College Football 2011: Predictions on the Top 50 Games of the Season

David LutherFeatured ColumnistJuly 27, 2011

College Football 2011: Predictions on the Top 50 Games of the Season

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    We're now just about one month from the start of the 2011 season, and that can only mean one thing: time to ante up and place your bets on who will win which game this season.

    There are plenty of lists out about the top games in the nation, and there will certainly be a whole host of must-see clashes from September straight through to January.

    But let's go beyond the actual list of games we should watch, and predict who will actually win those top 50 games of the upcoming season.

UCLA at Houston

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    The first game on our list is also one of the few that feature two teams that begin the season unranked.

    It also features our lone C-USA team—Houston.  Houston is not only lacking a Top 25 preseason ranking, they're probably not even appearing on anyone's top-50 list.

    The Cougars finished 2010 with a laughable 5-7 record, considering all of the preseason hopes Houston fans had. The excuses about injuries to starters abound, but those statements only serve to highlight the complete lack of depth in the Houston program.

    Following on the 10-4 season Houston posted in 2009, last year was certainly a disappointment. But UCLA also had their share of disappointments last season.

    After beginning the year with two losses, the Bruins rebounded with three straight wins, including a win over Houston. The Bruins are also the bulk of their skill position players on both sides of the ball, and should have more than enough to outlast the Cougars.

    UCLA 35, Houston 14

Utah at BYU

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    Both teams find themselves in different conference affiliations than a year ago. Utah has moved on to the Pac-12, while BYU has opted to go forward without a conference.

    Last season, the Utes began the year with a pretty lofty preseason ranking. As the season wore on, it became clear that Utah wasn't quite the team that was advertised. Crushing losses to TCU, Notre Dame and Boise State showed that Utah just wasn't on the same level as the rest of the nation's top teams. That left Utah fans somewhat unsatisfied, even after a 10-3 season.

    With only 12 combined starters returning for the Utes, one has to wonder where the road leads from here.

    BYU, on the other hand, finished the season 7-6—far below expectations. But the Cougars return 16 starters, including 10 on offense. With the move to independent status, BYU is also in a position where they'll need to win as many games as possible in order to reach a quality bowl game, now that they can't rely on the conference tie-ins. Last season saw this contest decided by a single point, with BYU on the losing end. This “Holy War” game will again likely be close, but Utah won't be able to keep up with the Cougars this season.

    BYU 31, Utah 24

No. 22 Texas at Baylor

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    There was a time last season when Baylor seemed an unlikely contender in the Big 12. At 7-2, people began to talk about the Bears' chances before everything seemed to fall apart. Baylor finished the year with four straight losses to finish 7-6.

    That was still a bit better than Texas fared in 2010. After a 5-7 season, the only real reason the Longhorns are ranked as opposed to the Bears is the name Texas Longhorns.

    Baylor is returning nine offensive starters from last season, which should serve them well as they attempt to build on 2010's success, which included a 30-22 win over the Longhorns. While Texas also returns a number of starters, the problem for Mack Brown is the fact that many of the players returning are the players that were the root of the problem last season.

    Baylor 28, Texas 27

No. 13 TCU at San Diego State

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    Last year, TCU tore through the Mountain West en route to a conference title and a Rose Bowl berth.

    But the one team that the Horned Frogs seemed to have trouble with was San Diego State. Rather than destroying the Aztecs as they had with nearly every other team they faced in 2010, the Horned Frogs escaped with a five-point victory, allowing a season-high 35 points. SDSU was clearly one of the better teams in the MWC last season under head coach Brady Hoke, now at Michigan.

    The Aztecs are returning eight offensive starters for 2011, and should again be ready to face the best the conference has to offer this season.

    San Diego State 38, TCU 31

Mississippi at No. 17 Mississippi State

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    Last season's 4-8 finish was definitely out of character for Ole Miss. Or maybe it was just a return to the usual characteristics for the Rebels.

    After two years finishing 9-4, Ole Miss took a giant leap backwards last season, losing four additional games. But in the previous four years, Mississippi fluctuated between three and four wins per season. So which Mississippi program is the real Mississippi program?

    We'll certainly know by the time this season finale rolls around. Mississippi State has loads of potential this season, and begins the season with a Top 25 ranking and hopes of breaking out in the SEC. Ole Miss just wants to get over the hump, and return to winning in the conference. It's doubtful whether that will happen in 2011.

    Mississippi State 31, Mississippi 17

UCLA at USC

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    It's not often that UCLA has the upper hand in this cross-town battle, but that's exactly what has happened in the wake of all of the problems at USC.

    The Bruins are hoping to compete this year for the Pac-12-South race, and a season finale victory over the Trojans may be all that stands between UCLA and a trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game. UCLA will also be more than eager to repay USC for last year's devastating loss that saw the Bruins finish the year 4-8 after a promising 3-2 start.

    UCLA 28, USC 14

Oregon State at No. 4 Oregon

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    Oregon will begin the year as the Pac-12 favorite after making it all the way to the BCS Championship game last season.

    Oregon State finished last year 5-7, and the Beavers aren't expected to do significantly better this season.

