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Season preview: Games to watch
By Mike Diegnan

Folks in Blacksburg knew about it well before we did.

When Michael Vick was a redshirt, fans packed the house to see his spring game. Everybody knew he was a special talent, but in the Superdome last January, it was the first time everybody saw that he was special. Virginia Tech's rise is among college sports' greatest stories.

This season should be just as exciting. Vick is not the only quarterback that can do everything. Whether it be Georgia's Quincy Carter, Washington's Marques Tuiasosopo, or Nebraska's Eric Crouch, offenses are flying high these days with amazing talent and skill. All of them have one sight in mind: a trip to Miami on Jan. 3 for the National Championship Game.

Ten games that will affect the National Championship race:
Sept. 2 -- Alabama at UCLA
Could the Pac-10 have taken a bigger fall in 1999? And the Bruins can't look any further than Westwood where a ninth place finish in the conference was a shock after back-to-back 10-win seasons. UCLA is not ready to party with the big boys yet, but DE Kenyon Coleman can shake things up in this season opener against the No. 3 team in the country. With a visit from Michigan two weeks later as well, the Bruins have ample opportunity to dispel the myth that the Pac-10 is preparing to offer its teams to the next cast of "Survivor."

Sept. 30 -- Wisconsin at Michigan
Brooks Bollinger
Brooks Bollinger is again leading the Badger cause.
In a 21-16 loss last year in Week 4, Brooks Bollinger saw his first significant action against Michigan. The redshirt freshman scored a touchdown and completed six-of-nine passes. The following week, Bollinger took over the starting duties and the Badgers were on their way towards a second consecutive Big Ten title by winning their final eight games. With a year under his belt to go with a more balanced offense, Bollinger is primed to lead Wisconsin towards its next goal. A superior Badgers defense will be vital to the effort. Note: Wisconsin has only won one game in Ann Arbor since 1962.

Oct. 7 -- Florida State at Miami
There's no room for any more excuses in Coral Gables. The Hurricanes are back on a level playing field with 85 scholarships. Now Butch Davis has to find a way to finally end his team's five-game losing streak to its biggest rival. While there are questions surrounding QB Ken Dorsey, Miami has a quartet of stellar running backs and a receiving corps led by the magnificent Santana Moss. On defense, the veteran 'Canes should not collapse like they did a year ago, allowing the Seminoles to score the final 17 points in a 31-21 loss.

Oct. 14 -- Texas at Colorado
Mack Brown has both the most enviable and dreaded job in the country. But forget about his quarterback controversy. Unless he completely blunders the Major Applewhite-Chris Simms issue, Brown has everything in place to post a perfect season and a trip to Miami. The visit to Boulder could prove to be the biggest challenge. Get by this one, and A&M is probably the only hurdle left before a likely battle with Nebraska or Kansas State in the Big XII Championship Game on Dec. 2.

Oct. 21 -- Alabama at Tennessee
The Volunteers are in the midst of a rebuilding season, but don't tell that to coach Phillip Fulmer, who still has a bevy of talent. But SEC dominance has shifted towards Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide are just 1-5-1 against the Vols since their 1992 national championship season. With Freddie Milons terrorizing defenses (just don't ask Florida players if he reminds you of Peter Warrick) and a defense spearheaded by DE Kindal Moorehead and LB Saleem Rasheed, Alabama could reverse its losing trend to Tennessee and once again be on top of the nation on Jan. 3.

Oct. 21 -- Purdue at Wisconsin
Michigan will be a big obstacle for both Purdue and Wisconsin this season, but if both get by the Wolverines unscathed, the battle in Madison could feature a pair of unbeatens looking well beyond a Rose Bowl berth. Last season, Drew Brees aired it out 64 times and was victimized by three interceptions and a late rally fell short. This time around, the Heisman candidate will need to rely more on RB Montrell Lowe to keep the Badgers honest (Brees had 18 of the Boilermakers' 31 runs in the seven-point loss).

Oct. 28 -- Georgia vs. Florida
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know the key to Georgia's season. Beat Florida and Tennessee and the Bulldogs are among the Top 5 teams in the land. Then again, that has been the case for the past decade and the results aren't pretty. The Vols have won nine straight and the Gators are 9-1 in the last 10. But the weapons are in place for a change this year. The Bulldogs return 18 starters, and if QB Quincy Carter can follow-through on his promise, he and WR Terrence Edwards could give Alex Brown and the rest of the Gator D fits all afternoon long.

