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While you might be anxiously awaiting Wednesday and the subsequent Sunday for the beginning of the NFL season, there is still plenty of football to enjoy this weekend.
The college football season kicked off Thursday night and the first weekend of action promises to be entertaining with more than one marquee matchups. Time for my weekly top 20 college football games you should watch, or at least pay attention to, this weekend.
A couple notes first: 1) All games times are eastern, and 2) The listed TV schedule is subject to availability in your area. Check your local listings in other words.
1. No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 2 Alabama
Time/TV: 8 p.m. Saturday, ABC
Last meeting/series: Michigan 35, Alabama 34 (2000 Orange Bowl); Michigan leads all-time series 2-1.
Analysis: This is a tough way to start the season. There's a reason so many college teams begin the year with a patsy. Basically, it's the desire to play a non-threatening opponent, who will provide more of a scrimmage or preseason game. It's not often we get to see two Top 10 teams square off at neutral site for that matter. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is determined to present more and more quality college games such as this one at Cowboys Stadium, and you can bet Jones' palace will be packed with Bama and Michigan fans. ... The biggest reason the SEC has surpassed all other conferences in college football is speed. But, Michigan has some players who can match that speed, mainly QB Denard Robinson, who is a Heisman Trophy candidate. Robinson will be a big test for a Bama defense that lost a lot of major pieces to graduation or early entry into the NFL draft last year. There are still important pieces back, though, and I'm sure LB Nico Johnson and safety Robert Lester will have something in store for Robinson and the Michigan offense. ... The reason I'm picking Bama to win is its offensive line. This is the best OL in the country, headlined by center Barrett Jones. I grade Jones as the best lineman in the nation, and expect a great NFL career out of him. He's shown to have All-American talent at tackle, guard or center, having played extensively at all three positions during his career. The Bama offense is going to be capable of putting more points on the board than it did a year ago with QB AJ McCarron being a year more seasoned and RB Eddie Lacy capable of plugging the void left by Trent Richardson's departure. You better believe Alabama is in contention for the national title once again.
Prediction: Alabama 29, Michigan 20
2. No. 24 Boise State at No. 13 Michigan State
Time/TV: 8 p.m. today, ESPN
Last meeting/series: This is the first meeting between these two programs.
Analysis: One thing is for certain, Boise State never backs down from scheduling tough opponents early in the season. It's just smart thinking by coach Chris Petersen considering how weak the Broncos schedule is during their conference season. This time around it might be tougher for Boise State. In the past, the Broncos have passed their early season tests against teams such as Georgia, Oregon and Oregon State with flying colors. But this is the best overall team they have played in a season opener to date. And perhaps even more challenging is the mass of talent Boise State is trying to replace from last year's team. By no means do I think the well has run dry, but Boise State isn't going to instantly replace a QB like Kellen Moore and a RB like Doug Martin on offense, while the defense will be missing playmakers Tyron Crawford, Billy Wynn and Shea McClellin on the DL. This is going to be a tough transition for the Broncos. ... Opening with Michigan State with so many positions unsettled is another problem. The Spartans have as much talent as any team in the Big Ten. They're a legit threat to win the conference this season, and I picked them to at least win the Legends Division. Le'Veon Bell gives Michigan State a good power ground game, but it's the Spartans defense that headlines this team. DE William Gholston is the name every one will know, but you'll also be getting to know DE Marcus Rush and CB Johnny Adams rather well. Michigan State will be breaking into the top 10 very soon, and won't be leaving too quickly, either.
Prediction: Michigan State 30, Boise State 20
3. No. 14 Clemson at Auburn
Time/TV: 7 p.m. Saturday, ESPN
Last meeting/series: Clemson 38, Auburn 24 (2011); Auburn leads all-time series 33-12-2.
Analysis: I'm not terribly high on Auburn this season. There are more questions than answers to start the year on both sides of the ball. The only true given is that DE Corey Lemonier is going to be a force to reckon with for opposing offenses. Past that? The loss of RB Michael Dyer could prove devastating to this offense. Not to mention, offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is gone and Auburn is changing its offensive scheme as a result. ... Clemson, meanwhile, has much more in place, particularly on offense. This is one of the most explosive offenses in the country with QB Tajh Boyd and WR Sammy Watkins being the headliners. The Tigers won't keep many offenses from scoring, but they can outscore most of their opponents, Auburn included.
Prediction: Clemson 44, Auburn 24
4. Georgia Tech at No. 16 Virginia Tech
Time/TV: 8 p.m. Monday, ESPN
Last meeting/series: Virginia Tech 37, Georgia Tech 26 (2011); Virginia Tech leads all-time series 6-3.
