To say Ohio State football fans are giddy with anticipation for a glimpse at the new-look Buckeyes under Urban Meyer would classify as the understatement of the year. From some of the comments I have heard these past few months, university officials might as well get the paperwork started on renaming Ohio Stadium in the new coach’s honor.
What most fans tend to forget, of course, is that Meyer is not only overhauling a team that finished 6-7 last season, he is attempting to change an offensive mind-set that dates back several generations.
Woody Hayes was credited with the program’s three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust mentality, but the truth is that Ohio State has been a run-oriented team for much of its 122-season history. Even during the high-octane seasons of 1998 (when Joe Germaine set the single-season passing record) and 2006 (when Troy Smith won the Heisman Trophy), the Buckeyes still ran the ball and ran it a lot – respectively 54.9 and 58.5 percent of the time to be exact.
I am guessing the 2012 edition of the team will also be run-oriented despite the fact most fans think (or hope) quarterback Braxton Miller will be chucking the football all over the lot in Meyer’s attacking style of the spread offense. Unfortunately, while the talented Miller has improved greatly from his freshman season, he remains a bit raw when it comes to the passing game. Meanwhile, the QB continues to learn a complex and entirely new offensive system, and no bona fide go-to receiver upon which he can rely has stepped into the spotlight – at least not yet.
What will set this year’s Ohio State offense apart – and indeed set it apart from last year’s squad and most of the ones in program history – is the mobility of the offensive line. Gone with longtime assistant Jim Bollman to his new assignment at Boston College is the old drop-step-and-retreat mentality. Rather than letting the opponent come to them, OSU linemen are actually being tasked with initiating contact.
Additionally, some of the excess baggage those on the offensive line used to carry around their midsection has disappeared. Meyer apparently favors quality over quantity.
The Buckeyes remain razor-thin in the offensive trenches – two sophomores and three true freshmen are listed as the primary backups – and that likely means just a handful of bumps or bruises could have a devastating effect on the team’s bottom line. But if its health holds up, and highly-rated players perform to anywhere near their potential, the offensive line could be one of the most pleasant surprises of the upcoming season.
I know one thing: Meyer wants to play a fast-paced, attacking style of offense, and that is precisely what he has been concentrating on since taking over the program after the Gator Bowl. I was told last spring by someone who has been in and around the OSU program for several years that the offensive line hasn’t been this mobile since the early 1980s when Art Schlichter was running, throwing and establishing a school record for total offense that’s still on the books.
Want even more reason for optimism? Meyer not only works miracles, he works them right away.
During his first season as a head coach in 2001, Meyer piloted Bowling Green to an 8-3 record. The Falcons had been 2-9 the year before. When the coach got to Utah in 2003, he led the team to a 10-2 finish. The Utes had been 5-6 the year before. And when Meyer rolled into Gainesville, one year after Florida had finished 7-5, he produced a 9-3 record.
One year later, the Gators met top-ranked and undefeated Ohio State in Arizona for the national championship and … well, you know the rest.
Starting tomorrow, we begin to find out if Meyer can work his magic one more time.
** Ohio State kicks off its 123rd season of intercollegiate football tomorrow against Miami (Ohio). The Buckeyes have won 33 consecutive home openers, not tasting defeat since a 19-0 loss to Penn State in the 1978 season opener.
** OSU head coach Urban Meyer makes his debut this weekend. Meyer is the 24th head football coach in program history. The last time a first-year Ohio State head coach failed to win his opening game with the Buckeyes was Paul Bixler in 1946 when the Buckeyes played Missouri to a 13-13 tie. The only last time someone lost their opening game as OSU head coach was Jack Ryder in 1892.
** The RedHawks are led by second-year coach Don Treadwell, whose team struggled to a 4-8 record last season. Treadwell is not unfamiliar with playing against Ohio State, however. He was on staff at Michigan State from 2000-02 and again from 2007-10 during which time the Spartans posted an 0-3 record against the Buckeyes. Treadwell was also on Mark Dantonio’s staff at Cincinnati in 2004 when Ohio State rolled to a 27-6 victory in that season’s opener.
