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Four Top-25 Matches Highlight Opening Week

by Dave Congrove
August 29, 2010

Four matches between Top-25 teams in the Congrove Computer Rankings make opening weekend well worth the wait. All but one of those four games are at NFL stadiums on neutral sites, giving them the feel of opening week bowl games.

The best is saved for last when No. 8 Virginia Tech faces No. 1 Boise State on Labor Day Monday night at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins. Many have said that Boise State's hopes of a BCS title shot are riding on the outcome of this game, but that's probably true for both teams. The first-ever meeting between the two schools features Boise State QB Kellen Moore and a Virginia Tech rushing attack led by Ryan Williams. A year ago, Moore threw for 3,536 yards while completing 64.1% of his passes for 39 TD's and 3 INT's as a sophomore. Williams ran for 1,655 yards and 21 TD's as a redshirt freshman. The computer lists the Broncos as a huge 15.66-point favorite.

The Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic comes two days earlier, but doesn't kickoff the season as its name implies (that happens Thursday). The participants in the 3rd annual Atlanta event are No. 13 North Carolina and No. 24 LSU. Alabama won the first two editions of this game for the SEC by defeating Clemson and Virginia Tech on the floor of the Georgia Dome, the home of the Atlanta Falcons. LSU has defeated UNC in 5-of-6 previous meetings, but the schools haven't played each other since 1986. Butch Davis' squad has faced a wave of NCAA scrutiny over the past several weeks, ranging from improper benefits to academic misconduct. Several North Carolina starters, mostly defensive, could be turned into spectators for this game. The computer tapped the Tar Heels to win by 4.89 points and end their 62-year victory drought in the series that dates backs to 1948, but its pick isn't adjustable to such uncertainty.

Sadly, we have to choose between watching the LSU-North Carolina game or the Oregon State-TCU game. The first is on ABC at 8 p.m. (ET) on Saturday while the latter is on ESPN at 7:45 (ET).

The computer likes TCU by 10.03 points as the 3rd-ranked Horned Frogs and 17th-ranked Beavers use Cowboys Stadium in Arlington as the venue for their first-ever meeting. The Beavers have the nation's toughest schedule that includes a trip to Boise State three weeks after this game.

Thursday night's lone game between ranked teams has No. 18 Utah hosting 21st-ranked Pitt. It's the second meeting between the two teams, and the first since Utah's 35-7 win in the Fiesta Bowl at the conclusion of the 2004 season. The computer picked Utah by 14 in that game, and favors the Utes by 3.83 this time around.

WORTH MENTIONING:
Thursday
USC at Hawaii - Worth mentioning because it's USC's first game with Lane Kiffin as head coach. More importantly, it's USC's first game without Pete Carroll as head coach since 2000. Still more importantly - perhaps - it's USC's first game since being hit with tough probation penalties in the offseason that include a two-year bowl ban. The computer likes the Trojans to win by a dozen.

Minnesota at Middle Tennessee - The Sun Belt's Blue Raiders are an 8.97-point computer pick over the Big Ten visitors, but that doesn't take into account the suspension of QB Dwight Dasher. The dual-threat signal-caller may have broken an NCAA rule by accepting a loan to play poker. The school can't take any chances so Dasher will sit while the NCAA determines its position. A year ago, Dasher ran for 1,391 yards and 13 TD's, and passed for 2,789 with 23 TD's. The Blue Raiders have a pair of California junior college transfers as backups. Middle Tennessee owns the nation's 3rd-longest current winning streak at 7 games, trailing only the 14-game streaks of Alabama and Boise State.

Southern Miss at South Carolina - The Gamecocks are 12.62-point computer favorites and have won 10 straight season-openers.

Saturday
Washington at BYU - When these teams met two years ago at Washington, the Cougars escaped with a 28-27 win. Jake Locker's 2-yard run brought the Huskies to within 1 point with just 2 seconds left, but he was flagged for a questionable excessive celebration penalty and the 35-yard PAT wound up getting blocked. The computer takes the Mighty Mormons by 13.37.

Cincinnati at Fresno State - The first game of the Butch Jones era in Cincinnati is a tough one and the Bearcats are only favored by 3.20.

Colorado vs. Colorado State (at Denver) - The Rams are a 9.78-point underdog, but they were a 7.41-point dog when they won last year's game 23-17 for their first victory in Boulder since 1986. This year's game returns to neutral territory at Mile High Stadium, home of the Denver Broncos.

UConn at Michigan - The computer has UConn as a 6.65-point outright upset pick in The Big House. That's not the kind of start that Wolverines' head coach Rich Rodriguez needs, and it's certainly not the start that the Maize and Blue faithful are looking for.

Illinois vs. Missouri (at St. Louis) - The game takes place at the Edward Jones Dome, home of the St. Louis Rams where the Tigers are 11.93-point computer favorites to make it four wins in four seasons over the Fighting Illini. However, Missouri will be without two-year leading rusher Derrick Washington who was dismissed from the team after being arrested on sexual assault charges.

