2012 College Football Schedules: Predicting the Outcome of Every Week 1 Game

David Luther@@davidrlutherFeatured ColumnistFebruary 23, 2012

2012 College Football Schedules: Predicting the Outcome of Every Week 1 Game

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    The 2012 college football season may be more than six months away, but with spring ball just around the corner, we've already seen some early predictions about the upcoming season.

    Since the “way-too-early” Top-25 opinions are already circulating, now might be a good time to take a look at some of the actual games we're going to see in the first week of action this upcoming fall.

    Here are our predictions for the outcome of every Week 1 game of the 2012 Division-1 college football season.

Florida International at Duke

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    This will be a game for which it will be pretty difficult to pick a winner.

    Neither team will likely be cracking the Top 25 in 2012, and Duke is probably only looking to avoid another early-season letdown against a program that should be inferior.

    Duke just isn't a football school. It never has been, and likely never will be. Florida International, on the other hand, is working hard at building a name for itself on the gridiron.

    Still, with the ACC talent (albeit second-tier ACC talent) Duke attracts, the Blue Devils should be able to hold off FIU.

    Duke 23, Florida International 17

FCS Murray State at Florida State

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    We can all admit that Florida State didn't live up to the hype in 2011, so we're likely to see a much more reserved preseason ranking—say, top 15 rather than top five—for the Seminoles in 2012.

    That being said, we are talking about Florida State taking on Murray State.

    The Racers finished 2011 with a 7-4 record, which included a 5-3 mark in the Ohio Valley Conference.

    While the Racers do have a solid core of starters returning, it's a little too much to hope for anything more than a close first few drives. Florida State should be able to handle this one pretty easily. Plus, the Seminoles will be eager to show the nation that 2012 will be full of fireworks from the 15 returning starters.

    Florida State 49, Murray State 10

FCS Southeast Louisiana at Georgia Tech

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    Here we are with another season-opener against an FCS program.

    Georgia Tech was a big surprise out of the ACC last season, but there are still some open questions about how well the Yellow Jackets can perform in 2012. Even after an impressive start to the season, Tech fell victim to some inconsistent play and inexperience.

    That inexperience won't be the biggest problem in 2012, with 15 starters expected back, but there's still an open question about inconsistency.

    Georgia Tech will face Southeastern Louisiana in Week 1, a team from the Southland Conference that finished 2011 with a measly three wins.

    Even if the Lions were one of the best teams in the FCS, topping Georgia Tech would be a herculean task. But since they're not, we can safely pick the Jackets in this one.

    Georgia Tech 45, Southeastern Louisiana 6

FCS William & Mary at Maryland

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    The parade of ACC vs. FCS games continues with Maryland hosting William & Mary on September 1.

    Maryland and second-year head coach Randy Edsall simply cannot wait to put the nightmare of 2011 out of their minds once and for all. Unfortunately for the Tribe of William & Mary, they are the chosen first target.

    Maryland was just downright bad last season, winning just two games all season—one of which was against FCS Towson.

    But even a 2-10 team with Danny O'Brien as quarterback should be more than a match for the Tribe, who were 6-5 last season, with a 4-4 Colonial Athletic Association conference mark.

    Terrapins fans will be looking for a big win from Edsall. If the Terps put up anything less than a convincing, resounding victory, you can expect to begin hearing Edsall's name connected with the term “hot seat” before Week 2 arrives.

    Maryland 42, William & Mary 13

FCS Elon at North Carolina

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    North Carolina was in perfect position to make a BCS run a couple of seasons ago before scandal, suspensions and firings rocked the program to its core.

    Tar Heel football fans were left wondering what might have been.

    After cleaning house, so to speak, North Carolina will need to start anew, and there's a large ACC hill to climb before there is any talk of BCS around Chapel Hill.

    The Tar Heels do have eight returning offensive starters and starters returning in most key defensive positions, so 2012 looks to be as good a place as any to begin the long road back to ACC contention.

    The Tar Heels will begin the season with a visit from FCS Elon. Last season, the Phoenix were just 5-6 (3-5 in the Southern Conference) and don't appear to be much threat to knock off what should be a focused North Carolina team.

    Stranger things have happened, of course, but Phoenix fans shouldn't get the hopes up.

    North Carolina 38, Elon 6

FCS Richmond at Virginia

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    A few years back, there weren't too many FCS programs more dangerous than the Richmond Spiders.

    After a 35-8 record over three seasons between 2007 and 2009 (including the 2008 NCAA National Championship), the Spiders have really fallen off, posting a disappointing 3-8 mark last season.

    While this season opener against Virginia has the added spice of in-state flair, the sagging Spiders have little chance against the revitalized Cavaliers.

    Virginia was one of many surprises to come out of the ACC in 2011, and despite losing some key skill-position starters, the Cavs will have seven offensive and five defensive starters back in 2012—more than enough of a group to build upon last season's successes.

    While Richmond does have the weapons to keep the game close for a little while, the FBS depth of the Cavs will prove to be too much in the end.

    Virginia 38, Richmond 16

FCS Liberty at Wake Forest

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    Wake Forest was yet another surprise the ACC sprung on the nation, and the Demon Deacons finished with a respectable 5-3 mark in the Atlantic Division, the same conference mark as Florida State.

    The non-conference part of the schedule is where the Deacons fell short last season, winning just one game out of conference, finishing with a 6-7 record.

    Wake Forest will also feel the pain of graduation more so than most teams, with just 12 starters returning in 2012.

    Still, Wake Forest drew a pretty cupcake opponent for Week 1, when FCS Liberty comes for a visit.

    Over the past few seasons, Liberty has been a preseason favorite in the Big South, even managing to crack the FCS Top 25 from time to time, only to fall flat as the season wore on.

    The Big South Conference was recently awarded a coveted automatic berth in the FCS playoffs, and despite the added incentive of capturing that elusive conference title, the Flames have fallen just short year after year.

    While Liberty will likely be a solid seven or eight-win team again this season, the Flames just won't have the manpower to keep up with Wake Forest.

    Don't expect this game to be a blowout, though. Liberty has beaten an FBS program (Ball State in 2010) and played tough against NC State (losing 43-21 in 2011) and West Virginia (losing 33-20 in 2009).

    If the Deacons aren't careful, Liberty could manage to throw one past them.

    Wake Forest 31, Liberty 23

Tulsa at Iowa State

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    We've been fooled by Tulsa before, but we've also been surprised by Iowa State recently.

    This game will be pretty difficult for most people to pick, and so many will fall back on the tried and true BCS AQ conference program over non-AQ program method.

    That's not such a bad philosophy here, given that both programs have been prone to wild fits of inconsistency.

    In one stroke, Iowa State can upset the apple cart by knocking off then-No. 2 Oklahoma State before losing to the likes of Rutgers. Tulsa, on the other hand, looks like a perfectly decent team with a perfectly respectable 8-5 record, but didn't manage to beat a single team from outside the ranks of the other non-AQ programs (plus losing to Houston, BYU and Boise State).

    Iowa State 28, Tulsa 24

FCS South Dakota State at Kansas

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    Kansas has certainly made headlines this off-season with the hiring of former Notre Dame coaching pariah Charlie Weis.

