Posted by ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach
It's finally here, and here are 10 things I can't wait to see on the opening Saturday of the 2009 college football season:
1. Can Alabama's rebuilt offensive line protect quarterback Greg McElroy and open enough holes for the running game? The Crimson Tide looked pretty bad without left tackle Andre Smith against Utah in the Sugar Bowl, and now the All-American is gone for good. Guard Mike Johnson tells me James Carpenter, a JUCO transfer from Augusta, Ga., is going to be pretty good at left tackle. Replacing center Antoine Caldwell is equally important.
2. Can Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor throw it better than last year? If the Hokies are going to live up to their lofty preseason billing -- and win me a 12-pack of adult beverages from ESPN.com ACC blogger Heather Dinich -- than Taylor has to become a more complete quarterback. It will be tough against Bama's stout defense.
3. Will Georgia's defense handle Oklahoma State's three-headed monster? Bulldogs defensive coordinator Willie Martinez told me yesterday that he feels pretty good about his defense. Defensive end Demarcus Dobbs and Roderick Battle had good preseason camps, according to Martinez, and they'll have to get pressure on OSU quarterback Zac Robinson. But Martinez believes the key to stopping OSU's high-octane attack is containing Kendall Hunter to take away the play-action pass.
4. How will Joe Cox play against OSU? The senior waited three seasons for Matthew Stafford to leave and his time is finally here. Cox has been battling flu-like symptoms for a few days, and didn't fly with his teammates to Stillwater, Okla. He arrived at OSU late Friday night and is said to be feeling much better.
5. Will Michigan be any better? Surely, the Wolverines won't be any worse after going 3-9 in coach Rich Rodriguez's first season in Ann Arbor. Western Michigan is going to be a tough opener -- maybe a lot tougher than most people believe -- and the Wolverines have to find some confidence early in the season. Rodriguez will play three quarterbacks -- Tate Forcier, Nick Sheridan and freshman Denard Robinson.
6. Is Notre Dame a legitimate BCS contender? Believe it or not, we'll find out a lot about the Fighting Irish in today's opener against Nevada. Wolf Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernick is very, very good and his ability to scramble and run will present challenges to Notre Dame's defense. I really want to see if the Fighting Irish can run the ball better than they have the last couple of seasons.
7. How good are the new quarterbacks? Matt Barkley, the first freshman to start at quarterback for USC, should have his way against San Jose State. Will Blaine Gabbert fill Chase Daniel's enormous shoes at Missouri? The Tigers' new quarterback faces a stiff test today against Illinois. Cox and Alabama's McElroy won't be the only new quarterbacks in the spotlight.
8. Will there be any upsets in Week 1? How about Western Michigan over Michigan? Central Michigan over Arizona? Ohio over Connecticut? Louisiana Tech over Auburn? I'm sure there will be a couple of surprising results.
9. How good will Oklahoma's offensive line be against BYU? The Sooners have to replace four starters on the line, including All-America guard Duke Robinson. Protecting reigning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford might not be as easy without them. Converted tight end Brody Eldridge moves to center, and LSU transfer Jarvis Jones takes over at guard. Bradford will need some new targets, too, with Manny Johnson and Juaquin Iglesias moving on. He'll miss tight end Jermaine Gresham, who is out for at least a week with a knee injury.
10. How will Auburn and Tennessee look under new leaders? The Tigers might get a stiff test from Louisiana Tech, so they'll need a good game from quarterback Chris Todd, who was a surprising choice to run Gus Mahlzahn's offense. The Volunteers will probably be pretty vanilla against overmatched Western Kentucky, but they need to get better quickly. The Vols play at defending BCS national champion Florida in two weeks.
Enjoy the games.