Week 1 Viewing Guide: What to watch on college football's opening weekend
College football got underway Thursday night, but the season doesn't really start until the first Saturday. As an extra treat, there are great games scattered across the weekend from Friday to Monday, including coach Chris Petersen's return to Boise State and Ohio State's quest for revenge against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
With so much college football action this weekend, we're here to help you sort through it all. These are the eight must-see games of Week 1.
Washington at No. 23 Boise State
10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Chris Petersen spent eight seasons leading Boise State on its trademark blue turf, compiling an unprecedented 92–12 record before leaving for Washington in December 2013. Now the coach returns to Boise for an uncomfortable season opener, where he’ll face a Broncos team that won 12 games and a Fiesta Bowl title in 2014, Bryan Harsin’s first year at the helm. Harsin’s offense features a new quarterback in Ryan Finley and loses star running back Jay Ajayi but returns nine starters elsewhere and eight more on defense. Petersen may have left Boise State for a bigger job at Washington, but he faces an uphill battle in his return to Albertsons Stadium—especially with the Huskies’ uncertain quarterback situation.
No. 21 Stanford at Northwestern
12 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Cardinal can’t put a disappointing eight-win season in the past if they don’t take care of Northwestern on the road. Coach David Shaw, who reeled off three straight 11-win seasons before last year’s drop-off, has a roster that could potentially return Stanford to Pac-12 dominance. Keep an eye on sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey, who had Cardinal coaches licking their chops this off-season. Stanford’s normally stingy defense lost a good chunk of its production and faces redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson, the Wildcats’ new starter. Can the former four-star recruit help Northwestern engineer an upset?
Louisville vs. No. 6 Auburn
3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
We get an early taste of Verne Lundquist in CBS’s first college football broadcast of the season, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. A hyped Auburn squad opens the year against Bobby Petrino and Louisville, which makes for a fascinating matchup on paper. The Tigers are hoping Will Muschamp can fix a weak pass rush with the help of defensive end Carl Lawson, who missed last season with a torn ACL. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have yet to tab a starting quarterback, though Reggie Bonnafon looks to be the guy. A Petrino offense going toe-to-toe with a Gus Malzahn offense should be all kinds of fun.
BYU at Nebraska
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Nebraska fans seemingly got their wish with the firing of Bo Pelini, and now they get to see if the Mike Riley era turns out differently. Riley’s first game in Lincoln comes against BYU, which won eight games and went 3–0 vs. Power Five opponents in 2014. That success came in spite of star quarterback Taysom Hill’s leg injury midway through the season. Hill, now healthy, leads a seasoned Cougars squad against quarterback Tommy Armstrong and a Nebraska program that never won fewer than nine games under Pelini.
No. 15 Arizona State vs. Texas A&M
7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Arizona State has won a school-record 28 games in its first three seasons under Todd Graham, including two straight 10-win campaigns. Expectations feel even higher this year with quarterback Mike Bercovici, receiver D.J. Foster and much of a dynamic offense returning. The Sun Devils will go up against a Texas A&M defense hoping for a turnaround under new coordinator John Chavis. Young talent like quarterback Kyle Allen and defense end Myles Garrett give the Aggies an explosive core, a testament to the recruiting of coach Kevin Sumlin. This game should add fuel to the fire of the Pac-12 vs. SEC debate.
Texas at No. 11 Notre Dame
7:30 p.m. ET, NBC
The last time we saw the Longhorns, they compiled a whopping two rushing yards in a 31–7 loss to Arkansas in the Texas Bowl. Now that program opens year two of the Charlie Strong era against a Notre Dame team returning 10 starters on defense. But the Fighting Irish look a little new on offense, where quarterback Malik Zaire steps in for the departed Everett Golson. For coach Brian Kelly’s squad to contend for a playoff spot, it needs to take care of business at home against quarterback Tyrone Swoopes and a Texas team still searching for an identity.
No. 20 Wisconsin vs. No. 3 Alabama
8 p.m. ET, ABC
New Badgers coach Paul Chryst kicks off his first season in Madison with a tall task. Alabama boasts what might be the country’s best front seven, a group that includes towering defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson. For years Wisconsin’s bread-and-butter has been running the ball; last season’s starting running back, Melvin Gordon, finished second in Heisman voting. Can new starter Corey Clement cement himself as the next great Wisconsin back? The Badgers could offer a preview of a strong Big Ten season by keeping things close with the Crimson Tide. Alabama, meanwhile, needs this kind of nonconference victory for its playoff resume, but first it must find a starting quarterback.
No. 1 Ohio State at Virginia Tech
8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Buckeyes fans haven’t forgotten last season’s installment of this matchup. Virginia Tech memorably knocked off Ohio State with a 35–21 win in Columbus last September, seemingly sinking the playoff hopes of coach Urban Meyer’s squad. We all know how that speculation turned out. This time the Buckeyes face a decidedly more hostile atmosphere in Blacksburg on a Monday night. Four key Ohio State players are also suspended for the opener, including vaunted defensive end Joey Bosa. Can Hokies quarterback Michael Brewer and 15 other returning starters engineer some Labor Day magic?