Four ranked teams will be playing today, but none will face each other.
- Marshall at #2 Ohio State, 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network: These teams met on the same field nearly six years ago to the day and Marshall came close to winning, losing by 24–21. Based on current rankings, I would expect Ohio State to cruise to victory.
But Marshall has never been shy about taking on big–name foes, even if the prospects for victory were slim. In recent years, Marshall has played Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Miami (Florida), West Virginia, Georgia and others. Marshall seldom wins those games, but occasionally it comes close. Still, I'll pick Ohio State.
- Florida A&M at #13 Miami (Florida): Based on recent history, this should be the closest match yet in their sporadic series.
Miami whipped Florida A&M, 48–16, last year. Before that, the teams met in 2006, and the result was an even bigger triumph for the Hurricanes, 51–10. Prior to 2006, they met in the 2002 season opener, with Miami winning, 63–17. In 1999, the two played and Miami rolled to a 57–3 win.
In fact, last year's game was the first time A&M held Miami under 50 points since 1995, when Miami won, 49–3. And it's been nearly 20 years since A&M held Miami under 40 points.
But it's been even longer since Florida A&M defeated Miami (1979). I don't think that streak will be snapped tonight. Florida A&M may find a way to hold Miami under 50 points again — but I expect Miami to win.
- #14 USC at Hawaii, 9 p.m., ESPN: These two teams faced off in the season opener in Hawaii five years ago, and USC rolled, 63–17. They faced each other in California two years earlier, and USC was the winner on that occasion as well, 61–32. In fact, USC always seems to be scoring in the 60s when it faces Hawaii. The Trojans won in 1999, 62–7, and you have to go back to the late 1970s to find a time when Hawaii's defense put a lock on USC's defense.
My best guess — at this early stage of the season and knowing the turmoil that has surrounded the USC program in the offseason — is that USC will prevail, but those 60–point performances are history. The Trojans will need to be satisfied with half that, considering that Hawaii hasn't surrendered more than 60 points since the last time these teams played, and USC has cracked the 60–point barrier only once since the 2005 season.
- #15 Pitt at Utah, 7:30 p.m., Versus: These teams are meeting for the first time since the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, 2005. Utah won that meeting, 35–7, en route to a 12–0 record.
I don't think they have played on any other occasion, and Pitt is the more highly regarded program today, but it is worth remembering that Utah was 10–3 last year, with losses to three teams that were in double digits in wins last season. I'll take Utah in a marginal upset. After all, Utah had some support in AP's poll, just not enough to crack the Top 25.
- San Jose State at #1 Alabama: Hmmm. Let's see. Alabama is the defending national champion and the home team. San Jose State has broken .500 twice in the last decade and is coming off a 2–10 season. I don't think I'm going out on a limb to pick Alabama.
- Miami (Ohio) at #4 Florida, 11 a.m., ESPN: Likewise, I don't think it is a reach to pick Florida to win its opener against Miami (Ohio). Miami went 1–11 last year. OK, Tim Tebow is gone, but I still think the Gators should cruise in this one.
- #5 Texas at Rice, 2:30 p.m., ESPN: Texas and Rice used to play each other every year in the old Southwest Conference. There was a time, I am told, when Rice was competitive with Texas. It hasn't been that way in a long time, and it won't be competitive this time. I pick Texas.
- #24 Oregon State vs. #6 TCU at Dallas, 6:45 p.m., ESPN2: This actually should be a pretty decent game if the weather cooperates.
Lately, the weather here has been cooler. Not cool — but it is cooler than it's been. Currently, the forecast calls for a high around 90° in Arlington on Saturday. By the time Saturday actually gets here, it might be cooler. Or it might be warmer. This is Texas. And it is early September.
From that perspective, TCU has the advantage. I'll take TCU
- Utah State at #7 Oklahoma: Utah State traveled to Oklahoma two years ago and lost big, 54–3.
Before that, Utah State last came to Norman in 1991 and lost by the (comparatively) closer score of 55–21.
Before that, you have to go back to 1974, when Utah State got hammered, 72–3.
I think a trend has been established. I'll take Oklahoma
- Western Kentucky at #8 Nebraska: Western Kentucky was 0–12 last year. Nebraska narrowly lost the Big 12 title game to Texas.
Give me Nebraska.
- Eastern Illinois at #9 Iowa: I think this is Eastern Illinois' first–ever visit to Iowa. It shouldn't be too memorable.
I'll take Iowa.
- New Mexico at #11 Oregon: I don't think New Mexico and Oregon have played each other before.
