Fearless Predictions

SATURDAY'S FEATURED GAME

 
Oregon Ducks NCAA Football Team No. 3 Oregon
at No. 4 LSU

Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
Line: Oregon -3
LSU Tigers NCAA Football Team

Unfortunately, all the controversy off the field and all the ugliness surrounding the LSU fighting incident sucked the wind out of the biggest non-conference game of the 2011 college football season. No, there really is no diminishing the magnitude of what might be the biggest Pac-10/Pac-12 regular-season game not involving USC in several years, and a matchup good enough to possibly impact the race for the national championship. LSU starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson and linebacker Josh Johns were arrested and suspended for their alleged role in the Aug. 19 bar fight. While attempts are being made to see if the players might be eligible, the team is going on without them. Has this been a distraction to the Tigers? Of course. Will this mean they’ll rally in the face of adversity? That will be the big test, but no matter what happens, the outcome of the tremendous neutral site showdown won't have too much to do with the incident. LSU, even without Jefferson, is still good enough to make a run for the BCS championship, while Oregon, even with some suspension issues of its own and with some major personnel changes being made on both sides of the ball, appears to have it all geared up and ready for another run to the title game.

Of course this game is important to both teams, and while college football perceptions change on a weekly basis, the Pac-12 needs this win a whole bunch more than the SEC does. LSU can lose to the Ducks, run the table, and play for the national title, while Oregon would need a ton of help to lose this and end up playing for it all. It might not seem fair, but that's the deal after so much SEC national championship success in recent years. Unless there are two unstoppable unbeaten teams – like if Oregon and Oklahoma go without a blemish – a 12-1 SEC Champion LSU would almost certainly get an invite down to New Orleans on Jan. 9 if it wins the conference title game after beating Mississippi State, West Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama and Ole Miss on the road while taking care of Florida, Auburn, Arkansas at home. If the Tigers run the table, and look great doing it, many will use the bar fight as part of an excuse to why they weren't quite there against the Ducks on the first weekend. However, if Oregon loses, it'll be tough for the Pac-12 to get too much respect from the eastern side of the U.S. This is it.

Why Oregon might win: In today's day and age, most top programs make absolutely, positively sure that their players are fit throughout the offseason and everyone is on a training regimen that’s even harder than anything that happens during the season. However, as coaches have explained over and over again, part of the reason for scheduling Cupcake State to start the year is to get everyone used to going 100 miles per hour again. Practices just don’t properly prepare players for what happens in real live action, and while the extra time and focus on the Oregon offense will surely help – as opposed to getting a few days in the middle of the season to figure out how to slow down the machine – all the film study in the world won’t help the lungs when the Duck attack starts to roll.

Why LSU might win: Glossed over in the aftermath of the 2011 BCS championship was how the Oregon running game was shut down cold – held to just 75 yards. QB Darron Thomas did a great job of keeping the team in the game with 363 passing yards and two scores, but Auburn’s plan was to make Oregon win through the air. The Auburn defense was loaded up with veterans who saw it all and made the quick adjustments needed. LSU has the experience factor going its way, too, with seven defensive starters back, including a lightning-fast group of linebackers that should make up for any problems by being able to move. The bigger factor will be the veteran secondary that will see time in a 4-2-5 alignment to get even more speed on the field. Even if James and the Oregon runners get to the second level, they’ll likely have to deal with a swarm.

What to watch for: Everyone is trying to find the next Cam Newton, and there was talk this spring of Georgia transfer Zach Mettenberger possibly being the spark needed for the woeful LSU offense. He has all the tools, but he hasn't been able to quite put it all together in practices to keep Jarrett Lee out of the No. 2 spot. With Jefferson out, Lee has taken the responsibility to make the offense and the starting quarterback job his, and now it's all on him to keep the chains moving and he has to use his veteran abilities to keep the mistakes to a minimum. Thrown to the wolves early in his career, he made too many mistakes and was too much of a team-killer with pick after pick being taken for six. However, he has been a whale of a backup with key performances to beat Tennessee, Florida and Alabama last year when the pressure was on the most. He doesn't have to be special to beat Oregon, but he has to be smart, steady, and mistake-free.

