It’s Week 1, and the race is on. Hit it, George Jones!
Ah yes, that’s right. There’s hope now but everybody’s season will probably end in heartache. Instead of calling the Cal-Hawaii game last week, ESPN kept telling you about the BIGGEST OPENING WEEKEND EVER, so let’s cut this short and get to why you should watch a bunch of these games.
South Carolina at Vanderbilt (Thursday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN): Coach Boom is the head man again, which means at least one profane tirade might catch an ESPN mic by the end of the night. There is no guarantee that Vanderbilt will move the ball past the 50-yard-line (unless they put it in the hands of running back Ralph Webb), but the Commodores defense may be the most underrated unit in the SEC.
Georgia Tech vs. Boston College (in Dublin) (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, ESPN2): DUDES! Everybody get up at 7 am ET (4 am on the West Coast, if you’re interested) and get some coffee brewing for the beginning of your long day watching football. Can Boston College stop Georgia Tech’s option attack without defensive coordinator Don Brown, who left for Michigan?
Western Michigan at Northwestern (Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, ESPNU): P.J. Fleck spent his summer putting Sylvester Stallone on the video board to surprise his team and running around in full pads, so maybe the young coach’s boundless energy will translate into a Week 1 upset in Evanston, long one of the quietest opening week venues because the students don’t return to school for another month. This is one of your best chances to see Fleck, who will likely be coaching a far bigger program by 2018, and Northwestern linebacker Anthony Walker, who is one of the best defensive players in the Big Ten.
Hawaii at Michigan (Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN): Hawaii traveled over 9,500 miles and 14 time zones since its game against Cal last Saturday in Sydney, Australia. There’s a good chance that at least one Rainbow Warriors player runs the wrong way because of jet lag.
Hawaii coach Nick Rolovich said that Harbaugh denied the Rainbow Warriors any practice footage even though Hawaii had already played a game; civil procedure would dictate an offering by Michigan to balance the playing field. So prepare for a slightly kooky, needlessly aggressive tweet by Harbaugh about a first-year coach whose players will have traveled roughly 20,000 miles over the course of two weeks.
Rutgers at Washington (Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks): New coach vs. Hype Machine. New Rutgers head man Chris Ash thinks of himself as a “big on juice” while Washington coach Chris Petersen insists he has the most overhyped team in the nation. It’s not a traditional Big Ten vs. Pac-12 matchup and one you’ll likely never see in the Rose Bowl, but it is the first chance to gauge how much touted sophomore Jake Browning has progressed after a successful freshman campaign in Seattle.
Stanford vs. Kansas State (Friday, 9 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1): This one starts at 9 p.m ET., but also is on a Friday, so Heisman voters may have yet another convenient reason to miss a brilliant Christian McCaffrey performance. The Wildcats have another underrated team with a whole lot of little-known junior college transfers that should (again) be hanging in the Big 12 race toward the end of the season. Remember: Stanford lost its first game last year at Northwestern, and it’ll be trying out two new quarterbacks in senior Ryan Burns and redshirt sophomore Keller Chryst.
Georgia vs. North Carolina (Saturday, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Kirby Smart has arrived. As long as you don’t ask him about the quarterback competition (fifth-year senior Greyson Lambert was named the starter for this game) or try to send the football department a FOIA request then I’m sure he’ll be plenty talkative after this one. On the other side is North Carolina and positively bad-ass receiver Ryan Switzer, who has already anointed himself “the best punt returner ever” and “a first-round talent.”
BYU at Arizona (Saturday, 10:30 ET, FS1): It’s the third straight year of Can Taysom Hill survive Week 1? Also, how many years of eligibility does he have left?
Hill graduated in the same high school class as Rueben Randle, who is already on his second NFL contract.
Oklahoma-Houston (Saturday, Noon ET, ABC): Tom Herman is already the most in-demand coach in the nation. A win over Oklahoma in a pro stadium would only drive his price tag up further. Greg Ward Jr. is one of the nation’s most electric dual threat quarterbacks and the Cougars need this win in order to become the first Group of Five team to crash the College Football Playoff. I hope that Herman decides to coach the game with his grill in.
UCLA at Texas A&M (Saturday, 3:30 ET, CBS): The contrast in quarterback personalities is enough to get you to tune in, right? Knight is the pious, personable guy intended to smooth out the host of problems at Texas A&M. UCLA’s Josh Rosen asked our Pete Thamel “Is this the frattiest room you’ve ever been in?” and explained his image to the UCLA sorority scene as "girls that I am really good homies with tell me about how often they have to defend my image to girls that don't know me." OK.
Rosen is as gifted as any quarterback in the nation, but he must avoid Texas A&M’s frightening defensive line tandem of Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall if the Bruins want to score a big road win in College Station. And if UCLA gets that win? Then Kevin Sumlin’s status as Texas A&M’s head coach becomes significantly less secure.
LSU vs. Wisconsin (Saturday, 3:30 ET, ABC): It’s an opportunity to watch Leonard Fournette on a national stage. Why would you miss this?
USC vs. Alabama (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC): Jerry World isn’t a particularly fun stadium to enjoy a college game, but Alabama has made it a second home. USC could feasibly score an upset. Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is a surefire first-round talent, defensive back Adoree’ Jackson is an athlete all coaches dream of having, and new quarterback Max Browne was a five-star talent coming out of high school. Add in the Pac-12’s best offensive line and it looks like USC might have a chance.
And then you remember that this is Alabama, after all, and even after losing their two starting defensive tackles (A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed), they return two players (Tim Williams, Jonathan Allen) that combined for 26 tackles for loss and 21.5 sacks last season. It’s fun to watch the apex predator, and that’s what we get with Alabama.
Clemson at Auburn (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN): In short, watch this one for the return of Mike Williams, who suffered a scary neck injury that cost him a chance at participating in Clemson’s run to the national title game. Even Nick Saban said Watson reminds him a great deal of Cam Newton, and Watson adds a target that could get the Tigers back to the playoff this season.
Notre Dame at Texas (Sunday, 7:30 ET, ABC): Notre Dame’s defense needs to be held together with chewing gum and bailing wire, and that might give Charlie Strong the chance to get a big win and cool off his hot seat. This game is also exciting because of the debut of freshman quarterback Shane Buechele, who may see limited snaps, but is receiving rave reviews out of camp. The Longhorns have been looking for the heir to Colt McCoy for six years now, and the hopes are high for Buechele.
Ole Miss vs. Florida State (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN): For college football fans, it’s an opportunity to evaluate Deondre Francois and whether he has the skill set to help the Seminoles meet the lofty expectations that greet them this season. For the casual viewer, it’s an opportunity to get a close-up at Dalvin Cook and realize just how good he is. This is a running back who averaged almost eight yards a carry against eight-man fronts last year despite dealing with multiple injuries. He had a compelling case to win the Heisman Trophy, but sat in many second halves because Florida State was routing its opponent. He’s a superstar that hasn’t gotten the attention he deserves.