College Football Saturday Previews

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By Jim Hurley:

Did you know ...

The New Orleans Saints last night became the 11th consecutive defending NFL Super Bowl champion to win a Week #1 game the following year - but, boy, it sure didn't seem like a Saints game.

New Orleans earned the 14-9 win against the Minnesota Vikings - nobody's questioning that fact - but it was a ground-'em-up, ball-control offense that stole the show in the second half and not that high-octane and high-flying aerial game that was so much part of last year's flashy offense. Just who would have given odds that the Saints would rush for more yards than Minnesota (91-to-79) or that all of a sudden the time of possession category would be so darn important to Sean Payton's team (see 33:43-to-26:17)?

No doubt it helped the Saints' cause that Minnesota QB Brett Favre only completed four passes after halftime and that the absence of injured Vikings WR Sidney Rice (hip surgery) would be a major topic of conversation following this rather subdued NFL opener but the Saints survived two missed field goals by last year's post-season hero Garrett Hartley (including a chip-shot 32-yarder that surely had bettors in a tizzy!) and a fourth-quarter dropped pass in the end zone by WR Robert Meachem and yet they still won.

P.S., a thumbs down for Minnesota head coach Brad Childress who - once again - botched clock management in the final two-plus minutes of this clash and something tells us the Vikings never will go to a Super Bowl with this egghead in charge!

Score one for the Saints - they grabbed a Week #1 win and re-invented themselves all on the same night!

And now hear this:

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers get you all the NCAA Football and NFL Winners plus Major-League Baseball too when check in every day: Just call the toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 or else get your picks here online and we'll bang out a parade of winners! Sign up today and get the discounted price for the whole Football Season! Make sure you're in the winner's circle all season long!


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But what about the bettor who wants to know where he fits before stepping in for a full-service committment? Because we're committed to the need of the client, first and foremost, we're offering a special package--a Weekend Club Pass. Come in for this weekend, and we'll give you all three clubs on both days. You'll see what Blue Ribbon gets..what Touchdown Club gets...what Closed Circuit gets. You'll get 12-14 plays total for three days, at a fee of just $125--barely ten dollars a game. In the end you'll find out that all three clubs converge on one simple goal--they produce winners!

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Is this the best early-season College Football weekend in the last 10 or 20 years? Could be as you could make the case that any/all/some of the five Top 10 teams we preview below could get beaten this Saturday by high-profile opponents.

The Las Vegas oddsmakers have put out some hefty price tags for these blockbuster games but - you tell us - would you really be surprised if at least one of these teams (#1 Alabama, #2 Ohio State, #7 Oregon, #8 Florida and/or #10 Oklahoma) lost?

It's time to see if there will be a shake-up inside the upper crust of this week's Associated Press Top 25.

It's time for this week's Jim Sez College Football Saturday Six-Pack (yes, plus one):

#18 PENN STATE (1-0) at #1 ALABAMA (1-0) - 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Here's a factoid that even took us by surprise:

The Penn State Nittany Lions have not beaten a #1-ranked team in 20 years - go back to Nov. 17, 1990 and you'll see the Nittanies toppled Notre Dame and that happened just three weeks after Penn State last played a game in Tuscaloosa.

Now, 20 years hence Penn State's got the same head coach - the one-and-only Joe Paterno - but now the Happy Valley crew is starting a freshman at quarterback in Robert Bolden and it sure appears as if 'Bama won't have the services of Heisman Trophy-winning RB Mark Ingram (knee).

Okay, so Alabama head coach Nick Saban practically swears that Ingram (1,658 yards rushing and 17 TDs last year) will remain sidelined for the defending national champs - he missed last weekend's 48-3 romp over San Jose State - but don't etch Saban's comments in stone here 'cause reports are Ingram has been working out and could talk the coaches into a handful-or-more rushes here. Note that RB Trent Richardson rushed for a pair of scores last Saturday in Ingram's stead.

One off-the-beaten-path key here: Penn State kick/punt return and coverage units were awful in 2009 and could put the 12-point underdog Lions into deeper holes in this prime-time affair.

