With the conference previews out of the way, it is time for the initial 2011 "Dirty Dozen" followed by each club's power ratings.
Topping the list this season is Alabama at 101. Boise State comes in second at 100, followed by a three-way tie for third between Oklahoma, Stanford, and Oregon at 99.5. Three more clubs - Texas A&M, Wisconsin, and South Carolina own a 98.5 rating, while Florida State ranks ninth at 98. Oklahoma State, LSU, and Nebraska come in at 97.
Before delving into my betting choices for week one, let me give everyone a quick breakdown of how my selections come to be.
For those reading this column for the first time, I break down my picks into four classifications: the Five-Star plays are those games where my key selections and my "Power Numbers" match, the Three-Star choices are my personal picks, the Two-Star plays are the "power number" picks (games with at least a five-point differential between my line and the actual line), and the One-Star plays are my personal secondary selections.
Ohio State has had its share of turmoil this offseason but when the Buckeyes hit the field for the first time since defeating Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, look for them to roll it up at home against Akron.
The Zips, 1-10 a season ago, go with former Ole Miss recruit Clayton Moore at quarterback, but his weapons are few and far between. The cupboard is bare at both running back and wide receiver, and the offensive line allowed 33 sacks in 2010.
Even though Ohio State lost eight of its top 12 tacklers, the defense will hold Akron to 10 points or less. That means the Buckeyes need to score 45 points to cover the large spread. It's true their offense has been depleted due to suspensions but the second string unit could score at least 40 against the Zips.
Go with Ohio State minus the points.
Stanford opens its season with only five returning defensive starters. However, the top four leading tacklers come back and the offense will still be explosive. San Jose State should be improved defensively but its offense will continue to flounder, especially against upper echelon opponents. The Spartans have been outscored by an average of 49-3 their last four games against top 10 teams.
Take Stanford minus the points.
Pittsburgh rounds out the Five-Star plays. The Panthers will be an offensive powerhouse this season under new head coach Todd Graham, so look for a monster game against a Buffalo defense that returns just three starters and none in the secondary.
The Bulls have injury problems on the offensive line as left tackle Pat Wilson will miss the game and right guard Graham Whinery must man the middle due to injuries to the top two centers - Jasen Carlson and Josh Violanti. Former Cincinnati quarterback Chazz Anderson will start but he might not be able to finish.
Take Pittsburgh minus the points.
Western Kentucky and Kentucky square off in Nashville on Thursday, and Hilltoppers head coach Willie Taggart likes what he sees from his young team. The players are much-improved from his first season at the helm when the club won just two games.
One of the 10 losses came by 35 points to Kentucky but this year's Wildcat team is far less potent than a season ago. Gone are the top three rushers, top two receivers, and the starting quarterback. In addition, head coach Joker Phillips would like his backup quarterback to see some time in this one so don't look for a huge offensive showing in this one. Furthermore, last year's contest was played in Lexington while this one will be at a neutral site.
Take Western Kentucky plus the points.
Another battle between in-state schools comes up from Ann Arbor as Brady Hoke and his Michigan Wolverines take on Western Michigan. Hoke is not 100% confident his team is ready for the opener and you shouldn't be either if you're a Wolverine backer.
Remember three years ago when the Maize and Blue switched offensive styles under Rich Rodriguez? The team lost its first game to Utah and then piled up just 16 points against Miami-Ohio - a club that finished 2-10 that season.
Western Michigan has the talent to stay with Michigan, both offensively and defensively so look for a tight one as the Broncos are poised to keep this one close with an outside shot at the upset.
Go with Western Michigan plus the points.
The final Three-Star play takes place in Austin where Texas hosts Rice. The Longhorns, who are coming off a down season, still might not be ready to return to the land of the elite, especially with an offense that is relying on a ton of underclassmen.
Rice lost last year's opener to Texas 34-17, but the Owls are far better today than they were last September. They are much improved defensively, and nine returning offensive starters will keep them in the game.
Don't be shocked if the Longhorns have to come from behind to get the victory.
Take Rice plus the points.
Go with Wake Forest plus the points (at Syracuse), Wisconsin minus the points (versus UNLV), Idaho minus the points (against Bowling Green), Kent State plus the points (at Alabama), and Ole Miss as a home underdog against BYU.
Take four underdogs - ULM at Florida State, Utah State at Auburn, Middle Tennessee at Purdue, and Marshall at West Virginia.