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August 16, 2010

Huguenin: Plenty to lose, nothing to gain

We're less than three weeks from the start of the season, so we thought this a good time to take another look at some intriguing early season games, specifically where one team has a lot to lose and, really, nothing to gain.

Here are 11 such games, listed chronologically:

Arizona at Toledo, Sept. 3: Toledo earned a Big Six home win last season, cruising past Colorado; that game, like this one, was on ESPN on a Friday night. But unlike the Buffs, Arizona can play offense, which bodes ill for a Rockets team that was last in the MAC in pass defense last season and lost its best player (SS Barry Church). Still, a MAC team hosting a Pac-10 team should get the home fans riled up at the Glass Bowl, and strange things can happen in season-opening games. This is the 40th anniversary season, by the way, of the last time Toledo finished undefeated; the Rockets were 12-0 in 1971 and allowed more than eight points in a game just twice. Toledo finished 14th in the AP poll and 13th in the coaches' poll.

Syracuse at Akron, Sept. 4: MAC teams are hosting just three Big Six opponents this season and all three games are on this list (the others are Arizona-Toledo and Connecticut-Temple, which we will discuss in a minute). This will be the first game for new Zips coach Rob Ianello, who had been an assistant at Notre Dame for the past five seasons. Akron is expected to be a MAC bottom-feeder, which means a Big East team should beat the Zips. But how good is Syracuse going to be? The Orange are breaking in a new quarterback and hoping their secondary plays a lot better than it did last season. Syracuse is just the third Big Six school to play at Akron since the Zips moved to Division I-A (now known as FBS) in 1987.

N.C. State at UCF; Rutgers at Florida International, Sept. 11: We're grouping these together because it's two of the state of Florida's three non-Big Six programs playing host to Big Six opponents on the same day. UCF has the best chance to come away with a victory. The Knights are solid defensively, and in DE Bruce Miller and CB Josh Robinson, they have two of the best defenders in Conference USA. And while UCF's offense is questionable, so is N.C. State's defense. Frankly, it's not that surprising that Rutgers is playing at FIU. FIU coach Mario Cristobal is a former Scarlet Knights assistant and Rutgers heavily recruits south Florida, so a number of Rutgers players will be going home. While FIU's offense isn't much, the Golden Panthers are speedy on defense and could give Rutgers QB Tom Savage some problems.

California at Nevada, Sept. 17: Nevada had a chance to make an early-season splash in '09 with visits from Notre Dame and Missouri in the first month. Alas, the Wolf Pack got beat by a combined 66-21. Indeed, Nevada never has beaten a Big Six opponent at home since moving up to Division I-A after the 1992 season. But the Wolf Pack's powerful rushing attack always gives them a chance. And while Nevada's defense has been a problem for a while now, can inconsistent Cal QB Kevin Riley take advantage?

Kansas at Southern Miss, Sept. 17: This is the seventh visit by a Big Six team since the start of the 2000 season for Southern Miss, and the Golden Eagles are 4-2 in those games, including a win last season over Virginia. Southern Miss also narrowly lost at Kansas last season -- and this Southern Miss team should be better and this Kansas team should be worse than last season. Southern Miss' Austin Davis is one of the best passers KU will see this season, and KU's secondary has some issues.

Alabama at Duke and USC at Minnesota, Sept. 18: We're grouping these together because these are the only Big Six team-vs.-Big Six team games on the list. But make no mistake: While Alabama is playing an ACC team and USC playing a Big Ten team, the Tide and Trojans would be ridiculed -- and rightly so -- if they were to lose their respective games.

Washington State at SMU, Sept. 18: Washington State's lone win last season came at SMU's expense. At the time, the win didn't necessarily stand out because SMU was coming off a one-win season. But by the end of the '09 season -- after SMU had qualified for a bowl -- observers could look back and say the Cougars' OT win was an upset. This season, we have the feeling that SMU is going to gain some revenge for last season's loss.

Connecticut at Temple, Sept. 18: A few years ago, this would've elicited a yawn. Not anymore. UConn has a legit shot at winning the Big East, while Temple heads into the season as the honest-to-goodness favorite in the MAC. Both teams rely on a power running game and a stout defense, and neither throws it all that well. This should be a low-scoring, grind-it-out affair, and a win by Temple would give the MAC a huge early-season victory.

