Saturday, 31 August 2013

The Roundup: August 31

About Last Night:

Arizona 35, Northern Arizona 0. There was little reason to watch this game other than to see if Ka'Deem Carey could challenge his output from last year's Colorado game against the helpless Lumberjacks. That anticipation was removed entirely though when Rich Rodriguez announced shortly before kickoff that Carey would be suspended (but on the sideline and in uniform) for the NAU game. Rodriguez cited the always vague "team rules" but it's not hard to deduct that this is Carey's punishment for a wayward offseason that saw him land in court a couple times.

As for what happened once the game started, it certainly wasn't a surprise how it unfolded although it went a little differently than I thought it would. I was a little surprised that Rodriguez had apparently made B.J. Denker the man without question. Denker played most of the game and was lifted in the 4th quarter once the game was in hand. He was the only one to attempt the pass and was not pushed at all by Jesse Scroggins or Javelle Allen while the game was in doubt. the game plan was very conservative and watered down. The offense consisted mostly of basic run plays and quick passes run at a much slower tempo as Arizona only ran 47 plays.

I admit I didn't see the whole game but while I was watching I never saw a Denker pass travel more than 10 yards through the air. Denker finished 9/13 for 83 yards and one touchdown and also picked up 71 yards and another score on the ground. Denker and the offense started out hot and scored a 75 yard touchdown drive to begin the game but quickly petered out with a turnover on downs followed by consecutive three and outs. the 'Cats got a big play on its fourth drive as Daniel Jenkins took a handoff and showed great explosion through the hole and took advantage of some bad angles by the NAU defense and ran 91 yards for a touchdown. I wouldn't get too carried away on Jenkins' night though. He only ran for 48 yards on his other 11 carries and the 91 yard was mostly created by poor defense. I wouldn't count on him replicating that run again this season or stealing any snaps from Carey once he's reinserted into the lineup.

The most interesting part of a pretty nondescript night for Arizona's offense was what happened after Denker was lifted in the 4th quarter. Rather than Scroggins, it was the redshirt freshman Allen who replaced Denker. Allen didn't get to attempt a pass but showed off his impressive wheels with a 61 yard touchdown run. I think Scroggins being no higher than third on the depth chart is mostly due to him missing most of the offseason program with various injuries and his conditioning and comfort level with the offense not being there as a result. I can still see him making a run at playing time later in the year if he can get his body right.

As for the defense, it looked more than fine holding NAU to 3.6 yards per play, 4 of 19 on third down conversions and forcing three turnovers in a shutout. I wouldn't put too much stock in the performance as NAU did not have the players to exploit the Wildcats' glaring weakness up front. I did like the speed that Arizona played with and I think they will be able to match up well with teams in their division like UCLA and Arizona St. that like to move the ball horizontally. Although even those teams will be able to exploit Zona up front. Arizona's competition improves slightly but not much next week as the Wildcats go on the road to face generally hapless UNLV.

About Today:

Nicholls State at Oregon, 1:00 PM on Fox Sports 1. Line: Oregon (-59)

Welcome to the biggest mismatch in college football this season and the one game you absolutely do not need to watch. You know all about Oregon by now: ranked third in the country, loaded with talent, new head coach but same assistant staff, loudest stadium in the conference, Heisman candidates, All-Pac-12 selections, and future draft picks galore. What you probably don't know is anything about the Ducks' victim this afternoon, the Nicholls State Colonels. The Colonels are an FCS level team and one of the worst ones at that. This team has won a grand total of two games in the last two seasons and both came against Evangel College. Don't recognize Evangel as a college football power? You shouldn't because it isn't even in the NCAA. It's an NAIA school made entirely of walk-ons who couldn't even make it in NCAA Division III.

