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College football: Some teams step right into the fire

Well, it was touch and go there for a while, but in the end, we're bringing back The Blitz for a third season.

Yes, yes, I know you've all been clamoring for it … and I'm never one to disappoint.

I'm usually pretty psyched for the opening weekend of college football, but this year has taken things up a notch. I can't remember having this many marquee games right off the bat, and I can't wait to check out some of these inter-regional matchups.

As always, the opening "weekend" of college football lasts roughly 5 days – 6 if you count FBS newbie Georgia State kicking things off Wednesday – trying to take full advantage of the lone week during the season when the NFL isn't on Sunday's slate.

But the more the merrier, I say, and the bigger the games, the better.

Obviously it's a little rough to have a tough team on your plate right out of the gate, especially if you end up on the losing end; that 0-1 record leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

But it's not nearly as bad a taste as it has potentially been the last several years. In the BCS era, one loss – even to a top-tier opponent, even in the opening week – could all but dash a team's national championship hopes before it really got its stuff together.

But now, we're entering Phase I of the playoff era – I say Phase I because I believe this is just the first incarnation of what will eventually grow into an 8- or 16-team (at least) format – and an early-season loss to a quality opponent might not hold as much weight with the selection committee as it did with the ever-popular (LOL) computer rankings.

The advantage of a tough opponent early on is that you learn a lot about your team, win or lose. Nothing hides a potentially glaring weakness like beating up on four cupcakes prior to the conference slate, and nothing exposes them better than a loss to a possible champion from another conference.

Plus, if you can notch the 'W,' all the better; it usually means more national exposure, and immediately sets the pundits Tweeting, blogging, and talking up your team in any and every medium where they can get any kind of face-time.

Unlike the NFL preseason, where folks can't say enough how meaningless the preseason games are, there are no meaningless games in college football. You want to beat good opponents, and you want to demolish bad ones, all in the name of making the best case to the people who decide the Final Four at the end of the season that you belong there.

There will be a few teams who start stating that case loud and clear on the opening weekend. But it's only the beginning of a journey that will blissfully take about 3½ months to travel.

And here comes the first step. Giddy-up!

No. 7 UCLA at Virginia
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Va.
Line: UCLA by 21
What's up: The Bruins start the season ranked as high as they have been in quite some time, and their reward is a cross-country trip to play a Cavalier team that has had ups and downs in recent years. Look for Pac-12 offense to trump ACC defense.
My pick: UCLA 38-24

California at Northwestern
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Ryan Field, Evanston
Line: Northwestern by 11
What's up: The Wildcats host one of the 10 worst teams in the country, according to a recent column by AP writer Paul Newberry. Should be a good chance to Northwestern to figure out its plan of attack for the rest of the season.
My pick: Northwestern 31-14

No. 2 Alabama vs. West Virginia
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Line: Alabama by 26½
What's up: This should be a typical nonconference game featuring an SEC team and a non-SEC team. Look for the Crimson Tide to roll on both sides of the ball.
My pick: Alabama 52-10

No. 16 Clemson at No. 12 Georgia
When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga.
Line: Georgia by 7½
What's up: This should be the best game of the opening weekend. These two rivals really don't like each other, and the winner will have earned a top-flight victory right off the bat.
My pick: Georgia 31-27

No. 1 Florida St. vs. Oklahoma St.
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Line: Florida St. by 18½
What's up: The Seminoles have basically just reloaded following their national championship. The Cowboys lost some key pieces, but are never one to back away from a fight. This game should be high-scoring, but might be closer than everyone thinks.
My pick: Florida St. 49-38

No. 14 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 LSU
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston
Line: LSU by 5
What's up: The Tigers weren't hit nearly as hard by players heading to the NFL this offseason, but have to replace their starting QB and RB. Still, if the Bayou Bengals' defense can be strong against the run, look for the offense to get on track against an entirely new Badger front 7.
My pick: LSU 24-21

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