Thu Sep 01 11:33am EDT
Perusing the weekly lines for a shocker or two.
MATT HINTON: UCLA over Houston (—3) .
From UCLA's perspective, this is a small line for some very big stakes. Not that coach Rick Neuheisel is going to be abandoned in Houston for an 0-1 start, but Neuheisel's future at his alma mater likely does hinge on getting the Bruins back to .500 and into a bowl game, at minimum. And given a schedule that includes seven very lose-able Pac-12 games and a non-conference visit from Texas, an opening-day loss on the Conference USA road trip would be akin to the first tolling of the bell.
For its part, Houston gets back prolific quarterback Case Keenum, whose first senior season ended halfway through the Cougars' 31-13 loss in the Rose Bowl last September. But UCLA bottled up Houston's spread passing attack long before Keenum left the game — the Bruins already had a pair of interceptions and a 21-3 lead when he was knocked out in the second quarter — and a veteran defense under a new coordinator should arrive with a palpable sense of urgency.
GRAHAM WATSON: Fresno State over California (—9.5).
Fresno State might be a little inexperienced, but it has far more confidence than a Cal team that dropped its final three games in 2010. Not to mention that Cal was atrocious on the road
last year — a longstanding trend under coach Jeff Tedford — so playing this game at San Francisco's Candlestick Park during the renovation of Memorial Stadium won't inspire the same confidence in the Bears. This will be a coming-out party for the Bulldogs' new quarterback, Derek Carr, whose name might sound familiar.
CHRIS BROWN, Smart Football: Minnesota to cover at USC (—23.5).
On paper this line makes sense, given that USC should improve in Lane (and father Monte) Kiffin's second season, especially now that quarterback Matt Barkley is a junior. (Though it feels like he has been there since the Eisenhower administration). Further, Minnesota's fight song last season should have been the Benny Hill theme music, as the team stumbled to a 3-9 record and ditched head coach Tim Brewster.
But Kiffin's squad has had close calls with lesser opponents, including a close shave in last year's high scoring opener against Hawaii and the following week in a defensive battle against a Virginia team that went on to finish 4-9 and gave up over 50 points to Duke. More importantly, Minnesota's new coach, Jerry Kill, should have his team ready to play tough and physical, and won't give up the kind of cheap stuff USC and its legion of speed so often relies on. I'm not so bold as to predict a Gopher victory, but an enormous blowout this will not be.
NICK BROMBERG, Racin' Today and From the Marbles: Richmond over Duke (—9).
Yes, Richmond is an FCS school opening on the road that just lost its head coach less than two weeks before the season starts. (Latrell Scott was arrested for drunk driving on Aug. 23.) But the Spiders have taken two in a row in Durham, shutting out the Blue Devils in 2006 and handling them again in 2009, 24-16, a loss that ultimately kept the Devils out of their first bowl game since 1994. Richmond is still one of the strongest teams in the FCS ranks, and Duke is still Duke, and it says here that the Spiders steal another win for the little guys.