    But Oregon State does have a knack for winning games they shouldn't, and when you're playing your in-state rival, it doesn't matter who is expected to win. As bad as the Beavers were last season, and as phenomenal as the Ducks were, Oregon won by just 17 points—far fewer than one might have expected.

    While Oregon State will again put up a valiant fight, the Ducks will simply be too much for the Beavers to handle.

    Oregon 38, Oregon State 24

Washington at No. 20 Nebraska

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    Last year, the Huskies met the Nebraska Cornhuskers and walked off the field bruised, bloodied and beaten, 56-21.

    When the Huskies were matched up against the Cornhuskers again in the 2010 Holiday Bowl, many people thought the result would be fairly similar. But Jake Locker and the rest of his Washington teammates had a different idea.

    Nebraska was expecting the same lowly Washington team they had faced in September, and what they got was an embarrassing loss to the Huskies, 19-7.

    Now, it's Washington's turn to travel to Nebraska, and the Cornhuskers are eager for their own opportunity at payback.

    And without Jake Locker under center, it could turn into a very long day for the Huskies.

    Nebraska 48, Washington 20

No. 14 Arkansas at No. 2 Alabama

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    Both of these teams will be discussed in greater detail later. But the most important aspect of this September 24 SEC clash is the fact that it falls so early in the season.

    Last year, Alabama began the season as a favorite to head back to the BCS Championship Game. An early loss to South Carolina derailed those hopes, and if Alabama isn't careful, the very same thing could happen again. Only this time, the foe is probably of a higher caliber than South Carolina was a year ago.

    Alabama 28, Arkansas 24

No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 22 Texas

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    One of the great rivalries in college football, the Red River Rivalry will once again grace the Cotton Bowl with the annual grudge match.

    While last year's 28-20 victory for the Sooners seems closer than one might have expected given the teams' respective records, that's the way things go in these intense rivalries. The records don't matter. The predictions don't matter. Nothing matters except for sending the other guy home with a loss.

    Okay, so there's one other thing that matters: talent.

    Texas just seems to be depleted of it right now, and if there's one thing Oklahoma is expected to have an abundance of this year, it's talent. While the Longhorns should improve over their 2010 record (how could they not?), it's likely that this contest will find OU on the winning end once again.

    Oklahoma 45, Texas 31

BYU vs. No. 13 TCU

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    TCU definitely had one of the more memorable seasons in program history in 2010. There's not much more a non-AQ program can ask for than a chance to play in the Rose Bowl, and walk away with a win over Wisconsin.

    Well, there is, but the BCS is the BCS and, 13-0 or not, non-AQ teams just aren't allowed to play for the BCS championship.

    TCU was great last season, but that was last season. In 2011, the Horned Frogs will have the difficult task of rebuilding almost from scratch while still maintaining a high ranking in the non-AQ world.

    BYU, meanwhile, has left the conference, and will now be playing as an independent. While the Cougars return enough talent to make for an impressive 2011 showing, the move to independence might be a questionable one, since they now have no BCS tie-in at all (at least the MWC could have a tie-in if certain conditions are met by the eventual conference champion).

    But this October 28 game at Cowboys Stadium outside of Dallas will begin to show that TCU isn't the team they once were.

    BYU 28, TCU 17

No. 23 Florida vs. No. 24 Georgia

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    For years, this game was a major decider in figuring out who was going to win the SEC-East. Last year, that certainly wasn't the case, but 2011 may see a change.

    Neither team was happy with their finish last season. Georgia had their first losing season in almost two decades, and Florida finished 8-5 and out of the hunt for an SEC Championship Game berth, to say nothing of a BCS bowl trip.

    While picking a winner in this September 29 contest may be just as easy with a crystal ball as with pouring over statistical analysis and performance projections, we promised a pick in every game, so we'll make one here, too.

    Florida 31, Georgia 28

No. 22 Texas at No. 9 Texas A&M

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    After a painful 5-7 season, the fact that Texas will begin the year with any poll points in probably more indicative of their name and reputation rather than any prediction on how good they'll be in 2011.

    Don't expect another 5-7 season out of Mack Brown and the boys from Austin. But don't expect a Big 12 title, either. Texas doesn't have nearly the talent necessary to be the top team in the Big 12 this year. Heck, they don't even have the talent to be the best team in Texas.

    Texas A&M, on the other hand, has the talent—and the possibility—to be both.

    Texas A&M 38, Texas 21

No. 21 Missouri at No. 1 Oklahoma

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    It's almost hard to believe that Missouri, at No. 21, is the fourth highest ranked team in the Big 12 to start the 2011 season.

    Alas, they are, and for good reason. Although the Tigers will be returning a whole host of talented players, the loss of the quintessential quarterback in Blaine Gabbert will affect Missouri's ability to win the really big games.

    Oklahoma starts the year as the top team in the Big 12, and the nation. While they may be beatable this year, the team to do that probably won't be from Missouri.

    Oklahoma 42, Missouri 28

Miami at No. 18 Virginia Tech

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    After a terrible 0-2 start last season which included losses to Boise State and FCS James Madison, the Hokies recovered nicely, eventually winning the ACC Championship Game and earning an Orange Bowl berth.

    While Virginia Tech will again be a power in the ACC this season, you can't say goodbye to a player like Tyrod Taylor and not lose a step or two on offense.