Analysis: Starting the season with a quality opponent is one thing, beginning it with a conference game is another. This is as dangerous a game as there is in the first week of the college season. Virginia Tech has been known to have early season letdowns, and that can't happen against Paul Johnson's Ga. Tech squad. The Hokies have to be ready for a physical game, or this could be ugly for them. Va. Tech has the pieces to win the ACC yet again this season beginning with QB Logan Thomas. Ga. Tech's option offense has experience, though, with QB Tevin Washington. I'm picking Va. Tech, but I don't do it with a lot of confidence.
Prediction: Va. Tech 28, Ga. Tech 24
5. Tennessee at NC State
Time/TV: 7:30 p.m. today, ESPNU
Last meeting/series: Tennessee 13, NC State 0 (1939); The all-time series is tied 1-1.
Analysis: The Vols and Wolfpack are each trying to establish themselves as threats in their respective conferences. Tennessee should be better this season as long as QB Tyler Bray stays healthy and on the field. NC State's future isn't as certain. I've seen some pick them as sleepers in the ACC, but I see too many holes and an offense I'm not convinced will produce on a weekly basis. Seeing Bray throw against an extremely talented NC State secondary that's headlined by CB David Amerson is the main reason this game is worthy of this ranking, though.
Prediction: Tennessee 27, NC State 21
6. Ohio at Penn State
Time/TV: Noon Saturday, ESPN
Last meeting/series: Penn State 35, Ohio 16 (1974); Penn State leads all-time series 5-0.
Analysis: Unfortunately, a lot of the focus for this game will be Penn State's off-the-field struggles. I'm hoping ESPN will concentrate more on the stuff happening between the sidelines, but I don't have much hope for ESPN. Ohio is the best team in the MAC with impressive sophomore QB Tyler Tettleton. Tettleton is a dual-threat who can give most defenses trouble. While Penn State lost some key players on offense, the defense remains largely intact. Expect the defense to be the heart of the Nittany Lions as always.
Prediction: Penn State 24, Ohio 10
7. Hawaii at No. 1 USC
Time/TV: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, FOX
Last meeting/series: USC 49, Hawaii 36 (2010); USC leads all-time series 5-0.
Analysis: You don't get ranked as the preseason No. 1 without drawing some national attention in your season opener, even if it is a game you should win by at least 30. But that's just it, if the Trojans do struggle somewhat, then they'll be dropped in the polls. Expectations can be hazardous for any team. Still, USC by 40.
Prediction: USC 56, Hawaii 16
8. Notre Dame vs. Navy
Time/TV: 9 a.m. Saturday, CBS
Last meeting/series: Notre Dame 56, Navy 14 (2011); Notre Dame leads all-time series 72-12-1.
Analysis: This rivalry dates back to 1927, and has had plenty of neutral sites in its history. However, for only the second time ever, the Irish and Midshipmen will meet overseas in Dublin, Ireland. It's about as original of a neutral site that anyone has ever come up with. The Irish have high expectations for this season and it begins with longtime foe Navy. It's a rivalry Notre Dame has always dominated until recently, but this Irish squad should be too much for the Midshipmen once again.
Prediction: Notre Dame 38, Navy 21
9. Western Michigan at Illinois
Time/TV: Noon Saturday, ESPNU
Last meeting/series: Illinois 23, Western Michigan 20 (2011); Illinois leads all-time series 3-1.
Analysis: Why is this game ranked in the top 10? Because it has upset written all over it. Western Michigan nearly knocked off Illinois last season and is a better team this year. The Broncos have a great QB with Alex Carder as well as some talent on the DL. Illinois is a good team, and I like the Illini's prospects for this season in the Big Ten. But, they can't look past the Broncos like they did a year ago. I'm not picking WMU for the upset here, but do like the Broncos to make it close again.
Prediction: Illinois 34, Western Michigan 31
10. Southern Miss at No. 17 Nebraska
Time/TV: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC or ESPN2
Last meeting/series: Southern Miss 21, Nebraska 17 (2004); Nebraska leads all-time series 2-1.
Analysis: Southern Miss is the type of mid-major capable of upsetting one of the big boys on any given Saturday. Nebraska knows this well after the Golden Eagles knocked them off in 2004. The Cornhuskers have their doubters this year, but I think Nebraska can challenge for the Legends Division title during their second year in the Big Ten. So. Miss has some key pieces to replace from last season's impressive squad, including coach Larry Fedora, who bolted for the job at North Carolina.
Prediction: Nebraska 38, So. Miss 19
11. Nevada at Cal
Time/TV: 3 p.m. Saturday, Pac-12 Network
Last meeting/series: Nevada 52, Cal 31 (2010); The all-time series is tied 1-1.
Analysis: Cal better be careful. Nevada is an established program that will always challenge schools from the bigger conferences. Luckily for the Golden Bears, Nevada doesn't appear to be as strong as it has been the past couple seasons. Cal should be ready for the Pistol and there's no way this Wolf Pack squad can match up with Cal's skill position talent.
