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September 2, 2010

Week 1: C-USA, MAC, SBC, WAC and Independents

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | MWC | Pac-10 | SEC

The 10 best games
Southern Miss at South Carolina, 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Minnesota at Middle Tennessee, 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Northern Illinois at Iowa State, 8 p.m. Thursday
Purdue at Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Bowling Green at Troy, 7 p.m. Saturday
Cincinnati at Fresno State, 10 p.m. Saturday
Tulsa at East Carolina, 2 p.m. Sunday
SMU at Texas Tech, 3:30 p.m. Sunday
Maryland vs. Navy in Baltimore, 4 p.m. Monday
Boise St. vs. Va. Tech in Landover, Md., 8 p.m. Monday

Almost half the new coaches in FBS this season -- 10 of the 23 -- are from Conference USA, the MAC, the Sun Belt and the WAC, and nine of them truly start their new jobs this weekend.

The only new coach not working is Louisiana-Monroe's Todd Berry, whose team doesn't open until next week, but, frankly, by the end of the day Saturday, a few might wish they also were off the first week.

New San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre has the toughest task; his Spartans play at defending national champion Alabama. Also facing top-10 opponents in the first week are Marshall's Doc Holliday (at Ohio State) and Western Kentucky's Willie Taggart (at Nebraska).

The flipside is that three coaches begin their seasons against FCS opponents: Louisiana Tech's Sonny Dykes against Grambling, Central Michigan's Dan Enos against Hampton and Buffalo's Jeff Quinn against Rhode Island.

Regardless of the first-week opponent, though, you have to think all the new coaches feel the same way as Akron's Rob Ianello, whose Zips open with a visit from Syracuse.

"Through my whole career, I didn't sit in my office every day and say, 'OK, I have got to be a head coach tomorrow,' " Ianello told the media earlier this week. "But throughout my career, I have prepared myself and aspired to be a head coach, so to have this opportunity is humbling and exciting.

"I am certainly looking forward to it."

Best matchup: Boise State run offense vs. Virginia Tech run defense. Virginia Tech generally is one of the toughest teams in the nation against the run. But the Hokies were uncharacteristically spotty against the run last season, ranking 40th nationally in run defense. This season, coordinator Bud Foster will be working with a revamped front seven; just two starters return, and one of those -- LB Barquell Rivers -- seems likely to miss the opener because of a quad injury. For all the attention Boise receives for its passing attack, the Broncos don't mind playing smash-mouth football. They are deep at tailback, and three will play Monday night. If Boise runs effectively with Jeremy Avery, Doug Martin and T.J. Harper -- say, 150-plus rushing yards -- it's going to be extremely difficult to beat.

Player on the spot: Louisiana Tech QB Steven Ensminger. Ensminger won the starting job over incumbent Ross Jenkins and will be at the controls of a much different Bulldogs attack, as new coach Sonny Dykes has installed a pass-happy scheme. The first-week opponent for Tech -- FCS member Grambling -- shouldn't pose that many problems, but Ensminger has not taken a snap in a real game since 2005, when he was a high school senior. He sat out the 2006 season at Auburn as a redshirt, then transferred to Tech and had to sit out the '07 season. In both 2008 and '09, Ensminger was a scout team quarterback under former coach Derek Dooley. If Ensminger performs adequately this season, Tech had a chance to finish as high as third in the WAC, which would get the Bulldogs into a bowl. Coincidentally, Ensminger's last real game was for the Louisiana state Class 5A title at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, La. -- the site of Saturday's neutral-site game with Grambling.

Numbers game: Boise State finished 14-0 last season and begins this season ranked third in The Associated Press poll and fifth in the coaches' poll. The ranking of third tied Arizona State in 1976 as the highest for a WAC team in the preseason.

What they're saying

"Our football team is ready to look at somebody else. We have been looking at each other now for weeks." -- Louisiana-Lafayette coach Rickey Bustle, on preparing for his team's opener at Georgia

"Hope and pray, I guess." -- Marshall coach Doc Holliday, on what his team will have to do defensively to contain Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor

"In the past, you would always look to go in and not get yourself hurt and try to get through there with everyone healthy. It's not that way anymore. We're going to compete, and we're going to try to win the ballgame. We're not going to look at it like, 'Those are the big guys and we're not going to stand a chance.' " -- Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart, on opening at Nebraska in the Hilltoppers' second season as a FBS member

"Obviously, the thing that we struggle with in the past are mobile quarterbacks, spread-option type teams." -- Fresno State coach Pat Hill, on what bothers him about Cincinnati being his season-opening opponent

"The key for us is to play with confidence early and let that confidence snowball. Hopefully that will happen." -- SMU coach June Jones, on his team's opener at Texas Tech

"I called [Houston Texans coach] Gary Kubiak to see if we could get a scrimmage last week, but they were busy. That's about the same type of people the Longhorns have." -- Rice coach David Bailiff, jokingly discussing how his team is readying for Texas

Etc.: The only two FBS teams not playing this weekend are Sun Belt members Florida International and Louisiana-Monroe. It's the second season in a row that FIU has been idle on the opening weekend. ... Middle Tennessee QB Dwight Dasher, the preseason player of the year in the Sun Belt, has been suspended indefinitely for an off-field legal issue. JC transfer Logan Kilgore will get the start at quarterback on Thursday night against Minnesota. ... Rice DT Scott Solomon, a preseason All-Conference USA selection who is the Owls' best defender, is out for up to eight weeks with a broken foot. ... Fresno State opens at home against Wisconsin; the Bulldogs are playing more home games (seven) than road games (six) for the first time in 13 seasons. ... UCF senior DE Bruce Miller has 27 sacks and 44 tackles for loss in his career; he is the current national leader in both categories. ... Troy coach Larry Blakeney is entering his 20th season with the Trojans; only Penn State's Joe Paterno and Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer have been in their current positions longer among FBS coaches. Troy opens with a home game against Bowling Green, and Blakeney is 19-0 in home openers at Troy. ... East Carolina's game Sunday against Tulsa will be the first played at ECU's newly expanded Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium (50,000 capacity, up from 43,000). ... Nevada opens at home against Eastern Washington, and for the first time since 1991, the Wolf Pack will play each of their first three games at home. ... Hawaii plays host to USC on Thursday night, and the Warriors have won their past two home games against Pac-10 opponents (Washington in 2007 and Washington State in '08). ... Central Michigan senior LB Nick Bellore has 382 career tackles, the most of any active player. And fellow MAC member Kent State has two active career leaders -- FS Brian Lainhart with 15 interceptions and RB Eugene Jarvis with 3,426 rushing yards. ... Utah State has not won a season-opening game since 1997 -- and the Aggies are opening at Oklahoma, which has won 30 in a row at home, the longest current streak in the nation. ... Arkansas State plays at Auburn. It will be Arkansas State's 51st game against an SEC school; the Red Wolves are 1-46-3 all-time. UTEP RB Donald Buckram, the nation's No. 3 returning rusher (1,594 yards last season), suffered a left knee injury during practice Wednesday and had to be carted off the field. Buckram was injured during a non-contact drill. Coach Mike Price wouldn't comment on the injury other than to say the staff was awaiting results of MRI tests. A severe injury would be a staggering blow to the Miners; no other running back on the roster ran for more than 25 yards last season.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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