West Side Stories

The college football season is finally upon us. For those of you with a vicious east coast bias, it's my opportunity to persuade you to watch just a little of the football that's being played on the west coast. Sure, some games this week are awful mismatches, but there are some pretty good match-ups worth checking out.

Eastern Washington at Oregon State

Admittedly, I don't know much about the Eastern Washington squad. They played only one Division I team last year, and that was San Jose State, who beat them 35-24. The Eagles won the Big Sky conference championship last year, but they lost a ton of talent from that team, including the Big Sky Offensive and Defensive MVPS, two cornerbacks, and four wide receivers. Quite simply, they're going to struggle moving the ball against the Beavers, and I foresee an offensive explosion from quarterback Matt Moore, tailback Yvenson Bernard, and a quartet of excellent receivers in Joe Newton, Ruben Jackson, Anthony Wheat-Brown, and Sammie Stroughter.

Oregon State 48, Eastern Washington 7

Arizona State – Northern Arizona

Here's what little I know about Northern Arizona: Eastern Washington crushed them 42-14, and they return 17 starters from a 2005 team that lost 31-12 to weakling Arizona (pre-William Tuitama). If Northern Arizona got creamed by Eastern Washington, who lost to San Jose State, then Arizona State, which possesses one of the top offenses in the country, should absolutely demolish the Lumberjacks. Watch out for the Sun Devils' running game; they will probably try to establish it early with tailback Keegan Herring. Head coach Dirk Koetter likely believes that as strong as the passing game will be with Rudy Carpenter running the offense, it's the Sun Devils' ability to run the football that will ultimately determine their fate in the Pac-10. Because of that, I don't think they'll break the 50 point barrier, unlike their 63-16 opener last year against Temple. The speedy ASU receivers will get their touches, but I expect Herring's name to be called a lot.

Arizona State 44, Northern Arizona 0

San Jose State at Washington

There is easily a chance that this game could rival the 1993 Florida State-Notre Dame "game of the century." Of course, the more obvious reason to watch this game is that it could actually be the only game that Washington wins this year. I do believe that's what will happen. Although Dick Tomey "turned around" San Jose State's 2005 season by winning their last two games, it will be difficult for them to beat any BCS conference team. Although Washington's offensive line woes are worth watching, I think Tim Lappano is a far better offensive coordinator than Bill Diedrick, and he'll find ways to spread the ball around and hit some big plays. Tyrone Willingham will pad his personal 4-3 record against San Jose State, and he'll celebrate his undefeated season with 36 holes of golf on Sunday.

Washington 31, San Jose State 17

Utah at UCLA

Everyone loves to pick on UCLA's porous run defense, and you can't blame them. The Bruins haven't been able to stop anyone during the last two years. However, Utah comes into the Rose Bowl with an impressive spread offense and great talent at quarterback and wide receiver. This shouldn't be a surprise as their offensive coordinator is Andy Ludwig, who held the same titles at both Fresno State and Oregon (coincidentally replacing Jeff Tedford each time). The Utes won't have the same rushing attack they had last year, and in 2006, their spread offense may pass the ball much more than they did last year. That means that Utah's strength plays right into UCLA's strength, an experienced and talented secondary. On the other side of the ball, the Bruins' offense has a lot of question marks. How can you lose Drew Olson, Mercedes Lewis, and Maurice Drew…and still possess a potent offense? Worse yet, they also lost offensive coordinator Tom Cable, who I personally believe was the brains behind the operation. The Bruins do have some talented running backs on their roster, so despite what many fans may tell you, I don't think there will be much, if any, drop-off at that position. Drew's contributions on special teams are a different story, though. This is going to be a difficult test for the Bruins, and it wouldn't surprise me if Utah shocked UCLA much in the same way they shocked Georgia Tech in last year's Emerald Bowl. This game will come down to two guys: Bruins' quarterback Ben Olson and head coach Karl Dorrell. This is the make-or-break year for Dorrell; has he learned from his past mistakes, and can he prevent his offense from taking a step backward without Cable? Secondly, is Ben Olson ready for his close-up? The Bruins will emerge victorious, primarily because they're more used to seeing these types of passing offenses than an ACC school like Georgia Tech. Then again, if Utah can re-establish the running game in their spread offense, it could be déjà vu all over again for the Bruins' run defense.

UCLA 35, Utah 28

BYU at Arizona

This match-up between the Wildcats and Cougars is likely to be one of the more underrated games of the weekend. On the one hand, Arizona enters the season with an abundance of optimism. Sophomore quarterback Willie Tuitama looked fantastic down the stretch of the 2005 season and led the team to some surprising victories. Against Bronco Mendenhall's BYU team, he will face one of the most confusing defensive schemes in the country. Is Tuitama ready? The blueprint for decimating BYU's scheme was demonstrated by Charlie Weis last year and repeated by Jeff Tedford in the Las Vegas Bowl. Does Arizona have the talent at receiver to do the same? Watch out for speedy wide receiver Mike Thomas and underrated Syndric Steptoe. On the other hand, BYU comes to Tucson with an experienced, savvy quarterback John Beck at the helm and a strong offensive line. However, the offensive scheme run by BYU's Robert Anai is a derivation of the one he learned from Mike Leach at Texas Tech. Wildcats head coach Mike Stoops saw plenty of that during his tenure as an Oklahoma assistant and should be ready. Expect a close game, but the home team should eventually pull away.

