OPINION: First weekend of season features some mighty matchups

TUPELO – The major-college football season kicks off tonight with a dandy matchup of two Top 25 teams, and the first weekend won’t officially end until a pair of Sunshine State rivals collide on Monday night.
I spent some time pondering the first week’s schedule and came up with this list of the 10 key season openers. Somehow, Charleston Southern at Florida did not make the cut.
Here are the games that did:
No. 16 Oregon at No. 14 Boise State: The season gets off to an early bang tonight with this shootout. Boise State won this matchup 37-32 on the road last year. The home team’s best edge, besides the blue turf, might be that it’s the Ducks’ first game since Mike Bellotti stepped down to become Oregon’s athletics director. Chip Kelly is now in charge, and no new coach will face a tougher opening date.
South Carolina at N.C. State: The Gamecocks, who try to take flight tonight, have won nine season openers in a row against various levels of opposition, including Mississippi State in 2006. They won this game 34-0 last year, but the last time they lost an opener was 1999 in Raleigh. Just saying.
No. 5 Alabama vs. No. 7 Virginia Tech (at Atlanta): For what it’s worth, and I think it’s worth quite a bit, the Hokies have a sorta-veteran quarterback and Alabama doesn’t. This could be a battle of defenses and kicking games – and Tech often wins those.
Either team could survive a loss and still be a player in the national title picture, but the winner will be in much better shape. Win, and the Crimson Tide could be 5-0 when they visit Oxford, in a potential matchup of top-10 teams.
Maryland at No. 12 California: Every year it seems like we hear all about how great Cal is going to be, the Golden Bears typically get off to a good start … and then stumble along the way. They lost this game at Maryland last season, and the Terps have lately tended to rise to the level of their opponents.
Cincinnati at Rutgers: There’s nothing like opening the season with a conference rival. Cincy coach Brian Kelly is angry this was moved into a season-opening slot by the Big East, so look for his Bearcats to hit the field with a bad attitude. The Scarlet Knights, who have lost three in a row in this series, won’t get caught looking ahead to their next opponent – FCS member Howard, which went 1-10 a year ago.
Illinois vs. Missouri, at St. Louis: Here’s a pretty good BCS conference matchup at a kinda-neutral site. It should be entertaining, as Mizzou has won the last two seasons, 40-34 and 52-42. Ron Zook, always a great recruiter, seems to have his Illini on the rise.
Western Michigan at Michigan: The Wolverines have lost their openers the past two seasons to Appalachian State (34-32) and Utah (25-23). And Western won nine games last season. Now, there’s the cloud of an NCAA investigation above The Big House. If Rich Rodriguez is going to get this thing turned around before his time runs out, winning an opener would help. His team has Notre Dame in Week 2.
No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 20 Brigham Young, at Arlington, Texas: This one will be played in the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium, and Oklahoma will come to town with the reigning Heisman winner, Sam Bradford. BYU, a 10-win team a year ago, has QB Max Hall and a veteran defense – and a very tough schedule, with Florida State and TCU joining mighty Utah among the chosen.
No. 13 Georgia at No. 9 Oklahoma State: The Cowboys have plenty of offensive firepower – but that’s a little suspect, given that most Big 12 defenses are so sketchy. Georgia seems to do better when expectations aren’t so lofty, but the Bulldogs’ schedule is another tough one. If it’s a shootout, OSU might have the upper hand right now.
Miami at No. 18 Florida State: The Hurricanes and Seminoles will labor on Labor Day for your entertainment. Check the last seven games in this series: host Miami, 28-27; visitor Miami, 22-14; host Miami, 16-10; host FSU, 10-7; visitor FSU, 13-10; visitor Miami, 37-29; visitor FSU, 41-39. Whoa, nelly!

John L. Pitts (john.pitts@djournal.com) is sports editor of the Daily Journal.

John L. Pitts/NEMS Daily Journal