OREGON STATE (1-0) AT CINCINNATI (1-0)
Time/TV: 7:45 p.m./ESPN
Favorite: Oregon State by 3.5
The first of two marquee non-conference games for the Big East this weekend will be played tonight, as Brian Kelly and the upstart Cincinnati Bearcats host an Oregon State team ranked just outside the top 25 and coming off of an impressive 24-7 win over Utah.
While Nippert Stadium is certainly a far cry from being one of the biggest home field advantages in college football, UC will have the advantage of being acclimated to the 90 plus degree heat, unlike the Beavers who are playing just their third Eastern Time Zone game in 20 years. Added confidence for coming off of the most lopsided win in 30 years should also work to Cincinnati's advantage.
I'm always wary of an offense with rotating quarterbacks after the first week of the season, and I'm even more warierer (word) when said offense is going up against a defense as good as Cincinnati's. Mike Riley has settled on Sean Canfield as the starter, but also says that the more athletic Lyle Moevao will continue to see significant time behind center. Neither performed very well against the Utes, with Canfield going 8-of-19 for 87 yards, and Moevao 3-of-9 for 32.
Even if the passing game continues to stutter, the Beavs will continue to rely on uber-talented running back Yvenson Bernard to carry most of the load offensively. A powerful back with deceptive speed and solid hands, Bernard accounted for 188 of OSU's 370 yards of total offense last week.
Stopping the run and forcing the Beaver quarterbacks to put the ball up is paramount for Joe Tresey's defense, so it's a good thing that All-Big East defensive tackle Terrill Byrd is back after serving a one-game suspension. Byrd, and the rest of a Bearcat defense that held Southeast Missouri State to three points and 262 yards of offense, will also be benefited by the absence of Oregon State's All-American guard Jeremy Perry, who will miss the game because of a lower leg injury.
The game will be the first real test for Kelly's Cincinnati-style spread offense which racked up 615 yards in its debut, good for third best in school history. The pressure will be on high school legend Ben Mauk, who will go up against a Beaver secondary that is one of the best in the Pac-10, and proved it by limiting Utah's two quarterbacks to 178 yards of passing offense.
An enormous wildcard was thrown into this game when it was announced yesterday that wide receiver/return specialist Sammie Stroughter - who left the team for a month to deal with personal issues and was said to be out for the season before miraculously returning to practice last week - will be available for action tonight. If they can find a way to get the ball into his hands, Stroughter might instantly breathe some life into a passing game desperately needing a spark.
Oregon State's ability or inability to run the football will ultimately determine who wins this otherwise evenly matched game. If Cincinnati's talented front four and linebacking trio of Corey Smith, Andre Revels and Leo Morgan can hit Bernard early and often enough to force Canfield and Moevao to take their shots against Mike Mickens, Haruki Nakamura and company, then I think the Bearcats win.
I'm pulling the trigger.
CC Prediction: Cincinnati 24, Oregon State 19
NAVY (1-0) AT RUTGERS (1-0) (Friday)
Time/TV: 7 p.m./ESPN
Favorite: Rutgers by 16.5
If you walked through the U of L athletic office this Tuesday, you may have noticed Cardinal basketball coach Rick Pitino taking scrupulous notes during an extended eight-hour video session. He wasn't watching tape of any of his team's games from a year ago, or video of the non-conference opponents on the newly unveiled '07-'08 schedule. With just six weeks remaining before the "official" start of basketball practice, it was a Greg Schiano press conference that Pitino was taking in as part of his preseason training regiment.
Observe for yourself:
"The thing that makes Navy so dangerous on offense is that I think they're more talented than they've ever been."
"Slotback Reggie Campbell is an incredible player. He's faster than probably anybody on our defensive team. During his career he's averaged 71/2 yards per carry and 221/2 yards per reception. Those are pretty serious numbers. And his 40 time is 4.4, so he's a pretty legitimate big-play threat."
"Zerbin Singleton and Shun White, the other two slotbacks, are dangerous players. White is very productive, and they can all run. They can run better than what I remember over the years."
I'm all for respecting your opponent in the days leading up to a game, but "more talented than they've ever been?" Roger Staubach would like a word.
The truth is that this Navy team - while still the safe bet to bring home its fifth straight Commander in Chief's trophy - is probably the least talented squad the Academy has fielded in five years. Campbell is a fine, fine player, and Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada owns the coolest name in college football for the second straight year, but the main problem is a Cadet defense that returned just three starters and allowed Temple (TEMPLE!) to throw the ball and keep the game relatively close last Friday.
Navy is out to lead the nation in rushing for the third straight season, a quest that may run into some bumps because of Rutgers defense that doesn't take kindly to teams dedicated to pounding the ball on the ground. The Middies will finish the game with respectable enough rushing stats, but the majority of them will have come after the Mike Teel Retribution and Ray Rice Heisman Tours have already rolled through their second stop.
With their offense being the way it is (bigoted towards the forward pass), Navy will have to score a lot of early points if they want to be in the game once the fourth quarter rolls around, and I'm not convinced that's something they're capable of doing against Schiano's defense.
CC Prediction: Rutgers 34, Navy 16