Jacksonville Sports Day

BEAIRD: Level of Difficulty for State Schools Runs the Gamut This Weekend

Sports Day columnist Brent Beaird looks at this weekend’s season opening college football games.

FLORIDA HOSTS UMASS: The Gators open their season at home honoring former coach Steve Spurrier, who will be adding the role of Mr. Two Bits to his resume. UMASS will pose little opposition, but this game is important for many reasons. Quarterback Luke Del Rio needs to spread the ball around to the only six healthy, scholarship receivers on the roster. It will be fun to see tailback Mark Thompson, who is nearly as big as some linemen, wreck havoc on the UMASS defense. Gator fans will have fun with kicker Eddie Pineiro, who has a range of nearly 60 yards. This defense is very good so there will be a minimum drop off from last season. This is a tuneup for the upcoming SEC season that starts with Kentucky next week. A handful of players have been suspended for the game. How many will be suspended for the season opener next year against Michigan?

FLORIDA STATE VS. OLE MISS IN ORLANDO: This is a big game for both teams meaning they need to win and keep injuries to a minimum primarily because Ole Miss hosts Alabama in two weeks while FSU travels to Louisville the same week. FSU should win the game mainly because they have Heisman Trophy candidate Dalvin Cook and Ole Miss lacks any semblance of a rushing attack. Rebel quarterback Chad Kelly needs to be razor sharp for the Rebels to win. Conversely, Deondre Francois is well served to be a game manager feeding Cook and distributing the ball to a bevy of solid receivers. Former starting quarterback Sean Maguire is on the fast track to return sometime in the next two weeks. Another key to the game is who can protect the quarterback best. Ole Miss has to account for FSU defensive end DeMarcus Walker on every play while FSU must do the same for Rebel defensive lineman Marquis Haynes.

MIAMI HOSTS FAMU: Similar to the Gators, the opponent matters little compared to the beginning of the coach Mark Richt era. Hopefully Cane fans will show up in droves to welcome the former Cane quarterback. The Miami offense will be fine especially if the depleted offensive line can muster some depth. What is important in this game is can the Manny Diaz defense set the tone for the season? Also who is going to replaced suspended defensive starters Jermaine Grace and Al-Quadin Muhammed? Diaz may have to start three true freshmen linebackers and a freshman defensive end in the opener. One of those young linebackers, Shaq Quarterman, is going to be a superstar. In a couple of weeks, the Canes travel to Appalachian State, the team that should have beaten Tennessee.

UCF HOSTS SOUTH CAROLINA STATE: First year coach Scott Frost begins his era Saturday night. Senior quarterback Justin Holman has fended off challengers to keep the starting quarterback job. .There are six true freshmen including running back Jawon Hamilton and defensive lineman Trysten Hill, who could see significant playing time early in the season.

USF HOSTS TOWSON: USF begins its 20th season of college football on Saturday night. They are also expected to challenge for the conference title. USF’s prolific offense will be led by junior quarterback Quinton Flowers, junior running back Marlon Mack and senior receiver Rodney Adams. The Bulls averaged 542 yards and 47 points over the final four games to close out the regular season.

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