    Putting the jokes about portly Kansas coaches aside, it was a big move for Kansas that should really bulk up their credibility as a true heavyweight program.

    Okay, so we couldn't put all of the jokes aside.

    Seriously, though, Weis may not have been the savior Notre Dame was expecting, but that doesn't mean he's a bad coach. He'll likely be given plenty of time to build the KU program his way, and he's already attracted a few transfers (including former Notre Dame QB Dayne Crist) and has managed to create a few minor recruiting surprises.

    It's a long way up from 2-10 (0-9) though, but look at it this way: Weis can't possibly screw up KU more than it already is, right?

    But just when you thought a nice, juicy FCS program ripe for the picking would be the answer to what ails Jayhawks fans, in comes South Dakota State.

    The Jackrabbits aren't your average FCS program, and there's plenty of reason to believe that South Dakota State can give KU all it can handle. The Jackrabbits play in the rough-and-tumble Missouri Valley Football Conference, and the MVFC isn't for the faint of heart.

    While South Dakota State hasn't been exactly tearing up the competition, the Jackrabbits have played in a number of closer-than-expected games against FBS opponents, including a 17-3 loss at Nebraska in 2010.

    Kansas isn't exactly Nebraska these days, and the Jackrabbits may be able to pull off the unthinkable.

    South Dakota State 23, Kansas 21

FCS Missouri State at Kansas State

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    Is there anything Bill Snyder can't do?

    He builds the Kansas State program so soundly, they name the stadium after him when he retires.

    When the program falls on hard times, he agrees to come out of retirement and do it all over again, and he succeeds.

    What will they name after him this time?

    While Bill Snyder State University is probably out of the question, another run at the BCS isn't. With eight offensive starters retuning in 2012, it's possible that we'll not only be hearing more about Kansas State as the season wears on, but the Wildcats may at last get that BCS berth that many thought they deserved last season.

    While we've talked about the Missouri Valley Football Conference as a strong group of FCS programs, Missouri State probably can't be considered one of them. The Bears haven't won more than six games in a season since 1996 (7-4), and Missouri State was just 2-9 in 2011.

    Put that kind of FCS team against a team likely to begin the season in the Top 25 and feels it has something to prove, and you have the perfect combination for a blowout special.

    Missouri State lost 48-24 to Kansas State in 2010, and 2012 might be even worse.

    Kansas State 49, Missouri State 9

Oklahoma at Texas-El Paso

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    You don't often see a team like Oklahoma travel on Week 1, and it's even more rare to see a team like the Sooners travel to a place like El Paso, but that's exactly what we have in 2012.

    The Sooners will head south to take on the Miners in El Paso, but don't expect the extra miles to have any effect on the final outcome.

    The Sooners clearly had a disappointing 2011 season. After beginning the year as the No. 1 team in the land, the Sooners stumbled a few times en route to a 10-3 record and a surprising fourth-place finish in the Big 12.

    No matter. With 15 starters returning this season, you can expect Bob Stoops to have his team prepared and ready to go with a top-10 ranking in hand from the opening kickoff.

    For UTEP, the Miners might want to grab a hold of something solid, because they're about to go for a ride.

    The Sooners are out to crush everyone in their path, and don't expect Stoops to call off the dogs this season. Style points will be increasingly important in this era of razor-thin BCS ranking margins, and the Miners are in for a world of hurt, courtesy of Oklahoma.

    Oklahoma 56, Texas-El Paso 17

FCS Savannah State at Oklahoma State

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    Mike Gundy and the Cowboys had their day in the sun, and it ended with a Big 12 title and Fiesta Bowl championship.

    But even with eight returning defensive starters, it will be difficult to reach the BCS for a second-straight year with just five offensive starters coming back for 2012.

    After all, it was the offense that carried Oklahoma State for much of the past two seasons.

    The Cowboys will still undoubtedly start the season in the Top 25, and a nice warm-up game against FCS Savannah State should provide an easy opportunity for a victory.

    The Savannah State Tigers have reliably been one of the worst teams in the FCS for the better part of the last decade.

    Since 2000, the Tigers have won more than two games in a single season just twice (5-7 in 2008 and 3-8 in 2006). Otherwise, they usually muddle through the football season with anywhere between zero and two wins.

    The Tigers joined the Mid-East Athletic Conference last season, hoping to find some stability in their schedule. But that Tigers instead found a conference that handed them a 1-7 MEAC record.

    Even with the Cowboys' depleted offense, this game will be over before halftime.

    Oklahoma State 45, Savannah State 7

Wyoming at Texas

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    We're a full season removed now from Texas's shocking 5-7 season, and the Longhorns rebounded nicely in 2011.

    Mack Brown will likely be in a good position to improve upon his team's success in 2012 with 16 starters returning, including nine on offense.

    Even though Texas finished 2011 in sixth place in the Big 12, things seem to be falling into place for the Longhorns, and a conference run won't be out of the question in the revamped Big 12.

    Wyoming was a surprisingly decent 8-5 last season and finished third in the Mountain West with a 5-2 record, just behind Boise State and TCU.

    While third place sounds great, one has to realize that there's quite a fall off between Boise State and TCU and the rest of last season's MWC teams.

    Wyoming probably isn't about to slip back into the depths of the FBS, but there's not much chance the Cowboys will suddenly become giant-killers, either.

    Texas 38, Wyoming 20

FCS Northwestern State at Texas Tech

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    The Northwestern State Demons posted a 5-6 record last season, including a 4-4 record in the Southland Conference.

    While that's certainly an improvement over the Demons' 0-11 finish in 2009, it's nowhere near the level of any FCS programs that have a shot at defeating a program like Texas Tech.

    The Red Raiders were a disappointing 5-7 last season but were a perfect 3-0 outside of Big 12 play in 2011.

    With 19 returning starters from last season, head coach Tommy Tuberville should have his team ready to rejoin the ranks of power programs in the conference.

    While it's questionable whether or not the Raiders have much of a shot at the Big 12 title this season, there's little to no chance they will lose to a middle-of-the-road FCS program from Louisiana.

    Texas Tech 49, Northwestern State 12

Marshall at West Virginia

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    The long, drawn-out saga between West Virginia and the Big East is finally over, and the Mountaineers are officially part of the Big 12 for the 2012 season.

    A slight reshuffling of the schedule was necessary to accommodate the Mountaineers into the Big 12, but the season-opener against Marshall is unchanged.

    This game will truly be a battle of David (Marshall) vs. Goliath (West Virginia). Now that WVU has moved to the Big 12, it's no longer the biggest program in the worst BCS AQ conference, but a BCS veteran in a power BCS AQ conference. While Dana Holgorsen will have plenty of returning starters from last season's Orange Bowl championship team to work with, an instant run to the top of the Big 12 might be too much to hope for too soon.

    But Week 1 will certainly provide ample opportunity to put up some major stats, as Marshall comes to visit.

    Marshall isn't a particularly bad program, but when a 7-6 record also gets you a second-place finish in Conference USA's East Division, it's clear that neither the team nor the conference are much to write home about.

    Geno Smith and an intact returning receiving corps will be more than a match for the Herd, and West Virginia should get off to a good first step in their inaugural Big 12 season.

    West Virginia 42, Marshall 17

Massachusetts at Connecticut

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    Thursday, August 30, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    In case you were wondering, no, we didn't forget the “FCS” in front of Massachusetts.

