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September 4, 2008

SCS.comThe second weekend of action does not feature a great slate of games, but there remain a few key contests to preview. The highlight matchup of the week is the return of the Miami and Florida rivalry as these two meet up for the first time since the 2004 Peach Bowl. Also worthy of mention this week is another ACC/SEC matchup as Mississippi travels to Wake Forest, while games between Oregon State and Penn State, Cincinnati and Oklahoma, Georgia Tech and Boston College, and West Virginia and East Carolina are also of interest. Time to focus on the key matchups that will help shape the college football landscape in the first full weekend of September action.

Check out the staff's picks for all of this week's top games!


Miami at Florida
Saturday 7:00 PM CDT ESPN

This weeks highlight game features a battle of the Sunshine State as Miami heads north to tackle the Florida Gators. These two programs have not met since a 27-10 Miami win in the 2004 Peach Bowl and the Hurricanes currently own a six game winning streak in this series, with the last Florida victory occurring in 1985. Both these teams enter this contest fresh off of blowout victories in week #1 as Florida took care of Hawaii 56-10 while Miami cruised over Charleston Southern by a 52-7 score. For the young Hurricanes this game will demonstrate how far along this team is in the rebuilding process while for Florida this is another step in their quest to return to the national championship game. Letís take an in-depth preview at how these two teams will match up on Saturday evening.

Look for the Gators to continue to focus on establishing a balanced offense to reduce the workload on quarterback Tim Tebow. In their opener, the Gators rushed for 255 yards, led by future star Chris Rainey who displayed his game breaking talent in the backfield. Expect Rainey to receive plenty of carries on Saturday night as he provides more of an explosive punch compared to last yearís starter Kestahn Moore. More good news for the Gators is the expected return of star wide receiver Percy Harvin, who missed the Hawaii game due to injury. Harvin will cause major headaches for the young Hurricane defense as he is not only a great receiver, but he is also a dangerous option in the running game. The Miami defense is still a work in progress and features a lot of new faces playing key roles, which makes it highly unlikely that the unit will be able to contain one of the top offenses in the nation for sixty minutes.

The question for Miami is who gets the start at quarterback now that Robert Marve has served his one game suspension. True freshman Jacory Harris was the starter versus Charleston Southern, and he met expectations, throwing for 190 yards without an interception while scoring on both the ground and through the air. Whoever earns the start behind center for Miami will run into a more experienced and much improved Gator defensive unit. In the opener, Florida dominated a good Hawaii passing game, forcing four interceptions and returning two of those picks for touchdowns. Expect to see Miami focus their game plan around their talented running back Javarris James to shift the heat away from their young quarterbacks. For Miami to have a chance in this game, James will need to have a huge effort, but he will run directly into the strength of the Gator defense, a talented front seven. If James is unable to find room to run and this game falls solely on the arms of the Hurricane quarterbacks, it will be a long night for the Miami offense.

In reviewing this game, it appears to be a mismatch between a national title contender in Florida and the rebuilding and young Miami Hurricanes. Florida has playmakers across the field on offense and they will look to force the Hurricanes into keeping pace with their scoring. Miami will focus on their running game and establishing the combination of Javarris James and Graig Cooper to slow down the pace of the game. If the Hurricanes are hoping to pull off this upset, turnovers will need to play a major role because their secondary is still a work in progress and is susceptible to the Gator passing attack. That being said, Tebow only tossed six interceptions all of last season, so Miami has their work cut out for them in forcing Florida into making mistakes. In the end the overall talent level of the Gators is just to much for Miami to overcome at this stage of the season, so expect a solid win for Florida as they keep their focus on the national championship chase.


