Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sports Network: Cal over Tennessee by 7

Here is the link.


(15) Tennessee (0-0) at (12) California (0-0)

GAME NOTES: A top-25 battle will ensue in Berkeley this weekend, as the 15th- ranked Tennessee Volunteers and the 12th-ranked California Golden Bears meet for the second straight season to kickoff their respective football campaigns. Last year, the Golden Bears made the trip to Knoxville with high hopes, only to have them dashed in a 35-18 decision. Jeff Tedford's team rebounded well however and reeled off eight consecutive victories and was sitting pretty atop the Pac-10 standings at 7-0. The momentum would come to a crashing halt however, as Cal dropped back-to-back games to Arizona State and USC. A 9-3 regular-season record wasn't good enough for a Pac-10 title, but did get the team an invite to play in the Holiday Bowl, where California routed a tough Texas A&M squad, 45-10. Phil Fulmer's Volunteers followed a similar path in 2006, as they opened the season with seven wins in their first eight games, the lone loss being a thrilling one-point setback to rival Florida. Still in the hunt for the SEC crown, consecutive losses to LSU and Arkansas brought that dream to an end. The team settled for a spot in the Outback Bowl and dropped a 20-10 decision to Penn State. This is the fourth all-time meeting between these two teams on the gridiron and the first outside of Knoxville. The Bears won the first-ever meeting in 1977 (27-17), but have dropped the last two, including last season's 17-point loss.

Tennessee has the luxury of having its offense run by one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC in senior Erik Ainge. Despite nagging injuries in 2006, Ainge was able to pass for nearly 3,000 yards and 19 touchdowns. Ainge is the starter, but Fulmer has the added insurance of sophomore Jonathan Crompton, who possesses all the skills to be a starter. Last season, receiver was a position of strength for the Vols. This year it is a question mark. Early on, look for Ainge to lean on tight end Chris Brown (6-3, 250). It will be up to junior WRs Josh Briscoe and Lucas Taylor and sophomore Austin Rogers to step up and become viable targets downfield. The strength of the UT offense could be the ground attack, what with three returning starters up front. Junior RB Arian Foster (6-1, 225) will benefit from a steady line and is more than capable of putting up strong numbers.

Only five starters are back on the Tennessee defense, and the biggest question mark is up front. The middle of the line will feature new faces, and it remains to be seen if they can live up to UT's lofty standards. The ends are seniors Xavier Mitchell and Antonio Reynolds, while junior Demonte Bolden (6-6, 290) and senior J.T. Mapu (6-4, 290) will clog the middle. Junior LB Jerod Mayo is fresh off a sophomore campaign in which he tallied 83 tackles, including five sacks. A lot is expected of him in 2007. Perhaps the best player for the defense is Jonathan Hefney, a safety who returns after posting 96 tackles as a junior. This is not a unit chock-full of proven commodities right now, but there is plenty of potential coming into the season.

The Golden Bears return seven starters from last year's offense, but the most important one is gone, as tailback Marshawn Lynch has moved on to the NFL. Not to worry however, as senior speedster Justin Forsett can get the job done. The QB position is in fine shape with the return of junior Nate Longshore, who enters the year as one of the top QBs in the Pac-10. As a sophomore, Longshore threw for 3,021 yards and 24 touchdowns against just 13 interceptions. He comes into 2007 with a full stable of receiving options. All three leading wideouts from last season are back, including standout DeSean Jackson, who reeled in 59 balls for 1,060 yards and nine scores. Along with Robert Jordan and Lavelle Hawkins, the Golden Bears can spread things out and cause problems for the opposing team.

The Cal defense is not without its losses either, as the Golden Bears will have to replace three standout defenders from 2006 in Brandon Mebane, Desmond Bishop and Daymeion Hughes (Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year), who have all moved on to the NFL. The secondary could have the easiest transition, as three starters return, despite the loss of Hughes. Sophomore Robert Peele is an intriguing prospect, but will give way to senior Thomas DeCoud early on at free safety. Where the team will have the most trouble is up front as the Bears return just one starter. Junior Mika Kane will lead the charge inside, however someone will need to step up on the edges. Any number of youngsters could emerge and contribute in the pass rush department. The loss of Bishop in the LB corps will not go unnoticed, but Worrell Williams is back, as are experienced guys like Anthony Felder and Zack Follett (62 tackles, 12.5 TFLs and 5.5 sacks).

The Volunteers took the wind out of California's sails last year with a dominant performance in Neyland Stadium. It is the Golden Bears who have the homefield advantage this time around. That coupled with more talent on both sides of the ball should sway this game in Cal's favor.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: California 27, Tennessee 20

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