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Four Matches Spice Up the Schedule

by Dave Congrove
August 28, 2009

The 2009 college football season gets a slightly later start date (September 3) than normal and nearly half of the 78 games pit FBS teams against FCS schools. However, there are four games that spice up the schedule, led by Saturday night's Chick-fil-A College Kickoff game in Atlanta - a true marquee event as No. 6 Alabama battles No. 7 Virginia Tech (Congrove Computer Rankings).

Saturday also delivers the matchups of No. 11 Georgia at 14 Oklahoma State, and No. 2 Oklahoma versus No. 25 BYU in Arlington, Texas. But the first big battle of the year will take place on Thursday night when No. 13 Oregon visits No. 12 Boise State - not a bad treat for the very first day of the season.

Of those four killer contests, Oklahoma has the largest projected winning margin at 18.06 points. Boise State has the second-largest margin at 3.94 points. Oklahoma State is favored by 1.36 points, and Alabama has a fractional 0.10-point (yes, that's one-tenth of a point) advantage.

While those are the top games on the 5-day opening weekend schedule, they are not the only games worth watching.

On Sunday, Ole Miss is a 6.76-point favorite to get its' 5th consecutive win over homestanding Memphis. The Rebels were one of college football's most surprising teams last year as they turned in a 9-4 mark and a Cotton Bowl win over Texas Tech. Many prognosticators expect them to do even better this year.

Monday delivers a pair of early conference games. The Sunshine State showdown is an ACC clash of Miami-Florida State in Tallahassee, and Rutgers hosts Cincinnati in a Big East tilt. The 'Noles get an 8.97-point advantage, but the visiting team has won the last three games in the series. The Scarlet Knights are a 2.53-point pick in their affair.

Top-ranked Florida is one of 38 FBS teams that will open against an FCS school. 32 such games took place on opening weekend last year. The Gators are a whopping 55.23-point pick over the Charleston Southern Buccaneers.

The remaining slate of games includes Missouri-Illinois in St. Louis on Saturday. Last year's matchup between these two schools resulted in a high-scoring 52-42 win for Mizzou. The computer projects the Tigers as a 5.70-point winner this time around.

Michigan is on upset alert against Western Michigan with the computer giving the Wolverines a slim 0.41-point wiining margin. The Broncos are one of the expected frontrunners in the MAC while Michigan hopes to open strong after last year's humbling 3-9 campaign in Rich Rodriguez's first season at the helm.

Buffalo's surprise run to the MAC title last year began with an opening 42-17 rout at home over UTEP. The rematch takes place on Saturday in El Paso with the Bulls favored by a scant 0.36 points.

Arizona is another team that will open against a dangerous MAC opponent when it hosts Central Michigan on Saturday. The Wildcats are only a 5.87-point pick.

UConn goes to Athens to face Ohio as a comfortable 9.93-point favorite, but many think Frank Solich has a Bobcat team that could challenge for the MAC crown. Meanwhile, the Huskies have to figure out how to replace the 2,083 rushing yards of drafted running back Donald Brown.

Other games include state rivals Colorado and Colorado State, and border rivals South Carolina and N.C. State. The Buffaloes are favored by 7.41 at home to win their third straight over the Rams on Sunday. The Gamecocks get just a 0.16-point edge at Raleigh on Thursday against the Wolfpack after winning last year's opener 34-0 in Columbia to tie the series at 26-26-4.

More games to watch:
Auburn begins the Gene Chizik era on Saturday as a mere 1.62-point choice over visiting Louisiana Tech.

Cal hopes to avenge last year's 35-27 upset loss at Maryland when the Bears host the Terps as a bulging 15.86-point favorite on Saturday.

After spending several months annoying a lot of people, Lane Kiffin finally gets to show display his college coaching skills when Tennessee hosts Western Kentucky on Saturday as a near 20-point favorite. (Surely, Al Davis will be watching).

Really?
Notre Dame is only a 2.95-point projected winner over visiting Nevada? That pick doesn't surprise me nearly as much as the computer's forecast of a New Mexico win at Texas A&M. Granted, it's only picking the Lobos by 0.14 but it's hard to fathom a non-BCS team getting an edge at Kyle Field. Remember, however, that the 28-22 win by the Aggies in Albuquerque a year ago was 1 of just 4 victories for the entire season, and they are picked by many to repeat their last-place finish in the Big 12 south division standings. It would be one heckuva a win for New Mexico which will be playing its' first game under former Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley.

UNBEATEN TEAMS:
4 teams finished the regular season unbeaten: Alabama, Ball State, Boise State and Utah. However, Alabama and Ball State each lost in their respective conference championship games, and Boise State lost to TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl.

The Utes defeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and were the only team to make it through the entire season unscathed. Utah also went undefeated in 2004 when it closed the season with a victory over Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl.

