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Friday Morning Quarterback

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A weekly primer.
Thursday Night Thoughts
SMQ didn't watch much of Boise State's trashing of Oregon State, hanging out as he did Thursday with a pair of fantasy-addled pals more interested in the sublimely over-the-top NFL opener (or, more specifically, Daunte Culpepper, Ronnie Brown, Chris Chambers and Heath Miller, the latter of whom drew the biggest roar of the night on a long "touchdown" catch not negated by a failed Nick Saban attempt to challenge prior to the PAT, with no actual Steeler fans in sight), but he caught the start of BSU-OSU before the professional theatrics, and it appeared then that the Beavers were prepared to leave BSU in a big, blue heap. Stunning and deflating the Broncos with a fake punt on the first series of the game, Oregon State proceeded to ram Yvenson Bernard down the field eight yards at a time, ending in a touchdown pass to Joe Newton, then ran a punt back for a 14-0 lead.

Beyond that, not to go all Stuart Scott, but wha...what happened? The box score reveals an utter disappearance of the early-dominating Beaver run game (OSU wound up averaging 1.7 per carry) and a three-score performance on an amazing 10-plus yards per carry average by unknown Bronco running back Ian Johnson. Back to anonymity for BSU until Fresno State comes to town, but "undefeated" can't be far from the thoughts there following an apparently smashing win over a (mostly) respectable PAC Ten school.


SMQ Will Be Watching
All things considered, hopefully not Pittsburgh at Cincinnati tonight, though tendencies and obsessions make this discomfortingly possible. The earliest games Saturday are relative dogs, though North Carolina may be good enough to keep Virginia Tech from blowing them out for a quarter or so before the intriguing Ole Miss-Missouri kick off on Fox Sports Net, which is usually an ignorable, score-check-only channel but offers possibly adequate lunchtime fare this week. Auburn at Mississippi State draws attention only if: a) curiosity to check out the new Lincoln Financial Sports presentation, in place of the much-lamented Jefferson Pilot offering, proves overwhelming, or b) State is miraculously in the game in the fourth quarter. Stranger things have happened in Starkville before.

That viewing mediocrity is frustrating, because it's followed by a pair of quality options competing for attention at 2:30: ABC has Clemson at Boston College, an early elimination game in the ACC Atlantic, and NBC gets the hoopla of Notre Dame-Penn State in one of the least logofied games in years. As intriguing as "trap" games Georgia-South Carolina and Texas Tech-UTEP promise to be, primetime is owned by The Texas-Ohio State Game, an apparently classic matchup SMQ missed almost entirely last season in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the surprising availability of Southern Miss-Alabama in a relief tent set up for utility workers in the parking lot of a high school stadium. It was a welcome treat of familiarity in that uncertain time, yet all the better to make the provisions planned for Saturday that much more appreciated. Oregon-Fresno State offers some late potential, with the ever-present "if coherent/sober" tag applied to all such P.M. Pacific contests.

Finally, We'll Learn About
 The Georgia Tech win told us a bit about Notre Dame - namely that the Irish can handle low-scoring, "ugly" wins of the kind required to survive the September gauntlet only just beginning to rear its ghastly head - but the book remains very, very much out on Penn State. Lion fans believe 11-1 was a sign of perpetual success; many of us are more skeptical, given PSU's losses from that team and its record this decade. One way or the other, someone's guesses are going to be vindicated in emotional fashion.

Most to Gain
 Well, a road win at Notre Dame would earn PSU all kinds of cred and thrust them right into the mythical championship race. The Ohio State-Texas winner, though, gets the inside lane of that race, with fewer hurdles - especially in Texas' case - left to jump.

Most to Lose
On the same token, the OSU-Texas loser gets bumped into the perilous "hope for losses ahead of you" category, and only then if it's a close defeat. But hope there will be even in the worst case Saturday, which is probably more than can be said if California fails to regain a hold on whatever tenuous shreds of dignity remain at home against Minnesota.

Inevitable Blowout of the Week
Michael Bush or no, Louisville and the nation's top overall Week One offense heads to Philadelphia to destroy a Temple team that managed a mere field goal in an overtime loss to Buffalo. To Buffalo. Of the three abysmal Bowl Subdivision teams mascoted by the Strix occidentalis, these Owls may be the worst, Jerry. The worst!

