08/21/2001 12:00AM

Thursday night college football opener


John Thompson Foundation Classic at Louisville.

New Mexico St. (+20) at Louisville

The college football season kicks off Thursday night with what should be an offensive shootout between two good offensive teams. All eyes will be on the Cardinals' duo of quarterback Dave Ragone and wide receiver Deion Branch who are both considered pre-season candidates for post-season awards at their respective positions. Ragone threw for 2942 yards and 11 touchdowns last year in his first season as a starter. Branch caught 81 balls for 1186 yards and 10 TDs. They should light up the Aggies' secondary which has lost all but one of its starters from last season.

In order to cover the 20-point spread, however, Louisville is going to need to stop New Mexico State's offense. That isn't a given with the Aggies returning their starting quarterback as well as their two top receivers and three starting offensive linemen. New Mexico St. covered six of its final eight games last season. On the flip side, Louisville was just 1-3-1 against the spread at home as favorites. Six of the Aggies' eight losses last year were by 10 points or less, and the exceptions were road games at South Carolina and Georgia.. Look for New Mexico State to lose but keep it close.

PLAY: Louisville for 1 unit