How College Football's Top 25 Will Fare in Week 1

Nathaniel Walters@nathanielhuskerCorrespondent IAugust 22, 2012

How College Football's Top 25 Will Fare in Week 1

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    Ah yes, the sweltering summer heat is starting to turn into nice, cool evenings, at least for us up here in the north. We are definitely excited about the start of college football in Nebraska, and I know folks from Miami to Seattle and Los Angeles to Piscataway, New Jersey are just as pumped as us.

    There are some great games in the first week of college football, and there are some duds. I'm going to hit them all. Some teams will have more analysis than others. Don't be upset if your team doesn't get the pub you think they deserve. If they're good, they'll get their chance later on this season. 

    These are the teams ranked in the AP Top 25 poll, and they are in order of what time their game starts. I hope you enjoy my analysis, and I look forward to hearing your comments and opinions!

(9) South Carolina @ Vanderbilt, August 30, 8:00pm ET

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    Raise your hand if you think this is going to be a blowout. Ok, you can all put your hands down.

    Vanderbilt has been good on defense. They were a surprising 18th in total defense last season and lost four games by less than a touchdown. South Carolina, though, wasn't one of those games, and it won't be this year, either.

    The Gamecock offense should be refueled with Marcus Lattimore returning from a knee injury and Connor Shaw back to run the zone read to perfection. 

    South Carolina's defense should once again rule the day, though. A year after surrendering only 77 yards and five first downs to the Commodores at home, the Gamecock defense, led by All-American defense end Jadeveon Clowney, will smother Vanderbilt in Nashville.

    Many people are pointing to the USC-UGA matchup as the game that will determine the SEC East. This game will show if the Gamecocks are ready.

    South Carolina: 35
    Vanderbilt: 10 

(24) Boise State @ (13) Michigan State, August 31, 8:00pmET

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    Nobody can fault Boise State for starting off the season with a bang, that's for sure. Since 2008, the Broncos have played Oregon twice (2008-2009), traveled to Maryland to play Virginia Tech (2010) and flown all the way to Atlanta to play Georgia (2011). Oh did I mention they won all those games? 

    This year's opponent is recent Big Ten power Michigan State in East Lansing, Michigan. This isn't a fake "neutral site" game like they played against the Hokies or Bulldogs. This is Michigan State's Spartan Stadium, and they have a 14-game winning streak heading into their matchup with the Broncos.

    Michigan State is the favorite heading into this game, but there are question marks on both sides of the football.

    While losing Kirk Cousins was a blow for the Spartans, record-setting quarterback Kellen Moore was the glue that held the Boise State offense together from 2008-2011. He is now with the Detroit Lions while Cousins is vying for playing time with the Washington Redskins.

    New quarterbacks will be stepping onto the field for both teams, but Boise State junior quarterback Joe Southwick has seen a little more action than Sparty's Andrew Maxwell. Southwick has completed 40-of-54 passes for 400 yards and two touchdowns in his career (mostly against inferior competition in mop-up duty) while Maxwell, a junior, is 29-of-51 for 294 yards and one touchdown (including one disastrous affair versus Alabama in 2010).

    The lack of returning starters for Boise State on both offense and defense is what really concerns fans, though. It may be hard to remember some of the starters because only five return on offense and just two on defense.

    Along with the graduation of Moore, running back Doug Martin was a first-round pick by Tampa Bay. They return only one starter (offensive tackle Charles Leno) from last year's offensive line. Nine of their top tacklers from 2011 either graduated or went to the NFL. Even offensive coordinator Brent Pease left to join Will Muschamp's staff at Florida. That's a lot, even more than Michigan State's losses. 

    Cousins, one of the best quarterbacks to ever wear Sparty's green and white, is gone. So is All-Big Ten receiver B.J. Cunningham. There are only four returning starters on offense, but Mark Dantonio's defensive group, which returns 8 starters from the Big Ten's best defense in 2011, including All-American defensive end William Gholston, should be dominant again this year. They should be able to make up for the growing pains of the offense, especially against a Boise State team that has many more holes to fill.