    Miami is hoping to solve some of the issues that plagued them all throughout 2010. Even if they are eventually successful, it's doubtful the problems will be sufficiently rectified in time to beat a darned good Virginia Tech team on October 8.

    Virginia Tech 27, Miami 17

No. 23 Florida at No. 16 South Carolina

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    As amazing as it may sound, South Carolina is the reigning king of the SEC-East. Even more amazing is the fact that Florida, at 4-4 last season in the SEC, was right behind SC in the standings at season's end.

    Let's face facts: a 4-4 SEC record isn't the norm for the Gators, and those who expect Florida to do no better this year do so at their own peril. Florida has a new head coach, new coaching staff and a new attitude. While 8-5 isn't all that bad, it is for the team from Gainesville. No one at UF will be happy with another 8-5 performance, and a win over a South Carolina team that should be in the hunt for another Eastern Division title will be a big step forward for an improving Gators squad.

    Florida 31, South Carolina 21

Miami at South Florida

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    Last season, South Florida went to Miami and traveled back across the state with an improbable win in tow.

    The Bulls were able to take advantage of every weakness the Hurricanes had last season, and USF surprised many in Florida with a victory over Miami. With as many problems as Miami had, USF just wasn't supposed to be able to compete with one of the jewels of collegiate football in Florida.

    It's unclear whether or not Miami will be able to solve the problems they had last season, but by the time November 19 contest in Tampa rolls around, we should have a pretty good idea where each team stands.

    The Hurricanes just can't go through another season without solving at least some of the problems that plagued them in 2010, can they? Miami returns the favor, and beats South Florida in front of a stadium full of Bulls fans.

    Miami 24, South Florida 21

No. 10 Michigan State at No. 19 Notre Dame

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    If you missed last year's meeting between the Spartans and Fighting Irish, you missed an amazing game with a spectacular finish.

    By now, everyone has seen the replay of the gutsy fake field goal play by MSU in overtime to beat Notre Dame. That game, and specifically that play, will be talked about by MSU fans for decades. It will be remembered by Notre Dame for an entirely different reason.

    Don't expect trick plays to be the deciding factor in the 2011 edition of the Battle for the Megaphone.

    Notre Dame will definitely be out for revenge, and this year's game will have the added appeal of an early test for two highly-ranked teams (high rankings weren't a factor at the time last season). Michigan State will be out to show everyone—including themselves—that 2011 wasn't a fluke season, and the Spartans are for real.

    This contest has usually seen the road team emerge victorious, and the games never fail to provide great football and fabulous entertainment. This season won't be any different.

    Notre Dame 28, Michigan State 27

Arizona State at Utah

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    This is another of the few games that don't feature two preseason Top 25 programs (although Arizona State should certainly be “receiving votes” in most).

    With USC out for another season, the October 8 Pac-12 meeting could be a big game for the Pac-12-South. Arizona State is emerging as one of the contenders in the South Division, and Utah will have an outside chance in their first season in their new conference.

    Arizona State will surprise many people this year with their absolute wealth of experience, and they will gain the few extra points needed to turn last year's 6-6 campaign into a run for the 2011 Pac-12-South Division title.

    Arizona State 38, Utah 27

USC at No. 19 Notre Dame

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    Remember the days when the result of the USC-Notre Dame game was foregone conclusion?

    As it turns out, those days may be on their way back, but with the exact opposite result.

    USC is in their second year of NCAA probation and are still reeling from the harsh sanctions imposed. Notre Dame, on the other hand, will again have a full complement of talented players, not to mention a full complement of scholarship players. Notre Dame seems to be passing USC on the way up while the Trojans fall back down the mountain.

    As the talent levels flip-flop for these two programs, so, too, will the nature of those foregone conclusions.

    Notre Dame 35, USC 24

No. 19 Notre Dame at No. 25 Michigan

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    A great rivalry that still seems like a page from the history books.

    When Notre Dame and Michigan get together, it's living history. With both programs steeped in lore, and with the game surrounded by names like Yost, Rockne, Crisler, Schembechler and Holtz, there are few others like it in the modern game.

    The interesting thing about this year's installment of Notre Dame-Michigan—beyond the fact that it will be the first night game in the long history of Michigan Stadium—is that both teams are looking to regain some of their past greatness.

    Notre Dame is entering its second year under the guidance of Brian Kelly, and Michigan begins the first year of the Brady Hoke era.

    While Hoke lacks the big-time head coaching experience that Kelly got at Cincinnati and last season at Notre Dame, the Wolverines have enough talent this season to compete with Notre Dame. But competing is only part of the equation, and while Michigan can probably compete, winning is another matter.

    Notre Dame is returning the vast majority of starters from 2010, and Notre Dame has set its sights squarely on the BCS this season. Michigan will be just one of the many bumps in the road the Irish will need to navigate around, but with Kelly's adept leadership, the Irish will likely find a way back into the national conversation.

    Michigan will get there, but probably not in 2011.

    Notre Dame 31, Michigan 21

No. 14 Arkansas at No. 3 LSU

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    Another important conference game in the SEC with potential national implications is the regular season finale between Arkansas and LSU.

