Finally… FINALLY we have actual games to talk about!! No more Tressel. No more tattoos. No more Will Lyles. No more Charles Robinson (sorry Chuck, love your stuff). No more Nevin Shapiro. No more excessive piles of shoes. Finally, the autumn breeze is slowly coming upon us and a week of college football is here. What better way to get through the last day of your last football free weekend for several months than by counting down the Top 10 Games of the opening week of college football. With the NFL not starting for another 11 days, the college game reigns supreme Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday with games you’ll need to see. I’ll give you a few moments to sing hallejuahs, and then we’ll get started, counting down from 10 to 1 for the best of the first week of the season….
10) Akron @ #18 Ohio State, 12 pm ET Saturday on ESPN
-Looking at this game from purely the on-field perspective, how will the Buckeyes cope without Pryor, Herron, and Posey? While all the talk this offseason has focused on the QB position, Ohio State desperately needs someone out of a young, talented, deep backfield to step up in Herron’s absence. In Posey’s absence, the search for a #1 receiver is much more uncertain and frightening for Buckeye fans. And yes, then there’s the QB situation. All signs point to a two man platoon between Senior Joe Bauserman and Freshman Braxton Miller. It looks like Miller will be worked in slowly, but as the conventional wisdom goes, if you have two quarterbacks you have none. The Zips (1-11 last year) will be nothing more than a glorified scrimmage for Ohio State, but you’ll want to see how the Buckeyes shake out on the field with first year interim coach Luke Fickell.
9) #14 TCU @ Baylor, 8 pm ET Friday on ESPN
-While all the focus is on Boise’s huge game in the Georgia Dome (more on that in a bit), don’t sleep on the test facing MWC counterparts TCU. They head to Waco to face a vastly underrated Baylor team led by the vastly underrated Robert Griffin III. Griffin threw for over 3,000 yards passing and ran for over 500 a year ago – a feat only duplicated by Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick and Tulsa’s GJ Kinne. On the other side, TCU’s new QB Casey Pachall will have to step in the big shoes of Andy Dalton while Gary Patterson looks to build off last year’s Rose Bowl success. The Bears should be much more competitive than when they lost 45-10 last year in Fort Worth…
8) BYU @ Ole Miss, 4:45 pm ET Saturday on ESPN
-BYU’s first game in the independent era sees them take a road trip to Ole Miss where both programs will certainly have something to prove. BYU needs to break out of the shadow of teams like Boise and prove that their highly questioned move towards independence was the right one. Ole Miss and Houston Nutt may have even more to prove though after a hugely disappointing 4-8 season with highly touted transfer Jeremiah Masoli. Truly a game that could go either way and kick start a season for these two programs.
7) Marshall @ #24 West Virginia, 3:30 pm ET Sunday on ESPN
-This will only be the 11th all-time meeting between these rivals of the Mountaineer state. Doc Holliday (which is obviously the greatest coaching name in cfb history) will lead Marshall against his alma mater looking for the Thundering Herd’s first win against their in-state rivals. Marshall seem to be a program on the up (their recruiting class was at the top of C-USA according to ESPN’s rankings and the Herd played plenty of freshman last year). They catch WVU at the end of one of the weirder offseasons in NCAA history. Dana Holgorsen takes charge, but one wonders if Bill Stewart will dress up as The Mountaineer to try to sabatoge Holgorsen’s first game. Now that would be worth watching…
6) Appalachain State @ #13 Virginia Tech, 12:30 pm ET Saturday on ESPN3.com
-If there’s one game that screams UPSET ALERT in the opening week, it’s this one. We’ve seen App St. do this kind of thing before (yes, it still takes one double A battery to shock a Wolverine… it’s much harder to make a joke out of FCS, sadly)… and we’ve seen Virginia Tech do this kind of thing before (hello James Madison). App St. won the SoCon last year once again, but were dumped by Villanova in the FCS quarters. If the Mountaineers are serious about that FBS move, another win against a Top 25 team would be a great statement – have your online feeds ready just in case.
