The showcase games of college football’s opening week are four big non-conference games involving teams from the SEC. But beyond that, there are twelve other games that are at least worth checking in on. TheSportsNotebook’s college football coverage runs down the rest of the Undercard Dozen…
Ole Miss-Vanderbilt (Thur, 9:15 PM ET, ESPN): Fans will be able to watch this one after the end of the more hyped North Carolina-South Carolina game earlier in the evening. Ole Miss has a veteran team and a top-ranked recruiting class to blend in, including defensive end Robert Nkiemdiche, the nation’s top-rated recruit. Vandy has an experienced defense and is at home. Both teams can hope for an eight-win season, but they need to beat each other.
Tulsa-Bowling Green (Thur, 7 PM ET, ESPNU): Two of the best teams on the mid-major level go head-to-head and you can put down the winner on the early watch list for BCS-buster. Tulsa won Conference USA last year, has a talented runner in Trey Watts, but some rebuilding to do elsewhere. Bowling Green looks loaded for a big run in the MAC and this win would give them some nice momentum.
Utah State-Utah (Thur, 8 PM ET,FoxSports 1): Utah isn’t very good, but they did beat Utah State last season in a game that ultimately cost the Aggies a BCS bid. Utah State might have lost head coach Gary Anderson to Wisconsin, but the Aggies return quarterback Chuckie Keeton, the offensive line and most of the defense. They need to go on the road and show they can beat a team from a BCS conference, especially a shaky team.
Texas Tech-SMU (Fri, 8 PM ET, ESPN): SMU transfers into the American Athletic Conference, to merge with the last remaining members of the Big East, and this game will give telltale clues to the Mustangs ability to compete for that conference’s automatic BCS berth. Texas Tech has a load of rebuilding to do under new coach Kliff Kingsbury. This has to be a spot where SMU’s senior quarterback Garrett Gilbert can grow out of his interception-prone past.
Purdue-Cincinnati (Noon ET, ESPNU): if you’re looking for a spot where a double-digit underdog can win outright, check out this game. The Boilermakers are getting 10 ½ points, as they go on the road with a new coach and new quarterback. But head coach Darrell Hazell showed at Kent State he knew what he was doing, and Purdue has experience in the trenches and on defense. Cincinnati is a good team, but not without defensive concerns, so I’m looking for this one to go to the wire.
Rice-Texas A&M (1 PM ET, ESPN): I’m assuming Johnny Manziel is going to play this game, but even so, don’t sleep on Rice. The Owls finished last season with a good head of steam, winning six straight, including a bowl rout of Air Force. Rice brings back quarterback Taylor McHargue and pretty much everyone else. A&M was a team that looked ripe for a little setback anyway and they’ve lived through a summer of distractions.
I can’t see Rice beating an SEC team on the road, but when a point spread gets posted (no number is up until we know for sure about Manziel), my guess is that Rice getting perhaps three touchdowns will be a good bet.
Mississippi State-Oklahoma State (3:30 PM ET, ABC/ESPN2): Both of these programs need the win. Mississippi State is one of the SEC bowl regulars that hasn’t shown it can really lift its play in non-conference situations. Because of that, there’s pressure on Okie State to show it beat an SEC team at home in these circumstances.
Oklahoma State is rebuilding its offense, so giving 13, as the Las Vegas line currently requires, seems on the steep side. But they should have a better defense and while the Bulldogs have a good runner in Lardarius Perkins, they aren’t known for their offensive explosiveness. Oklahoma State gets the win, but it’s closer than the experts say.
Penn State-Syracuse (3:30 PM ET, ABC/ESPN2): Another place to be on upset alert is the Carrier Dome, where Penn State is giving eight. Syracuse might be under new coaching leadership, but they have a good running game, with 1100-yard rusher in Jerome Simpson and the Penn State defensive front seven is a work in progress. The Lions are also in transition at quarterback and will likely struggle to score.
UL Monroe-Oklahoma (7 PM ET): UL-Monroe beat bad SEC teams last year in Arkansas and Auburn, something that is certainly not the norm for even the best of Sun Belt teams. And Monroe is that, with prolific lefty quarterback Kolton Browning and explosive running back Jyruss Edwards. OU has a young defense and must replace Landry Jones at quarterback. I wouldn’t pick them to lose in Norman, but I wouldn’t lay (-21) in this spot either.
Boise State-Washington (10 PM ET, FoxSports 1): If Washington is going to get off their pattern of barely sneaking into bowl games, they have to win this one. Boise has a lot of rebuilding to do, while the Huskies are experienced, and have fifth-year senior Keith Price at quarterback.
Northwestern-Cal (10:30 PM ET, ESPN2): I can’t see Northwestern actually losing this game, even on the road. Cal is in a complete state of transition under new coach Sonny Dykes, while Northwestern’s defense should be ready to hit the ground running. But I like the Wildcats to win the Big Ten Legends’ Division this year and want to see them make an early statement. The 5 ½ point line is short and I’d be disappointed if NU doesn’t cover that number.
Florida State-Pitt (Mon, 8 PM ET, ESPN2): The ACC’s Labor Day opener is now becoming somewhat of a tradition and this one might be pretty good. Pitt brings back most of its defense, and this is a team that nearly beat Notre Dame in South Bend at the end of last year. Florida State has to retool offensively. The Panthers have too many offensive problems for me to pick an upset, but playing at home, I like them to keep this one close and low scoring, with their ability to cover the (-11) number a good benchmark for success.