With several enticing games Thursday all the way through Monday, college football will start off with a bang in 2021. Regardless of the section of the country, there’s plenty of entertaining games and storylines to watch. Starting off with three interesting Thursday and Friday contests, here are some game analysis and predictions.
(Boise State at UCF prediction will come on Thursday)
Thursday, Sep. 2
South Florida at North Carolina State
Looking to rebound after last season, USF needs to at least be respectable against Power Five opponents. That’s just not where the Bulls are with their program right now, however.
The Bulls need to find a true signal caller and that situation looks to be headed towards graduate transfer Cade Fortin, but do not be shocked if another signal caller gets playing time if the Bulls fall behind early.
After coming over from North Carolina, he will attempt to bring some stability to a quarterback position that’s been good in short stints, but inconsistent overall during the past couple of seasons. The Bulls defense looks to rebound as well.
After giving up a whopping 39.1 points per game last season, there’s room for improvement across the board. The defensive line only recorded seven sacks in nine games last year, so getting after Devin Leary will be a priority. There’s no true playmaker along the defensive line, so it’s just not going to be enough with the Bulls current depth being where it’s at either.
With not enough playmakers and also lacking depth, Leary will annihilate the Bulls secondary because he will have too much time to pass. The North Carolina State ground game will also do enough with Zonovan Knight to provide a balanced attack, as the talented runner will eclipse the 100 yard mark and find the end zone.
Knight is a true tailback because of his strength as well as his vision. He’s North Carolina State’s best all-time yards per carry player at 5.5 yards per tote, and he’s capable of catching the football as well.
Look for a couple of play-action deep shots to put this game out of reach no later than the late portion of the third quarter. Wide receiver Emeka Emezie will be the recipient of one of those long passes, continuing from where he left off last season when he hauled in 47 receptions, 738 yards and five touchdowns last fall.
Wolfpack 41 Bulls 17
Ohio State at Minnesota
The new era at quarterback begins for Ohio State as CJ Stroud takes the reins for the Buckeyes, but it’s on the road and Minnesota will not be a pushover. Stroud will have some mental errors as the Gophers will attempt to throw post-snap coverage changes at the young quarterback, and it will prove effective.
Once Stroud gains his footing with short passes, a couple of screens to wide receivers like Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, he will find a groove from short passes and allow his receivers to run after the catch. Do not forget about tight end Jeremy Ruckert either. He’s probably going to be single covered all game long. He’s a future NFL player. As for the Gophers, they have an overall attitude that will help them stay in the game.
The Gophers are a feisty team that will consistently attack Ohio State’s offense with varied coverages, as well as blitzing the young signal caller. It’s a plan that will keep the game close throughout. Offensively, it’s going to be a challenge up front for the Gophers.
Running the football versus Ohio State’s front seven will prove to be very difficult. That’s when the passing game must find ways to overcome long yardage situations and make clutch plays.
Then again, what was once a proud secondary for Ohio State only mustered a No. 104 passing defensive ranking in 2020. Can the Gophers throw the football enough with quarterback Tanner Morgan to win? It’s certainly not out of the question.
Well, throwing will not be enough. There’s no true big-time playmaker at wide receiver now that Rashod Bateman entered the NFL. Morgan will have a big game against a suspect Ohio State secondary, but Minnesota needs to run the football to keep Stroud and the Buckeyes offensive players on the sidelines as often as possible without Bateman’s super talent at wide receiver.
Senior running back Mohamed Ibrahim is the player to watch for the rushing attack. He ran for 1,076 yards and 15 scores in only seven games last season. As he goes, the Gophers go.
The problem will be Ohio State going all out to stop the run, and limiting Ibrahim to 80 yards rushing on the night. With Ibrahim possessing very little room to run, that will place too much on the shoulders of the Minnesota passing attack to keep up with all of the Buckeyes’ offensive talent.
Look for Ohio State’s wide receiver corps to provide several down-the-field plays, while the running game will be solid as well, with three different running backs getting touches and moving the chains. Watch out for true freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson. He’s one of the most explosive incoming players in all of college football.
Buckeyes 38 Gophers 31
Friday, Sep. 3
North Carolina at Virginia Tech
With one of the nation’s top overall players returning, Tar Heels Head Coach Mack Brown has a chance to coach a team with a multi-talented quarterback. The player in question would be Sam Howell. He threw for 3,586 yards and 30 touchdowns last season, and he’s poised to have another big year.
With incoming Tennessee transfer running back Ty Chandler being in the backfield, Virginia Tech will not be able to commit enough defenders to the secondary while also stopping or even slowing down the run consistently. the lack of good run defense will cost them dearly. North Carolina will utilize a balanced passing and rushing attack, and keep Hokies quarterback Braxton Burmeister from doing anything but playing from behind the entire game.
Can Burmeister find his two talented wide receivers -- Tayvion Robinson and Tre Turner -- enough times to offset the talent advantage the Tar Heels hold? North Carolina's secondary is not elite by any means, so there's a puncher's chance for an upset if Burmeister can pass the football well enough. The issue for Burmeister will not be the Tar Heels in the secondary, but one big Tar Heel lined up close to the football.
Defensively, it will be a national spotlight game for North Carolina defensive lineman Myles Murphy, as the sophomore will be spotted frequently making tackles and creating negative yardage plays in the Virginia Tech backfield. the 300-pound talent will need to be double teamed, and even then he's capable of splitting a double team and making a play. On the other side of the field there's also a defensive end to watch.
The hope for Virginia Tech is that junior defensive end Amare Barno has a big game and creates havoc. He’s a very talented edge defender and one that will likely don an NFL jersey at some point. As a junior, Barno recorded 6.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. It will still not be enough, as the Hokies do not possess quite enough offensive firepower to keep up with the Tar Heels.