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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 10:30 AM

Go ahead and admit it: Labor Day Weekend is one of the best times of the year in the sports world 'cause there's always a slew of College Football Games to open up the season (this year there's 40 in all from tonight here right through the Labor Day Evening battle royale in the ACC between Miami at Maryland) plus this holiday weekend means the National Football League is not far behind as this year's Kickoff Game (that's New Orleans at Green Bay) should be a doozy on the night of Thursday, September 8th. Throw in the Major-League Baseball and - if you will - the always-exciting U.S. Open Tennis in Flushing Meadows (NY) and that's what you would call a full plate ... right?

We'll stay in the spirit of all things College in just a moment when we bring you Friday's preview between TCU at Baylor plus there's a whole lot more to munch on in today's edition of Jim Sez but first this important reminder:

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers get you all the College Football and NFL Winners when you check with us every Game Day either right here online or via our toll-free telephone # at 1-800-323-4453. Check in times are as follows: After 1 p.m. ET Mondays-through-Fridays and after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays/Sundays/Holidays -- and remember we'll have Major-League Baseball Winners too from now right through the 2011 World Series.

Get it all started in the gridiron tonight with TV tilts between UNLV at Wisconsin (on ESPN) and Miss State at Memphis (Fox Sports Net) along with the ESPNU bash between Kentucky versus Western Kentucky and note there's a few other on-the-board games too so make sure you're all aboard for the College Gridiron Winners right through the BCS National Championship Game on January 9, 2012!


There are Six (6) on-the-board College Football games on this Thursday, September 1st schedule including Wake Forest at Syracuse and Kentucky-Western Kentucky but let's check in with two nationally-ranked teams that are hosting made-for-TV games:

UNLV at #11 WISCONSIN -- (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Anyone that's watched College Football over the years knows two things about playing at Camp Randall Stadium: Things are bound to get physical with the home team looking to set the tone and, secondly, that whole "Jump Around" song that blares over the stadium loudspeakers following the end of the third quarter could be happening with the Big 10 bunch holding a 30-plus point advantage while heading into the final frame -- now that's what the 35.5 point underdog UNLV Rebels must be worrying about here.

No doubt the really big news when it comes to Wisconsin football this season is that QB Russell Wilson will be the one pulling the trigger after he finished a successful career with the N.C. State Wolfpack and now continues his college days after being granted extra eligibility. Wilson threw for 3,563 yards and 28 touchdowns last season while leading N.C. State and now he'll look to blend in with a program that stresses blood-and-guts, ground-and-pound offense and there is some question as to whether or not Wisconsin boss-man Bret Bielema will "turn loose" Wilson in the aerial game as much/often as the veteran signal-caller wants to be turned loose.

Remember that last year's Wisconsin team scored 70-or-more points on three different occasionsand wound up averaging a haughty 41.5 points per game en route to an 11-2 SU (straight-up) season that included a 21-19 loss-but-cover in the Rose Bowl versus 3-point favorite TCU. Here, tailbacks James White (1,052 yards rushing and 14 TDs last year) and Montee Ball (996 yards rushing and 18 TDs) figure to get 35-plus carries between 'em in this game but expect Wilson to throw it 25 times or so too and that's where the hefty pointspread comes in -- did you realize that UNLV last year allowed 39.7 points a game and that was the fifth-most points surrendered by an FBS team ... ugh!

#20 MISSISSIPPI STATE at MEMPHIS -- (8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Network)

Okay, so it's time to set the record straight on some other matters here:

The SEC has eight -- count 'em, eight -- teams in the opening AP Top 25 poll including #2 Alabama, #4 LSU, #12 South Carolina, #15 Arkansas, #19 Georgia, #20 Mississippi State, #22 Florida and #23 Auburn and the fact of the matter is these M-State Bulldogs might be the real "dark horse" to make a title run this year.


Well, third-year head coach Dan Mullen -- the guy Florida probably wished was its head coach these days after the Gators let him go from Urban Meyer's a few years back -- finally has put his personnel touch on things in Starkville and that means the 15 returning starters from last year's 9-4 SU squad know the system better than ever and know that the strength/speed combo here at most positions is as good as any in the SEC this fall. Note that Miss State is nationally ranked to start a year for the first time since 2001 and there's genuine talk that State could find itself playing in a January bowl game even if the Dawgs can't beat out the likes of 'Bama and LSU in the SEC West.