** Meyer returns to coaching after a one-year absence. His 10-year career has produced a record of 104-23, four conference championships and two national titles in previous stops at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida.
** Meyer is 0-1 lifetime against MU. His Bowling Green team dropped a 24-21 decision to the RedHawks in 2001. For his career, Meyer is 12-5 against Mid-American Conference teams. That includes a 1-1 record against MU. His first Bowling Green team dropped a 24-21 decision to the RedHawks in 2001, and his final Florida team rolled to a 34-12 victory over Miami in the 2010 season opener for both teams.
** Miami is embarking upon its 124th season of intercollegiate football. The RedHawks have enjoyed only one winning season since 2005, and they haven’t won a season opener since 2007 when they took a 14-13 victory in a night game at Ball State. Miami is 79-38-6 all-time in season openers.
** All-time, the Buckeyes are 106-12-4 in season openers. The team’s last opening-game loss came in the 1999 Kickoff Classic, a 23-12 loss to Miami (Fla.) in East Rutherford, N.J.
** In season home openers, OSU is 110-8-4 all-time.
** In case you’re interested, the last living coach to beat Ohio State in a home opener was Darrell Mudra, who led Arizona to a 14-7 victory over the Buckeyes in 1967. Mudra, who had seven stops as a college head coach including preceding Bobby Bowden at Florida State, had the unusual practice of coaching from the pressbox on game day. The 90-year-old Mudra, whose nickname was “Dr. Victory,” had a career record of 200-81-4 and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
** There are plenty of historical connections between Ohio State and Miami. Woody Hayes was head coach of the RedHawks (then known as the Redskins) in 1949 and ’50 before embarking upon a 28-year stay at OSU. Sid Gillman, an All-American end for the Buckeyes in 1932 and team co-captain in ’33, served as Miami’s head coach from 1944-47. Jim Tressel served as an MU assistant coach from 1978-80. And the father of Miami safety D.J. Brown, David, was a four-star defensive backfield starter from the Buckeyes from 1986-89.
** Also, Paul Brown – a 1930 Miami grad – became OSU head coach in 1941 and led the Buckeyes to their first national championship in 1942. Brown’s statue will be unveiled in Miami’s Cradle of Coaches Plaza on Sept. 22.
** Brown, Gillman and former OSU basketball coach Randy Ayers are members of Miami’s Athletics Hall of Fame. Ayers was a two-time all-conference performer and four-year starter for MU’s basketball team from 1975-78.
** Ohio State has a 61-game home winning streak against unranked nonconference opponents. You have to go all the way back to a 34-17 loss to Florida State in 1982 to find the last unranked nonconference team to beat the Buckeyes in the Horseshoe.
** The Buckeyes are 30-1 all-time against current members of the Mid-American Conference. The only blemish on that record against the MAC remains a 12-6 loss to Akron in a game played Sept. 15, 1894, at the Ohio State Fair.
** No Ohio team has beaten Ohio State since Oberlin scored a 7-6 victory over the Buckeyes in October 1921. Coincidentally, Treadwell’s hometown happens to be Oberlin.
** The RedHawks are 0-4 lifetime against Ohio State with all four of those games having been played in Columbus. MU last served as the Buckeyes’ season-opening opponent in 2005 and absorbed a 34-14 loss.
** Miami is 12-42-2 all-time against current members of the Big Ten. In addition to their 0-4 mark against OSU, the RedHawks are 5-3 against Northwestern, 3-10-1 vs. Indiana, 3-9-1 against Purdue, 1-3 vs. Michigan State, 0-2 against Illinois, 0-3 vs. Iowa, 0-3 against Minnesota and 0-5 against Michigan. Miami has never played Nebraska, Penn State or Wisconsin.