    Both teams are beginning 2011 with lofty rankings—certainly more so for LSU—and both teams are looking to live up to expectations in the SEC this year.

    Arkansas is back for what the Razorbacks hope is another impressive run while LSU fell just short in the SEC last season, and also failing to secure a BCS bid, even though they finished the year ranked higher than Arkansas.

    This game could amount to a play-in game for the SEC Championship for at least one team, and it could have major BCS bowl consequences for both.

    Will Arkansas be able to break in a new field general by the end of the season? How successful with he be replacing Ryan Mallett? Can anyone hope to stop LSU? November 25 will give us the answers.

    LSU 38, Arkansas 28

No. 16 South Carolina at No. 24 Georgia

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    Last season, the SEC-East could only be described as a hot mess.

    SEC fans love to talk about the dominance of the conference. The SEC is God's gift to the football world. The SEC is all powerful. The SEC is the best conference since the invention of conferences.

    So why was one entire division of the conference so patently mediocre last season?

    No team in the East finished with fewer than five overall losses (and, no, they weren't all conference losses). In fact, while the West had four teams with 10 or more wins last year, the East had none. Combined, the West was 58-20 in 2010. The East was 37-41. While five West teams finished the year ranked, only one East team did—and was ranked lower than the lowest West team.

    Hopefully, the East will step it up a notch this year.

    The two teams that have the best chance to carry the banner for the Eastern Division in 2011 are South Carolina and Georgia. Both teams had an adequate experience with success and failure in 2010, and both teams enter the new season hoping to do a bit better.

    South Carolina won their first-ever divisional title last season before getting thrashed by Auburn in the SEC Championship Game. Georgia started the season 1-4, and never truly recovered.

    This September 10 game is another example of an early conference game that could set the tone for the rest of the year for both teams. And in this situation, the game may come down to quarterbacks, and which one can execute more big plays over the course of the evening.

    Aaron Murray definitely has the potential to become the next great quarterback from the SEC. He has raw talent, and he gained an incredible amount of invaluable experience last season. Across the field, Stephen Garcia is entering his senior season amid new problems and character issues that has led to his fifth suspension since arriving at South Carolina. While it seems nearly certain that he will return to the Gamecocks roster this fall, his position with the team is far from clear. Any further transgression on Garcia's part could see him either suspended (again) or dismissed from the program—in which case, South Carolina's chances of success may leave with him.

    South Carolina 28, Georgia 27

No. 21 Missouri at Arizona State

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    This Week 2 meeting at Arizona State will feature two teams that are flying a little under the radar in their respective conferences.

    Missouri is returning pretty much every offensive weapon they need, except a quality, experienced quarterback. You might not be able to overstate what Blaine Gabbert meant to the Missouri offense, but the real issue is what will his absence mean. Will Missouri still be effective on offense? Okay, that's a silly question. Of course they will. But you don't lose a player like Blaine Gabbert without losing something.

    Arizona State returns everybody from last season's offense. Yes, all 11 starters are back. On defense, nine starters are returning. ASU probably has the most experienced group of starters in the nation for 2011, and it's the reason why they have a very good shot at winning the Pac-12-South this season.

    But weren't the Sun Devils 6-6 last year? Yes, they were. But they lost four of those games by a combined nine points—three games by a combined five points. Experience does count for something, and being able to close out games should be a weapon in the Sun Devil's arsenal this season. Nine points. That was the difference between 6-6 and 10-2. Arizona State will be much closer to 10-2 this season than 6-6.

    Arizona State 31, Missouri 28

No. 15 Ohio State at No. 25 Michigan

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    What has happened to the greatest rivalry in sport?

    Ohio State won six straight games from 2004 to 2009 (before vacating the 2010 victory). While that's certainly one heck of a streak, it's not quite the longest this series has had. Michigan was 6-0-1 from 1945 to 1951 against the Buckeyes, 6-0 from 1922 to 1927, and 13-0-2 from 1897 to 1918, including nine-straight wins from 1901 to 1909 (in which Ohio State only scored 18 total points to Michigan's 285).

    But in the modern era, six consecutive wins is as good as it gets.

    But the wind seems to have shifted in the Big Ten over the summer. Michigan seems to be poised for an uptick with new leadership and an improving defense. Ohio State, on the other hand, is teetering on the precipice of NCAA sanctions, postseason bans and scholarship reductions, all spelling an end to the recent dominance of Ohio State in the Big Ten.

    This will also be the first time Ohio State has visited Michigan Stadium since the renovations to the Big House. While to some that might not mean a lot, the stadium now holds several thousand more fans, and by all accounts is much louder than it used to be.

    This game will undoubtedly set a new attendance record, and the outcome of the game is more in doubt this year than at any time over the previous three.

    Michigan 28, Ohio State 24

Miami at No. 8 Florida State

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    This once-great in-state rivalry has seen a number of bad seasons lately. Not only has Miami consistently not lived up to expectations, but Florida State has fallen flat over much of the same time frame.

    We are left with a game in which the memories were far better than the current reality.

    Times may be changing, however, in the Sunshine State. Florida State has hopefully turned the corner, and by the time November 12 rolls around, it's entirely possible that Miami will have finally made their way into November without becoming completely irrelevant in the ACC or national conversation.

