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Dick Harmon: Questions, predictions as a new era in college football kicks off

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 31 2011 8:10 p.m. MDT

PROVO— College football is upon us today. It's time for predictions.

You can feel it in the air. We're hours away from kickoff, tailgate parties, the bands, cheerleaders, corporate sponsor signs and announcements that we just saw Floyd's Fresh Water Softener Play of the Game.

This is the season that kicks off a new era of college football in Utah — a season where BYU and Utah are not blood brothers and a voting bloc in the same conference. They've been through many a two-against-everybody-else votes on issues concerning the WAC and Mountain West for decades.

It's a time for highlights, replays, HD television, overpriced hotdogs and nachos, and expensive season tickets that will never be pocket change again.

There are plenty of storylines this fall:

Will Utah make a nice entry splash into the Pac-12 by challenging for a Southern Division title?

Will Norm Chow be able to create an effective offense with the material left from the spread?

Will BYU thrive as an independent in football, or play uninteresting games at home while loading up with road games in the Big 12, SEC and Pac-12?

Can Brandon Doman call plays in the heat of a game? Can he put his new theories into action against somebody else at BYU?

Is preseason hype accurate or just smoke?

How good is Weber State?

Does Utah have a kicking game? Does BYU?

Will Robert Turbin be the leading rusher in the state of Utah out of Aggieville?

Is Jake Heaps for real?

Is Jordan Wynn really healthy and does Utah have a legitimate running back?

After the NCAA finishes with the Miami Hurricanes, will there be much of a zephyr left?

All this, and much more, waits for us to discover in days to come.

This week pushes college football out of the chute with plenty of interesting matchups and surprisingly key games this early. None loom bigger than No. 3 Oregon at No. 4 LSU, and No. 5 Boise State at No. 19 Georgia. The Broncos put their BCS bowl chances on the line very early this week. A loss, according to history, dooms non-BCS entities.

There are a whopping 15 games scheduled for this Thursday night as the Utes open up with Montana State at Rice-Eccles. There are two Friday night games, No. 14 TCU at Baylor and Youngstown State at No. 17 Michigan State.

So, folks, start your remotes and DVRs.

The season is upon us.

It's different getting into the guessing game this season because my venture won't center on the Mountain West Conference. With Utah in the Pac-12 and BYU going independent, I'll have to tweak this season's run of games each week. I think I'll center prognostications on a diet of Pac-12 fodder.

This week's picks:

Oregon 21, LSU 17: It'll be a tough road trip for the Ducks, but the firepower Oregon displays should be enough to outscore the Tigers, even on LSU's home turf.

USC 17, Minnesota 10: Tagged as a cheater, penalized and sanctioned, the Trojans enter the season ranked No. 15. They will welcome the Utes the following week with a 1-0 record.

Auburn 34, Utah State 10: It will be interesting to see how Gary Andersen's squad defends the defending national champions without their Heisman Trophy quarterback Cam Newton. Tough opener for the Aggies.

TCU 28, Baylor 10: If there is a year to catch Gary Patterson, it is when he's breaking in a new quarterback. But TCU is the best football program in Texas right now, from recruiting to coaching. Sorry, Texas, the Frogs are "It."

Hawaii 34, Colorado 7: This matchup features future foes for Utah and BYU, and it will be interesting to see how the Warriors do with a returning quarterback and expected firepower. Tough opener for the Buffs, and they go down easy.

Utah 34, Montana State 0: Look for Utah's defense to dominate this game, force turnovers and set up a young offense for some scoreboard. Not a pressure game for Norm Chow, is it?

BYU 28, Mississippi 24: This game might just set the tone for BYU's season, and starting off with a pair of roadies in the SEC and Big 12 isn't an easy script. Look for BYU's offensive execution to be the difference in a close game.

email: dharmon@desnews.com

Twitter: Harmonwrites

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