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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, September 9, 2011 at 9:07 AM

CATCH OUR SATURDAY KEY COLLEGE GAME PREVIEWS ALONG WITH THE NEWS/NOTES:

IS BAYLOR QB GRIFFIN ALREADY AN INSTANT HEISMAN CANDIDATE (AND MAYBE EVEN THE FAVORITE)?

By Jim Hurley:

Forget for a moment that it should never have come down to a goal-line stand on the game's final play in last night's NFL Kickoff Game win by the Green Bay Packers over the New Orleans Saints.

The fact of the matter is the Packers - the defending Super Bowl champions and a neat 6-to-1 betting favorite to repeat this season - never did slam shut the door in the Saints' faces in last evening's prime-time tilt at Lambeau Field en route to a wild 42-34 win/cover (GB was a 4 ½-point favorite at game time) and so it took a gallant defensive stand to stop rookie RB Mark Ingram in his tracks inside the one-yard line and afterwards all the so-called experts were wondering about the play call:

Should New Orleans QB Drew Brees (32-of-49 for 419 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs) have thrown a play-action pass there or maybe tossed up a fade pattern to the corner of the end zone intended for one of those lengthy Saints wide receivers?

Yeah, probably.

Yet the Saints lost this game earlier when head coach Sean Payton merely blew it - he should have kicked a field goal from GB's six-yard line on a fourth-and-one play late in third quarter and gotten his team within 35-30 but instead he either got greedy or feared what the Packers' high-octane offense was gonna do to his team's ultra-porous defense.

In any event, the Packers are breathing a sigh of relief today - hey, QB Aaron Rodgers (312 yards passing with 3 TDs and 0 INTs) was terrific and the offensive line magnificent but the facts are the facts: Payton's blown decision was a killer and the inability of the Saints to tackle rookie Randall Cobb on a searing 108-yard kick return for a score could haunt "Who Dat Nation" for a long, long time.

Hey, there's lots more NFL coverage in tomorrow's edition of Jim Sez.

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will win plenty this NFL and College Football season and so make sure you get it all jump-started with this week's NFL action right through Monday Night's twin-bill - that's the New England Patriots at the Miami Dolphins and the Oakland Raiders at the Denver Broncos -- and then, of course, get all the Winning Selections right through the BCS National Championship Game in January and Super Bowl 46 in early February. The NFL 2011 Regular Season has officially rolled into action with Green Bay's win against New Orleans - now make sure you're all aboard from start to finish!
    

COLLEGE FOOTBALL'S KEY SATURDAY SHOWDOWNS

#3 ALABAMA (1-0) at #23 PENN STATE (1-0) - 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Make no mistake about it: The 'Bama Crimson Tide has some serious road challenges on this year's schedule including down-the-road dates with Florida, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Auburn but the Las Vegas oddsmakers tend to believe this trip to "Happy Valley" won't be all that tough. The Tide's a 10-point betting favorite here and that despite the fact there's rumblings of a "quarterback controversy" here.

Expect sophomore AJ McCarron (14-of-23 passing for 226 yards but two picks in last week's 48-7 win/cover against Kent State) to get most of the snaps here for Alabama but the real key to this clash will be whether or not Joe Paterno's team gets "3's" or "7's" whereupon entering the red zone - and count us among the folks not liking the fact JoePa is flip-flopping his quarterbacks Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin.

Spread Notes - Alabama is 26-14 ATS (against the spread) in the last three-plus years of the Nick Saban Era following that forgettable 3-8-1 ATS season back in 2007. Overall, the Crimson Tide has covered 14 of its last 20 away games dating back to the start of 2008 and that includes non-conference pointspread wins at Duke (2010), Virginia Tech (2009) and Clemson ('08). On the flip side, Penn State actually has failed to cover 11 of its last 17 games dating back to the start of last year and the Big 10 team is a collective 3-12 versus the vig as point-grabbers the past five-plus seasons.