And, when you consider that New Mexico is 5–19 in the last two seasons, it's hard to imagine Oregon losing this game. Give me Oregon
- #12 Wisconsin at UNLV, 10 p.m., Versus: UNLV played host to Wisconsin in 2007 and almost came away with a victory.
Can UNLV pull it off this time? Nah. I'll take Wisconsin.
- South Carolina State at #16 Georgia Tech: I can't imagine South Carolina State winning this game. Give me Georgia Tech.
- Tennessee Tech at #17 Arkansas: I grew up in Arkansas, and I can't recall a time when these schools ever faced each other.
Maybe they did, but Arkansas certainly must have won the game. If the Hogs had lost, I'm sure I would remember it.
Anyway, the game is being played in Fayetteville, and I have heard nothing that would lead me to believe that Arkansas might lose. So I will predict an Arkansas victory.
- #21 LSU vs. #18 North Carolina at Atlanta, 7 p.m., ABC: This may be the most intriguing matchup of the weekend, in large part because these teams so seldom face each other.
In fact, I have found no evidence that the teams have met in football in nearly a quarter of a century. They played each other a couple of times in the mid–1980s, with LSU winning both times. Prior to that, they hadn't met since 1964, when LSU prevailed en route to a Sugar Bowl victory over Syracuse and an 8–2–1 record.
In 1961, LSU opened the season with a loss to Rice, then ran off 10 straight wins, including a victory in the Orange Bowl. One of those wins was over North Carolina. Before that, you'd have to go back to the days of the Truman administration to find the next game between these schools.
I guess you could say North Carolina is due for a win, and a neutral field might work in the Tar Heels' favor. But I've been watching SEC football ever since my alma mater (Arkansas) joined the conference, and LSU is almost always good. So I'll pick LSU to win, even though I expect it to be a close game.
- Youngstown State at #19 Penn State, 11 a.m., Big Ten Network: Youngstown State's last visit to Penn State came in 2006, when Penn State won, 37–3.
I don't know if the schools faced each other before that, but, really, does it matter? I expect Penn State to win this one, easily.
- Samford at #20 Florida State, 11 a.m., ESPNU: The post–Bobby Bowden era begins. It won't begin with a loss. I'll take Florida State
- Arkansas State at #22 Auburn, 6 p.m., FSS: Since Arkansas State last traveled to Auburn in 2005 (and lost, 27–0), ASU has won 16 games and lost 23. One of those wins was a win against a decidedly down Texas A&M squad in 2008, but the rest of its wins were against struggling programs.
I think it is safe to say that, after a down year in 2008, the Tigers are back in form and are not likely to be struggling, at least not in their opener. I'll take Auburn
- Louisiana–Lafayette at #23 Georgia, 11:21 a.m., SEC Network: I think this is the first time these schools have played each other in football so there's no historical comparison to make. But is it really necessary? I mean, come on. This is Georgia we're talking about. Non–SEC opponents almost never win between the hedges. I'll take Georgia.
- Coastal Carolina at #25 West Virginia: Quick. What is Coastal Carolina's team nickname? OK, I didn't know, either. And it really doesn't matter, does it? Here's a much more relevant question. Why should I pick Coastal Carolina to do what very few teams have been able to do (i.e., win at West Virginia) in the last several years? I see no compelling reason to pick the Chanticleers. So I'll take West Virginia.
- #3 Boise State vs. #10 Virginia Tech at Landover, Md., 7 p.m., ESPN: I don't think these teams have played each other before, but it's certainly a good primetime test for the potentially BCS–busting Boise State football team. Boise went 14–0 in 2009 and has lost only four times in the last four seasons.
Virginia Tech is a worthy challenger, ranked 10th in the nation this season and winner of at least 10 games a season in nine of the last 11 years.
And the game is apt to be a showcase for some of the talent that should be in the running for this year's Heisman. Cory McCartney observes, for SportsIllustrated.com, that Boise QB Kellen Moore is one of the leading contenders going into the season — but he may need a spectacular performance to overcome his team's non–BCS status.
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams is a longshot, McCartney writes — not because of a lack of talent but because of a lack of touches.
"[W]ith the return of 1,000–yard rusher Darren Evans to the Hokies' lineup and the pair expected to split carries," writes McCartney, "Williams' production could suffer."
Boise State has played and beaten some big–name teams in recent years, including Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl a few years back. And Boise is coming off another Fiesta Bowl triumph, its 17–10 win over TCU in January,
But the last time Boise played a 1A team after winning the Fiesta Bowl, the opponent won the game. And that is what I'm predicting here — Virginia Tech to win.
On the other hand, the last team to open the season at Virginia Tech — Alabama, last year — won and went on to win the national championship. So, if Boise wins, watch out!