Previewing the Top Games of 2012: Week One

The college football season is just around the corner, only a mere 17 weeks until the first week of games begin on Thursday, August 30th.

What better way to pass the time then to look at some of top games coming up this fall?

Think of it as a sneak peak of the Big E College Football Picks---without the spreads and Vegas insider info blindly wild picks.

After the jump are the games for week one.

Thursday

South Carolina at Vanderbilt

It doesn't take long for the SEC to serve up an intriguing matchup during the weekday before Saturday's full slate of games. South Carolina is coming off their first 11-win season ever, and their first season with 2 or fewer losses since 1984. It will also be the return of Heisman candidate Marcus Lattimore as he'll be playing in his first game since a season-ending knee injury suffered last October 15th.

Vanderbilt will be coming into their second season under head coach James Franklin who was wildly successful in Nashville in 2011. The Commodores notched 6 wins for the first time since 1982 when the program went 8-4. Will this be the game that sends the Gamecocks back down to earth and Vanderbilt up another notch in the SEC?

Texas A&M at Louisiana Tech (Shreveport)

The Aggies open up their first season in the SEC with a trickier-than-you-think game on the road at Independence Stadium. A&M faces a pesky Louisiana Tech team that is coming of a WAC title last season and a 8-5 record in 2011 that included a two-point loss to Southern Miss, one-point loss to Houston, six-point loss to Mississippi State, and a seven-point loss to TCU.

The Aggies roll into this game in a post-Ryan Tannehill world, with Kevin Sumlin taking over for the fired Mike Sherman in College Station. There might be a lot of pressure for Texas A&M in this game---you don't want to lose the first game under a new coach and have your new conference members laughing at you before October.

Friday

Boise State at Michigan State

This had the potential to be an epic battle last year, but in 2012 it will be mostly, "Who's playing quarterback for these teams?"

Yes, there will be a lot of new faces in this game but these teams are a combined 46-7 over the past two years so there may be some serious bragging rights on the line. This will also be the first game since 2007 (Pittsburgh) that Michigan State will be welcoming a major non-conference program not named Notre Dame into East Lansing---and Boise State might be the best non-Irish, non-conference opponent to enter Spartan Stadium since Oregon in 1999.

NC State vs. Tennessee (Atlanta)

Certainly not a barn-burner of a game, but it might be worth checking out on Friday night.

Despite the blandness of Tom O'Brien and the fact that he let Russell Wilson walk away from his final season of eligibility, the Wolfpack went a respectable 8-5 last season and are 17-9 over the past two years after a slow start under O'Brien.

The spotlight will be shining bright on Derek Dooley as he begins his third season as the head coach at Tennessee. He's lost 14 games in two seasons so far and only has 5 wins over major conference foes in that time and it's not the best list in Vanderbilt (2x), Ole Miss, Kentucky, and Cincinnati. Dooley has darkhorse Heisman candidate Tyler Bray to work with at quarterback so there should be some expected improvement this season in Knoxville.

Saturday

Auburn vs. Clemson (Atlanta)

This will be the third straight day that the Georgia Dome hosts a college football game, and they saved the best for last.

Clemson is coming off their first 10-win season since 1990, are defending ACC champions, but will be attempting to the put the shellacking in the Orange Bowl thanks to West Virginia behind them.

Auburn came back down to earth in 2011 after their national title in 2010, but they were still a solid 8-5 last year and head coach Gene Chizik is a hefty 30-10 heading into his fourth season. How will the Tigers fare with such a stiff first game challenge without wizard OC Guz Malzahn?

Alabama vs. Michigan (Arlington)

Likely the biggest game of the week, if not the first month of the season. The Tide are coming off their 2nd national title in three years, while the Wolverines are resurgent after a 11-2 season in 2011.

Alabama will be favored but they lose an awful lot of weapons on defense and you have to wonder how they'll handle a Denard Robinson-led offense when frankly, the Tide aren't used to seeing much offensive firepower in the SEC.

Michigan is 2-1 all-time against Alabama but it could be a long night battling the Tide in the trenches. Do you think we'll see ridiculous TV ratings for this game?

Arkansas State at Oregon

Hugh Freeze left Arkansas State after one 10-3 season and is now at Ole Miss, but Guz Malzahn takes over and should keep the Red Wolves offense pumping at an insane rate. And if there's a team that's going to go into Autzen Stadium with nothing to lose and put some points on the board to stay with the Ducks, it might just be this Arkansas State team.

Oregon will be breaking in a new quarterback and lost LaMichael James, but they still have Black Mamba and Kenjon Barner to rack up 8 yards a carry. We might see 100 points scored in this one.

Southern Miss at Nebraska

Southern Miss had one of their best seasons in school history last year going 11-2, but head coach Larry Fedora bolted to North Carolina and now new head coach Ellis Johnson has to play his first game as a D-1 coach inside Lincoln's Memorial Stadium.

Anyone else surprised that Bo Pelini has over a .700 winning percentage at Nebraska? That's up from .551% in the four years before he arrived but it still doesn't feel like the Cornhuskers have taken off since 2008. They'll have to be careful opening up the 2012 season---don't want to lose at home to a non-BCS team!

Washington State at BYU

The debut of Mike Leach at Wazzu after a two-year absence from college football. Plus, an early opportunity to scout BYU before they come to Notre Dame later in the season.

Need I say more?

You'll watch a little bit.

Sunday

SMU at Baylor

June Jones didn't get a first year bump at SMU, but since 2009 the Mustangs are a respectable 23-17 and slowly rebuilding that once proud program. Art Briles is only .500 through four seasons at Baylor but he's slowly rebuilt that program and is coming off a historically high water mark in 2011.

Add the in-state rivalry and a natural curiosity to see what Baylor looks like without Robert Griffin III, and you have a pretty entertaining football game in week one.

Monday

Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech

Paul Johnson had a nice first two seasons in Atlanta, but he's 0-4 in bowl games at Georgia Tech and has put up mediocre results since 2010 (14-12 record), so the pressure may be mounting in year five.

Just another 11-win season for Virginia Tech last year but they'll be itching to wash that Sugar Bowl loss to Michigan out of their mouth. This could be the first game of a Heisman season for Hokie quarterback Logan Thomas.

What games are you excited about?

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