    While this game will be close, Michigan State's defense is just too fast, salty and seasoned for the young Boise State offense. Sparty might not have to score many points to win this battle.

    Michigan State 24
    Boise State 10 

San Jose State @ (21) Stanford, August 31, 10:00pm ET

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    Andrew Luck is taking Peyton Manning's place for the Indianapolis Colts. Many expect the Cardinal to fall out of the Top 25 this season. While Stanford may not be as prolific through the air, expect to see them run the ball at more than the 55 percent clip they did in 2011 until junior quarterback Josh Nunes, who won the starting job in fall camp, has a full grasp of the offense.

    Senior running back Stepfan Taylor, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards each of the past two seasons, returns, joined by junior Anthony Wilkerson and some incoming freshman named Barry Sanders Jr. With that being said, their offensive line needs to replace two All-Americans to open holes for the backs. The defense, which returns seven starters, should be good enough.

    All that aside, they shouldn't have to worry about much against a San Jose State squad that finished last season ranked No. 80 in scoring offense, No. 86 in scoring defense, No. 93 in total defense and held only one opponent below 24 points.

    The Spartans should be able to sling the ball around, a trait they showcased when they finished 23rd in the nation in passing offense, just one spot behind Stanford. The defense, as noted, can only go up.

    Still, though, this is an inexperienced, undermanned group facing a veteran Stanford group. They should be able to throw the ball on Stanford, but their offensive line took some big hits at the end of last season. Stanford may be in a little over their head in the PAC-12, but this game looks like a sure thing.

    Stanford: 37
    San Jose State: 17 

Marshall @ (11) West Virginia, September 1, 12:00pm ET

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    This is less of a rivalry than Marshall fans would like you think, but fans of both teams are looking forward to the last of 12 meetings even as the Mountaineers head off to the Big 12.

    This hasn't been an easy series for the Thundering Herd. They've never beaten West Virginia in 11 tries in the "Friends of the Coal Bowl," only coming close one time: a 24-21 overtime win by the Mountaineers in 2010. Last season, No. 24 West Virginia thoroughly dominated the game, winning 31-13.

    It's safe to say West Virginia belongs in the Big 12. Senior quarterback Geno Smith threw for 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns to only seven interceptions a year ago while leading the nation's No. 6 passing attack. Along with Smith, receivers Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Ivan McCartney highlight eight returning starters on offense, and each of them have proven themselves in West Virginia's offense. 

    The Mountaineer defensive line and linebacking corps will need to be patched, especially for the new 3-4 defense they will be running in the Big 12, but, with seven returning starters, they should be fine against a Marshall offense that was 102nd in total offense, including 96th in rushing (only 9 touchdowns scored on the ground).

    All in all, this one shouldn't be close. West Virginia will air it out against the 96th-ranked defense in the nation against the pass last year. The point spread for this game (and I don't usually even look at those) favors West Virginia by somewhere between 22-24 points. I think that's a little low. 

    West Virginia: 49
    Marshall: 17

Miami (OH) @ (18) Ohio State, September 1, 12:00pm ET

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    Ohio State has a new head coach in Urban Meyer, an invigorated offense and nothing to play for this year because they can't play for the Big Ten Championship or play in a bowl game.

    That pretty much means the Buckeyes should move to 40-1 all-time versus teams in the state of Ohio. Their lone loss: to Akron. In 1894. The final score was 12-6.

    Many people expect Ohio State to run a spread offense and score points with Meyer at the helm, but the most experienced part of this team is the defense. The defensive line, led by All-American defensive end John Simon, should rival Michigan State as the best line in the Big Ten.

