Welcome to the newest feature here at CrystalBallRun as we give you a weekly look at everything non-Automatic Qualifing schools in our "BCS Buster Watch" segment. Every Tuesday our Andy Coppens will give you the scoop on the biggest games facing the other four conferences all seaosn long.
Over the years we've seen that even the "small school" can take on and beat just about anyone on any given Saturday. Luckily for us week one of the 2013 season provides us with some unique opportunities to see those schools test themselves early on.
This week, we highlight seven games that will give us a great look at what could be coming down the pipeline for the smaller schools. Here is our preview of those games.... Enjoy!
Tulsa at Bowling Green (Thursday, Aug. 29 at 7pmET on ESPNU): These were two of the more solid non-BCS schools last season and Tulsa proved it with a nice win over Iowa State in the Independence Bowl while Bowling Green finished 8-5 after a narrow loss to a very good San Jose State squad last year in the Military Bowl. This is a rare really good matchup between two non-AQ teams that were good last season and should be equally challenging inside their respective conferences this year as well. This is going to be a clash of styles and it will be interesting to see if Dave Clawson’s defense (one that gave up just 16.7ppg in 2012) can pick up where it left off against an explosive running game, led by Trey Watts for the Golden Hurricane. The difference in this matchup could well be that Bowling Green’s offense is more capable of scoring against the Golden Hurricane than vice versa.
Prediction: Bowling Green 31, Tulsa 21
Utah State at Utah (Thursday, Aug. 29 at 8pmET on FoxSports1): This is intriguing on many levels to say the least. First it is the opening game on the newly minted FS1 and we know that college football is 2nd in eyeballs glued to TV sets only to the NFL. Needless to say it’s an important debut for the new network and this game has serious implications for the two combatants. Utah State is coming off an 11-2 season and while they lose a lot of the coaching staff the Aggies will still feature one of the better names and players in non-AQ football in Chuckie Keeton (and I’d argue one of the better players in college football period). The Aggies won this in-state battle last season and big brother can’t be happy about that. Look for this one to come down to who can control the tempo of this game. Utah will certainly be an unknown entering this game thanks to Dennis Erickson and his more uptempo style coming to Salt Lake City. Utah missed a bowl game for the first time in 11 seasons and with a new offense and missing it’s only true start on defense (Star Lotulelei). Clearly these two teams could be on different paths in 2013 and whomever wins this one could well be on the way to bowl game nirvana. The loser? Well, it could be a long season ahead.
Prediction: Utah State 33, Utah 20
Rutgers at Fresno State (Thursday, Aug. 29 at 10:30pmET on ESPNU): Rutgers is in conference limbo hell and it comes at a strange time for them because this team could be a contender in the American (still a BCS conference, right?). Fresno State has Preseason Top 25 votes to their name and a great 2012 under new coach Tim DeRuyter to build off of and frankly I expect big things from them. This will be a very even matchup between two teams looking to stake different kind of claims. Rutgers would like this one to prove they have the mettle to make a jump to the big boys of the Big Ten next season, while Fresno State will look to prove the Mountain West isn’t the Boise State invitational. Winning this game is paramount for the Bulldogs and with it being at home they should be able to pull out a narrow victory.
Prediction: Fresno State 33, Rutgers 24
Toledo at Florida (Saturday, Aug. 31 at noon ET on SEC Network/watchESPN): While some see the Gators lofty Preseason ranking and see a mismatch waiting to happen because it’s a MAC opponent, others know just how competitive Toledo was a season ago and they still have speed for days on offense in 2013. Why is this game on our “six games to watch” list? Well, because it will be a bigger test for the host Gators than most think. Toledo features three major offensive playmakers and at least two of them are NFL prospects in running back David Fluellen and receiver Bernard Reedy. Add in an experienced Terrance Owens at QB and one of the best lines in the MAC and you have the recipe for a fighting chance in this game. It will be a win if they cover the spread, but if the Rockets are going to finally break out, what better why than to do it by taking down a Top 10 opponent at home to start the season, right?
Prediction: Florida 45, Toledo 31
Louisiana at Arkansas (Saturday, Aug. 31 at 4pmET on FS South/watchESPN): You’d be a fool not to want to tune in to this game. First off, it’s everyone’s favorite twitter coach Bret Bielema’s debut as the Hogs’ head coach. Add in a Louisiana (don’t call them Lafayette anymore) squad that is a likely Sun Belt challenger and unafraid of a challenge and you have an intriguing opening weekend matchup. What could really play to the Ragin Cajuns’ advantage is that Bielema coached teams have a history of playing down to their opponents. That’s a good thing for an opponent that has some quality parts to it and has a heck of an underrated college QB in Terrance Broadway. There will be a lot of initial questions answered in this game and at the minimum we’ll get a good look at just how truly competitive Louisiana will be on Saturday afternoon.
Prediction: Arkansas 41, Louisiana 34
Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky (Saturday, Aug. 31 at 7pmET on ESPNNews): Do we really need to tell you why this game is on this list? Ahh, we do because it’s not just about the coaching matchup between Mark Stoops and Bobby Petrino. Rather it’s because these two teams are way more evenly matched than you’d think. Can Kentucky lean on youth to help turn it around right out of the gate, or will Western Kentucky and the vastly underrated Antonio Andrews pull off the upset once again? A lot will hinge on a familiar name to college football fans, Brohm, as in, Jeff Brohm (the older brother to former Louisville QB Brian Brohm), who will be in charge of a revved up offense for the Hilltoppers. This will be a matchup between two opposite head coaches with Stoops leading the FSU defense to new heights before getting his first head coaching job and Petrino the offensive guru looking for redemption. Seriously, this has the best soap opera factor to it of any game featuring a non-AQ school in week one.
Prediction: Kentucky 33, Western Kentucky 27
Boise State at Washington (Saturday, Aug. 31 at 10pmET on FoxSports1): Well, this is a heck of a nightcap for the first Saturday in college football. Boise State is the clear national favorite to win the new look Mountain West conference title while Washington is considered a dark horse Pac-12 North contender. In case you haven’t heard, it is also the last chance for the Broncos to bust the BCS and there is simply no way around it – if they want to get a spot in the final BCS bowl games they have to win on opening night while taking on Washington at their new look Huskies Stadium. Keith Price for UW vs. Joe Southwick should be a fun as hell to watch and could be the best QB battle we feature all weekend in our little “non-AQ” preview here. If the history of these two foes tells us anything, expect the unexpected in this one.
Prediction: Boise State 31, Washington 24
For more of Andy's thoughts on all things College Football follow him on Twitter @andycoppens.