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College Football: 25 Players Poised For Dominant Opening Weekends

Sam OlesonCorrespondent IAugust 31, 2010

College Football: 25 Players Poised For Dominant Opening Weekends

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    As we quickly approach the opening kickoff of Presbyterian and Wake Forest—signaling the official beginning of college football's 2010 season—it's time to take a look at the opening weekend matchups.

    And man, are there some good ones. Oregon State vs. TCU. LSU vs. North Carolina. And, of course, Boise State vs. Virginia Tech.

    But, Week 1 certainly has its fair share of potential blowouts as well, as is the case every year. So, taking a look at some of those matchups, it's perfectly reasonable to expect some players to have huge opening weekends.

    So, what players are going to put up some monster numbers against inferior opponents in Week 1? Which players are going to take advantage and throw their names into the mix for national award consideration simply by running, passing, or dashing past mid-majors and FCS opponents?

Josh Adams, Wake Forest

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    Opponent: vs. Presbyterian

    Although senior Wake Forest running back Josh Adams split time last year, he still put up some pretty good numbers for one of the ACC's best offenses. On only 113 carries, Adams rushed for 541 yards and four touchdowns.

    Expect Adams to get out to a running start in 2010 as well.

    Why?

    Because the Demon Deacons face Presbyterian. The Blue Hose is not only an FCS team, but they went 0-11 last year playing in the Big South.

    Yeah, this should be a beatdown and Adams will reap the benefits.

Jacory Harris, Miami (FL)

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    Opponent: vs. Florida A&M

    Considered by many to be a Heisman contender, Jacory Harris will be the difference in whether Miami goes to the BCS or has a somewhat pedestrian season.

    If he plays to his potential, and cuts down on mistakes (17 INT in 2009), he is one of the best players in all of college football. The Hurricanes could be looking at their first BCS season since they lost the national championship.

    However, if he doesn't, the folks from South Beach will be in for a year of disappointment.

    Jacory should get off to a good start though. There's a reason why Florida A&M isn't considered Miami's in-state rival.

Tom Savage, Rutgers

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    Opponent: vs. Norfolk State

    If Rutgers hopes to build off their success from last year (9-4, 3-4 Big East), the Scarlet Knights' starting sophomore quarterback Tom Savage will be at the center.

    In his freshman year, Savage passed for 2,211 yards and 14 touchdowns. Certainly some respectable numbers for just his first year.

    But, the even more impressive stat is that Savage threw just seven interceptions all year long. That's impressive no matter what class you're in.

    When the Spartans from Norfolk State roll into New Jersey, Savage will be looking to continue his fine play and avoid the sophomore slump. That shouldn't really be much of a problem in Week 1.

Colin Kaepernick, Nevada

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    Opponent: vs. Eastern Washington

    Maybe the most overlooked player in the entire nation, Nevada senior quarterback Colin Kaepernick has put up some absolutely disgusting numbers over in Reno.

    Last year, Kaepernick threw for over 2,000 yards with 20 touchdowns and only six interceptions.

    Oh, did you know he can run too?

    1,183 yards on 161 carries last year. And 16 touchdowns.

    If he wasn't playing for the Wolfpack and put up those types of numbers at a major college program, you'd definitely hear Kaepernick's name when it came to Heisman contenders.

    Nevertheless, Kaepernick will be putting up some Heisman-esque numbers in his last year in college. If the WAC can't stop this guy, how is FCS Eastern Washington going to?

Jermaine Thomas, Florida State

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    Opponent: vs. Samford

    While quarterback Christian Ponder will be the centerpiece of Florida State's offensive attack in 2010, their running game—though nothing to get excited about—should complement their passing game well.

    Led by junior running back Jermaine Thomas (832 yards, nine touchdowns in 2009), the Seminoles' ground attack should be good enough to keep Florida State in the ACC title race.

    Luckily, Florida State's first opponent, Samford, won't put up much resistance. They'll be able to test their running game without much worry and Thomas should be able to put up some big numbers, assuming Jimbo Fisher doesn't pull his starters.

Evan Royster, Penn State

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    Opponent: vs. Youngstown State

    As a Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Heisman candidate, it's safe to say that expectations are pretty high for Penn State senior running back Evan Royster going into the 2010 season.

