Posted: Monday August 27, 2012 12:35PM ; Updated: Monday August 27, 2012 7:18PM
Stewart Mandel
Stewart Mandel>COLLEGE FOOTBALL OVERTIME

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Current BCS forecast

USC is the preseason favorite, but newly anointed starter Marcus Mariota and Oregon may have a better chance of reaching the BCS title game.
USC is the preseason favorite, but newly anointed starter Marcus Mariota and Oregon may have a better chance of reaching the BCS title game.
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest games. Here's my preseason edition:

Title game: LSU vs. Oregon
Rose: USC vs. Michigan State
Fiesta: Oklahoma vs. Wisconsin
Sugar: Alabama vs. Texas
Orange: Florida State vs. Louisville

For my preseason bowl projections of all 35 games, click here.

And it all comes full circle from last year's opening weekend. If my predicted championship game comes true, we'll have another rematch come Jan. 7. This time, however, it'll be a rematch of a game played 16 months earlier.

It's pretty simple: I like LSU because it's the most talented veteran team in the country. USC may be a close second, but concerns over the Trojans' reduced depth and defensive line make me think it will be hard for USC to beat Oregon twice (as it would have to if the Ducks reach the Pac-12 championship game). I see both the Tigers and Ducks finishing 12-1 and atop the polls after their conference championship game wins over highly ranked foes.

For the second consecutive year, no non-AQ teams will make the BCS, because most of the best non-AQs have either moved up (TCU) or lost their coaches (Houston, Southern Miss), and because Boise State is replacing practically its entire starting lineup. That could make for a couple of pretty glamorous at-large choices in Glendale and New Orleans, while the Orange Bowl may finally get an in-state team. ('Noles fans would presumably prefer to play in Miami six days later.)

Spreading the field

• Defending national champion Alabama will break in seven new defensive starters Saturday against Michigan, but based on preseason prognostications there seems to be little concern that Nick Saban will reload. That wasn't the case the year after the Tide's 2009 championship, when a 9-3 regular season was marked by defensive breakdowns. But a key difference may be that much of this year's new crop saw significant action last season, including in the BCS title game.

Filling the role of first-round strong safety Mark Barron will be sophomore Vinnie Sunseri, who had 31 tackles in 2011. Cornerback Dee Milliner, a starter two years ago, takes over for Dre Kirkpatrick. Trey DePriest, one of three sophomores expected to start at linebacker, had 25 tackles last year. "We lost some great players," said incumbent linebacker Nico Johnson, "but we're still Alabama. ... We're going to have great players as backups and those guys have to step up."

• For the first time since 1966, Penn State will open a season with a first-year head coach. Athletic officials are planning no "wholesale changes" to the game day experience at Beaver Stadium, which is good, since the folks in the stands had zero to do with the Jerry Sandusky scandal. The team Bill O'Brien fields against Ohio will be down 10 players post-sanctions. Keep an eye on sophomore tailback Bill Belton, who is stepping in for Silas Redd.

• There are a few scratches for this weekend's Atlanta doubleheader of Tennessee-NC State (Friday) and Clemson-Auburn (Saturday). Tennessee's 1,000-yard receiver Da'Rick Rogers, indefinitely suspended last week, has left the team. Auburn starting center Reese Dismukes will sit following a public intoxication arrest over the weekend. Clemson, meanwhile, was already set to play without All-America Sammy Watkins, who is serving a two-game suspension for an offseason arrest.

• The ACC has embraced Labor Day evening as a showcase window, and this year's edition should prove far more consequential than last year's Miami-Maryland dud. Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech are playing arguably their most important divisional game in Week 1. It will be the first chance to watch the Hokies' new backfield: Redshirt freshman Michael Holmes is listed as starting tailback, with true freshman J.C. Coleman likely to see early playing time.

• Mike Leach's Washington State debut Thursday night comes at his alma mater, BYU. Though Leach was not involved in football as a student, LaVell Edwards' trendsetting program became the most influential in shaping Leach's noted passing offense. "Early in my coaching career I used to go there and hang out during spring football," said Leach. "... They were throwing the ball all over the place. It influenced me directly, and it's a core of a lot of things we do offensively."

• No program in America embraces walk-ons like Nebraska. The Huskers' starting offensive line for Saturday's opener against Southern Miss is expected to include three former walk-ons: center Justin Jackson and guards Spencer Long and Seung Hoon Choi. Long got a scholarship earlier this summer; Jackson and Choi -- a native Korean who moved to Lincoln at 14 -- got the good news during camp. Coach Bo Pelini has awarded scholarships to 18 walk-ons since 2008.

• Meanwhile, Iowa's offensive line is taking pride in its own coincidental commonality: All five starters -- left tackle Brandon Scherff, left guard Matt Tobin, center James Ferentz (son of head coach Kirk), right guard Austin Blythe and right tackle Brett Van Sloten -- are Iowa natives. "It's pretty awesome," Scherff told the Cedar Rapids Gazette. "We're not a highly recruited state like all the southern schools are, but it gives us a little boost, something to feel good about."

• After a clunky 2011 season playing its "home" games at the San Francisco Giants' baseball stadium, AT&T Park, Cal happily returns to renovated Memorial Stadium on Saturday against Nevada. The Bears' home since 1923 underwent a much-needed $321 million overhaul, with about two-thirds of the outdated structure torn down and rebuilt. Among the beneficiaries: the comically decrepit visitors locker room. "I'm sorry we had to fix that," joked coach Jeff Tedford.

• That's not a misprint on Saturday's schedule: Oklahoma is playing at UTEP. The school had to scramble last winter after originally scheduled nonconference foe TCU suddenly became a Big 12 rival.

• Former Oregon star LaMichael James tweeted some high praise Friday for new Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota: "he will possibly be the best qb to ever play at Oregon! He's the real deal." But then James apparently deleted it. #mixedmessage

• Some controlling coaches won't let their players use Twitter. USC, on the other hand, now lists players' Twitter handles on its weekly depth chart.

• Finally, is it a bad sign that Akron's starting quarterback, Dalton Williams, spent his first three seasons as a backup at Stephen F. Austin?

 
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