    The Minutemen begin their first season of FBS football in 2012 as a member of the MAC, and their first-ever game as an FBS program will come against a team just across the state line, Connecticut.

    The road may be a little easier for the Huskies in the Big East now that West Virginia has gone, but that doesn't mean 2012 will be a cakewalk for UConn.

    UMass, on the other hand, will definitely have its work cut out for it. The transition from the FCS is never easy, and most teams can look forward to several losing seasons before any sustained success is realized.

    Massachusetts does have some recent experience against FBS opponents, but settling in for the long, grueling battle of an FBS season is a lot different that one game here or there.

    UMass also wasn't the best FCS program around over the past few seasons. The Minutemen finished 2011 with a 5-6 record (3-5 in the Colonial Athletic Association), which included a 45-17 drubbing by a pretty bad Boston College team.

    Don't expect much from the newest FBS and MAC team this season, especially during the non-conference part of the season.

    Connecticut 38, Massachusetts 13

FCS Youngstown State at Pittsburgh

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    There was a time when Youngstown State was the toast of the FCS. But then Jim Tressel left for Ohio State, and the Penguins haven't been stockpiling the trophies quite like they used to.

    In fact, since Tressel left following the 2000 season, the Penguins have earned a playoff berth just once (2006) and have posted a combined 15-18 record over the past three seasons since joining the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

    Pitt has also been through its share of coaching-related issues lately, but the Panthers hope that 2012 will finally see the beginning of the end for the revolving door at the front of the head coach's office.

    Paul Chryst will begin his first season at head coach at Pitt, becoming the fourth head coach hired in little more than one calendar year for the program.

    While some stability will do Pitt good, it will take some time for the waves created by constant coaching changes to calm. Still, there's not so much turbulence that Pitt shouldn't be able to handle YSU with relative ease.

    Pittsburgh 38, Youngstown State 14

Rutgers at Tulane

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    Rutgers may very well enter the 2012 season as the odds-on favorite for the Big East title, with 16 returning starters and a weakened conference schedule.

    The Scarlet Knights will only need to fend off C-USA cellar-dweller Tulane in order to start the new season with a win, and the Knights head to New Orleans for the season opener.

    Tulane has been predictably and consistently bad over the past several seasons, and there's absolutely no reason to believe the football futility won't continue for the Green Wave.

    This is, after all, a team that was beaten by Army last season, 45-6.

    Rutgers 45, Tulane 0

FCS Chattanooga at South Florida

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    South Florida head coach Skip Holtz will have 16 returning starters to work with in 2012, as the Bulls make a push for a BCS berth in 2012.

    After an impressive start last season, which included a win against Notre Dame in Week 1, the Bulls fell off rather quickly as the season wore on. Coming into 2012, the Bulls should be on your list of Big East teams to keep an eye on, as there's plenty of talent and experience to go around at USF.

    Rather than taking on a legendary power like Notre Dame in the opening week, South Florida opted for the other end of the spectrum in 2012, inviting FCS Chattanooga to be its sacrificial lamb.

    The Mocs aren't anything beyond a typical mediocre FCS program, finishing 5-6 in 2011, one win less than each 2010 and 2009.

    While Chattanooga is improving in the Southern Conference from the one or two-win teams of a few years back, the Mocs aren't anything more than fodder for the Bulls in Week 1. Expect a huge USF victory.

    South Florida 41, Chattanooga 6

Northwestern at Syracuse

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    The Syracuse Orange will begin their final season as a member of the Big East with a visit from Northwestern.

    The Wildcats are looking for their fourth-straight trip to a bowl game in 2012 but will have to embark on that campaign without all-around stud quarterback Dan Persa.

    Even with Persa, Northwestern proved to be an inconsistent-at-best team in the Big Ten and has had trouble outside of conference play over the years.

    Syracuse, as we all know, was the bane of the Big East last season, knocking off West Virginia for the only conference win for the Orange in 2011.

    While Northwestern won't be the same team without Persa, the Wildcats should have enough remaining Big Ten talent to handle Syracuse. But it will be close.

    Northwestern 28, Syracuse 24

Western Michigan at Illinois

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    Ron Zook is finally out as head coach at Illinois after never really living up to the expectations of Illini fans.

    New head coach Tim Beckman will have plenty of returning talent in Champaign this fall, with 15 returning starters from a 2011 squad that began the season 6-0.

    The main objective will be to avoid the collapse of the second half of the season, when the Illini went 0-6, becoming the first team in FBS history to finish 6-6 after a 6-0 start.

    If there's one group of teams with which Beckman is familiar, it has to be MAC teams. Beckman spent the last three seasons as the head coach of the Toledo Rockets from the MAC-West. Illinois's first opponent in 2012 is Western Michigan, also from the MAC-West.

    The Broncos have been a rather bland MAC team over the past few seasons, and WMU finished 2011 with a 7-6 record, which has become about par in Kalamazoo.

    While Western Michigan is capable of playing some pretty good football, the Broncos have struggled against top-tier programs, and one has to question their stamina for 60 minutes against any Big Ten opponent.

    While Illinois narrowly escaped the Broncos last season, winning 23-20, it's doubtful whether this season's game will be anywhere near as close.

    Illinois 28, Western Michigan 14

FCS Indiana State at Indiana

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    Here's a matchup many people in the Hoosier State might like to see, but it doesn't happen very often.

    The Sycamores will finally get a crack at the Hoosiers this fall, as the two teams open the 2012 season with an in-state clash in Bloomington.

    This will be just the fourth meeting between the two programs, and not surprisingly, Indiana has won all three prior meetings by a combined score of 119-10.

    Neither Indiana nor Indiana State are considered quality programs in either of their respective conferences, but that doesn't mean we won't see a rare dominating performance by the Hoosiers.

    If you're looking for a display of what an FBS program can do to a similarly-situated FCS program, tune in to this one.

    Indiana 45, Indiana State 3

Northern Illinois vs. Iowa

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    In another MAC-Big Ten game, the Northern Illinois Huskies will play host to Iowa at Soldier Field in Chicago on opening Saturday this fall.

    Northern Illinois is coming off of yet another 11-win season in 2011 and will look to defend their MAC title.

    Iowa will try to rise again in the Big Ten, although the Hawkeyes never seem to quite get over the proverbial hump in the conference.

    With 13 starters returning next season, Iowa will have plenty of new faces to help out, but head coach Kirk Ferentz has been as yet unable to produce any sustained success.

    Iowa may still come out on top in this one, but they'll have their hands full.

    Iowa 35, Northern Illinois 31

Minnesota at Nevada-Las Vegas

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    The hapless Minnesota Golden Gophers travel west once again for the season opener, but this time, the opponent won't be nearly as strong as the USC Trojans.

    The UNLV Rebels will host Minnesota on Thursday, August 30, and if you tune in, you'll be “treated” to a game between two teams with a combined record of 5-19 from last season (UNLV was 2-10 while Minnesota was 3-9).

    We'd like to be able to say that there's some special storyline that will make this game interesting or exciting, but that's really not the case. Neither the Gophers nor the Rebels are expected to be much of a threat in the Big Ten or Mountain West this season, respectively, and it would be a stretch to even imagine these two teams in a bowl game come December.

