Coaching debuts are the order of business as the 2001 season begins with seven ''classic'' games this weekend.
TCU's Gary Patterson, Virginia's Al Groh, BYU's Gary Crowton and North Carolina's John Bunting lead their new teams onto the field Saturday, two days after New Mexico State visits Louisville in the opener -- the John Thompson Challenge Football Classic.
The most intriguing change took place in Charlottesville, Va., where Groh is back at his alma mater after a year as coach of the New York Jets. Groh's first game is at No. 22 Wisconsin in the Eddie Robinson Classic.
''I'm ready to go,'' the 57-year-old Groh said.
So are his players, many of whom return after a 6-6 record in George Welsh's 19th and final season at Virginia.
''I think everyone's just excited to play for him,'' Cavaliers fullback Tyree Foreman said. ''He's been a pro coach and everyone expects he's going to run this like a big-league operation.''
Barry Alvarez returns for his 12th season with the Badgers after briefly considering an offer to coach at Miami. Wisconsin lost 12 starters plus its kicker and punter from last year's 9-4 team. Brooks Bollinger, 17-3 as a starter, returns at quarterback.
In Saturday's other ''classics,'' it's TCU at No. 4 Nebraska in the Pigskin Classic; Tulane at BYU in the BCA Classic; and North Carolina at No. 3 Oklahoma in the Hispanic Fund Classic at night.
On Sunday, it's No. 11 Georgia Tech vs. Syracuse in the Kickoff Classic at East Rutherford, N.J., and Fresno State at Colorado in the Jim Thorpe Classic.
The defending champion Sooners return 23 of the top 44 players on the depth chart from '00, but Heisman runner-up Josh Heupel isn't among them. Nate Hybl steps in at quarterback and should benefit from a talented corps of receivers plus a defense anchored by All-American linebacker Rocky Calmus.
Hybl, a transfer from Georgia, makes his first start since he was a high school senior in 1997.
Bunting returns to his alma mater, too, where he has stars in quarterback Ronald Curry and defensive end Julius Peppers, who led the nation with 15 sacks last season. The Tar Heels, who fired Carl Torbush after a 6-5 season, will be hard-pressed to keep up with the speedy Sooners.
Nebraska is ready for a run at dethroning rival Oklahoma in the Big 12, but off-field troubles may hamper the Huskers. Kicker Josh Brown is suspended for the TCU game, linebacker Randy Stella has been kicked off the team, and I-back Dahrran Diedrick faces disciplinary action following his arrest last week for a disturbance at a bar.
Fear not Husker fans, Heisman hopeful QB Eric Crouch is set to carry the load.
TCU, meanwhile, looks at three runners to replace All-American LaDainian Tomlinson -- Ricky Madison, Andrew Hayes-Stoker and Corey Connally.
''Everybody has to step up their level of play for us to be the same kind of offensive team that we have been,'' Patterson said.
North Carolina (plus 23) at No. 3 Oklahoma
Hybl, Heupel ... it won't matter against Heels ... OKLAHOMA, 41-14.
TCU (plus 28) at No. 4 Nebraska
Huskers happy to play after troubled summer ... NEBRASKA, 45-14.
No. 10 Georgia Tech (minus 9 1/2) vs. Syracuse (Sunday, Giants Stadium)
Tech has national title hopes, but better beware of Orangemen ... GEORGIA TECH, 34-21.
Virginia (plus 7 1/2) at No. 22 Wisconsin
With a pro like Groh, Cavs capable of upset ... VIRGINIA, 28-27.
New Mexico State (plus 20) at Louisville (Thursday)
Cards QB Ragone is a passing machine ... LOUISVILLE, 49-17.
Tulane (plus 9 1/2) at BYU
Crowton's Cougars now play on field named for retired coach LaVell Edwards ... BYU, 27-13.
Fresno State (plus 9) at Colorado (Sunday)
Bulldogs' QB Carr can keep this close ... COLORADO, 31-20.
'00-01 Bowl Results: 12-11 (straight); 11-12 (vs. points)
2000 Season Results: 198-68 (straight); 136-117-3 (vs. points).
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