Early glance at Week 1

The beautiful thing about college football is that every game, week in and week out, is part of a regular season schedule that essentially serves as a yearlong playoff leading up to the announcement of the final BCS standings and bowl season — the most wonderful time of the year.

Now that we have hit the month of June, baseball has center stage — unless your team has bottomed out and is preparing for “sell” mode leading up to the trading deadline.

For those of us who always have football on the brain, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of the biggest games on the college schedule for opening weekend.

Although an opening-week loss doesn’t necessarily kill off your chances to play for a national championship, Week 1 for some teams can provide the necessary spotlight to stake their claim to the their piece of the title picture.

LSU vs. North Carolina (at Georgia Dome): The physical North Carolina defense, led by DE Robert Quinn, will offer a brutally difficult test to an LSU offense looking to establish itself as a more productive and consistent unit in 2010. The Tar Heels underachieved in a weak ACC last season, while the Tigers struggled on the ground behind a subpar offensive line — a recipe for disaster in the SEC. We’ll find out right away how improved Les Miles’ team is and whether or not Butch Davis’ group is ready to make a serious run at an ACC title.

Purdue at Notre Dame: New Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly makes his debut in South Bend against a Purdue team led by new quarterback Robert Marve. It’s going to be strange to see the Irish running a spread offense every Saturday afternoon — and it’s going to take some time for players to get comfortable in the new system. But for the Irish to have any semblance of a successful season, their porous defense must make big strides under new coordinator Bob Diaco. For the Boilermakers, life without starting running back Ralph Bolden begins, as he was lost to a torn ACL. The team is hopeful that newly reinstated Justin Siller can contribute in a variety of ways on offense to make up for the loss of Bolden.

Washington at BYU: The last time these two teams played, Washington quarterback Jake Locker was flagged for a celebration penalty that helped cost the Huskies a chance at an upset win. But this is a new era of UW football, and Locker will get his chance to show the nation that he is getting even better under quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier and head coach Steve Sarkisian. BYU likely will take a step back this year as the Cougars deal with the losses of QB Max Hall, RB Harvey Unga and TE Dennis Pitta. But there’s no question that the Huskies face a tough environment on the road right away.

Connecticut at Michigan: Will Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez be opening his third and final season in Ann Arbor? Likely not, as the Wolverines should be a much improved, more competitive team in 2010. The off-the-field issues? That may be another story. But whether Tate Forcier or the improving Denard Robinson is under center, Rich Rod’s future may hinge on a defense that has to at least be decent week-to-week. UConn, meanwhile, returns 18 starters and has as much talent as ever under head coach Randy Edsall. Will panic set in at Michigan Stadium if Huskies QB Zach Frazer and RB Jordan Todman lead the offense to an early score?

Oregon State vs. TCU (at Cowboys Stadium): Expectations are very high for a TCU squad that returns 18 starters from its Fiesta Bowl team last season. Led by dual-threat quarterback Andy Dalton, the Horned Frogs will have a definitive home-field advantage at Cowboys Stadium against the Beavers, who unquestionably have the toughest nonconference schedule in the nation (vs. Louisville, at Boise State). Oregon State head coach Mike Riley has thirty-six victories in the last four seasons and always has his team flying under the radar, but the Horned Frogs’ defense likely will be too much for Beavers sophomore quarterback Ryan Katz.

Boise State vs. Virginia Tech (at FedExField): Boise State returns all but one starter from last season’s undefeated squad and the Broncos can take a huge step in their quest for an appearance in the National Championship game when they battle Virginia Tech at FedExField. Prolific Boise quarterback Kellen Moore will face a defense that may be less than stout, as coordinator Bud Foster is rebuilding the unit. Will it gel enough this summer to be ready for the No. 1 scoring offense from last season? The Broncos’ defensive line was one of the most overlooked in the nation last season and could be the difference in this game.

Other Week 1 games to keep an eye on:

UCLA at Kansas State
Pittsburgh at Utah
USC at Hawaii
Cincinnati at Fresno State
Southern Miss at South Carolina

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