- The rise of neutral-site games has ensured that Labor Day Weekend will be filled with meaningful football. Here's who our experts think will head into September on a positive note.
There are no guarantees in Week 1. The rise of neutral site games between national brands has ensured that no window of Labor Day Weekend will be without meaningful football, but in 2016's Week 1 upsets like South Alabama over Mississippi State or Eastern Washington over Washington State served as our annual reminder that college football’s most entertaining moments don’t always lie in the first place you’d think to look.
Will any of the summer’s most hyped teams stumble out of the gate? How will Florida and Michigan look in the face of so many unknowns? And who will emerge from Saturday night's main event with an inside track on a playoff spot? Below, our writers and editors pick Week 1’s biggest games, taking turns justifying their selections.
Ohio State at Indiana (Thursday, 8 p.m., ESPN)
Chris Johnson picks Ohio State: J.T. Barrett would have preferred a more forgiving defense for his first go-round under new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day, but the Hoosiers’ resistance won’t hold up against the Buckeyes’ fleet of explosive skill guys. Ohio State will pile on enough points to turn most of the fourth quarter into garbage time.
Tulsa at Oklahoma State (Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET, FS1)
Joan Niesen picks Oklahoma State: Well, we could do this in two words: Mason Rudolph. Tulsa had a solid 10–3 season a year ago, but the Cowboys’ offense will be too much for it to handle in the season opener. Still, it’s something of a rivalry game, and Tulsa can hold its own, so expect this one to be closer than you might think.
Colorado State vs. Colorado (Friday, 8 p.m. ET, Pac-12)
Eric Single picks Colorado State: The Rocky Mountain showdown almost always gets weird. The Rams opened up their new stadium with an impressive Week 0 win over Oregon State, and I think there’s real value in getting a week’s head start on the rest of the country without having to travel. Colorado is replacing the stars of last year’s defense, and CSU senior QB Nick Stevens and senior receiver Michael Gallup have the chemistry to carve up a green secondary and narrow the Power 5/Group of Five talent gap.
Maryland at Texas (Saturday, Noon ET, FS1)
Andy Staples picks Texas: Maryland might be the perfect opening opponent for Tom Herman’s first Texas team. Turn on the Terrapins’ tape, and there are enough great athletes running around to ensure the Longhorns respect them and prepare accordingly. That’s why there won’t be any surprises.
Wyoming at Iowa (Saturday, Noon ET, Big Ten)
Molly Geary picks Iowa: Led by quarterback Josh Allen, who’s getting serious NFL buzz, the Cowboys are no slouch, but the Hawkeyes should have enough on defense and in their ground game to win this one at Kinnick Stadium.
Michigan vs. Florida (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
Bruce Feldman picks Michigan: Don’t get too hung up on the minuscule number of Wolverine starters returning (five). A bunch of their new starters played a lot last year and are primed for breakout seasons, and the defensive front is still loaded. Plus, Florida will miss its best offensive weapon Antonio Callaway (one of 10 Gators suspended for the opener) against the ultra-aggressive Don Brown, one of the top defensive coordinators in football.
NC State vs. South Carolina (Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Eric Single picks NC State: Don’t sleep on Ryan Finley in a crowded market for high-quality quarterback play in the ACC. He was at his worst last year when he was forced into high-volume shootouts, and as promising as his QB counterpart Jake Bentley may be, South Carolina doesn’t want the game to go in that direction, either. In a matchup of similarly named playmakers, the Wolfpack find a way get all-purpose weapon Jaylen Samuels rolling, and Gamecocks wideout Deebo Samuel doesn’t have the supporting cast to recover.
Temple at Notre Dame (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
Molly Geary picks Notre Dame: The Owls are kicking off a new era under coach Geoff Collins, but they face a tough task in South Bend. The Irish will be eager to get off to a good start after 2016’s debacle, and this could be an important showcase for new coordinators Chip Long and Mike Elko.
Appalachian State at Georgia (Saturday, 6:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Andy Staples picks Georgia: Everyone who grew up in the South knows there are two programs that can never be underestimated: Appalachian State and Georgia Southern. Tennessee knew that last year and still almost lost to the Mountaineers. Georgia will be ready.
Florida State vs. Alabama (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC)
Andy Staples picks Alabama:Don’t be shocked if the Crimson Tide employ the same risk-averse offensive strategy they employed in last year’s playoff. Florida State’s defense can make the Tide pay for mistakes, but Alabama should be able to control the game on the ground against almost any opponent.
BYU vs. LSU (Saturday, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Joan Niesen picks BYU: There’s still plenty of uncertainty surrounding LSU’s new offense, which I think will be in fighting shape a few games into the season. But BYU is a tough first test for a new regime, and unlike a season ago when they lost nearly every tight contest en route to a 9–4 record, I think the Cougars will pull through in a close one.
West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech (Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
Bruce Feldman picks West Virginia: Both teams are breaking in new QBs, but the Mountaineers’ new starter, Florida transfer Will Grier, is much further along in his development than Virginia Tech redshirt freshman Josh Jackson. Grier will be an upgrade in the pocket from Skyler Howard, and West Virginia has a talented collection of backs to keep the Hokies on their heels. Tony Gibson’s defense does only return two starters, but the Mountaineers have as good a trio of safeties as there is in college football, and getting back Dravon Askew-Henry, who missed all of last season with an injury, is a huge plus while they await the return of linebacker David Long. They should pose some issues for Jackson.
Texas A&M at UCLA (Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET, Fox)
Chris Johnson picks Texas A&M: UCLA has an obvious advantage at quarterback, with future top-10 draft pick Josh Rosen besting whomever Kevin Sumlin decides to hand the keys to in Week 1, but the Aggies can drop extra defenders into coverage with the solace that the Bruins can’t use their listless ground game to punish them. Sumlin’s hot seat will cool ... for at least one week.
Georgia Tech vs. Tennessee (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Eric Single picks Georgia Tech: The late-breaking suspension of starting left tackle Drew Richmond does the retooling Vols offense no favors. Meanwhile, Tech’s attack thrives on interchangeable parts, which should help cushion the dismissal of leading rusher Dedrick Mills. Butch Jones will be called on the carpet if the Yellow Jackets’ triple option puts up huge numbers in maddeningly simple ways.