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After a magical '04, watch out for Boise State

Posted: Friday September 2, 2005 1:26PM; Updated: Friday September 2, 2005 1:31PM
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Opening weekend. For college football fans it matches the excitement of Opening Day. Each year the mid-majors close the gap on the big boys, and last year Utah finally cracked the BCS. This season several other teams are vying to follow suit. Five years ago, who would have thought Boise State-Georgia would be the premier game of the weekend, but Saturday it is. Replace the batteries in the remote, stock the fridge and break out that crusty old T-shirt from your favorite school. College football is back.

Marquee Matchup
(18) Boise State at (13) Georgia
5:30 p.m. EST (ESPN)
Stanford Stadium (92,746)


Jared Zabransky
Can Jared Zabransky and his Boise State teammates continue last season success in Georgia?
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Boise State proved last year it is much more than the school with the cool Smurf-blue turf. The Broncos won 25 consecutive games before losing to Louisville 44-40 in the Liberty Bowl. Coach's Dan Hawkins' innovative variation of the spread offense is one of the nation's best and was second in the nation in scoring (48.9 points per game) and fourth in total offense (492.7 yards per game). With stealth junior quarterback Jared Zabransky (2,927 yards, 16 TD's in '04) at the controls, expect Boise to keep the Georgia defense on its heels. But in order to be effective the Broncos need to establish the running game so the Bulldogs don't blitz every down. That means senior backs Lee Marks and Jeff Carpenter will have to come up big.

After patiently waiting behind David Greene (the all-time winningest quarterback in NCAA history) for four years, D.J. Shockley gets his chance to lead Georgia. Shockley is extremely athletic and has a decent arm, but could be forced into mistakes if pressured. He must play under control. Expect Bulldogs coach Mark Richt to try and take the pressure off of Shockley by leaning on a trio of talented sophomore running backs in Danny Ware, Thomas Brown and Kregg Lumpkin. They will be aided by a veteran offensive line who should dominate up front. The biggest question for Georgia is how its defense will respond after its two biggest playmakers left for the NFL. The Bulldogs must slow down Boise when it counts, or the Broncos will make them pay.

Final Analysis

This one has the makings of a 47-44 shootout. Both offenses can move down the field and score, but the game will hinge on which team can get stops late. This will be a test for Georgia as Boise is better than many teams the Bulldogs will face this season. I'm leaning toward Boise and like the Broncos chances. I love Hawkins' offense and the Broncos won't be intimidated going into Athens. Georgia has many questions, especially on defense, and Boise is a well-oiled machine.

High Stakes Game
Notre Dame at (23) Pittsburgh
8 p.m. EST (ABC)
Heinz Field (65,000)

Two NFL veterans -- Pitt's Dave Wannstedt and Notre Dame's Charlie Weis -- square off in their college-coaching debuts. Both were left with a bunch of talent. Expect this one to be hard-fought and close. Wannstedt has the slight edge because the Panthers are at home and he has a trio of playmakers in quarterback Tyler Palco, wideout Greg Lee (the Big East's leading receiver in '04) and linebacker H.B. Blades. But Weis has a terrific player in junior quarterback Brady Quinn, and we saw what Weis did with Tom Brady.

Mismatch of the Week
Louisiana Lafayette at (2) Texas
7 p.m. EST (FSN)
Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium (80,082)

Poor Louisiana-Lafayette. Several players and coaches are still trying to pick up the pieces after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and football is understandably the furthest thing from their minds. Making matters worse, the Ragin' Cajuns lost five of their final six games to finish at 4-7 in '04, and this is a rebuilding year. How many yards do you think Longhorns quarterback Vince Young will run for against the ULL defense? Answer: As many as he wants. Texas may be thinking ahead to next week's showdown with Ohio State, but it won't matter. The Longhorns won the last meeting 52-10 in 2000 and this one could be uglier.

Under the Radar
Ohio U at Northwestern
Ryan Field (47,130)

With the much-hyped debuts of Urban Meyer at Florida, Steve Spurrier at South Carolina, Weis at Notre Dame and Wannstedt at Pitt, few people are talking about former Nebraska coach Frank Solich taking over at Ohio U. Here is a guy who was 58-19 in six years in Lincoln and was unceremoniously fired after a 10-3 season in 2003. Solich will succeed at Ohio, but it might take him a while before he gets his first win. After Northwestern, the Bobcats face Pitt at home and then travel to Virginia Tech.

Upset Special
Bowling Green at Wisconsin
Camp Randall Stadium (76,129)

MAC teams may not have the size and depth of their Big Ten counterparts, but many of them have the talent. Bowling Green quarterback Omar Jacobs is a stud who makes good decisions (41 touchdown passes, four interceptions last season) and can take over a game by himself. He'll give the Wisconsin D all it can handle and just might leave Camp Randall with a victory.