**Ohio at Penn State**
This is more about how Ohio is going to have a solid team this year than the demise of Penn State. Tyler Tettleton is another outstanding quarterback that the MAC has produced over the last decade. The junior signal caller enjoyed a banner sophomore campaign, completing 64.3 percent of his passes for 3,302 yards with a 28/10 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Tettleton also rushed for 916 yards and 10 TDs while leading Frank Solich’s squad to a 10-3 record. The Bobcats return eight starters on defense and 10 of their top 12 tacklers from last season.
As for PSU, it has obviously been a mess since November. Bill O’Brien has a Herculean task in front of him, needing to improve a pedestrian offense that scored just 19.3 points per game in 2011. This unit returns only five starters but one of them is junior running back Silas Redd, who averaged 5.1 yards per carry while rushing for 1,241 yards and seven TDs last year. The defense was dynamite in 2011 but has only four starters returning.
With the darkest of clouds hovering over Beaver Stadium, Penn St. looks ripe for an upset in Week 1 vs. Ohio.
**Louisiana Tech vs. Texas A&M** (Shreveport)
Again, this is more about the fact that the underdog is going to have plenty of bite in 2012. La. Tech went 8-5 last year and covered the number in a 31-24 loss to TCU as a 10-point ‘dog in the Poinsettia Bowl. The Bulldogs return eight starters from an offense that produced 30.1 PPG. After throwing 13 TD passes compared to only three interceptions, senior QB Colby Cameron is back along with his favorite target, senior WR Quinton Patton, who garnered first-team All-WAC honors with 79 receptions for 1,202 yards and 11 TDs in 2011. RB Hunter Lee appears poised for a breakout campaign after rushing for 650 yards and five TDs while averaging 4.8 YPC as a true freshman.
I don’t believe in calling season openers look-ahead spots, but we’ll nonetheless mention the Aggies’ SEC debut against Florida the following week since it is quite the unique circumstance. Perhaps most importantly, Texas A&M is on the road in Week 1 with a new coach and a new QB in an unfamiliar environment.
Texas A&M struggled mightily in close games last year, losing five times by seven or less with two of those defeats coming in overtime(s). Tight games like this are often decided by special teams and La. Tech has the advantage in that department. Phil Steele ranks La. Tech punter Ryan Allen as the nation’s best at his position, while place-kicker Matt Nelson is rated 17th.
Finally, we should note that the last time La. Tech hosted a BCS school it beat Mississippi St. 22-14 in its 2008 season opener. Also, let’s mention that the Bulldogs won 27-7 at Ole Miss last year and lost an overtime decision at Mississippi St.
**Western Michigan at Illinois**
Western Michigan nearly won in Champaign-Urbana last year, dropping a 23-20 decision as a 14-point road underdog. The Broncos have a veteran QB in Alex Carder, who has a 61/26 career TD-INT ratio. This team won outright at UConn last year and only lost to Purdue by five in the Little Caesar’s Bowl. The Broncos, who finished 7-6 in 2011, have seven starters back on both sides of the ball.
Illinois wasn’t exactly dominant at home last year, losing three times and winning by just a field goal on three other occasions. Tim Beckman inherits a decent situation from the departed Ron Zook, but the Illini better come to play in Week 1.
**Nevada at California**
This is a revenge game for the Bears, who got throttled by a 52-31 count in Reno two seasons ago. In his 11th season in Berkeley, Jeff Tedford is on the hot seat with a mediocre 20-18 record since 2009. The Bears lost their top four tacklers from last year and QB Zach Maynard is extremely inconsistent.
Nevada’s upset hopes hinge on the play of sophomore QB Cody Fajardo, who was the WAC’s Freshman of the Year as a freshman replacing Colin Kaepernick. Fajardo rushed for 786 yards and 11 TDs. His passing was shaky (6/6 TD-INT) but that should improve in 2012. The Wolf Pack need a huge performance from Fajardo and probably need to win the turnover battle by two.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
--Another upset alert in Week 1 is Boise St. at Michigan St. The Broncos are seven-point underdogs at most books as of mid-July. However, I refuse to imply that a victory by a Boise St. team falls in the ‘upset’ category even though it technically would be based on the point spread. That’s because the Broncos are 73-6 under Chris Petersen and since 2008, they’ve lost only three times by five combined points. Yes, they no longer have QB Kellen Moore, RB Doug Martin and most of a defense that was dominant in 2011 and saw several players drafted this past spring. But Petersen reloads at BSU these days and the Spartans are going to get all they want in East Lansing.
--Georgia head coach Mark Richt is still on the hot seat. Forget the contract extension he inked after leading the Dawgs to the SEC Championship Game in 2011. Another off-season of arrests and suspensions has UGA looking like a program in turmoil. The 2012 slate is the easiest of all SEC teams as the Dawgs don’t have to face Alabama, LSU or Arkansas. With this built-in advantage over division rivals South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee, Richt could be a goner if he doesn’t get UGA back to the Georgia Dome in December.
--I like ‘over’ 8.5 (minus-135 price per 5Dimes) wins for South Carolina.
--Also at 5Dimes, La. Tech is the plus-115 ‘chalk’ to win the WAC.
--Check out my updated Top 40 Power Rankings here if you wish.
Brian Edwards can be reached at email@example.com.
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