• The nod goes to Tigers in 1st blockbuster
    By
     | August 29,2013
     
    AP FILE PHOTO

    Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray attempts a pass during a practice last Friday in Athens, Ga. The fifth-ranked Bulldogs open the season Saturday at No. 8 Clemson.

    OK, ACC, this is your chance.

    The first month or so of the college football season is as much about how conferences fare against each other as it is about which teams win.

    The Atlantic Coast Conference, forever trying to shed its reputation as the fifth best of the major football leagues, gets three shots to knock off the neighborhood bully SEC during the opening weekend.

    On Thursday night, North Carolina takes on No. 6 South Carolina, one of six Southeastern Conference teams ranked in the Top 12 of the AP preseason poll.

    Virginia Tech can pull off a huge upset Saturday when it faces No. 1 Alabama in Atlanta.

    The main event comes Saturday night in Death Valley — the one in South Carolina.

    No. 8 Clemson plays No. 5 Georgia. It’s the Tigers’ third straight game against the SEC after losing to South Carolina to end last regular season and beating LSU in the Chick-fil-A bowl.

    “Regardless of what conference they’re from, you’ve got the No. 5 team coming to your stadium,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “That’s all that really matters.”

    Well, maybe to you coach.

    Aside from Clemson, the ACC went 0-5 against the SEC last season.

    The ACC also gets a crack at Penn State (vs. Syracuse), BYU (at Virginia) and Louisiana Tech (at North Carolina State) during the opening weekend.

    Win about half those big games and the ACC gets to boast. Win no more than one, and the when-does-basketball-season-start? jokes begin.

    The picks (all games Saturday unless noted).

    MAIN EVENT

    No. 5 Georgia (minus 2)

    at No. 8 Clemson

    Tajh Boyd, your Heisman front-runner ... CLEMSON 45-38.

    MARQUEE MATCH-UPS

    North Carolina (plus 11½)

    at No. 6 South Carolina

    Jadeveon Clowney meet Tar Heels QB Bryn Renner. He’s not scared ... SOUTH CAROLINA 28-17.

    No. 1 Alabama (minus 19½) vs.

    Virginia Tech at Atlanta

    Tide too much for Logan Thomas and banged-up Hokies ... ALABAMA 34-10.

    Rice (off) vs.

    No. 7 Texas A&M

    Will Johnny Football play? Either way ... TEXAS A&M 48-14.

    No. 12 LSU (minus 4½) vs. No. 20 TCU at Arlington, Texas

    Lots of new starters, same tenacious LSU defense ... LSU 24-17.

    No. 13 Oklahoma State (minus 12½)

    vs. Mississippi State

    Two quarterbacks equals twice the fun for Cowboys ... OKLAHOMA STATE 42-21.

    BEST BET

    No. 22 Northwestern (minus

    6) at California

    Wildcats ruin debut of Cal’s Bear Raid offense ... NORTHWESTERN 35-17.

    UPSET SPECIAL

    No. 19 Boise State (plus

    3½) at Washington

    Grand re-opening of Husky Stadium, but Broncos are ultimate party poopers ... BOISE STATE 23-20.

    PLUCKY UNDERDOGS

    Toledo (plus 23½) at No. 10 Florida

    ... FLORIDA 38-21.

    Louisiana-Monroe (plus 22) at No. 16 Oklahoma ... OKLAHOMA 48-17.

    Nevada (plus 20½) at No. 21 UCLA ... UCLA 49-31.

    Ohio (plus 20½) at No. 9 Louisville, Sunday ... LOUISVILLE 31-17.

    No. 11 Florida State (minus 10) at Pittsburgh, Monday ... FLORIDA STATE 23-7.

    Eastern Washington (no line) at No. 25 Oregon State ... OREGON STATE 40-21.

    The MAC is coming off one of its most successful seasons and Toledo and Ohio are both expected to be championship contenders. ULM was an early-season darling in 2012, knocking off Arkansas and nearly beating Auburn and Baylor. Nevada’s pistol offense is potent and Pittsburgh brings a tough defense, though not much offense, to its ACC debut. Eastern Washington is one of the top FCS programs in the country.

    MISMATCHES

    No. 24 Southern California (minus 21) at Hawaii, Thursday ... USC 50-24.

    Buffalo (plus 35) at No. 2 Ohio State ... OHIO STATE 45-7.

    Nicholls State (no line) at No. 3 Oregon ... OREGON 60-10.

    Temple (plus 29½) at No. 14 Notre Dame ... NOTRE DAME 37-7.

    New Mexico State (plus 42½) at No. 15 Texas ...TEXAS 58-10.

    Central Michigan (plus 31½) at No. 17 Michigan ... MICHIGAN 38-13.

    Wyoming (plus 29) at No. 18 Nebraska ... NEBRASKA 48-16.

    UMass (plus 44½) at No. 23 Wisconsin ...WISCONSIN 58-10.

    ———

    Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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