By Stewart Mandel
September 02, 2011
College Football Pickoff: Week 1
Friday, Sept. 2
8 p.m. ET (ESPN) No. 14 TCU at Baylor
UPSET SPECIAL: Why not a Friday night upset to kick things off? Baylor reached its first bowl in 16 years last season but struggled against elite teams, including a 45-10 loss to TCU. But the Bears are catching the defending Rose Bowl champs at the right time, with QB Casey Pachall and 11 other new starters adjusting to their roles. Baylor's Robert Griffin will make a few big plays to start the party in Waco.
Saturday, Sept. 3
8 p.m. ET (ABC) No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 4 LSU
Give Les Miles time to prepare and he will probably win. The eccentric coach is 6-0 in openers, 25-0 in regular season nonconference games and 5-1 in bowl games at LSU. The Tigers' deep and talented defensive line will cause problems for Oregon's rebuilt o-line, but the Ducks still have a bevy of playmakers. LSU, playing with backup QB Jarrett Lee and without suspended WR Russell Shepard, is very limited.
8 p.m. ET (ESPN) No. 5 Boise State vs. No. 19 Georgia
Boise State has one of the sport's most accomplished quarterbacks (Kellen Moore), an elite tailback (Doug Martin) and a dominant defensive line. Georgia went 6-7 last year and is relying heavily on first-year players. There is no football-specific reason to pick against the Broncos. But Mark Richt's Dawgs have invested so much in this game, and they will pull the upset in front of a de facto home crowd.
8 p.m. ET (FX) Tulsa at No. 1 Oklahoma
The Hurricane's hopes of pulling off a monumental upset may have died when star Damaris Johnson, the NCAA's career all-purpose leader, was suspended and charged with felony embezzlement this week. Tulsa QB G.J. Kinnne, who ranked fourth nationally in total offense last year, can still do damage. But here's guessing Gus Johnson will be calling a whole bunch of Landry Jones-to-Ryan Broyles bombs.
3:30 p.m. ET (NBC) USF at No. 16 Notre Dame
While I believe Notre Dame legacy Skip Holtz will contend for the Big East title in his second season at USF, I also believe Brian Kelly's team is more talented and poised for its own second-year leap. Ballhawk safety Harrison Smith will pick off Bulls QB B.J. Daniels twice, and while USF may be able to stuff ND's running game, it won't have as much success defending Dayne Crist-to-Michael Floyd.
3:30 p.m. ET (ABC) Minnesota at No. 25 USC
Some are throwing this one out as a possible Week 1 upset. Anything's possible ? but don't count on it. Dynamic Gophers QB Marquise Gray could cause problems for Monte Kiffin's USC defense, but Nick Perry and the Trojans d-line should cause more problems for Gray. And while USC's running game is suspect, Minnesota doesn't have the talent on defense to contain Matt Barkley for 60 minutes.
Noon (ESPNU) Northwestern at Boston College
We already knew BC would be without preseason ACC player of the year Montel Harris. Now Northwestern's proclaimed Heisman candidate, quarterback Dan Persa, is listed as questionable. Without Harris, the Eagles can't fully exploit a Wildcats defense that struggled mightily against elite runners last season. Without Persa, backup Kain Colter faces a stiff challenge. You might as well toss a coin.
4:45 ET (ESPN) BYU at Ole Miss
Nobody's talking about Ole Miss -- and that's just the way Houston Nutt likes it. The SEC's all-time survivalist is always good for a surprise in years like this, and it might start with West Virginia transfer QB Barry Brunetti. But nobody's talking about BYU, either. Cougars QB Jake Heaps has a year's experience, his offensive line is strong and the Cougars' defense is physical. The Rebels' rise can wait.
Sunday, Sept. 4
7:30 p.m. ET (FSN) SMU at No. 8 Texas A&M
The Aggies are leaving the Big 12. The Mustangs would love to take their place. That doesn't seem likely, but SMU has a chance to prove it's in the same league football-wise. The Mustangs should continue their upward climb in coach June Jones' fourth season, but the Aggies have too many difference-makers on offense (Ryan Tannehill, Cyrus Gray, Jeff Fuller) for SMU's defense to contain.
Monday, Sept. 5
8 p.m. ET (ESPN) Miami at Maryland
Even before the eight NCAA suspensions, Miami faced a difficult opener. The Terps won nine games last year thanks in part to a stout rushing defense (led by safety-turned-linebacker Kenny Tate) and the emergence of now-sophomore Danny O'Brien as a promising QB. The 'Canes can still rely heavily on their rushing attack, but their depleted defense will be hard-pressed to shut down O'Brien.
Record Last Season: 120-70
Week 1 Preview
Source:SI previews the biggest games of opening weekend, including LSU-Oregon, Georgia-Boise and more.

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