Thursday, September 1, 2011

B1G Week 1 Preview

Condolences to Mark Dantonio whose father passed away on Sunday night. He will coach the Spartans on Friday night in their opener.

Week one is here. The Badgers start it off on Thursday night against the Runnin’ Rebels. This game was a better idea when it was played in Vegas.

For all intents and purposes, there are really just two games that should provide drama for league schools during cupcake week. Let’s preview them both as a way to kickoff the 2011 season.

Game 1: Northwestern Wildcats at Boston College Eagles, Saturday, 11 a.m. ESPNU
QB Dan Persa is listed as the starter for Northwestern. However, it is a game time decision. Reportedly, he is still suffering from an Achilles heel injury suffered in the Iowa game last November. If Persa doesn’t play the Wildcats chances are greatly diminished.

The Wildcats return 4 of 5 offensive linemen from a year ago including an Outland Trophy candidate in Al Netter. On the other side of the line, DE Vince Browne is on Nagurski and Bednarik watch lists with 18 career sacks.

The Wildcats offense also returns Biletnikoff hopeful WR Jeremy Ebert and Mackey candidate TE Drake Dunsmore. The spread attack has been extremely exciting and successful. However, you have to take this all with a grain of salt given that Persa is limping in practice and may not play. If not, it will be true Sophomore Kain Colter, who as his name indicates, is not Dan Persa. Remember the Wildcats were 7-3 with Persa and 0-3 without him a year ago.

Boston College has its own injury problems. Their #1 tailback Montel Harris is out for this game. His back up has also gotten himself injured, although it appears he will play on Saturday. Last year’s Wildcats were 92nd against the run, meaning I might be able to put up a big yards against them. Eagle quarterback Chase Rettig is back and better than a year ago.

The Eagles front seven is good. It is anchored by consensus All-American linebacker Luke Kuechly, who had 110 solo tackles last year. Without a healthy Persa this is a much more doable mission for the Eagle defense.

Of Note: Since 2008, Northwestern has won 24 games, which ties them with four other schools- including Boston College for 29th best in that time frame. I don’t know what that means, but I’m certain it’s something.

Line: BC by 2.5. This line is going to move with every movement that Dan Persa makes. It opened at 10, but has closed significantly on the belief that he is okay.

Prediction: Three important facts. Boston College has not lost a season opener since 2003. Even if Persa plays- he’s clearly not 100%. The game is at Chestnut Hill. I think its low scoring, but I like the ACC team by a 21-17 score.

Game 2:Minnesota at Southern California, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ESPN2 or ABC)
The Golden Gophers start off with a bang in beautiful Southern California.

Lane Kiffin actually stayed in a job for more than a year to the anger of some Trojan fans. His team is playing for pride as NCAA sanctions mean they won’t compete beyond the regular season. Some commentators expect SC to roll over and die. I don’t.

One thing SC might want to work on is its defense. Playing in the PAC-10 they gave up 500+ yards on three occasions and averaged allowing over 400 yards and 26 points per game. The 1985 Bears, they were not.

Of course, they racked up 31 points and 431 yards a game last year. QB Matt Barkley returns along with a very young team. There are 13 returning starters; however 70 of the 109 man roster have never played a down of college football. Depth is a potential problem for the Trojans.

Speaking of young and inexperienced: meet the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Year 1 of the rebuilding project (when was the last time they weren’t rebuilding?) starts now. MarQueis Grey is an athletic, yet woefully inexperienced quarterback. There is some experience returning on the offensive line to go along with one senior running back- Duane Bennett. WR DaJon McKnight is a decent playmaker on the outside.

Defensively, Minnesota gave up 33 points a game last year. They ranked dead last (120th) in sacks a year ago. Linebackers Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper are back, but is experience really that important when you were that bad? There is no reason to believe this defense is going to be any better than last year’s version.

Of Note: A Minnesota loss would make Jerry Kill the fourth consecutive head Gopher to lose his opening game. The Gophers last B1G Championship came in 1967.

Line: SC by 21.

Prediction: Pat Forde is calling a Gopher upset and others are banking on USC not showing up. A year ago it was a 32-21 Trojan victory. I think it is again, because I believe Minnesota will make too many mistakes on the road, in a new system, on a national stage against a talented USC team. Trojans 38 Minnesota 10.

The rest of the B1G is easing into the first week of college football. If any of them lose, it’s a huge embarrassment (we’re looking at you, Indiana). However, it is a good opportunity to find out more.

Ohio State has a new coach and quarterback making their debut, while Penn State has named co-starters at QB. So while these games serve as little more than glorified scrimmages- we will have a better idea of what each of these teams has and what they lack this time next week.

Cupcake Week Schedule:UNLV at No. 11 Wisconsin, Thursday, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Youngstown State at No. 17 Michigan State, Friday, 6:30 p.m.
Akron at No. 18 Ohio State. Saturday, 11 a.m.
Indiana State at Penn State, 11 a.m.
Tennessee Tech at Iowa, 11 a.m.
Middle Tennessee at Purdue, 11 a.m.
Western Michigan at Michigan, 2:30 p.m. (ABC or ESPN2)
Chattanooga at No. 10 Nebraska, 2:30 p.m.
Arkansas State at Illinois, 2:30 p.m.
Indiana vs. Ball State, 7 p.m. Lucas Oil Stadium.

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