NCF Nation: Kevin Basped
TCU quarterback Andy Dalton prepares to make his final season with the Frogs the most memorable.
The Southern Miss defense is looking for a fresh start after a rough 2009.
Middle Tennessee's new coordinators are starting to adjust to their new roles.
An interesting read about the WAC and Boise State and how they saved each other.
Former Nevada defensive end Kevin Basped split from his agent, but still thinks he made the right decision to declare early.
Wyoming senior wide receiver Zach Bolger might be the Cowboys best-kept secret.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I had my best week of the season last week by picking nine out of 11 games correctly, but assuredly I can do better. Hopefully this week's picks will continue my hot streak.
Missouri 38, Nevada 24: The Wolf Pack likely will stack the box and dare Missouri sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert to beat them by throwing the ball without much benefit of a running game. If the Tigers can do a good job of containing Nevada defensive ends Dontay Moch and Kevin Basped, they should be able to dominate the offensive part of the game. Nevada has lost disappointing road games to Notre Dame and Colorado State, and Chris Ault’s team will be charged about its home debut in a rare national television game. And bet the Wolf Pack will be itching for revenge after last year’s 69-17 loss to the Tigers at Columbia. But Missouri still has too many weapons.
Kansas 31, Southern Mississippi 20: It’s been a trying week for the Fighting Manginos around Lawrence after some players were involved in a nasty brawl with the Kansas basketball team that splashed both programs on the front pages. They will be challenged to stop the Golden Eagles, who come into the game with an eight-game winning streak -- tied with Mississippi behind only Florida on the national list. The streak continued last week when the Golden Eagles rallied from an early 17-point deficit to claim a 37-34 victory over Virginia. The improving Kansas defense will be challenged to contain running backs Damion Fletcher and Tory Harrison, who both gashed the Cavaliers for more than 100 yards. Both teams should be able to score points in bunches, but I’m thinking that Kansas has too much firepower with Todd Reesing and Dezmon Briscoe, even with the status of leading rusher Jake Sharp likely to be a game-time decision.
Kansas State 31, Tennessee Tech 7: The Wildcats have started out slowly on offense, scoring the fewest points since Bill Snyder’s first season coaching them in 1989. And they will be playing an underrated Tennessee Tech team coached by Watson Brown, older brother of Texas coach Mack Brown. The Golden Eagles were competitive against preseason Ohio Valley Conference favorite Eastern Kentucky last week before falling 17-7. But they’ll be stepping up in class against a Kansas State team hopeful of stopping a recent two-game losing streak. Look for Snyder to try to get tailback Daniel Thomas involved early and try to build some confidence for quarterback Carson Coffman to take into Big 12 play.
Texas 52, UTEP 10: Texas still hasn’t strung together a complete game this season. This might be the Longhorns’ opportunity. Colt McCoy struggled again last week in the first half, battling the vestiges of a flu attack. But he again rebounded in the second half, taking advantage of new offensive weapons in running back Tre’ Newton and flex receiver Dan Buckner. UTEP has been effective running the ball with Donald Buckram, who is averaging almost 7 yards a play. The Miners scored five rushing touchdowns in last week’s victory over New Mexico State -- their first victory of the season -- but will be supremely challenged against Texas’ massive defensive front.
Oklahoma State 48, Grambling 17: The Cowboys will be looking to build some momentum in their final nonconference game. Zac Robinson looked closer to his 2008 form last week against Rice, although the Cowboys’ struggling pass defense continues to be a concern. And Oklahoma State might have to play without top playmakers Dez Bryant (calf) and Perrish Cox (shoulder) in this game. Grambling has been plagued with 12 turnovers in its first three games and will be facing an opportunistic Oklahoma State defense intent to boost that total.
Iowa State 33, Army 21: This should be an intriguing battle as two 2-1 teams coming off impressive victories over Mid-American Conference teams will meet. Iowa State will be gunning to beat its 2008 season win total with a victory Saturday night. The Cyclones rebounded from a struggling performance against Iowa with an impressive victory at Kent State that snapped a nation-worst 17-game road losing streak. Austen Arnaud orchestrated a strong performance as Alexander Robinson rushed for 143 yards for his second straight 100-yard game. The key for the Cyclones will be to contain Army’s option-based attack and force quarterback Trent Steelman into long-yardage passing situations. This one will be won in the trenches, and I like Iowa State’s chances because the Cyclones are more multi-faceted.
Nebraska 45, Louisiana-Lafayette 10: All things about Nebraska football will be celebrated in this game as the Cornhuskers toast their 300th straight home sellout. This game will be similar to many of the previous ones during the streak. Look for the Cornhuskers to mash the Ragin’ Cajuns at the point of attack with a potent running attack keyed by Big 12 rushing leader Roy Helu Jr. Quarterback Zac Lee sustained a splinter fracture on his left (non-throwing) thumb last week against Virginia Tech, but should play. More worrisome, the Cornhuskers' defense collapsed in last week’s disappointing loss, but won’t be tested that much by Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Chris Masson. Look for the Cornhuskers to empty the benches early, using youngsters like Cody Green and Rex Burkhead throughout much of the second half.