Prediction: Cal 41, Nevada 23
12. Arkansas State at No. 5 Oregon
Time/TV: 10:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN
Last meeting/series: This is the first ever meeting between the two programs.
Analysis: The Gus Malzahn era begins in Arkansas State. Malzahn is considered an offensive genius for his work at Auburn, although I think he's a little overrated. Who couldn't coach a successful offense with Cam Newton? Still, he's a great get for Arkansa State. But, Malzahn's Red Wolves are going to receive a rude welcome to the season against Oregon. The Ducks still have speed all over the field and it's going to be more than Arkansas State can handle.
Prediction: Oregon 58, Arkansas State 20
13. San Diego State at Washington
Time/TV: 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Pac-12 Network
Last meeting/series: Washington 36, San Diego State 3 (1997); Washington leads all-time series 2-0.
Analysis: If this were last season, I might pick the upset. But it's not, and San Diego State doesn't have RB Ronnie Hillman and QB Ryan Lindley to lead the team. Both are now playing in the NFL. On the other hand, I have big expectations for Washington. I think the Huskies are a big threat to Oregon and Stanford for the North Division in the Pac-12. I expect the Huskies to be ranked in the top 25 by season's end.
Prediction: Washington 45, San Diego State 17
14. North Texas at No. 3 LSU
Time/TV: 7 p.m. Saturday, ESPNU
Last meeting/series: LSU 41, North Texas 3 (2008); LSU leads all-time series 4-0.
Analysis: There's no chance of this game being even relatively close, although weather can be an equalizer at times. The game will be played in inclement conditions on a soggy field at Death Valley. Even then, the Mean Green will be lucky to score even 3 points.
Prediction: LSU 43, North Texas 0
15. No. 4 Oklahoma at UTEP
Time/TV: 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Fox Sports Network
Last meeting/series: Oklahoma 68, UTEP 0 (2002); Oklahoma leads all-time series 2-0.
Analysis: Starting the season on the road is a bit foreign to most teams in major conferences, but particularly on the road against a mid-major like UTEP. Expect the Sooners to handle it with ease. This might feel like somewhat of a home game to Sooners QB Landry Jones. He's from Artesia, N.M., which isn't too far from El Paso. He's likely to have a few fans in the stands.
Prediction: Okalhoma 58, UTEP 14
16. SMU at Baylor
Time/TV: 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Fox Sports Network
Last meeting/series: Baylor 28, SMU 23 (2005); SMU leads all-time series 36-35-7.
Analysis: This is a renewal of an old-school Southwest Conference rivalry. SMU actually hasn't recorded a win against Baylor since 1986. The Mustangs were served the death penalty following that season. The Bears are coming off perhaps their best season ever, and many doubt they can properly replace Robert Griffin III. I see a team capable of reaching a third straight bowl game for the first time in team history. This should be an entertaining game to watch, especially if you like high-scoring affairs.
Prediction: Baylor 49, SMU 45
17. Colorado State vs. Colorado
Time/TV: 4 p.m. Saturday, FX
Last meeting/series: Colorado 28, Colorado State 14 (2011); Colorado leads all-time series 53-20-1.
Analysis: The Rocky Mountain Showdown typically provides a closely contested game regardless of the skill level of either team. Colorado is still in rebuilding mode and hopes to take another step or two in returning to relevance. Colorado State has a scrappy group capable of upsetting their in-state big brother. Can't make the upset pick this season, though.
Prediction: Colorado 23, Colorado State 20
18. Northwestern at Syracuse
Time/TV: Noon Saturday, ESPN2
Last meeting/series: Syracuse 37, Northwestern 34 (2009); Syracuse leads all-time series 5-4.
Analysis: Wins won't be coming easy for either team this season, but Northwestern has more talent on the field. That doesn't mean the Orange can't pull out a victory at home. But it's hard to give the Orange much of a home-field advantage when you can't trust the product they'll be putting on the field.
Prediction: Northwestern 24, Syracuse 17
19. Tulsa at Iowa State
Time/TV: 3:30 p.m. Saturday; Fox Sports Network
Last meeting/series: Iowa State 27, Tulsa 6 (1961); Iowa State leads all-tie series 1-0.
Analysis: Tulsa must replace QB G.J. Kinne, but thinks it can do so with Nebraska transfer Cody Green. The Golden Hurricane's offense is traditionally high scoring, but I have a lot of respect for Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads. I think he keeps the Cyclones from getting upset. That is if Iowa State QB Steele Jantz can avoid turning the ball over more than once.
Prediction: Iowa State 31, Tulsa 29
20. Miami at Boston College
Time/TV: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC or ESPN2
Last meeting/series: Boston College 24, Miami 17 (2011); Miami leads all-time series 23-5.
Analysis: Both programs are incedibly down, but this is one of just two conference games taking place during the first week fo the college season, giving it some importance. You're not likely to see a very pretty style of football. It should be a close game, though.