West Virginia at East Carolina
Saturday 3:30 PM CDT ESPN

This game assumed a whole new meaning with East Carolina earning a huge 27-22 win over Virginia Tech this past weekend while West Virginia manhandled Villanova by a 48-21 score. The Mountaineers own a seven game winning streak in this series, including a dominant 48-7 win last season at home in Morgantown. The West Virginia offense is focused on the legs and throwing arm of quarterback Pat White who tossed five touchdown passes while also leading the team in rushing in the opener. Expect a similar same game plan in this contest as the WVU offense will feature more of the passing attack this season, although running back Noel Devine remains an explosive option on the ground. For ECU, quarterback Pat Pinkney was the story in their upset win, as he connected on 19 of his 23 pass attempts while directing the Pirate game plan to perfection. On the defensive side of the ball, keep an eye on the battle in the trenches as the Pirates have a stout line, which held Virginia Tech to a three yard per carry average, but now they run into a West Virginia offensive line that is one of the best in the nation. East Carolina is looking for a third consecutive win over a ranked opponent and if they can upset West Virginia, the Pirates will be staring at a national ranking themselves.

Mississippi at Wake Forest
Saturday 2:30 PM CDT ABC

These two teams have met only once in their history, a 27-3 Wake Forest victory at home in 2006. Mississippi opened their season with a 41-24 thumping of Memphis, while Wake went on the road to Baylor and registered an impressive 41-13 victory. The Wake offense is led by quarterback Riley Skinner, the nationís most accurate passer from last season, who began where he left off by completing 27 of his 36 pass attempts and three touchdowns in the opener. Mississippi has questions in their secondary as they yielded 265 yards passing against Memphis so expect Skinner to be a key part of the Deacon game plan. For the Rebels, the story of their opener was the ground game, highlighted by Dexter McCluster, who assumed a similar role to former Arkansas back Darren McFadden in Coach Houston Nuttís wildcat formation. Expect McCluster to get plenty of carries in this game as the Rebels look to exploit the Deacon line, which remains the one question mark on the defensive unit. Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead may be in for a tough day as the Wake secondary is one of the best in the nation, highlighted by cornerback Alphonso Smith. Wake looks to be a slight favorite in this one at home, but this looks to be the best Mississippi team in years, and one that is capable of pulling off the upset.

Oregon State at Penn State
Saturday 2:30 PM CDT ABC

The Beavers travel cross-country to battle Penn State for the first ever meeting between these two programs. Oregon State enters this contest off a tough 36-28 loss to Pac-10 rival Stanford, while Penn State opened their season with a 66-10 walk in the park over FCS member, Coastal Carolina. Expect the Beavers to attack Penn State through the air, as the receiving combination of Shane Morales and Sammie Stroughter were tremendous in the opener, combining for 25 receptions and 308 yards. The strength of the Penn State defense is the line, so the Beavers will have trouble establishing a consistent running game, making quarterback Lyle Moevao a key player. Meanwhile, Penn State will counter on the ground with a deep stable of running backs, led by Evan Royster and Stephfon Green, who will follow a top-notch offensive line. Stanford punished Oregon State on the ground, so the Beavers must tighten up their rush defense if they hope to contain the Penn State spread offense. The Beavers are looking to get back on track before their home opener next week while Penn State will see where they stand in their first test of the season.

Cincinnati at Oklahoma
Saturday 2:30 PM CDT ABC

The first ever meeting between these two programs is an attractive match-up as the strong Cincinnati defense runs directly into a powerful Oklahoma offense. Both teams opened up with cakewalks over FCS opponents as Oklahoma pounded Chattanooga 57-2 while Cincinnati was in total control from the opening whistle in a 40-7 rout of Eastern Kentucky. The Sooners will feature a balanced offense highlighted by Sam Bradford at quarterback and DeMarco Murray at running back, a lethal combination who have proven to be almost impossible to stop. The strength of the Cincinnati defense is their secondary, so expect to see Murray receive plenty of carries as he works behind the talented Sooner front line. Cincinnati will need to score and score in bunches to keep pace in this one, meaning quarterback Dustin Grutza will have to play the game of his life if the Bearcats have hopes of pulling off the huge upset. Oklahoma is a clear national championship contender and a strong favorite, but Cincinnati is dangerous and just talented enough to keep this game interesting.

