Thursday and Friday College Openers

Hurley's Cashes Thursday At Saratoga!
R3: Healthy Debate/Essex Ferry WON $8.10 EX $52.00

Splits Out On Opening Night Football
South Carolina (-14) Southern Miss 41-13 WON
(Under 45) lost

LADIES AND GENTS, THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL SEASON IS FINALLY HERE! GET OUR THURSDAY & FRIDAY GRIDIRON PREVIEWS IN TODAY'S JIM SEZ PLUS ZOOM IN ON OUR NFL NEWS & NOTES

By Jim Hurley:

When we last left the College Football World- way back there on January 7th- the Alabama Crimson Tide were busy burying the Texas Longhorns 37-21 in the latest BCS Championship Game and so you want to know what's changed since.

Well, the 2010 College Football Season is finally here and- what do you know- 'Bama is still #1 (although Texas starts out the campaign at #5) but plenty else has changed 'round the sport like new head coaches at Notre Dame and USC and there's two non-BCS teams starting out in the Associated Press Top 25 poll at #3 (see Boise State) and #6 (see TCU) and that's certainly a new/different twist on things.
     

Toss into the mix the fact that this could well be a return to the glory days for the likes of Nebraska, Miami and/or Pittsburgh and there's plenty of great storylines out there in addition to the ones we mentioned in our earlier-week Jim Sez column.

It finally takes shape when they kick things off on Thursday night as there's Seven (7) on-the-board tilts with three nationally-ranked teams in action- that's #2 Ohio State hosting Marshall, #14 USC at Hawaii and #15 Pittsburgh at Utah- and so no time to waste.

Let's (finally) get ready to rumble! We'll get to our Thursday/Friday NCAA Football Previews in just a moment but first this very important reminder

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Extra, extra: The check-in times are after 11 a.m. ET for the weekday afternoon Baseball Games; anytime after 1 p.m. ET for all the NFL, NCAA and MLB weeknight games; and then anytime after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays. And keep that last piece of news in mind 'cause there are Two (2) College Football Games slated for Labor Day Monday as Maryland tangles with next-door neighbor Navy while #3 Boise State bucks heads with #10 Virginia Tech in a monster matchup right out of the starting gate.

 

COLLEGE FOOTBALL'S THURSDAY/FRIDAY BASHES

On Thursday, it's...

SOUTHERN MISS at SOUTH CAROLINA- 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
This marks the third consecutive year that the SC Gamecocks were part of the Opening-Night scene on ESPN- the Southeastern Conference club beat N.C. State 34-0 and 7-3 in prime-time TV openers the past two years- but now the challenge comes from Brett Favre's alma mater and it's not as if South Carolina comes into this affair with a clear head.

The Gamecocks have had their share of off-the-field issues including the recent suspension of TE Weslye Saunders along with summertime injuries to FB Pat DiMarco and LB Shaq Wilson. Sixth-year head coach Steve Spurrier- who is starting to feel pressure to finally win the SEC East- has downplayed the recent of-field woes but the fact remains his club has something to prove after losing four of its final five games a year ago including a no-show 20-7 loss to Connecticut in the Papa John's Bowl.

Carolina comes into this 2010 season with an incumbent QB in Stephen Garcia (2,862 yards passing with 17 TDs and 10 INTs) but reports claim he's on thin ice in Columbia where freshman hot-shot Connor Shaw could replace him. Keep in mind that the '09 Gamecocks ranked a lowly 102nd nationally in scoring offense (20.6 ppg) out of 119 FBS teams and so Spurrier can't wait around forever in hopes that Garcia will light a spark.

On the flip side, the South Carolina defense last year held seven foes to 20 points or less while ranking a rock-solid 24th in the land in scoring defense (20.4 ppg) and the mission here is to keep Southern Miss WR DeAndre Brown in check. The 6-foot-7 junior averaged a whopping 16.7 yards a catch last season and registered 9 TDs too and will be the Golden Eagles' alley-oop target when/if the Conference USA club gets into the SC red zone.

Spread Notes- South Carolina is a respectable 8-5 ATS (against the spread) as double-digit betting favorites in the Spurrier Era that started back in 2005 and the Gamecocks have notched spread wins in nine of their last 13 home games overall. Meanwhile, Southern Miss is a solid 14-8 vig-wise away dating back to late in the 2006 season but the Birds are just 3-6 spreadwise in on-the-board openers since 2001.
 

#14 USC at HAWAII- 11 p.m. ET, ESPN
Ready or not, the Lane Kiffin Era has arrived in Southern California!

After Pete Carroll posted a 97-19 record in nine years at the Pac-10 school- yes, with a shared national title back in 2003 and a BCS crown in 2004- the keys to the grand prix have been turned over to Kiffin who was once-upon-a-time a key assistant under Carroll... but that's before he went out and offended the likes of Al Davis and the NFL's Oakland Raiders and the entire Tennessee Volunteer Nation.

Hey, no sense going down those roads anymore!

The fact of the matter is while Kiffin may not exactly be under-the-radar material in his new gig, his USC Trojans are as there are no serious national championship aspirations for now and you'll note that the Troy Boys aren't even the favorites to win this year's Pac-10 (see #11 Oregon).

But this just in: If soph QB Matt Barkley (2,735 yards passing with 15 TDs and 14 INTs last year) can cut back on his mistakes and stay upright for the whole year, then USC could wind up marching back to another Rose Bowl .

True, the USC offense stagnated in its final six games a year ago while averaging a paltry 20.7 points but there is plenty of firepower on board here and wide receivers Robert Woods and Kyle Prater are true whom-to-watch players against three-TD home underdog Hawaii.

