By Stewart Mandel
August 30, 2012
College Football Pickoff: Week 1
Thursday, Aug. 30
7 p.m. ET (ESPN) No. 9 South Carolina at Vanderbilt
Steve Spurrier recently paid the Commodores a compliment in a way only the Ball Coach could. "They are trying to play football at Vanderbilt," he said. "They really are." Vandy should be improved on offense after a 6-7 season, but its defense can't withstand four quarters of Gamecocks star Marcus Lattimore if he's recovered from last year's knee injury.
10:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) Washington State at BYU
Mike Leach returns to his alma mater with a Cougars team surprisingly well equipped to run his pass attack, so look for a big night from receivers Marquess Wilson and freshman Gabe Marks. But Wazzu is completely overmatched defensively. Given all night to throw, BYU quarterback Riley Nelson will begin what could be a memorable senior season.
Friday, Aug. 31
7:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU) NC State vs. Tennessee
Tennessee receiver Da'Rick Rogers' suspension and subsequent dismissal plus the presence of Wolfpack All-America corner David Amerson will make it hard for Vols quarterback Tyler Bray to key on big-play wideout Justin Hunter. But unlike in past years, Tennessee can win another way: Its now-experienced offensive line will open holes for emerging running back Rajion Neal.
8 p.m. ET (ESPN) No. 24 Boise State at No. 13 Michigan State
Boise's ultra-diverse offense will prevent William Gholston, Marcus Rush and the rest of Michigan State's loaded defense from teeing off on new quarterback Joe Southwick. The problem is on the other side: A powerful Spartans rushing attack will be too much for the Broncos' green defensive line to handle, creating play-action opportunities for new starter Andrew Maxwell.
Saturday, Sept. 1
9 a.m. ET (CBS) Navy vs. Notre Dame
It's been a rough offseason for the Irish, with star defensive end Aaron Lynch's transfer, quarterback Tommy Rees' arrest and suspension, corner Lo Wood's season-ending injury and top running back Cierre Wood's two-game suspension. Barring a Denard Robinson-like debut from quarterback Everett Golson, the Irish will win in Ireland by shutting down Navy's offense.
3:30 p.m. ET (ABC) Southern Miss at No. 17 Nebraska
Last year's 12-2 Southern Miss team might have posed a legitimate threat to the Huskers. The Eagles, however, lost head coach Larry Fedora and nearly every important offensive skill player. It's possible that defensive-minded coach Ellis Johnson will have a plan to frazzle Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez, but more realistically, running back Rex Burkhead will lead a rout.
7 p.m. ET (ESPN) No. 14 Clemson vs. Auburn
Clemson's 38-24 win last year over defending national champion Auburn marked a breakout for quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins en route to a 10-win season. Watkins is suspended for this one, and Clemson's offense may run into trouble against new Auburn coordinator Brian VanGorder's defense. Gene Chizik's team begins a bounce-back year.
8 p.m. ET (ABC) No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 8 Michigan
Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson spent the offseason refining his passing mechanics, and he has the chance to exploit the Tide's inexperienced linebackers if he breaks containment. But there's no understating the mismatch of Alabama's NFL-in-training offensive line against Michigan's rebuilding defensive line. Expect the Tide to grind it out one handoff at a time.
Monday, Sept. 3
8 p.m. ET (ESPN) Georgia Tech at No. 16 Virginia Tech
There's no detailed explanation needed: It's hard to envision the Hokies losing at home in a primetime showcase game. It's possible Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Al Groh will have some tricks in store to frazzle Virginia Tech star Logan Thomas and/or Tech's rebuilt offensive line will struggle, but Bud Foster's defense will be fully prepared for the triple option.
Saturday, Noon ET (ESPN) Ohio at Penn State
Beaver Stadium will be overflowing with pent-up emotion, and the Nittany Lions will come out playing with an offseason's worth of NCAA-fueled anger. But that will wear off after a couple of series, at which point Penn State won't be able to mask a total lack of offensive playmakers, making it susceptible to upset against an Ohio team that won 10 games last season.

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