College football is finally here!
Like we’ve done in years past, every Friday throughout the season we’ll be highlighting the best games of the coming weekend. We’ll be doing it a little differently this year, however. We’ll rank the top five games we’re most intrigued by while also providing some insight on other games that will be worth your time.
Here’s what Week 1 has to offer:
5. BYU vs. No. 13 LSU (Saturday, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN; in New Orleans)
LSU’s Week 1 commute got a whole lot shorter after the historic flooding in Houston forced the relocation of the Tigers’ showdown with BYU away from NRG Stadium. Instead of traveling to Texas, LSU has a quick trip to New Orleans for what should end up being a de facto home game against BYU.
This is Ed Orgeron’s first game as LSU’s full-time head coach, and we’ll get our first glimpse at what’s expected to be a much different offense, led by coordinator Matt Canada. Orgeron hired Canada away from Pitt. And though things will be different than the Les Miles-Cam Cameron years, expect a heavy dose of Derrius Guice against a BYU defense that allowed only 2.4 yards per rush in a 20-6 win over FCS Portland State last Saturday.
BYU did not impress by any means but there’s always an advantage to having a game under your belt against an opponent playing its first action of the season. BYU needs to be much better than it was last week to have a chance against LSU, but this game will end up being much closer than the 15-point spread suggests.
4. No. 11 Michigan vs. No. 17 Florida (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET – ESPN; in Arlington, Texas)
There’s a good bit of mystery surrounding this game. It’s been talked about ad nauseam but is worth repeating: Michigan returns the fewest starters of any team in the country. Jim Harbaugh hasn’t said if one of those returning starters, QB Wilton Speight, will lead the Wolverines offense on Saturday – though we expect he will. Speight (or whoever starts) should have a pretty good running game to rely on, but the Wolverines lack experience at receiver.
On the other side, Florida has 10 players suspended for this game, including its top wide receiver, Antonio Callaway, and top running back, Jordan Scarlett. Callaway and Scarlett would have been two safety valves for quarterback Feleipe Franks, who is making his first career start.
Even if there won’t be a lot of offense, at least the uniforms will look cool.
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) August 29, 2017
— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) August 28, 2017
3. Texas A&M at UCLA (Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET – FOX)
Two coaches whose job statuses are on fairly tenuous ground squaring off is only part of the equation for this game. Yes, Kevin Sumlin, after three straight eight-win seasons, is on the hot seat — as much as you can be in Week 1. His athletic director Scott Woodward told us all about it on the Paul Finebaum Show in May when he said Sumlin “knows he has to win, and he has to win this year.”
UCLA’s Jim Mora isn’t exactly the toast of the town either. After a disappointing 8-5 record in 2015, the Bruins went 4-8 in 2016, but Mora’s job may not be on the line quite like Sumlin’s. As our Pete Thamel reported in August, UCLA would have to pay close to $12 million to fire Mora after the season. That figure, plus the “distinct lack of rising coaches out West,” means Mora could probably survive another mediocre season.
Nobody is expecting either of these teams to win their conference, but both sides have a lot of talent. At UCLA, Mora brought in Jedd Fisch from Michigan to run a new offense that should complement the skills of outspoken star QB Josh Rosen, who is back from a shoulder injury. We don’t know who will play QB for the Aggies, but we’re still excited to see Christian Kirk, a potential All-American, with the ball in his hands.
2. No. 22 West Virginia vs. No. 21 Virginia Tech (Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET – ABC; in Landover, Maryland)
In the second of two marquee Sunday night matchups (that unfortunately kick off at the same time), two old Big East foes square off in a rekindling of a rivalry of sorts. Virginia Tech and West Virginia, both coming off 10-win seasons, used to play quite often (51 times total dating back to 1912), but haven’t gone head-to-head since 2005, the year after the Hokies left for the ACC.
This will be a big night for two quarterbacks. For West Virginia, it’ll mark the return of Will Grier, who transferred to WVU from Florida, where he had a nice run of success in 2015 before a PED suspension. Grier has his first shot to lead a WVU offense that also features Justin Crawford, one of the more underrated backs in the country.
Virginia Tech will start redshirt freshman Josh Jackson at QB in Justin Fuente’s second year with the program. Starting your career against a Top 25 team at an NFL stadium should be a challenge, so look for the Hokies to establish their ground attack against a West Virginia defense that replaces the majority of its starters on defense, including the entire d-line.
1. Florida State vs. Alabama (Saturday – 8 p.m., ABC; in Atlanta)
The top-ranked Crimson Tide against the No. 3 Seminoles is one of the better Week 1 games we’ve seen in a long time. The talent on the field in this game will be flat-out ridiculous and it will be played at brand new Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Both sides are led by sophomore quarterbacks — Jalen Hurts for Alabama and Deondre Francois for FSU — that will be thoroughly tested by two of the nation’s best defenses.
We already know what kind of offense Jimbo Fisher and FSU runs, but Alabama’s schemes should be a bit different with former New England Patriots assistant Brian Daboll now in place as offensive coordinator. Look for Bo Scarbrough to receive plenty of touches for the Tide while Hurts mixes in his dangerous rushing talents in with passes to Calvin Ridley.
Five-star RB Cam Akers will make his debut for the Seminoles behind what Fisher thinks will be an improved offensive line. FSU’s front will be tested against the ferocious Tide defensive line. Francois took way too many hits last fall. He’ll certainly take a few more on Saturday night.