** The RedHawks have lost five of their last six games against ranked opponents, including a 17-6 loss at No. 21 Missouri in last year’s opener. The team’s lone victory over a ranked team during that time was a 26-21 decision over No. 25 Northern Illinois in the 2010 regular-season finale.
** Since 2007, Ohio State has allowed only 11 opponents to rush for 100 yards or more. That is tied with BYU for the third-best figure in Division I-A, trailing only Alabama (five) and Boston College (nine).
** Ohio State is 404-109-20 in Ohio Stadium since the facility opened in 1922. That is a .777 winning percentage. All-time in Columbus, the team is 547-156-35, good for a winning percentage of .765. (Yes, the numbers include the vacated 2010 season.)
** Fans in attendance tomorrow at the Horseshoe will notice the new $7 million scoreboard and audio system. The new Panasonic HD scoreboard is 42 feet high and 124 feet across and is flanked by two clusters of speakers along with new LED ribbon boards running the length of the south stands.
** Ohio State has elected five captains for the 2012 season. The quintet of seniors includes fullback Zach Boren, defensive linemen Garrett Goebel and John Simon, running back Jordan Hall and linebacker Etienne Sabino. Simon becomes only the eighth two-time captain in program history. The others are Richard Ellis (1891-92), Archie Griffin (1974-75), Glen Cobb (1981-82), Pepper Johnson (1984-85), Steve Bellisari (2000-01), Joe Cooper (2000-01) and James Laurinaitis (2007-08).
** Miami QB Zac Dysart ranks third among active Division I-A quarterbacks in career passing yardage with 8,530. Only Landry Jones of Oklahoma (12,379) and Matt Barkley of USC (9,054) have more. Dysart needs exactly 2,300 yards this season to become Miami’s all-time passing leader. That distinction currently belongs to Ben Roethlisberger, who threw for 10,829 yards from 2001-03.
** RedHawks receiver Nick Harwell will test Ohio State’s veteran secondary. Harwell was second in the nation last season with an average of 129.6 yards per game. Overall, he caught 97 balls – setting a new school single-season record – good for 1,425 yards and nine TDs.
** Harwell currently ranks fifth on Miami’s all-time list for career receiving yards with 2,296. Sitting in the No. 1 spot is Ryne Robinson (3,697, 2003-06).
** Treadwell knows a thing or two about Miami receivers. He remains the school’s leader in single-season and career reception average. Treadwell averaged 22.0 yards per catch in 1980 and 21.1 yards for his career from 1978-81.
** Following last season’s 6-7 record, Ohio State is seeking to avoid its first back-to-back losing seasons since three in a row from 1922-24. No other Division I-A team has gone so long between consecutive sub-.500 seasons.
** As if you need to be reminded, the Buckeyes are ineligible for the Big Ten championship and the BCS national title this year. They are, however, eligible for the Associated Press version of the national championship should they finish atop the writers’ poll this season.
** The Big Ten Network will have the telecast of the season opener with Eric Collins on the play-by-play, former Minnesota football player Derek Rackley handling color analysis and former Northwestern basketball and soccer player Lisa Byington providing sideline reports. Kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern.
** The game will also be telecast on Sirius satellite radio channel 94 and XM channel 198.
** Next week, Ohio State stays home to host Central Florida, which makes its first-ever trip to the Horseshoe. The game will be telecast by ESPN2 and will kickoff at 12 noon Eastern.
THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL
** On Aug. 27, 1995, Ohio State ran off with a 38-6 victory over Boston College in the Kickoff Classic in East Rutherford, N.J. Senior tailback Eddie George kicked off what would be a Heisman Trophy-winning season with 99 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 17 carries.
** On Aug. 31, 1937, TCU quarterback Sammy Baugh led the College All-Stars to a 6-0 victory over defending NFL champion Green Bay Packers in front of a crowd of 84,560 fans at Chicago’s Soldier Field. Baugh connected with LSU receiver Gaynell Tinsley for a 53-yard touchdown pass that provided the game’s only scoring. The result marked the first-ever win for the collegians in the fourth annual College All-Star Game.