    The Buckeye secondary is deep and talented, and the linebacking corps is loaded with athletes. This defensive unit was, at times, the best in the conference in 2011. They finished the season No. 14 in the nation in passing defense (only behind Wisconsin and Michigan State in the Big Ten) and no. 19 in scoring defense, good for fourth in the Big Ten.

    They were 50th in the nation in rushing defense, but that can also be attributed to the elite rushing attacks at Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska, all teams that finished in the Top 15 in the nation in rushing. Even so, finishing outside the Top 25 in any defensive category is not the norm in Columbus.

    When the Buckeyes do have the football, athletic quarterback Braxton Miller will lead the way. He is big, quick and has an accurate arm. There aren't many playmakers around him, though, and Ohio State must find a way to limit the amount of hits he takes (46 sacks in 2011, third in the nation). 

    The Redhawks won't be much of a test for Ohio State, though. They had a respectable defense in 2011, finishing 48th in the nation, two spots ahead of the Buckeyes. They showed promise at the end of the season, losing their final three games by just 3, 3 and 7 points, and they return nine starters.

    The Redhawks struggled on the offensive side of the ball, though, finishing 75th in total offense and a paltry 103rd in scoring offense. They do return eight starters on offense, but that could mean more bad news.

    Ohio State should be there defensively, but they may struggle against a better-than-expected Redhawk defense.

    Ohio State: 24
    Miami (OH): 13 

Buffalo @ (6) Georgia, September 1, 12:21pm ET

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    Ah, yes. This is what I'm talking about. Nothing gets your heart pumping like watching an SEC team thoroughly pound a team inferior to them in every way, am I right? Ok, so there was obvious sarcasm there, but this is the type of game we have come to expect from Top 25 squads (and there are a LOT of teams from the SEC in the Top 25) in the first week of the season. 

    Georgia returns a TON of talent, especially on defense. Many folks in Athens contend, as they do most every year, that 2012 is the year the Bulldogs win their first national championship since 1980 and their third overall. This year, though, they might be right.

    Their offense, led by 3,000 yard, 35 touchdown passer Aaron Murray, should shine against a relatively weak schedule. What was that I was saying about the defense? Oh, yea. These guys should be good. They were fifth in the country in total defense, 11th in rushing defense, fourth in pass efficiency defense, 23rd in scoring defense, 24th in sacks and fifth in passes intercepted.

    That was all last year, though. Why does that matter this year? Well, in a nutshell, those stats matter because Georgia returns 10 of 11 starters from last season. It especially matters against the Bulls, who finished 80th in total offense, 97th in scoring offense and 60th in rushing offense. Seven starters return on that offense, including junior running back Branden Oliver, but they will be no match for a Georgia defense that's out to prove they deserve their lofty preseason ranking.

    Georgia: 42
    Buffalo: 7 

Southern Miss @ (17) Nebraska, September 1, 3:30pm ET

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    Southern Miss had a great season in 2011. They went 12-2, their first ever 12-win season, upset Houston to win the C-USA crown and beat Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl to finish No. 20 in the final polls. Things were looking up for the Golden Eagles.

    Then head coach Larry Fedora left for North Carolina. Record-setting quarterback Austin Davis is also gone. No other quarterback on the roster has even thrown a pass in college football.

    Seven starters are gone on from a defense that was No. 29 in total defense, No. 26 in scoring defense and No. 24 in rush defense. They have very little depth on the interior of the defensive line, and they have virtually no returning experience at linebacker. Their secondary, while talented, will only be as good as their front four in the 4-2-5 defensive scheme.

    Why is interior depth so important for the Golden Eagles? Well, that's about right where Nebraska likes to run the football.

    Senior running back Rex Burkhead returns to lead what should be a punishing rushing attack for the Huskers, and redshirt junior quarterback Taylor Martinez can outrun defenders in the open field. Together, the pair rushed for 2,231 yards and 24 touchdowns. Those are impressive numbers, and the pair will look to improve behind a more experienced offensive line in offensive coordinator Tim Beck's second year. 

