THE GAME YOU MUST WATCH
LSU vs UNC / 8 p.m. ET / ABC
This is one of two games this weekend that's worth a preview longer than a couple of sentences. This isn't last year -- when Alabama played Virginia Tech, Georgia traveled to Oklahoma State and LSU faced Washington on opening weekend -- but you won't complain because college football has returned.
That said, it doesn't look like this game is going to be as good as it was supposed to be. Most of the pregame conversation has centered on the question of who will take the field for UNC -- and the answer, at least on defense, is "very few of the projected starters." In the end, 15 players didn't board the plane to Atlanta, though two were later cleared to play and will presumably be on hand. (Meanwhile, Marvin Austin was subpoenaed by the N.C. Secretary of State.)
So a total defense that ranked sixth in the nation -- certain to be a strong point in a battle with an LSU team that was anything but an offensive juggernaut in 2009 -- instead will take the field without seven of its starters. Unless the UNC offense is going to be a revelation this season, that is as close to a worst-scenario as UNC can face.
Not that LSU doesn't come into this game with plenty of its own questions. Jordan Jefferson might or might not be a good quarterback. The team might have gotten rid of its ability to play to the level of competition, whether Alabama or Louisiana Tech. Or it might not have. The Bayou Bengals were inexplicable at the end of last season, and they are no easier to understand as this year kicks off.
But when you should be more worried about playing the North Carolina scout team than the one that actually takes the field, it's not hard to predict how this game will go.
LSU 35, UNC 13
THE GAMES YOU SHOULD WATCH
KENTUCKY at LOUISVILLE / 3:30 p.m. ET / ABC
A clash of first-time coaches at programs that have been on different trajectories. Kentucky has gradually improved and set itself up as a perennial bowl team. Louisville is a former national title contender that ended up making one bad hire and losing most of its cachet.
As someone who has long wanted Charlie Strong to come back to Columbia some day as a head coach, I feel confident in saying that Strong will eventually turn Louisville around. But that's "eventually." For now, Joker Phillips represents continuity of the regime that took Kentucky back to the postseason. That might not be enough in the future, but it's plenty for right now.
Kentucky 27, Louisville 10
THE GAMES YOU MIGHT WATCH
NORTHWESTERN at VANDERBILT / 7:30 p.m. ET / CSS
In some ways, this feels like it deserves a long preview. But then you realize that Vanderbilt is sort of like a midmajor opponent for Northwestern at this point. Then again, it's Vanderbilt, and we all know that nothing is ever easy against Vanderbilt. Northwestern 24, Vanderbilt 20
MIAMI (OH) at FLORIDA / 12 p.m. ET / ESPN
Miami's only win last year was against Toledo. Florida's only loss last year was against Alabama. I don't care about returning starters or anything else; it's not difficult to make up that kind of ground in one season, it's impossible. Florida 48, Miami (OH) 10
LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE at GEORGIA / 12:21 p.m. ET / SEC Network
The combined margin of the Ragin' Cajuns' games against BCS teams last year? They lost by 101-20. And theywon one of those games. We get no answers on the Georgia offense or defense. Georgia 38, Louisiana-Lafayette 0
ARKANSAS STATE at AUBURN / 7 p.m. ET / FS South
Arkansas State had a decent defense and might have one again this year. But they're still a Sun Belt team. Auburn 52, Arkansas State 24
SAN JOSE STATE at ALABAMA / 7 p.m. ET / PPV
Alabama fans should enjoy looking at the stadium expansion. The game? Well, why do you need a game? Alabama 49, San Jose State 7
MEMPHIS at MISSISSIPPI STATE / 7 p.m. ET / ESPNU
Everything has to go right for Mississippi State to go to a bowl game this year. (I think it will, but that's besides the point.) Everything has to go wrong for every other team in the country for Memphis to go to a bowl game. That's an easy choice. Mississippi State 31, Memphis 12
THE GAMES YOU SHOULDN'T WATCH
JACKSONVILLE STATE at OLE MISS / 3:30 p.m. ET / CSS
Games against FCS teams don't get previews. Ole Miss 42, Jacksonville State 13
TENNESSEE-MARTIN at TENNESSEE / 6 p.m. ET / PPV
Games against FCS teams don't get previews. Tennessee 34, Tennessee-Martin 0
TENNESSEE TECH at ARKANSAS / 7 p.m. ET / PPV
Games against FCS teams don't get previews. Arkansas 56, Tennessee Tech 13