Buckeyes class of field, for now

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:09 AM ET

This time, the drama -- and yes, 2006 should positively teem with it -- will take a whole lot longer to play out.

This year, you won't have to read about the inevitable Texas-USC showdown from about mid-October on (if it wasn't actually sooner).

Nope, we've got ourselves one heck of a horse race as a new season of college football (finally!) dawns upon us. Just take a look at the pre-season polls, which see six schools with at least one first-place vote from someone. In the Associated Press version of the weekly voting, that hasn't happened since 1997.

While Ohio State is everyone's choice to rule the roost, the Buckeyes aren't exactly the juggernaut -- not yet, anyways -- that USC fielded to start 2005. Yes, that offence will be hellacious, but coach Jim Tressel is lining up a swift defence missing nine starters from one of the nation's best stop troops last season -- a group which produced a handful of folks you'll see on Sundays this fall.

Right behind the Buckeyes are a raft of talented teams with flaws of their own. The Notre Dame hype is already in full swing -- surely, you must have heard all that talk about a national title and a Heisman Trophy for QB Brady Quinn? -- but the memory of a defensive secondary getting torched by Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl remains fresh.

Texas must make do without all-world QB Vince Young; USC moves on without Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, LenDale White and plenty of other stellar talents. Auburn, LSU and Florida must survive the always nasty Southeastern Conference.

Anyways, you get the picture. Lots of questions still to be answered. And more than four months of fun to get it done.

Big change worth noting this season: The NCAA has approved a boost to a 12-game schedule, which explains, in part, why every team in the Top 25 sees action on Labour Day weekend.

On with our fearless forecast for Week 1 (odds supplied by Sportsbook.com):

GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 11 Florida State (+3) at No. 12 Miami (Fla). (Monday, 8 p.m., Rogers NCAA) -- Seminoles finally ended frustration against the Hurricanes with a sloppy win in this annual slugfest a year ago. Now it's Miami's turn for some payback, and it has the defence to get it done in what should be another low-scoring affair. Also keep an eye on 'Canes QB Kyle Wright. PICK: Miami.

NEXT BEST THINGS

No. 9 California (+1.5) at No. 23 Tennesee (Saturday, 5:30 p.m., The Score) -- Bears finally settled on Nate Longshore at QB, but RB Marshawn Lynch should earn most of the attention from the Volunteers' defensive staff. Tennessee is coming off a miserable 5-6 season, and the talented Bears aren't exactly what Phil Fulmer's crew needs to see on opening night. PICK: California.

No. 2 Notre Dame (-7) at Georgia Tech (Saturday, 8 p.m., ABC) -- A dangerous opener for the Irish, who face an ACC foe with a knack for early-season upsets. While it's a chance for Quinn to build some early Heisman momentum, watch Yellow Jackets WR Calvin Johnson torment the Notre Dame secondary all night. The Irish should prevail, but it'll be far from easy. PICK: Georgia Tech.

QUICK PICKS

(STRAIGHT-UP SELECTIONS IN BOLD)

TONIGHT

No. 24 Arizona State (NL) over Northern Arizona

SATURDAY

Northern Illinois (+17) over No. 1 Ohio State

No. 3 Texas (-41) over North Texas

No. 4 Auburn (-14.5) over Washington State

Marshall (+22) over No. 5 West Virginia

Arkansas (+8) over No. 6 USC

No. 7 Florida (-20) over Southern Mississippi

No. 8 LSU (-30) over Louisiana-Lafayette

UAB (+22) over No. 10 Oklahoma

No. 14 Michigan (-25.5) over Vanderbilt

No. 15 Georgia (NL) over Western Kentucky

No. 16 Iowa (NL) over Montana

No. 17 Virginia Tech (NL) over Northeastern

No. 18 Clemson (-33.5) over Florida Atlantic

Akron (+17) over No. 19 Penn State

No. 20 Nebraska (-21.5) over Louisiana Tech

Stanford (+11.5) over No. 21 Oregon

No. 25 Texas Tech (-26.5) over SMU

SUNDAY

Kentucky (+22.5) over No. 13 Louisville

No. 22 TCU (-6.5) over Baylor


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