Army | Navy | Notre Dame | Temple
Independent Game of the Week
Notre Dame at Georgia Tech 8 pm EST ABC Saturday, September 2nd
Why to Watch: Can Georgia Tech WR Calvin Johnson torch the Irish secondary that's still smarting from the 2006 Fiesta Bowl? Is Notre Dame WR Jeff Samardzija the real deal? Can Notre Dame QB/cover boy Brady Quinn make a big statement in the Heisman race? Is Notre Dame worth all the hype? Can the slightly-maligned defense play close to as well as the offense? Can Georgia Tech pull off an opening day shocker like it did last year beating Auburn 32-14? Do you need any more reasons to watch? Notre Dame's upcoming games against Penn State and Michigan might be getting more hype, but this could turn out to be the most dangerous September game. Georgia Tech has two weeks off playing Samford and Troy before starting up the ACC season, so a big win would mean a red-hot start and plenty of national respect.
Why Notre Dame Might Win: The last time we saw Georgia Tech's defense it was getting shredded by Utah QB Brett Ratliff in a humiliating 38-10 loss in the Emerald Bowl. Brett Ratliff?!? Fine, so he's good, but he's not Quinn and Utah's 2005 offense isn't 2006 Notre Dame's. While the focus will be on the offense, Irish fans are more curious to see how the defense has improved. Defensive tackles Derek Landri and Victor Abiamiri are much better than they're getting credit for, and if they can put edge pressure and middle push on Georgia Tech QB Reggie Ball, the Yellow Jacket signal caller will make mistakes. Lots and lots of mistakes.
Why Georgia Tech Might Win: Three reasons why Tech can pull this upset: 1. Johnson is facing the same secondary that Ohio State torched last year. Unlike last year, Tech has other receiving options to take some of the attention away 2. ND comes to Atlanta with the hype machine clearly in tow. No one's expecting anything less than a run to the BCS Championship game, so the full weight of the national pressure is all on the Irish. Tech should be able to play loose. 3. Johnson is facing…oh, wait, same reason. Either way, Johnson is the game changer for GT and he must see the ball. Also, don't discount Tech head coach Chan Gailey and his ability to get his team ready for a big game. Charlie Weis might be college football's Really Big Thing right now, but Gailey has NFL experience and is good enough to match Weis move for move and adjustment for adjustment.
Who to Watch: Georgia Tech CB Kenny Scott has had a chance to face Johnson in practice for the past few years and should be more than ready to take on one of his toughest tasks this season: Samardzija. The Irish might have more weapons than the product of the Chicago Cub farm system, but it needs to get No. 83 rolling to have everything working effectively. ... Love him or hate him, but Ball is a big-game quarterback. Yeah, he sometimes couldn't hit water if he was standing at the bottom of the sea, but he's a four-year veteran who has seen more than his share of pressure moments and won't wilt in the national spotlight. His mobility, his Troy Smith-like mobility, could turn out to be the difference.
What Will Happen: Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta will roll the dice in an attempt to put Quinn on his backside for much of the game, which should make RB Darius Walker a major key on screens out of the backfield. The question for Quinn will be whether he can find the blitzers in the zone scheme and exploit the mismatches. He will, but it won't be enough. Georgia Tech's defense is far better than it gets credit for, while Ball will do just enough to pull off the upset. It won't be pretty, but the Yellow Jackets have the makeup to pull off the shocker ... or get beaten by three touchdowns.
