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College football games to watch on TV

By David Fox

McClatchy-Tribune

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

LSU coach Les Miles probably echoed the sentiment of fans across the country earlier this week.

"I think all of us are looking forward to football," Miles said after a difficult offseason, which most recently included the suspension of his starting quarterback after a fight outside a bar.

Finally, talk of conference realignment, NCAA investigations, TV contracts, suspensions and arrests will cease: It's the first week of the season.

That being said, the season starts with a whimper. Barring a shocking upset, Thursday's games appear to be lacking. The showcase game of the first evening of college football? UNLV at Wisconsin. Two other TV games include four teams including an FCS program from the state of Kentucky.

Although there are 38 FBS-FCS games, there is plenty to watch through the remainder of the weekend. TCU is at Baylor on Friday, and LSU-Oregon and Georgia-Boise State are the premier games Saturday, though that could lead to some channel-switching as both kick off at 8 p.m. Eastern.

Here's our look at the top games of the first weekend.

All times Eastern.

WEEK 1 VIEWER'S GUIDE

FRIDAY

TCU AT BAYLOR

When: 6 p.m., ESPN

Broadcasters: Joe Tessitore play-by-play, Rod Gilmore analyst

The line: TCU by 6

Why you should watch: TCU routed Baylor 45-10 in last season's meeting in Fort Worth, but don't be shocked if this game unfolds different. Horned Frogs QB Andy Dalton is gone. In his place is sophomore Casey Pachall, a four-star recruit in 2009 who has attempted nine career passes. Pachall is a skilled dual-threat quarterback, but TCU will miss Dalton's steady hand, at least in the early part of the season. Baylor has the edge at quarterback with the dynamic Robert Griffin. He'll get a second chance at TCU's stout defense, which held him to 185 yards of total offense last season, his lowest total of the year.

SATURDAY

USF AT NOTRE DAME

When: 1:30 p.m., NBC

Broadcasters: Dan Hicks play-by-play, Mike Mayock analyst

The line: Notre Dame by 10

Why you should watch: The game will be notable because of the return of Skip Holtz to South Bend. Holtz is a Notre Dame graduate, a former Irish assistant and the son of Lou, the last coach to win a national title at Notre Dame. Let's look past that storyline and look at the game itself: USF features a fast and aggressive defense, anchored by LBs Sam Barrington and DeDe Lattimore. On the other hand, Notre Dame hopes its defense is the story. The Irish allowed just three offensive touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) in its four-game winning streak to end last season. If Notre Dame is indeed a BCS contender, it should be able to handle USF's offense on its home field. Big East teams have given Notre Dame trouble in recent years; the Irish's victory over Pittsburgh last season ended a four-game losing streak to the league.

BYU AT OLE MISS

When: 2:45 p.m., ESPN

Broadcasters: Bob Wischusen play-by-play, Bob Davie analyst

The line: BYU by 3

Why you should watch: BYU makes its debut as an independent. BYU will visit Texas, then play archrival Utah at home in the first three weeks of the season. Behind QB Jake Heaps, BYU's offense showed some signs of life late last season. The Cougars averaged 469 yards per game over the final five games, though that came against weaker competition. While Ole Miss does not appear to be a contender in the SEC West, a win in Oxford still would mean some attention for BYU. The same could be said with a good performance from the Rebels. Houston Nutt's teams have surprised in the past, especially when expectations are low. Ole Miss welcomes another transfer quarterback in Barry Brunetti from West Virginia, but the star of the offense is RB Brandon Bolden.

EAST CAROLINA VS. SOUTH CAROLINA

(In Charlotte, N.C.)