Spread Notes - Top-ranked Alabama is 16-8 ATS (against the spread) when in the favorite's role dating back to the start of the 2008 season but note that the Crimson Tide's a modest 9-7 versus the vig as double-digit betting favorite during this recent time span. The SEC crew has notched spread wins in seven of its last 10 non-conference affairs. On the flip side, Penn State is a rotten 2-6 spreadwise as underdogs the past four-plus seasons and the Big 10 team is a tidy 8-2-1 ATS away since the start of the '08 campaign (including a 5-0 spread log away last year).
#12 MIAMI (1-0) at #2 OHIO STATE (1-0) - 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Can everyone out there in College Football-land finally stop talking about Ohio State's double-OT national title win over Miami back in the 2002 season?

It's become vogue in all the game previews/predictions for folks to talk ancient history but the here-and-now says these Buckeyes - an 8 ½-point betting favorite at last check - are bigger/stronger and, in some areas, even faster than the U of M Hurricanes but now the key question is can Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor keep playing like a serious Heisman Trophy candidate against some serious competition?

Last Thursday night Pryor zapped overmatched Marshall with 247 passing yards and three TDs in a 45-7 win and he's again hoping to stand tall behind a veteran/talented Buckeyes offensive line but note that Miami believes that the "sack is back": The 'Canes last year registered a paltry 24 sacks (their lowest amount in two decades) but are encouraged by the fact they secured eight sacks in last week's 45-0 win against Florida A&M with soph DE Olivier Vernon garnering a career-high 3 ½ sacks.

Miami QB Jacory Harris, meanwhile, showed a real feathery touch last week while tossing three scoring strikes but expect the 'Eyes to send some corner blitzes his way here while hoping to rush his mechanics - remember Harris threw an ACC-high 17 INTs a year ago. The prediction here is if Harris picked off two-or-more times in this clash than you can call off the "upset alert".

Spread Notes - Ohio State has been blazing-hot against the odds in its last 20 games with a spiffy 15-4-1 ATS log that includes covers versus USC, Penn State and Oregon last year and versus Texas back in 2008. The Buckeyes are an electric 32-18-1 vig-wise as betting favorites the past five-plus seasons (that's a .640 percent winning rate) and now State's covered five of its last six non-league tilts dating back to the start of last season. Meanwhile, Miami is 14-6-1 against the Las Vegas price tags whenever in the underdog role since the start of the 2000 season but note the Hurricanes are a dismal 1-4-1 spreadwise in their first away game the past six seasons.
#7 OREGON (1-0) at TENNESSEE (1-0) - 7 p.m. ET, espn2
The "Quack Attack" scored 72 points last weekend - and without its best player!

Okay, so Oregon's 72-0 win against five-TD dog New Mexico turned out to be nothing more than a glorified scrimmage but it still had folks sitting up and taking notice since the Ducks delivered the body blows without star TB LaMichael James (one game suspension). Now, James is back one year after rushing for 1,546 yards and 14 TDs - and he's got a brand-new sidekick in RB Kenjon Barner who rushed for 147 yards and five TDs against Los Lobos - but the $64,000 question here is can Tennessee's somewhat revamped and smallish defense hold the fort for a full 60 minutes here?

The Volunteers did throw a shutout in last week's opener - a 50-0 laugher against someone named Tennessee-Martin - but first-year head coach Derek Dooley isn't deluding himself into thinking his stop unit can bottle up James, Barner and mates.

Tennessee's upset hopes hinge on the following: The defense not only must hold Oregon below 30 points here but probably needs to score too (see Prentiss Wagner's 54-yard interception for a score last week) - and note the Vols have not been a twin-figure home dog in more than a dozen years.

Spread Notes - Did you know that the Oregon Ducks have sported a .500-or-better pointspread record in each of the past seven seasons? The Pac-10 team has compiled a cool overall spread mark of 52-35 since the start of the 2003 campaign and Oregon's a rock-solid 19-13 ATS as the chalk side the past three-plus seasons. Tennessee ventures into this high-profile non-conference game with a decent 16-10-2 spread log whenever in the dog role the past six-plus seasons.

SOUTH FLORIDA (1-0) at #8 FLORIDA (1-0) - 12:20 p.m. ET
It's funny how perception works:

Prior to last week's games, there were lots of TV talking heads claiming the Florida Gators were "lying in the weeds" this year when it came to possibly playing for a national championship. Now, all the talk is that the Gators have "slipped" as last Saturday's shaky 34-12 non-cover win against Miami-Ohio not only had the folks at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium booing lustily but had head coach Urban Meyer fuming (he called it "a mess").

