As you settle in for the long-awaited return of college football this weekend, remember this: We all have Hawaii to thank.
Due to an adjustment (Proposal 2015-79, to be exact) to the NCAA scheduling exemption granting an additional regular season game to teams who travel to Hawaii, this year for the first time, three of the Rainbow Warriors’ 2017 home opponents—San Jose State, BYU and Colorado State—were allowed to move their season openers to the Saturday before Labor Day. Add in a Stanford-Rice nightcap in Sydney, Australia, and we’re in for upwards of 12 hours of so-called “Week Zero” FBS action to help prime the pump for next week’s nationwide season kickoff.
If you’re a neutral fan who can stand to wait six more days for football, you won’t miss much by skipping out on Saturday’s games. For the rest of us, here are five storylines to watch in Week Zero.
1. A Pac-12 QB who can never be overlooked (Oregon State at Colorado State, 2:30 p.m. ET)
Quarterback Jake Luton is listed in the Oregon State media guide as 6’ 7”, 234 pounds, and the Beavers’ offense rests on his Osweilerian shoulders entering the pivotal third year of head coach Gary Anderson’s tenure in Corvallis. After earning Junior College All-America honors at Ventura (Calif.) College, Luton won the starting job as a newcomer this summer and could be stepping into a Pac-12 style shootout right away in this season-opening road trip to Fort Collins, where offensive-minded Colorado State coach Mike Bobo doesn’t mind asking the Rams to go score-for-score. This promises to be the most closely-contested FBS game of the day.
2. BYU’s last chance to work out the kinks (BYU vs. Portland State, 3 p.m. ET)
The Cougars have once again jammed the front half of their schedule with top Power 5 teams: Starting next weekend, they play LSU, Utah and Wisconsin on consecutive Saturdays. Those all promise to be the type of knock-down-drag-out affair BYU has become known for, so FCS Portland State may get the brunt of some early-season aggression as second-year coach Kalani Sitake tunes up his squad for a brutal stretch ahead.
3. Hawaii’s battle with body clocks (Hawaii at UMass, 6 p.m. ET)
Hawaii had to travel more than 5,000 miles to get to Amherst, and the team tacked on some tourist activities in New York City along the way to acclimate to Eastern time as much as possible. This may not be the best football you watch all day, so instead soak in the uniqueness of the home-and-home series between two schools at opposite ends of the United States’s geographic footprint. And don’t look now, but the Rainbow Warriors enter the season on a three-game winning streak, the program’s first since 2010.
4. USF’s quest for style points (South Florida at San Jose State, 7:30 p.m. ET)
Charlie Strong’s first game as USF head coach comes against a San Jose State defense that finished 103rd in scoring defense a season ago, giving up 34.7 points per game. The Bulls are heavily favored, as will be the case with nearly every game on their three-ply soft schedule this year, but they’ll need to do more than simply run the table to become the first Group of Five team to reach the College Football Playoff; they need to run up the score to hold the selection committee’s attention. Don’t miss a chance to get a good long look at senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy sleeper Quinton Flowers, who accounted for 42 total touchdowns in 2016 and will have a national audience to himself (or at least those whose cable packages get CBS Sports) as he stuffs his first stat sheet of the fall.
5. Life after McCaffrey (Stanford vs. Rice, 10 p.m. ET)
Bryce Love did all right for himself as the primary fill-in for Christian McCaffrey last season, averaging 7.0 yards per carry as McCaffrey battled injuries. Now it’s the junior running back’s show, as Stanford tries to cover for the offensive limitations of quarterback Keller Chryst, who could find himself outgunned by the polished prospects the Cardinal’s conference foes plan to put under center later this year. Rice can only hope Allianz Stadium in Sydney is more welcoming than The Farm was—the Owls lost 41–17 at Stanford last November to cap a 3–9 regular season.