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joe gavazzi

virginia at ucla (-19-) 3:30 et fox tv
this is the best team that ucla hc mora has fielded as he begins his 4th season. the bruins are off consecutive 10-win seasons and have 18 rs. expectations are high, despite the fact that qb hundley is the only offensive starter not returning to the fold. but with the entire ol returning intact, this team could easily match the average of 34 ppg and 460 ypg of the mora tenure. the bruins traveled to c-ville last august 30th for their opening game. as 18 point favorite, they were life and death before pulling away for a 28-20 victory in a contest, where they were outgained 286-258. it took a pair of defensive scores for the bruins to pull out the victory.

that was the first of 7 defeats for a uva team, who is coached by 6th year hc london. with a combined 3 year record of 11-25 su, it is time for the cavs to put up or shut up against a schedule that is among the most difficult in the nation with september games vs. ucla, notre dame and boise st. with only 11 starters returning, there is little expected from the cavs this season. lost amid the rubble is that uva rarely gets blown out of a game. witness the fact that only their defeat at georgia tech by a score of 35-10 was by more than 14 points. this one may be a bit contrary, but the cavs have proved they can play with this team, are competitive in most every game they play and have far more to prove than ucla.

stanford (-12) at northwestern noon et espn
let’s start this analysis by noting that this game is a 10:00 am et body start for the west coast cardinals, who fly 2 time zones east for a local time noon kick at the whim of espn. yes, stanford is a perennial defensive powerhouse under 5th year hc shaw. last year was among their best stop units, allowing 16 ppg, 82 ypg, including 104/3.1 overland. but with only 4 returning defensive starters, no linemen, it may take a couple weeks for the cardinal to return to their defensive excellence. that means the load will need to be carried by returning qb hogan and 8 starters. but, this unit was a below average offense with just 27 ppg and 389 ypg. that will get you a 5-4 su pac 12 record with an 8-5 su log overall.

a 3-0 su ats finish, including closing wins at ucla, and a bowl victory vs. maryland may actually prove to be false confidence as the cardinal flies east to take on a wildcat team for whom they may have little respect. in the 10th year under hc fitzgerald, the wildcats are off consecutive 5-7 su seasons with a combined record of 8-14 ats. but, if there is a common thread running through wildcat games, it is the propensity for close losses. four of their defeats last season were by 8 or less points. in the previous year, 5 of their 7 losses were by 10 or fewer points. fourteen returning starters will lead a hungry wildcat team. in a contest where defense will lead the way and offense should be at a premium (note the opening total of 45 points), it is an odds-on bet that the home dog wildcats come in under the number.

louisville vs. auburn (-10-) 3:30 et cbs tv (atlanta, ga)
with 13 rs, a very hungry auburn team will take the field following their relatively short journey to atlanta. in 2013, the first year under 3rd year hc malzahn, auburn went 12-2 su, 11-2 ats, defeated arch rival alabama, won the sec and failed in the title game (34-31) to florida st. as 11 point dog. following a 7-1 su start to 2014, the pieces appeared in place for a possible repeat (only loss was to then no. 1 miss st.). but, the wheels fell off down the stretch as the tigers finished 0-4 su ats against lined opponents (beat samford 31-7), losing to a&m, georgia, alabama and wisconsin.

all of this has been against the nation’s toughest schedule over the last 2 years. this year, malzahn, an obvious offensive guru, welcomes former florida hc muschamp to the position of dc, a role in which muschamp has reached his peter principle. muschamp will find 8 returning defensive starters to his liking with a corps of linemen and linebackers that are among the best in the nation. newly anointed qb johnson will make last year’s qb marhsall, a distant memory. though the tigers are hungry, the question is whether they will be able to put away a louisville team, who has become a power in their own right. in the last 3 seasons (2 under current texas hc strong) and last year under 2nd term hc petrino, the cards have gone 32-7 su. no surprise that petrino, known as an offensive guru, maintained the 31 ppg offense of previous louisville teams, despite his transfer to the acc.