Keep an eye on…
Wyoming at Iowa (Saturday – Noon, Big Ten Network): You’ve heard the NFL hype about Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen all summer, and now you’ll get to see him in action against what should be a pretty stout Iowa defense led by LB Josey Jewell. Iowa’s secondary isn’t as deep as it’s been in the past few years and one of its starting corners, Manny Rugamba, is suspended. Allen threw five interceptions the only other time he started against a Big Ten defense (Nebraska). We’ll see if he fares better against the Hawkeyes.
South Carolina vs. NC State (Saturday – 3 p.m., ESPN; in Charlotte): Both of these teams have gotten some love as a sleeper in their respective conference. NC State should have one of the better defensive lines in the country and returns most of its offensive starters from 2016. On the other side, the Gamecocks have an exciting young QB in Jake Bentley, who left high school a full year early to impress as a true freshman last fall. On defense for South Carolina, all-SEC linebacker Skai Moore (258 career tackles) is back from injury.
Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech (Monday – 8 p.m., ESPN; in Atlanta): The undercard to the Chick-fil-A kickoff in Atlanta will extend opening weekend to Monday night. Both teams will have new starting QBs, and each side could play more than one signal caller. Tennessee will have to stop Tech’s option attack without middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland, who is reportedly out for the season. And no matter who starts for the Vols — junior Quinten Dormady or redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano — expect to see a heavy dose of RB John Kelly.
Appalachian State at Georgia (Saturday – 6:15 p.m., ESPN): Don’t expect Georgia to take App State, the Sun Belt favorites, lightly. The Mountaineers nearly knocked off Tennessee to open the 2016 campaign and could put the same kind of scare into the Bulldogs. For Georgia, we’re anxious to see if the duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel can open things up for Jake Eason in the passing game. UGA will need better success through the air to compete in the SEC East.
Troy at Boise State (Saturday – 3:45 p.m., ESPNU): This game has gone a bit under the radar but should not be overlooked. It features two of the best quarterbacks from the Group of Five in Boise’s Brett Rypien and Troy’s Brandon Silvers. Both teams are contenders in their conference and the offenses are capable of putting up some huge numbers.
Maryland at Texas (Saturday at Noon, FS1): It’s Tom Herman’s debut at Texas against a Maryland team that has some decent speed on offense and returns eight defensive starters. The Longhorns want to start Herman’s tenure on a good note. Herman can do that by getting sophomore QB Shane Buechele into a rhythm early on, but this one should be closer than the 19-point spread suggests.
Temple at Notre Dame (Saturday – 3:30 p.m., NBC): Coming off its 4-8 season, Notre Dame has a tough test to open 2017. It’ll be the debut of Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush against a pesky Temple team that is never easy to play against. The Owls lost a lot of talent from last year’s AAC title team, including coach Matt Rhule, but are eager to play on a big stage. Look for this one to be tight before the Irish pull away late.
Purdue vs. Louisville (Saturday – 7:30 p.m., FOX; in Indianapolis): It’s the return of Heisman winner Lamar Jackson for Louisville against a Purdue team that could be without its starting QB David Blough. Prepare to see some ridiculous numbers from Jackson and the Cardinals offense after a disappointing finish in 2016. It will be a tough Purdue debut for Jeff Brohm.
Kentucky (-10.5) at Southern Miss (Saturday – 4 p.m. CBSSN): Southern Miss came back from a 35-17 deficit to upset Kentucky in Lexington last year, 44-35, but have a lot to replace. UK returns 16 starters and has the advantage in talent, but there’s a weird element to this game. Shannon Dawson was Kentucky’s OC in 2015 but was fired after the season by Mark Stoops. He landed at Southern Miss and helped orchestrate last year’s upset. He’d like to make it 2-for-2.
Vanderbilt (-3) at Middle Tennessee (Saturday – 8 p.m., CBSSN): Vanderbilt is only a three-point road favorite against MTSU, so this one really wouldn’t be too much of an upset. Still, Vanderbilt is expected to take another step forward in Derek Mason’s fourth season. Losing to the Blue Raiders, who knocked off Missouri last year and have a big-play offense, wouldn’t be a good way to start 2017 for the Commodores.
Arkansas State at Nebraska (-14.5) (Saturday – 8 p.m., Big Ten Network): Arkansas State, coming off consecutive Sun Belt titles, is a dangerous Week 1 opponent for Nebraska. The Huskers have a new quarterback, Tulane transfer Tanner Lee, and have switched to a 3-4 scheme on defense. Changes like that can cause slow starts. You don’t want to be caught flat-footed against the Red Wolves.
South Alabama at Ole Miss (-23.5) (Saturday – 7:30 p.m., ESPNU): South Alabama shocked Mississippi State to open 2016. Could the Jaguars do it again? Ole Miss is reeling from an offseason of turmoil, but probably just cannot wait to get back onto the field and take out some frustrations on an overmatched opponent.
Eastern Washington at Texas Tech (Saturday – 4 p.m., FSN): Texas Tech isn’t known to play much defense, and Eastern Washington has put up double-digit wins in five of its last seven seasons. EWU lost its head coach and offensive coordinator to FBS jobs, but won’t be a pushover. This could turn into a shootout.
Channel surf through…
UMass at Coastal Carolina (Saturday – 7 p.m., ESPN3): Coastal Carolina’s football field is teal.
— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) April 8, 2015
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