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SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
8/14/2006 01:10:00 PM

Setting Sights on Sept. 2

Oakland Arena
Michigan couldn't stop Northern Illinois RB Garrett Wolfe last season. How will Ohio State fare next month?
Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images

While I usually travel to a game most Saturdays, I like to stay home and camp out in front of a TV the first Saturday of the season in order to get a first glimpse of as many teams as possible. In terms of this year's opening Saturday, there are three games -- USC at Arkansas, Notre Dame at Georgia Tech and Cal at Tennessee -- getting the lion's share of attention, and rightfully so. But that doesn't mean some of the lower-profile games won't be equally intriguing.

Here are a few more under-the-radar Sept. 2 matchups I'm looking forward to:

∙ Northern Illinois at Ohio State: You won't have to wait until the following week's Texas game to get a read on the Buckeyes' rebuilt defense. Right off the bat, they're faced with the nation's leading returning rusher, Garrett Wolfe (175.6 yards per game), who sprang for 148 yards on just 17 carries in last year's opener at Michigan.

∙ Utah at UCLA: The first test for new Bruins QB Ben Olson -- who would have faced the Utes eventually had he stayed at BYU -- comes against a tough Utah pass defense led by preseason All-America defensive back Eric Weddle. I actually consider the Utes to be the favorites in this one, but maybe I'm underestimating the Bruins.

∙ Stanford at Oregon: I guess when your conference goes to a nine-game schedule, you don't mess around. This one might look like a mismatch, but remember, the Cardinal came on strong the second half of last season, beating Arizona State and taking both UCLA and Notre Dame to the wire. I'm also excited to see Ducks RB Jonathan Stewart in a featured role.

∙ Akron at Penn State: Remember a few years back when Toledo went to Beaver Stadium and shocked the Nittany Lions? I don't think that's going to happen here, but Penn State would be wise not to take the defending MAC champions lightly. It will be interesting to see star Zips QB Luke Getsy go against the Lions' rebuilt secondary.

There are plenty of others as well. What game are you most looking forward to opening weekend?
posted by Stewart Mandel | View comments |


Posted: 1:27 PM   by Anonymous
Tennessee v. California. If the game is close, regardless of who wins, I think it bowds well for both teams and how they will do this year. If one crushes the other, it may spell early doom for the crushee. Of course, Tennessee's offense I think will be the deciding factor (and judging from the first scrimmage, things aren't looking well at UT).
Posted: 1:27 PM   by Chad Tiller, Dallas Texas
Don't forget about Washington State visiting Auburn. First chance to see Kenny Irons and Brandon Cox work their magic. I am also interested in seeing the Oklahoma/UAB matchup, just to see if Paul Thompson can make anything happen in Norman.
Posted: 1:44 PM   by ojarhead
Doesn't matter! I'm just looking forward to camping out on the lazy boy all day and soaking in the first football weekend of the year. After being subjected to WNBA games on network television this past weekend...I CAN'T wait for CFB to begin!!!!!
Posted: 2:10 PM   by Justin
I agree with ojar head. I've been waiting all month for that weekend, and I'm gonna enjoy it.
Posted: 2:34 PM   by Chris Monti (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
Rutgers at North Carolina. If Rutgers loses by more than 7 points, it may be an indicator that the Scarlet Knights are getting too much praise for going 7-5 against a weak schedule in 2005. However, if RU loses a close one or even wins...on the road...against an ACC team, then Rutgers may be able to build on last year and finish 8-4.
Posted: 2:34 PM   by Anonymous
I know Texas vs. North Texas won't really be a competitive game, but it should still provide some insight about UT's quarterback situation, which will directly affect the following week's #1-vs.-#2 showdown with Ohio State. As such, I think it's worth watching closely.
Posted: 2:46 PM   by Anonymous
Alabama-Hawaii. The rainbows handed Shula's Tide an 8 point beatdown in his 4-9 first season as head coach. It will be interesting to see if the Bammer secondary is up to the task of defending the Rainbow pass attack, and if Alabama's new starting QB, John "Sarah Jessica" Parker Wilson, is ready to lead the team.
Posted: 3:31 PM   by Anonymous
I'm looking forward to seeing how I-AA champ App State handles NC State.
Posted: 3:31 PM   by Anonymous
The wife insists we visit the daughter and son-in-law THAT weekend. The girls plan to go shopping. If the son-in-law wants to go fishing, I'll read about the openers in the Sunday paper. If not, I'll watch whatever game I can... even Western Kentucky at Georgia (the kids are Dawgs).
Posted: 3:31 PM   by Anonymous
I'm really looking forward to Auburn and Washington St. Auburn tends to come out slow in the season opening games and the Pac-10 is always looking for respect. This is the third SEC-Pac 10 game of the weekend but maybe the only one where the SEC is favored.

