After a long and very hot summer, I can’t tell you how glad I am that the first college football season of the Saturday is finally here. So let’s get on with the first edition of the “Fearless Friday Forecast” for 2009:
1. Georgia at Oklahoma State: I have waffled back and forth on this game for a couple of months. Logically, Oklahoma State should win. The Cowboys have been getting ready for this meeting with Georgia for years. The stadium is all fixed up and Okie State has what may be their best offense since Barry Sanders ran wild. But I just get the feeling that Georgia will be able to run the ball and limit Oklahoma State’s possessions. I also believe Georgia won’t be intimidated by the crowd. This will be a big win for the Bulldogs as they come home to face 1-0 South Carolina: Georgia 24, Oklahoma State 20.
2. Jacksonville State at Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets are a lot better and under normal circumstances would put up a pretty big number. But Tech has to play Clemson just five days after this game is over. Once Paul Johnson is in control of the game he’ll put it in cruise control. Georgia Tech 31, Jacksonville State 7.
3. Alabama vs. Virginia Tech, Georgia Dome: Nick Saban and Kirby Smart, Alabama’s defensive coordinator, have been getting ready for this game all summer. The key to the game is pretty simple. Alabama’s defense will force Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor to throw. If Taylor, who had only two touchdown passes and seven interceptions last season, doesn’t make Alabama’s defense pay for that, then the Crimson Tide wins. This will be an ugly football game because that is the way the two head coaches want it. Alabama 17, Virginia Tech 10.
4. Western Kentucky at Tennessee: Lane Kiffin has proven that he can energize the Tennessee fan base and make a lot of people outside the Volunteer state mad in the process. Now it’s time to play ball and we find out if the man can coach. Tennessee wins this game pretty comfortably, but I’m looking too see if quarterback Jonathan Crompton comes out of this feeling good about himself. I’m also looking to see if some of those talented freshmen, specifically running back Bryce Brown, make an immediate impact. Tennessee 34, Western Kentucky 3.
5. Louisiana Tech at Auburn: One of these teams was 8-5 and went to a bowl last season. And it wasn’t Auburn. Louisiana Tech, coached by Derek Dooley, returns nine starters on offense. Auburn has a new head coach (Gene Chizik), a new offense, and an old quarterback (Chris Todd) with a surgically-repaired throwing arm. There was a lot of skepticism over Chizik’s hiring so he needs to get out of the gate fast. I think the Tigers will. Auburn 28, La. Tech 10.
6. Miami at Florida State (Monday): This is a big game for both head coaches. Florida State’s Bobby Bowden believes this team is good enough to compete for the ACC championship, something he used to count on every season. A home win over his No. 1 ACC rival would be a step in that direction. A loss would start raising more questions about his future. This is Randy Shannon’s third year as head coach at Miami. The Hurricanes went to a bowl game last season but need to show signs that things are getting better. Here is your key. If Florida State can run the ball consistently, OC Jimbo Fisher will have a good night calling plays. If Miami can stuff the run, the game will go to the wire. Let’s go with the Seminoles at home. Florida State 24, Miami 17.
7. Ole Miss at Memphis (Sunday): Ole Miss is getting a lot of love in this preseason and many of their fans have the Rebels penciled into a trip to Atlanta. This will be the first indicator of how Ole Miss is going to handle the hype. This is going to be a much tougher game than people think. The Tigers, who played in the St. Petersburg Bowl last season, have one of the best defenses in Conference USA. There are a bunch of SEC transfers on that unit. Memphis averaged over 417 yards per game in total offense last season. Because of proximity (Memphis is about 90 minutes from Oxford, Miss.), these two teams really don’t like each other. The Rebels win but it will be a dogfight. Ole Miss 24, Memphis 17.
8. LSU at Washington: The Tigers are coming off a disappointing 8-5 season that ended well with a big win over Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Coach Les Miles has fixed the things that were wrong with this team a year ago. He has settled on a quarterback (Jordan Jefferson). He hired a pro for a defensive coordinator (John Chavis). Now LSU has to travel to Seattle for a game that doesn’t start until 10:30 p.m. LSU simply has too much talent to lose this game against a Washington program that has lost 14 straight dating back to the end of the 2007 season. But the Huskies do have a new head coach (Steve Sarkisian) and a proven quarterback (Jake Locker). Unfortunately for Washington, it still has a horrible defense. LSU 42, Washington 17.
9. Baylor at Wake Forest: This game is not getting a lot of hype but I think it is one of the best ones on the board this weekend. Wake Forest is going for its fourth straight bowl trip with nine starters back on offense, including senior quarterback Riley Skinner, the most accurate passer in ACC history (67.3 percent). Baylor, 4-8 last season, is going to make some noise in 2009 because of sophomore quarterback Robert Griffin, who had almost 3,000 yards of total offense as a true freshman. Wake Forest, which has some major league holes to fill on defense (No. 4 draft pick LB Aaron Curry) needs to control the ball and keep Griffin off the field to have a shot in this one. Wake Forest 24, Baylor 21.
10. Middle Tennessee at Clemson: The Tigers start their first full season under Dabo Swinney with a new quarterback (Kyle Parker) and a new defensive coordinator (Kevin Steele) who is going to give the Tigers an edge on that side of the ball. The Blue Raiders return eight starters from an offense that averaged only 348.6 yards per game last season. That is supposed to change under new OC Tony Franklin, who will launch his spread offense. I want to see how Parker, a great baseball player, will manage the game and if Clemson can get their big play guys, C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford, into space. Clemson has to come to Georgia Tech in just five days so I don’t expect to see a lot of creativity in this game. Clemson 31, Middle Tennessee 14.
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