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September 2, 2011
Keep an eye on: What our guys are watching
Each week, Rivals.com's college football experts give fans things to keep an eye on over the course of the weekend. Here are some key things to watch this weekend.
Oklahoma's linebackers. I'll be keeping an especially close watch on Oklahoma sophomore Tom Wort. The Sooners were vulnerable to the run last season and must improve in that area to have a legitimate shot at the national championship. Wort is the Sooners' best player at middle linebacker after the offseason death of Austin Box. Wort must raise his level of play. Oklahoma won't lose to Tulsa, but the Golden Hurricane have shown the ability to run the ball in the past. If Tulsa can consistently run on the Sooners, it definitely will raise red flags. - OLIN BUCHANAN
Michigan's defense. One word describes Michigan's defense the past three seasons: awful. How will it look in Week 1? New coordinator Greg Mattison was a great hire by Brady Hoke. But Mattison's new unit ranked last in the Big Ten in total defense (450.8 ypg), scoring defense (35.2 ppg) and pass defense (261.9 ypg) last season. Mattison has scrapped the unconventional 3-3-5 set and installed a 4-3. A visit from Western Michigan in the opener will be a good test. The Broncos have a strong passing attack led by underrated QB Alex Carder, who tossed 30 touchdown passes in 2010. How will Michigan's still-developing secondary look? Are there any pass rushers in the house? Can the much-maligned linebackers make plays? Bigger tests loom for the Michigan defense, but it needs a strong showing against a solid MAC offense to gain some confidence and momentum.
- TOM DIENHART
Fresno State QB Derek Carr. Carr's debut has been overlooked. His ascendance to starting quarterback at Fresno State has been anticipated for two years. Now, we'll find out if he can take Fresno State to similar heights as his brother, David. Fresno State has a good chance to upset California in the opener and a good chance to win the WAC in its final season, but much of that rides on Carr. I'm interested in seeing what Carr brings to the Bulldogs.
- DAVID FOX
Georgia's rushing attack. Georgia's Aaron Murray is the best quarterback in the SEC, but every other element of the offense is a question. Can a rebuilt line protect Murray and open holes for the rushing attack? Who will be running through those holes, assuming they are there? And who will be the go-to receiver? Georgia's highest priority is finding a tailback it can count on, and it looks as if true freshman Isaiah Crowell will get every opportunity to be that guy. His first college action is going to come against a good Boise State defensive front seven. Crowell and Richard Samuel must be productive - say, 130 or so yards - or Georgia will be too one-dimensional to beat the Broncos.
- MIKE HUGUENIN
LSU's quarterback situation. It's tempting to downplay the suspension that will keep incumbent starter Jordan Jefferson from playing in LSU's opener against Oregon. Jefferson often seemed to hinder LSU's offense as much as he helped it last season, and the Tigers have a tested backup in Jarrett Lee. Then again, how beneficial is it to have an experienced reserve when so many of his experiences were unpleasant? Lee has had some nice moments as a starter, but he's best remembered for throwing seven interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in 2008. LSU isn't a team that leans heavily on its quarterback, but the Tigers at least require competence at the position. If Lee avoids turnovers and LSU beats Oregon, the Tigers have a great chance at contending for a national title, with or without Jefferson. But if LSU falls to Oregon and Lee shows that he isn't up to the job, this could be a long season on the bayou.
- STEVE MEGARGEE
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