Rutgers 38 ... Buffalo 3
Ray Rice ran for three scores, but Tiquan Underwood stole the show with ten catches for a school-record 248 yards with two touchdowns in the easy Scarlet Knight win. Rutgers jumped out to a 28-0 first half lead on Underwood scores from 65 and 66 yards out, and Rice closed out the touchdown scoring with a 41-yard dash in the third quarter. A.J. Principle got the only Buffalo points on a 35-yard field goal in the third quarter.
Player of the game: Rutgers WR Tiquan Underwood caught ten passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns
Stat Leaders: Buffalo - Passing: Drew Willy, 19-32, 165
Rushing: Mario Henry, 8-49. Receiving: Brett Hamlin, 4-54
Rutgers - Passing: Mike Teel, 16-23, 328 yds, 2 TD
Rushing: Ray Rice, 25-184, 3 TD. Receiving: Tiquan Underwood, 10-248, 2 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Did Ray Rice really need 25 carries against Buffalo? Rutgers is more than just Rice, and the passing game showed it can move the ball a bit, but Rice is the franchise and has to be healthy for the long haul. It'll be interesting to note how much work he gets against Navy and Norfolk State over the next few weeks before Maryland and Cincinnati come to town. While Tiquan Underwood had a lot to do with it, Mike Teel was efficient and made some nice throws. If Underwood can keep cranking out big plays, Rice will go ballistic.
Aug. 30 - Buffalo
Offense: The overall offensive production improved from ten points per game to 18.33. Now the attack has to be more consistent and explosive, and that all comes from the offensive line. It's a big, experienced line that has to give the promising skill players a chance to do their thing. UB can win with QB Drew Willy and RB James Starks, but they haven't had any chance to show what they can do with no time or room to work. Naaman Roosevelt has to be used somewhere. If he's not the starting quarterback, he'll provide a boost to a mediocre receiving corps.
Defense: Last year was a big transition year with several young players getting time as the scheme was switched from a 4-2-5 to a 4-3. Size is sacrificed for speed almost everyone, but there are big backups at tackle. Now the production against the run has to be better. Getting into the backfield won't be an issue as UB could be among the MAC's leaders in sacks and tackles for loss led by senior Trevor Scott on the end. The secondary has the potential to be far better if safeties Kareem Byrom and Mike Newton, along with rising corner Kendric Hawkins, can spend all their time trying to make plays against the pass instead of always having to deal with the run.
Sept. 7 - Navy
Offense: Navy led the nation in rushing in 2005, led the nation in rushing in 2006, and will lead the nation in rushing in 2007. What's the difference? The ground game will be terrific as always, but now it'll be truly special with the best combination of backfield talent and experience head coach Paul Johnson has ever had. There won't be any passing game, but it won't matter with a ground attack that can crank out a big run from anywhere on the field. The big concern will be the line with no experience among the backups whatsoever and a shaky starting five if left tackle Josh Meek's injured knee isn't healthy.
Defense: Uh oh. Wholesale changes need to be made with only three starters and seven lettermen returning. The best defense will be a good offense needing the ground game to crank out long drives to keep this inexperienced, woefully undersized, untested group off the field. Pass rushers need to emerge with the hope for Chris Kuhar-Pitters and Casey Hebert to turn into playmakers around rising star tackle Nate Frazier. Clint Sovie and Irv Spencer will turn into reliable inside linebackers, but outside linebacker will be a question. The secondary will be a work in progress around solid corner Rashawn King.
Sept. 15 Norfolk State
Sept. 29 Maryland
Offense: It's all there for the Terps to be steady, explosive and very, very productive as long as everyone plays as well as they should. This will be one of the four best offenses in the league as long as injuries don't strike up front. The line is full of veterans and should be a rock, but there's no depth. The receiving corps might be the fastest in the ACC and Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore form a tremendous 1-2 rushing punch. It's all there for a big season, but that's what everyone said last year and the Terps were merely average.
Defense: The defense didn't exactly work last season, but it didn't seem to matter. No one stopped the run, the secondary was average, there weren't enough takeaways, and the 3-4 that was supposed to generate a serious pass rush wasn't even close. The Terps still won nine games helped be the defense coming through when it absolutely had to. This year's group won't be so fortunate and has to be better. The defensive line should be better with end Jeremy Navarre and tackle Dre Moore good enough to hope for All-ACC honors. Erin Henderson leads an athletic linebacking corps that needs experience, but should be good in time. The secondary is a concern, especially the corners hoping for Isaiah Gardner to become a shut-down defender after returning from a shoulder injury.