Texas A&M 38, UAB 24: The surprisingly potent Texas A&M offense will get its toughest challenge to date against UAB. A key for the Aggies will be to continue their explosive passing game that has helped quarterback Jerrod Johnson, who ranks third nationally in total offense and 20th in passing efficiency. Johnson should have a ready target in the UAB pass defense, which ranks 118th nationally and was blistered for 413 yards last week by Troy. The Aggies will have to play without leading receiver Jeff Fuller, but precocious freshman Uzoma Nwachukwu produced four touchdowns on four “touches” last week against Utah State. Texas A&M’s defense needs some improvement after struggling against Utah State’s option-based attack and UAB quarterback Joe Webb will test it. A&M should win this game if it can give Johnson enough time to hit his downfield receivers.
Baylor 48, Northwestern State 7: The Bears will be attempting to rebuild their confidence after a disappointing loss to Connecticut snuffed out much of the momentum after their season-opening triumph over Wake Forest. Quarterback Robert Griffin struggled through a miserable game with a career-low 139 yards of total offense. He needs to get his confidence back, hopefully by throwing the ball downfield to get David Gettis and Kendall White involved early. The Bears’ rush defense has to be a big concern after allowing 235 yards and two touchdowns to Connecticut last week. And they’ll be facing a competent Northwestern State rushing attack that dented Houston for 155 rushing yards in their first game of the season. But I’m expecting the Bears to rebound with a strong performance after last week.
Texas Tech 45, Houston 44: Get out your calculators and prepare to stay up late to watch the end of this one. It should be an entertaining contest between two of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Texas Tech’s Taylor Potts and Houston’s Case Keenum. The Red Raiders stuck with Texas last week until deep in the fourth quarter when turnovers and penalties finally caught up with them. But Potts passed for 430 yards in an impressive road debut. He’ll be facing another challenge against Houston, which stunned then-No. 5 Oklahoma State two weeks ago before taking last week off. It will be the first matchup between the two old Southwest Conference rivals since the conference dissolved in 1995. The No. 18 Cougars will be playing as a ranked team for the first time since 1991 -- when David Klingler was their quarterback. The Red Raiders have a better defense than Oklahoma State and are familiar with Houston because they face a variation of the Cougars’ spread offense every day in practice. That should provide them with just enough of an edge to boost them to win a wild victory.
Last week: 9-2 (81.8 percent)
Season: 25-8 (75.8 percent)
The Notre Dame-Michigan game means something again. Both traditional powers started the 2009 season with impressive victories, blowing out two solid non-BCS foes in Nevada and Western Michigan. The 18th-ranked Fighting Irish travel Saturday to Ann Arbor to face Michigan (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET), which could be on its way back under Rich Rodriguez.
Before the teams enter the Big House, we took a look at several of the key factors in the game.
Brian Bennett: Adam, Notre Dame vs. Michigan feels important again for the first time in a couple of years. Both teams are 1-0 and looking for bounce-back years.
My first question for you is, which team and which coach needs this more? I say it's Notre Dame and Charlie Weis. While I think Michigan fans would accept another rebuilding-type of year with the Wolverines' young quarterbacks, the Irish are built to win now. Weis has to get to eight or nine wins to feel safe, and this is a huge swing game for Notre Dame. Losing to Michigan would bring back more doubt and questions that Weis and his players don't need.
|Brian Spurlock/US Presswire|
|Charlie Weis arguably needs to win this game more than Michigan's Rich Rodriguez.|
Notre Dame's offense looked awfully impressive last week, especially the line. I've been skeptical of that group because older players don't necessarily mean better ones. Has the Irish line turned a corner and what does that mean for Jimmy Clausen and those dynamic wide receivers. How do you think they'll match up against a younger but faster Michigan defensive front?
BB: The Irish offensive line neutralized Nevada's defensive ends, Kevin Basped and Dontay Moch, who combined for more than 20 sacks last year. Clausen had time to write his thesis in the pocket. Weis said they threw everything at the ends -- cutting, double-teaming, screens and running right at them -- to slow them down. Michigan has better athletes up front and should be ready for those ploys. Notre Dame's offensive line still has a lot to prove, as they didn't exactly run the ball down Nevada's throat. Unless inexperience bites them, I think this could be an advantage for the Wolverines.
That being said, when Clausen does get time, who is going to stop Michael Floyd, Golden Tate and Kyle Rudolph from going off? It's been a while since the Wolverines have seen such talented pass-catchers.
