Well, folks that glorious time of the year is finally here. Saturday night, while much of the world was focused on the boxing ring at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the college football season kicked off with a slate of four games. However, despite that slate featuring a pair of Top 25 teams, that was really just the appetizer to the mouth-watering entree that is Week 1 of the season that begins this Thursday night.
As with any week of the season, there are certain games that will take on greater importance than others and, since you only have a finite number of hours, you can’t watch each game. So, every week throughout the regular season, we’ll highlight five games that are must-watch during the course of the weekend. For Week 1, the games may not be as important to the playoff race, as we’ve seen teams come back from early losses to make it before, but there’s still plenty of intriguing match-ups. Strap in, grab your favorite cold beverage from the fridge and tune in to these games from the opening weekend slate.
#2 Ohio State @ Indiana- Thursday 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes are still smarting from the 31-0 drubbing suffered at the hands of eventual national champion Clemson in the semifinals of last year’s playoffs. But, they enter this year with one of the most experienced teams Meyer has had in his tenure at Columbus, including the return of third-year starting QB J.T. Barrett. This game has the added fun story line of Ohio State’s new offensive coordinator being Indiana’s former head coach, Kevin Wilson.
Wilson was let go by the Hoosiers earlier this year not due to on-field performance, but instead due to allegations of player mistreatment. Wilson is known as one of the better offensive minds in the game and he now joins an Ohio State team that saw Barrett regress somewhat the past two years after a sensational freshman campaign in 2014. The Hoosiers are a veteran-laden team in their own right led by QB Richard Lagow who enters his second year as the starter. Indiana’s offense averaged just 25.8 PPG last year, but they do return six starters including top receiver Nick Westbrook. However, the Buckeyes might have the best and deepest defensive line in the country, so the offensive line that returns just two starters will be tested.
Overall, this is the first time College Gameday will be in Bloomington and this should be a nice kick-off to the weekend slate with a first look at a potential playoff contender.
#11 Michigan vs. #17 Florida- Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
This is the second biggest game on the marquee this weekend, and as such, it gets it’s own spot right in the prime mid-afternoon time slot. This one has been circled on the calendar since it was announced, but there’s been some drama that makes things more interesting come Saturday.
First, it came out that the Gators will be missing seven players including starting wide receiver Antonio Callaway, due to suspensions stemming from their alleged misuse of scholarship funds. Then, last week, another player was added to the suspended list in freshman receiver James Robinson. So, the depth of the Gators took a bit of a hit. However, they do return a veteran offensive line and running back Jordan Scarlett who will be joined by, well, we don’t know yet.
Both Florida and Michigan have refused to name starting QBs ahead of the game. The gamesmanship doesn’t end there on Michigan’s part as they have still yet to release a depth chart/roster for this year. Jim Harbaugh is known as one of the quirkier, competitive coaches and this is another example. On the field, his Wolverines are very young with just six returning starters back. Well, in theory, seeing as we don’t know who the starters are for sure yet. Regardless, these two teams have recruited well and should play a highly entertaining affair on Saturday.
#3 Florida State vs. #1 Alabama- Saturday 8 p.m. ET, ABC
This is by far the biggest game of the weekend. A pair of potential playoff and preseason Top 5 teams square off in Atlanta. Nick Saban’s Tide team is hoping to bounce back from their loss in the waning seconds of the title game, while Jimbo Fisher’s squad looks to return to the playoff for the first time since the inaugural year.
For Saban, he’s got a returning starting QB in Jalen Hurts, the first time that has happened in several years. He’s also got arguably the best running back corps in the country with Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs and true freshman Najee Harris. As usual, the Tide had their stream of NFL draft picks leave in April, but there’s plenty of five-star guys ready to step in and take over. There’s been some trouble for the Tide with one of their prospective starters in sophomore DE Raekwon Davis being shot in the leg this week. Despite this, and the questions about which guys are filling the holes left from last year’s departures, it’s foolish to think Saban has put together anything less than another contending squad.
Florida State and Jimbo Fisher lost their biggest star in RB Dalvin Cook, but they project to be better this season. Like the Tide, they have a returning sophomore QB in Deondre Francois (granted, he’s a red-shirt sophomore), who is expected to take the next step in his second year on the offense. Defensively, they benefit from the return of do-it-all defensive back Derwin James which is a name you should get to know if you don’t already. This is a great test out of the gate for both teams and should give us a good gauge on just how good both teams will be.
BYU vs. #19 LSU- Saturday 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
This game has been moved from Houston’s NRG Stadium to New Orleans due to the flooding in Houston. So, what was a “neutral” site game has now become more of a home contest for the Tigers. Not that Houston is overly far from Baton Rouge either. Anyway, this provides our first look at LSU under Ed Oregeron as permanent head coach.
BYU actually already has a 20-6 win under its belt thanks to beating Portland State in its opener last Saturday. The Cougars bring back starting QB Tanner Mangum who threw for 194 yards and a touchdown against Portland State and RB Squally Canada had 98 yards on 16 carries in the game. As an independent program, these are the types of games BYU needs to win in order to be considered a contender for a playoff spot and Ed Orgeron’s group provides a great test in their second game.
For Orgeron, he takes over the full-time reigns after guiding the Tigers to a 6-2 finish to last season. Last year’s star, Leonard Fournette is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but Derrius Guice is perfectly ready to step into Fournette’s shoes. In fact, Guice already has 1,800+ yards in his first two seasons and 18 TDs as primarily Fournette’s backup/change of pace back. This year, with the full load of carries being given to him, expect an even further breakout. Questions still remain about just how effective QB Danny Etling can be and whether he can take pressure off the running game against opponents that will load the box and dare him to beat them. Still, this is a Tigers group that expects to be and should be, in contention for the SEC West.
#22 West Virginia vs. #21 Virginia Tech- Sunday 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC
One of those rare Sunday night college football contests that only comes along because it’s the opening week. I’m not overly high on the Mountaineers this year, mainly because of how many guys they’ve lost from last year’s team, but Dana Holgorsen has done more with less before.
Holgorsen benefits from the addition of former Florida QB Will Grier, who will take the starting reigns this year. Prior to his suspension for PEDs at Florida, Grier was extremely effective in his six games for the Gators completing 65.6 percent of his passes for 1,202 yards with 10 TDs and 3 INTs as a freshman. He should fit in nicely with the Mountaineers wide open system that produced 31.2 PPG last season. The questions come on defense where the Mountaineers return just three starters from last year’s group.
For Justin Fuente and Virginia Tech, they had to deal with the surprise departure of QB Jerod Evans, so freshman QB Josh Jackson was just recently named the starter. He’ll have help with RB Travon McMillian and WR Cam Phillips both returning, and Fuente has proven to be a very good offensive line. Defensively, the Hokies look to be fairly formidable as always under Bud Foster. This geographical rivalry for the Black Diamond Trophy is the perfect way to cap the opening weekend.