5) Northwestern @ Boston College, 12 pm ET Saturday on ESPNU
-An intriguing inter-conference matchup between a couple bowl teams from last year may be the best under-the-radar game this week. BC was the definition of streaky in 2010 – 2 straight wins, 5 straight losses, 5 straight wins and then a bowl loss to Nevada in the prestigious Whatever Happened To That Guy With The Golden Voice Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Unfortunately the preseason ACC player of the year, RB Montel Harris, will likely miss the game with a knee injury. Northwestern QB Dan Persa lit up the Big Ten until his season ending achilles injury late in the season in 2010. His play was still good enough to earn 1st Team B1G honors though. Don’t discount the dark horse nature of his #Persastrong Heisman campaign if NU (they evidently hate to be called NW) can duplicate their hot start from last year.
4) South Florida @ #16 Notre Dame, 3:30 pm ET Saturday on NBC
-Like all the kids going back to school, the yearly rite of pundits saying “this is the year Notre Dame turns it around” is in full gear. You’ve heard it all – the schedule works out, Brian Kelly’s system is just getting implemented, the recruiting class is dynamite, 9 wins and a BCS berth is likely… yada, yada, yada. Like a great wildebeast migration, those pundits will all leave the Irish when they’re exposed as a paper tiger once again. Let’s hope South Florida, a trendy pick in the Big East with QB BJ Daniels, puts everyone out of their misery early this year with a win in South Bend so we can all move on with our lives.
3) SMU @ #8 Texas A&M, 7:30 pm ET Sunday on FSN
-Here’s a game not being talked about by a lot of folks (maybe because ESPN isn’t hyping it incessantly since it isn’t on the “family of networks”), but one to keep an eye on this weekend. Texas A&M has been screaming for attention this offseason like one of the other Kardashian sisters, but now is the time to see what their Top 10 team can do on the field. Can the Aggies back up the game they’ve been talking? Ryan Tannehill was a revelation at QB last year and his backfield partnership with Cyrus Gray may be the best in the Big 12. Ironically enough, they face the team that wants to possibly replace them in the Big 12 – SMU. June Jones teams are always a fun watch and always an upset threat with their dynamic passing attack. The Mustangs are loaded too – returning 18 starters including QB Kyle Padron, 1,300 yard rusher Zach Line, and 1,000 yard receiver Cole Beasley.
2) #5 Boise State @ #19 Georgia, 8 pm ET Saturday on ESPN
-Unfortunately, you’ll need picture in picture (or better yet, two televisions) for the best games of opening weekend. The first is another trip by Boise State into relatively enemy territory of a BCS powerhouse. This time Georgia gets to try to represent the system and beat the Broncos. Kellen Moore will get all the headlines, and rightfully so, but Boise steamroller Doug Martin was one of my favorite running backs to watch in the nation last season. Again, Boise should go unbeaten if they get past this first BCS test. At preseason #5, they know a national title chance may be on the line in this game. Georgia isn’t just playing a bit part though, with Mark Richt’s seat getting decidedly warm coming off his first losing season between the hedges. Soph QB Aaron Murray should have recieved much more press for an outstanding first year (3,000+ yards, 24 TDs, 8 INTs). However, Georgia may just be too young for a stage like this to open the season. Amazingly, Boise has the edge in experience, but the atmosphere and the game should be enthralling. Plus, with Boise and Georgia’s new Nike Pro Combat unis actually looking great, the game will be more aesthetically pleasing than last year’s game of Tron on acid gone bad.
1) #3 Oregon vs #4 LSU, 8 pm ET Saturday on ABC
-As appetizing as the Boise/UGA matchup is, any time you have two Top 5 teams battling on a neutral site (in massive JerryWorld nonetheless) to open the season, that’s your game of the week. It’s too bad the hype for this game is focused on the off-field troubles of both schools. Oregon has had to battle a recruiting scandal and will be without perhaps the Pac 12′s best player – CB Cliff Harris. LSU is now without starting QB Jordan Jefferson thanks to a felony assault arrest. Thankfully for Les Miles, he has Jarrett Lee in the wings and some would say he’s indeed an upgrade over Jefferson in the passing game. Auburn’s defense was successful slowing down Oregon’s spread attack last year (you’ll hear the term “SEC speed” enough throughout the night to make you want to vomit) and LSU will be another firm test. It’ll be strength versus strength as Darron Thomas and LaMichael James try to break down a fearsome Tiger defense. Oregon may have a slight edge, but don’t discount the Bayou voodoo magic of The Mad Hatter. If this game is close late on, Les Miles will merely nibble a blade of grass, pull a book of spells out of his hat, and break out the Annexation of Puerto Rico for the win.
Follow Crystal Ball Run on Twitter @CrystalBallRun.