Arizona 31, BYU 27

Washington State at Auburn

All the pundits love Auburn this year, and for good reason. They have some talent in the backfield; quarterback Brandon Cox and tailback Kenny Irons had strong years last year. Irons was essentially a back-up through the first of the season, yet he still led the SEC in rushing. Here's where it gets tricky, however. Auburn has played only three sophisticated passing offenses in the last four years: Steve Spurrier's "Fun ‘n Gun" in 2005, and the two contests against Norm Chow's offense from Southern Cal (2002, 2003). They lost to the Trojans both times, and they crushed South Carolina last year. However, the Gamecocks were in the first year of the transition to Spurrier's system. What Washington State will bring to Auburn is an explosive, multiple wide-out passing offense. Michael Bumpus and Jason Hill have proven to be two of the best receivers in the Pac-10, and Alex Brink had a dynamic season last year as the starting quarterback. DeMaundry Woolridge should be an adequate replacement for Jerome Harrison at tailback because most teams are going to expect pass-first anyway. Bill Doba's team has some question marks on defense, which Auburn should be able to exploit. Finally, Auburn has lost three of its last four openers, with the sole win occurring against lowly Louisiana-Monroe. Two of those losses came at home: Southern Cal in 2003 and Georgia Tech in 2005. No, I'm not going to predict a shocking upset, nor do I expect Washington State to "Coug it" it in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. Expect a competitive game from them, and they should come away with some more national respect…you know, one of those "moral" victories.

Auburn 31, Washington State 20

Southern Cal at Arkansas

What we have here is Pete Carroll, a former NFL defensive coordinator, going head to head with Gus Malzahn, the high school offensive coordinator/head coach whom Houston Nutt hired to install and run his offense. The only thing Carroll can do to prepare is watch game tape from Springfield's last two seasons. Since many of us have seen those highlights (junior/senior clips for Mitch Mustain and Bartley Webb), it's safe to say that Southern Cal is a lot better than some of the awful competition that Malzahn's teams destroyed in high school. Although quarterback Brian Johnson was benched halfway through last season, he is the best option the Razorbacks have for 2006. Worse, talented starting tailback Darren McFadden was lost to a dislocated toe. The Trojans may be without Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, and Lendale White, but they still have enough talent on offense to score points on a defense without playmakers. On the other side of the ball, their defense should have little trouble stifling an offense transitioning to a new scheme, high school coach or not, even if the offense returns nine starters.

Southern Cal 35, Arkansas 3

Stanford at Oregon

While this doesn't approach the level of an opening weekend conference tilt like Miami-Florida State, this promises to be a terrific, high scoring game. Dennis Dixon will take over for Kellen Clemens for the Ducks, and he is surrounded by some talented skill position players, including James Finley and Cameron Colvin at receiver, and former Irish recruit Jonathan Stewart at tailback. Meanwhile, Stanford is led by experienced quarterback Trent Edwards and his two favorite targets, wide receivers Mark Bradford and Evan Moore. Moore missed nearly all of last year with an injury and his return will make defending the Stanford passing game much more difficult. Stanford head coach Walt Harris has been a strong molder of quarterbacks, and Edwards is likely to have an outstanding senior campaign. Both teams have quite a few problems on defense, although Oregon has more talent in its secondary, which could be a huge factor in a game like this. Stanford hasn't beaten Oregon since Willingham was the coach in 2001, and it won't happen in 2006 either. I expect Oregon to mix up the run and the pass against the Stanford defense, which will be on its heels all night. The Cardinal will put some points on the board, but it won't be enough.

Oregon 38, Stanford 24

California at Tennessee

If this game were played in Berkeley, it would be an easy prediction. Unfortunately, the game is at Neyland Stadium, and I'm agonizing over this one. The Vols lost a lot from their front seven during the offseason, and Cal's power rushing attack with Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett would appear to have the edge, although Cal's offensive line graduated three starters from a year ago. In fact, passing the ball would play right into the strength of the Tennessee defense, its secondary. Whether it's Joe Ayoob or Nate Longshore at quarterback for Cal remains to be seen; both have question marks. Ayoob has had some issues with consistency in the past, and playing on the road in a raucous environment like Neyland isn't easy. Neither would it be easy for Longshore, who is coming off a broken leg after ten passes in last season's opening game. Regardless who is the quarterback, Cal has the personnel to run the ball and use play action (look for tight end Craig Stevens to have a big game) to effectively control the tempo of the game.

At the same time, while many people have been focusing on Tedford's offensive brilliance, they have failed to notice that he has quietly stockpiled some impressive defensive talent in recruiting classes. This is Tedford's fifth season as the Cal coach, and his defense is loaded. Losing cornerback Tim Mixon will hurt, but Cal should be able to control the line of scrimmage all game against a Vol front line that returns one starter (Aaron Sears). The question is, will the return of David Cutcliffe signal the waking of a sleeping giant? Tennessee surely has talent at wide receiver and tailback; can a successful offensive coordinator like Cutcliffe vastly improve the production under quarterback Erik Ainge? It remains to be seen. If Ainge has struggled during his Tennessee career, it's been when he has been under constant pressure. The thing is, Cal has just the type of front four to relentlessly pressure Ainge and force him into making quick decisions. I like Cutcliffe as a coordinator and quarterbacks coach, but his post-Eli Manning phase at Ole Miss showed that he cannot always turn water into wine.

Cal 24, Tennessee 10


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