger brother, Jordan, is quite a quarterback in his own right. He will look to help lead UTEP to the Conference USA title in his senior season. San Diego State has a pretty good quarterback themselves, unfortunately he will be on the sidelines the entire year, and most Aztec fans hope for years to come. Chuck Long seeks to lead the Aztecs back to a bowl game for the first time since 1998. At the very least, this game should be full of offensive fireworks. I'll take San Diego State since they're playing at home.
Winner: San Diego State
Nevada at Fresno State
The Wolfpack helped derail what could have been a great season for Fresno State. After narrowly losing to USC in an epic game, the Bulldogs stumbled at Nevada 38-35 the following week. Fresno was as unlucky as Nevada was fortuitous last season. Fresno was 0-4 in close games while Nevada was 5-0. A little regression and homefield advantage point to a win and an early lead in the WAC race for Fresno.
Winner: Fresno State
Be sure to check back on Friday morning for a new feature, Lines of the Night. Here, I'll give you the passing, rushing, and receiving lines of the night. They may not necessarily be the night's best lines, but rather some of the more unique passing, rushing, and receiving statistics.