Georgia Tech at Boston College
Saturday 11:00 AM CDT RAYCOM

Both these teams opened their seasons with relative ease as Boston College took care of Kent State 21-0 while Tech handled Jacksonville State, 41-14. This will be the first major challenge for Coach Johnsonís option offense in the ACC as the Eagle defense is rock solid, led by a strong front seven. Expect to see plenty of the Jackets star running back Jonathan Dwyer as Tech looks to get him the ball in space where he can showcase his exceptional speed. For BC, quarterback Chris Crane led the offense in the opener, rushing for two touchdowns and doing all that was asked of him in the passing game against an overmatched Kent State team. Tech appears to be vulnerable versus the pass so expect to see Crane throwing the ball down the field on a more regular basis, focusing on his top target in Rich Gunnell. This is a critical game within the ACC as the league race is wide-open, and with both of these teams projected in the mid-tier of the conference, earning a win in the conference opener is key to a successful season.


South Carolina at Vanderbilt - Thursday 7:30 PM CDT

Carolina was sluggish in their opening win over North Carolina State, finally breaking the game open late behind back-up quarterback Chris Smelley, while Vanderbilt was impressive from the start in a 34-13 road win at Miami, Ohio. The winner starts the season at 1-0 in league play as Vanderbilt looks to win back-to-back games against the Gamecocks after ending a seven game losing streak last year.

Brigham Young at Washington - Saturday 2:00 PM CDT

BYU opened their season with a 41-17 win over Northern Iowa, while Washington was pummeled 44-10 at Oregon. The Cougars are looking to end a six game losing streak in road openers, while for Coach Willingham this is a critical game for his struggling Husky program and his career in Seattle, especially with Oklahoma looming next weekend.

South Florida at Central Florida - Saturday 6:00 PM CDT

South Florida punished their in-state rivals last season, earning a 64-12 victory as they ascended to the second spot in the national rankings following their win. Central Florida was sluggish in their opener, a 17-0 win over South Carolina State, and they will need a much improved effort to have any chance of upsetting the surging Bulls.

Stanford at Arizona State - Saturday 8:00 PM CDT

Stanford was impressive in their opening day win over Oregon State, while Arizona State went through the motions in cruising over Northern Arizona. This game will provide insight into how good this Stanford team really is, while ASU looks to continue their recent domination of the Cardinal after winning the last two games by a combined score of 79-6.

Buffalo at Pittsburgh - Saturday 5:00 PM CDT

Before the season began this game would have been penciled in the win column for Pittsburgh. But after an opening weekend that saw Pitt fall to Bowling Green and Buffalo thrash Texas-El Paso, the Panthers better be ready for a much improved Bull team, otherwise the season will come crashing down in early September.

Minnesota at Bowling Green - Saturday 6:30 PM CDT

Bowling Green made the college football headlines with their 27-17 victory over nationally ranked Pittsburgh in week #1. Minnesota will be looking to avenge a 32-31 overtime loss to the Falcons last season while also doubling their win total from all of last year with a second victory.

Connecticut at Temple - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT

These two played a great game last season, with Connecticut emerging with a 22-17 as the Huskies benefited from a missed call that took away a Temple touchdown in the last minute. Both teams dominated their openers as UConn pummeled Hofstra 35-3 while Temple was impressive on the road in recording a 35-7 win over Army.

Navy at Ball State - Friday 6:00 PM CDT

These two teams played a thriller last season, a 34-31 Ball State win in overtime at Navy. This has the potential to be the highest scoring game of the weekend as both of these teams can quickly put points on the scoreboard. Keep an eye on Navy running back, Shun White, who rushed for a school record 348 yards in the Middies opening win over Towson.

Maryland at Middle Tennessee - Saturday 6:00 PM CDT

This game did not appear to be noteworthy entering the season, but after Maryland struggled mightily in their 14-7 win over Delaware this game takes on added importance. Middle Tennessee played well in their opening weekend loss to Troy and if Maryland repeats their opening performance, MTSU could easily end up stealing a win on their home field.

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