#12 SOUTH CAROLINA (11-0) at GEORGIA (0-1) - 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Did someone say "must win" here for the Georgia Bulldogs? Hey, it's no secret that 11th-year Georgia head coach Mark Richt feels the walls closing in on him these days following a losing season in 2010 (see 6-7 following that bowl loss to Central Florida) and last weekend's 35-21 loss to Boise State but it's not as if things got any better this week with the announcement that star ILB Alec Ogletree is gone for at least four weeks after undergoing surgery on his right foot.

Last year the Dawgs couldn't slow down South Carolina then-frosh RB Marcus Lattimore who cranked out 182 ground yards to go along with a pair of touchdowns in a 17-6 Gamecocks win and it's safe to say 25-or-more touches here for the USC star likely equals another win/cover ... we'll see.

Spread Notes - South Carolina's covered four in a row and six of its last seven head-to-head showdowns against Georgia dating back to 2004. In fact, the USC Gamecocks are 6-1 ATS versus Georgia the past seven years but a more modest 23-22-1 vig-wise against all other SEC foes during this time span. Georgia enters this tilt having dropped nine of its last 12 pointspread verdicts overall while dating back to early in the 2010 season and the Dawgs are just 5-10 spreadwise in their last 15 home games since the start of 2008. Ugh-a!

NOTRE DAME (0-1) at MICHIGAN (1-0) - 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Okay, so neither team is ranked in this week's Associated Press Top 25 but when did that stop the drama involving these long-time rivals? In what's the first-ever night game in Ann Arbor - really, that caught us by surprise - the keys here are simple:

Michigan's do-everything QB Denard Robinson must show that quick dash to the corner and make some big first downs here one week after rushing for 46 yards in just less than three quarters of action in that rain-shortened 34-10 win against Western Michigan. Folks, we don't care that rookie head coach Brady Hoke is operating a new offense that combines some of last year's schemes with this year's stuff - Robinson must be at or near 100 rushing yards if the Wolverines are gonna snag this mild upset.

Meanwhile, last week five ND turnovers -- including three picks by the combo of Dayne Crist and newly-named starter Tommy Rees (the latter was 24-of-34 passing but tossed two INTs) -- sabotaged Brian Kelly's club in a 23-20 loss to visiting South Florida. If Rees isn't on the same page here with his receivers, than it's major trouble and remember last week that Michigan LB Brandon Herron registered two defensive touchdowns including a take-your-breath-away 94-yard INT return.

Spread Notes - Following last weekend's loss to 11-point underdog South Florida, now Notre Dame is 6-5-3 spreadwise in the Kelly Era but note the Fighting Irish covered five-of-six away games last year including road favorite covers at Boston College and versus Army. Michigan, meanwhile, didn't get Las Vegas credit last Saturday for that aforementioned 34-10 rain-soaked win against Western Michigan and so the Wolverines enter this prime-time tilt at 9-25-1 ATS overall since the start of the 2008 season (folks, that's a shabby .265 winning rate). The maize-and-blue, however, has notched spread wins in four of its last five head-to-head battles with the Irish ... so there!

In other College Football News & Notes ...

Is Baylor QB Robert Griffin III now more than just part of this year's Heisman Trophy conversation?

Well, after his five-TD passing performance in last Friday's wild 50-48 win against TCU, Griffin's somewhere in the top four right now (okay, so one week into this College Football season we have him getting an invitation to New York City for this year's presentation!) with Stanford QB Andrew Luck, Boise State QB Kellen Moore and Oklahoma slinger Landry Jones also sharing center stage right about now but the thing about Griffin - who completed 21-of-27 passes for 359 yards while adding 38 rushing yards against the Horned Frogs - is that he's quite capable of piling up plenty of yards/points these next couple of weeks with Baylor facing Stephen F. Austin (Sept. 17th) and Rice (Sept. 24th) before finally getting a road game at Kansas State (Oct. 1st).

Heck, if you listened last week to ABC/ESPN broadcasters Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit, they wanted to hand Griffin the Heisman Trophy last Saturday night!

Not so fast, my friends!

NOTE: There's NFL Week 1 Sunday Game Previews in the next edition of Jim Sez.

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