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September 1, 2010

Viewer's guide: Season finally here

Conference realignment was all the rage during the offseason, but finally the time has come for fans to realign their Saturdays around college football.

Or in the case of the first week of the season, realign their Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays.

vie The first week of the 2010 season begins Thursday with 18 games involving FBS teams and continues through Monday night with the game of the week - and one of the most important games of the year - between Boise State and Virginia Tech.

If you're just getting acclimated to the new season or if you've been glued to the sport all summer, we're here to help you through the first week of the season.

Here's a look at the top five games to watch Saturday, plus selected nationally televised games from Sunday and Monday.

All times Eastern.

WEEK 1 VIEWER'S GUIDE
SATURDAY

PURDUE AT NOTRE DAME
When: 3:30 p.m., NBC
Broadcasters: Tom Hammond play-by-play, Mike Mayock analyst
The line: Notre Dame by 11
Why you should watch: This is the first look at Brian Kelly's version of Notre Dame football. First-year starting quarterback Dayne Crist will run the no-huddle spread attack with star wide receiver Michael Floyd and star tight end Kyle Rudolph. The biggest challenge for the Irish offense will be blocking Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, who had 13 sacks last season. Purdue is trying out its own new pass-catch tandem of Miami transfer Robert Marve and wide receiver Keith Smith. A shootout is a possibility in South Bend.

CONNECTICUT AT MICHIGAN
When: 3:30 p.m., ABC regional/ESPN
Broadcasters: Sean McDonough play-by-play, Matt Millen analyst
The line: Michigan by 3
Why you should watch: Call this one a crossroads game. Connecticut is looking to bolster its credentials as a Big East contender by winning in Ann Arbor after winning its last 2009 road game in South Bend. Meanwhile, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez is desperate to avoid a 0-1 start to his third season with the Wolverines. Rodriguez will wait until late in the week to name his starting quarterback; the contenders are sophomores Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson and true freshman Devin Gardner. Connecticut may be the most worried about Robinson, the most Pat White-like of the candidates. West Virginia's White accounted for 460 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns in going 4-0 in his career against Connecticut.

WASHINGTON AT BYU
When: 7 p.m., CBS College Sports
Broadcasters: Dave Ryan play-by-play, Aaron Taylor analyst
The line: BYU by 3
Why you should watch: Washington quarterback Jake Locker may tread lightly in this game. In the second game 2008, he ran in a fourth-quarter touchdown, but in celebrating the score, he was called for a questionable unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty. BYU blocked the long extra point to win 24-23, and Washington finished the season 0-12. A loss here wouldn't signal another disaster like 2008, but it might mean the Huskies still aren't where they want to be. While the Huskies have Locker - the projected No. 1 pick in the NFL draft - BYU has uncertainty at quarterback for the first time since 2004, when John Beck eventually took over. Junior Riley Nelson will start, but true freshman Jake Heaps will play. The Huskies' Steve Sarkisian is one of a handful of coaches facing his alma mater to open the season. Sarkisian led the nation in passing in 1996, when the Cougars went 14-1 and won the Cotton Bowl. BYU's only loss that season? It was 29-17 at Washington.

OREGON STATE VS. TCU (in Arlington, Texas)
When: 7:45 p.m., ESPN
Broadcasters: Brad Nessler play-by-play, Todd Blackledge analyst
The line: TCU by 13.5
Why you should watch: With all the buzz around Boise State, TCU practically is flying under the radar - well, flying under the radar as much as any top-10 team coming off a 12-1 season can. Gary Patterson and his seven returning starters on defense will have their hands full with Jacquizz Rodgers and James Rodgers. Working in TCU's favor, though, is first-year Beavers starting quarterback Ryan Katz. Oregon State hasn't finished September with a winning record since 2003. The Beavers will be hard-pressed to fare better than 2-2 (its record at the end of September in five consecutive seasons) with both of last season's Fiesta Bowl participants on their September schedule.

LSU VS. NORTH CAROLINA (in Atlanta)
When: 8 p.m., ABC
Broadcasters: Brent Musburger play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit analyst
The line: LSU by 1
Why you should watch: North Carolina's defense is a mystery, which is good news because so is LSU's offense. The Tar Heels are under NCAA investigation for agent issues and under internal investigation for academic issues, but no suspensions or absences have been announced publicly. LSU, which ranked 112th in total offense last season, can use all the help it can get. LSU could have a dangerous passing attack if Rueben Randle and Russell Shepard can emerge as complements to senior wide receiver Terrence Toliver. North Carolina has its own issues on offense. Senior quarterback T.J. Yates was named the starter, but he has work to do to prove he can lead an ACC contender. He threw 15 interceptions last season.

SUNDAY

SMU AT TEXAS TECH
When: 3:30 p.m., ESPN
Broadcasters: Mark Jones play-by-play, Bob Davie analyst
The line: Texas Tech by 14
Why you should watch: Texas Tech moves into the Tommy Tuberville era. Although the biggest change may be on offense, with Neal Brown's balanced spread offense taking the place of Mike Leach's "Air Raid," Tuberville needs to have an immediate impact on the defense. Last season, SMU returned to a bowl game for the first time sine 1984 thanks to June Jones' pass-oriented offense. SMU's run-and-shoot should be less balanced thanks to the departure of 1,200-yard back Shawnbrey McNeal and the maturation of sophomore quarterback Kyle Padron. Padron averaged 297 passing yards in the final seven games last season (SMU went 5-2).

MONDAY

BOISE STATE VS. VIRGINIA TECH (in Landover, Md.)
When: 8 p.m., ESPN
Broadcasters: Brent Musburger play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit analyst
The line: Boise State by 2.5
Why you should watch: Boise State went from lovable underdog to one of the most divisive teams in college football. The Broncos have something no other non-automatic qualifying team has had in the BCS era: great starting position in the polls. Boise State is fifth in the coaches' poll and likely will be favored in every game this season. Could that lead to a spot in the BCS championship game? That's the debate that begins if Boise State defeats Virginia Tech. The Broncos, though, haven't had much success in the East. The last time Boise State played in a game of this magnitude East of the Mississippi, the Broncos lost 48-13 to Georgia in 2005. Although everyone seems to be debating the merits of Boise State in the BCS title game, Virginia Tech also has a lot to gain from this game. The Hokies are ACC contenders, and could make a national statement for the conference with a win. Sophomore tailback Ryan Williams can get early approval from Heisman voters with a big outing against the Broncos' veteran defense.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.



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