    In reality, the winning team will likely be the team that's the least bad of the two.

    Minnesota 31, UNLV 19

Southern Mississippi at Nebraska

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    Southern Mississippi certainly surprised many last season by capturing the Conference USA title after we had all figuratively engraved “Houston Cougars” on the trophy.

    But the Golden Eagles will return just 11 combined starters from last season's C-USA championship effort, and Southern Miss will be in very hostile territory to start 2012.

    Lincoln, Nebraska is one of the most difficult places for visitors to play a football game. Even so, the Cornhuskers had a trying first season in the Big Ten, losing to Northwestern in Lincoln while dropping embarrassingly lopsided decisions to Wisconsin and Michigan on the road.

    Bo Pelini and his Huskers should now be well-acclimated to the Big Ten, and we are expecting an increase in wins in 2012, especially with 16 returning starters.

    Nebraska 45, Southern Mississippi 17

Miami University at Ohio State

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    It's been a really, really long time since Ohio State has lost to another football team from the state of Ohio. That may be because most of the other programs are members of the lowly MAC.

    The Buckeyes will start their bowl-less 2012 season when they welcome the Miami Redhawks to Ohio Stadium on September 1. While we'd like to say that Miami has some kind of chance to knock off the Buckeyes, it just wouldn't be true.

    Even if we set aside the fact that Ohio State returns 19 starters from last season's less-than-spectacular team, the fact remains that it's just too hard to envision an Urban Meyer-coached team losing to a MAC program.

    On top of that, the MAC team in question was a pretty bad 4-8 Miami team from last season.

    Ohio State 45, Miami University 10

Ohio at Penn State

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    A new era in Penn State football begins in 2012, and for the first time in over half a century, Joe Paterno will not be leading the Nittany Lions out onto the field in a season opener.

    In what is sure to be an emotionally-charged game—the first since the passing of JoePa—the Nittany Lions will do everything to do their old coach proud.

    While Penn State only returns 10 starters from 2011, that may not be such a bad thing, considering how anemic the numbers were for the Lions last season.

    Penn State will face a feisty Ohio Bobcats team that is coming off a 10-win season for the first time in over 40 years (Ohio was 10-1 in 1968).

    While Ohio came up just short against Northern Illinois in last season's MAC Championship Game, the Bobcats were able to defeat Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

    It's difficult to imagine anything but an amazing effort from the Bobcats as being enough to defeat Penn State on any given Saturday, and Bill O'Brien's debut game as head coach of the defending Big Ten Leaders Division co-champions probably won't be one of those “given” Saturdays.

    Penn State 35, Ohio 10

FCS Eastern Kentucky at Purdue

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    The Purdue Boilermakers welcome the FCS Eastern Kentucky Colonels to West Lafayette for the opening game of the 2012 season.

    The Colonels have been a steadily-improving team in the Ohio Valley Conference over the past few seasons, and Eastern Kentucky finished with a 7-5 record last year.

    We've also seen some improvements from the Boilermakers, and you can be sure they won't let an upset from Eastern Kentucky spoil what could be another step back towards competitiveness in the Big Ten.

    Purdue 31, Eastern Kentucky 10

FCS Northern Iowa at Wisconsin

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    The defending Big Ten champs will need to put the memory of two-straight Rose Bowl losses behind them pretty quickly if there's any hope of a three-peat trip to Pasadena this season.

    Wisconsin will host a pretty good FCS Northern Iowa squad on September 1, and the Panthers are no push-over from the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

    Northern Iowa was 6-1 last season in the difficult MVFC, capturing a share of the conference title and earning a playoff berth.

    The Panthers made their their exit from the playoffs in the second round, but UNI would jump at the chance to get off on the right foot towards a third-straight playoff berth with a massive upset against Wisconsin.

    In order to do that, the Panthers will need to figure out a way to knock off a Big Ten team with 11 returning starters from 2011. While that may not seem like a big number when it comes to competing against other top FBS programs, there is enough returning experience in the defensive backfield to keep most any FCS program at bay (Wisconsin loses one linebacker, one corner and one safety from 2011).

    This game will likely be a lot closer than many Badger fans would like, but Wisconsin will still emerge victorious.

    Wisconsin 34, Northern Iowa 24

FCS Appalachian State at East Carolina

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    In most FBS football fans' minds, Appalachian State is the program that knocked off then-No. 5 Michigan in Ann Arbor back in 2007.

    With that one factoid in mind, most still believe the Mountaineers are capable of beating any FBS team on any field on any day.

    While that's probably a technically true statement for any FCS-FBS game, Appy State just isn't the same dominating FCS program it was in the middle of the last decade.

    Appalachian State won 11-or-more games each season from 2005 to 2009, including a trifecta of NCAA National Championships from 2005 to 2007.

    But since that last title, the Mountaineers are 4-4 in the post-season, and last season's 8-4 team was knocked out in the first round of the playoffs.

    The Mountaineers also fell 66-13 at Virginia Tech last season.

    While we won't be fooled into thinking East Carolina is anywhere near a Top 25 team, it's clear that Appalachian State isn't anywhere near the giant-killer team it was a few years ago.

    East Carolina 35, Appalachian State 17

Texas State at Houston

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    The Houston Cougars will soon realize that life after Case Keenum isn't all its cracked up to be.

    The record-breaking, do-it-all quarterback has played his final snap for the Cougars, and life will be forced to go on without him.

    Houston will clearly be a different team in 2012, and there won't be any delusions of BCS invitations this season.

    That being said, Houston will be hosting one of the four new FBS programs in 2012 for the season opener. Texas State has joined the FBS and the WAC this season, but beyond that, don't expect many headlines from the Bobcats.

    At best, the Bobcats were a mediocre FCS program, putting up a 6-6 record last season. A step up in class won't do any instant favors for their record, and Houston—as depleted as it is—should still be able to handle this in-state upstart.

    Houston 28, Texas State 6

FCS Tennessee-Martin at Memphis

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    With the recent lack of success for Memphis (five wins in the previous three seasons), we might start seeing a few more FCS opponents on the schedule.

    In fact, two of those five wins for the Tigers have come against FCS teams (including UT-Martin in 2009).

    The Skyhawks were 5-6 last season out of the Ohio Valley Conference, which doesn't exactly scream success, especially against FBS programs. Even a program with the difficulties of Memphis was able to knock off the Skyhawks by 27 points the last time they met.

    You can expect a similar result this time around. On a side note, you might even be able to expect more than two wins this season for Memphis, too. Hey, they can't be terrible forever, right?

    Memphis 38, UT-Martin 12

UCLA at Rice

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    It seems like UCLA really likes the state of Texas early in the season.

    The Bruins will make yet another trip to the Lone Star State this fall, this time to take on Rice.

    Even after winning the Pac-12 South Division title last season, UCLA fired head coach Rick Neuheisel, and Jim Mora has been tapped as his replacement.

    Don't expect any more losses to Conference USA teams for the Bruins under Mora. While it's hard to imagine UCLA as a Top-25 team in 2011, it's even harder to imagine a 4-8 Rice team improving so much over the offseason as to be able to challenge the Bruins.