    Martinez hasn't been lauded for his passing ability, but the quarterback made a point to attend several passing camps during the offseason. Watch for the Huskers to test the Golden Eagles deep early. Wide receiver Kenny Bell is big and lanky, and senior tight ends Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton provide a perfect combination of speed (Reed) and power (Cotton). 

    Nebraska's ability to run and pass the football at will shouldn't be in question versus Southern Miss, and it's quite possible the Blackshirt defense will be more vanilla than what they showcased last year. It will be up to senior defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler and defensive end Cameron Meridith to anchor the line while the linebackers attempt to fill the void left by do-everything athlete Lavonte David.

    Nebraska shouldn't be too concerned with showing their hand too much versus Southern Miss, though, and they should win this game going away in the second half. It is a winnable game for the Golden Eagles, but their inexperience and lack of depth will rear their ugly heads in the second half.

    Nebraska: 35
    Southern Miss: 14 

Northern Iowa @ (12) Wisconsin, September 1, 3:30pm ET

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    What was that I said about SEC schools playing "The Sisters of the Poor" in their first game of the season? Yes, teams in every other conference do it as well. This is a perfect example, and the Badgers are the first team in the Top 25 to play an FCS foe this year.

    Wisconsin is the two-time defending Big Ten Champion. They return the nation's best running back in senior Montee Ball and have a great backup in James White. They return six starters from a defense that was 13th in the nation in scoring defense, and have at least a receiving threat in speedster Jared Abbrederis.

    Some folks view the offensive line as a weakness because there are only two returning starters, but the Badgers have a way of pumping out road graters on the offensive line. Things shouldn't be any different in 2012.

    Wisconsin's main question will be whether Maryland transfer Danny O'Brien can adequately fill the shoes of now-departed All-Star Russell Wilson. O'Brien isn't nearly as athletic or as talented as Wilson, but he doesn't have to be. With Ball and White running behind a terrific offensive line, he will simply need to be average to overcome most opponents. 

    Their first opponent, Northern Iowa, shouldn't pose much of a threat. You've heard of the Panthers before. That's where Kurt Warner went to college. Oh, you didn't know that? Well there's a little nugget for your brain to forget about by the time you get done with this slideshow.

    Northern Iowa was a good FCS school that advanced to the second round of the playoffs before getting bounced by FCS power Montana. The Panthers also lost to national champion North Dakota State earlier in the season. Wisconsin isn't North Dakota State, though. This game should be over before it even starts. 

    Wisconsin: 56
    Northern Iowa: 3 

Bowling Green @ (23) Florida, September 1, 3:30pm ET

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    Florida is a question mark to many analysts this year. Most of their talent returns on the defensive side of the football, and there is a big question as to who will start under center for the Gators.

    Florida returns four starters from last year's offensive line, and the Gators can only hope that transitions into something, anything this year. They will have to block for a new quarterback and new faces in the backfield, but they can only go up from last year's dismal performances.

    Defensively, Florida should be able to play with anybody. Their stats from last year proved they were a little soft against the run, but this is a young group ready to explode once the right combination of players is found.

    I'm at a loss as to why the Gators are ranked, and, if they can't run or pass against any defenses with a pulse this year, they may very well fall back to another 7-6 campaign. Even so, Bowling Green should be a tune-up game.

    Florida: 28
    Bowling Green: 10 

Murray State @ (7) Florida State, September 1, 6:00pm ET

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    Florida State again finds themselves in the national spotlight and the team to beat in the ACC (and Kirk Herbstreit thinks they will win the national title). The Racers of Murray State, however, find themselves in a rare situation. It will be the first time they have played a ranked opponent since losing 49-10 at No. 10 Wisconsin in 1999.