Posted: 4:06 PM   by Anonymous
Marshall at West Virginia. WVU won't admit it, but this game means a great deal to both sides. Emotions will be high and WVU is after a national title. This rivalry game is long overdue.
Posted: 4:10 PM   by Anonymous
I might watch the Webcast of Navy vs East Carolina...
Posted: 4:15 PM   by Anonymous
Nevada @ Fresno State. Revenge will be the name of this game. Nevada brought Fresno State back to earth after their performance against USC last year. My money is on Fresno State making a statement even with a new quarterback. With Oregon coming to town the next week, Fresno State needs to come out blazing. BTW, this is the only game on September 1st.
Posted: 4:22 PM   by Anonymous
For all you fans of mediocre football out there, feast your eyes on Virginia v. Pittsburgh - two schools who annually find a way to disappoint their fans early in a college season - and you don't get any earlier than Labor Day weekend!
Posted: 4:26 PM   by JP
"Alabama-Hawaii. The rainbows handed Shula's Tide an 8 point beatdown in his 4-9 first season as head coach. It will be interesting to see if the Bammer secondary is up to the task of defending the Rainbow pass attack, and if Alabama's new starting QB, John "Sarah Jessica" Parker Wilson, is ready to lead the team."

Very original. The Auburn vs. Washington State game should be good seeing as Auburn never really starts to play until about week 3. I remember the Georgia Tech game pretty well.

All SEC vs. Pac-10 matchups will be good simply b/c there is a lot of pride out there for both conferences.

Look for Arkansas to give USC all it wants and Southern Miss to play Florida tough too. USM always gives SEC teams a run for their money. Their coach has them prepared.
Posted: 4:29 PM   by markus - boulder CO
Northwestern v. Miami-Ohio.
With Randy Walker passing away during the offseason, there may not be a more emotional game the first weekend.
Posted: 4:30 PM   by Anonymous
OU v. UAB - Not only will we get to see the nation's best defense in action, but also OU will show that they won't be missing Rhett Bomar at all, as Paul Thompson is going to have an outstanding game.
Posted: 4:32 PM   by Anonymous
Notre Dame @ Georgia Tech in the first night game of the year doesn't make the list? You get to see if the Irish defense is really that much better, an Irish offense that is going to be potent, Ga. Tech's always solid defense and possibly the best receiver in the country.
Posted: 4:34 PM   by Anonymous
AU - Washington State.