    UCLA 35, Rice 13

Troy at Alabama-Birmingham

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    It's hard to get too worked up about a game between two 3-9 teams from two BCS non-AQ conferences, so we'll understand if you don't spend too much time thinking about this one between the Troy Trojans and UAB Blazers.

    While each team has its fair share of returning starters, neither has much chance of making a quantum leap in terms of success this fall.

    UAB has been hovering near the bottom of the Conference USA standings for as long as many people can remember, and Troy had an absolutely abysmal 2011 season, failing to live up to their usually-high expectations.

    In fact, it was the first losing season for the Trojans since 2005.

    Was 2011 just a blip on the radar screen, or did it signal the start of a prolonged downturn for the Trojans?

    That is yet to be determined, but Troy should still manage to find a way past the always hapless Blazers, and it won't be as close as last season's 24-23 Troy win.

    Troy 28, UAB 20

Central Florida at Akron

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    What could be better? A 5-7 team from Conference USA traveling to a 1-11 MAC team.

    Central Florida might as well have scheduled an FCS program for all the resistance it will get from Akron.

    The Zips were just horrible last season, getting their lone win against an FCS program. In fact, it was the second-straight season the Zips finished 1-11, and they just seem to be stuck in the MAC mud.

    Central Florida 28, Akron 14

Washington State at Brigham Young

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    After an impressive 10-3 season in 2011, BYU is looking to improve in its second season as an FBS independent. With 16 returning starters, including every offensive skill-position player, that's a distinct possibility.

    Washington State will be returning a fair number of starters as well, but the big story is the hiring of new head coach Mike Leach. Washington State has been improving slowly but surely, and Leach is expected to take the program to the next level: a return to competitiveness in the Pac-12.

    BYU 28, Washington State 17

Bowling Green State at Florida

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    It wasn't exactly the greatest of debuts in Florida football history, but Will Muschamp is just getting started in Gainesville.

    With 18 starters returning in 2012, you can expect the Gators to be back in top form, and UF will be right in the thick of things for an SEC-East title this season.

    The first victim for the Gators will be lowly Bowling Green State from the MAC.

    While BGSU isn't the worst football team you'll ever see, there's absolutely nothing spectacular about the Falcons, and they have virtually no shot of walking into The Swamp and walking out with a win.

    Florida 45, Bowling Green State 17

Buffalo at Georgia

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    The Georgia Bulldogs embark on their SEC-East title defense with a season-opening game against the Buffalo Bulls.

    The University at Buffalo has provided fans with just five wins over the past two seasons, and with Georgia returning 15 starters, including quarterback Aaron Murray, the Bulls will be lucky if they're not completely embarrassed in Athens.

    Georgia 49, Buffalo 10

FCS Southeast Missouri State at Central Michigan

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    Central Michigan just hasn't been the same since Brian Kelly left town.

    It's not the only program that can make that claim, but after five seasons, it's time for the Chippewas to get up off of the mat.

    After back-to-back 3-9 seasons, CMU is looking much like the team Kelly took over in 2004. A return to the MAC basement was quick once Heisman candidate Dan LeFevour graduated, and there likely isn't another genie in the bottle for the Chips.

    Still, Central Michigan should be able to get a win against FCS Southeast Missouri State. The Redhawks have been as terrible in the Ohio Valley Conference as CMU was in the MAC last season, finishing with a 3-8 record.

    Central Michigan 38, Southeast Missouri State 3

FCS Towson at Kent State

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    The Towson Tigers enjoyed one of the biggest turnarounds in recent FCS history. After finishing 1-10 in 2010, the Tigers put together a 9-3 campaign that resulted in a Colonial Athletic Association championship and berth in the FCS playoffs.

    Kent State, on the other hand, finished 5-7, which was still good enough for a third-place finish in the MAC-East with a 4-4 conference mark.

    While Towson may be as good as some of the worst MAC teams, Kent State is probably a few rungs removed from that distinction.

    Kent State 33, Towson 25

FCS Villanova at Temple

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    Villanova and Temple square off again in a rare rivalry that crosses NCAA divisional borders.

    Sure, Temple may be able to hand out a few more scholarships than Villanova, but the series hasn't been all about Owls victories.

    As recently as 2009, the Wildcats knocked off Temple, 27-24. The 2010 meeting between these two programs was also decided by one score, this time with Temple winning, 31-24.

    Surprisingly, Villanova still holds the edge in this series, 15-14-2. But after last season's blowout win by Temple, (42-7), it looks like the FBS program in this series might finally be poised to even things up.

    Temple 35, Villanova 21

Toledo at Arizona

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    The Arizona Wildcats are hoping that the hiring of Rich Rodriguez will translate into some new-found success.

    That might not be as easy as expected as the Wildcats host the Toledo Rockets in the 2012 season opener.

    At first glance, one might not think a team from the MAC has much hope against a Pac-12 program like Arizona. But the Wildcats have been pretty terrible lately, and the Rockets sure know how to score points in a hurry.

    Last season, Toledo scored 42-or-more points eight times, including 54-or-more four times. The Rockets beat Western Michigan 66-63 while losing to Northern Illinois, 63-60 in 2011 (imagine scoring 60 points and losing). The real question in this game isn't whether or not Toledo can win, but whether or not Arizona can keep up with the high-octane Rockets.

    Toledo 41, Arizona 38

FCS Idaho State at Air Force

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    After taking home the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for the second-straight season, the Air Force Falcons will get things underway in 2012 by hosting FCS Idaho State.

    The Idaho State Bengals are the quintessential FCS losing program, failing to win more than two games at any point over the last four seasons.

    The Bengals actually have just five wins in four years, and playing in one of the highest football stadiums in the nation against a team as good as Air Force certainly won't provide any more wins for Idaho State.

    Expect Air Force to have this one wrapped up very early on.

    Air Force 42, Idaho State 0

Colorado State vs. Colorado

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    The season gets underway in the Rocky Mountains with this in-state grudge match between two old rivals at Mile High Stadium in Denver.

    Both teams combined for just six wins last season, with the Rams finishing tied for last place in the Mountain West and the Buffaloes tied for last place in the Pac-12.

    While the end of the season may be frustratingly similar for both programs in 2012, the opening week should provide us with some fireworks.

    With both programs seemingly evenly matched, we're going to surmise that the Buffaloes will use some of their experience gained from their first season in the Pac-12 to find a way to knock off the Rams for the third-straight season.

    Colorado 28, Colorado State 17

FCS Weber State at Fresno State

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    The Weber State Wildcats will head to Fresno, California for a game against the Fresno State Bulldogs on Saturday, September 1.

    The Wildcats are coming off of a 5-6 (5-3 Big Sky) 2011 season.

    The Bulldogs from Fresno were a disappointing 4-9 (3-4 WAC) last season and will be moving to the Mountain West for 2012, again meeting up with rival Boise State.

    While the poor showing from the Bulldogs was unusual, the switch to the MWC won't necessarily provide them with any different outcomes. With the addition of Nevada and Hawai'i to the MWC in 2012, the conference bares a striking resemblance to the WAC of just a few seasons ago.

    Still, don't expect a 5-6 team from the FCS to be pulling any surprising upsets this September.

    Fresno State 38, Weber State 9

Nevada at California

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    Nevada will open the 2012 season with a trip just west to Berkeley, California to take on the Cal Golden Bears.

