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September 1, 2006

SCS.comAt long last, it's finally here. No, not college football season. I'm talking about the first true hurricane threat of the season here in the U.S. OK, so Ernesto fizzled out before he arrived, but at least it gave the weather people, those gurus who have been hyping this hurricane season for months and months, something to talk about for a few days.

I'm only kidding, of course, but actually, even a weakened Ernesto is very likely to play a role on the football field this weekend. The storm is expected to dump large amounts of rain up and down the eastern coast over the next few days, meaning it's one of the four biggest things you should watch "four" as we hit the field for the first time this weekend! ERNESTO

Though not that strong of a storm, Ernesto has brought plenty of moisture to the mainland and is likely to make a number of weekend matchups rather messy. Opening weekend is usually primetime for jitters as it is, so what additional role will a wet field play? That'll be interesting to watch at places like Virginia Tech (vs Northeastern), West Virginia (vs Marshall), Penn State (vs Akron), Maryland (vs William & Mary), Duke (vs Richmond), NC State (vs Appalachian State), Wake Forest (vs Syracuse), and Pittsburgh (vs Virginia). BIG BOYS ON THE ROAD

A pair of this season's top candidates to take home the national title will start their seasons on the road this weekend. Southern Cal will travel east to take on an Arkansas squad some are expecting to be much-improved this fall. Notre Dame, meanwhile, will venture southward to Georgia Tech to take on that team led by senior QB Reggie Ball. The Jackets hope to follow their leader and possibly contend for an ACC crown in 2006. Will the national title contenders roll over the road foes, or can the hometown boys keep things interesting? TOUGH BIG TEN OPENERS

A number of Big Ten squads have tough opening-weekend matchups, so it will be interesting to see which teams get their campaign off to a good start and which ones take it on the chin early. After Minnesota and Northwestern opened up their seasons on the road at MAC foes (Kent State and Miami-OH, respectively) on Thursday, Michigan will play host to Vanderbilt out of the SEC on Saturday. The 'Dores were just one win shy of bowl eligibility last season but must replace star QB Jay Cutler. Later in the day, Penn State will play host to Akron, yet another MAC member and one many expect to contend for that conference's championship in 2006. QB Luke Getsy leads the upset-minded Zips squad. Perhaps the best MAC team of them all, though, is Northern Illinois, and the Huskies will be on the road at Ohio State Saturday, one of the BCS favorites heading into the season. RB Garrett Wolfe is a star, but can lead his team over the mighty Buckeyes? Also on Saturday, Indiana will play host to Western Michigan, while Wisconsin will open up on the road at Bowling Green. WEEKEND'S TOP GAMES

Two games stand out to me as the opening weekend's best. The first, set to take place Saturday evening, will feature Cal on the road at Tennessee. The Vols hope to make a big statement early in 2006 after last fall's debacle, but doing so against the Bears and star RB Marshawn Lynch will be no easy task. The second battle caps off the Labor Day weekend on Monday night. That's when Florida State will head south to take on in-state rival Miami. Both squads are favorites to come out on top in the ACC this fall, but the winner here gets a leg up both in the conference and in the BCS race.


Hawaii over Alabama - The Tide had a great 2005 season but must replace a number of key players both on offense and defense, including star QB Brodie Croyle. And even last year, the offense wasn't too great as the defense carried the team to Mike Shula's most successful season yet in Tuscaloosa. It will be interesting to see how 'Bama responds this season, especially early in the year against a high-powered offense like Hawaii's. QB Colt Brennan leads the charge for the Warriors, and though the Tide's defense is tough, they may not have to put all that many points on the board to outscore the boys from the SEC.

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