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August 27, 2008

Viewer's Guide: Critical games right away

After months of anticipation, the season finally is here.

Thankfully, the college game doesn't have the agonizing preseason of the NFL well, assuming your favorite team is playing a Division I-A opponent. These 10 teams are among those jumping right into the fray with critical games that will help determine the course of the season.

Here are the top five games to watch for Week One:

All times Eastern.

VIEWER'S GUIDE
UTAH AT MICHIGAN

When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
TV: ABC regional or ESPN2 (depending on your location)
Broadcasters: Terry Gannon play-by-play, David Norrie analyst
Line: Michigan by 3
Why you should watch: Rich Rodriguez's first game at Michigan is no gimme. If Appalachian State could beat Michigan in the Big House last season, Utah can do it this season. All eyes will be on the Wolverines and how their yet-to-be-named starting quarterback runs the Rodriguez spread option. Utah coaches say Brian Johnson is the ideal spread option quarterback. Michigan, this is your future.

NO. 24 ALABAMA VS. NO. 9 CLEMSON IN ATLANTA

When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV: ABC or ESPN GamePlan
Broadcasters: Brent Musburger play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit analyst
Line: Clemson by 5
Why you should watch: This feels a bit like a bowl game, doesn't it? Two powerhouses from power conferences meet at a neutral site. Make no mistake, though, this game will set the tone for two fan bases with high expectations for 2008. Tommy Bowden and Clemson are out to prove the Tigers are ready to win their first ACC title since 1991 and contend for national attention. Alabama has "Sports' Most Powerful Coach" well, according to Forbes magazine but is Nick Saban's team powerful enough to upset Clemson?

NO. 20 ILLINOIS VS. NO. 6 MISSOURI IN ST. LOUIS

When: Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
TV: ESPN
Broadcasters: Mark Jones play-by-play, Bob Davie analyst
Line: Missouri by 9
Why you should watch: This border showdown pits one team that should have gone to a BCS game last season (Mizzou) against a team that probably should have been left out (Illinois). Between Jeremy Maclin, Chase Daniel, Chase Coffman, Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn, no first-week game will have a better collection of offensive playmakers on the field. This game flew under the radar last season (Missouri won 40-34), but it's clear this year's version carries BCS implications.

WASHINGTON AT NO. 21 OREGON

When: Saturday, 10 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Net
Broadcasters: Barry Tompkins play-by-play, Petros Papadakis analyst
Line: Oregon by 14
Why you should watch: Of the five conference games nationally this weekend, this is by far the most interesting. It's an underrated rivalry game and an opportunity to see the mettle of both teams. Justin Roper led Oregon to its only post-Dennis Dixon win in the Sun Bowl, but he didn't win the starting job until Monday - when it was announced the Ducks lost Nate Costa for eight to 10 weeks with a knee injury. Washington quarterback Jake Locker has to deal with Oregon's playmaking secondary. He needs to prove he can win a game with his arm as well as his legs.

FRESNO STATE AT RUTGERS

When: Monday, 4 p.m.
TV: ESPN
Broadcasters: Dave Pasch play-by-play, Andre Ware analyst
Line: Rutgers by 5
Why you should watch: The undercard to Tennessee-UCLA actually should be the more intriguing Labor Day game. With 18 returning starters off a team that won its final five games last year, Fresno State should have one of its best teams under Pat Hill. But Fresno State is 2-11 on the road against "Big Six" conference teams since 2001. Rutgers, meanwhile, opens the post-Ray Rice era. Will the Scarlet Knights now depend more on quarterback Mike Teel?

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



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