    While there aren't any delusions about Miami winning a BCS title, or even making a BCS bowl this season, it can't possibly be as bad as last year was, can it?

    The Hurricanes will have ample opportunity to change the recent direction of their program, and a win over a powerful Seminoles team would announce to everyone that The U is back.

    But FSU is just too talented this season. The 'Canes have little hope against such an array of offensive weaponry and defensive prowess, especially considering the Miami offense hasn't been much to worry about lately. Even so, the game will be closer than many Florida State fans expect.

    Florida State 31, Miami 24

Pittsburgh at West Virginia

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    Easily the most important game of the Big East season will occur on November 25, when the conference title could very well come down to the winner of the clash between Pitt and WVU.

    Both teams have new coaches this season, and both programs are looking to climb back into the Big East driver's seat after a few years of wallowing in mediocrity.

    November 25 is so far away as to be very difficult to predict, especially when there are so many unanswered questions about each team. Still, it seems that West Virginia's winning pedigree and experience in terms of players on the field and the new coaching staff should give the Mountaineers an edge in the conference this season.

    West Virginia 38, Pittsburgh 28

No. 3 LSU at West Virginia

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    This is probably one game that many people don't see coming on LSU's schedule. After all, WVU isn't exactly top-10 material, and LSU is a favorite in the “all-powerful” SEC, right?

    Wrong. West Virginia may not even be ranked in many preseason polls, but that doesn't mean the Mountaineers won't be a very, very good team in 2011.

    Since Rich Rodriguez left for Michigan, the Mountaineers have had a distinct lack of offensive output. That will likely change now that Dana Holgorsen is at the helm. After masterminding one of the most prolific offenses we've seen in recent years at Oklahoma State, Holgorsen has been handed his own program at West Virginia. You can bet that the combination of Holgorsen and West Virginia's previous ability to score loads of points will be combined into an offensive juggernaut that will have the rest of the Big East shaking.

    Of course, LSU is no slouch. The Tigers are one of the top teams coming into 2011, and will be expected to head into Morgantown, and depart with a victory in tow. But that victory won't come nearly as easily as some people might expect.

    LSU 35, West Virginia 31

No. 25 Michigan at No. 10 Michigan State

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    It wasn't that long ago that then-Michigan running back Mike Hart rather classlessly referred to Michigan State as the “little brother” of football in Michigan.

    Oops.

    Since that statement was made, Michigan has been completely and utterly unable to have any measure of success against the Spartans. It seems Hart forgot about the second part of the “little brother” allegory. Eventually, he grows up, and beats the crap out of the older brother who showed him such disrespect.

    The Wolverines are getting exactly what they deserved after the hubris that had come with year after year of victories over MSU. Mark Dantonio took direct offense to Hart's statements four years ago, and in response, he has built a winning program not only against Michigan, but against the rest of the Big Ten, as well.

    With Brady Hoke now in control in Ann Arbor, the question becomes can the older brother shake out the cobwebs after the furious round of haymakers thrown by the Spartans over the past few seasons. Denard Robinson is certainly Heisman-quality talent, but U-M's defense has been suspect at their best, and down-right awful the rest of the time. A quarterback like Kirk Cousins should be able to pick them apart, even still.

    Michigan State 35, Michigan 28

Army vs. Navy

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    “The goat is old and gnarly, and he's never been to school, but he can take the bacon from the worn out Army mule.”

    This favorite Navy song sung to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic has certainly rung true over the past decade. Navy has beaten Army every season since Army's last win in 2001.

    The song concludes, “Army, Army, call the doctor, you're all in, down and out.” Well, it appears the boys from West Point took the advise, and called in the doctor, because the Black Knights won't be down and out much longer, at least not to the Midshipmen. Army has fielded some pretty sorry teams over the past decade, but things seem to be turning around for West Point.

    On the flip side, Navy has had some impressive squads under coach Ken Niumatalolo. A few wins over Notre Dame, and Annapolis thinks they're on top of the football world. Unfortunately, it seems likely that the era of beating Notre Dame, and Army, may be behind the Midshipmen.

    Army 24, Navy 17

No. 20 Nebraska at No. 11 Wisconsin

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    For Nebraska, this October 1 game will mark the beginning of a new era in Cornhuskers football. Nebraska will travel to Madison, Wisconsin for their first-ever Big Ten conference game, and it will definably be a trial by fire.

    Wisconsin is the odds-on favorite to win the Leaders Division in 2011. Nebraska is one of the teams in the hunt for a Legends Division title. This game will definably give the nation some idea as to where each team stands.

    Wisconsin is the prototypical Big Ten team, with a big, powerful run game and a rock-solid defense. Nebraska is the new blood, adding in some style to the substance of a decent pass-game and effective run-game. This game will definitely entertain, and a win will start Nebraska out on the right foot in the conference.

    But a win isn't a foregone conclusion, especially against a team like Wisconsin. As talented as Taylor Martinez is, he will find running the ball against the Badgers very dangerous. There a plenty of large defenders just itching to lay a crushing hit on Martinez, and the secondary is quick enough to snag any errant pass—something with which Martinez has had problems.