When: 7 p.m., Fox Sports Net regional/ESPN GamePlan

Broadcasters: Bob Rathbun play-by-play, Tim Couch analyst

The line: South Carolina by 20.5

Why you should watch: To be clear, this isn't the most intriguing non-conference game involving an SEC contender. East Carolina is coming off a 6-7 season, and South Carolina is a top-15 team with SEC title aspirations. But let's look ahead a week: South Carolina visits Georgia in the second week of the season in a critical SEC East matchup. One of the major questions for South Carolina this season is how the Gamecocks handle being a frontrunner. This game could give an indication of how that story will unfold. ECU has a formidable passing attack led by QB Dominique Davis (3,967 passing yards and 37 touchdowns) and WR Lance Lewis (1,116 receiving yards, 14 touchdowns). South Carolina has a considerable talent advantage, particularly in the matchup with East Carolina's defense, which struggled even by Conference USA standards. That said, East Carolina's offense is good enough to give South Carolina fits if the Gamecocks aren't prepared.

LSU VS. OREGON

(In Arlington, Texas)

When: 6 p.m., ABC

Broadcasters: Brent Musburger play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit analyst

The line: Oregon by 3

Why you should watch: LSU is expected to be without starting QB Jordan Jefferson, who has been suspended following an arrest stemming from a fight outside a Baton Rouge bar. WR Russell Shepard also has been suspended, for an NCAA rules violation. After spending part of the offseason embroiled in the Willie Lyles controversy, Oregon will be short-handed, too, without star CB/punt returner Cliff Harris, who had six interceptions and four punt-return touchdowns last season. Quarterback was the major question for LSU regardless, so Oregon should expect a steady diet of RB Spencer Ware. Oregon has a formidable offense led by TB LaMichael James and RB Darron Thomas, but the Ducks' have questions along both lines. LSU is uncharacteristically short on established stars on defense (only one player on the coaches' first-team preseason all-conference squad), but the Tigers' defensive prowess should not be doubted.

BOISE STATE VS. GEORGIA

(In Atlanta)

When: 6 p.m., ESPN

Broadcasters: Brad Nessler play-by-play, Todd Blackledge analyst

The line: Boise State by 3.5

Why you should watch: The last time these teams met and the last time Boise State faced an SEC team Georgia rolled 48-13 loss in 2005. That was the only season since 2002 that Boise State failed to win 10 games. Since then, Boise State has played in two BCS games and finished undefeated twice. Georgia has been to one BCS game but is coming off its first losing season in 14 years. This is the third season in a row Boise State has opened with a marquee opponent. The Broncos defeated BCS-bound Oregon and BCS-bound Virginia Tech in the past two seasons. Mark Richt's job security may depend on Georgia contending in the SEC East, and the Bulldogs have questions at tailback, wide receiver and in the offensive line.

SUNDAY

SMU AT TEXAS A&M

When: 6 p.m., Fox Sports Net

Broadcasters: Joel Meyers play-by-play, Joel Klatt analyst

The line: Texas A&M by 16

Why you should watch: As Texas A&M flirts with the SEC, the Aggies will open with a former Southwest Conference rival. The Aggies and SMU have played only once since the demise of the SWC, resulting in a 66-8 A&M rout in 2005. This meeting should be more competitive. The Aggies are a top-15 team with legitimate hopes of winning the Big 12, and SMU is a Conference USA contender (the Mustangs lost to UCF in the C-USA title game a year ago). The Aggies' defense, which has improved by leaps and bounds under Tim DeRuyter, will be tested in the opener by SMU's run-and-shoot offense led by QB Kyle Padron.

MONDAY

MIAMI AT MARYLAND

When: 6 p.m., ESPN

Broadcasters: Sean McDonough play-by-play, Matt Millen analyst

The line: Miami by 5.5

Why you should watch: A major question is what new Miami coach Al Golden has left for this game. Seven potential starters have been suspended at least for the opener: QB Jacory Harris (who was in competition with Stephen Morris for the starting job), WR Travis Benjamin, LB Sean Spence, DT Marcus Forston, DEs Adewale Ojomo and Olivier Vernon and SS Ray-Ray Armstrong. The team likely will rely heavily on TB Lamar Miller, who had two 100-yard games late last season, and a big, experienced offensive line. Maryland went 9-4 last season behind redshirt freshman QB Danny O'Brien, then fired coach Ralph Friedgen. Few new coaches would want to make their conference debut in a game against Miami, but Randy Edsall who led Connecticut to a BCS berth last season — looks to have caught a break here.

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