    Both teams finished with identical 7-6 marks last season, and neither team has made much noise this offseason. While Nevada has certainly shown the potential to be a thorn in the side of teams from power conferences over the years, the Wolf Pack have really fallen off from their heyday of just a couple seasons ago.

    While this game may not be flashy, you should expect a Cal win.

    California 31, Nevada 24

FCS Southern at New Mexico

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    There no way to sugar coat this. New Mexico is without question one of the worst teams in the entire FBS.

    It doesn't take a rocket scientist or University of New Mexico graduate to figure out that something smells in Albuquerque, and it's not the local cuisine.

    The Lobos have been so bad, they've won just three games in three years—including a loss to FCS Sam Houston State last season.

    The Southern University Jaguars have fallen recently from their usual dominant performances, but last season's 4-7 record was an improvement over 2010.

    The Jaguars aren't quite back to the glory years of SWAC championships and Heritage Bowl invites, but a win against even a laughable FBS program might be just the shot in the arm the program needs.

    This one will be close.

    New Mexico 28, Southern 27

San Diego State at Washington

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    Last season, we all expected a little drop in the performance of the Huskies, mainly due to the loss of quarterback Jake Locker.

    Funny enough, that didn't happen. In fact, the Huskies finished with an identical 7-6 record. With 16 returning starters for 2012, is an eight-win season too much for a Washington fan to hope for?

    A good first step will be a win against San Diego State to start the season.

    The Aztecs finished 8-5 (5-2 MWC) last season, which wasn't at all terrible, but the team just didn't seem to perform at the same level it did under former head coach Brady Hoke.

    While many San Diego State fans will enter this game believing their team has a legit shot at knocking off the Huskies, Washington will end that fantasy in relatively short order.

    Washington 35, San Diego State 17

FCS Northern Arizona at Arizona State

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    To say that 2011 was a bitter disappointment for Arizona State is probably a massive understatement.

    A team that was widely believed to be capable of blasting through the Pac-12 South Division en route to the conference title game fell remarkably flat as the season wore on.

    Instead of a shot at a conference title, the Sun Devils wound up playing Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl and finished with a 6-7 record.

    Dennis Erickson was fired, and the Sun Devils will likely have to start over, nearly from scratch.

    But 2012 is as good a place to start as any, and Northern Arizona comes to town for the season opener, which should give Arizona State ample opportunity to start the season out with a win.

    The Lumberjacks were just 4-7 last season (3-5 Big Sky) and shouldn't provide much more than passing fascination for the Sun Devils.

    Arizona State 38, Northern Arizona 14

Arkansas State at Oregon

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    After losing the 2011 season opener against LSU, it looks as if the Ducks have learned their lesson. Instead of seeking out a top opponent for the 2012 opener, Oregon has instead invited the Arkansas State Red Wolves to Eugene for a beatdown.

    And, yes, it will be a beatdown.

    Arkansas State may have impressed a few people last season with its 10-3 Sun Belt championship performance, but the Red Wolves were still beaten by Northern Illinois in the GoDaddy.com Bowl, exposing the fatal weakness of even the top teams from the “lesser” conferences.

    Oregon is returning 14 starters and will likely be a preseason top-five team. There's no real shot for the Wolves to upset the Ducks, especially in Eugene.

    Oregon 48, Arkansas State 13

FCS Nicholls State at Oregon State

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    When an FCS program that was 1-10 a season ago comes to play an FBS program, even one with questionable 3-9 credentials, the smart money goes to the FBS team.

    It's doubtful anyone will even be taking bets for this one, but if they are, the smart bet is on the Beavers.

    The Colonels from Nicholls State had just one win to their credit last season, and that one win came against—get this—an NAIA program! That's right. The Colonels' only win of 2011 came against the Evangel University Crusades from the Heart of America Conference in the NAIA. There is almost no chance—none—that the Colonels will be getting a win in Corvallis this fall.

    Oregon State 56, Nicholls State 6

San Jose State at Stanford

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    The Cardinal did not win the Pac-12 title in 2011, in fact they didn't even win their division. There was a BCS bowl, but the Cardinal lost. And perhaps worst of all, the player we were all led to believe was the best ever, Andrew Luck, didn't win the Heisman Trophy.

    In a lot of ways, 2011 was a season of disappointment.

    Now that Luck is taking his talents to the NFL, many might wonder how much hope there is for 2012 and beyond.

    But don't count Stanford out quite yet. The Cardinal still have a solid group of talent returning this season, especially on defense, and the 14 starters that do return will be eager to prove that the team was more than just Andrew Luck and “the rest of the guys.”

    The Cardinal will get their first opportunity against neighboring San Jose State. While this “road” game for the Spartans may not be the most grueling of the upcoming season, it's doubtful that they'll be able to get anywhere close to knocking off the Cardinal.

    Stanford 35, San Jose State 13

FCS Northern Colorado at Utah

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    It wasn't all that long ago that Utah was fighting for BCS spots as a member of the Mountain West Conference. With some hard work and a little luck, it might not be long before the Utes are making another BCS trip, now that they're part of the Pac-12.

    The main opposition for Utah this season will be USC, a team to which Utah narrowly lost in 2011.

    But the first opponent for the Utes in 2012 will be Northern Colorado from the Big Sky Conference.

    The Bears were 0-11 last season, even managing to lost to new NCAA Division II program Lindenwood (in the Lions' first NCAA season since moving from the NAIA).

    Utah will have no trouble tossing aside the Bears.

    Utah 49, Northern Colorado 10

FCS Jacksonville State at Arkansas

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    The Jacksonville State Gamecocks will be the annual FCS sacrifice to an SEC team this season, and you can bet that Arkansas will take every opportunity to get in one last, good practice before the “real” season begins.

    Arkansas should be a top-10 team to start 2012, and with 13 returning starters from a 2011 team that only lost two games (to Alabama and LSU, no less), another run at the SEC-West isn't completely out of the question.

    Arkansas 42, Jacksonville State 14

North Texas at Louisiana State

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    No more epic battles against fellow top-five teams to start the year for LSU.

    Despite launching themselves into the national championship conversation with one win in Week 1 last season, LSU has chosen the less-difficult yet oft-traveled route of scheduling a comparatively weak opponent to beat up on in Week 1.

    While Les Miles has just 11 combined returning starters from last season's SEC championship team, there's no doubt that LSU is absolutely loaded with talent—far more than a match for poor North Texas.

    LSU 38, North Texas 14

FCS Jackson State at Mississippi State

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    Jackson State will make the short trip to Starkville to take on Mississippi State in a game that should be over pretty quickly.

    While Mississippi State had a bitterly disappointing 2011 season and head coach Dan Mullen may soon be feeling the heat on his backside, there's little question that the Bulldogs and their 15 returning starters should make quick work of the Tigers.

    Mississippi State 42, Jackson State 9

FCS Central Arkansas at Mississippi

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    It wasn't all that long ago Central Arkansas was running rampant through the Gulf South Conference in Division II. But after moving to the FCS in 2006, the Bears didn't take long to find their way into the playoffs. In just their second season of postseason eligibility, Central Arkansas put up a 9-4 (7-1 Southland) record, which included a trip to the playoffs that ended in the second round.

    While Central Arkansas will again be considered a threat in the Southland Conference, they don't pose much of a threat to any SEC team, even one bad as Ole Miss.

