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Today's key games


Today's key games

No. 13 California at Air Force

Quick slant: California is expected to be USC's prime competitor in the Pac-10, and a powerful Golden Bears offense will be going against an Air Force defense that returns just three starters.

About California: Junior Aaron Rodgers will be one of the most productive quarterbacks in the nation, and he and WR Geoff McArthur form one of the best pass-catch combos in the nation.

About Air Force: Shaun Carney will be the first freshman quarterback to start a season opener for the Falcons. Darnell Stephens is the Falcons' best running back. LB John Rudzinski should be the defensive standpoint.

South Carolina at Vanderbilt

Quick slant: While it's the opener for both, the winner has the inside track to a fourth-place finish in the SEC East - which likely would mean a bowl bid.

About South Carolina: The Gamecocks are perhaps the biggest mystery team in the SEC. The defense, especially a line led by ends Moe Thompson and George Gause, looks good. The offense is the concern. There are good running backs - Demetris Summers is the best - but the passing game was poor last season and likely will be so again.

About Vanderbilt: The Commodores return 20 starters, including all 11 on defense. QB Jay Cutler and T Justin Geisinger head an offense that should be productive. The secondary is the concern on defense, but that shouldn't matter that much today.

Wake Forest at No. 15 Clemson

Quick slant: Clemson closed last season on a five-game winning streak and has high hopes this year.

About Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons mauled the Tigers, 45-17, last season, and their funky, option-based offense can be tough to defend. TB Chris Barclay is the main weapon. Wake's passing game needs improvement. The defense is a big concern. The Deacons were 107th in the nation defensively last season.

About Clemson: Charlie Whitehurst is the best quarterback in the ACC, and he and a solid receiving corps could put up big numbers today. The defensive front could be weak, and that will hurt today. But the Tigers have the best secondary in the nation, headed by CB Justin Miller.

Oklahoma State at UCLA

Quick slant: This looks to be an intriguing game between a Big 12 team replacing most of its skill-position talent and a Pac-10 team with lingering questions about its offense.

About Oklahoma State: Redshirt freshman Donovan Woods will be the new starter at quarterback, and his brother, D'Juan, should be his go-to receiver. The line should be one of the best in the Big 12. The defense will be OK as long as some ends emerge.

About UCLA: The Bruins were anemic offensively last season, and the hope is that eight returning starters on that side of the ball will eliminate that problem. Defense carried UCLA last season, but the front four is all new.

Oregon State at No. 4 LSU

Quick slant: USC struggled in its opener. Will the same happen to LSU, which shared the national title with the Trojans last season?

About Oregon State: The Beavers will be breaking in a new tailback to replace Steven Jackson, which means there likely will be more pressure on senior QB Derek Anderson. That's not necessarily a good thing, as Anderson often melts down under fire. The Beavers look to have a solid defense.

About LSU: The Tigers will be breaking in a new quarterback and some new receivers. There's a ton of pressure on QB Marcus Randall, a good athlete who didn't always produce when he started in 2002. Sophomore TB Justin Vincent is a rising star. The defense looks stout again.

Memphis at Mississippi

Quick slant: The post-Manning era begins for Ole Miss. Can the Rebels cope?

About Memphis: The Tigers should have a mighty potent offense. QB Danny Wimprine and WR Maurice Avery are a solid pass-catch combination, and TB DeAngelo Williams is one of the nation's best. The defense is aggressive and likes to blitz.

About Mississippi: Junior QB Micheal Spurlock makes his first start. Ole Miss has an excellent line and wants to keep the ball on the ground to lessen the pressure on Spurlock. Like Memphis, Ole Miss has a rebuilt front four on defense.

Toledo at No. 25 Minnesota

Quick slant: A win by Toledo and - given the rest if the schedule - the Rockets have a chance to go 11-0.

About Toledo: The Rockets are loaded offensively. QB Bruce Gradkowski oversees a unit that could flirt with averaging 40 points. WR Lance Moore, T Nick Kaczur and TE Andrew Clarke are the standouts. Defense? Let's just say it's good Toledo can score.

About Minnesota: The Golden Gophers were third in the nation in rushing offense last season and want to run the ball down opponents' throats again. TBs Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney are a devastating 1-2 duo, and they run behind a good line.

Colorado State at Colorado

Quick slant: This doesn't get much notice nationally, but this is a nasty rivalry.

About Colorado State: There are high hopes for new starting QB Justin Holland, and he has good targets in WR David Anderson and TE Joel Dreessen. The running game is a concern. There are just three starters back on a defense that frequently was shredded last season.

About Colorado: The Buffs can't wait to get back on the field to erase some of the offseason stench. QB Joel Klatt is a good passer, but do the Buffs have any receivers? The running game should be OK. The Buffs have scrapped their 4-2-5 defense and gone to a more conventional 4-3 set.

Notre Dame at BYU

Quick slant: An interesting matchup of two church-affiliated schools whose coaches are on the hot seat.

About Notre Dame: The Irish desperately need some playmakers to emerge on offense. QB Brady Quinn was thrown into the fray as a true freshman last season and responded well. The defense has some potential, especially in the front seven.

About BYU: The Cougars have struggled the past two seasons because their usually high-flying offense has sputtered; they scored 14 or fewer points eight times last season. And there's still a question at quarterback and tailback. The defense did yeoman work last season and likely will be asked to do so again.

- Orlando Sentinel

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