All the Ducks have to do is make sure all the players arrive at the stadium safely and they win a blowout. One of Nicholls' games last year was a 77-3 beatdown against Oregon St. when the Beavers honestly spent the last 40 minutes of the game doing everything they could not to score and finding the endzone anyway. I think it's pretty telling  that I stared at this line for about five minutes and ultimately decided it was at least 10 points too low. Oregon has it's starters comfortably on the bench in the 2nd quarter of an 80-0 rout.

Eastern Washington at Oregon State, 3:00 PM on Pac-12 Network. Line: Oregon State (-27)

The Oregon schools are both playing FCS opponents today but Nicholls and EWU may as well be from different planets. the Eagles are a perennial top 10 team at the FCS level and won the national championship in 2010. Perhaps more importantly for the purpose of this game, the Eagles have a track record of giving Pac-12 teams fits having lost by just four at Wazzou last season and by three to Washington in Seattle in 2011. In light of reigning Big 12 champ Kansas State losing to FCS powerhouse North Dakota State last night, the Beavers cannot take this game lightly.

I'm urgently waiting to see how the snaps break down with the quarterbacks. We know Sean Mannion will start but how much time will Cody Vaz see and will the design of the offense look any different from one QB to the other? I also want to see how OSU's offensive line will hold up. That unit was embarrassed by Texas in the Alamo Bowl last time we saw them and they have had four projected starters miss practice time this week including their best lineman, center Isaac Seumalo who is not expected to play.

Despite the banged up O-line and the inherent problems that come with playing two QBs I think Oregon State has the defensive strength and enough play making ability to win this one comfortably but I am expecting a backdoor cover from the Eagles. Oregon State 45, Eastern Washington 24.

Washington State at Auburn, 4:00 PM on ESPNU. Line: Auburn (-15)

This is a huge game for Wazzou and the Pac-12 as the Cougars, one of the Pac-12's worst from last year face one of the SEC's reigning worst Auburn down in SEC country. With both teams being in relatively the same place within its respective conference pecking orders this could be a big moment for not only Wazzou but the Pac-12 as a whole. That being said, I don't envision much happiness for Cougars fans tonight. Auburn fell off becasue of bad coaching and player development however, with the patron saint of Auburn's 2010 national title team Gus Malzahn coming in to run the show, the Tigers should be much improved. Malzahn inherits a rough situation from Gene Chizik and previous offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler but he also takes over a roster stocked with former four and five star recruits. Chizik was a poor gameday coach but you can't deny his credentials as a recruiter and he left a lot behind for Malzahn to work with.

This Auburn team reminds me of the one Malzahn walked into as OC back in 2009. He took over an offense that finished 104th in the nation in total offense the previous year and had Chris Todd as his QB who looked like one of the least talented QBs to ever play in the SEC. Well, with that tire fire of an offense, Malzahn manged to get Auburn all the way to 16th in total offense and darn near beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa to block the Tide from playing for a national title. Auburn finished 118th in total offense last year and I don't know if the turn around will be as drastic as it was in 2009 but it will be a lot better and that spells doom for the Cougars.

I want to see Wazzou's defense and how it reacts to Malzahn's charges. The Cougars were queitly one of the best defenses on the West Coast in the second half of last season and I'm curious to see how much of that momentum they can hold over to this year. I think Wazzou can get a few stops and some quality drives to stay in this one but I expect the overall talent and the crowd in Auburn to be a little too much as the Tigers pull away late and cover the spread 48-28.

Nevada at UCLA, 7:00 PM on Pac-12 Network. Line: UCLA (-21)

The line on this game fascinates me. Vegas seems to be down on the Bruins for the season judging by the 6.5 over/under it was given but it seems to be getting a lot of respect in this game as 21 points seems like a lot against a decent team. That being said UCLA is an overwhelming favorite for a reason and while its situation isn't quite as dire as Utah's, UCLA does need to win this game and win impressively if it is going to end up going where it wants to go.

