- Week 1 almost always has a surprise or two in store, as teams knock the rust off and defy preseason expectations. Who should be put on notice this weekend?
It’s here! (Well, it arrived last night. Or technically, last week.) So far in the early days of the 2017 college football season, we’ve been without an upset—although Indiana did its best Thursday night against Ohio State—and things have gone pretty much to script. Though that might be boring, it’s also fortunate, seeing as only now have we reached our first SI.com Upset Watch. Below, we explore three matchups where the favorites could be on high alert in Week 1.
Ranked team in trouble: BYU over LSU. LSU starts out the season as the No. 13 team in the country. Meanwhile, BYU received a total of five votes, good for No. 38 overall. The Tigers are coming off a season in which they fired their coach of more than a decade and then finished the season on a 5–2 run under Ed Orgeron, the interim coach whom LSU hired to stay on permanently. There’s certainly optimism surrounding the program, but Orgeron has had big work to do this offseason installing a new offense, and BYU is a good team—maybe even a really good one. If this upset happens, it’s not any slight on LSU, but rather evidence that BYU might be as good as some of us suspect. As I wrote a few weeks ago, though the Cougars went 9–4 last year (mind you, a slightly better record than 8–4 LSU), they lost those games by a total of eight points. Had a few more breaks gone BYU’s way, they may well have been ranked going into this season or even maybe favored in Saturday’s game, which moved from Houston’s NRG Stadium to the Superdome in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
Trendy upset alert: Georgia Tech over Tennessee. A year ago, Tennessee came within minutes of losing to Appalachian State at home to open the season; in fact, the game went to overtime before the Vols pulled ahead, 20–13. Butch Jones’s teams have been known to underperform, and after last season’s near-miss, why not consider an actual upset? This game will be played at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, which should draw plenty of Tennessee fans. Vegas is already predicting a close game, so it wouldn’t be a stretch for Georgia Tech to pull this one out, though it’d certainly be an upset if the No. 25 team lost to open the season. In order to win, the Yellow Jackets will have to play markedly better on defense than they did a year ago, but they should be able to capitalize on Tennessee, which will be breaking in a new lead back in John Kelly and a starting quarterback—Jones has declined to name Jarrett Guarantano or Quinten Dormady the guy.
Out of left field: Bowling Green over Michigan State. Neither of these teams did much a year ago; Bowling Green finished with four wins, Michigan State with three. But while the Spartans started the season strong, beating Furman and Notre Dame to open 2016, Bowling Green ended it hot, winning three straight. Coming off that hot(ish) streak, the Falcons have a lot riding on their young quarterback, James Morgan. He’s physically impressive and has a big arm, but he struggled with accuracy at times last year. If he’s done enough to curb those tendencies this offseason, Bowling Green has a real shot at beating a Spartans team that just two seasons ago was among the best in the Big Ten. That said, the Falcons’ defense was downright dismal in 2016, and they will have to take care of the ball in order to have a chance in East Lansing.