Week One gives us some easy matchups but also a handful of fun matchups that we never get to see. Let the craziness begin!
No. 3 USC at Virginia
USC only has four starters returning on offense but is stacked on defense. Virginia is a noteworthy opponent, especially since USC could easily be looking forward to Ohio State next week.
USC quarterback Mark Sanchez was carted off the practice field on Aug. 8, and despite fears of him missing a good portion of the season, he returned to practice on Monday. Look for him to be rusty in this game. Pete Carroll probably would prefer not to start him, except he knows that Sanchez needs experience before facing a very difficult Ohio State defense next week.
Look for the Trojans to prevail here, but not with the high-powered offense we are used to seeing. The difference will be a nasty, nasty defense that takes the field with the best linebacking core in the country—a core that even Trojans linebackers coach and ex-NFL great Ken Norton Jr. calls "no doubt the best I've had." That's scary coming from a unit that has been great in recent years.
Hawaii at No. 5 Florida
If you don't keep up with the offseason, you probably look at this matchup and think, Hawaii plays Florida in the regular season! Maybe they can play well, win, and earn some respect. This Hawaii team surely wants to prove itself after getting demolished by Georgia in last year's Sugar Bowl.
However, this Hawaii team is not in a good position. Head coach June Jones left for SMU, and Colt Brennan, who earned himself a spot as college football's all-time leading passer, now plays for the Washington Redskins.
What's worse? Florida is one of the favorites for National Champion this year, and they return last year's Heisman winner Tim Tebow along with receiver Percy Harvin. Hawaii travels over 4,500 miles to play in one of the hardest stadiums to visit. Look for this to be ugly.
No. 20 Illinois vs. No. 6 Missouri
Wow, who would have thought a few years ago this would be such an exciting matchup? Ron Zook has Illinois on the right track. I like them as the leading contender to unseat Ohio State in the Big Ten.
Missouri's QB Chase Daniel starts his Heisman campaign here. The Illini will run the ball with Juice Williams successfully in this game, but it won't be enough.
Missouri, 35-28 in a thriller
No. 18 Tennessee at UCLA
Monday Night Football!? It may be a college game, but it's still a fun matchup. Tennessee goes to play at the Rose Bowl after the woes of playing away last year. UCLA has struggled of late in close games. Look for Tennessee to keep the ball on the ground behind a great offensive line and a very good back in Arian Foster.
GAME OF THE WEEK
No. 24 Alabama vs. No. 9 Clemson
College GameDay starts out the year with this matchup at the Georgia Dome right here in Atlanta! The game pits the defensive mastermind (Nick Saban of Alabama) vs. offensive talent (Clemson).
Clemson returns one of the nation's top QBs in Cullen Harper, the top running back corps in the nation with James Davis and C.J. Spiller, and a really good receiving corps led by Aaron Kelly. Alabama has a fairly young defense, but that means a clean slate for Saban to teach his scheme to these kids.
I have changed my mind on this game a few times, as I think Alabama has a real shot at the SEC West, and Clemson is clearly the best the ACC has to offer. It's ACC No. 1 vs. SEC No. 6, and we're still talking about this game as if it's a preseason National Championship Game (what does that tell you about the SEC?).
Need an underlying plot? James Davis returned to college football this year (after originally declaring he was going into the NFL draft) for two reasons: one, to win the ACC, and two, to win in his hometown of Atlanta (he is 0-3). I look for the talent of Clemson to step up and take this one in a thriller.