- Who will open the 2019 season with a win? Our writers and editors make their picks for a dozen of Week 1's most intriguing games.
Week 1 is finally here. After the 2019 college football season officially kicked off with a pair of FBS games last weekend, things are ramped up in a big way starting Thursday night. While many top teams aren't expected to be challenged in their openers, others, like Oregon and Auburn, have a lot already hinging on game one. Who will win that clash in Arlington, and will any favorites fall victim to an early upset?
Our eight college football writers and editors make their straight-up picks for Week 1’s 12 most interesting games below, taking turns defending their answers. This year’s pool of pickers includes Joan Niesen, Ross Dellenger, Laken Litman, Scooby Axson, Molly Geary, Max Meyer, Tim Rohan and Michael Shapiro. To see our against the spread picks for SI Gambling, please click here.
UCLA at Cincinnati (Thursday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Laken Litman picks Cincinnati: Last year, Cincinnati upset UCLA in Chip Kelly’s highly anticipated return to college football. The comeback win ignited the Bearcats’ football team and fan base and now, expectations are extra high. While Kelly’s team should win more games in Year 2, Luke Fickell hasn’t had much production drop off. He still has quarterback Desmond Ridder, who scored three touchdowns vs. the Bruins and racked up more than 3,000 total yards during the 2018 season; running back Michael Warren II, who broke the school TD record (20), and safety James Wiggins, an NFL prospect who led his team with four interceptions last year, one against UCLA. Everybody loves a rematch, but the result may be déjà vu.
Utah at BYU (Thursday, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Max Meyer picks Utah: This is a massive revenge spot for BYU, which blew a 27–7 lead this past November to Utah before falling 35–27. This will also be a very physical rivalry game, where points will be at a premium. But with starting quarterback Tyler Huntley and star tailback Zack Moss back and healthy, I think Utah will have just enough offense to escape with a season-opening win. Having one of the best defensive lines in the country helps, too.
Ole Miss at Memphis (12 p.m. ET, ABC)
Molly Geary picks Memphis: The Rebels lost five straight to end last season, and quarterback Jordan Ta'amu and top-three receivers A.J. Brown, DaMarkus Lodge and D.K. Metcalf are all gone, with former four-star recruit Matt Corral stepping in under center. The Tigers lost some big pieces too, including running back Darrell Henderson, but 1,000-yard rusher Patrick Taylor Jr. and QB Brady White should keep the offense humming. Ole Miss's defense, which gave up 483 yards per game last year (121st in FBS), is going to have to improve in a hurry under new DC Mike MacIntyre to steal this one, but there could be plenty of offensive fireworks on both sides.
South Carolina vs. North Carolina (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Scooby Axson picks South Carolina: Part 2 of the Mack Brown era begins at North Carolina and after being away from coaching for five years, he is hedging his bets this go around on true freshman quarterback Sam Howell. The problem is that if something happens to Howell, his backup is a redshirt freshman. South Carolina has an experienced but turnover prone QB in Jake Bentley and enough playmakers to throw to, but the Gamecocks must find a consistent running game. For one week at least, it should be enough to win the battle of the Carolinas.
Northwestern at Stanford (4 p.m. ET, FOX)
Joan Niesen picks Northwestern: Northwestern has become notorious for slow starts in recent seasons, but that'll change in 2019 against Stanford, which has a ton of offensive holes to fill, even if it does have continuity at quarterback with K.J. Costello. Northwestern still hasn't named a starting quarterback, but it has two talented guys in the mix and a strong veteran presence on defense—which should be enough for it to come out on top in what will likely be a close game.
Virginia Tech at Boston College (4 p.m. ET, ACC Network)
Ross Dellenger picks Virginia Tech: The Hokies purged themselves of players last season who legitimately were hoping to lose the last game of the season so they could have December off. That's a good thing, and so is facing a Boston College team with eight new defensive starters.
Boise State vs. Florida State (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Laken Litman picks Florida State: Willie Taggart’s inaugural season in Tallahassee will always be remembered by Florida State suffering its first losing season in more than 40 years. Will spicing up an ineffective offense—like hiring OC Kendal Briles, known for his super-fast tempo and scoring lots of points, and naming James Blackman the starting QB (he held the job two years ago)—be a good enough start to get the program moving in a positive direction?
Georgia at Vanderbilt (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network)
Tim Rohan picks Georgia: It’s the opening week of the college football season, and Vanderbilt still hasn’t named a starting quarterback between Ball State grad transfer Riley Neal and junior Deuce Wallace. Whoever wins the competition will face a big challenge on Saturday against No. 3 Georgia. The Bulldogs have their QB1, Jake Fromm, locked in, and he has lots of NFL-caliber talent around him, starting with running back D’Andre Swift. The Commodores have some offensive weapons, too, including tight end Jared Pinkney, and that may allow them to hang around for a bit, especially playing at home. But Georgia’s talent will ultimately overwhelm Vandy.
Oregon vs. Auburn (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
Ross Dellenger picks Oregon: This isn't just a massive game for the Ducks. It's huge for the Pac-12. Washington lost to Auburn in a similar type of matchup last season in Atlanta. Oregon and QB Justin Herbert are carrying the Pac-12 flag against the country's toughest league. But the Tigers have a rather looming issue: a true freshman starting quarterback.
Virginia at Pittsburgh (7:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network)
Michael Shapiro picks Virginia: Pittsburgh ran wild over Virginia last season in Charlottesville, but I'll take Bronco Mendenhall and the Cavaliers to secure a key Week 1 win at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on Saturday. Virginia returns senior quarterback Bryce Perkins and seven starters on defense, including All-ACC cornerback Bryce Hall. Expect Virginia to grind out a win in a low-scoring Week 1 affair.
Fresno State at USC (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Max Meyer picks USC: Fresno State is replacing nine starters on offense, including its starting quarterback, three top wideouts and four starting offensive linemen. I think the Bulldogs will have trouble scoring against USC, especially with a very strong Trojans defensive line licking its chops facing an inexperienced Fresno offensive line. The Bulldogs have a stingy secondary, but they haven’t faced as talented of a receiving trio like Amon-Ra St. Brown, Michael Pittman Jr. and Tyler Vaughns. Quarterback JT Daniels’s life will be much easier as well with new OC Graham Harrell implementing an Air Raid offense. Give me the Trojans to make a big opening statement after an embarrassing 5–7 campaign in 2018.
Notre Dame at Louisville (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Joan Niesen picks Notre Dame: This is going to be a blowout, and I wouldn't be surprised if Notre Dame wins by 30+ points. Not only are the Irish a better team than Louisville in every phase of the game, they'll also want to come out with a statement win after getting drubbed by Clemson the last time they suited up. Louisville is in the midst of a massive rebuild, and this season will be messy for the Cardinals, starting with this lopsided Week 1 draw.