Here, and not a moment too soon I might add, is the first Fearless Friday Forecast for 2010:
1. Louisiana-Lafayette at Georgia: Georgia fans are looking for two things in the opener against the Ragin’ Cajuns from the Sun Belt Conference. Both deal with reassurance. No. 1, does redshirt freshman Aaron Murray look like a college quarterback? No. 2, will it be clear that the Georgia defense knows what it is doing? If the answer to both questions is yes, then there will optimism in the air when the Bulldog Nation leaves Sanford Stadium and starts thinking about that Sept. 11 trip to South Carolina. The Gamecocks certainly gave Georgia something to think about with the ease in which they dispatched Southern Miss (41-13) last night. Georgia 31, Louisiana-Lafayette 7.
2. S.C. State at Georgia Tech: There are no questions at quarterback, where senior Joshua Nesbitt returns. But there are questions on defense where Al Groh debuts as defensive coordinator. Now the Bulldogs from Orangeburg are no pushover, having won straight MEAC championships. But I think S.C. State quarterback Malcolm Long will see pressure from a lot of different places and he’ll find that tough to handle. Georgia Tech 35, S.C. State 10.
3. LSU vs. North Carolina (Georgia Dome): For an opening game, both teams arrive in Atlanta a little on the desperate side. North Carolina needs a win to change the subject from a couple of different NCAA investigations. The Tar Heels are expected to challenge in the ACC Coastal but those plans could be derailed if the NCAA finds academic misconduct. We know DT Marvin Austin and RB Greg Little won’t play. There could be a lot more who don’t suit up. We could hear something on that today.
For a guy who is 51-15 with a national championship, Les Miles sure does hear his name and the words “hot seat” in the same sentence a lot. I picked North Carolina to win this game about a month ago but I sure can’t pick them now. Too many distractions. LSU 17, North Carolina 10.
4. Virginia Tech vs. Boise State (Monday, Landover, Md.): This is a huge opener for Boise State, which returns 21 of 22 starters from a 14-0 team. For if the Broncos, rated No. 5 in the preseason coaches poll, can find a way to beat the ACC favorite then they have a real shot of going undefeated and playing in a BCS bowl for the second consecutive year. Some believe the Broncos can make it all the way to the BCS championship game. I don’t think they can get out of FedEx field with a win. Virginia Tech 21, Boise State 20.
5. Kentucky at Louisville: A lot going on here. Former Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong has his debut as the head coach at Louisvillle. Ditto for Joker Phillips, the former Kentucky offensive coodinator who takes over for Rich Brooks. Both sides have a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball. I think Kentucky has a little bit more with Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke. Kentucky 28, Louisville 24.
6. Miami (Ohio) at Florida: Life after Tim Tebow begins and John Brantley will be the man in the spotlight. The Redhawks from the MAC return every starter from a team that went 1-11 last season and won’t pose much of a threat in the Florida heat. But fans want to see Brantley run what will be a different Florida offense. They also want to see if the defense takes a step back after losing five NFL draft choices and defensive coordinator Charlie Strong. The Gators get South Florida at home next week. Florida 51, Miami (Ohio) 10.
7. Arkansas State at Auburn: Yet another quarterback in the SEC will make his debut. Cameron Newton won a JUCO national championship and then transferred to Auburn. He has all the physical gifts (6-6, 243) you could ask for in a quarterback and should shine in Gus Malzahn’s offense. This game is about getting ready for a short turnaround and playing at Mississippi State on Sept. 9. Auburn 31, Arkansas State 10.
8. San Jose State at Alabama: The Crimson Tide begins the pursuit of its second straight national championship and over 100,000 will turn out at newly-enlarged Bryant Denny Stadium. This game will be a continuation of the celebration that begin last January in Pasadena. Then it will be all business as Alabama gets ready to host Joe Paterno and Penn State on Sept. 11. It will be interesting to see how many times QB Greg McElroy throws the ball down the field to a healthy Julio Jones. Alabama will be without DE Marcell Dareus, who has been suspended for two games by the NCAA . Alabama 45, San Joe State 7.
9. Tennessee-Martin at Tennessee: Derek Dooley, son of Barbara and Vince, makes his debut as the head football coach of the Volunteers. Since Dooley became coach in January he has preached patience and building for the long haul. With a bunch of freshmen on the offensive line and not much experience anywhere else, for that matter, Dooley needs to give the Volunteer faithful some reason to hope. Tennessee may not be a talented team, but they need to look well coached against an overmatched foe, particularly with Oregon coming to Knoxville next week. Tennessee 31, UT-Martin 3.
10. Samford at Florida State: For the first time since 1976 Florida State will play a football game with somebody other than Bobby Bowden as head coach. Jimbo Fisher makes his debut and the Seminoles fans also want some reason to believe that things are going to be better sooner rather than later. I’m keeping an eye on this game to see what kind of start QB Christian Ponder has. This guy is capable of winning the Heisman Trophy, especially playing behind a veteran offensive line. Florida State 42, Samford 17.
**–The first “Barnhart and Durham Show” begins today at 10 a.m. on 790 The Zone. We’ll talk about all the action from last night and look ahead to the first full weekend of college football. Among our guests are Georgia State coach Bill Curry, former Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden, and the great Larry Munson. Gary Stokan will join us to talk about the third Chick-fil-A Kickoff game. You can listen online at www.790thezone.com.
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