** On Aug. 31, 1996, No. 18 Kansas State took a 21-14 victory over Texas Tech in the inaugural Big 12 conference game. The Red Raiders nearly rallied from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter, but K-State safety Mario Smith broke up a fourth-down pass deep in his own territory with 44 seconds remaining to secure the win.
** On Sept. 1, 2007, Appalachian State engineered one of the biggest upsets in college football history, going into Ann Arbor and pulling off a 34-32 shocker over No. 5 Michigan. The Wolverines trailed much of the game but managed to take a 32-31 lead with 4:36 to play before QB Armanti Edwards led the Mountaineers on a 69-yard drive for a 24-yard field goal with 26 seconds left. U-M responded and got all the way to Appalachian State’s 20-yard line, but the Wolverines’ field-goal attempt was blocked with six seconds remaining the Mountaineers secured Division I-AA’s first-ever victory over a top-five Division I-A opponent.
** On Sept. 1, 1984, BYU began its march to the national championship with a 20-14 upset at No. 3 Pittsburgh. Cougars QB Robbie Bosco threw for 325 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown to Adam Haysbert with 1:37 remaining in the game. The victory vaulted BYU from unranked to No. 13 in the national polls. The contest was also the first regular-season college football game ever televised live by ESPN.
** On Sept. 2, 1989, Southern Mississippi quarterback Brett Favre threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns, including a 2-yard score with 23 seconds remaining, to lead the Golden Eagles to a 30-26 win over No. 6 Florida State.
** On Sept. 3, 1983, seventh-ranked Florida State barely escaped a season-opening loss, scoring a late touchdown to squeeze past unranked East Carolina, 47-46, in Tallahassee.
** On Sept. 4, 1993, Penn State scored its first Big Ten victory with a 38-20 win over Minnesota.
** On Sept. 5, 1981, Lamar University engineered one of the biggest upsets in college football history, beating defending Southwest Conference champion Baylor, 18-17, in Waco. Lamar kicker Mike Marlow booted a 42-yard field goal with three seconds left to account for the winning points. It was the first time in history that a Division I-AA school had beaten a I-A school.
** On Sept. 6, 1986, third-ranked Miami (Fla.) overcame a 15-9 second-half deficit for a 23-15 over Florida, ending the Gators’ 21-game home winning streak.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
** The 2012 college football season actually began yesterday with 16 games and continues with five more contests tonight. Things begin in earnest Saturday morning when Notre Dame takes on the U.S. Naval Academy in the Shamrock Series from Dublin, Ireland. Kickoff is set for 9 a.m. Eastern on CBS.
** In case you’re interested, the season debut for ESPN’s College Gameday will emanate from Arlington, Texas, tomorrow morning. That is the site of Cowboys Stadium, which will host the primetime affair between Michigan and Alabama.
** Remember, there are a few new rules this season including several covering kickoffs and kickoff returns. Kickoffs are being moved from the 30-yard line to the 35, members of the kicking team are allowed no more than a 5-yard running start, and all touchbacks will now be brought out to the 25 rather than the 20. All other touchbacks, including those on punts, will still be brought out to the 20.
** Northern Illinois enters the 2012 season with the nation’s longest winning streak at nine. TCU is second with an eight-game win streak. The longest losing streak in Division I-A is shared by Kansas and Tulane, each of dropped its final 10 games in a row last season. Indiana is next on that list with nine.
** Wisconsin tailback Monteé Ball has a chance to become only the second player to win back-to-back Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors. Indiana running back Anthony Thompson turned the trick in 1988 and ’89. (The award has been around only since 1982, so that automatically eliminates such luminaries as Red Grange, Tom Harmon and two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin.)
** Here are my top five preseason Heisman Trophy favorites (in alphabetical order): RB Monteé Ball of Wisconsin, QB Matt Barkley of USC, QB Landry Jones of Oklahoma, RB Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina and QB Denard Robinson of Michigan. If you want a dark horse candidate, try QB E.J. Manuel of Florida State.
** Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz enters his 14th season in Iowa City and is now the dean of the Big Ten coaches. He needs four more victories to become only the second Iowa head coach with 100 career wins. Hayden Fry, who posted a 143-89-6 mark from 1979-98, is the winningest coach in Iowa history.
** For the first time since 1949 – a period covering 12 U.S. Presidential administrations – Joe Paterno will not be a part of Penn State football. Paterno began his coaching career as an assistant on Rip Engle’s staff in 1950 and took over from Engle as head coach in 1966. The legendary coach was fired late last season in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, and then died at the age of 85 from lung cancer Jan. 22
** Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald begins his seventh season at Northwestern with a 40-36 mark. He is already second in school history in all-time victories, trailing only Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf, who had 49 wins in 12 seasons from 1935-46.
** Minnesota senior cornerback Troy Stoudermire returns from an injury-shortened 2011 season to continue his assault on the Big Ten record books. Stoudermire was granted a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA after breaking his forearm in the third game of last season. Stoudermire is currently second on the Big Ten career list with 122 kickoff returns, while he already holds the conference career mark with 3,102 kickoff return yards.
** Tulsa must enjoy the prospect of playing football in the state of Ohio. Not only did the Golden Hurricane schedule a game against Ohio State in 2016, they have agreed to travel to Toledo the following season.
** The Ohio twofer must be popular among Conference USA teams. Central Florida opened its season at Akron last night with a 56-14 spanking of the Zips and travels to Ohio State a week from tomorrow.
** How passionate are the fans at Old Dominion? Passionate enough to sell out every home game in Ballard Stadium since the Monarchs resumed their football program in 2009. This season is also sold out as the Division I-AA team comes off a 10-3 mark and second-place finish in the Colonial Athletic Association. The Monarchs are scheduled to make the leap to I-A in 2013 with membership in Conference USA.
** The Pac-12 seems to be a place of rebirth for one-time darlings of the coaching profession. Mike Leach has surfaced at Washington State after being dismissed from Texas Tech in 2009. The Rich Rodriguez experimented fairly miserably at Michigan, but he is getting another chance at Arizona. Two-time NFL loser Jim Mora Jr. takes over at UCLA, and Todd Graham is now at Arizona State after only one season at Pittsburgh.
** If you believe multimillion-dollar contracts in college sports are getting out of hand, consider the University of Tennessee. The UT athletic department took in $106.5 million in revenue for the 2011-12 fiscal year, but had $110.5 million in expenses, which included substantial buyouts to former athletic director Mike Hamilton, football coach Phillip Fulmer, men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl and baseball coach Todd Raleigh.
** LSU has already kicked star DB/KR Tyrann Mathieu off the team, and now the Tigers could be without leading rusher Michael Ford. The team is currently awaiting the outcome of an appeal concerning the tailback’s academic record. Junior linebacker Tahj Jones is also facing a possible academic suspension.
The last two seasons here at World Forecast Headquarters are going to be pretty tough acts to follow. Two years ago, the straight-up picks finished with a 118-24 record (that’s a .831 winning percentage) while last year we bettered that slightly to 120-22 (.845).
Against the spread, we’re thinking about moving to Las Vegas full-time. Two years ago, we were 81-55-6 against the spread and followed that last year with a tidy 90-47-3.
In case you’re keeping score at home, that makes the career numbers 1,641-472 straight up (77.7 percent) and well above water ATS at 855-732-28 (good enough for 53.8 percent).
But mindful of Proverbs 16:18 – “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” – we’ll simply remind everyone that we pick these games strictly for the fun factor with most picks based on gut feelings rather than any inside information. Nevertheless, we enjoy making them and you apparently enjoy reading them, so here we go for another year.
