By Stewart Mandel
August 29, 2013
College Football Pickoff: Week 1
Saturday, Aug. 31
3:30 p.m. ET (ABC/ESPN2) No. 13 Oklahoma State vs. Mississippi State (in Houston)
It's a pivotal season for fifth-year Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen, who hopes to elevate his program from the middle rungs of the SEC. Quarterback Tyler Russell should have a big year and could find success against the Cowboys' suspect D, but this is not the ideal opener for a team replacing a pair of NFL cornerbacks. Oklahoma State will throw all day, and receivers Josh Stewart and Tracy Moore will run wild.
3:30 p.m. ET (ABC/ESPN2) Penn State vs. Syracuse (in East Rutherford, N.J.)
It's probably not a great sign that Penn State coach Bill O'Brien has yet to name a starting quarterback, but the Nittany Lions have no shortage of proven commodities elsewhere, including receiver Allen Robinson. Syracuse, on other hand, is a bit of a blank canvas under first-year coach Scott Shafer. It's possible the Orange will break out a cadre of new playmakers, but until then, Penn State is the safer bet.
5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) No. 1 Alabama vs. Virginia Tech (in Atlanta)
These teams last met in this same event four years ago. Virginia Tech led 17-16 heading into the fourth quarter before Alabama pulled away to win 34-24. But former Tide quarterback Greg McElroy was making his first start that day. Current 'Bama signal-caller AJ McCarron is now a third-year starter with far more weapons at his disposal. The Hokies' offense against the Tide's defense is also just a flat-out mismatch.
8 p.m. ET (ABC) No. 5 Georgia at No. 8 Clemson
Both teams' offenses are explosive, and both teams' secondaries are questionable. Still, don't expect Dawgs quarterback Aaron Murray to throw the ball 45 times. Georgia will likely pound it with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and try to keep Tajh Boyd off the field. While LSU unsuccessfully attempted a similar strategy in last year's Chick-fil-A Bowl, Gurley and Marshall are special and will get first downs.
9 p.m. ET (ESPN) No. 12 LSU vs. No. 20 TCU (in Arlington, Texas)
Gary Patterson won't say whether Casey Pachall or Trevone Boykin will start at quarterback or why suspended star defensive end Devonte Fields is now listed as a co-starter. Les Miles won't say whether running back Jeremy Hill is suspended. Forget the mind games. This will be a physical game regardless, and LSU's fearsome defensive line, while inexperienced, is still brimming with the athleticism needed to win ugly.
10 p.m. ET (Fox Sports 1) No. 19 Boise State at Washington
The nation's least-talked about big-time running back, Washington's Bishop Sankey, averaged 154.6 yards over his final five games in 2012 -- including 205 yards on 30 carries against Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. The Broncos should be better prepared this time, but Huskies quarterback Keith Price will begin his redemption season by making enough big plays to give Washington its first win in the rebuilt Husky Stadium.
10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2) No. 22 Northwestern at Cal
This one definitely has upset potential. Even with a true freshman quarterback in Jared Goff, the Bears have adapted to new coach Sonny Dykes' pass-happy offense more quickly than expected, and Northwestern's pass defense isn't its strong suit. But Cal is one of the youngest teams in the country. The veteran Wildcats will ride quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark and force a couple of key turnovers.
Sunday, Sept. 1
3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Ohio at No. 9 Louisville
The Bobcats have done the opening-week upset thing before (last year at Penn State), and here's guessing that quarterback Tyler Tettleton and running back Beau Blankenship will cause ample problems for the Cardinals' defense. But Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and receiver DeVante Parker will be the best players on the field, and the Cards' superior athleticism will allow them to pull away in the second half.
Monday, Sept. 2
8 p.m. ET (ESPN) No. 11 Florida State at Pittsburgh
All eyes will be Florida State's ballyhooed redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, but fans should temper their expectations. Jimbo Fisher-coached quarterbacks -- JaMarcus Russell, EJ Manuel -- tend to follow more gradual career arcs. But Winston won't likely need to put up 400 yards in this one. The 'Noles' defense is loaded with fast, athletic upperclassmen who will stifle Panthers quarterback Tom Savage.
Thursday, Aug. 29
6 p.m. ET (ESPN) North Carolina at No. 6 South Carolina
After an offseason of relentless Jadeveon Clowney hype and Steve Spurrier Arby's photos, the Gamecocks will finally get to play football again. They'll find out quickly that the Tar Heels -- and quarterback Bryn Renner, in particular -- are pretty darn good. UNC will have success between the 20s, but it will hit some speed bumps in the red zone against a stout South Carolina defense. Gamecocks' quarterback Connor Shaw will burn the Heels' D a few times.
9:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) Ole Miss at Vanderbilt
Rebels coach Hugh Freeze's hurry-up offense just started to find its rhythm late last season. Quarterback Bo Wallace will be more prolific this fall, though he might struggle at times against Vandy's unheralded D. The Commodores, replacing both quarterback Jordan Rodgers and running back Zac Stacy and likely playing without suspended receiver Chris Boyd, will struggle to find their groove on opening night.
10:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU) Rutgers at Fresno State
Few outside Piscataway, N.J., remember that Rutgers started 9-1 last season before dropping its last three games. Even fewer remember that Fresno went 9-4 and shared the Mountain West title with Boise State. Led by star quarterback Derek Carr and wide receiver Davante Adams, the Bulldogs will produce offensive fireworks this season, but they'll win this one behind an experienced, top-25 defense from 2012.
Friday, 8:30 p.m. (Fox Sports 1) North Dakota State at Kansas State
Behold, my first-ever FCS over FBS pick. The Bison -- FCS' two-time defending national champs -- have knocked off Kansas, Minnesota and Colorado State in the past three years. Of course, none was a reigning BCS bowl team, but K-State is certainly vulnerable (and equally capable of turning right around and winning 10 games). Bill Snyder's squad is breaking in a new quarterback and 10 new defensive starters.

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