    I don't think Florida State cares about anything Kirk Herbstreit or any other analyst says right now. They're thinking more about how their 17 returning starters will play on a team that finished 33rd in passing offense and 39th in scoring offense, while second in the nation in rushing defense, 25th in pass efficiency defense and fourth in total defense. This is a loaded team that should be able to contend with anybody in the nation.

    EJ Manuel needs to come out on fire and keep opposing defenses honest, and that shouldn't be a problem against Murray State. This is a tune-up game for the Seminoles, and they should keep things vanilla on all fronts. It shouldn't be close, and it won't.

    Florida State: 49
    Murray State: 13 

Missouri State @ (22) Kansas State, September 1, 7:00pm ET

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    This is another one of those mismatches where an FCS foe travels to a Top 25 program and trades a beat down for a nice paycheck. Through the years, Kansas State has been the go-to team for games like this. Things obviously haven't changed much in Manhattan.

    Collin Klein is receiving decent publicity as a darkhorse Heisman candidate, and the Wildcat offense should click on all cylinders again this year. 

    Their defense will need to improve if they expect to take the next step, though. While it won't be an issue against Missouri State, the pendulum always swings back another direction after so long. Kansas State won eight games by a touchdown or fewer last season, including five games decided by four or fewer points.

    Still, though, this is Missouri State. The Bears finished 114th in the FCS in total defense last year, including 107th in rushing defense. Yes, if you're in the bottom-15 in the FCS, you're gonna have issues with a rushing attack that finished 29th in the nation in yards last year. Klein might not have to test whether his receivers even exist.

    Kansas State: 42
    Missouri State: 10 

Savannah State @ (19) Oklahoma State, September 1, 7:00pm ET

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    The defending Big 12 Champion Cowboys need to replace their quarterback, do-everything wide receiver and get better on defense all in one stroke. 

    Ok, so don't expect to see all that happen in one game, but expect to see true freshman quarterback Wes Lunt spread the ball around in coach Mike Gundy's wide open spread attack. I'd also watch for junior running back Joseph Randle to get more touches as the passing attack evolves.

    It will be tough for Oklahoma State to repeat last year's success, if not impossible, but they won't have trouble with Savannah State.

    Oklahoma State: 42
    Savannah State: 20 

Jacksonville State @ (10) Arkansas, September 1, 7:00pm ET

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    If nothing else, at least people will get to talk about Bobby Petrino for four quarters. This game won't be close at all. Arkansas has a great, and I do mean great, offense, and Jacksonville State, who finished last season with the 86th total defense in the FCS, will be no match for the high-powered Razorbacks.

    Senior quarterback Tyler Wilson should pick apart the Gamecocks' (yes, they have the same mascot as South Carolina) undersized and young secondary, and running back Knile Davis will shred their defensive line. It will be easy for the Razorbacks to put up points.

    They will face a formidable offense, though, as Jacksonville State has starters returning at quarterback, running back (Washaun Ealey, who transferred from Georgia) and wide receiver from a team that finished 7-4 and is ranked No. 23 in the FCS preseason polls.

    That isn't bad for an FCS squad, but they won't face a defense as good as the Razorbacks all season. Arkansas returns six starters from a defense that finished the nation 47th in total defense and 25th in passing defense. They should be stronger in their front seven this year, and it will show against Jacksonville State.

    Arkansas may have problems up front against better rushing attacks later this season, but they won't have a problem corralling the Gamecocks.

    Arkansas: 42
    Jacksonville State: 21 

(14) Clemson @ Auburn, September 1, 7:00pm ET

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    This is one of the more intriguing matchups of the first weekend. Both teams have had success recently, and both fanbases want to believe their team is truly elite. This year Clemson, whether deserved or not (Clemson fans will, of course, argue yes), is the ranked team. 

    After starting off 2011 in style, including wins over Auburn, Florida State and Virginia Tech, Clemson faded badly at the end of the season and lost three of their last four, including an embarrassing 70-33 blowout at the hands of West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. That's not a great way to play in your first BCS Bowl appearance.