Look for a veteran secondary -- all four starters are back -- to try to squeeze the life out of the Memphis passing game but if Miss State is gonna cover this bloated 29 1/2-point betting line (and note that it's moved up from 27.5 points in the past 48 hours, so someone thinks this is going to be "blowout central" here) than RB Vick Ballard (single-season school record of 19 ground scores in 2010) will be front-and-center in the scoring parade.

Let's get something clear: The Dawgs don't often ask QB Chris Relf to win them games (although we're expecting a real maturity leap at the position this season) but a potent offensive line that does have some issues at left tackle -- hey, we only speak the truth here, gang! -- could open up enough holes so M-State rushes for 350-or-so yards on this evening inside the Liberty Bowl.

Note that Memphis comes off a brutal 1-11 SU season in 2010 and that includes a rather lopsided 49-7 setback at Davis Wade Stadium.

P.S., there's a full slate on College Football Games set for Labor Day Weekend (that's September 2nd-through-September 5th) including key out-of-conference games on Saturday between Boise State-Georgia and Oregon-LSU plus Sunday's matinee between Marshall at West Virginia and the aforementioned Labor Day evening bout between the short-handed Miami Hurricanes at the Maryland Terrapins.


#14 TCU at BAYLOR - 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Maybe it slipped your mind that last year there were two College Football teams that finished out the 2010 season undefeated: Naturally, the BCS National Champion Auburn Tigers were a perfect 14-and-oh SU (straight-up) but hope you didn't forget about the TCU Horned Frogs.

The soon-to-be Big East Conference team (see 2012 season) and current Mountain West Conference club won all 13 of its games including a 21-19 non-cover victory against 3 ½-point underdog Wisconsin in last year's Rose Bowl and so Gary Patterson's squad heads into this prime-time clash riding that 13-game winning streak and knowing it hasn't lost a regular-season game since late in the 2008 season - that's 25 successive regular-season wins for TCU in case you're counting!

Here, the Frogs are favored by a 4 ½-point spread (it opened at 6 ½ points) and keep in mind last year TCU split its two spread verdicts when the betting line saw 'em as single-digit favorites (a 47-7 win at 4 ½-point dog Utah and then the aforementioned non-cover win in the Rose Bowl against the Wisky Badgers).

If TCU's gonna start off this season with a spread "W" -- something it was unable to do last year en route to a 30-21 triumph over 13-point pup Oregon State - than the defense that lost six starters off a sterling unit must make some big stands against Baylor QB Robert Griffin who last year threw for a school-record 3,501 passing yards. Griffin has great maneuverability despite some past knee woes but he must evade the likes of LB Tank Carder (the 2010 Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year) who helped led TCU to some spiffy stats last year including a nation's-best 228.5 yards-a-game yield to go along with 12 points-per-game yield.

On the flip side, TCU has a new gunslinger running the show on offense as the Andy Dalton Era - finally - ended and so keep a close eye here on sophomore QB Casey Pachall who is aided/abetted by the likes of RBs Ed Wesley, Matthew Tucker and Waymon James. Expect TCU to get 40-plus rushes here but whether the Frogs can constantly pound down on Art Briles' club - and new defensive coordinator Phil Bennett's stop unit - remains to be seen but no doubt the Bears have some shorin' up to do after last year's defense surrendered 435.4 yards a game (that ranked 104th nationally out of 120 FBS teams).

SPREAD NOTES - TCU last year finished up just 7-6 ATS despite the perfecto SU mark and note that included a sub-par 3-4 spread log when laying away/neutral field points. Overall, the Horned Frogs are a collective 34-21 vig-wise as betting favorites while dating back to the start of the 2006 campaign. On the flip side, Baylor's coming off a shabby 5-8 ATS season that included four consecutive season-ending spread losses as dogs (versus Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Illinois in the Texas Bowl). The Bears have failed to cover all three of their recent showdowns against TCU including last year's 45-10 loss as 21-point road dogs.

In fact, last year wasn't a really great betting year for the College Football Teams from the Lone Star State. Here's how all of the FBS teams from the great state of Texas fared spreadwise in 2010:

Texas A&M 8-5-0 .615
TCU 7-6-0 .538
North Texas 6-6-0 .500
Rice 6-6-0 .500
SMU 6-8-0 .429
Texas Tech 5-7-1 .417
Baylor  5-8-0 .385
UTEP 5-8-0 .385
Houston 4-7-1 .364
Texas 3-9-0 .250

Check it out: The country's 10 Texas-based College Football teams went a collective 55-70-2 versus the vig (a dismal .440 winning rate) last year and only Texas A&M really/truly distinguished itself with the Las Vegas odds.

NOTE: Catch our College Football Game Previews (and more) in the next edition of Jim Sez.

By Jim Hurley:

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