The Slightly Better Football Teams

I take it "Cal Wins" doesn't happen very much.

I take it “Cal Wins” doesn’t happen very much.

You can’t win a national title in the first week of the season but you can satisfy the expectations of your fan base. For those hoping their football team would just “get better” then you’re in luck if you are a fan of one of these teams from each conference.

ACC: Virginia

Virginia hung in there against UCLA Saturday and that’s a win for a 2-10 team in 2013. Heck, this was a squad that was trashed by Ball State at home last season 48-27 so losing 28-20 to No. 7 UCLA is amazing. The Cavaliers have an experienced team and should break their ACC losing streak this season given how weak the league is. Going to a bowl game will be tough but anything over 2 wins should be a plus.

PAC-12: California

Remember how California lost by two touchdowns to Northwestern in the season opener a season ago in Berkeley? Things changed as the 1-11 Golden Bears won their first game at Northwestern 31-24 in what I thought was the biggest upset of the weekend. Cal has already matched last season’s win total and now gets to host FCS Sacramento State this week.

Big Ten: Rutgers

Big Ten fans are happily claiming Rutgers after its road trip to Seattle where it knocked off Washington State 41-38. The Scarlet Knights did go 7-6 last season but not many were expecting them to do much in the Big Ten. Maybe Rutgers will avoid the Big Ten cellar after all.

Big 12: West Virginia

Going up against Alabama, many thought West Virginia would be cannon fodder but the Mountaineers made a game of it. It was a 33-23 defeat but the Mountaineers trailed by only three at halftime. After a 4-8 season, West Virginia has a chance to win four of its next five games. Its date with Maryland on Sept. 13 will be crucial.

SEC: Tennessee

Tennessee shutdown an explosive offense in Utah State Sunday night, holding it to seven points. Tennessee is looking to improve from 5-7 this season and should be favored in at least five more games this season. The Vols should be going bowling.

American Athletic Conference: Temple

One team in the SEC that did not improve was Vanderbilt, a school that was embarrassed by Temple on Thursday 37-7. Temple was 2-10 in 2013 and is a lock to surpass last season’s win total. Temple really made the new SEC Network look bad as all the “experts” called for a Vanderbilt rout. Nice job Owls.

Mountain West: Hawaii

Hawaii only won one game last season but showed improvement in its one point loss to No. 25 Washington 17-16. The Rainbow Warriors should have won this game as they held the Huskies scoreless in the 2nd half. They will get another crack at a PAC 12 school as Oregon State comes to the islands Saturday.

Sun Belt: Georgia State

Georgia State surpassed last season’s win total with a victory over FCS Abilene Christian Wednesday 38-37 meaning it is already an amazing season for Panther fans. Seriously, everything from here on out is bonus money. The Panthers will have a great shot at beating a FBS team for the first time in school history this Saturday as they host the Aggies of New Mexico State.

MAC: Akron

The MAC East is has no clear favorite this season and maybe Akron can sneak in. The Zips blew out FCS Howard Thursday and that is an upgrade from last season. All five of Akron’s wins in 2013 had a margin of victory of a touchdown or less. This could be the year of the Zips. We’re pulling for you Terry Bowden.

Conference USA: UAB

UAB hasn’t even sniffed bowl eligibility in the last few years but that could be changing. UAB broke a three-game losing streak to in-state rival Troy State Saturday. In the rebuilt Conference USA look for the Blazers to do some damage despite a 2-10 record in 2013.


Budget Games of the Opening Week

Budget Games newCollege football schedules are driven by revenue and there are schools that need revenue badly. The first few weeks of the season are loaded with power conference programs paying mid-major FBS schools to serve as target practice. Such is life in the “Group of 5” (AAC, CUSA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt). Welcome to the “Budget Games” slackers, where the odds are never in your favor.

Georgia Southern at NC State, Aug 30.

The Eagles are entering year one as a FBS school and that costs money. Money North Carolina State is willing to provide to the tune of $700,000 for a home game. NC State went a dismal 3-9 last year and were uncompetitive against the likes of Boston College, East Carolina and Maryland. The Eagles beat Florida last year so taking down a FBS school like NC State is nothing new.

Georgia Southern has an opportunity here to get paid and score a win. I give the Eagles a 40% chance of pulling off the upset. That will be a happy Thanksgiving, merry Christmas, and a happy New Year all over again.

Temple at Vanderbilt, Aug 28

The American Athletic Conference is now on the same level as the MAC and Conference USA. This means Temple is back to collecting cash and Vanderbilt is its first supplier. The Owls went 2-10 in 2013 but had decent showings in their final six games. While Vanderbilt has a new head coach in Derek Mason, it seems hard to believe they’ll drop a Thursday night game to a team like Temple. The pressure will be on running back Jerron Seymour to carry Vandy’s offense as the passing attack is inexperienced. I place Temple’s chances of an upset at 25 percent.

Appalachian State at Michigan Aug 30

Michigan is paying Appalachian State 1 million dollars to get a chance at revenge. Why else would Michigan schedule them? MAC schools surround the Wolverines so importing a Sun Belt program from North Carolina is a little obvious.

The Mountaineers are now in the FBS and their upset over Michigan in 2007 had plenty to do with that. App State went 4-8 last season but returns their starting QB, RB and offensive line. That could make things interesting. If Akron scared Michigan last year then you know Appalachian State has a shot. I give them a 20 percent chance.

Utah State vs. Tennessee, Aug 31

Utah State of the Mountain West will take its crack at a SEC school on a Sunday game. The Aggies have potential too coming off a 9-5 year. The Volunteers have not scared anyone in years and Utah State is coming to win. Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton is better than anyone Tennessee has under center.

I view this as a coin-flip as Tennessee may panic at home if this is close late. I give the Aggies a 49 percent chance. Better bring your best game Tennessee.

FAU vs. Nebraska, Aug 30

Florida Atlantic opens the season at Nebraska and at Alabama. Now that’s an athletic department in need of funds. Bo Pelini is taking heat from Nebraska fans and a loss to a Sun Belt team in the opener will cause a revolt. Wyoming almost knocked off Nebraska in Lincoln last season and Florida Atlantic is not too far off in talent from Wyoming. The Owls also won their last four games in 2013 but I can only give them a 20 percent chance. The Cornhuskers would have to turn the ball over a lot to choke this one, but did I mention Nebraska was -11 in turnover margin last year. Whoops.

Rice vs. Notre Dame, Aug 30

Our third Owl team on the list and this is the best of them. Rice won Conference USA last season and will receive a 1.1 million dollar check to play Notre Dame. Rice lost their top QB, RB and its two best tacklers on defense to graduation so that’s a big mountain to climb in the first week. I give Rice a five percent chance of winning.

Idaho vs. Florida, Aug 30

Idaho is trying hard to recruit in Sun Belt territory and raise funds in the process. The solution is to play Florida for $975,000. The Vandals will be better than their 1-11 team from last season but Florida will be better too. If Idaho can’t stay close to Washington State in 2013 (42-0) then Florida should hold its own here. I give the Vandals a five percent chance to pull the upset.