It'll be interesting to see how AU will respond on the field after yet another off-season filled with scandals and arrests. Could they be this year's version of the 2005 Tennessee team? Too many off the field distractions could spell doom for Tubs and his merry band of sociology majors. The $7 million buyout will keep Tubs around for a few more years, so one terrible season won't force the Trustees to gas up the jet quite yet.
Posted: 4:40 PM   by MichiganBo
Tennessee vs California and Michigan vs Vanderbilt.......Not only do the Vols and Wolves need wins BUT for these programs STYLE POINTS will "count".....They need to win and look good doing it.......For the Vols a repeat of the UAB opener from last year would be a sign of disaster...Vandy has upgraded the program and they are no easy out for Michigan!
Posted: 4:41 PM   by Anonymous
auburn by 21 over washington state.
Posted: 4:42 PM   by Anonymous
I'll say CalBears v. Tennessee. The Bears new O-Coord and an untested (Longshore) or unnerved (Ayoob) QB versus an SEC-team and 100,000+ fans at Neyland. This is a huge indicator whether the Bears are BCS-quality or just a strong PAC-10 team.
Posted: 4:49 PM   by Anonymous
Akron vs. Penn State
We'll see how psu returns after going 11-1 and an orange bowl victory. No michael robinson, but the defense should be able to shut down the zips fairly easily.
Posted: 4:54 PM   by Anonymous
Oklahoma v. UAB.

I'll be curious to see how Paul Thompson looks under center. Hopefully they'll avoid another opening season lapse like they did last year against TCU.
Posted: 4:58 PM   by ojarhead
"Notre Dame @ Georgia Tech in the first night game of the year doesn't make the list? You get to see if the Irish defense is really that much better, an Irish offense that is going to be potent, Ga. Tech's always solid defense and possibly the best receiver in the country."

Read the blog again..LOL. I'm pretty sure ND-GT is mentioned. :)
Posted: 4:58 PM   by Joe-- Boulder, CO
West Virginia vs. Marshall-- WV teams have a history of taking their in-state little brother lightly and getting burned for it. If WV can get past this nightmare-in-the-making, they'll probably do fine from there on out.
Posted: 4:59 PM   by Patrick Williams, Chicago
Hello, what about Georgia Tech vs. Notre Dame? There's also Vandy at the Big House, could be interesting. And how about USC at Arkansas, maybe the razorbacks can get lucky against an unknown USC rebuilding team? I'll not dwell on Tenn vs. Cal, Fulmer needs some big wins to stay in town...
Posted: 5:04 PM   by Anonymous
California Vs Tennessee , well see if the Vols can handel the new spread offense in Cals offense , pluse Cals threats in the back field and in the Air watch out for the 3 headed monster from cal and the 2 headed dogg in the backfield .
Posted: 5:08 PM   by Anonymous
Florida State v Miami.....Labor Day night....the Orange Bowl...and both teams have got to be better than lasdt year right?
Posted: 5:16 PM   by Anonymous
Spending monday night at the Orange Bowl, 50 yard line, with my kids shouting "Go Canes" as they (hopefully) silence the war chant of the Seminoles
Posted: 5:16 PM   by Anonymous
Texas vs UNT...but I guess that's because I'm going to be at the game.

BTW, new scoreboard in DKR; biggest screen in the world :)!
Posted: 5:19 PM   by Saimon
Rutgers at UNC. This is the year the Scarlet Knights will show they have what it takes compete with upper tear teams.
Posted: 5:26 PM   by JC
Hogs and Trojans - Razorbacks return 19 starters and SC reloads. Should be a great atmosphere in Fayetteville.
Posted: 5:57 PM   by Anonymous
West Virginia at home against in state rival Marshall. WVU has to win big to keep the favor of the media. a close game will bring on the haters.
Posted: 6:05 PM   by Aaron F
I know you have Sept 2, but Sept 3rd you have Louisville playing, be interesting to see Bush and Brohm
And then Monday Sept 4th, Miami - FSU!!!
Posted: 6:05 PM   by Anonymous
Wisconsin vs. Bowling Green
Bucky will get it done in fashionable style in the Cleveland Browns Stadium in Cleveland.