The guys from the 50th state never have beaten USC- the Trojans own a spiffy 6-0 lifetime mark with USC storming to a 63-17 season-opening win back in 2005- but Greg McMakin's club is counting on the QB Bryant Moniz-to-WR Greg Salas combo to make things happen and Hawaii would love to pick on true frosh CB Nickell Robey here.

Hard to believe that last year Hawaii ranked 89th nationally in scoring (22.8 ppg)- paging June Jones!- but McMakin believes this unit has some real-life firepower and we'll find out here with Las Vegas sporting an over/under price at press time of 54 points.

Spread Notes- USC slumped to a 4-9 ATS mark last year after boasting better-than-.500 spread logs in six of the previous seven seasons. The Trojans are just 18-22 vig-wise away while dating back to the start of the 2004 season. On the flip side, Hawaii is 3-7 against the odds in on-the-board openers the past 10 years and the Western Athletic Conference crew failed to cover three-of-four spread verdicts a year ago when in the role of double-digit dog.
 

There's a great card of action on Thursday and the Jim Hurley Network is primed to go 2-0! Click here to learn more about our Kickoff Parlay!


On Friday, it's...

ARIZONA at TOLEDO- 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Here's yet another Pac-10 twin-figure road favorite in action as the U of A Wildcats swing into 2010 action- but Mike Stoops' club doesn't quite have the history of aforementioned USC. Still, a solid season would get 'Zona into a third consecutive post-season bowl game and so that makes this trek into Toledo a"must-win" game right out of the chute.

Arizona is brimming with confidence that this veteran-flavored offense will click from the proverbial get-go but do keep in mind the fact that former offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes has gone off to be the head coach at Louisiana Tech and the $64,000 question now becomes can co-offensive coordinators Bill Bedenbaugh and Seth Littrell calm QB Nick Foles when/if things go awry here?

Foles (2,486 yards passing with 19 TDs and 9 INTs in 2009) has an array of weapons to turn to here including WR Juron Criner (45 receptions and 8 TDs last year) who just last week returned after missing two weeks of practice time with a concussion. It's possible that Criner will need some time to get back into football shape and so quick screens and dump-off passes to RBs Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin may be more of an option for the new coordinators.

If Toledo is gonna spring the major upset- or at least keep things interesting here- than a defense that last year ranked a putrid 116th nationally (allowed nearly 38 points a game) must step it up and must get physical with Foles and his ensemble of pass-catchers.

Watch for Rockets S Isaiah Ballard who steps into the shoes of four-time, first-team All-Mid American Conference star Barry Church.

Spread Notes- Toledo last year finished 5-7 SU (straightup) and also 5-7 versus the vig and so that means the Rockets are a collective 24-33 ATS the past five years. Meanwhile, Arizona enters this prime-time affair having covered just three of its last 11 non-conference games dating back to the start of 2006 and the 'Cats are a dead-even and vig-losing 5-5 spreadwise whenever laying 10-or-more points in the Stoops Era that began in 2004.
 

NFL NEWS & NOTES

The NFL Preseason Week #4 tilts- all of which are being played Thursday night (and no longer spread out over the course of the Labor Day Weekend, thanks goodness!)- remain a major waste of time as teams sit out starters left and right while allowing second- and third-stringers bang it out and so let's steer clear of"analyzing" any of these games and instead get you what really matters as we continue to close in on the start of the 2010 NFL Season set for Thursday, September 9th (see Minnesota at New Orleans).

Let's call this an around-the-league journey of NFL News & Notes:
 
You can bet your bottom dollar that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will shorten the suspension of Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger from six to four games following their scheduled New York meeting this week. Goodell has said nothing publicly regarding the matter but all signs point to him giving Roethlisberger the nod to get back into action in time for Pittsburgh's home game against AFC North rival Cleveland on October 17th.

Note that the Steelers' first four games are home to Atlanta, at Tennessee, at Tampa Bay and home to Baltimore prior to a bye in Week #5.

The trouble here with reducing the suspension- even though Roethlisberger's kept his nose clean (or seemingly so) in recent weeks -- is that Goodell might appear to be softening his stance when it comes to player discipline and there are some folks buzzing around the NFL that he would be showing favoritism to a Steelers' franchise that has been known to get a few breaks in recent years (or weren't you watching their Super Bowl wins in the 2005 and '08 seasons!)...

All is not perfect in San Francisco these days- even though the Niners just came off a 28-24 win at Oakland last Saturday night.

The NFC West crew's first-team defense surrendered three touchdowns and San Fran committed a whopping 10 penalties and LT Joe Staley (sprained knee) and RB Brian Westbrook (hamstring) suffered injuries that will keep both on the day-to-day mode. Throw into the mix the fact second-year pro WR Michael Crabtree (stiff neck) didn't suit up for this Preseason game and Mike Singletary's squad has some reasons to be worried while heading into the season-opener at Seattle on September 12th...

Finally, perhaps the most overlooked/underappreciated member of last year's Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints is showing he hasn't missed a beat.

Placekicker Garrett Hartley- who won the NFC Championship Game over Minnesota with his 40-yard overtime field goal and who boomed three FGs of 40-plus yards in Super Bowl XLIV- stayed on target last weekend with 40-, 27- and 35-yarders in that 36-21 triumph over the San Diego Chargers.

Hartley may not get the mention often accorded to other star kickers but don't be shocked if he is a major factor in the Saints going far again in 2010.

Think about it: What other kickers would you rather have booting a game-winning or game-tying field goal in the closing seconds of play?
 
NOTE: Get more College Football Previews in the next edition of Jim Sez.

21
Nov

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