Oct. 6 - Cincinnati
Offense: Take whatever you knew about last years Cincy offense and delete it. Nothing will be the same, as Brian Kelly and his staff dismantle Mark Dantonios plodding run game in favor of a fancy spread attack. Therell be growing pains, to be sure, but by mid-season, there should also be improvement if a consistent quarterback, such as Wake Forest transfer Ben Mauk, develops and the line adjusts to a zone blocking scheme. A receiving corps thats led by juniors Derrick Stewart, Dominick Goodman and Connor Barwin has a chance to blow up in the new system.
Defense: That Bearcat defense, which was so stingy a year ago, returns almost virtually intact. The unit is small, but very quick from sideline to sideline, and prone to swarming anyone with the ball in his hands. It all starts up front with a line that welcomes back four players with starting experience, including its figurehead, junior tackle Terrill Byrd. Junior cornerback Mike Mickens is one of the best unknown cornerbacks in the country and the kind of defender that can shut down the oppositions No. 1 receiver. While the offense takes time to adjust to a new system, the defense is going to keep Cincy in plenty of games.
Oct. 13 at Syracuse
Offense: The pieces are there among the skill players for a night-and-day improvement from last years putrid attack that cranked out a mere 264 yards and 17.4 points per game. The receiving cops, helped by the return of Taj Smith from injury, should be one of the best in the Big East, while Curtis Brinkley is a good back to work around. Sophomore QB Andrew Robinson is a star in the making, but hell have a hard time with his consistency behind an offensive line that needs work even with three starters returning in the interior.
Defense: It might take a little while, but the D will improve as the season goes on, it struggled in every area but getting into the backfield, and with a strong defensive line returning, led be end Jameel McClain, generating pressure wont be much of a problem. The linebacking corps will be a work in progress with three news starters, but the excellent safety tandem of Dowayne Davis and Joe Fields should clean up plenty of messes.
Oct. 18 - South Florida
Offense: This is Matt Grothes offense, but unlike last season, he shouldnt have to do everything short of crafting the weekly gameplan in order to make the unit hum. Although he led the offense in passing, rushing and scoring, the program realizes it needs to protect its most important commodity and give him more support. Can freshman Mike Ford live up to the hype? Plenty is expected from a back that should ignite a rushing attack that did little in 2006 when Grothe wasnt slithering through opposing defenses. Originally headed to Tuscaloosa, hes the highest-profile recruit to ever sign with USF. The Bull receivers are a dynamic bunch thats loaded with size, speed and underachievers that need to get their act together.
Defense: Like all teams from Florida, the USF defense pursues well and is built on speed. Wally Burnhams unit is well-coached, prevents the big play and is vastly underappreciated and unnoticed on a national level. That could change if the Bulls crack the top 10 in total defense in 2007, a distinct possibility. Next level corners Trae Williams and Mike Jenkins allow the defense to sell out on occasion, and the front four, led by sophomore rush end George Selvie, returns seven linemen that started games in 2006. Importing defensive line coach Dan McCarney and linebacker Tyrone McKenzie from Iowa State were coups thatll pay immediate dividends.
Oct. 27 West Virginia
Offense: Unlike most schools that run the spread offense, West Virginia aims to open lanes for its prolific ground game, rarely putting the ball in the air more than 20 times a game. The Mountaineers want the ball in the hands of its two junior Heisman candidates, quarterback Patrick White and running back Steve Slaton. Along with receiver Darius Reynaud, they form the fastest offensive trio in America, and are threats for six with even a hint of daylight. White is an underrated passer that rarely misses his target, but needs more help from a receiving corps thats suspect after Reynaud. Few schools rebuild on the offensive line better than West Virginia, but how will the unit react without its long-time quarterback Dan Mozes and long-time coach Rick Trickett?
Defense: Lost in all the yards the Mountaineer offense gained in 2006 was all the yards the defense allowed. West Virginia allowed 35 or more points three times last fall and was torched through the air repeatedly over the second half of the year. Worse, this once relentless defense had trouble getting to the quarterback and looked a step slow. Rich Rodriguez is banking on a few tweaks to the back eight and an influx of faster players as the solutions in the teams 3-3-5 stack formation. Led by playmaking senior safety Eric Wicks, the secondary has a glut of really talented athletes that need to gel into a cohesive unit.
