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The college football season kicks off Thursday and there are a handful of marquee games on the opening-week schedule.
We’re still not entirely sure why the two games with national championship implications are being played at the same time on the same day. Who are the ad wizards who came up with that one?
Here is a look at the six biggest games on the Week 1 slate:
No. 3 Oregon (-1) vs. No. 4 LSU, Sept. 3, ABC
The most highly anticipated game of the nonconference season can’t possibly live up to the excitement generated in the offseason. Oregon was the focus of a Yahoo! Sports investigation in July that alleged recruiting violations, and recently, the Ducks suspended standout cornerback Cliff Harris for an off-the-field incident.
Not to be outdone, LSU will likely be without starting QB Jordan Jefferson, who was suspended indefinitely following an arrest on felony charges stemming from a recent altercation outside of a bar.
The uncertainty forced bookmakers to take the game off the board at least twice during the offseason. Regardless, this game figures to have BCS championship game repercussions, with the winner positioning itself for a title run.
No. 7 Boise State (-3.5) vs. No. 22 Georgia, Sept. 3, ESPN
If Boise State wins, the path is paved for an unbeaten season. The Broncos will be at least 7-point favorites in all their remaining games, but must get past Georgia if they hope to contend for a BCS national championship.
For Georgia, this game represents an opportunity to relieve pressure off head coach Mark Richt, who could be fired if the Bulldogs underperform in 2011. The Bulldogs went 6-7 last year and lost 10-6 to UCF in the Liberty Bowl.
Sharp bettors have liked Georgia all offseason. This opening-week test will serve as a strong barometer for the Bulldogs’ chances going forward.
South Florida at No. 16 Notre Dame (-10), Sept. 3, NBC
South Florida coach Skip Holtz is a Notre Dame alum and his father, Lou Holtz, led the Fighting Irish to the 1988 national championship.
Needless to say, this game will carry extra meaning for Holtz, who has a history of pulling off shocking early-season upsets. In 2008, while coach at East Carolina, Holtz’s Pirates knocked off 17th-ranked Virginia Tech and 8th-ranked West Virginia in consecutive weeks.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly doesn’t want to become the latest victim. His Irish are expected to contend for a BCS bowl game and are hoping for a 10-win season. A win over USF would be an encouraging start.
BYU (-3) at Ole Miss, Sept. 3, ESPN
The doubters are ready to fire criticism at BYU after the school decided to leave the Mountain West in favor of independence last season. With that in mind, this opening-week game against Ole Miss is a big one.
The Cougars can’t afford a loss in this spot, not with a September schedule that includes games against Texas, Utah and Central Florida.
Ole Miss will try to avoid a similar start to last year. The Rebels lost their season opener in 2010 to Jacksonville State before stumbling to a disappointing 4-8 record.
No. 14 TCU (-6) at Baylor, Sept. 2, ESPN
This is a battle between two Texas programs on the rise. TCU won last year’s Rose Bowl and finished with a perfect 13-0 record. Baylor, meanwhile, went 7-6 and posted its first winning season since joining the Big 12 in 1996.
TCU has dominated this series but returns only eight starters, and quarterback Andy Dalton isn’t among them. With TCU in transition, the door could be open for Baylor to make a statement in a nationally televised Friday night game.
UCLA at Houston (-3.5), Sept. 3
UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel faces a make-or-break season in 2011 and can’t afford a slow start. When Neuheisel was hired in 2008, he promised to return the Bruins to prominence. Three years later, Neuheisel is 15-22 overall and just 8-19 in Pac-12 play.
Houston is eager to get QB Case Keenum, a Heisman trophy candidate, back on the field. Keenum missed the final nine games of the 2010 season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury. If Keenum gets rolling, a win over UCLA could be the start of something special for a Cougars team that is capable of running the table in the Conference USA.