On Wisconsin!
Posted: 6:20 PM   by Anonymous
Definately West Virginia/Marshall. The schools play during the basketball season, and it's about time that they face each other on the football field. I know it'll be a great day for the state because they have waited for it for a while. WVU should be huge favorites in the game, but Marshall won't fall into the WVU hype. I can't wait for opening week. GO MOUNTAINEERS!!!
Posted: 6:26 PM   by unger
Notre Dame at Georgia Tech. I'm confident that the Irish defense will be better than advertised, but their secondary will certainly get a test facing Calvin Johnson, a Bilitnekoff front-runner. If Ambrose Wooden and Co. can hold him in check, they'll have no problem with the likes of Dwayne Jarret and Steve Breaston.
Posted: 6:28 PM   by Anonymous
Not a single game listed comes close to the Tenn v. Cal game. Not only is it a major out of conference matchup, the questions to be answered for both programs in terms of what to anticipate during the season will be answered, in large part, here. Ohio State and N. Ill? If it is even close at the half, the Buckeyes will have been a disappointment.
Posted: 6:31 PM   by Anonymous
as a canes fan (and an alum), the game i have my eyes on are against fsu on monday. i want to see if our o-line will keep kyle wright protected of if this will be another long year in miami. either way, i expect another defensive struggle like the previous 2 years in this one. i hope they change this game back to october so this matchup looks better.
Posted: 6:32 PM   by Anonymous
How about Arizona vs. BYU? If the Mike Stoops regime is for real, the Cats need to beat the Cougs. If not, upcoming games against LSU and USC could signal continued bad times in the desert. Also, how about starting Mormon linebacker Spencer Larson getting some revenge against BYU for not recruiting him?
Posted: 6:41 PM   by SectionY
Arizona/BYU...maybe not the best but definitley this game could stage the season for two teams with huge expectations. Arizona could be a dark horse in the PAC-10 this year.
Posted: 6:56 PM   by Anonymous
Marshall at WVU.
My favorite neice, a freshman at Marshall, has a ticket to the game, in which her uncle's alma mater should race by the "Blundering Herd." Unfortunately, this is a no-win game for the Mountaineers, but could cultivate a worthwhile rivalry if they continue play beyond the current schedule.
Posted: 6:57 PM   by Anonymous
Tennessee and California seems like a marquee matchup, but I can't wait for the Bears to show these scrubs up on national television and dominate. Teams like Tennessee just seem to get credit because of their name. A No. 23 ranking in the coaches' poll is a joke for this team, which has absolutely no prayer on offense. It doesn't matter that the stadium will be covered in orange--Cal will be so far ahead early in the game that the students and other faithful will be gone by halftime. I loved ESPN's "experts" pinpointing 15 teams they think could win a national title and not even offering a mention of the Bears. No respect, no problem.
Posted: 7:07 PM   by Anonymous
West Virginia v. Marshall - Can the Mountaineers start off on all cylinders and build from there? Can Marshall compete with the big boys? WVU is salivating for a big win since this series was forced by the Governor of WV and created an even more diluted schedule for WVU.
Posted: 7:24 PM   by Melanie
I am giddy at the closeness of college football. Preseason polls are pointless, so the first weekend's games are always highly anticipated, everyone waiting to see what their team will do on the field. WAR EAGLE!
Posted: 7:28 PM   by osoteallen
I know it's not a marquee game but I can't wait to see the fireworks that BYU's offense will set off in the BYU @ Arizona game. Both teams seem evenly matched, what with BYU being suspect defensively, and U of A being Stong defensively. I figure The Cougars will score ~40 pts. I just hope the defence can hold The Wildcats to under 40
Posted: 7:48 PM   by Sarah
OU vs. UAB: I want to see what Thompson can do, what the offense looks like without Chuck Long and whether Adrian can duplicate the success that he had his freshman year.

Florida vs. Southern Miss: This is supposed to be the year that everything 'clicks' at Florida. I'm interested to see what happens.
Posted: 7:48 PM   by Anonymous
Nevada @ Fresno St. I think that this will be the most exciting game on the slate on opening weekend. This is the only game on Sept. 1st and Fresno St. has something to prove to the nation after a letdown since losing to USC. Nevada is a very solid team which is also trying to become the next mid-major powerhouse as they laid an upset on Fresno last year dashing the hopes of a conference title for the Bulldogs. This is also going to be the most important of all the games as these two teams butt heads in this conference opener. Fresno St. has to start quick with one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the nation. If you haven't seen these programs play, I suggest you tune in! Fresno St. has some of the most impressive talent in the nation and produces NFL talent in abundance every year.
Posted: 8:01 PM   by Anonymous

If you tune in, you will agree! These two teams are ligit and this is their conference opener.