Oklahoma State at Louisiana-Lafayette, Oct. 8: Visits from Big Six opponents are rare for ULL. There have been just two this decade, but one was a Ragin' Cajuns upset of Big 12 member Kansas State last season. That was ULL's first win over a Big Six foe since 1996, when the school -- then known as Southwestern Louisiana -- beat Big 12 member Texas A&M. Oklahoma State isn't expected to be as good this season as it was the past two or three seasons, so if ULL's underrated defense can keep the Cowboys from scoring more than three touchdowns, this will be interesting.

Grid bits
We all know coaches are prone to hyperbole -- "That team might be 1-6, but, man, they cover kicks better than anybody I've seen in my 23-year career" -- but Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh's praise of sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck still is noteworthy. "He's the best I've been around, pro or college," Harbaugh said of Luck on San Francisco's KNBR-AM. "He's just got no red flags about him whatsoever. He's a really hard worker. He's got a lot of talent and a great work ethic." Harbaugh, remember, played 15 seasons in the NFL and is heading into his fourth season as coach of the Cardinal. Some coaches shy away from heaping praise on players because players have been known to either get big-headed and/or fail to deliver. It's obvious Harbaugh doesn't think his high praise is going to adversely affect Luck.

Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt told reporters last week that if the season were to start in the next few days, Nathan Stanley would be the Rebels' starting quarterback. If you believe that well, let's just say I'll sell you this laptop I happen to have real cheap. Everyone knows that Oregon transfer Jeremiah Masoli is going to take the first snap of the season for Ole Miss. If you're Nutt, you don't allow Masoli to enroll at Ole Miss, face a huge PR backlash, then keep him on the bench. Masoli would've been a long-shot Heisman candidate had he been Oregon's starter. Surely he's good enough to start at Ole Miss, which put up with Jevan "Hey, I haven't throw an interception in three series, so I better throw one" Snead last season. If you play Ole Miss, you have to game plan for Masoli. You don't have to game plan for Stanley, who has an upside but isn't as good as Masoli right now.

LSU has to replace two starting linebackers, and one of those expected to step into the starting lineup for the first time is going to have to wait a while. Junior Ryan Baker suffered a broken jaw in practice last Friday and seems likely to miss up to six weeks. Baker is small (5 feet 10) but hits a ton and has big-time speed. It's likely that redshirt freshman Kevin Minter moves into Baker's starting role.

Senior quarterback Willy Korn transferred from Clemson to Marshall for his final season of eligibility and was in the mix for the starting job. But new Thundering Herd coach Doc Holliday announced late last week that Korn now is a safety. Korn was a four-star recruit and the No. 5-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the nation in the 2007 recruiting class.

Troy has dismissed sophomore wide receiver Josh Jarboe for a violation of team rules. Jarboe, some folks will remember, was one of the highest-ranked receivers in the 2008 recruiting class and signed with Oklahoma. In March '08, a little more than a month after National Signing Day, Jarboe was arrested on felony gun charges in his home state of Georgia. He pleaded down to two misdemeanor charges and was allowed to enroll at Oklahoma. At that time, Sooners' coach Bob Stoops said he stressed to Jarboe the importance of staying on the straight and narrow. But Jarboe a few months later made a misogynistic, obscenity-laced rap video about guns and shooting people -- then uploaded it onto YouTube. Oklahoma quickly dismissed him and he ended up at Troy, where he redshirted in '08 and was a backup last season. Will this be the end of the road? Doubtful. He's talented, so he'll get another chance, but we're betting it's at the FCS or Division II level.

Texas' Mack Brown, Florida's Urban Meyer, Alabama's Nick Saban, Oklahoma's Stoops and Ohio State's Jim Tressel -- five of the nation's top seven or eight coaches -- were on a conference call last week with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, representatives from the NCAA, representatives from the NFL Players Association and others to address agent-related problems. Saban said he helped organize the call. It's one thing for Goodell and the coaches to be upset about the process, but unless the NCAA and especially the NFLPA truly get involved, nothing is going to happen. But give Saban and the other coaches credit; they said all the right things -- among them, that players as well as unscrupulous agents need to get punished -- and perhaps the star power of the coaches involved will get something done sooner rather than later.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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