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Six Games To Watch

August 29, 2003|Robyn Norwood

NO. 8 USC

AT NO. 6 AUBURN

Kickoff: 3 p.m.

TV: Channel 2.

Line: Auburn by 4.

USC update: That 11-2 record and No. 4 ranking are history. Quarterback Matt Leinart makes his debut as the Trojans test whether their return to national prominence can withstand the departures of Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer and All-American safety Troy Polamalu.

Auburn update: The Tigers finished 9-4 and ranked 14th and have eight starters back on each side of the ball.

Story line: The team that wins holds on to its spot among the nation's elite.

The pick: Auburn. USC won, 24-17, at the Coliseum last season on Palmer's one-yard sneak with 1:26 left. With the Trojans sending a new quarterback into raucous setting, Auburn gets the nod.

*

NO. 17 WASHINGTON

AT NO. 2 OHIO STATE

Kickoff: 5 p.m.

TV: Channel 7.

Line: Ohio State by 9

Washington update: Quarterback Cody Pickett and receiver Reggie Williams -- perhaps the nation's best passing combination -- give Washington a shot.

Ohio State update: The defending national champions will be without star tailback Maurice Clarett in the first game of his multi-game suspension for NCAA and academic violations.

Story line: Clarett's absence could knock Ohio State's hopes of repeating for a loop. Whether Washington will be the team to capitalize is another question.

The pick: Ohio State. A sold-out Ohio Stadium (101,568) is hard to ignore, and Washington was 0-2 against the Big Ten last season, losing to Michigan and Purdue.

*

NO. 24 OKLAHOMA STATE

AT NEBRASKA

Kickoff: 12:30 p.m.

TV: Channel 7.

Line: Nebraska by 7 1/2

Oklahoma State update: Rashaun Woods is one of the nation's best receivers. Largely because he stayed in school, the Cowboys open the season in the top 25 after an 8-5 season.

Nebraska update: The final assessment of the Cornhusker damage last season: 7-7. Coach Frank Solich shook up his coaching staff and has new offensive and defensive coordinators. Nebraska isn't ranked after last season, but is receiving votes, so a victory would probably do the trick.

Story line: This season-opening Big 12 game will signal either a resurgence for Nebraska or the likelihood of another long season.

The pick: Nebraska. Oklahoma State won, 24-21, during Nebraska's wretched season, but the Cowboys haven't won in Lincoln since 1960.

*

NO. 11 GEORGIA

AT CLEMSON

Kickoff: 9 a.m.

TV: none.

Line: Georgia by 2 1/2.

Georgia update: Only three offensive starters return from a team that went 13-1 and finished the season ranked third. But quarterback David Greene is one of them.

Clemson update: Tommy Bowden hasn't had the success in his four seasons at Clemson some imagined he would, having won only seven games each of the last two seasons and failing to build on a 9-3 season in 2000.

Story line: This is the last scheduled meeting in one of the more underappreciated rivalries in the South between teams that squabble over the same recruits from campuses only 90 minutes apart.

The pick: Georgia. Despite the offensive losses, the Bulldogs have a veteran quarterback and seven defensive starters returning.

*

FRESNO STATE

AT NO. 12 TENNESSEE

Kickoff: noon

TV: ESPN2.

Line: Tennessee by 20 1/2.

Fresno State update: Starting quarterback Paul Pinegar won't start against Tennessee because of a torn chest muscle, leaving fifth-year senior Jeff Grady to start at Neyland Stadium. Pinegar will dress but isn't expected to play for the Bulldogs.

Tennessee update: Quarterback Casey Clausen, a senior, ranks second to Peyton Manning in passing yardage with 6,739 yards. Manning's lead is wide, however: He finished with 11,201.

Story line: Fresno State Coach Pat Hill likes to say the Bulldogs will play anyone, anywhere, any time. But an opening run at Tennessee, against Oregon State and at Oklahoma seems a little much.

The pick: Tennessee. Pinegar's injury forces Fresno State to start a backup quarterback.

*

COLORADO

VS. NO. 23 COLORADO STATE

Kickoff: 4:45 p.m. (at Denver).

TV: ESPN.

Line: Colorado State by 2.

Colorado update: Joel Klatt, a former walk-on who spent two seasons in the San Diego Padres' farm system, will start at quarterback for the Buffaloes. Klatt, a sophomore, has taken only three snaps in his career.

Colorado State update: The Rams, 10-4 last season, feature quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt, who rushed for 819 yards last season.

Story line: Colorado State has won three of the past four meetings.

The pick: Colorado. Close call, but Van Pelt is a marked man after last season's game, when he spiked the ball off a Colorado player's helmet after scoring the winning touchdown and called the Buffaloes "the sorriest sixth-ranked team I've ever seen."

-- Robyn Norwood

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