Here are the games we’re watching this week:
No. 24 Boise State at No. 13 Michigan State: Each of these teams will break in a new starting quarterback, making it difficult to believe either can replicate the success it enjoyed last season. The Broncos not only lost QB Kellen Moore (3,800 yards, 43 TDs), they lost top running back Doug Martin as well as their entire starting defensive line. Don’t cry for Chris Petersen, though. The seven-year Boise head coach usually has something up his sleeve for marquee games. Meanwhile, Sparty has to find a suitable replacement for QB Kirk Cousins (3,316 yards, 25 TDs) not to mention top receiver B.J. Cunningham (79 catches, 1,306 yards, 12 TDs). But MSU has plenty of defensive firepower returning and that is what should make the difference … Michigan State 23, Boise State 20. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)
San Jose State at No. 21 Stanford: The Cardinal performed just fine last year following head coach Jim Harbaugh’s bolt to the NFL. Now, they get to see how life treats them after QB Andrew Luck’s departure. Replacing last year’s Heisman Trophy runner-up is Josh Nunes, who has thrown exactly two career passes and none since 2010. Stanford will likely fall back on its running attack while Nunes gets acclimated, and that’s not a bad thing – starting tailback Stepfan Taylor is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. That’s not exactly good news for the Spartans, who ranked 106th nationally last season against the run. Additionally, seven starters from the Pac-12’s top defense return to bedevil San Jose State, which is breaking in a new starting quarterback of its own in JUCO transfer David Fales … Stanford 35, San Jose State 7. (10 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network)
Buffalo at No. 6 Georgia: The Bulldogs are one of several SEC teams picked as preseason favorites to contend for a national championship, but the team doesn’t exactly enter 2012 on a roll. UGA got blown out of the SEC title game by LSU and then lost in overtime to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl, and now the Dawgs face a 2012 season opener with as many as four players sidelined by suspension. The good news is that prolific QB Aaron Murray (3,149 yards, 35 TDs) returns along with several key members of a defensive unit that ranked fifth nationally in total defense. The overmatched Bulls are coming off a 3-9 record and will be without star junior linebacker Khalil Mack, who is suspended for the opener … Georgia 52, Buffalo 7. (12:20 ET, GamePlan/ESPN3)
Northern Iowa at No. 12 Wisconsin: The Badgers underwent an almost complete coaching staff overhaul during the offseason, and they had to go the transfer route again to find a new starting quarterback. Still, Bucky is a heavy favorite to win another Big Ten Leaders Division title, especially with Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for the trophy. Danny O’Brien takes over the QB job from Russell Wilson, who led the Badgers to their second straight Rose Bowl last year. O’Brien’s talents are not nearly as dynamic as Wilson, but he does have one thing his predecessor did – touchdown machine Monteé Ball, who scored an amazing 39 times last year. Ball was roughed up by five men near campus Aug. 1, sustaining several injuries including a concussion, but he swears he will be ready for the opener. Northern Iowa is coming off a 10-3 season, but the Badgers are working on a 17-game home winning streak and are 10-0 lifetime against Division I-AA opponents … Wisconsin 31, Northern Iowa 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN)
North Texas at No. 3 LSU: Hurricanes, suspensions, attrition – the Tigers have been through all of this before. As Hurricane/Tropical Storm Isaac dumped torrential rains on Baton Rouge, and LSU prepared for life without the Honey Badger (aka DB/KR Tyrann Mathieu), Les Miles continued to smile as if nothing out of the unusual was happening. That’s probably because of the opponent. The Mean Green are coming off a 5-7 season, their best record since 2004, and are 0-4 lifetime against the Tigers. That includes getting outscored by a 149-6 margin in the most recent three … LSU 49, North Texas 3. (7 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