Nov. 3 at Connecticut
Offense: For two years running, the Husky offense has been painfully inept, particularly in the passing game. Tyler Lorenzen was recruited from the ranks of the junior colleges to specifically address that vertical shortcoming. His arrival pushed D.J. Hernandez to slot receiver and set up a heated competition with sophomore Dennis Brown thatll resume in August. While quarterback is a question mark, running back is not. Sophomore Donald Brown exploded on to the scene in 2006 with almost 700 yards and five scores in a torrid five-game stretch to finish the season. With a bunch of linemen back, hes poised for a monster season in an offense that still uses the run to set up the pass.
Defense: The bend-but-dont-break Huskies snapped like a toothpick in 2006. The main culprit was a run defense that couldnt slow down anyone not named Rhode Island. Things dont get any easier this year, as the unit will be looking for ways to replace both of last years starting tackles. Uh-oh. Led by senior linebacker Danny Lansanah and junior corner Darius Butler, the back seven will be picking up a lot of the slack on Saturdays. Expect the pass rush that produced only 11 sacks in the final eight games to get a spark from the returns of junior Cody Brown and sophomore Lindsey Witten, disruptive ends thatll be on the line together for the first time in September.
Nov. 9 at Army
Offense: Last year, Army used a veteran offensive line to work the running game behind while the passing game struggled. Now it has to be the other way around. The backfield, while banged up in spring ball, is solid, the line will be a work in progress. The passing game needs to improve hoping for top-prospect Carson Williams to turn into the leader and playmaker everyone's expecting him to become, or else David Pevoto has to take over the reins and be consistent. No matter who's under center, the interceptions have to slow down. Jeremy Trimble leads a potentially strong receiving corps.
Defense: The defense has spent most of its time trying to survive. Now it has to start making big plays in all areas after coming up with just 11 sacks, four interceptions and 11 forced fumbles. Everyone at every spot can tackle, motor and toughness is never a problem, talent is always the issue. There's good experience and size up front, Caleb Campbell, when he returns from a knee injury, will be one of the nation's most productive safeties leading a decent secondary, and the linebacking corps, in time, will put up plenty of big tackling numbers once new starters Brian Chmura and Frank Scappaticci get comfortable. Overall, the defense has to do a better job of dictating the action instead of letting things happen and trying to make the play.
Nov. 17 - Pitt
Offense: The graduation of Tyler Palko leaves a gaping hole on the Panther offense thatll be filled by either junior Bill Stull or hot-shot rookie Pat Bostick. Whoever gets the ball will enjoy an outstanding supporting cast that includes junior running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, one of the deepest receiving corps in the nation and the programs best front wall since Dave Wannstedt arrived. Wannstedt and Matt Cavanaugh want to establish a more physical ground game, but if the new hurler is up to the challenge, the ensuing balance will make this a very dangerous offense.
Defense: Last years defense had big names, like H.B. Blades and Darrelle Revis, with poor results. This years defense is devoid of stars, but might wind up being statistically better. The key will be stopping the run, something that vexed the Panthers throughout the second half of the 2006 season. The difference this fall will be a defensive line thatll be much deeper than last year, and capable of creating inside-outside pressure with junior tackle Gus Mustakas and senior end Joe Clermond. Although replacing Revis wont be a snap, the secondary is busting with potential from future all-Big East players, like sophomores Aaron Berry and Elijah Fields.
Nov. 29 at Louisville
Offense: The coaching staff is new, but the results wont differ much from last season when Louisville rung up 37 points and 475 yards a game. The Cardinals will spread the field and ask future first round draft choice Brian Brohm to distribute the ball to his plethora of playmakers. Brohms embarrassment of riches at receiver includes senior Harry Douglas, junior Mario Urrutia and senior Gary Barnidge, who combined for 159 receptions and 16 touchdowns in 2006. Head coach Steve Kragthorpe and offensive coordinator Charlie Stubbs love leaning on the tight end, so Barnidge could be particularly busy this fall. Even without Michael Bush the running game is in good shape with the returns of Anthony Allen and George Stripling, a thunder and lightning combo that had 20 touchdowns a year ago. If Kragthorpe was able to supercharge the Tulsa offense, just imagine what hell do with all the resources they have in Louisville.
Defense: Not unlike the offense, the Cardinal D is aggressive, unpredictable and built on speed. Theyll attack regularly which often means sacks, turnovers and the occasional busted play that goes for 65 yards. The latter could happen a little more frequently in 2007, as the secondary adjusts to three new starters and uncertainty at cornerback. Even without All-American tackle Amobi Okoye, the defensive line figures to be among the best in the Big East. Sophomore end Peanut Whitehead and junior tackle Earl Heyman arent household names today, but both have the explosiveness to change that by November. Senior linebacker Malik Jackson is a disruptive force with enough range to wreak havoc all over the field.