August 29, 2007

The long wait is over.

No more predicting, debating or questioning. Football season is here.

The images of Statue-of-Liberty plays and a Heisman winner getting sacked may still be fresh in the minds of some, but that was a long eight months ago.

Here are the top games, storylines and matchups for the first week of the 2007 college football season - from Thursday's openers through the Bowden Bowl on Monday.

All times Eastern.

No. 2 LSU at Mississippi State

Time: 8 p.m.
Network: ESPN
Broadcasters: Chris Fowler, Doug Flutie, Craig James, Erin Andrews
Storylines: Even if one team is Mississippi State, at least it's an SEC game. Get your first look at national title contender LSU and quarterback Matt Flynn, making only his second career start. Mississippi State will try to at least score a point after starting last season with two shutouts at the hands of South Carolina and Auburn.
Player to watch: LSU DT Glenn Dorsey, possibly the country's most disruptive defensive player. He and the Tigers should smother a Mississippi State team that averaged 2.9 yards per carry last year.
Best matchup: Mississippi State FS Derek Pegues vs. the LSU passing game. The Bulldogs' top defensive player gets the first look at Gary Crowton's offense and LSU's new receiving tandem of Early Doucet and Brandon LaFell.

Utah at Oregon State

Time: 10 p.m.
Network: Fox Sports Net (regional)
Broadcasters: Todd Mansfield, Steve Preece, Cathy Marshall
Storylines: Oregon State will wait until at least halftime to pick a quarterback between Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao. Canfield will start but will give way to Moevao in the second quarter. The Beavers will try to move on without star WR Sammie Stroughter. Utah tries to return to a BCS bowl with a challenging nonconference schedule that also includes UCLA and a road trip to Louisville.
Player to watch: Utah QB Brian Johnson. Once one of the nation's most promising non-BCS quarterbacks, Johnson returns after missing last season with a torn ACL. As a sophomore in 2005, he passed for 2,892 yards and ran for 478.
Best matchup: Oregon State RB Yvenson Bernard vs. Utah MLB Joe Jiannoni. Bernard has quietly become one of the nation's most consistent backs. He has gained 2,628 yards over the last two seasons. Utah's mowhawked middle linebacker had 92 tackles, including 8.5 for losses last year.

Washington at Syracuse

Time: 8 p.m.
Network: ESPN (available in HD)
Broadcasters: Sean McDonough, Chris Speilman, Colin Cowherd, Rob Stone
Storylines: How long can bowl droughts last for these once-proud programs? Washington hasn't made a bowl since 2002. Syracuse hasn't played a postseason game since 2004.
Player to watch: Washington QB Jake Locker. Is he the savior for Washington football? Tyrone Willingham refused to burn the redshirt for the Rivals100 prospect last season, even after starting QB Isaiah Stanback went down with an injury.
Best matchup: Syracuse DE Jameel McClain vs. Washington's offensive line. McClain led the Big East in sacks with 9.5, while the Huskies return both starting tackles, senior Chad Macklin and sophomore Ben Ossai.

East Carolina at No. 9 Virginia Tech

Time: Noon
Network: ESPN (available in HD)
Broadcasters: Mike Tirico, Todd Blackledge, Bill Curry, Erin Andrews
Storylines: Saturday begins on an emotional note with Virginia Tech playing its first game since April's tragedy.
Player to watch: Virginia Tech QB Sean Glennon. The last time we saw Glennon, he turned the ball over four times in the bowl loss to Georgia. Virginia Tech needs him to play well early. Next week the Hokies go to LSU.
Best matchup: The Virginia Tech defense vs. the East Carolina offense. If you like dominant defense, this might be your best pick of the week. The Hokies have led the nation in total defense two years in a row. East Carolina is replacing nearly all of its top skill players from a year ago.

Georgia Tech at Notre Dame

Time: 3:30 p.m.
Network: NBC (available in HD)
Broadcasters: Bob Papa, Pat Haden, Alex Flanagan
Storyline: Charlie Weis isn't giving any hints about who will start at quarterback. Will it be last year's backup Evan Sharpley, the dual-threat Demetrius Jones or freshman phenom Jimmy Clausen?
Players to watch: Georgia Tech QB Taylor Bennett and WR James Johnson. Can this combo be as potent as Reggie Ball and Calvin Johnson?
Best matchup: Notre Dame's Charlie Weis vs. Georgia Tech's Jon Tenuta. The meeting between one of football's top offensive minds and one of its top defensive minds went in Weis' favor last year, but the Irish offense was far from dominant in a 14-10 win in Atlanta.

Wake Forest at Boston College

Time: 3:30 p.m.
Network: ABC (available in HD)
Broadcasters: Bob Wischusen, David Norrie, Jeannine Edwards
Storylines: The winner of one of the few conference games this week will have a leg up in the ACC Atlantic race. Wake Forest is out to prove its 2006 ACC championship was no fluke. New coach Jeff Jagodzinski is looking to get Boston College over its nine-win hump as the Eagles seek their first outright conference title in school history.
Player to watch: Wake Forest RB Micah Andrews. Andrews was poised to be the Deacons top offense playmaker before an ACL tear sidelined him after the third game of the season last year. He should make an offense that returns eight starters even stronger.
Best matchup: Not a head-to-head matchup, but this game will pair two of the more creative offenses in the league. Wake Forest's running game relies on misdirection, while new B.C. coordinator Steve Logan brings his wide-open offense back to college after a five-year absence.