Hawaii at No. 1 USC: The Trojans begin to emerge from NCAA purgatory this season with a talented roster led by senior QB Matt Barkley. Barkley piloted one of the nation’s top offenses last year – SC scored 38 or more points in seven games – and became this year’s preseason Heisman favorite by completing 69.1 percent of his passes for 3,528 yards and 39 TDs. Joining Barkley in the backfield this season will be Penn State transfer Silas Redd (1,241 yards, seven TDs) and holdover Curtis McNeal (1,005 yards, six TDs). Since the Trojans are reworking their defense, especially up front, that kind of offensive firepower could come in handy. Hawaii hired former USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow to be its head coach this season, and Chow is trying to mold left-handed Duke transfer Sean Schroeder into his next quarterback prodigy. That’s going to probably take a little time, though, and time is a luxury Chow cannot afford especially with a defense that ranked 80th in the nation in scoring last year and the Trojans eager to solidify their preseason No. 1 ranking … USC 45, Hawaii 17. (7:30 p.m. ET, FOX)
No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 2 Alabama: Truth be told, this is an overhyped game between a pair of overrated teams. The Wolverines caught every break imaginable last year on their way to an 11-2 season, star quarterback Denard Robinson remains largely a one-dimensional threat, and an overachieving defense from 2011 has lost playmaker Mike Martin to graduation. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide also loses a load of talent from its national championship squad, not the least of which were RB Trent Richardson (1,679 yards, 21 TDs) and hard-charging LBs Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower. Robinson’s running ability scares Alabama, but the Wolverines’ chances of winning are greatly diminished without suspended RB Fitzgerald Toussaint. Even if Toussaint had played, it was going to be a difficult assignment for Michigan. Without him, watch the Alabama offensive line maul U-M up front and win going away … Alabama 28, Michigan 14. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)
No. 4 Oklahoma at UTEP: If the Sooners are going to elbow their way into the national championship conversation, they’re going to have to avoid the speed bumps that have derailed them in recent years. For each of the past three seasons, OU has lost a regular-season game to an unranked opponent and you just can’t do that if you want to win a national title. Not that the Sooners should be too worried about the Miners continuing that streak. UTEP somehow finished 5-7 last year despite ranking 104th nationally in total defense. That included giving up an average of 251.7 yards per game through the air, something that should bring a smile to the face of Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones (4,463 yards, 29 TDs) … Oklahoma 49, UTEP 7. (10:30 p.m. ET, FOX)
Arkansas State at No. 5 Oregon: The NCAA hammer is hanging over his program’s head, but Chip Kelly doesn’t seem to care. He is busy retooling his offensive machine after losing a bunch of starters, most notably RB LaMichael James and QB Darron Thomas. Senior tailback Kenjon Barner (939 yards, 11 TDs) and sensational sophomore De’Anthony Thomas (595 yards, seven TDs) take over for James while Marcus Mariota becomes the first freshman in 21 years to start at quarterback for the Ducks. On the other sideline, Gus Malzahn takes over as head coach of the Red Wolves fresh off a run as offensive coordinator at Auburn. Malzahn’s hurry-up attack produced a Heisman Trophy for Cam Newton, and his new QB at Arkansas State is Ryan Aplin (3,588 yards, 10 TDs), who just happened to win player of the year honors in the Sun Belt last year. This one might be closer than people think … Oregon 34, Arkansas State 24. (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Miami (Ohio) at No. 18 Ohio State: That rumbling emanating from just north of Ohio Stadium on Saturday will likely be a certain former coach rolling over in his grave as the Buckeyes unveil their new up-tempo offense. We don’t want to say 100,000 jaws will be dropping, but it will be unlike almost anything the Horseshoe has seen from the home team in its 90 years of existence. OSU remains a work in progress under first-year head coach Urban Meyer, so the team will likely suffer a stumble or two along the way. But as far as first impressions are concerned, this should be a good one … Ohio State 38, Miami 10. (12 noon ET, BTN)
Here are the spreads for the above games: Boise State (+7½) at Michigan State; San Jose State at Stanford (-24½); Buffalo at Georgia (-37); Northern Iowa at Wisconsin (NL); North Texas at LSU (-43); Hawaii (+42) at USC; Michigan vs. Alabama (-13½); Oklahoma (-30) at UTEP; Arkansas State (+37) at Oregon; Miami-OH at Ohio State (-20½).
Enjoy opening weekend, have a safe Labor Day holiday and we’ll see you next week.