The 10 Toughest Opening Week Games in College Football

Dan Vasta@CI_StatsGuruSenior Writer IIIApril 26, 2012

The 10 Toughest Opening Week Games in College Football

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    The season opening weekend in college football will once again feature a few grueling games that should be quite entertaining.

    Most will be entertained off the field because the pure joy of the sport is remarkable. So much pageantry is filled in these games, but the players take a good licking in the process.

    It is easier to comment on the sport when you aren't getting physically beat up, and so many of these opening games will test the health and overall depth that these teams have.

    In sports many people talk about how once a team gets knocked around, it is all about the response and what they accomplish after that first punch is thrown.

    So, after already breaking down all of your Week 1 tilts, here are your 10 toughest games.

    Note: Toughest meaning most grueling and physical, taking on a mental approach as well. Not only testing depth, but these early-season games will test the willpower and determination of these programs. 

Boise State at Michigan State

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    If you want a slobber-knocker in which both sides will attempt to run the ball down each others’ throats, then this is the game for you.

    Not only are there new quarterbacks, but the backfields are loaded, and they will be bumping heads with two of the better defensive lines in the country.

    The Broncos just lost their entire front four, but they were six and seven deep one season ago. Michigan State, of course, loses Jerel Worthy, but William Gholston is one of the many talented Spartan linemen.

    Chris Petersen is arguably the best coach in America who hasn't appeared in a BCS title, and he reloads with the best of them. Remember when they lost Jared Zabransky and several defensive seniors and ended up going undefeated?

    They went on to go 13-0 in Kellen Moore’s sophomore season, and we shouldn’t be surprised if he does the same in 2012. However, Mark D’Antonio is building one fine defense that has the capability of becoming the best in the Big Ten.

    This will be a bloodbath for both teams, and it will be a bonus if there are no injuries suffered by any of the star players.

South Carolina at Vanderbilt

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    An SEC opener right out of the gates is a match made in heaven for college football fans.

    The Vanderbilt Commodores were quite the story last season, and they should not disappoint some of the expectations we have for them in 2012.

    Zac Stacy at running back is a real treat, and their defense brought the pain last season.

    Steve Spurrier is coming off the best two-year span in South Carolina history, and he has quite the team to challenge for an SEC East title. Marcus Lattimore will look to return to his superstar talent form in the opener, but the Gamecocks are all about defense.

    The defensive line is NFL size and speed (especially athleticism), and the back seven is not too shabby either.

    Expect good, clean football with some hits that will have you geared for the start of the 2012 season.

Miami FL at Boston College (9/3, Labor Day)

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    Labor Day night usually features a great offensive explosion, but last season Maryland and Miami took us back a step.

    Although there were some points scored, I doubt we'll see many this time around. The Hurricanes' defense should be improved from last season’s 45th ranked defense, but will it be enough to help out the offensive weapons?

    Boston College had the best defensive player on the planet arguably in Luke Kuechly, so will they be nearly as good without him?

    Montel Harris needs 868 yards to break the ACC record for most rushing yards, but the Canes will key on him by taking as many big hits on him as possible.

    If BC controls the trenches and wins the battle, they should be able to escape anything Miami throws at them.

    Boston College’s mentality is to always wear you down in the trenches, and Miami better be up for the challenge lest the wheels come falling off before the season really even gets underway. 

Navy vs. Notre Dame (9 AM ET, CBS, Dublin, Ireland)

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    The game might be in Dublin, Ireland, but the result of this game may hurt more mentally than physically. This will be a tough game because of the pressure that Notre Dame always has with them.

    Plus, Navy will attempt to run the ball as usual, and we know Notre Dame’ Manti Te’o will be lighting up the opposition.

    It does not matter who the Irish will be playing on their schedule—their defense up front is legit. The secondary is a question mark, but the Midshipmen will not be throwing the ball a whole lot.

    Look for some more big hits in this one, but Notre Dame isn’t going to enjoy the jet lag they may suffer the following week (some argue not on the field on but off is where they suffer).

    ND has Purdue coming to South Bend the following week, but this game may not be a complete walk in the park.

    Notre Dame fooled us last season against South Florida, and it just seems they cannot get over the hump with Brian Kelly as their coach. That is not to say all is lost, because their talent level is still high enough to compete with nearly anybody on the slate.

    They have a solid chance to improve from one season ago, but we are still waiting for them to step on the throat of the opposition. It could start in the opener against Navy in what should be a nice little slugfest.

SMU at Baylor

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    Two teams that love to thread the needle are not exactly all about the physical aspect of football, but don’t tell that to these two defenses.

    Margus Hunt at defensive end for the Mustangs is ready to unleash the pain as one of the top defensive lineman in the country. A true sleeper heading into the season, he could develop into an early draft pick next season.

    Robert Griffin III is gone, obviously, but Nick Florence still has a decent amount of weapons to remain bowl eligible at least.

    The defense gave up a ton of yards last season (especially Alamo), but they will remain an aggressive defense that takes a ton of chances up front.