Kentucky at Louisville - The Joker Philips (Kentucky) and Charlie Strong (Louisville) eras begin with this Bluegrass State battle for the Governor's Cup. The 'Cats are favored to eat the Birds by 1.91 points.

Purdue at Notre Dame - The Brian Kelly era begins at South Bend with the Irish favored by 10.92 points. If that happens, don't be surprised if more than one pollster puts the currently unranked Irish in their Top Ten after the weekend.

Wisconsin at UNLV - The Badgers get a 12.84-point nod from the computer, but this desert clash could prove more difficult for Wisconsin than most would imagine. Oregon State came here last year and barely escaped with a 2-point win.

Richmond at Virginia - Mike London took the field last December as the head coach of Richmond in the FCS playoffs. Less than 9 months later, his next game is against his former team as the head coach of Virginia. UVa lost last year's opener to William & Mary 26-14.

Stony Brook at USF - Skip Holtz takes the field on Sunday as just the second head coach in USF history, and that's the only thing that makes this game worth mentioning.

Sunday
SMU at Texas Tech - This Sunday battle features a Mustang team that improved from 1-11 to 8-5 in June Jones' second season as head coach. SMU is a 9.96-point underdog, but could certainly surprise a Texas Tech team that will take the field with a different head coach for the third straight game. Mike Leach was forced out before the Alamo Bowl game and Ruffin McNeill took over as interim head coach. Tommy Tuberville was hired in the offseason and McNeill landed on his feet as the head coach at East Carolina.

Tulsa at East Carolina - Speaking of Ruffin McNeill (see above game), he takes the field on Sunday as Skip Holtz' replacement at East Carolina. The computer likes the Pirates in an outright upset by 3.86 points.

Monday
Navy vs. Maryland (at Baltimore) - Boise State vs. Virginia Tech is one of two Monday night games in an NFL stadium and they're both in Maryland. M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens, hosts the Middies as they meet the Terps for just the second time in the last 45 seasons. The computer favors Navy by 12.70 points.

FBS vs. FCS:
Half (39) of this week's 78-game FBS schedule pit FBS teams against FCS schools, eclipsing the record of 38 such games that were played during the opening week of 2009.

FBS teams went 89-5 (.947) against FCS schools last year and are 464-42 (.917) since 2003.

This year, 85 FBS teams play a total of 90 games against FCS foes. Five schools play two such games - Arizona State, Ball State, San Jose State, Syracuse and Virginia.

STREAKS:
Boise State has 14 straight wins after defeating TCU 17-10 in the Fiesta Bowl. The Broncos also have streaks of 25 regular season wins, 26 home wins, 56 regular season home wins, and 42 straight conference home victories. BSU has never lost at home to a fellow WAC member (36-0). The Broncos' last home loss to a conference foe occurred in 1998 when they were a member of the Big West and fell to Idaho in the final regular season game. The Broncos are 4-1 in their last five matches against BCS conference schools. (Next: vs. Virginia Tech at Landover, MD on 9/6).

Alabama has 14 straight wins overall and 24 straight regular season wins. (Next: vs. San Jose State, 9/4).

Cincinnati has won 18 straight regular season games. (Next: at Fresno State on 9/4).

Oklahoma has 30 straight home victories since losing to TCU in the 2005 opener. (Next: vs. Utah State 9/4).

Utah has 17 straight home wins. (Next: vs. Pittsburgh on 9/2).

Western Kentucky has lost 20 straight overall and 25 straight to FBS teams. (Next: at Nebraska on 9/4).

Eastern Michigan has lost 12 straight overall. (Next: vs. Army on 9/4).

Washington State has lost 9 straight (Next: at Oklahoma State on 9/4).

Colorado State has lost 9 straight. (Next: vs. Colorado State at Denver on 9/4).

CONFERENCE REALIGNMENT:
Boise State begins its last tour of the WAC before heading to the Mountain West conference next season. But just as the Broncos arrive, Utah departs for the PAC-10.

Fresno State and Nevada are also leaving the WAC to rejoin the Broncos in the MWC, but the Bulldogs and Wolf Pack may not be free to do so until the 2012 season. That action came about after BYU threatened to leave the Mountain West to become a football independent and join the WAC for all other sports. No final decision had been made by BYU at the time of this writing.

Nebraska will make one last pass through the Big 12, then move to the Big Ten next season. Colorado will leave the Big 12 to join the PAC-10 in 2012.

Utah will join the PAC-10 next season and, after Colorado is added, the league will rebrand itself as the PAC-12.

Unless other changes are made before then, the 2012 season will start with 12 teams in the Big Ten and 10 teams in the Big 12.

Perhaps the Big 12 should rebrand itself as The Survivor 10 as it barely survived an attempted 6-team raid by the PAC-10.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is fine with a name that doesn't correlate to the number of teams in the league, saying that it will always be called the Big Ten. The conference will stage a conference championship game beginning next year in Indianapolis. The makeup of the new divisions was announced on Wednesday (Story). The Big Ten plans to move to a 9-game conference slate in 2015.

The Big 12 may adopt a 9-game conference schedule as early as next year.

The PAC-10 has not yet announced how the new 12-team league will be split, and has has yet to confirm a conference championship game.