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Georgia Tech at Clemson, Sept. 18 -- A key early game for both teams. After ending last year with a four-game winning streak and earning a contract extension, the eyes of Clemson fans will be on coach Tommy Bowden to see if he can get his team to exceed expectations. On the other side, Chan Gailey has done a good job but has yet to prove he can get Georgia Tech to the lofty levels George O'Leary's Yellowjacket teams were at. Call this one a "program direction" game that could give the winning team a big boost.
Oregon at Oklahoma, Sept. 18 -- Oklahoma is one of the favorites to get back to the BCS championship game but this game looms as a potential slip-up. Prior to the reemergence of USC last season Oregon had become the pride of the Pac-10 by winning and contending for league titles, and I'm interested to see how the Ducks stack up this season against one of the top three teams in the country. They don't necessarily have to beat the Sooners to make a statement, just play them tough.
Texas vs. Oklahoma, Oct. 9 -- Until Texas finally beats Oklahoma, one of the most intriguing questions of every season will be "Can Mack Brown beat Bob Stoops and Oklahoma this year?"
Michigan at Ohio State, Nov. 20 -- For the first time in years I cannot say for sure that one of these two teams is my favorite to win the Big Ten title. Ohio State lost 14 players to the NFL last season while Michigan is replacing record-setting quarterback John Navarre and 2003 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year tailback Chris Perry. Both teams are talented but the rest of the league is catching up, and this could be the first time in years the annual season-ending showdown is more about bragging rights than a conference championship.Craig James
Oregon at Oklahoma, Sept. 18 -- Oregon is the classic example of an underrated Pac-10 team not getting enough respect from the eastern half of the country. I announced the Oregon-Mississippi State game last season and remember thinking to myself during warm-ups, "Holy cow, these guys are big enough to be a pro team. They're huge!" The Ducks are a big, physical, well-coached team and Oklahoma had better circle this game on the schedule because it will be a test. Oregon will not be intimidated by the crowd and the Sooners had better not be looking too far ahead to the Big 12 schedule.
Texas vs. Oklahoma, Oct. 9 -- The big question in this matchup is how much of an impact new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson will have for Texas. This will be the true test as to whether Longhorns coach Mack Brown made the right move in bringing in Robinson and former Arizona coach Dick Tomey to shore up that side of the ball. The defense will be a little more sophisticated and I expect them to play much better, closer to the style of defense seen at LSU, Oklahoma and USC. But until Texas actually wins the Red River Shootout we can't say Brown has figured out how to beat Bob Stoops and the Sooners, who have as just much talent and much more confidence than the Longhorns.
Michigan at Ohio State, Nov. 20 -- Ohio State will have a good defense as usual, but the unknown for the Buckeyes is how the offense will recover after losing most of its weapons during the offseason. Jim Tressel coaches with a strong team philosophy, though, and I believe the OSU offense will use that at motivation to not let the defense down. It is not a given that the Buckeyes will struggle offensively, and even if they do they have shown in the past the ability to win with defense. Keep an eye on Michigan's exciting wide receiver corps of Jason Avant, Steve Breaston and Braylon Edwards.
Texas A&M at Texas, Nov. 26 -- A very important game for both coaches. Assuming that Texas is having a good season up to this point, a loss to Texas A&M in a rivalry game could be a season-wrecker and one more loss for Mack Brown in a game his team should win. On the other side, the Aggies could be in for some rough going thanks to a tough schedule but would make their season and help Dennis Franchione's case with a win over the Horns.