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Thursday, September 3, 2009
Webb, Keenum top picks in Week 1

By Will Harris
Special to ESPN.com

New this year, ESPN's College Football Challenge has something for everyone. With a separate leaderboard for each conference, you can follow the national scene or just concentrate on your favorite team's league. Whether you're a veteran NFL fantasy player or a college fan who's new to fantasy football, the Challenge is sure to provide lots of options and lots of fun.

Each week we'll profile 20 players or units that should be on Challenge owners' radar, whether they're proven commodities, emerging stars, breakout performers or players who might need a week off due to an injury or unfavorable matchup. In the spirit of inclusiveness, we'll always have at least one player from each of the 11 conferences.

Cream of the Crop

Star fantasy performers with favorable matchups

Joe Webb, QB, UAB: A 1,000-yard rusher last season, Webb is Conference USA's top dual-threat quarterback. With all 10 of his fellow 2008 starters returning to the UAB offense, Webb is poised to post big numbers from day one against a soft Rice defense.

Case Keenum, QB, Houston: The top overall college fantasy player, Keenum threw for more than 5,000 yards and 44 touchdowns in the first year of former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Sumlin's system. With most of his supporting cast returning, Keenum will be looking for even more this year. He'll have a big day against Northwestern State despite likely heading to the bench early in the second half.

Jahvid Best, RB, California: Last year, Maryland ambushed Best's Bears in a game in College Park that started at 9 a.m. Pacific time. This year the tables are turned, and a loaded Cal team figures to pile on the yards against a very young Maryland squad in a game that won't end until after midnight on the East Coast.

Matt Grothe, QB, South Florida: Grothe is a one-man show, and one of the only experienced signal-callers in the Big East. He'll do plenty of damage running and throwing against FCS Wofford.

Dezmon Briscoe, WR, Kansas: Briscoe piled up over 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2008. He and quarterback Todd Reesing will hook up for several big gainers against FCS Northern Colorado.

Team Defense, Florida: The defending national champions amazingly return the entire defensive two-deep. The Gators' stop unit might outscore many teams' offenses Saturday against overmatched Charleston Southern.

Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Georgia Tech: The reigning ACC Offensive Player of the Year ran for 112 yards and two scores against Jacksonville State last year ... on just 11 carries! The backs will see more pitches in this year's tilt as coach Paul Johnson tries to protect option quarterback Josh Nesbitt in the wake of backup Jaybo Shaw's injury.

Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame: Clausen has the nation's top receiving duo at his disposal in Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. Nevada sports one of the nation's weakest secondaries, but Colin Kaepernick and the offense should score enough to make coach Charlie Weis keep his foot on the gas the whole game.

Arrelious Benn, WR, Illinois: The Illini have lost two shootouts in a row against Missouri, but the Tigers' secondary has been very permissive in both meetings. Quarterback Juice Williams threw for 451 yards and five scores last year, and Benn -- who posted as many yards as the next three receivers combined last season -- will be the beneficiary of a third consecutive high-scoring affair.

Opportunity Knocks

Seldom-rostered players with favorable matchups

Team Kicking, Troy: The Sun Belt favorites should put up some points this week against a Bowling Green defense that returns just three starters and is learning new schemes. Senior kicker Sam Glusman hit seven of nine field goal attempts from 40-plus yards and was an all-Sun Belt selection last year.

Eugene Jarvis, RB, Kent: With mobile quarterback Julian Edelman gone, Jarvis will be asked to carry the load in the Flashes' ground-oriented attack this year. The two-time All-MAC selection has compiled nearly 2,500 yards the past two years and should have a field day against Coastal Carolina.

Victor Anderson, RB, Louisville: A 1,000-yard campaign as a freshman earned Anderson the Big East Newcomer of the Year award in 2008. With a new signal-caller this year, Anderson will be relied on even more. A productive season should get off to a fine start Saturday versus an Indiana State team that's lost 26 consecutive games.

Ryan Mathews, RB, Fresno State: Injuries have kept Mathews a little under the national radar the past two years, but he's poised for a big 2009 behind one of the WAC's top offensive lines. The fun starts Saturday with overmatched UC Davis.

Ryan Wolfe, WR, UNLV: Wolfe is triggerman Omar Clayton's main target in the UNLV spread attack. He'll rack up yards and scores as an improved Rebels squad has its way with FCS Sacramento State.

On the Shelf

Key players who need a week off due to injury, matchup or circumstance

DeAndre Brown, WR, Southern Miss: Brown put up 1,000 yards as a freshman, earning first-team all-CUSA honors. However, he's still recovering from a broken leg suffered in the bowl against Troy and is doubtful for the opener versus Alcorn St.

Brandon Minor, RB, Michigan: As the Wolverines' top tailback, Minor is a useful commodity, but Carlos Brown is likely to see most of the carries Saturday against Western Michigan as Minor is still suffering from a lingering ankle injury.

Rob Gronkowski, TE, Arizona: Gronk is one of the nation's top tight ends, scoring more touchdowns last year than the Cats' top three wideouts combined. With quarterback Willie Tuitama and top wide receiver Mike Thomas gone, Gronkowski will be the focal point of the Arizona offense this year. Unfortunately, he's still not ready to start the season due to a back injury that cost him all of preseason camp.

John Clay, RB, Wisconsin: The highly touted sophomore ran for 884 yards as P.J. Hill's backup last year, but was surprisingly beaten out for the starting job late in fall camp by junior Zach Brown. Don't try to capitalize on the productive Badgers rushing attack until this time-share clears up.

Fresh Faces

Players without much starting experience who will put up big numbers

Taylor Potts, QB, Texas Tech: Replacing 5,000-yard passers hasn't been an issue in the Red Raiders' system. Coach Mike Leach isn't known for heaping praise on his quarterbacks, but he claims that Potts is more ready to start the season than any first-time starter he's had at Tech. North Dakota is no match.

Jarrett Brown, QB, West Virginia: With superstar Pat White finally graduated, it's Brown's turn to pilot the potent Mountaineers attack. The mobile senior has picked up a good bit of experience in two seasons as the injury-prone White's primary backup, and will have a fine debut as the starter versus FCS Liberty.

Will Harris is a fantasy college football analyst for ESPN.com.