CFN Prediction: Georgia Tech 23 ... Notre Dame 20 ... Line: Notre Dame -7.5 (Note: John Harris does the ACC write-ups and predictions, and in the Staff Picks, selected Notre Dame. I make the final call on picks for the site and am nuts enough to stick with the preseason call of Tech pulling this off. No, we don't play both sides. - Fiu)
Must See Rating: (5 skip the birth of your first born - 1 Pants Off, Dance Off) ... 4.5
East Carolina at
pm September, 2, 2006
Why to watch: This will be a fun game full of offense and plenty of big plays with a chance of being one of the sneaky good matchups of the first weekend. East Carolina matured gradually in 2005 and feels it's ready to turn the corner in Skip Holtz's second season. The offensive line needs to be retooled with three new starters, but the skill position players are electric. James Pinkney is back at quarterback after throwing for 2,773 yards, and he'll be joined by do-everything back Chris Johnson and star receiver Aundrae Allison. Under Paul Johnson, Navy is enjoying its best run in more than 30 years. The triple option is a finely-tuned engine that gives everyone fits, and the undersized defense will again be feisty and strong in the back seven. Bowl berths are now expected from the Middies, which is light years from where they were just five years ago.
Why East Carolina might win: Navy has come a long way in recent years on defense, but it's still vulnerable against quick, diverse attacks, like the one it'll see from ECU. With Johnson and Allison back from off-season surgery, the Pirates have the balance and firepower to hang with the Middies in a game that'll be owned by the offenses.
Why Navy might win: East Carolina can really get after the passer with ends Marcus Hands and Shauntae Hunt but were a sieve against the run last year finishing 112th nationally. That's not exactly the blueprint for success against a Navy team that keeps it on the ground 80% of the time and led the nation in rushing in 2005.
Who to watch: A new starter will be running Navy's offense for the fourth straight season. Brian Hampton has taken just 59 career snaps, but he's a senior with a three-year apprenticeship in the system. Like Aaron Polanco and Lamar Owens before him, he's primed for success in his only year as the helmsman.
What will happen: Expect plenty of points and a tight game in the second half, but this is a veteran Navy squad that will eventually wear down East Carolina with the running of FB Adam Ballard and will pull away on a big play from jackrabbit slotback Reggie Campbell.
CFN Prediction: Navy 35 ... East Carolina 30 ... Line: Navy 11.5
Must See Rating: (5 skip the birth of your first born - 1 Pants Off, Dance Off) ... 3
Army at Arkansas State 7:05 pm EST Saturday, September 2nd
Why to watch: In the late season run to the New Orleans Bowl, Arkansas State got pummeled 38-10 at Army and needs payback or risk a likely 0-3 start with Oklahoma State and a trip to SMU ahead. Army cranked out 300 rushing yards in last year's meeting and took advantage of several mistakes, and it'll need the same formula to come out of Jonesboro with a win. This might not generate any sort of buzz for the average fan, but it could turn out to be an entertaining, competitive game.
Why Army might win: The Black Knight offensive front is the best it's been in years and should push the ASU D line around. The Indian back seven is excellent, but it'll take at least half the season for the line to jell, if it does come together. 300 rushing yards is asking for a lot, but there shouldn't be too many problems controlling the clock and giving new quarterback David Pevoto time to work. The ASU offense has way too many issues to get into any sort of firefight.
Why Arkansas State might win: Yeah, the Army line might be strong, but the backfield is going to need time and experience. Yeah, the ASU defensive line might have problems, but the back seven should be fantastic with one of the Sun Belt's best linebacking corps led by the return of Josh Williams. The Army backs will hit a brick wall once they get through the line, so if ASU can keep the Black Knight ground production to a minimum, the outcome will be far different than it was late last year.
Who to watch: The new quarterbacks have to prove they can move their respective offenses. Pevoto is a big, strong passer who should add a different dimension than the erratic Zac Dahman. However, he's not going to run too much. Arkansas State is still trying to figure out exactly who the best fit for the offense is with sophomore Travis Hewitt and redshirt freshman Corey Leonard each sure to see time early this year. Hewitt has decent mobility, but he doesn't have the all-around skills of Leonard.
What will happen: It's not going to be a thing of beauty. Each team will deliver a few haymakers and each will make several huge mistakes, and the one that capitalizes the best will come away with the win.
CFN Prediction: Army 23 ... Arkansas State 13 ... Line: Army -5.5
Must See Rating: (5 skip the birth of your first born - 1 Pants Off, Dance Off) ... 2