Now, Florida has soaked in all the negativity surrounding that opening-week win and looks to take out its anger on a South Florida team that has entered a new age with head coach Skip Holtz running things after a tumultuous Jim Leavitt Era ended last year amidst rancor and locker-room violence. Holtz is counting on quarterback B.J. Daniels (264 yards passing and two TDs last week in a 59-14 win against Stony Brook) to make the big play here against Florida's reshaped defense but the real key to this Sunshine State battle is can the Bulls rattle UF quarterback John Brantley - note that Florida accounted for just 25 offensive yards in the first three quarters of play versus Miami-Ohio and wound up losing three of its eight fumbles.

Yes, the post-Tim Tebow Era didn't begin with a bang for the "mighty Gators" but now we'll see what they have in store here.

Spread Notes - Here's something you may not have known regarding these Florida Gators: The SEC powerhouse is 12-6-1 against the odds at home the past three-plus seasons and that ain't bad considering some of the hefty prices they've been forced to lay. South Florida, meanwhile, produced a dead-even but vig-losing 14-14 away spread record since the start of the 2006 season but keep in mind new boss-man Holtz registered a 22-15 ATS away mark in his five years at East Carolina.

#17 FLORIDA STATE (1-0) at #10 OKLAHOMA (1-0) - 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC or espn2
It's interesting to note that the visiting FSU Seminoles have been "taking the action" in this interconference clash - Oklahoma opened as a prohibitive 10-point betting favorite and it's down to a full TD in many areas right now - and no doubt some of the Sooners' shortcomings in last week's unimpressive 31-24 non-cover win against five-TD dog Utah State can't be ignored. Bob Stoops' crew converted on just 5-of-17 third-down plays and QB Landry Jones completed less than 50 percent of his passes (see 17-of-36) while also tossing a pair of picks.

If Florida State's defense - one directed these days by Mark Stoops, Bob's little brother - can bottle up RB DeMarco Murray (208 yards rushing and two TDs last week) right from the start, then it will heap immediate pressure on Jones who has been rather hit-or-miss since replacing Heisman Trophy-winning QB Sam Bradford last year.

Spread Notes - Oklahoma's coming off its worst spread season in the Stoops Era (4-7-1 ATS in 2009) but did you know the Sooners are a stunning 17-7 against the odds at home since the start of the 2006 season (and that does include last weekend's aforementioned non-cover triumph over Utah State). Florida State, on the other hand, has covered 13 of its 21 underdog spread verdicts the past five-plus seasons and the Seminoles have notched spread wins in six of its last nine road openers.

#22 GEORGIA (1-0) at #24 SOUTH CAROLINA (1-0) - 12 p.m. ET, espn2
No question that this barnburner gets a bit lost in the shuffle amidst all these high-profile games but it's possible that the winner of this clash could be the SEC East champ when all the dust settles three months from now - and so no wonder South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier has been especially amped up this week.

Okay, so the visor-tossing Gamecocks' boss-man has dropped four-of-five head-to-head decisions against Georgia since he arrived on the Columbia scene in 2005 (and three of those losses were by 7 points or less) and this is a real get-over-the-hump game now for both SC and quarterback Stephen Garcia who threw for 183 yards and rushed for a slam-bang touchdown in last Thursday's 41-13 win against Southern Miss.

The Georgia defense will bring the heat on Garcia and so look for plenty of draws/traps for freshman TB Marcus Lattimore who scored twice in his debut last week - if Lattimore breaks the Bulldogs' backs with some big third-down gainers, than Spurrier should get some neat revenge.

Spread Notes - The Georgia Dawgs have failed to cover five of their last six head-to-head showdowns against South Carolina with the recent lone exception to the rule occurring with an 18-0 win as 3-point road favorites back in 2006. Note that the USC Gamecocks are 16-10-1 ATS as hosts during the Spurrier Era that began in 2005 and the Columbia kids have covered eight of their last 12 SEC tilts since the start of '08.

And in the biggest game of the day between a pair of unranked teams, it's ...