    With the departure of quarterback Daryll Clark, the offensive burden will fall heavily on Royster's shoulders. Expect even more carries and an expanded role in the passing game for Royster in 2010 to go along with his position as the Nittany Lions' offensive leader.

    In the opening weekend, Penn State gets Youngstown State. If Royster plays for most of the game, he could easily rush for 200 yards or more.

Adam Robinson, Iowa

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    Opponent: vs. Eastern Illinois

    If Iowa hopes to get back to another BCS bowl, or even the national championship, their offense is going to have to improve. Last year, they did enough to get by, but usually the game came down to the play of their defense.

    This year, their defense should be just as good, but Iowa wants to be even better. That means they'll need to get more out of their offense, specifically their running game.

    Their leading rusher last year, Adam Robinson, will be back and should have a decent season after rushing for 834 yards and five touchdowns in 2009.

    He'll have an excellent chance to get off to a good start in 2010. Eastern Illinois, although a respectable FCS team, will not be able to stop the Hawkeyes.

Josh Nesbitt, Georgia Tech

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    Opponent: vs. South Carolina State

    After a disappointing Orange Bowl loss, Georgia Tech has to recover from the loss of stars like Jonathan Dwyer and Demaryius Thomas to the NFL. However, they still have their leader on offense, quarterback Josh Nesbitt.

    As a dual threat, Nesbitt is one of the most dangerous weapons in the country and seems poised to rush and pass for over 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. And, if the Yellow Jackets want to return to the Orange Bowl, he'll need to reproduce his 2009 numbers.

    South Carolina State should provide a nice little test for Nesbitt, but won't come close to stopping him.

Montel Harris, Boston College

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    Opponent: vs. Weber State

    Going into his junior campaign at Boston College, running back Montel Harris carries the key to the hopes of many Eagles fans for the 2010 season.

    Last year, Harris rushed for 1,457 yards and 14 touchdowns, almost leading BC to the Atlantic Division title and a spot in the ACC Championship Game. This year, if the Eagles hope to get over the hump when it comes to reaching a BCS bowl game, he'll need to post similar, if not better, numbers.

    If he can do that, not only would Harris be in consideration for ACC awards, but national awards as well. Luckily, getting off to a good start shouldn't be a problem.

    Weber State doesn't see this kind of running back in the Big Sky.

Noel Devine, West Virginia

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    Opponent: vs. Coastal Carolina

    After his high school highlight reel made him one of the most hyped football recruits ever heading into college, West Virginia senior running back Noel Devine has done nothing but produce in Morganstown.

    After rushing for over 600 yards on only 73 carries his freshman year, Devine rushed for over 1,000 yards the last two seasons, including 1,465 and 13 touchdowns last year.

    After a somewhat down year in 2009, the Mountaineers are hoping to reclaim their spot at the top of the Big East and Devine will be an integral part of that. He certainly doesn't want to end his college career on a losing note.

    Devine's potentially huge senior campaign begins with a potentially monstrous game against Coastal Carolina.

Brandon Bolden, Mississippi

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    Opponent: vs. Jacksonville State

    With the loss of running back Dexter McCluster to the NFL and a quarterback situation that has yet to be resolved, the offensive fate of Ole Miss in 2010 could come down to junior running back Brandon Bolden.

    Now, the Rebels don't expect to win the SEC West. Probably the most talented division in all of college football, Ole Miss will not win that division. But getting enough wins to go bowling should be a reasonable expectation.

    Backing up McCluster the last two years, Bolden rushed for over 600 yards and four touchdowns last year and also showed some ability to work himself into the passing game.

    Although Mississippi's first opponent, Jacksonville State, will have problems containing Bolden, don't expect that trend to continue. Bolden will have to be on the top of his game if he wants to be considered one of the best rushers in the SEC.

Kevin Riley, California

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    Opponent: vs. UC-Davis

    In a Pac-10 that should be wide open in 2010, California legitimately expects to compete for the conference crown. Whether it does indeed do that or not will depend on the play of senior quarterback Kevin Riley.

