College football kicks off tonight with a host of action, including three pretty good games, plus two more involving marquee programs. Let's jump right in and size up the matchups...
Pitt-Utah (8:30 ET, Versus)
This is the marquee game of the night, with the Panthers looking to use it as a springboard to winning a Big East title and Utah looking to get to a BCS game themselves. The best matchups of the night will be on the edges when Utah has the ball. The Utes have an experienced offensive line, and Pitt has the capacity to bring great pressure from the outside with Greg Romeus and Jabal Sheard. Utah has a serious problem in the secondary and Panther receiver Jonathan Baldwin will be able to get open. If sophomore quarterback Tino Sunseri can step up in his debut outing, Pitt will get a big road win. I think that's a lot to ask of a kid playing on the road and believe he'll make just enough mistakes to enable Utah to pull out a 20-17 win.
Southern Miss-South Carolina (7 ET, ESPN)
Southern Miss is tough in the front seven and should be able to handle the Gamecock running attack. But South Carolina's sophomore quarterback Stephen Garcia has a year's experience under his belt and with the Golden Eagles starting a freshman on the one of the corners, Spurrier should be able to find enough weaknesses in coverage to move the ball. Defensively, the SEC hosts are strong while Southern Miss is rebuilding its offensive line. Last year on Opening Night, South Carolina beat N.C. State 7-3. Look for another strong defensive outing here, only they tack on a few more points and win it 28-6.
Minnesota-Middle Tennessee State
Yeah, as games go, this one probably didn't jump off the card at you. But MTSU's a good program. They won a bowl game last year, beating Southern Miss. They've beaten Maryland two straight years. If you're not a great program, be wary, and Minnesota is not great. They're extremely young, especially on defense. If Middle Tennessee's quarterback Dwight Dasher weren't being suspended, I'd pick a win for the Sun Belt team without hesitation. As it is, I'll still do so, but with a little less certainty.
Marshall-Ohio State (7:30 ET, Big Ten Network)
With a showdown against Miami one week off, you'd think Ohio State could've found a better tuneup game than this--or more accurately, a worse one. Marshall went to a bowl last year at 6-6 and is likely to do so again this year, only with a few more wins. I'm not remotely implying that one of those wins is coming tonight. They're a balanced team throughout the lineup, although the lack of a gamebreaker will ultimately do them in. If Ohio State's not prepared--as they weren't last year when they nearly lost at home to Navy one week prior to the Southern Cal game--this one could be competitive into the third quarter.
USC-Hawaii (11 ET, ESPN)
The biggest thing to watch in this one will be how the USC pass defense performs. Not only do they lose three starters, but this isn't a typical case of just loading in juniors and seniors who've bided their time into starting roles. Lane Kiffin will start two sophomores at safety and a freshman on a corner. Hawaii isn't good enough to pull an upset or stop the USC offense, but points have often flowed freely out here and we'll see how the Trojan secondary looks.
As Saturday approaches, there's going to be a boatload of useless games on the schedule that I won't waste time on, but one is a little less useless than all the others--Richmond-Virginia at least has a good storyline, as Mike London coaches UVA against the program he took to a I-AA national championship. London may have created a monster, as the program he inherits has serious problems and this could be the one no-name game that gets elevated into the ESPN discussion with an upset.
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