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May 2, 2010

Roundtable: A look at the best openers

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask members of the coverage staff for their opinions about a topic in the sport. This week, we'll have two roundtables, one Saturday and one today. Here is today's question:

It's May 2, which means we're four months away from "opening day" on Sept. 2. Other than Boise State-Virginia Tech, what game on the first weekend excites you the most?

Olin Buchanan's answer:
There are a bunch of games I find intriguing: SMU at Texas Tech; Oregon State vs. TCU in Arlington, Texas; LSU vs. North Carolina in Atlanta; and Pittsburgh at Utah. But I think the game I'm most interested in -- other than Boise-Virginia Tech -- is Connecticut at Michigan. UConn is too easily overlooked by most fans. This is a rising program that beat South Carolina in a bowl game last season. UConn is coming off a five-loss season, but the five losses were by a combined 15 points. Furthermore, this could be a make-or-break season for Rich Rodriguez and every game will be crucial. The Wolverines desperately need to get off to a good start. The last time Rodriguez faced UConn was as West Virginia's coach in 2007, a game the Mountaineers won 66-21. I bet UConn's seniors haven't forgotten the score.

Tom Dienhart's answer:
I will be curious to see how Notre Dame looks at home against Purdue. I think it's vital Brian Kelly debuts with a bang against an opponent that the Fighting Irish must beat. How will the new offense look with Dayne Crist pulling the trigger against what should be a strong Purdue front seven? Can the new 3-4 defense perform well against a Purdue offense that will feature the debut of quarterback Robert Marve, a touted transfer from Miami? No doubt, this is a game the Boilermakers think they can win. But ND must prevail, especially when you consider its next five games are perilous: Michigan, at Michigan State, Stanford, at Boston College and Pittsburgh.

David Fox's answer:
Connecticut's trip to Michigan will set the tone for both teams this season. If Rich Rodriguez can't beat a program and a coach he used to handle while at West Virginia, what hope does he have of competing in the Big Ten? That's not entirely fair, but that's the way fans will see it. If Michigan loses, it could be the beginning of the end for RichRod. Connecticut, on the other hand, is one of the sleeper teams in the Big East. The Huskies return enough talent and had enough close calls last season that a lucky break or two in 2010 could send them to the BCS. Remember, Connecticut defeated Notre Dame in South Bend late last season. The Huskies won't be intimidated by the Big House.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
There are three I'm especially interested in: LSU-North Carolina in Atlanta; Washington at BYU; and Connecticut at Michigan. I think each of the three is important for these coaches: LSU's Les Miles, Washington's Steve Sarkisian and Michigan's Rich Rodriguez. It's most important to Rodriguez, so I'll go with UConn-Michigan. I think most college fans hear "UConn" and still think "easy win for Michigan." It's anything but. UConn is extremely well-coached, can control the ball on the ground (which sure as heck should have Wolverines coaches feeling a lot of angst) and has a veteran defense. A season-opening loss to UConn? If that happens, I would bet serious coin that Rodriguez will be gone at the end of the season.

Steve Megargee's answer:
North Carolina-LSU isn't as sexy a pairing as Alabama-Clemson or Alabama-Virginia Tech -- the past two SEC-ACC matchups to open the season at the Georgia Dome -- but it still offers plenty of intrigue. There's plenty at stake for the ACC, since its preseason favorite has lost to Alabama by double-digit margins each of the past two seasons. A North Carolina victory would help the ACC regain a measure of respect. The teams also have plenty to prove. This nationally televised encounter will give North Carolina's star-studded defense a chance to live up to its preseason hype. North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates can show he's ready to bounce back from a suspect 2009 season if he can perform effectively. This game also means quite a bit to LSU coach Les Miles, who has led the Tigers to two consecutive relatively disappointing years since that 2007 national championship season. It's probably a little too early to say Miles is on the hot seat, but a loss in the 2010 season opener might cause us to change that assessment.

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