it was a defense that allowed just 310 ypg and 111/3.3 overland that was a bit of surprise. this year, the offense is aided by new oc mcgee, the former uab hc, who has no fewer than 3 qbs from whom to choose. it’s the respect of this bureau for the coaching of petrino who has us siding with the cards in this one against a highly-motivated tiger team, who will be looking to reverse last year’s embarrassing finish.

byu at nebraska (-7) 3:30 et abc tv
outstanding aspect of this contest is the difference in the coaching staffs. byu hc mendenhall begins his 11th year at the helm of the cougars with his coaching staff intact. on the other sideline is nebraska hc mike riley, who makes his husker debut, after coaching the oregon st. beavers for more than the last decade.

furthermore, riley will be changing schemes on both sides of the ball. most notably on the attack side, where the huskers figure to be pass heavy this season. that means returning qb armstrong, more notable for his legs, and an offensive line will need to make major adjustments. not so for byu, who return the explosive talent that is qb taysom hill to the lineup. before his season-ending leg injury in game 5 of last season, the cougars were off to a 4-0 su start, averaging 37 pppg. lincoln is never an easy place to play! but, the cougars are well versed in their travels as an independent competitor. and, there will be plenty of hunger for a byu team, who was on a 4-0 su late season roll, before losing 55-48 to memphis in their bowl game to conclude a 3rd consecutive 8-5 su season.

with a september slate that includes future games against boise, plus road games at ucla and michigan, look for a great sense of urgency from these cats as dogs, as their veteran coaching staff proves to be the difference against the new regime of riley and company, who could show notable first game errors.

bowling green vs. tennessee (-21) 7:00 et sec tv (nashville, tn)
the bowling green falcons go to nashville, tn for a “neutral field” meeting with the tennessee volunteers. clearly, there will be a lot more tennessee fans in attendance with the game in nearby nashville. the game will kick off at 7:00 pm et saturday, as televised by the sec network. this is a matchup of the mac against the powerful sec.

under the tutelage of 3rd year hc butch jones, the tennessee program is at last rising from the nadir of their discontent that was the 3 year tenure of derek dooley. last year, a very young vol team, with no ol or dl returning starters, and only 10 total rs crafted a 7-6 su, 6-6 ats log. they improved notably on each side of the ball. this year, with 18 rs, tennessee is expected to author further improvement. yet, they are still a very young and inexperienced team. though this team may indeed show marked improvement in the 2015 season, it is doubtful they put their best foot forward on opening week.

they are still very unsettled in their offensive line and have suspended one of their best wide-outs in pig howard. then, there is the little matter of the look ahead to their game with oklahoma next week. last year’s contest against the sooners was not pretty, as the vols dropped a 34-10 decision, being outgained 454-313. even if they have the spread covered in the 4th quarter, that look ahead could leave the back door open for an explosive bowling green team.

under 2nd year hc babers, the falcons are expected to build on their past 2 seasons, when they have a combined 18-1 su record. in fact, they are picked by many preseason prognosticators to win the mac east. should they do so, it will most likely be because of an explosive offense. building on their camellia bowl victory against s. alabama (33-28), the falcons return all 11 offensive starters. this is a fast-paced offense which babers refers to as “basketball on grass.” in his first season at the helm, the falcons averaged 35 ppg on 435 ypg. expect significantly higher this season. this team will have the confidence against a power 5 school, knowing that they beat indiana last year, from the power 5 big 10 conference (45-42).

the volunteers will most assuredly get their points against a leaky bowling green defense. but, if the falcons are not able to go toe to toe in the first 3 quarters, be assured they will have plenty of potential to come flying through the back door against a vol team, whose thoughts will turn to oklahoma next week.

utep at arkansas (-33) 3:30 et espnu
the utep miners from the cusa west travel to power 5 conference arkansas for this 3:30 et start as televised by espnu.

the miners are in the 3rd year under hc kugler. the maiden voyage under kugler in 2013 was a 2-10 su ats disaster, characterized by injuries, a lack of experience and a lack of depth. last year, the miners turned it around with a 7-6 su, 9-4 ats record, behind 15 rs. it did, however, culminate in a loss to utah st. (21-6) in their bowl game. last year’s stats indicate the miners were a more than competitive team. but, they faced a “minor league” schedule of cusa teams. key meeting from last year’s preseason games was a 58-28 loss at kansas st., when they were outrushed 188-59.