This will be the year that Pat Hill takes the Bulldogs to the promise land, they have serious talent at every position.

I jumped onto the the Bulldog band wagon after I witnessed Fresno St. handle USC. If Reggie Bush were never born, Fresno would have won that game hands down and there would be a lot more people next to me on the band wagon.

War Bulldogs!
Posted: 8:06 PM   by Anonymous
Marshall vs WVU

In state rivaly renewed. Should also be interesting to see if the mounties can live up to the hype. Couldn't follow thru in 2004.

WVU lost the last the two years in basketball to an inferior Marshall squad.
Posted: 8:23 PM   by Eric
I honostly think the Notre Dame @ Georgia Tech game will be the highlight of the weekend. We down here in Atlanta are feeling like this is gonna be the upset that Tech pulls every season.

Then again, we could have three upsets with playing Miami (at home) and against a QB-less UGA team. GO JACKETS!!!
Posted: 8:35 PM   by Anonymous
the app v. nc state game is interesting to me too - two teams no one knows what to expect from. app could win that game, but then again, nc state could win the acc title if a few things go its way.
Posted: 8:40 PM   by Anonymous
Umm..Joe from Boulder...you say "WV teams have a history of taking their in-state little brother lightly and getting burned for it."


You do know Marshall has never beaten WVU. They've never even come close. Not even when they had Randy Moss and Chad Pennington on their team in '97.
Posted: 9:13 PM   by Anonymous
ARKANSAS vs usc. HOGS sporting high school quarterback of the year Mitch Mustain. usc rebuilding. Good matchup. GO HOGS!!!!!!!!!!!
Posted: 9:14 PM   by Anonymous
FLORIDA STATE v. Miami... we can really see if FSU or Miami can live up to their hype and blow the other team out of the water.

On one side you have Miami with a weak spring Kyle Wright, and on the other hand you have FSU with a still, not strong O-Line and the cursed kicker Cismensia.

Definetly will be a game to see however. Love those rivalry weekends! (Go Noles!)
Posted: 9:17 PM   by Anonymous
NIU vs Ohio State!!!

Do NOT underestemate the Huskies. If any team out there knows how to provide a good upset, its them. Not sure who will win, but I guarentee this will be one of the greatest games this season. With Garett Wolfe and Doug Free on the offense, Dustin Utschig and Ken West on D, NIU is definitely bringing the pain to the horseshoe on Sept 2nd.
Posted: 9:26 PM   by Chuck Corey
OU vs UAB. We will get an insight as to how the sooners are going to rebound after losing Bhomar. The Sooners dropped quite a bit in every poll, so i think the team will be out to prove something. Should be a very interesting game.
Chuck Corey,Scottsdale Arizona
Posted: 9:47 PM   by FAN
South Carolina vs Mss.St. Too many question marks revolving around South Carolina on both sides of the ball, State will be a good test to see where the program stands.AND on the Other side of the ball Croom needs a Conference win BAD. this could be a huge springoard for the team.Plus it will wet the appitite for the games in the comming weekend.
Posted: 9:56 PM   by Anonymous
Me and the three other people that will be watching Illinois vs Eastern Illinois. Please Mr. Zook, all I want for Christmas is a competitive Illinois football team.
Posted: 10:08 PM   by TN TarHeel
Rutgers at North Carolina. If the Tar Heels can beat a bowl team, even a lowly Rutgers bowl team, they can win 7 this year and perhaps get the program back on track. A Rutgers win, which would be trumpted endlessly by Big East apologists, will only show how much better and more important ACC football is than Big East football, for UNC has been without a winning season this century.
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