    Wisconsin 24, Nebraska 21

No. 9 Texas A&M vs. No. 14 Arkansas

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    Although this quality non-conference matchup may not get the same billing as, say, LSU and Oregon or even Boise State and Georgia, it's nevertheless a game to which everybody should be paying attention.

    Texas A&M isn't getting the type of attention one would expect a top-10 Big 12 team to get. That's probably because there are two other Big 12 teams still ranked ahead of the Aggies. Arkansas isn't getting much attention in the SEC this preseason for the same reason—everyone is focused on Alabama and LSU.

    Still, this game will feature two top teams from two of the nation's premiere conferences. A win could propel the winner on to an impressive conference season after being filled with confidence following this October 1 game.

    While Arkansas has some great talent and experience returning, and it's likely the Hogs will be on the upswing over the next few seasons, Texas A&M just has too much to play for in this game, and they have the weapons to really hand it to the Razorbacks. Add in the fact that this “neutral field” game will be played in Texas, and A&M also has some of the “intangible” factors on its side.

    Texas A&M 35, Arkansas 24

Utah at USC

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    Utah is new to the Pac-12, and this September 10 showdown with USC will be a trial by fire. This game has massive implications for Utah. Can they be successful in the Pac-12? Can they play at the highest level in the Pac-12? Do they have a shot at the Pac-12-South this season?

    All of those questions might be answered by the time this Week 2 game is over.

    USC is, of course, playing for nothing more than pride again this season. There will be no bowl game. There will be no Pac-12 Championship Game. The best USC can hope for is an undefeated season that goes unrecognized by anyone outside of the polling community. While the Trojans should be better than they were last season, they're going to begin to feel the effects of depleted scholarship totals. It's unfortunate, but the Trojans will be a mid-level Pac-12 team for the next few seasons.

    Utah just needs to figure out where they'll fit in.

    Utah 24, USC 21

No. 9 Texas A&M at No. 1 Oklahoma

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    With all of the talk about Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in the Big 12 this preseason, it's easy to overlook Texas A&M. The Aggies are the third wheel of the Big 12's preseason top-10 teams, but they're not excess baggage. The Aggies are a very good team, and they'll field some impressive talent this season. While the rest of the conference is blinded by the stars in Norman and Stillwater, the Aggies will be tearing through the Big 12 with quiet efficiency.

    By the time A&M and OU tangle on November 5, there won't be anyone left ignoring Texas A&M. This game will be one of the three most important Big 12 showdowns in 2011, and Oklahoma will have their hands full with a deep Aggie roster.

    Oklahoma 21, Texas A&M 19

No. 10 Michigan State at No. 15 Ohio State

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    These two conference one-loss teams from a year ago didn't have the opportunity to meet last season. This year, the two cross-divisional foes will tangle in Columbus on October 1.

    There are several things going Michigan State's way this year. First, Ohio State will still be reeling and smarting from the harsh soon-to-be imposed sanctions from the NCAA. Football in Columbus is like a cult, and when the NCAA comes in and says that the cult leader cheated, the range of emotions will be pretty staggering.

    Secondly, Ohio State has lost arguably their top player in Terrelle Pryor. Not only is Pryor gone, but there's no All-Star waiting in the wings. Sure, Ohio State has a program that is very deep when it comes to talent, but Terrelle Pryor was heads and shoulders above anyone else the Buckeyes had on their depth charts. Michigan State has a quarterback in Kirk Cousins who's not only talented, he's experienced.

    Finally, Ohio State has lost some of the coaching genius that was Jim Tressel. As big of a sleaze as he turned out to be, no one can question his ability to coach a team. Mark Dantonio is a former Ohio State assistant, and knows all of the ins and outs of Ohio State's philosophy—a philosophy that the Buckeyes will need to lean on heavily in 2011.

    Michigan State 28, Ohio State 21

No. 15 Ohio State at No. 20 Nebraska

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    There are a whole host of reasons this game is important.

    First, it will be Ohio State's first Big Ten road game of the year, and will also be the game when the remaining payers of the “Tattoo Five” are able to return to the field after serving their suspensions.

    For Nebraska, it will be the program's first-ever home Big Ten conference game, and it will be against the undisputed king of the Big Ten over the past seven or so years.

    While it's likely Ohio State will have nothing more to play for than pride this season, a win over a Nebraska team that's predicted to compete for a Big Ten championship will go a long way to restoring some pride in a program likely facing some major sanctions from the NCAA.

    A Nebraska win will signal the rest of the conference that the Cornhuskers are ready to play with the big boys right away—no adjustment period needed.

    Depending on the development of Nebraska's Taylor Martinez, this game could range anywhere from a close, tight battle to a lop-sided blowout.

    Nebraska 31, Ohio State 24

No. 8 Florida State at No. 23 Florida

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    It looks as if Florida State is back to a position where they can compete in this in-state grudge match once again.

    After Florida pretty much dominated this matchup for the better part of the last decade, the Seminoles finally got a much-needed win over the Gators in 2010.

    While the Seminoles have high expectations for 2011, the Gators are looking to erase last year's 8-5 record for their collective memory. One great way to put 2010 to bed once and for all is to beat a highly-ranked Florida State team at the Swamp on November 26.