    Last year, Riley had an efficient, if not spectacular, junior season: 2,850 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, only eight interceptions. If he can repeat or improve on those numbers, Cal's offense should be more than good enough to challenge Oregon, Oregon State, and company for a berth to the Rose Bowl.

    Riley got off to a great start last year against Maryland. He shouldn't have a problem doing that in 2010 either. UC Davis won't have an answer for Riley or the Cal "O."

Russell Wilson, North Carolina State

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    Opponent: vs. Western Carolina

    If there's a reason why North Carolina State doesn't compete for the ACC, it certainly won't be because of their quarterback play. Junior quarterback Russell Wilson could be the best in the conference.

    Last year, in the Wolfpack's 5-7 campaign, Wilson was one of the team's few bright spots: 3,027 yards passing, 31 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions. Oh, and he also found the end zone four times running the ball, for good measure.

    No, if anything derails NC State next year, it will be their defense. But, if Wilson plays like he did as a sophomore, he just might be able to lead the Wolfpack to a bowl game, regardless.

    He'll get an excellent chance to start off hot, seeing as how Western Carolina was a cellar dweller in the Southern Conference last year.

Zac Lee, Nebraska

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    Opponent: vs. Western Kentucky

    If there's one fault that may cost Nebraska a shot at a BCS bowl, it's their passing game. It will be up to starting quarterback Zac Lee to change that.

    In 2009, Lee threw for over 2,000 yards and 14 touchdowns, but also threw 10 picks. The Cornhuskers will need to get more out of him—and his corresponding wide receivers—if they want to challenge the likes of Oklahoma and Texas in their last year in the Big 12.

    Nebraska does get Western Kentucky to open their season, though. Last year, the Hilltoppers failed to record a win in their first full season in the Sun Belt. If Lee can't get it done against them, the Cornhuskers may need to think about a quarterback switch.

Ryan Mallett, Arkansas

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    Opponent: vs. Tennessee Tech

    Considered by many to be a dark-horse contender in the SEC West, Arkansas could very well have the best quarterback in the nation in Ryan Mallett.

    Last year, in his first year in Fayetteville after transferring from Michigan, Mallett tossed 30 touchdowns, only seven interceptions, and threw for 3,627 yards. Definitely a Heisman contender going into 2010, Mallett's play at quarterback could be more vital for the Razorbacks than for any other individual player on any team in the nation.

    Although Arkansas's defense will need to improve if the Razorbacks want to make a serious run at the SEC title, Mallett will still be the focus going into the season.

    The only hope for Tennessee Tech is that Mallett gets pulled at halftime.

Jerrod Johnson, Texas A&M

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    Opponent: vs. Stephen F. Austin

    Considered by many to be a dark-horse Heisman candidate and arguably the best player in the Big 12, Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson is going into his senior season with the hopes of leading the Aggies back to national prominence.

    Last year, although Johnson threw for 30 touchdowns and eight interceptions, Texas A&M finished the year at just 6-7. Although the Aggie defense will undoubtedly need to improve if Texas A&M has any shot at the Big 12 South, Johnson is still the key to this team.

    He should begin his Heisman campaign on a strong note against a Lumberjack squad that, although they won the Southland Conference last year, haven't faced a player like Johnson.

Case Keenum, Houston

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    Opponent: vs. Texas State

    Hoping to make their first BCS bowl, and Conference USA's first as well, Houston's fate will depend completely on the play of Case Keenum. Last year, on 700 attempts, Keenum threw for 5,671 yards and 44 touchdowns.

    If he can match those numbers in 2010, he'll likely get an invite to New York for the Heisman Trophy.

    Now, with an offense like that (42.2 points in 2009), how did the Cougars not go undefeated? Well, their defense (30 points a game) prevented any hope of that.

    But, Keenum has the talent and surrounding cast to put up the best passing numbers in the nation once again.

    Texas State won't be able to handle this.

Andrew Luck, Stanford

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    Opponent: vs. Sacramento State

    After the loss of Heisman runner-up running back Toby Gerhart to the Minnesota Vikings, Stanford's Pac-10 title hopes will rest on the shoulders of junior quarterback Andrew Luck.