Temple's usual solace - the sedative effects of eerie, very un-gameday-like Veterans Stadium - aren't even at its disposal in the new - kismet! - Lincoln Financial Field.

Lame Game of the Week
Be certain to turn in to ESPN Classic at noon Central Time, football fans, for the classic showdown between Kent State and Army, teams which combined to score six points and turn the ball over nine times in debut defeats to Minnesota and Arkansas State, respectively. SMQ tunes in if it's commentated, as it deserves to be (and probably will be soon), by the Sklar Brothers.

Bouncing back this week

California: Already made SMQ look like a fool in Week One. Don't do that again, please.
Colorado: Big XII North champions three of the last four years, and you lose to a Championship Subdivision school? Under those circumstances, CU should be put on probation if it fails to take down a middling, mid-major rival missing its best offensive player.
Arkansas: Utah State offers a nice, tender appetizer for Mitch Mustain to cut into in his first start. Or, at least, it had better, if the world is to be spared the re-emergence of the immortal Casey Dick.
Toledo: Tough road test against quarterback-rich MAC West challenger Western Michigan, but the big passing performance by new quarterback Clint Cochran at Iowa State is a call for optimism.


Game of the Century of the Week

What's at Stake: The fate of the free world, along with, more importantly, the role of mythical championship frontrunner. Also, the exchange of sweets among the rich and powerful.
Ohio State Wants: Garrett Wolfe's success against the young OSU defense last week could be a harbinger of doom against Texas' massive line and endless horde of first rate backs, which means going big play via Ginn, Gonzalez, Pittman and either of the young Wellses should be a priority. A few teams were able to run right at the Longhorns in '05; Troy Smith is not as talented, but does add the extra running dimension Vince Young brought to this game last year. We ought to find out very quickly how much Texas will miss Tarell Brown against the blazing Buckeye wideouts. On defense, Colt McCoy has to give OSU a reason to allow the backs any room to maneuver before it backs out of run-stuffing mode.
Texas Wants: Tremendous athleticism at every area duly noted, the Longhorns are built more in the mold of a clock-eating, run-oriented team better served by slowing the game down, but it would also be remiss to pass up any opportunities to exploit the youth in the Buckeye secondary, which is just as green as McCoy. This becomes much easier if the running game is keeping OSU honest. Its own secondary questions, especially ones so recent, are an incentive to play a little keep away against a defense that hasn't found its own identity yet, but not at the total expense of the talented receivers, i.e., pick and choose your opportunities to send a couple balls deep.
Variables: Colt McCoy's composure...Ohio State's front seven, in terms of pressuring McCoy and keeping the running game in relative check...Texas' offensive line, in terms of preventing said goals...Ohio State's run game, in terms of opening up the big play possibilities through the air.
The Pick: Defensive inexperience vs. quarterback inexperience - who can be distrusted least? McCoy can be an eternal hero, or an overwhelmed redshirt freshman taking his first serious snaps. There's no way to know how he's going to react to this environment. Or how Ohio State's equally wide-eyed defense is going to handle the myriad collection of athletes Texas is going to throw at it aside from its blank slate quarterback. Under the circumstances, SMQ is taking the proven commodity, Troy Smith, but this is tentative. Very tentative. Few such soirees live up to the hype, but there's no reason this one shouldn't.

If it were totally logical, it wouldn't be an upset

South Carolina's not going to log another shutout against a much more proficient group of Bulldogs than it faced last Thursday in Starkville. It will, however, give immobile Joe Tereshinski hell; with "organized chaos" protégée Tyrone Nix calling the shots against a very young line, this is a virtual guarantee. South Carolina's not that likely to mount a consistent running game, as Georgia may be, but can UGA's 75 percent new secondary deny Sidney Rice for the second straight game? Can Tereshinksi - or true freshman Matt Stafford - or the young line deal with Carolina's myriad blitzes? Georgia's best weapon in the opener, Leon Lett-handed punt returner Mikey Henderson, is out with a tight hamstring, along with a pair of demoted starting receivers. The Gamecocks, on their end, must also square away a plan for keeping UGA pass rush monster du jour Quentin Moses away from Blake Mitchell. Rice certainly must be involved more than he was last week.
Going out of one's way to forecast surprises is always the quickest route to the `Contrition' column on Sunday, but this series has produced annual nailbiters, and given Georgia's inability crack 300 yards total offense against Western Kentucky - and the mere presence of the mad mind of Steve Spurrier - USC at home in another grueling punt fest is not the reach it may seem.