    The Rebels won just two games last season, none of which were against fellow SEC teams.

    That being said, we're still talking about a deep south SEC program, and while Central Arkansas will be competitive, there's little chance we'll see the Bears do the unthinkable.

    Ole Miss 35, Central Arkansas 24

Texas A&M at Louisiana Tech

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    Thursday, August 30, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    It's not often you see an SEC team travel to a non-AQ conference opponent for a game, but this will be the second time in as many seasons that Louisiana Tech will host an SEC opponent at home.

    This year, it will be the SEC newbies from Texas A&M.

    The Aggies are under the direction of new head coach Kevin Sumlin, who comes over from Houston after guiding the Cougars to an impressive 13-1 season in 2011.

    Sumlin will be tasked with improving the Aggies from their 7-6 mark of a season ago into a team that has a chance of being competitive in the SEC.

    His task will be made much easier with the return of 17 starters.

    The defending WAC champions, Louisiana Tech, were on the cusp of some very impressive wins last season against Mississippi State and TCU but came up just short on both occasions. Still, the Bulldogs can be very dangerous if you're not prepared, and Texas A&M might find the Bulldogs to be quite the handful.

    Texas A&M 38, Louisiana Tech 28

FCS McNeese State at Middle Tennessee State

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    It's hard to get worked up for a game between a 2-10 program like Middle Tennessee State and a 6-5 FCS program like McNeese State.

    If Middle Tennessee has any hope of improving upon last season's terrible record, a lot of work needs to be done in preparing for McNeese State. While the Cowboys don't look particularly menacing, they are historically one of the top programs in the Southland Conference. They won't roll over just because MTSU is an FBS program.

    Middle Tennessee State 28, McNeese State 24

Texas-San Antonio at South Alabama

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    If you really are hoping to see some of the new FBS blood this season, you are going to want to check this game out.

    This will be our first FBS glimpse of both of these programs as they make their debut in the bowl subdivision.

    The Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners will be joining the WAC in 2012 and have played just one season of football in their history. Last season, as an FCS independent, the Roadrunners put up a record of 5-5.

    South Alabama has had a slightly longer history of football—two legitimate seasons. While the Jaguars were undefeated (10-0) in their first season of football, they played perhaps the weakest collection of Division II and shoddy FCS programs anyone could possibly assemble. Last season, the Jaguars played a more respectable schedule and finished with a 6-4 record.

    This game will be a rematch from last season, a game South Alabama won, 30-27. Expect UTSA to really pour it on this year, hoping to get a win in their first-ever game against an FBS opponent, sort of.

    UTSA 34, South Alabama 31

FCS Lamar at Louisiana (Lafayette)

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    For the first time since 1970, Louisiana-Lafayette put together a nine-win season, and the Ragin' Cajuns will be looking to maintain some of that momentum heading into 2012.

    What better way to do that then to schedule a bland FCS program in Week 1?

    Lamar isn't anything special, as the Cardinals finished 2011 with a weak 4-7 mark (2-6 Southland).

    If you're looking for FCS upsets over FBS programs, you won't find it when Lamar takes on Lafayette.

    Louisiana 38, Lamar 10

FCS Austin Peay at Western Kentucky

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    Back in the day (as in the 1990s), Austin Peay and Western Kentucky used to tangle on a yearly basis.

    That all ended when Western Kentucky moved to the Ohio Valley Conference, before finding its way into the FBS and Sun Belt Conference.

    Western Kentucky still holds a massive advantage in this series, 34-6-1, and that's not likely to get any closer for the Governors this season. Western Kentucky will be more than a match for Austin Peay, especially since the Hilltoppers seem to have finally found their FBS footing.

    For the first time since becoming an FBS program, WKU was able to string together multiple wins and finished 2011 with a 7-5 record, which included a 7-1 Sun Belt mark, good enough for second place.

    Still, the Hilltoppers were snubbed by the various bowl selection committees—probably because even a seven-win WKU team still couldn't attract fans to home football games, much less any measurable television audience.

    Western Kentucky 38, Austin Peay 17

FCS Eastern Washington at Idaho

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    We're a year removed from Eastern Washington's impressive run through the FCS playoffs en route to a NCAA National Championship, and this game won't be taking place on the really cool red turf EWU had installed a few seasons back.

    But the Kibbie Dome is a pretty unique environment for FBS football, and we're going to see a pretty bad FBS program host a decent FCS program.

    When you take into consideration that this game won't get much, if any, national attention, it could be just the opportunity needed for a team like Eastern Washington to steal a win.

    Eastern Washington 31, Idaho 27

FCS Sacramento State at New Mexico State

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    We'd be remiss if we didn't mention how bad New Mexico State is considering how we ridicule New Mexico, but four wins in a heckuva lot better than one.

    Four wins, by the way, is exactly the number of wins the Sacramento State Hornets were able to accumulate in 2011.

    In a battle of four-win teams, the FBS program should prevail, and the Aggies will find a way to come out on top in this game.

    Unfortunately, that won't be a common statement in 2012 for New Mexico State.

    New Mexico State 28, Sacramento State 10

FCS Southern Utah at Utah State

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    If you're an FBS program looking for the closest thing to a guaranteed football victory, you might try calling up the Southern Utah Thunderbirds.

    Besides having one of the cooler nicknames in the NCAA, the Thunderbirds have little else to offer when it comes to football.

    When you constantly get drubbed by FBS bottom-feeders like UNLV and San Jose State, one has to imagine that the paycheck is the only reason to play any more.

    Southern Utah and Utah State have actually met before, and Utah State won both meetings.

    The last meeting was in 2009, when the Aggies won, 53-34.

    We believe Utah State has improved remarkably since then, and the 7-6 team from last season will put up a similar number of points on the Thunderbirds this time around but will allow far fewer.

    Utah State 49, Southern Utah 17

Kentucky at Louisville

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    This game could certainly provide some season-opening excitement, at least for college football fans in the state of Kentucky.

    The Wildcats make the trip to Louisville to take on the Cardinals in this in-state battle between a defending co-champion of the Big East and an also-ran from the SEC looking to make amends.

    Louisville came out on top last season in Lexington, 24-17, and this season appears to be shaping up to be just as close.

    While Kentucky may not have the firepower to really compete in the SEC, the Wildcats are more than capable of putting up points against any Big East opponent.

    But Kentucky will have to contend with 17 returning Louisville starters, including nine on a defensive unit that held the Wildcats to just 17 points last season.

    Louisville also has a chance at a BCS bowl this season, with a weakened Big East conference. A win against Kentucky will be an important part of building much-needed momentum before the conference schedule begins.

    Louisville 28, Kentucky 17

Southern Methodist at Baylor

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    It was quite a treat to watch Robert Griffin, III guide the Baylor Bears to win after win last season, and RG3 walked away with a much-deserved Heisman reward for his performance.

    But one of the biggest reasons voters gave for naming Griffin their top candidate was the massive contribution he made to a team that was otherwise pretty mediocre.

    Well, it's a new season, and Griffin is off to the NFL. Where does that leave Baylor?

    Quite frankly, the Bears will be left with quite a challenge in the new-look Big 12 in 2012. The season gets off with a quick, in-state clash with an improving SMU squad.