    Regardless of what has happened up until this point, this game will be big for both teams. But the Seminoles just have too many things going their way, it seems. Florida will certainly improve over the next few seasons, but Florida State has a two-year head start.

    Florida State 35, Florida 27

No. 11 Wisconsin at No. 10 Michigan State

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    Last season, both Wisconsin and Michigan State earned a share of the Big Ten title. Of course, Michigan State beat Wisconsin head-to-head, handing the Badgers their only conference loss of the year. Michigan State went on to win every conference game, except their implosion against Iowa. Ohio State was, of course, in this mix, but with their recent vacation of all of their wins from 2010, by their own admission, it doesn't count.

    Wisconsin got the Rose Bowl bid since they ended the season with the highest BCS ranking amongst the three co-champions. Thankfully, we'll never have to go through that mess again. With a Big Ten Championship Game set for the first Saturday in December, every conference game means more than simple conference standings and bowl selections. A win or a loss could be the difference between a trip to Indianapolis or watching the game at home.

    When these two favorites from opposing divisions meet up at Spartan Stadium on October 22, it could set the tone for each team's season. A win will mean controlling one's own destiny. A loss could force a team to win out to even have a shot at Indianapolis.

    Both teams are big, both teams are strong, and both teams have talent. The one thing Michigan State has the could give them a leg up is experience, especially at quarterback.

    Michigan State 24, Wisconsin 21

No. 2 Alabama at Penn State

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    When this game was originally scheduled, Penn State was competing for Big Ten titles and BCS berths. Since then, the Nittany Lions have fallen off a tad. We won't blame Alabama for that, but the result is that this game just doesn't have the fire that it otherwise might have had.

    The fact of the matter is that this September 10 clash in State College, Pennsylvania will be more about Alabama than Penn State.

    Alabama will need to hand Penn State a similar beating to last year's 24-3 beat down to show the nation that the Crimson Tide are indeed ready to chase down another BCS title.

    Alabama 28, Penn State 14

No. 17 Mississippi State at No. 12 Auburn

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    Mississippi State proved last season that they have risen to the top of their respective tier in the SEC. While not quite on the same level yet as Alabama, LSU and the like, Mississippi State has reached the top of the “others” in the conference. Their next task is to prove that they can play with the best the SEC has to offer.

    Their first opportunity will come on September 10 when they travel to take on defending SEC and BCS champion Auburn. This will also be an important game for Auburn. The Tigers need to show that they can be successful, even after the massive talent drain suffered after last season. A win over the Bulldogs will go a long way towards Auburn's confidence for the rest of the season.

    Mississippi State 24, Auburn 21

BYU at No. 22 Texas

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    Texas suffered through an embarrassing, disheartening 5-7 season in 2010. If it truly was an anomaly, the Longhorns will be able to tell that to the country on September 10 if they can beat a very good BYU team.

    BYU, on the other hand, has moved out of the MWC and begins their life as football independents. A win over a Texas team will certainly be a feather in their cap, and BYU looks to have all of the weapons needed to beat teams like Texas.

    BYU 28, Texas 27

No. 2 Alabama at No. 12 Auburn

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    If last season's Iron Bowl wasn't enough for you, it's probably time you checked your pulse. The amazing comeback led by Cam Newton was one of the more thrilling installments of this series in quite some time. It's unlikely this season will see the same kind of battle.

    Alabama is starting the season as a top candidate for the BCS title game. Auburn, although defending BCS champions, is going to find out quickly just how important Cam Newton was to their team's success. And Alabama will be more than happy to show them, while also getting a little payback for 2010.

    Alabama 35, Auburn 17

No. 19 Notre Dame at No. 5 Stanford

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    Love 'em or hate 'em, it's a good thing for college football that Notre Dame is headed back to the realm of national relevance. After all, games like this actually matter now!

    Brian Kelly has enough weapons (on both sides of the ball) returning this season to make a legitimate run at the BCS this year. Stanford has Andrew Luck, but not much else. Luck will need to show that he's every bit as good as people think he is if the Cardinal are to have any hope of returning to the BCS this season. It's not certain (yet) that he is good enough to be a one-man team.

    Notre Dame 28, Stanford 21

No. 4 Oregon at No. 5 Stanford

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    This November 12 clash will be for all the marbles in the Pac-12-North. Realistically, there's no other football team in the North that can compete with the likes of Stanford and Oregon this season.

    Oregon has an arsenal of weapons returning on offense, and expect all of them to be used in a game that could make a very large statement for the Ducks.

    Stanford, for their part, has one very big weapon returning—Andrew Luck. Unfortunately, that's about all the Cardinal have coming back this season. While Stanford gets the benefit of the doubt in the preseason polls, by mid-November, it's likely their top-10 ranking will have vanished, as they probably won't be as dominant as they were last year against some middle-of-the-road Pac-10 teams. Keep in mind that as good as Stanford was last season, they still lost to Oregon, and it wasn't that close.

    This game will decide the North's participant in the Pac-12 Championship Game. And it will, not surprisingly, be Oregon.

    Oregon 38, Stanford 21

No. 13 TCU at No. 6 Boise State

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    It's a real shame that we only get this game for one lousy season. Officials at the Mountain West Conference must be kicking themselves. Losing TCU to the Big East in 2012 will be a major loss to the conference, even with Boise State and Nevada coming on board. Had TCU been convinced to stay, there would have been a very good argument for a MWC BCS tie-in.

