It’s finally here: The year’s first full weekend of college football action was characteristically long in coming, but after a frenzied August, 2018’s race for the College Football Playoff can now formally begin. Week 1’s slate features several games that could loom large on that playoff picture, but it’s too early to start connecting dots. For now, there's still so much to be learned about every team, even as the pregame depth charts helped bring clarity to some of fall camp’s biggest questions.
Our eight college football writers and editors make their picks for Week 1’s 12 most interesting games below, taking turns defendng their answers. This year’s pool of pickers includes Andy Staples, Ross Dellenger, Joan Niesen, Laken Litman, Eric Single, Molly Geary, Scooby Axson and Max Meyer.
Northwestern at Purdue (Thursday, 8 p.m., ESPN)
Laken Litman picks Purdue: Both teams have ongoing quarterback dilemmas: Northwestern hasn’t publicly announced whether returning starter Clayton Thorson (reconstructive knee surgery) or backup walk-on TJ Green will play yet; Purdue might rotate quarterbacks Elijah Sindelar, who played through a torn ACL last season and led the Boilermakers to a Foster Farms bowl win over Arizona, and David Blough, who was the starter before dislocating his ankle against Illinois. The edge goes to the home team playing in a rowdy Ross-Ade Stadium on national TV.
Florida Atlantic at Oklahoma (Saturday, Noon, Fox)
Scooby Axson picks Oklahoma: Lane Kiffin is regarded as one of the best offensive minds in college football. The problem is that coach on the other sideline in Norman on Saturday might be the best play-caller in the sport. Lincoln Riley’s offense paced the FBS in 2017, but this game will swing on the Sooners’ defense, which gave up averages of 27 points and 395 yards per game last season. Expect a shootout, with the Oklahoma defense hanging on for dear life.
Ole Miss vs. Texas Tech (Noon, ESPN)
Eric Single picks Texas Tech: The Rebels’ second season without the carrot of bowl eligibility would become a lot less fun with a Week 1 loss, but Kliff Kingsbury needs to get off to a good start in what many believe is a make-or-break year for him in Lubbock. The Red Raiders have just enough defense to turn the tide.
Texas vs. Maryland (Noon, FS1)
Molly Geary picks Texas: This is a game that could be closer than most expect. The Terps put up 51 points in an upset win over the Longhorns a year ago, but early ACL tears suffered by their top two QBs sunk their season before the end of September. Both Kasim Hill and Tyrrell Pigrome are now back, but there's too much uncertainty around the program, with OC Matt Canada taking over for on-leave head coach D.J. Durkin just weeks ago, to feel good about picking another upset over an improved Texas team out for revenge.
West Virginia vs. Tennessee (3:30 p.m., CBS)
Laken Litman picks West Virginia: Tennessee only returns two starters from last year’s excellent pass defense, which bodes well for West Virginia quarterback Will Grier, who can kick-start his Heisman Trophy candidacy in Week 1. Grier, who averaged more than 315 passing yards per game in 2017, and wide receiver David Sills V, who tied for the national lead in touchdown catches (18), will have a say in whether new Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt’s first game is a downer.
Auburn vs. Washington (3:30 p.m., ABC)
Ross Dellenger picks Washington: The Huskies get a chance to back up the hype and represent the Pac-12 in an early season showdown in Atlanta. It might resemble an Auburn home game, but Washington, with a loaded defense and sound decision-making from experienced QB Jake Browning, pulls this one out in a squeaker.
Washington State at Wyoming (3:30 p.m., CBSSN)
Eric Single picks Wyoming: Is this Week Zero recency bias? You bet it is. The Cowboys looked just as good as they did last year on defense in a dominant win over a revamped New Mexico State last weekend, and there seems to be a solid running game to support freshman QB Tyler Vander Waal. Washington State’s ability to lock in after a turbulent offseason will be tested in Laramie.
Boise State at Troy ( 6 p.m., ESPNNews)
Max Meyer picks Boise State: I'll gladly back senior quarterback Brett Rypien and the Boise State offense against a Troy team that lost six defensive starters from last season's squad. Oh yeah, and the Trojans also have to replace quarterback Brandon Silvers, who was under center for the past four years. Junior signal caller Kaleb Barker will have a tough time against the Broncos' experienced defense.
Michigan at Notre Dame (7:30 p.m., NBC)
Joan Niesen picks Michigan: This one will be close, but I'm going with the Michigan defense to pull out the win. On the offensive side of the ball, both teams will be relatively evenly matched as the Wolverines break in new quarterback Shea Patterson and Notre Dame begins to figure out who will power its ground game. Jim Harbaugh's team unequivocally boasts the better defense; that will make the difference.
Alabama vs. Louisville (8 p.m., ABC)
Molly Geary picks Alabama: The only mystery here is whether Jalen Hurts or Tua Tagovailoa will receive the most snaps, and how each Crimson Tide QB performs. Louisville simply doesn't have enough to seriously threaten the Tide, especially as it plays its first game after the end of the Lamar Jackson era. Alabama hasn't lost a season opener since 2001, winning its last six—all against Power 5 opponents—by an average of 23.8 points.
Miami vs. LSU (Sunday, 7:30 p.m., ABC)
Ross Dellenger picks Miami: The Tigers have too much to replace on offense against a squad that returns so many veterans. This looks like Mark Richt’s best Hurricanes team, despite an overhaul on the defensive line. In front of what’s likely to be a heavy purple-and-gold crowd, the Hurricanes prove they’re a title contender.
Virginia Tech at Florida State (Monday, 8 p.m., ESPN)
Joan Niesen picks Virginia Tech: The Hokies lost some serious defensive talent, but it would be unwise to dismiss what longtime coordinator Bud Foster's unit can do this fall. If the defense can hold up against Florida State and quarterback Deondre Francois—the Seminoles’ new-look offense under Willie Taggart has questions of its own—the Hokies should be able to pull off an upset. Keep an eye on quarterback Josh Jackson, who has a big arm but also ran for seven touchdowns last year.