Tuesday, September 2, 2008

From The Horse’s Mouth: Week 2 Spotlight games

The second week of the college season isn’t giving us a better showing on the schedule. It’s another week built for blowouts and shutouts, but there’s always the potential for those unexpected occurrences, as witnessed in the opener.

Miami at (5) Florida

The Horse’s must see rating: 7

Quickie: This would be one hell of a game, if we rewound the clock to 2001. But regardless, any division-I battle for the state of Florida has to be spotlighted. The Canes are looking for long lost respect and a return to the upper echelon of college football. As for the Gators, they’re just looking for another national championship, which would mark their second in 3 years.

CANES (1-0)
Last opponent: W-Charleston Southern

Miami showed patience in Randy Shannon’s first year, but I’ll guarantee that in 2008 his ass will experience a burning sensation that penicillin will not cure. Winning is the only remedy, and the victories must come often. It wasn’t just the 5-7 season that brought the grumblings. It was how they lost. Of the 119 division-I programs, Miami finished 110th in total offense. Passing ranked them in the ACC cellar. And if they were looking for something to build on in 2008, losing 48-0 to Virginia Tech in the final game wasn’t the way to do it.

QB Robert Mavre will return for game 2, after sitting out the Canes 52-7 victory over Charleston Southern with a suspension. Even without their named starter active, Miami finished with 416 yards of offense, but that’s hardly a fair measuring stick of improvement, when those yards are accumulated against a program from the football championship subdivision. To have any chance against the Gators, the Cane’s must utilize the talents of running backs Javarris James and Graig Cooper, who combined for 1264 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2007, despite James being plagued by injury.

GATORS (1-0)
Last Opponent: W-Hawaii

What do you give a man that has everything? Tim Tebow has a conference championship ring, national championship ring, and a Heisman Trophy. Players dream of collecting just one of those items in their collegiate careers, and Florida’s junior quarterback already has all three. When the bar is set that high, the next goal would be a repeat of all three, only this time posting an undefeated mark. With the establishment of a running game, Tebow can lighten his offensive load, and the Gators offense can show more balance. Jeremy Demps, Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Moody will provide the legs, giving Tebow more of a true passer look. WR Percy Harvin is probable for Saturday’s game, bringing his game breaking abilities back to the field, after missing time rehabilitating from heel surgery.

Xtra Points: Bernie Kosar was the last freshman to start quarterback for the Miami Hurricanes, and Randy Shannon will now start two in consecutive weeks. The inexperience at the position will hurt them, as the lone weakness for the Gators is the secondary. If you can’t exploit Florida’s softest unit, you can’t win this game. Defensive coordinators bring the house against first year quarterbacks, and I expect the Gators to do the same. Miami has just 11 starters returning from last years squad, and the youth will show on the field.

All Time Series: Miami leads 28-25
Streak: Miami has won 6 straight

(8) West Virginia at East Carolina

The Horse’s must see rating: 7

Quickie: If not for the Pirates’ upset victory over Virginia Tech, this game probably wouldn’t be on the list, but it’s suddenly intriguing. East Carolina has proved itself against a ranked BCS opponent. West Virginia hasn’t. The Pirates are at home and confident, and we’re still waiting to see the true look of Bill Stewart’s 2008 Mountaineers.

Last Opponent: W-Villanova

Even if it was against lowly Villanova, Pat White has temporarily silenced his critics. The quarterback actually looked like one, powering the Mountaineers offense on the strength of his arm, instead of the trampling with his legs that we’re accustomed to. He achieved career highs in attempts, completions, and touchdowns in the 48-21 victory.

The West Virginia defense spent their Saturday defending the run, as the Wildcats remained committed to pounding the rock with 50 rushing attempts. They can expect more of the same against East Carolina, who showed 41 rushes against the Hokies to just 25 pass attempts. The Mountaineers show a lot of man-to-man coverage, and East Carolina may get some good looks down field, but beware the closing speed in the West Virginia secondary.

Last Opponent: W-Virginia Tech

One ranked opponent down, with another on the way. Quarterback Patrick Pickney didn’t have eye catching numbers against Virginia Tech, but a stat that jumps out is no interceptions against that Hokies defense. It will take another mistake free performance against WVU to give his team an opportunity to record their second upset in consecutive weeks. Brandon Simmons and Jonathan Williams will carry the majority of the load, hoping to use their legs to set the Pirates up with more manageable third-and-short situations. No back is a comparable replacement for the departed Chris Johnson and his 4.2 speed, but as a unit, each brings a different dimension to the running game.

The Pirates defensive unit returns 9 starters, including all 4 defensive linemen. C.J. Wilson is the star of the group, and a legitimate Pro prospect. Together they'll fill running lanes and make West Virginia earn every yard. But as good as the line is against the run, they don’t offer much of a pass rush. Their 27 sacks in 2007 ranked them last in conference USA and 60th nationally. If they have a repeat performance of their failure to reach opposing quarterbacks, Pat White may again be staring at big passing numbers.

Xtra Points: If East Carolina pulls this off, they will without a doubt be ranked in next week’s top 25. If West Virginia loses this game, the warm reception for new coach Bill Stewart will quickly move to a chill.

All Time Series: WVU leads 17-2
Streak: WVU won 7 straight

Oregon State at (19) Penn State: The Beavers fumbled away an opportunity to open on a high note, falling to Stanford in the opener. We get to see what PSU is made of, after they rolled easily last week against the FCS.

Ole Miss at (20) Wake Forest: The ACC is said to be bad, while the SEC is said to be the best from “top to bottom”. Mississippi State’s opening loss to Louisiana Tech surely doesn’t support the SEC theory, but Ole Miss gives them another opportunity to prove it.

Central Michigan at (2) Georgia: The Bulldogs continue to lose key players, and it will be interesting to see what QB Dan LeFevour can do, if given time to throw. Colt Brennan was the highly touted mid-major slinger last year, and the Bulldogs didn’t allow him to breathe.

San Diego Sate at Notre Dame: Anxious to see what the Irish look like in 2008? You won’t find out here. Keep in mind that San Diego State lost to FCS Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in their opener.

Buffalo at Pittsburgh: For some strange reason, I like Turner Gill over the ‘stache.

It should be another entertaining week on the college gridiron. But as we watch, let us also keep the storm victims of Southern coast and gulf areas in our thoughts and prayers.

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