    There's good news, though: West Virginia can no longer score. It's a whole new year, and Clemson definitely returns talent from last year's squad. They have seven starters coming back on both sides of the football, including junior quarterback Tajh Boyd, senior running back Andre Ellington and a plethora of big-play receivers. All-American receiver Sammy Watkins will be sitting this game out because of an offseason drug arrest, but that will give other receivers a chance to shine against an Auburn defense ranked 81st in total defense last year (51st against the pass).

    Auburn, on the other hand, has issues on offense. Michael Dyer, possibly the best running back in the SEC last year, was dismissed from Arkansas State after transferring from Auburn after last season. That leaves a huge hole in their offensive scheme, even with a new offensive system, which brings a more balanced attack, being implemented. There is also an issue at quarterback.

    As I write this, Auburn is one of three SEC teams to not name a starting quarterback. With 11 days left until kickoff, time is of the essence. The top six pass catchers do return, but who will get them the football? Clemson wasn't stellar on defense last year, but they're a year older and certainly have fewer question marks than Auburn does on offense.

    While this game could come down to the final few possessions, Clemson does appear to have more depth on their side. I've learned to never count coach Gene Chizik out of a game, but this one appears to go to the Tigers from South Carolina.

    Clemson: 28
    Auburn: 17

North Texas @ (3) LSU, September 1, 7:00pm ET

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    Can we just say LSU wins this one without even explaining why? Ok, good.

    LSU: 52
    North Texas: 3 

Hawaii @ (1) USC, September 1, 7:30pm ET

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    Ah, yes, the Trojans. I know everybody has missed seeing them in the rankings, right? Well, they're back, and they're in a familiar spot as the season begins.

    Head coach Lane Kiffin may have voted them No. 1 in his poll (after he said that he wouldn't but then did anyway and then tried to cover it up with the worst excuse in the history of cover-ups and then decided he didn't want to be part of the poll anymore), but he wasn't the only one. The Trojans are good. Very good. We won't really see how good against Hawaii, but the Warriors won't put up much of a fight, either.

    Matt Barkley will begin his Heisman campaign in style against a Hawaii defense that was 85th against the pass last season and returns only four starters. Receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee both had over 1,000 yards receiving last year, and senior running back Curtis McNeal, along with Penn State transfer Silas Redd, should make this a fearsome offensive train that will be difficult to stop. 

    The Trojans do return six starters on defense, and they won't need to focus on the run as much as the vaunted Hawaii passing attack. Overall, though, the focus will be more on USC's offense. If Hawaii can't keep them from scoring touchdowns, it won't matter how many passing yards they throw for.

    USC: 49
    Hawaii: 21 

(2) Alabama vs (8) Michigan, September 1, 8:00pm ET, Cowboys Stadium, Dallas, TX

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    There is not a more exciting game in college football's opening weekend, and it has also been one of the most anticipated matchups of the 2012 season (Georgia-South Carolina, LSU-Alabama and USC-Oregon also come to mind).

    Hail to the Victors versus Roll Tide. Alabama has an elephant for a mascot. Michigan doesn't even have a mascot (the wolverine is not native to Michigan). Michigan has the most wins of any team in the history of college football. Alabama is No. 8. The Tide have 14 national champions while Go Blue claims 11. Three Michigan players have a Heisman Trophy, and Alabama boasts one of their own. Both teams are, without a doubt, two of the best to ever play the game.

    Coming into their matchup in Dallas, though, only one subject will be on both the players and coaches from each team's minds: winning.

    Michigan senior quarterback Denard Robinson leads what should be one of the best offenses in the Big Ten, and probably the nation, in 2012. He is fast, lethal in the open field and, when accurate, the most dreaded quarterback in college football. Junior running back Fitzgerald Touissant is suspended (maybe) for this game, so Michigan may have to rely on Robinson to step up in the pocket and throw the ball to a receiving corps that has underachieved the past two seasons and loses top target Junior Hemingway.

