CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE (4-8 last season) vs. BOISE STATE (5-6)
At Bronco Stadium, 6:05 p.m.
Teams in transition--again--meet in a rematch of the opener last year. The Matadors, under Coach Ron Ponciano, are playing for their third coach in three years and fourth in five seasons. Dirk Koetter is Boise State's fourth coach in three years, including one interim in 1996. He inherits a team that finished 5-6 in 1997 under Houston Nutt, now coach at Arkansas, and is anxious to avenge a 63-23 drubbing by the Matadors last year. Northridge later forfeited the nonconference victory for using an ineligible player. The Matadors riddled Boise State with 511 yards passing, but the Broncos are much improved defensively. They boast two of the best defensive tackles in the Big West Conference, junior Jon Rydman and senior Bobby Setzer, who could make Northridge redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Brady run for his life on the blue artificial turf at Bronco Stadium. Rydman has 10 1/2 sacks in his career. The quick-footed Brady won't be easy to catch. The Matadors, who operate out of a run-and-shoot formation, might call some option plays to spring Brady. The key battle will be fought at the line, where the Matadors feature three new starters on defense and Boise State counters with five returning starters on offense. Boise State was picked to finish third in a Big West coaches' preseason poll and Northridge was picked to finish seventh in a Big Sky coaches' poll. The Broncos are Northridge's only I-A opponent this season.
* MENLO (5-5) vs. CAL LUTHERAN (5-4)
At Mt. Clef Stadium, Thousand Oaks, 1 p.m.
Ready or not, Cal Lutheran starts its season before Labor Day for the first time. The Kingsmen can only hope there is no encore of last year's opener. Cal Lutheran had a 14-0 halftime lead, but the Kingsmen committed three turnovers in a four-minute span of the third quarter that led to a 32-21 defeat at Menlo. In their third season under Coach Scott Squires, the Kingsmen boast experience and depth at nearly every position. Senior Zack Hernandez, a second-year starter at quarterback, heads a balanced offense. Hernandez completed 109 of 175 passes for 1,244 yards and 11 touchdowns with five pass intercepted last season. The L.A. Baptist High graduate also was the third-leading rusher with 310 yards and five scores in 86 carries. Cal Lutheran's top running backs are senior Fredrik Nanhed and Dorian Stitt, a graduate of Royal High. Nanhed rushed for a Division III freshman-record 1,380 yards three years ago, but has been injury-plagued since. He sat out last season with a knee injury, and Stitt filled in, gaining a team-high 561 yards in 110 carries. Menlo counters with a West Coast offense that averaged 403 yards per game last season. At the controls is senior Jon DeVille, who passed for a school-record 2,279 yards last season and ranks third at Menlo in all-time passing yardage. Dan Nguyen, a senior running back, rushed for 639 yards and four touchdowns last season.