    If any Big 12 or Baylor fans out there think SMU doesn't have much of a chance against Baylor in Week 1, you just need to talk to TCU fans to find out how dangerous SMU can be.

    It's been a long, long road back for SMU since the self-inflicted disaster of the late 1980s, and the Mustangs are ready for a few more signature wins.

    Knocking off an in-state Big 12 program coming off of a successful season will provide just the boost June Jones is looking for, as he looks to guide SMU to its first Conference USA title and first bowl win since the death penalty.

    Baylor may be returning 15 starters, but those 15 players combined can't amount to what one player like Griffin could produce and that could be the Bears' undoing.

    Southern Methodist 35, Baylor 31

NC State vs. Tennessee

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    Friday, August 31, Time TBA, ESPNU

    As part of the kick-off week festivities, we're going to be treated to an early SEC-ACC matchup, and like the Clemson-Auburn game, this one will take place at the Georgia Dome.

    The Volunteers seem to have been stuck in a rut as of late, but 2012 will provide a real opportunity to break out of the doldrums, as 19 starters return from the 2011 squad. While the SEC isn't the easiest conference in which to make sudden leaps to greatness, a strong first step for Tennessee isn't out of question in 2012.

    NC State will start 2012 with 15 returning starters and likely a similar season outlook to Tennessee. The Wolf Pack finished last season in typical, middle-of-the-ACC-road fashion, and will need something special from their returners to really make a move in the conference in 2012.

    While not the most exciting kickoff matchup, it should provide us with a good barometer of where each team stands moving forward.

    Tennessee 31, North Carolina State 27

Boise State at Michigan State

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    In one of the more interesting games over the opening weekend, longtime BCS crasher Boise State will make yet another journey east to face a team at or near the top of a BCS AQ conference.

    This year, Boise State will travel to East Lansing to face the Spartans of Michigan State.

    Unlike the previous two seasons, Boise State will be without the bulk of starters from the previous season, as the Broncos returns just nine combined starters for a season ago.

    While it's probably too soon to write the epitaph for the Broncos, this meeting with a resurrected Michigan State program could turn out much differently for BSU than their previous meetings with Virginia Tech and Georgia.

    But it's not going to be all roses for the Spartans,either. Head coach Mark Dantonio will need a little luck from a massively inexperienced offense in 2012. MSU is returning just five offensive starters, only one of whom (running back Leveon Bell) lines up at a skill position.

    The Spartans defense will be in better shape with eight starters back from a year ago.

    There are a lot of questions we'll have answered by both teams on September 1.

    Michigan State 31, Boise State 27

Clemson vs. Auburn

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    Saturday, September 1, 4 pm, EDT, TV Coverage TBA

    Yes, we're going to see another meeting between Auburn and Clemson, and this time, it's going to be on a neutral field.

    The previous two seasons, each team has won its respective home game, with Clemson getting the better of Auburn in 2011.

    Heading into 2012, you can expect both teams to grace the preseason Top 25, but where each collection of Tigers will fall is pure speculation at this point.

    Auburn lost quite a few starters after the 2010 national championship season yet still managed to win eight games in the cut-throat SEC West. This season, Auburn will have 18 returning starters, so it might be safe to expect some big things in 2012.

    Clemson returns 14 starters from last season's ACC Championship team, but the losses include nearly the entire offensive line.

    Clemson surprised many last season but won't be sneaking up on anyone early in 2012.

    Combined with some of the losses, Clemson may once again find itself slightly overmatched against a more experienced Auburn squad.

    Auburn 28, Clemson 24

Navy vs. Notre Dame

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    Saturday, September 1, Time TBA, CBS

    In what is sure to be a massive spectacle, the annual rivalry between Navy and Notre Dame takes on an international flavor in 2012, as the Fighting Irish will host the Midshipmen in Dublin, Ireland.

    The expectations are big for Brian Kelly and the Irish this season, and eight wins probably won't cut it for the third-straight season.

    Kelly isn't doing nearly a bad enough job to have his job in jeopardy and Notre Dame knew that there were no quick fixes when Kelly was brought on board, but with 15 returning starters next season and the emergence of Kelly's own recruits, Notre Dame fans will be expecting to see an uptick soon.

    Navy, on the other hand, missed a bowl game last season for the first time since 2002. Ken Niumatalolo has one of the toughest jobs in the FBS, and competing every week against programs with bigger, stronger players eventually takes its toll. While the Midshipmen have had some success against Notre Dame, those days are likely over.

    The Irish will put on quite a show for the Irish, and Notre Dame will carry the day.

    Notre Dame 38, Navy 17

Hawai'i at Southern California

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    The Hawai'i Warriors are moving to the Mountain West Conference for 2012, but before they get that far, they'll have to tangle with one of the top teams in the nation, the USC Trojans.

    USC is difficult enough to beat on the road, but heading to the Coliseum and knocking off the Trojans is a monstrous task for even Top-25 teams—something Hawai'i is decidedly not.

    Add to the fact that Lane Kiffin will have 16 starters back this season, including quarterback Matt Barkley, and it looks like it will be a long flight back to Oah'u for the Warriors.

    USC 45, Hawai'i 13

South Carolina at Vanderbilt

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    Thursday, August 30, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    We'll get an early jump on the SEC season when South Carolina travels to Vanderbilt in this rare August SEC East showdown.

    The Gamecocks just missed their second-straight SEC East title last season, but with 14 starters returning, including Marcus Lattimore, you can expect the Gamecocks to debut somewhere near the top 10 at the start of the next season.

    South Carolina will be eager to show that they're back in SEC-East Championship form, and Vanderbilt will be on the receiving end of some impressive displays we've come to expect from Lattimore (when he's healthy).

    South Carolina 35, Vanderbilt 21

Michigan vs. Alabama

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    In what will likely be the biggest Week 1 game of 2012, the defending Sugar Bowl Champion Michigan Wolverines will take on the defending BCS Champion Alabama Crimson Tide at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

    In what is easily the game of the week, these two top-10 heavyweights will each have something to prove in this pivotal season-opening clash.

    For Alabama, it's all about avoiding that post-championship hangover.

    The Tide missed out on the SEC title last season, but were (somewhat controversially) selected to play in the BCS National Championship Game against a team they had already lost to earlier in the season.

    Giving credence to the argument that it's really hard to beat a really good team twice in one season, Alabama emerged victorious and claimed the BCS crown.

    Michigan, for its part, had a renaissance of sorts in 2011.

    First-year head coach Brady Hoke restored much of the glory of Michigan teams past and gave Wolverine fans ample reason to forget Rich Rod-what's-his-name.

    Although Michigan also failed to capture a conference title last season, the Maize and Blue were rewarded anyhow with a BCS invite.

    The Wolverines topped Virginia Tech despite star quarterback Denard Robinson being held in check by the Hokies.

    That may turn out to be the key to Michigan's strategy against Alabama.

    There's no doubt that the Crimson Tide defense will be up to the task of keeping an always-dangerous Robinson in check. But if the Wolverines can find a way to produce without huge numbers from Robinson (like they did in the Sugar Bowl), Alabama may find this Michigan team to be a little more difficult to defeat than last season's Penn State team—which was pretty offensively-challenged.

    Michigan 21, Alabama 19