Washington State at No. 7 Wisconsin

Time: 3:30 p.m.
Network: ABC (available in HD)
Broadcasters: Brad Nessler, Bob Griese, Paul Maguire, Bonnie Bernstein
Storylines: Wisconsin is out to prove its 12-1 season last year was no fluke. At least Washington State is a stronger non-conference opponent than any the Badgers faced during last year's regular season.
Player to watch: Wisconsin LT Gabe Carimi. At 6-foot-8, 290 pounds, the redshirt freshman at least blends in with the rest of the Badgers' huge linemen. He has big shoes to fill though, taking over for the third overall pick in the NFL draft, Joe Thomas.
Best matchup: Washington State QB Alex Brink vs. the Wisconsin pass defense. Brink was quietly one of the nation's most productive quarterbacks last season (2,899 passing yards, 19 touchdowns). Wisconsin led the country in pass efficiency defense behind cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu.

Missouri vs. Illinois (in St. Louis)

Time: 3:30 p.m.
Network: ESPN2 (available in HD)
Broadcasters: Dave Pasch, Andre Ware, Jimmy Dykes
Storylines: Both coaches are under pressure to perform this season. Gary Pinkel has a better shot to take Missouri to the Big 12 championship game this year than he's had in his previous six years. Third-year Illinois coach Ron Zook has brought in star recruits, but has yet to see that translate into wins on the field.
Player to watch: Illinois WR Arrelious Benn. As early as spring practice, Benn - a five-star prospect in the class of 2007 - showed he had the ability to make an instant impact. It won't be easy this week, though. Missouri was second in the Big 12 in pass defense last year.
Best matchup: Missouri RB Tony Temple vs. Illinois MLB J Leman. Only the most astute college football fan could tell you Temple (1,063 yards, seven TDs) is the Big 12's returning leading rusher. Leman (152 tackles) was third in the nation in stops last season.

Oklahoma State at No. 13 Georgia

Time: 6:45 p.m.
Network: ESPN2 (available in HD)
Broadcasters: Mark Jones, Bob David, Stacy Dales
Storylines: Oklahoma State received the "sleeper" tag during the offseason because of its potent offense. You could call Georgia the same after the Bulldogs lost to both Vanderbilt and Kentucky in a down year in 2006.
Player to watch: Oklahoma State WR Adarius Bowman. Georgia's secondary is hurting with the untimely departure of cornerback Paul Oliver. Bowman (1,181 yards, 12 touchdowns) will look to torch a secondary starting three sophomores.
Best matchup: Oklahoma State QB Bobby Reid vs. the Georgia defense. Can anyone say Jared Zabransky? The last time Georgia welcomed a non-conference opponent of this caliber to Athens for an opener, the Bulldogs defense forced five Zabransky turnovers in a 48-13 win in 2005.

Kansas State at No. 18 Auburn

Time: 7:45 p.m.
Network: ESPN (available in HD)
Broadcasters: Ron Franklin, Ed Cunningham, Holly Rowe
Storylines: Auburn challenges itself early this season with back-to-back games against bowl teams Kansas State and South Florida. Kansas State has won 17 consecutive openers but hasn't started a season on the road against a BCS opponent since 2001.
Player to watch: Kansas State OLB/DE Ian Campbell. The Wildcats' top defensive player could disrupt an Auburn offensive line that returns only one starter. The Tigers' line also features two freshmen on the first unit.
Best matchup: Auburn defense vs. Kansas State defense. Given both team's offensive questions, this game could be decided by which team makes the critical stop. Both teams have star pass rushers Kansas State's Campbell and Rob Jackson and Auburn's Quentin Groves and Sen'Derrick Marks.

No. 15 Tennessee at No. 12 Cal

Time: 8 p.m.
Network: ABC (available in HD)
Broadcasters: Brent Musburger, Kirk Herbstreit, Lisa Salters
Storylines: The only matchup of top 25 teams in Week One. Cal is looking for redemption after last year's 35-18 drubbing in Knoxville. Tennessee will play without running back LaMarcus Coker, but quarterback Erik Ainge says he will play despite jamming a finger on his throwing hand this week in practice.
Player to watch: Tennessee RB Arian Foster. Foster rushed for 879 yards as a freshman in 2005, but injuries sidetracked his sophomore season. He'll be a key for the Vols with Coker out and Ainge hurting. Foster will work against a defense that lost stars Brandon Mebane and Desmond Bishop from last season.
Best matchup: Cal wide receiver DeSean Jackson vs. Tennessee safety Jonathan Hefney. Two of the best at their positions go head-to-head for the second consecutive year.

Other games to watch
UAB at Michigan State, noon, ESPN2
Youngstown State at No. 11 Ohio State, noon, Big Ten Network
Western Kentucky at No. 6 Florida, 12:30 p.m., Lincoln Financial Sports
No. 14 UCLA at Stanford3:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net
Arizona at BYU, 5:30 p.m., Versus
Idaho at No. 1 USC, 10:15 p.m., Fox Sports Net
No. 19 Florida State at Clemson

Time: 8 p.m.
Network: ESPN (available in HD)
Broadcasters: Mike Patrick, Todd Blackledge, Holly Rowe
Storylines: The Labor Day openers have yielded mixed results for Florida State. Though the Seminoles won two of the games, they only scored 33 total points in their last three Labor Day openers against Miami. Maybe Clemson will provide more fireworks.
Player to watch: Florida State QB Drew Weatherford. How much of a turnaround will Jimbo Fisher and his new staff cause? Watch Weatherford to find out the answer.
Best matchup: Clemson's James Davis and C.J. Spiller vs. Florida State's run defense. Despite the offensive struggles, Florida State has put together above-average defenses. The Seminoles held Spiller (in only his third game) to minus-4 yards rushing last year, but allowed Davis to pick up 141 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns.

Other game to watch
Texas Tech at SMU, 4 p.m., ESPN Week 1 Expert Picks | Play Pick'em

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