though, the miners showed improvement in the last year. they have been vulnerable at the point of attack in each of the previous 2 seasons. in 2013, utep allowed 248/6.2 overland and last year, still allowed 179/5.3 against the rush. that is a bad omen, as only 5 defensive starters return to that unit this season. furthermore, when looking at the rushing statistics of the ground-oriented hogs, it presents even more of an issue.

this is an arkansas team which is rising quickly under 3rd year hc bielema. bielema inherited a 4-8 su, 2-8 ats disaster from the problem-ridden one year regime of john l. smith. transitioning the razorbacks to a running team, the hogs felt the growing pains in a 2013 season that saw them go 3-9 su, 4-7 ats. they were winless in the sec, outscored 31-21, but there were signs of hope for the ground game that averaged 209/5.3. last year, in the 2nd year of the bielema regime, the hogs improved to 7-6 su, 9-3 ats. they outscored the opposition by a 32-19 average, doublerushed their opponents 218/5.1 to 114/3.5 for the season and set the positive trend in motion for this 2015 campaign.

among last year’s non-con wins was a 52-14 home field victory vs. a quality n. illinois team and a 45-17 wipeout of uab. they built momentum for the season with a 31-7 victory vs. texas in their bowl game in which they outrushed the longhorns 191 to 2. with only toledo on deck, the razorbacks are ready to carry forward their momentum and make a statement in week 1. though rb williams will miss this contest, his running mate, rb collins, and a plethora of reserve rbs are capable of carrying the load. they are balanced by qb allen, who had a 20/5 ratio for the season. of equal importance is that improved defense could once again be a team strength.

keep an eye on the hogs this year and especially in this week 1 statement game, as they prove they are a force with which to be reckoned in sec west play. if they do not doublerush utep this week (a 75% chance to cover), you’ve got a major scoop.

cfb big dog of the week … texas

texas at notre dame (-10) 7:30 et nbc tv
each week in this space, i will isolate the cfb big dog of the week. it will be a selection in which our team is an underdog of 6 or more points. it will be a blend of statistical, situational and technical analysis that will result in an outstanding opportunity for you to cash a winning ticket.

the texas longhorns travel to south bend indiana to meet the notre dame fighting irish in an opening week, saturday night, marquee matchup. the game will be televised by nbc starting at 7:30 et.

it is no surprise that there is a lot of preseason hoopla surrounding the notre dame program. for, the irish fell flat on their face down the stretch last season, when a lack of experience and injuries deflated their 2014 season. after a 6-0 su start, notre dame would finish 2-5 su ats for a highly-disappointing 8-5 su season. today, they take the field for 6th year hc brian kelly with 17 rs. they do have some good feelings, knowing they won their bowl game against lsu (31-28). as much as the irish seemed to be improved, there are danger signs in their defensive makeup. in the previous 3 seasons, this team has gone from 12 to 9 to 8 wins, in no small part because of their decreasing defensive performance that went from allowing 13 ppg and 306 ypg in 2012 to 29 ppg and 404 ypg in 2014.

with projected starting qb golson transferring to florida st., leaving former qb zaire to guide the attack, there may not be as much offensive transition as was expected. then, there is the matter of the fact that notre dame, being among the highest profile schools in the country, is consistently overrated. that is especially true when installed as the favorite at home, where they are on a 19-33 ats slide as home chalk, including 5-10 ats in the previous 3 years.

there is plenty to like about the texas longhorns as they enter the 2nd year of the hc charlie strong regime. a 6-7 su season is unacceptable in austin. it culminated with a pair of losses to end the season by counts of 48-10 to tcu and 31-7 to arkansas. yes, the longhorns have plenty to prove! strong proved his defensive pedigree by improving the longhorns defensive allowance from 407 to 348 ypg. and that was with 9 games against the high-scoring big 12. now, he must focus on the offensive side of the ball, where 8 rs, including all 5 linemen (though, 2 rookies may start) will pave the way. qb heard is the starter in waiting with a highly decorated high school career behind them. but, incumbent qb swoopes may get the starting nod, based on his greater experience.