If either of these teams has legitimate designs on a mythical championship, presumably we'll know by the time OSU-Texas kicks off. ND and Penn State are thought of in pretty a pretty similar vein - i.e., a conservative, run-first, defensive tradition, with the recent infusion of occasional field-spreading philosophies - but they're actually very divergent. One team has an experienced, proven quarterback with productive weapons and an entirely intact offensive line; the other has a quarterback making his second start, with young, potential-filled skill guys and an 80 percent new offensive line. One team has a defense that's struggled in the recent past, but is very experienced at this point; the other has a recently devastating defense that's rebuilding virtually its entire line and secondary. One team has the new, innovative hotness (um, strategically, at least) from the pro ranks on the sidelines; the other a relic who may or may not still be relevant. The running backs, at least, are similar in their high-volume, workhorse roles.
The Pick: Give SMQ one good reason to take Anthony Morelli's offense over Brady Quinn's on the road, and he'll consider it. Otherwise, Notre Dame's defense has shown it can deal with just OK offenses, even ones with the constant looming threat of the big play, and it will take a breakout game from Morelli and the line to take the Nittany Lions above "just OK." Quinn and Co., meanwhile, are dealing with newbies in the secondary and in the pass rush, where departed Tamba Hali, Matt Rice and Scott Paxson made a world of difference last year. Notre Dame's evident willingness to commit to keeping Darius Walker involved shown in the Tech win means PSU's killer Caucasians at linebacker will have a harder time dropping or blitzing with typical fury while also having to keep an eye on Number 3. Sorry, Mike, it's close, but...

Getting little attention, but BC-Clemson ought to be one of the best games of the day and serve as an early "eliminator" in the ACC Atlantic. BC's Matt Ryan looked comfortable in a big passing game at Central Michigan, which will be tougher to replicate with Gaines Adams bearing down, but the Eagles have some question marks on defense that nearly cost them an embarrassing loss at CMU. The Kiwanuka-less pass rush had better find itself to keep Will Proctor - a senior, but making his first road start - out of rhythm. Most everything else being equal, or canceling out, slight quarterback and home field edges go to BC.

Lost in the debacle at Tennessee was Marshawn Lynch, who was swarmed at every turn by orange shirts, yet still juked, spun, accelerated and rampaged his way to more than six yards per carry. Minnesota's never been known for stopping the run, has it? Before it's even hit PAC Ten play, Cal might be trying to save its season here, in psychological terms.

Few hosts have been as dangerous to visiting favorites as Fresno State under Pat Hill, but SMQ has lingering doubts about Tom Brandstater following his dink-and-dunk debut. Fresno can run the ball with Dwayne Wright, but that won't be enough to overcome the Ducks' burgeoning juggernaut of offense skill talent.

Included as a nod to an improving, dare SMQ say "scrappy" Arizona team coming off a relatively big home win over BYU, but this is a measuring stick game for both schools, and no more. LSU would like to avoid a scare, but it's going to be closer than the Tigers' '04 demolition if UA in Tucson. The Wildcats' defense might keep it interesting for a while, but if the offense could only manage 16 on BYU, LSU's not going to yield nearly enough for the upset.

Because the Miners are pretty good at home, and Tech has shown a tendency to struggle on the road, this has "trap" written all over it. Give Tech the edge in talent, but don't be surprised if the escalating point total on the ticker has you flipping to this one during OSU-Texas commercials.

Mid-major game of the week! The underrated Golden Hurricane carry the C-USA torch on the road, where it lost only to Oklahoma last year.
TULSA 31, BYU 23

SMQ Homerism

The first inevitable loss behind it, Golden Eagles take a cupcake break before a string of NC State, Central Florida, Tulsa, Houston and Virginia Tech resumes for what will probably be USM's worst start in well over a decade. Against SELa, SMQ hopes to see some stability at quarterback, run-stuffing dominance on defense and especially the continued emergence of true freshman Damion Fletcher at running back following a stellar debut at Florida.
The Pick: Problems here=a very, very long season of dread and gloom.

Evidence of the complete incompetence above, as always, up by noon on Sunday.