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Six Games to Watch

September 03, 2004|Pete Thomas

MIAMI (OHIO) (1-0) at No. 8 MICHIGAN (0-0)

Kickoff: 9 a.m. Saturday.

TV: Channel 7.

The line: Michigan by 6.

Michigan update: Succeeding John Navarre at quarterback is Matt Gutierrez, who should excel behind a massive offensive line and with a standout receiving corps led by senior Braylon Edwards. The defensive line should benefit from the emergence of junior tackles Larry Harrison and Gabe Watson, and pass-rushing specialist LaMarr Woodley.

Miami update: Josh Betts, who replaces Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, passed for three touchdowns and ran for another to lead Miami past Division I-AA Indiana State last Saturday. Ryne Robinson returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown in picking up where he left off last season, when he returned 38 punts for 654 yards and three touchdowns.

Story line: The Redhawks enter the Big House with the nation's longest winning streak at 14 games against an opponent that has an 87-13-2 record in home openers.

The pick: Michigan, which should pull away in the second half.

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OREGON STATE (0-0) at No. 4 LOUISIANA STATE (0-0)

Kickoff: 3 p.m. Saturday.

TV: ESPN.

Line: LSU by 18 1/2 .

Oregon State update: Quarterback Derek Anderson will try to duplicate the success he had last season, when he passed for 4,058 yards and 24 touchdowns. But he'll need to cut down on the 24 interceptions if the Beavers are going to improve on their 8-5 record. They'll try to cope with the loss of running back Steven Jackson to the NFL.

LSU update: The Tigers appear nearly as strong and just as quick as last season. Justin Vincent leads a group of talented running backs and Marcus Randall, filling in for Matt Mauck, will have to perform well to remain the starting quarterback. Defensively, the Tigers are glad that cornerback Corey Webster decided to stay for his senior season.

Story line: The Tigers, 13-1 last season, will defend their share of the national championship, beginning with an opponent that might be more dangerous than some think.

The pick: LSU, but not by a landslide.

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FRESNO STATE (0-0) at WASHINGTON (0-0)

Kickoff: 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

TV: Fox Sports Net.

Line: Washington by 3.

Fresno State update: The Bulldogs appear poised to improve on last season's 9-5 record. Quarterback Paul Pinegar and running back Dwayne Wright are among nine returning starters and should benefit from perhaps the best offensive line in the Western Athletic Conference.

Washington update: The Huskies lost a lot of starters from last year's 6-6 team and still aren't sure who'll replace Cody Pickett, the school's all-time passing leader. The candidates are junior Casey Paus, sophomore Isaiah Stanback, a wide receiver last season, and redshirt freshman Carl Bonnell.

Story line: Coach Keith Gilbertson, in his second season after replacing Rick Neuheisel, is fighting to save his job and draws an opponent eager to prove it can compete against Pac-10 teams while finding its way back atop the WAC.

The pick: Fresno State, despite having to play in a typically hostile environment.

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OKLAHOMA STATE (0-0) at UCLA (0-0)

Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

TV: Channel 7.

Line: UCLA by 1.

UCLA update: The Bruins claim to be motivated by last season's late-season collapse -- they lost their last five games and finished 6-7 -- and quarterback Drew Olson, firmly established as the starter, says he has a better grasp of the offense and is ready for the challenge of "carrying" the team. Defensively, the front line is inexperienced, smallish and already a bit banged up. Opponents are sure to key on this.

Oklahoma State update: The offensive line has four starters returning from last year's 9-4 team. However, quarterback Donovan Woods is a redshirt freshman with lots to prove. The Cowboys' secondary is considered one of their top assets.

Story line: The Bruins haven't won since Oct. 25, 2003. A victory here would be good for their psyche and make second-year Coach Karl Dorrell breathe a little easier.

The pick: UCLA, assuming Olson has indeed improved and its defensive line can rise to the challenge.

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NOTRE DAME (0-0) at BRIGHAM YOUNG (0-0)

Kickoff: 6:15 p.m. Saturday.

TV: ESPN.

Line: Notre Dame by 4 1/2 .

Notre Dame update: The team's early confidence stems from winning three of four to end a 5-7 campaign in 2003. The Fighting Irish have eight starters back on offense, including four of five linemen. Also back are quarterback Brady Quinn, now a sophomore, and junior wide receiver Rhema McKnight.

BYU update: The Cougars will try to rebound from a 4-8 season in which they lost at Notre Dame, 33-14. Coach Gary Crowton has listed sophomore John Beck as the starting quarterback, but junior Matt Berry might also play.

Story line: Tyrone Willingham begins his third season as coach of the Irish and it's assumed that the team must improve if there's to be a fourth. This game was originally scheduled for late October, but Notre Dame wanted a tuneup for Michigan, and BYU went along with the change.

The pick: Notre Dame, even though the Cougars are 3-0 in season openers under Crowton.

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