AR: Each of those guys is awfully tough to stop, especially in man coverage. Michigan's defensive backs tackled extremely well last week against Western Michigan, even when they were left alone in space. Still, the secondary is an inexperienced group, particularly at safety, and to expect it to contain Floyd, Tate and Rudolph is unrealistic. Junior corner Donovan Warren is a potential shutdown guy, and I'd imagine he'll be on Tate. The other corner, Boubacar Cissoko, had an interception last week and did a lot of nice things against Western Michigan. For Michigan, the key to stopping those three is not giving Clausen enough time to get them the ball down the field. The Wolverines will try to generate a pass rush solely with their down linemen to give the secondary some help from the linebackers.
Obviously, Michigan's offense looked dramatically different with Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson at quarterback. How do you think Notre Dame will defend the spread? How big of a factor will freshman Manti Te'o be for the Irish?
BB: It's interesting, because Notre Dame got some practice against a spread-type offense and a running quarterback versus Nevada. I think that will help their preparation for this game. The Wolf Pack didn't score but did get quite a few big running plays before turning the ball over or failing to convert key third downs. The Irish didn't really have to worry about the passing game much, either. Te'o didn't play a whole lot in that game, partly because they were afraid to throw a true freshman in against a confusing offense, but mostly because linebackers Brian Smith and Toryan Smith played so well. Weis said this week that Te'o would be involved more, and he showed in his limited time that he can really run and deliver a big hit when he gets there. They may need that this week.
|Eric Bronson/Icon SMI|
|Junior Hemingway collected five passes for 103 yards and two TDs against Western Michigan.|
What other offensive concerns do the Wolverines pose, and how much of a role do you think the inexperience factor will play for them at quarterback in this game?
AR: Forcier said after last week's game that he never gets nervous, and I believe him. He didn't look anything like a freshman in leading the offense. Denard Robinson still has a ways to go as a passer, but he's too fast and too athletic to be left off the field. I'm sure you saw his electrifying scoring run on his first career carry in college. Michigan had called a reverse on that play, Robinson fumbled the snap and he still found a way to make a huge play. Forcier will get most of the snaps, but Robinson will definitely be a factor. I'd also watch out for wide receiver Junior Hemingway, who had a huge game in the opener after missing most of last season with mono. He looks like Forcier's top target. Michigan also is extremely deep at running back and should get Brandon Minor back on the field Saturday.
This game got a lot more interesting last weekend, and I could see it go either way. I can't see Forcier and Robinson playing as cleanly as they did last week, and it'll be tough for Michigan to contain Notre Dame's deep threats for 60 minutes. I'm giving the Irish a slight edge in this one, 30-27.
What's your take?
BB: I'm real close to your score. I've got Notre Dame by a 34-29 count. I just think the Irish are more experienced and have a few too many weapons on offense. But this game could be a lot of fun. And it isn't it great to have Notre Dame-Michigan mean something again?
AR: Absolutely. Enjoy the Big House, my friend. Should be a good one.
Dec. 30, 4:30 p.m., ESPN
Maryland take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: It's hard to believe that just a few weeks ago Maryland had the Atlantic Division title at its fingertips. They let it slip away with back-to-back losses against Florida State and Boston College and will now travel to Boise, where they will face a Nevada team that finished in a three-way tie for second place in the Western Athletic Conference behind undefeated Boise State.
Nevada won three of its last four regular-season games and has one of the top offenses in the nation, ranking fifth in total offense (510.6 yards per game) and second in rushing (291.4 ypg). Running back Vai Taua has rushed for 1,420 yards, while quarterback Colin Kaepernick has 1,115 rushing yards and 2,479 passing yards.
It will be a legitimate test for a defense that has been inconsistent all season. Maryland has struggled to run the ball well consistently this season, and has twice been held to negative yardage. Nevada ranks fifth in the country in rushing defense (74.5 ypg). It will also be a tough challenge for the Terps' offensive line, which has struggled in the past two games to protect quarterback Chris Turner. Kevin Basped (10.0) and Dontay Moch (9.5) have combined for almost 20 sacks.
Nevada take by non-BCS blogger Graham Watson: Nevada has won three of its last four with its only loss to undefeated Boise State. The Wolf Pack got a key win over Louisiana Tech at the end of the season to get to seven wins to secure a WAC Bowl.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is going to be tough for any defense to stop, especially one such as Maryland that hasn't seen a lot of mobile quarterbacks. And Kaepernick showed against Louisiana Tech that he has the ability to make plays with his arm. He's gotten better in the passing game as the season has progressed, making his a true dual-threat.
Kaepernick and running back Vai Taua compose the nation's second-best rushing attack, averaging 291.42 yards per game. Maryland ranks 74th in the country in rushing defense, allowing 149.4 yards per game. It allowed more than 200 rushing yards to four teams this season and was 2-2 in those games.
But Maryland can find success against Nevada through the air. The Wolf Pack has the nation's worst passing defense (321.08 yards per game) and has allowed 15 passing touchdowns.