MICHIGAN (1-0) at NOTRE DAME (1-0) - 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC
The winner of this annual duel will catapult right into the AP Top 25 - now that's a fact - but Notre Dame won't get to that winner's circle here unless WR Michael Floyd (five catches for 82 yards in last week's spotty 23-12 victory over Purdue) is a bigger factor in this South Bend clash. Floyd was silent for much of that game as new QB Dayne Crist didn't always look his way against the Boilermakers but even UConn found some aerial chinks in Michigan's armor last week in that 30-10 Wolverines win except the Huskies didn't always hang onto the ball.

Spread Notes - Home teams have notched spread wins in six of the last eight games played between rivals Michigan and Notre Dame (and home teams have covered the last three in a row in this series). The ND Fighting Irish is 12-19-1 vig-wise as betting favorites the past four-plus seasons while the Wolverines have failed to cover seven of their last nine away tilts. One last pointspread nugget here: Notre Dame is 4-9-1 ATS against Big 10 foes while dating back to early in the 2006 season.



By Jim Hurley:

Here's a little memo to all you folks who believe that the NFL's 2010 Week #1 card might possibly be devoid of upsets:

Not all the chalk won on opening weekend last year!

In fact, turn back the NFL clock and you'll recall that the Arizona Cardinals, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Houston Texans all lost outright as betting favorites on opening weekend (to San Francisco, Denver and the New York Jets, respectively) and there were more than a few"close calls" too with New England and San Diego barely surviving as prohibitive favorites against the likes of Buffalo and Oakland.

In other words, just 'cause it's opening week, don't think the teams that are"supposed to win" necessarily will win ... got it?

The NFL '10 season got underway this past Thursday night with New Orleans' somewhat sleepy 14-9 win against Minnesota but something tells us that there will be revved-up offenses on display the rest of this Week #1 card with Sunday's action including the newly-minted millionaire Tom Brady and the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts' slinger Peyton Manning taking center stage in their respective 1 p.m. ET starts - and then don't forget about Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers who's getting an awful lot of MVP attention from all the various NFL prognosticators.

Lots of goodies here in this Jim Sez column but first let's get you this important message:

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers get you all the NCAA Football and NFL Winners plus Major-League Baseball too when check in every day: Just call the toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 or else get your picks here online and we'll bang out a parade of winners! Sign up today and get the discounted price for the whole Football Season! Make sure you're in the winner's circle all season long!


Is there any chance that the aforementioned Brady will have even a more eventful day here than he did this past Thursday?

The day started then for the Pats quarterback by getting his fancy car slammed into by a Boston gentleman who ran a red light - what, there are bad drivers in Boston? - and ended with the three-time Super Bowl winner signing a mega-million contract extension and now odds are Brady will be throwing often here against a Bengals bunch that needs to win time of possession in order to lock up this road game.

Brady won't have one of his stellar blockers as guard Logan Mankins continues to sit out in a contract dispute but it's the folks missing on NE's defense that could be the real diff-makers as DE Ty Warren suffered a season-ending hip injury this summer and underrated CB Leigh Bodden (five picks last year) has been placed on the IR (injured reserve) with knee woes.

Cincinnati has been pretty chatty this summer - okay, so not nearly as obnoxious as the Hard Knocks New York Jets - but can someone please tell WRs Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens that this club hasn't won a post-season game since actress Betty White was a teenager!

Spread Notes - Cincinnati is just 9-14-1 ATS (against the spread) away the past three years and note the Bengals have failed to cover five of their last eight season-opening tilts. On the flip side, New England has notched spread wins in nine of its last 13 non-divisional games since late in the 2008 season and the Patriots enter this opener having gone a shabby 3-6-1 versus the vig in Week #1 tilts the past 10 years.

The Indy Colts head into this season-opening clash deep in the heart o' Texas with both a glass half-filled and glass half-empty feeling:

Consider that the"Horseshoes" have won 15 of the 16 lifetime showdowns with Houston but than also remember that seven of the last nine Super Bowl losers haven't even made it to the playoffs the following year.

In case you were wondering, the last time the Colts didn't make it to the post-season was 2001 and since than QB Peyton Manning has won four league MVP awards and poured on lots of offense against all comers - and note that conventional wisdom says this will be a high-scoring affair (the current totals price of 48 points is the"tallest" on the Sunday NFL board).

