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September 5, 2008
Each Friday, Rivals.com's college football experts give fans five things to keep an eye out for over the course of the weekend.
TEXAS A&M: Will the Aggies show that their opening week loss to Arkansas State was a fluke and come back strong at New Mexico? There are rumblings from fans in Aggieland that a quarterback change is needed. We'll see if coach Mike Sherman gives Jerrod Johnson some playing time in place of Stephen McGee.
NOTRE DAME'S RUN OFFENSE: While many things contributed to Notre Dame's 3-9 record in 2007, a moribund running game was a chief offender. It was pathetic, ranking 116th in the nation (75.3 ypg) and generating a scant 2.1 yards per carry. Oh, and the Irish also yielded a national-high 58 sacks. Somewhere, Knute and the Gipper are crying. If the Irish aren't better at pounding the rock, it'll be another long season. Expect vast improvement from the offensive line, which returns four starters. It's vital the big guys totally dominate a San Diego State squad that opened the season with a loss to Division I-AA Cal Poly. I'm thinking a 300-yard rushing effort vs. the hapless and hopeless Aztecs is just what ND needs to bolster its confidence and steel its resolve as a hard-nose team before Michigan visits South Bend on Sept. 13.
USF'S FINAL GAME AGAINST UCF: Miami's game at Florida will be the marquee game in the Sunshine State this week and one of the best matchups nationally. But drive down Florida's Turnpike to Orlando and there will be another power struggle in Florida, in the UCF-South Florida game. It's the final game in the series, which is ending because USF feels it has too much to lose by playing UCF on a yearly basis. That ticks off UCF, and there also is some simmering resentment that USF is in a major conference and UCF is not. Trash talk has made the rivalry more interesting than its final scores have indicated (USF has won all three meetings, by a combined 119-43), but continuing the series would be a good thing. Too bad it's not good for USF's ego.
FLORIDA'S RUN DEFENSE: While this Miami program has a ways to go to regain elite status, the Hurricanes' game at Florida has some intrigue. The biggest reason for that intrigue is that Miami's offensive strength (running game) is Florida's defensive weakness (run defense). Florida was gashed on the ground by Georgia, LSU and Michigan last season. Those teams made it a priority to run right at Florida. Can Miami have the same kind of success with tailbacks Graig Cooper and Javarris James running behind an offensive line that averages 320 pounds per man? Florida has much better depth at tackle this season, but while there are a lot more bodies, can any of them hold up against the run? I've said it before and I'll say it again: The defensive tackles are the key to the Gators' SEC title hopes.
GEORGIA TECH'S MATCHUP AGAINST BOSTON COLLEGE'S RUN DEFENSE Georgia Tech ran for 7.6 yards per carry in a season-opening 41-14 victory over Division I-AA program Jacksonville State, but that impressive performance still doesn't answer the questions about whether Paul Johnson's option attack can have consistent success in a "Big Six" conference. We'll get our first clue when Georgia Tech faces Boston College in its ACC opener. Say what you want about the ACC's pitiful opening-week performance, but it's tough to criticize Boston College's defense. The Eagles ranked second in the nation against the run last season, when they didn't have defensive tackle B.J. Raji and linebacker Brian Toal in the lineup. Now that those two All-ACC candidates have returned to action, it might be tougher to run against BC this season. If Tech puts together an effective ground attack against BC, the Yellow Jackets should be able to run the ball against anybody in the ACC.