On the field, We all know about QB Brett Hundley who is one of the best around and that UCLA's O-line should be much improved after playing multiple freshmen last year and still doing pretty well anyway. I'm going to have my eyes locked on UCLA's skill position players. The Bruins searched all season last year to find a go to target in the passing game and no one developed. The two guys to keep an eye on are a pair of former five star recruits, Shaq Evans and Devin Fuller. Evans had an up and down year last season in his first year with the Bruins after transferring from Notre Dame. UCLA was hopeful he would deliver on his promising potential immediately but it didn't totally pan out. UCLA media types observing practice all off season have been saying impressive things about Evans and it's reasonable to think he could have a great season. As for Fuller, he played a bevy of different positions last year and showed a lot of ability. From the sound of things, UCLA is going to begin developing Fuller strictly as a wide receiver. Both coaches and media have said Fuller played great all spring and summer and both parties have labeled him as the breakout player in this offense.

At running back, UCLA needs to replace a 1700 yard rusher in Johnathan Franklin but honestly I'm not concerned about it. Seniors Damien Thigpen and Malcolm Jones have waited a long time to be focal points in the offense and I think both will excel. UCLA's big physical offensive line will help a lot and Hundley's abilities as a runner and play action passer will prevent teams from attacking the running back with multiple defenders. If Thigpen or Jones can't get it done, the Bruins are stocked with other talented former high end recruits who could get a shot so I'm not worried about the Bruins at tailback.

In this game, although I think the line is a little high at first glance and I do think Nevada is a solid team, I just happen to think UCLA is a very good team that wants to make a big statement to open the season. Hundley plays at his best and the defense dominates in a 42-17 Bruin victory.

Boise State at Washington, 7:00 PM on Fox Sports 1. Line: Washington (-4)

Washington opens its beautifully renovated stadium tonight with a huge game that could go a long way toward defining the Huskies season and how good they can be. After struggling with his confidence and by his own admission, his faith in his teammates last year, QB Keith Price needs to start well and establish good chemistry with his receivers. Unfortunately for him, he won't have his full compliment of weapons available as the Seattle Times reported late Thursday night that star TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins would be suspended for this game.

I'm happy to see this situation finally come to an end and for some sanity to be brought to this fiasco. It's a good thing that Seferian-Jenkins was levied with a punishment that fit the crime and now both he and the Huskies can move on and focus on football. Furthermore, I would love to know if this was coach Steve Sarkisian's call or if the university itself had to step in.

I was going to take Boise State in this game anyway but now that the Huskies are without its most talented player, I'm 100% behind the Broncos. The Broncos have a veteran QB in Joe Southwick who is an accurate passer and won't be rattled by the UW crowd. BSU is also stronger on both lines and has a huge advantage on the sidelines with one of CFB's best coaches in Chris Petersen. I like Boise to win outright 31-24.

Northwestern at Cal, 7:30 PM on ESPN2. Line: Northwestern (-6)

In my mind, no team in the conference holds more intrigue at season's start than the Golden Bears. The change from Jeff Tedford to Sonny Dykes is such a radical overhaul of Cal's culture and what it wants to do on the field; I am just fascinated to see how it all plays out. The Bears will change from a very detail oriented, pro style system to the wide open Air Raid offense that Cal has nicknamed the "Bear Raid" (which is awesome by the way). Most of the players on this roster were not recruited to play this system so I'm interested to see how these players find their roles.

There is also change abound on defense as the Bears are switching from a 3-4 alignment to a 4-3 in hopes of better attacking the line of scrimmage and playing more physically. Dykes has raved about the level of buy in to the new culture and playbook from his players on both sides of the ball so I think Cal will play pretty well right off the hop.

I think Cal has a great shot to beat a ranked team and a make a statement here. A big ten team hasn't beaten a Pac-12 foe on the road since 2007. All totalled, the Big Ten is 5-20 on the west coast against the Pac-12 in the regular season since 2000. I think Cal has big athletes on both lines who can control this game and is loaded with star talent that will make enough big plays to win this one outright, 35-30.

Record against the spread this season: 1-2

Record straight up this season: 3-0

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