    All this should be difficult against Alabama, who led the nation in total defense, passing efficiency defense, scoring defense and rushing defense last year, right?

    Well, as Lee Corso would say, "Not so fast, my friend." The Tide return only four starters from the best defense in the nation last year, and while they seem to stockpile defensive talent in Tuscaloosa, nobody wants their coming out party to be against Michigan's well-oiled offensive machine. 

    Alabama runs a 3-4 defense in which the defensive line holds up blocks and allows their talented linebacking corps to make plays. It won't be easy to replace Dont'a Hightower or Courtney Upshaw, both of whom went in the first round of the NFL Draft. Only two starters return in the defensive secondary, and besides Arkansas, they haven't faced a wide-open attack like Michigan's.

    Something needs to be said about Alabama's offensive line versus Michigan's defensive front. The Tide feature what could be the best offensive line in the country, and the Wolverines will be missing their starting defensive tackles from a year ago. That's not to say Michigan doesn't have talent on their defensive line; they just aren't nearly as experienced as Alabama's.

    With that being said, Alabama returns very little in the form of pass catchers, and Trent Richardson's replacement, Eddie Lacy, is coming off turf toe surgery in the spring. Michigan has a ton of talent in its linebacking corps and in the defensive secondary.

    This is going to be a great game, and it looks to finally (finally) be one of those prime time matchups that actually lives up to the billing. Alabama is the defending national champion, but they lost a lot on both sides of the football. Michigan needs to compensate for the loss of their starting defensive tackles and deal without Touissant. It may come down to special teams, and Alabama has proven that you can never rely on their kickers.

    Michigan: 28
    Alabama: 27 

Wyoming @ (15) Texas, September 1, 8:00pm ET

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    It's hard to believe that fans will actually be watching this game instead of the Alabama-Michigan game, but I imagine they will be channel-surfing while watching the Longhorns demoralize the Cowboys.

    It's true, this one shouldn't be close. Wyoming stuck with Texas for a half in 2009, and they might this year as well. Then again, they might not. Texas, while dealing with (again) quarterback controversy, should have zero problems running the ball against a defense that finished last season an abysmal 115th in rushing defense and returns seven starters. That's not good against a Texas offense that should be one of the best in the nation at running the football this season.

    It doesn't really matter that the Longhorns should have (again) the best defense in the Big 12 at this point. The Cowboys return just five starters on an offense that was 59th in the nation in total offense a year ago. Texas' mammoth defensive line, one of the nation's best, will live in the Cowboy backfield all day.

    Texas: 42
    Wyoming: 13 

Arkansas State @ (5) Oregon

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    There's almost no place more fun to watch a football game in the country than at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon. The place isn't that big, but it gets loud, and the green-clad fans certainly seem to enjoy Donald Duck more than most kids I know.

    With that being said, it's doubtful Arkansas State will have as much fun against the Ducks as you and I would have watching the game from the stands. The Red Wolves had a great 2011 campaign, especially on defense, where they finished 24th in total defense, including 13th against the run.

    There are only four starters returning from that defense, though, and it's no easy task to replace three starters on the defensive line and both starting cornerbacks. Living up to last year's numbers isn't impossible, but it won't start off easily at Oregon, who finished fifth in the nation in rushing last year.

    Oregon has to replace running back LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Thomas, but their backups were more than adequate last season. They won't be tested too much against a very young, inexperienced Arkansas State defense, though, and should put up more than a few points.

    If Oregon can bolster their defense (seven returning starters), not even a formidable Red Wolves offense, which could surprise a lot of teams, will be able to compete with Oregon's always gaudy offensive numbers. This game will be closer than you think...for a half.

    Oregon: 42
    Arkansas State: 26 

(4) Oklahoma @ UTEP, September 1, 10:30pm ET

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    This is the only game where the overwhelming favorite isn't the home team (sorry Clemson, you aren't a huge favorite). 