If Utah manages to go unbeaten this year, the Utes would be riding a 26-game winning streak by the end of the regular season.

WINLESS TEAMS:
Washington was the only winless team. But SMU and Western Kentucky joined the Huskies in their failure to defeat a bowl subdivision school.

FBS vs. FCS:
FBS teams went 85-2 (.977) against FCS squads last season, and are 375-37 (.910) since 2003.

This year, 87 FBS teams will play a total of 94 games against FCS foes. Duke, Kansas State, Mississippi, North Carolina, N.C. State, Rutgers and USF each play two FCS teams.

38 of those contests take place this week.

STREAKS:
Utah has won 14 straight games after defeating Alabama 31-17 in the Fiesta Bowl. The Utes open at home against rival Utah State on Thursday.

Boise State had its 12-game winning streak snapped in a 17-16 loss to TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl. The Broncos still have streaks of 19 consecutive home wins, 49 straight regular season home wins, and 38 straight conference home games. BSU has never lost at home to a fellow WAC member (32-0). The Broncos' last home loss to a conference foe occurred in 1998 when they were a member of the Big West and fell to Idaho in the final regular season game. The Broncos are 3-1 in their last four matches against BCS conference schools and host Oregon on Thursday.

Florida has won 10 straight after beating Oklahoma 24-14 in the BCS Championship game. The Gators open against FCS member Charleston Southern on Saturday.

USC has won 10 straight after defeating Penn State 38-24 in the Rose Bowl. The Trojans open at home against San Jose State on Saturday.

Oklahoma has won 23 straight home games but will have to wait until next week (vs. Idaho State) to make it 24. The Sooners open the season in Arlington, Texas against BYU on Saturday. Oklahoma's last game was a 24-14 loss to Florida in the BCS Championship game.

Speaking of BYU, the Cougars have won 18 consecutive home games. BYU doesn't play at home until September 19 when it hosts Florida State. The Cougars' last outing was a 31-21 loss to Arizona in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Washington has the longest losing streak in the nation at 14 games, and has lost 8 straight home games. Under first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian, the Huskies open at home against LSU on Saturday as a 24.41-point underdog.

SMU has lost 10 straight overall, 17 straight conference games, 15 consecutive road games, and 21 straight to FBS teams. The Mustangs open at home against FCS member Stephen F. Austin on Saturday.

Iowa State has lost 10 straight overall, and 17 consecutive road games. The Cyclones open with FCS member North Dakota State on Thursday.

NEW COACHES:
There are 22 new college football coaches in the FBS ranks this season. Two of them are guaranteed a win this week as there are two games on the docket that pit new coaches against each other - Army's Rich Ellerson vs. Eastern Michigan's Ron English, and Purdue's Danny Hope vs. Toledo's Tim Beckman.

Coaching Changes For 2009 Season
TEAM RECORD COACH THIS WEEK
Army 0-0 Rich Ellerson 9/5, at Eastern Michigan
Auburn 0-0 Gene Chizik 9/5, vs. Louisiana Tech
Ball State 0-0 Stan Parrish 9/3, vs. North Texas
Boston College 0-0 Frank Spaziani 9/5, vs. Northeastern (FCS)
Bowling Green 0-0 Dave Clawson 9/3, vs. Troy
*-Clemson 0-0 Dabo Swinney 9/5, vs. Middle Tennessee
Eastern Michigan 0-0 Ron English 9/5, vs. Army
Iowa State 0-0 Paul Rhoads 9/3, vs. North Dakota St. (FCS)
Kansas State 0-0 Bill Snyder 9/5, vs. Massachusetts (FCS)
Miami (O.) 0-0 Michael Haywood 9/5, vs. Kentucky (at Cincinnati)
Mississippi State 0-0 Dan Mullen 9/5, vs. Jackson State (FCS)
New Mexico 0-0 Mike Locksley 9/5, at Texas A&M
New Mexico State 0-0 DeWayne Walker 9/5, vs. Idaho
Oregon 0-0 Chip Kelly 9/3, at Boise State
Purdue 0-0 Danny Hope 9/5, vs. Toledo
San Diego State 0-0 Brady Hoke 9/5, at UCLA
Syracuse 0-0 Doug Marrone 9/5, vs. Minnesota
Tennessee 0-0 Lane Kiffin 9/5, vs. Western Kentucky
Toledo 0-0 Tim Beckman 9/5, at Purdue
Utah State 0-0 Gary Andersen 9/3, at Utah
Washington 0-0 Steve Sarkisian 9/5, vs. LSU
Wyoming 0-0 Dave Christensen 9/5, vs. Weber State (FCS)
*-Dabo Swinney took over halfway through last season when Tommy Bowden stepped down after a 3-3 start. Swinney was 4-3 over the last 7 games of the season.