Oct. 28 -- Nebraska at Oklahoma
It's been a long time since a game in Norman meant anything for the Cornhuskers. Heck, Nebraska even replaced the Sooners with Colorado on the docket for Rivalry Weekend. Plus, the last two meetings between Nebraska and Oklahoma weren't exactly pretty (73-21 and 69-7 in '96 and '97, respectively). Since Barry Switzer left the college ranks, the rivalry has been as one-sided as Tom Osborne's upcoming Congressional election (a 9-1 'Huskers advantage).

Nov. 4 -- Virginia Tech at Miami
Michael Vick
Michael Vick will be a marked man all year.
Michael Vick's back hurts. He only has about 10 million people on his bandwagon these days. But it could hurt even more on Nov. 5 after he has a date with Dan Morgan, the Hurricanes' middle linebacker. Vick was splendid in '99 as a freshman. Va. Tech's defense was depleted by the NFL Draft, but Vick still has many of his offensive options that combined to lead the nation in scoring. If the Hokies can get by visits to Boston College and Syracuse and Miami can hold off visiting Florida State, the Big East could host the Game of the Year. If so, there will be more than one collision between Morgan and Vick -- barring that Morgan can catch up to him. Morgan would be even more motivated by the fact he has never beaten the Hokies.

Nov. 11 -- Nebraska at Kansas State
It's become the annual passage to the Big XII Championship Game, and this year, K-State hosts Nebraska. The Wildcats have felt slighted two years in a row, playing in the Alamo and Holiday Bowls instead of BCS-sponsored trips. The Big XII schedule could provide a tougher challenge prior to the Nebraska game for the 'Cats this season, but most likely, Kansas State will once again face the challenge of needing to beat the 'Huskers in order to qualify for the BCS. Whether or not Ell Robertson is quarterbacking K-State by November, the Wildcats will be flying high with WRs Quincy Morgan and Aaron Lockett.

Nov. 11 -- Clemson at Florida State
Father and Son, Part Deux. A year ago, Ann Bowden cheered for husband Bobby in this game as Papa B. aimed for a perfect season. This season, son Tommy could have his Tigers undefeated as they roar into Tallahassee for a rematch of last year's 17-14 thriller. And just like Bobby, Tommy has a team loaded with firepower and one that should be bursting with confidence after last year's result, despite the fact that the Seminoles overcame a 14-3 halftime deficit. With QB Woodrow Danztler now the full-time starter, WR Rod Gardner should enter this contest as the most dangerous receiver on either squad. On defense, LB Keith Adams and DT Terry Jolly head a unit that returns eight starters and held FSU 21 points under its average.

And don't forget about these five:
Sept. 2 -- Colorado vs. Colorado State
Last year, not only did the Rams upstage Gary Barnett in his debut as Buffs coach, but there was a riot following the game when police tried to control the crowd. Don't expect Colorado to go so quiet this fall.

Sept. 9 -- Nebraska at Notre Dame
The Huskers visit Touchdown Jesus for the first time since 1947. While Frank Solich has national championships in his forecast, Bob Davie is busy praying that this game won't get out of hand by halftime.

Oct. 14 -- North Carolina State at North Carolina
In last year's battle between the ACC brethren, North Carolina pulled off the upset on national television, and unexpectedly saved Carl Torbush's job. The loss helped keep N.C. State out of the bowl picture and cost coach Mike O'Cain his job. In turn, O'Cain is now directing Torbush's offense and will definitely be looking to pile it up on the Wolfpack with exciting QB Ronald Curry.

Nov. 4 -- Iowa at Penn State
The Nittany Lions' 10th game of the season. It also could be the record-breaking one for Joe Paterno, who needs seven victories to overtake Bear Bryant as the winningest coach in Division I history. With games with Michigan and Michigan State the following two weeks, Paterno would need to likely win this one (if the Lions are still shy of seven wins) in order to break the record this year.

Nov. 26 -- Auburn at Alabama
A new era begins on Rivalry Weekend in Alabama. For the first time since 1901, the Auburn Tigers invade Tuscaloosa. In 1993, Auburn moved its home games in the series out of Birmingham to Auburn. This year, the Crimson Tide have done likewise. The celebration could be plenty as Alabama could be playing for a spot in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 2, which could also be linked to a possible berth in the FedEx Orange Bowl.

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