    This game deserves to be on this list because of what the Mustangs may become next season, the top dark horse to challenge for a BCS berth.

    Baylor may drop back to the mid-tier or bottom of the Big 12, but that does not mean they will just back off from contact.

    The key for SMU is to avoid any tough injuries since they have Texas A&M and TCU later in September.

    So, if they can come out victorious, those two would become even more vital along with tough games from a physical standpoint.

Northern Illinois vs. Iowa (Soldier Field)

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    Playing at the home of the Chicago Bears should pump up the players since many will be playing in front of their friends and families, but this physical game should be a joy to watch.

    The best of the MAC in recent memory against a solid Big Ten program should be a true battle at the line of scrimmage.

    The Hawkeyes are accustomed to running the ball a boatload of times, but they are likely to pass it a ton with James Vanderberg back at quarterback (along with some issues at RB).

    Northern Illinois’s identity is to run the rock and for their defense to be aggressive up front. Although these two may not be legit powers on paper, they will be good to go light up one another in the Windy City.

Kentucky at Louisville

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    The Louisville Cardinals come into the season as the favorites in the Big East, thanks to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and an underrated defense that will be improved.

    Charlie Strong may have banned the media, but Kentucky’s Joker Phillips will be perhaps even more sick of them.

    Being thrown into the hot seat, his Wildcats are struggling to avoid the basement of the SEC as Lexington is running out of patience.

    Still, Kentucky has a solid defense from the SEC, and they will give everything Louisville can handle. Being more physical is something the Cardinals need to show, although their offense is going to only get better (defense needs to show more).

    While Louisville may not get beat up anymore than they will in this opener, Kentucky will get beat up in this one, which could lead to a long and miserable SEC season.  

    Note: FYI, the Big East has lost their BCS status, so they are no longer an AQ-status

Tennessee vs. North Carolina State (Atlanta, GA, 8/31)

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    The Volunteers and Wolf Pack will be chucking the ball 40 plus times apiece most likely, but the defenses are vastly underrated.

    A.J. Johnson of Tennessee is a stud linebacker, and David Amerson is arguably the best defensive back in the country for North Carolina State.

    Mike Glennon and Tyler Bray will be moving a lot in the pocket because both defenses are active enough to lay the wood.

    Throw in the fact that this will be one of the bigger games these teams will play in from a pressure standpoint, and you will have a physical and grueling game.

    While it will be a ton of fun to watch for us fans, the players will be taking their fair share of licks in this one.

Auburn vs. Clemson (Atlanta, GA)

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    In a battle of Tigers, it was Clemson that came out on top last season, and Clemson nation thought they had won the Super Bowl.

    However, Auburn picked up steam last season whereas Clemson fell apart down the stretch (especially in the Orange Bowl).

    Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins are quite the duo, but Auburn has a defensive front that will try to beat them into oblivion.

    Auburn will be more balanced offensively, but they will try to run the ball and keep that Clemson offense on the sidelines.

    Auburn’s defense more importantly is always known for playing all the way to the whistle and sometimes a second or two late, so don’t think for a minute that Boyd is not going to get lit up on a few plays.

    Clemson’s defense is a mystery, according to most, because we do not know how good they can become. Kiehl Frazier and Clint Mosley may be sharing the starting job at quarterback, but they will not be protected by the best offensive line in the nation either.

    A nationally televised game on the ESPN Family of Networks is one thing, but an SEC-ACC showdown will mean both teams will leave nothing behind.

Michigan vs. Alabama (Arlington, TX)

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    The Michigan Wolverines and Alabama Crimson Tide will both be ranked in the top 10, but it is not like they are average programs.

    Two of the most prestigious programs in the history of college football will dance in Arlington, TX. However, they will be pushing, shoving and connecting on a few big hits in this one.

    Alabama’s defense will be losing several defensive draft picks to the NFL, but they will still be among the best and will relish the opportunity to go up against Denard Robinson (some suggest Robinson will get knocked and or leave this game due to the dominance of Bama’s D).

    “Shoelace” is the most explosive duel-threat quarterback out there, but the speed on Alabama’s defense is still eye-popping.

    The linebackers are deep, the defensive line is still legit since they did not lose many players and the secondary can do it all.

    Robert Lester is an All-American safety that can play center field better than anybody, but Michigan has a few receivers in Jeremy Jackson and Roy Roundtree that can burst past the secondary.

    Never failing to lay down a lick, Nick Saban’s defense has been the best in recent memory for a reason.

    They have the athletes and physical specimens to keep up with any offense in America, but Michigan is a physical team on both sides of the ball as well that should give Alabama one of its tougher games.

    Plus, Alabama has Arkansas just a few weeks later, and thank goodness because they may need a week or two to mentally and physically prepare for that gauntlet of an SEC schedule.

    Most are counting on Michigan to tap out to submission because of the gifted players that the Crimson Tide possess, but this will not an easy matchup for the Tide to just show up and win without taking any punishment.

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