    Alas, we're left to wonder what might have been. At least we get this game in 2011.

    Unfortunately for TCU, it's going to be a game at Boise, where the Broncos are next to impossible to defeat. Of course, TCU has the other unfortunate problem of having a severely depleted roster. TCU just won't be the same Rose Bowl-winning Horned Frogs of last season. Boise State will make the most of their opportunity for a quality win and strength-of-schedule boost, and thrash the Frogs.

    Boise State 35, TCU 21

No. 1 Oklahoma at No. 7 Oklahoma State

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    This is one game that we'll unfortunately have to wait until December to see. By that time, who knows what might have happened. Both teams could be undefeated, and fighting for a spot in the BCS title game. One team may have lost once (or twice or more), and could be relegated to a spoiler role.

    Regardless of how the season turns out, it would be shocking if this game didn't have massive BCS implications. The Sooners will travel to Stillwater during what was usually “championship week” in the Big 12. While the Big 12 lost its conference championship game, it is desperately trying to stay relevant in the first week in December, and has scheduled their final week on a Saturday that has traditionally been reserved for CCGs. So much for respecting tradition.

    It is, of course, possible that this game may be a de facto Big 12 championship game, and could amount to a BCS Championship Game play in. Oklahoma is being treated as divinely anointed this season, and as great as Oklahoma State is, it has to be a sore spot to Cowboys fans that their team is still the “other” team in Oklahoma.

    That probably won't matter once the final second runs off the clock, though. Oklahoma State will finally be able to break through to the BCS with a huge, thrilling win over the Sooners.

    Oklahoma State 45, Oklahoma 42

No. 3 LSU at No. 2 Alabama

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    There is probably no other conference game during all of 2011 that carries more national importance than this November 5 clash between LSU and Alabama.

    Of course, a lot will undoubtedly change by November, but right now, it's hard to envision this game not being of massive importance in the SEC-West. And when a game is important in the West, it's important in the SEC. And if it's important in the SEC, it's important to the BCS.

    Picking between LSU and Alabama is probably like picking between ketchup and catsup, Folgers and Maxwell House, McDonald's and Burger King, Coke and Pepsi. Each one has both its fans and critics. Each one has reasons to like them and dislike them.

    So who do you pick in this one? Again, by November 5 we'll probably have a better idea, but for now, flipping a coin might be just as effective as any in-depth analysis.

    Alabama 31, LSU 30

No. 6 Boise State at No. 24 Georgia

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    One of the great matchups in Week 1 this season sees Boise State again traveling east to begin their season.

    Last year, the Broncos pulled out a thrilling win against eventual ACC Champion Virginia Tech. Georgia isn't exactly Virginia Tech. Sure, the Hokies lost to FCS James Madison last season, but they rebounded nicely en route to an ACC title and Orange Bowl berth. Georgia had a few rough losses and ended the season with a resounding thud—and a losing record.

    While the Georgia Dome will be hopping for this game, Boise State just has too much talent and experience for the Bulldogs to handle. That doesn't mean Georgia will face another losing season, though. No one should be shocked at a loss to a top-10 team, and no one should be shocked at a loss to Boise State anymore.

    Boise State 35, Georgia 17

No. 1 Oklahoma at No. 8 Florida State

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    Although we have to wait a few weeks for this September 17 clash to roll around, you can bet that both teams will likely have their top-10 rankings in place. This game probably means more to Florida State than it does to Oklahoma.

    First, Florida State, as good as they may turn out to be, will be a massive underdog. Oklahoma is supposed to run the table, right? Second, there are a lot of doubters out there when it comes to Florida State's 2011 chances. There has been a ton of hype surrounding the Seminoles, and who knows what is true and what isn't?

    Well, this game will certainly tell us.

    While the game may mean more to FSU, it will mean a heck of a lot to Oklahoma if they lose. While either team losing in this game doesn't mean they're out of the BCS bowl picture, it may make the road to the BCS title game extremely difficult. Since Oklahoma is supposed to be a lock for the title game this season, a loss would be devastating.

    Still, Sooner fans shouldn't lose any sleep over it.

    Oklahoma 38, Florida State 28

No. 3 LSU vs. No. 4 Oregon

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    LSU has apparently decided to buck the SEC trend of scheduling some pretty weak out-of-conference opponents because “the SEC schedule is so tough.”

    Good for LSU. That excuse was wearing thin, anyhow.

    Not only does this game pit two top-five teams against one another, it does it in Week 1 on a neutral field.

    Does it get any better than this? Not in Week 1, and maybe not for the rest of the season until we get to the January bowls.

    Both teams will be returning so much talent, it's hard to pick between either one. In the end, it will probably come down to the defense (that's right, defense), as in who can keep the other team from scoring on a couple of drives.

    Expect this game to be high scoring, with enough fireworks to satisfy even the most ravenous hunger for offensive explosions. In the end, Oregon may have a few too many weapons with the ball. LSU will score a ton of points, but Oregon will score a ton, plus a couple.

    Oregon 48, LSU 42