If Manning has to out-duel Houston slinger QB Matt Schaub - who threw for a league-leading 4,770 passing yards last year - than downfield chucks to those young wide-outs Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie will have to be a big part of the game plan but something tells us the Colts will win again in this rivalry game as long as Houston's slippery-handed running backs cough it up as per the norm a year ago.

Spread Notes - Houston has covered five of its last seven head-to-head showdowns against Indianapolis but keep in mind the Texans staggered at home last season with a wobbly 2-5-1 against-the-odds mark. Indianapolis is 6-3-1 ATS in its last 10 openers although the Colts have failed to cover their last two Week #1 tilts (against Chicago in 2008 and versus Jacksonville in '09). The Colts also own a nifty 10-3-1 spread log away dating back to late in the 2008 campaign.

There's a limited amount of"late games" here in Week #1 as per usual (see the U.S. Open Men's Tennis Championship on CBS at 4 p.m.) but no doubt this is the pick-of-the-litter among the second batch of games and did you realize that five of the last seven meetings between these teams since 2000 have been decided by five points or less?

However, for the first time since the early 1990s there won't be Brett Favre or Donovan McNabb under center for these squads (see, it does feel different!). The Eagles have turned over the keys to their offense to QB Kevin Kolb who did throw for 300-plus yards and two TDs in each of his two early-season starts a year ago.

Still, he's got nothing on Packers slinger Aaron Rodgers who aired 6 TDs and 0 INTs in the preseason (while completing 77 percent of his passes) and comes off a star-studded year that included 4,434 yards passing with 30 TDs - the first team to get 30 points wins?

Spread Notes - Green Bay's 32-17-2 ATS overall since the start of the 2007 season (that's a snazzy .653 winning rate over 51 games) and the Packers are an electric 22-11 spreadwise away the past four years. Philadelphia is a dead-even bug vig-losing 4-4-1 ATS in season-opening games dating back to the 2001 campaign and the Eagles are a nifty 21-12 spreadwise in non-NFC East affairs since very late in the 2006 season. Finally, the Birds have covered five of the last seven head-to-head duels with G-Bay and that includes the epic 20-17 non-cover playoff home win back in the '03 season.

On Sunday Nite, it's ...

There's more storylines and subplots to this NFC East clash than crooked politicians in the town next door!

No doubt the numero uno story line should be the new address for Redskins' QB McNabb - maybe the most disrespected six-time Pro Bowl player in league history - but odds are you've heard more about the never-ending feud between Washington's new head coach Mike Shanahan and D-lineman Albert Haynesworth. Hey, let's just hope that the broadcast tag team of Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth doesn't overdose us on this bicker-fest too much.

What the Cowboys are hoping for here is that their tag team of QB Tony Romo-to-WR Miles Austin can make some sweet music against a reshaped Redskins defense that last year allowed 336 points (ranked 18th in the 32-team league) but don't at all be surprised if Dallas runs it two-thirds of the time (and especially when Washington goes to a five- and/or six-DB scheme).

Spread Notes - Dallas is a horrid 3-7 spreadwise in its last 10 head-to-head matchups against Washington but did you know the Cowboys also are 12-19-1 ATS in divisional play the past five seasons? The Redskins enter this prime-timer at 11-20-1 ATS as hosts the past four years.



Here's some fun stat facts regarding NFL openers:

  • The Atlanta Falcons have covered eight of their last 10 season openers;
  • The Buffalo Bills have covered their last three consecutive Week #1 games against fellow AFC East foes;
  • The Carolina Panthers have covered their last four consecutive Week #1 games on the road;
  • The Cleveland Browns are 0-5 in spread openers since 2005;
  • The Jacksonville Jaguars are 8-2 vig-wise in their last 10 openers;
  • The San Francisco 49ers have notched spread wins in five of their last seven season openers;
  • And the Tennessee Titans have covered three of their last four Week #1 home openers since 2001.

NOTE: Get our NFL Week 1 Monday Night Football Previews - that's Baltimore at the New York Jets and San Diego at Kansas City -- plus all the Week 1 wrap-ups too along with the NCAA Football blockbuster weekend in review in the next Jim Sez.


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