    Last year, in a reduced passing role due to Gerhart's rushing dominance, Luck passed for 2,575 yards, 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. This year, Luck should emerge as one of the star quarterbacks in the Pac-10 and, if he does, the Cardinal have a very realistic shot at winning the Pac-10.

    With Sacramento State as Stanford's season opener, Luck also has a great opportunity to adjust to his expanded passing role against an inferior opponent.

Matt Simms, Tennessee

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    Opponent: vs. Tennessee-Martin

    After spending a year at Louisville and one in junior college, Tennessee quarterback Matt Simms got the starting nod over freshman Tyler Bray because of his experience running an offense. Now, he'll have an opportunity to revive a program which has experienced its fair share of lumps in recent years.

    Under new coach Derek Dooley, the Volunteers aren't expected to do a whole lot in the SEC East, but could still get a bowl invite if they play well.

    Now, Simms will have a short leash, but luckily he should get off to a hot start. Tennessee-Martin should be a nice test to see whether Simms has what it takes to lead the Vols.

Robert Griffin III, Baylor

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    Opponent: vs. Sam Houston State

    After tearing his ACL last year, Robert Griffin III will be trying to regain his status as one of the most exciting players in the country in 2010.

    As a freshman, Griffin won Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors after tossing 15 touchdowns and only three interceptions while also rushing for over 800 yards. However, in only the third game last year, Griffin went down with an injury and the Baylor football team went with him.

    He'll have a good chance to ease back into the game when the Bears take on Sam Houston State.

Tre' Newton, Texas

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    Opponent: vs. Rice

    After losing one of their program's greatest players ever in Colt McCoy, Texas football just won't be the same in 2010. McCoy was the leader of the Longhorns for the past four years and it will be surreal not seeing No. 10 in the burnt orange every Saturday.

    However, with the influx of sophomore quarterback Garrett Gilbert and running back Tre' Newton, the Longhorns are expected to once again win the Big 12.

    Probably the biggest question mark for Texas on offense is their running game. Last year, Newton rushed for over 500 yards on only 116 carries and six touchdowns.

    Their first test will be against Rice, a squad that shouldn't put up that much resistance to Texas. Newton should get out to a quick start.

Bernard Pierce, Temple

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    Opponent: vs. Villanova

    After a freshman season that saw him rush for 1,361 yards and 16 touchdowns while leading Temple to the MAC East title, huge things are expected from running back Bernard Pierce.

    If Pierce can duplicate those numbers in 2010, the Owls will have a chance to win the MAC and head to consecutive bowl games.

    And, although Villanova will be one of the top FCS teams in the country in 2010, Pierce should get out to a good start in 2010. Whether the Owls win or not is a different story. But Pierce should get his numbers.

Jared Tew, Air Force

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    Opponent: vs. Northwestern State

    As the third-ranked rushing offense in the country in 2009, Air Force is known for putting it on the ground. Last year, the Falcons averaged 283.5 yards a game rushing.

    Leading the pack was running back Jared Tew, who rushed for 970 yards and nine touchdowns. Don't expect a whole lot to change in 2010. The Falcons are still going to run and Tew will still be the featured back.

    Against Northwestern State, an FCS team that finished 0-11 in 2009, Air Force should have no problem moving the ball and Tew will be a major beneficiary.

    *photo courtesy of AP

Trent Richardson, Alabama

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    Opponent: vs. San Jose State

    The nation's No. 1 team against one of the worst teams in the FBS. Blowout won't even describe what's going to happen in Tuscaloosa opening weekend.

    With the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Mark Ingram, out with an injury, Trent Richardson should put up some big numbers in his absence.

Steven Threet, Arizona State

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    Opponent: vs. Portland State

    It's been a long time since Steven Threet took the field in a college football game. After transferring from Michigan, Threet had to sit out a year before he could begin his time at Arizona State.

    And now, almost two years removed from college competition, Threet will get another shot as a Division I quarterback. Just named the starter Monday, Threet will have his first opportunity to show what he's got when the Sun Devils take on Portland State.

    Although Arizona State won't exactly have their strongest team in years, Threet should be able to make a good first impression playing against the Vikings. PSU was only 2-9 last year.

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