    The Sooners don't return a ton of talent on offense, but their up-tempo attack should keep them ahead of most teams, especially UTEP. Quarterback Landry Jones will be looking again for his favorite target, junior wide receiver Kenny Stills, and senior running back Dominique Whaley is back from a fractured ankle that ended his season early and killed Oklahoma's rushing attack. 

    The defense, which was a disappointment last season, returns eight starters and gets a familiar face back as defensive coordinator: Mike Stoops. Many predict the Sooners will be back at an elite level quickly. I tend to agree.

    Texas-El Paso wants to believe they have a shot in this game. They finished last season ranked in the 60s in both rushing and passing and return seven starters on offense, but a defense that finished 104th in total defense and was blown out in games against Southern Miss, Tulsa and UCF returns four starters. That means there's young blood, but it also means new players must face an Oklahoma passing attack that finished fifth in the nation last year and looks to do the same this year.

    Oklahoma: 42
    UTEP: 21 

Kentucky @ (25) Louisville, September 2, 3:30pm ET

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    Well you wanted college football on a Sunday. Congratulations, you got it. My biggest question: did you really want to watch Louisville and Kentucky? The Cardinals are the only Big East team in the poll, and it's for good reason. Outside of West Virginia (and OK, I'll include your name here, Cincinnati), the conference was, as a whole, just not very good. Louisville was a co-champion, but, with a record of 6-6, didn't look it. 

    Louisville did beat Kentucky and West Virginia last year, but they lost to Florida International, Marshall, North Carolina and NC State. That isn't really the best record to hang your hat on. 

    Even so, the Cardinals return eight starters on offense and ten on defense. Sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (seriously one of the coolest names in college football) is one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, but the Cardinals will have to do better than 103rd in total offense and 98th in scoring offense to truly deserve their ranking.

    The good news: their defense will keep them in games. All ten returning starters helped the Cardinals rank No. 17 in scoring defense and 23rd in scoring defense. That bodes well for the upcoming season.

    If there was anybody worse at scoring than Louisville's paltry 21 points per game, it was Kentucky. The Wildcats failed in every way on the offensive side of the ball in 2011, ranking No. 117th in scoring offense (15.83 ppg, the lowest of any BCS team), 118th in total offense, 90th in rushing offense and 114th in passing offense. The good news: most of the players from 2011 return. The bad news: most of the players from 2011 return.

    In my opinion, do the Cardinals deserve their No. 25 ranking? Not a chance. My opinion doesn't matter to the pollsters, though, so Louisville stays. For now. This game, though, could be tough to watch.

    Louisville: 20
    Kentucky: 14 

Georgia Tech @ (16) Virginia Tech, September 3, 8:00pm ET

22 of 22

    I know I'm not alone when I say I'm going to miss watching college football from Thursday-Monday. Thanks for spoiling me in the first weekend, NCAA. Regardless, the final game of Week 1 should be a good one. Virginia Tech welcomes Georgia Tech in an early season ACC matchup that could really show where both teams are headed this year. 

    The Hokies must rely on a defense that finished 10th nationally last year and returns nine starters because their offense returns only three starters. Quarterback Logan Thomas is back, but only one offensive lineman, center Andrew Miller, returns.

    Virginia Tech will have to rely on their defense early and often, especially their run defense against the option-oriented Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech finished the season second in the nation in rushing at just over 316 ypg last year and returns starting quarterback Tevin Washington, running backs Orwin Smith and David Sims and all but one starter on the offensive line. It's a safe bet to say they will be able to run the ball on just about anybody, even the Hokies.

    There is no reason to believe Georgia Tech isn't the better team, but Virginia Tech's defense is definitely better. This game could come down to whoever has better conditioning in the fourth quarter. It isn't easy to win at Lane Stadium, but Georgia Tech could do it.

    Georgia Tech: 21
    Virginia Tech: 20