Prediction:

  Oregon 23, LSU 20
Complete Fearless Prediction | GameTrax

 

TULSA AT NO. 1 OKLAHOMA

 
Tulsa Golden Hurricanes Tulsa at No. 1 Oklahoma
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET on FX
Line: Oklahoma -21.5
Oklahoma Sooners

Purely from a fireworks perspective, Saturday night’s game in Norman just might be the most entertaining one of the opening weekend. Oklahoma and Tulsa will both keep scorekeepers and statisticians busy, returning a mess of skill position talent from teams that piled up the points in 2010. The Sooners will begin the new campaign as one of a small group of programs expected to compete for a national championship. Loaded on offense and capable on D, OU must overcome a preseason injury to star LB Travis Lewis and prove it can handle enormous expectations. Bob Stoops’ players are ranked No. 1 in both major polls, with a big 'ole target adorning their chests. The Golden Hurricane are coming off a terrific season, the final one with Todd Graham in charge. Graham is now in Pittsburgh, and former assistant Bill Blankenship has taken his place. Tulsa rode a seven-game winning streak to the finish line last season, including critical road upsets of Notre Dame and Hawaii. It'll begin the year as one of the favorites in a hotly contested Conference USA West Division. But Oklahoma will be high-powered once again, riding the arm of QB Landry Jones and a dynamite receiving corps featuring All-American Ryan Broyles and rising star Kenny Stills.

Prediction:

  Oklahoma 44, Tulsa 24
Complete Fearless Prediction | GameTrax

 

NO. 5 BOISE STATE AT NO. 19 GEORGIA

 
Boise State Broncos No. 5 Boise State at No. 19 Georgia
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
Line: Boise State -3
Georgia Bulldogs

Despite all the big moments, and even with all the double-digit win seasons, and through all the prove-it games, Boise State still can't get any semblance of love. The conventional wisdom was that if Boise State beat Virginia Tech in last year's season opener – a home game for the Hokies in Landover, Maryland – the respect would come. Tech went on to win the ACC title and played in the Orange Bowl, while college football couldn’t have celebrated more when Nevada pulled off the upset over the Broncos in late November. Did the Broncos improve their stature and standing in any way after dominating and destroying a 2009 Oregon team that went on to win the Rose Bowl? No. Did anyone care a lick after the win over Oregon at Oregon in 2008? No. And this year, it doesn’t matter if Boise State pulls off the win over Georgia, because once again, no one around any BCS conference will buy into the idea that the team could last against a real week-in-and-week-out schedule. Even if Boise State does go 12-0, it's going to take the Alabamas, Oregons, and Ohio States of the world to royally screw up for a Mountain West team to end up in New Orleans on Jan. 9. And if the Broncos lose, then that's it for the national relevance until BCS at-large time – fair or not – even at 11-1.

Prediction:

  Georgia 22, Boise State 20
Complete Fearless Prediction | GameTrax

 

S. FLORIDA AT NO. 16 NOTRE DAME

 
South Florida Bulls South Florida at No. 16 Notre Dame
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Line: Notre Dame -10
Notre Dame Fighting Irish

There’s a Holtz in South Bend. Cue up the hype machine. South Florida and Notre Dame meet for the first time, marking the return of the Bulls head coach Skip Holtz to his alma mater and the school where he was an assistant under dad Lou from 1990-93. This trip to Indiana is a very big deal for USF, which rarely gets an opportunity to showcase its improving brand to a national audience. Notre Dame has a way of becoming a launching site for lesser-known programs, such as Tulsa last Oct. 30, and the Bulls are hoping to make the most of this chance to play on a grander scale. There's bona fide excitement among Golden Domers for reasons other than a visit from a Holtz. The second year under Brian Kelly brings hope that Notre Dame can begin inching back toward national prominence and BCS bowl contention. The Irish will take a four-game winning streak into 2011, and the staff's systems and expectations will no longer be foreign to the players. Throughout Kelly's career, his offenses, in particular, have traditionally turned the corner in Year 2.

Prediction:

  Notre Dame 24, South Florida 20
Complete Fearless Prediction | GameTrax

 

AKRON AT NO. 18 OHIO STATE

 
Akron Zips Akron at No. 18 Ohio State
Saturday, Noon ET
Line: Ohio State -33.5
Ohio State Buckeyes

Finally. After all the controversy, all the coverage, and all the ugliness, Ohio State gets to play football again. The situation is still a bit up in the air with the NCAA still to come up with its final ruling, it seems like the Buckeyes might have weathered the storm, and now it's time to start thinking about doing what the program has always done. The expectations will be lowered a bit without Jim Tressel and with a still-developing quarterback situation, but Ohio State is still the most talented team in the Big Ten and there aren't any excuses to not win yet another title. But first, before diving into the new-look league, OSU has to deal with the non-conference schedule that kicks off with a layup, gets a more dangerous-than-it-looks tune-up against Toledo, and then comes the date at Miami and the home game against Colorado. It's a good preseason slate, but there's no reason to not be 4-0 before facing Michigan State. Can the Buckeyes do it impressively? Akron is coming off a miserable season and was in the discussion for the honor of being America's worst team over the first part of last year. Second year head coach Rob Ianello isn’t going to come up with a miracle in Columbus, but any success of any sort would go a long way to changing around the attitude and perspective coming off a 1-11 campaign.

Prediction:

  Ohio State 45, Akron 3
Complete Fearless Prediction | GameTrax

 

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