i’m expecting a defensive struggle in south bend tonight with the underrated, underdog longhorns taking this game to the final whistle against the always overrated fighting irish.

wisconsin vs. alabama (-12) 8:00 et abc tv(arlington, tx)
you will be flipping your remote between the texas/notre dame game and this wisconsin/alabama game in your co-marquee matchups of saturday night! while the former may be a nail biter, i am expecting a major statement from alabama.

after the total embarrassment of their 59-0 loss to ohio st. in last year’s big 10 championship game, the badgers bounced back with a 34-31 victory against auburn in their bowl game. could that leave them a bit satiated as they face yet another sec power in their opener. that clearly will not be the case for alabama, who cruised into last year’s title game with a 12-1 su record (only loss to ole miss) before meeting that same ohio st. team in the title game. favored by 7 points in that contest, the tide watched ohio st. take control late in the 2nd quarter and roll to a 42-35 victory over the tide, as they allowed 537 defensive yards to the buckeyes. while wisconsin has proven their big 10 point against the sec, it is a clear big 10 revenge opportunity for alabama.

despite their successful 11-3 su season, then 2nd year hc andersen was so shell-shocked by the ohio st. loss that he bolted to corvallis, replacing mike riley at oregon st. the badgers now welcome back paul chryst, a former asst. who coached the pitt panthers to a combined record of 19-20 su in 3 years, including 8-16 ats the last 2 seasons. though chryst was highly thought of as an oc at wisconsin, he may have reached his peter principle in taking on the role of top dog! considering his first role as head man at wisconsin, we must note the lack of success that new head coaches have when going on the road in game 1 (40% ats).

each of these teams is thin on returning starters, but history has shown that each is able to reload under such circumstances. key factor in the outcome is the greater hunger of the alabama team and the coaching mismatch with saban over chryst. i will discuss the potential defensive decline of the crimson tide, from 8 to 18 points in the previous 4 years, after the results of this game.

mississippi st. (-21) at s. mississippi 10:00 et fs1
it was a magical season for the miss st. bulldogs, under now 7th year hc mullen. with 16 rs, the bulldogs ascended to no. 1 in the nation, after their 9-0 su start. in retrospect, that may have been a function of other teams’ losses, as in that 9 game run, they defeated lsu by only 5, auburn by 15 and arkansas by 7.

reality set in when the undefeated bulldogs lost 25-20 at alabama. though they bounced for a 51-0 vandy victory the next week, they tanked their last 2 games with losses of 14 points to rival ole miss and 15 points in their bowl game vs. georgia tech. but, don’t expect a bounce back season from a team who recorded no more than 8 wins the previous 3 years. with just 8 rs, 4 on each side of the ball, there is much work to be done in starkville. this may only serve as a light scrimmage for a heavily favored miss st. team, as they prep for an sec opener next week against the revenging lsu tigers.

in any event, the value side will be a far more motivated rivalry dog in the s. miss golden eagle. this is a proud program who had recorded 18 winning seasons, culminating with 2011, when they went 12-2 su and won the cusa crown under larry fedora (who then parlayed the season for a job at nc state). in an unprecedented fall from grace, in the 1 year tenure of ellis johnson, the golden eagles slid to 0-12 su, 3-9 ats. current 3rd year hc todd monken was brought in to pick up the pieces. the losing streak reached 23, before the eagles soared to a 2013 closing week win at uab by a 62-27 count. though the eagles could only improve to 3-9 su, 5-6 ats last year, there was clear improvement on both sides of the ball. this year, the improvement continues, as they look to avenge a 49-0 shutout loss at the hands of miss st. last season.

it’s less than 200 miles from starkville to hattiesburg, so there will be plenty of miss st. fans in attendance. but along with 13 rs (9 on the offensive side of the ball) and key defensive transfers, the eagles have the opportunity to be one of the most improved teams in the country. they certainly will have the best of the mental situation, as they play one of their biggest games of the season, opening week.