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Friday, September 3, 2010
What to watch around the nation

By Andrea Adelson

Our esteemed conference bloggers gave us their top 10 storylines to watch yesterday. Today, we present the top 10 storylines to watch across the country.

1. How does North Carolina recover emotionally from losing so many players? We know North Carolina is going to be depleted on the field against LSU on Saturday. Twelve players have been declared ineligible, including six starters. Of those six, five are on what is supposed to be one of the best defenses in the country. Players are going to have to step up, yes, but you have to wonder what type of toll this is going to take on the team from a mental standpoint. North Carolina is going into one of the biggest national games in the country with one arm tied behind its back. Surely the players know this. Surely coach Butch Davis knows this. He is going to have to do one heck of a coaching job to get his players to focus on the actual game and not all the outside distractions.

2. Big debut for Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly: Opinions are mixed on just how well Kelly will do in his first season as Irish coach. There are some who believe a 10-win season is possible. Others think seven wins is more likely. We will have to see how Dayne Crist does in the new spread offense, but more importantly -- how much better is the defense going to be this season? This is a team that returns nine starters from a defense that ranked 86th in the country last season. Yes, there is another new defensive scheme in place, but it should get a big test from Purdue and pass-happy quarterback Robert Marve.

3. How much of a home-field advantage will Virginia Tech have against Boise State? We have gone over some of the matchups, most notably the Hokies running backs vs. the Boise State defense. But intangibles are going to play a role here. How does Boise State handle traveling across the country and going into what should be a hostile environment? It has practiced for the heat and humidity, but it is hard to simulate actual game conditions with 90,000 fans -- most of whom are against you. Boise State has played in front of hostile crowds before, but this should be especially loud.

4. How does Year 3 of the Rich Rodriguez era start? Rodriguez could have the hottest seat of any coach in the country right now, what with NCAA sanctions looming and two straight losing seasons on his resume. Michigan fans want to win yesterday, let alone now. There is still uncertainty at quarterback, where up to three players could play against Connecticut. Every game Michigan plays these days feels like a must-win, but especially this one because of all the distractions outside the program.

5. No Tim Tebow, now what? The Florida Gators are ranked so high in the preseason polls this year largely because of the expectations on new quarterback John Brantley. He has a different style to be sure, more of a drop-back passer with a much stronger arm, but many expect him to step in and keep the Gators offense rolling along. He will have to do it without two of the team's top receivers, Riley Cooper and Aaron Hernandez. Who is going to step up to be the leader of that receiving group? Will the Gators have an effective way to run the ball with Tebow gone? After all, Tebow led the team in rushing the past three seasons.

6. How does Alabama handle playing without Mark Ingram and defensive end Marcell Dareus? Yes, the Tide is only playing San Jose State, but a big game against Penn State looms and the Tide could potentially be without both players in that one. Alabama has a capable back in Trent Richardson, and Damion Square is expected to play in Dareus' place. Both are going to need to get comfy out there before Sept. 11.

7. Does Nebraska have an offense to match its defense? The Cornhuskers are getting much love based on the way their defense played last season, and their near-upset of Texas. But their offense was atrocious, ranking 99th in the entire country. Once again, there is quarterback uncertainty, so that does not exactly project the confidence that this unit is going to magically be better. In its four losses last season, Nebraska averaged 11 points.

8. Can Oregon State put enough pressure on TCU quarterback Andy Dalton? Much of the focus on this game has centered around the Rodgers brothers and their return to Texas. Jacquizz Rodgers vs. the always strong TCU defense is a great matchup to watch. But another one is how Oregon State defends Andy Dalton. The last time we saw Dalton, he was frazzled into throwing three interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown in the Fiesta Bowl against Boise State. He threw only five in the regular season.

9. Georgia breaks in a new quarterback and new defense: How are the Bulldogs going to look with a redshirt freshman in Aaron Murray leading the offense, and a new defense playing the 3-4? Georgia is going to need answers fast with a road game at South Carolina looming. The Gamecocks looked pretty good Thursday night.

10. Charlie Strong vs. Joker Phillips: It's great to see two African-American head coaches making their debut in such a huge rivalry game. Their rise has helped increase the number of minority head coaches to 13 going into the 2010 season, up from nine in 2009.