August 27, 2014

Look beyond campus for the big games this weekend: College football's season-opening extravaganza features four marquee matchups in NFL stadiums.

No. 1 Florida State begins defense of its national championship against Oklahoma State at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the billion dollar home of Dallas Cowboys - and the first College Football Playoff title game.

At NRG Stadium in Houston, No. 13 LSU faces No. 14 Wisconsin in an SEC-Big Ten matchup.

In Atlanta, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game has done so well since its debut in 2008 that this season they'll play two at the Georgia Dome.

Boise State faces No. 18 Mississippi on Thursday night. No. 2 Alabama, making its fourth appearance at the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game, meets West Virginia.

Atlanta was at the forefront the growing trend for neutral-site games, with ESPN helping to play match-maker. As teams try to fortify their schedules without signing up for too many home-and-home series that require true road games, neutral site matchups and the paydays they offer to both teams have become even more appealing.

''This format of kickoff games is only going to expand,'' said Gary Stokan, president and CEO of the Chick-fil-A Bowl Peach Bowl.

Charlotte, North Carolina, is getting into the act starting next season when South Carolina and North Carolina play at the home of the NFL's Panthers. West Virginia and Tennessee are slated to play at Bank of America Stadium in 2018. Orlando, Florida, hopes to join the crowd in 2016 after the Citrus Bowl is reconstructed.


The picks:


No. 21 Texas A&M (plus 10 1/2) at No. 9 South Carolina, Thursday night

Over/under on times Johnny Manziel is mentioned during SEC Network's first game: 5 ... SOUTH CAROLINA 38-24.

No. 13 LSU (minus 5) vs. No. 14 Wisconsin at Houston, Saturday

The Leonard Fournette era begins at LSU as Tigers get a chance show off their new star tailback on a national stage ... LSU 24-17.

No. 16 Clemson (plus 7 1/2) at No. 12 Georgia, Saturday

Last year the Tigers were too tough in Death Valley. Between the hedges, Dawgs try to have their day ... CLEMSON 27-24.


No. 1 Florida State (minus 19) vs. Oklahoma State at Arlington, Texas, Saturday

Jameis Winston and the `Noles are a tough opening act for rebuilt Cowboys ... FLORIDA STATE 38-17.

No. 2 Alabama (minus 26 1/2) vs. West Virginia at Atlanta, Saturday.

T.J. Yeldon. Derrick Harvey. Kenyan Drake. With running backs like that does it really matter who plays QB for the Tide? ... ALABAMA 35-14.

No. 5 Ohio State (minus 14 1/2) vs. Navy at Baltimore, Saturday

Navy' QB Keenan Reynolds could put his Heisman campaign into overdrive with an upset ... OHIO STATE 42-24.

No. 18 Mississippi (minus 10 1/2) vs. Boise State at Atlanta, Thursday

The days the Broncos used to win these games are starting to seem like a distant memory ... MISSISSIPPI 28-20.

Arkansas (plus 21) at No. 6 Auburn, Saturday

Razorbacks are hoping slow and steady can at least keep them in this race. Fast-paced Tigers looking to leave them in the dust ... AUBURN 45-21


No. 7 UCLA (minus 21) at Virginia, Saturday

Bruins practice at 7 a.m. in California, so they say they'll be wide awake for noon ET kickoff ... UCLA 31-13.

Fresno State (plus 21 1/2) at No. 15 Southern California, Saturday

Trojans routed Bulldogs to end last season in Las Vegas Bowl - and that was with Derek Carr playing for Fresno ... USC 40-17.

Rice (plus 21) at No. 17 Notre Dame, Saturday

After an academic suspension cost him last season, Everett Golson returns for the Irish in his first game since BCS blowout against Alabama. This should be easier ... NOTRE DAME 34-17.


Penn State (plus 1 1-2) vs. UCF in Dublin, Ireland, Saturday

Knights won in Happy Valley last year - with Blake Bortles. The Nittany Lions have the star QB this year in Christian Hackenberg ... PENN STATE 27-21.

Rutgers (plus 8) at Washington State in Seattle, Thursday

Lots of passes ... WASHINGTON STATE 38-21.

North Texas (plus 25) at Texas, Saturday

With a new coach in Austin, we'll find out how far along Texas is to being (hash)LonghornStrong? ... TEXAS 35-17.

California (plus 11) at Northwestern, Saturday

Wildcats are unified, if not unionized ... NORTHWESTERN 38-24


No. 25 Washington (minus 16 1/2) at Hawaii

Huskies in paradise as Chris Petersen makes his debut as UW coach ... WASHINGTON 52-17


Miami (plus 3 1/2) at Louisville, Monday

Hurricanes welcome Cardinals to ACC with freshman QB in Brad Kaaya ... MIAMI 24-21.


Louisiana Tech (plus 38) at No. 4 Oklahoma, Saturday

Boomer Sooner blowout ... OKLAHOMA 56-14.

SMU (plus 33) at No. 10 Baylor, Sunday

Bears open a fancy new stadium with same old offensive fireworks ... BAYLOR 56-21

FAU (plus 22 1/2) at No. 22 Nebraska, Saturday

Will Husker coach Bo Pelini's spring game cat make a regular-season appearance? ... NEBRASKA 41-14.


Follow Ralph D. Russo at

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