The best game of the 2011 college football season might be in Week One, when the LSU Tigers face the Oregon Ducks at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday night.
Oregon is ranked third, and LSU is ranked fourth, but the Tigers have had some off-the-field issues that will figure prominently this weekend.
Starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson is suspended for the game, forcing head coach Les Miles to turn to senior Jarrett Lee. After some rocky performances over his career, Lee will have to keep up with perhaps the most explosive offense in the country.
Lee will be without suspended wide receiver Russell Shepard, a big-play threat who was supposed to figure prominently in Miles's offense this season. Freshman Odell Beckham will likely have to step up in Shepard's absence.
Top defensive end Lavar Edwards and safety Karnell Hatcher will be key players for the Tigers. Oregon know how to pile on points, so this likely won't be a low-scoring defensive battle like most SEC games.
The Ducks have a fast offense, and one of the best running backs in college football in Heisman candidate LaMichael James. Chip Kelly's offense won't rely just on James, as returning starting quarterback Darron Thomas is a major threat to scramble, and will have plenty of receivers to throw to like senior Lavasier Tuinei.
Oregon lost some talent on offense with the departures of receivers Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis, so expect newcomer Rahsaan Vaughn to figure prominently this season, and perhaps against LSU.
Punt returner and cornerback Cliff Harris won't be available on Saturday. Not having Harris on defense won't be so bad since Shepard won't be on the field, but losing a potential touchdown on punt returns is a big loss.
Oregon enters the game as a three-point favorite.
PREDICTION: LSU has a shorter distance to travel to northeast Texas, but the Tigers have many distractions with the loss of Jefferson and Shepard. Oregon has the opportunity to speed past the LSU defense with Thomas and James, and the wealthy collection of receivers. Also, the memory of the 2009 season-opener loss to Boise St., which doomed the Ducks' chances of going to a BCS title game, is probably still firmly entrenched in many players' minds.
It will likely take Lee and the LSU defense to play above their heads, or for Oregon to commit costly turnovers, for the Tigers to pull off a win.
SCORE; Oregon 31, LSU 20.