The 2017 college football season is just a few short hours away. We’re all aware of the matchup of the week, which could also be the best matchup we’ll see throughout the entire regular season. Florida State vs Alabama has everything you want. Between the storylines, National Championship implications and elite talent on both sides of the field, this is going to be an instant classic.
But what should you watch while you wait in suspense? FSU-Bama was just the icing on the cake of what would already be one of the best opening weeks in recent memory. MICH-UF is another game with caliber. WVU-VT is another ranked matchup, and there are a handful of other great games to be watched.
Below I previewed 11 must watch games this week in college football while highlighting the top storylines to look for. How will Deshaun Watson’s replacement play? What game can I watch after FSU-Bama? What games should I look out for on Sunday and Monday?
Buckle up ladies and gentlemen, we’re in for a hectic week of college football with tons going on. Enjoy the opening week of the college football season. Football is finally back!
*All rankings based on Breaking Football’s Top 25
Early Bird Specials
Kent State vs #5 Clemson (12 EST, ESPN)
On the surface, this doesn’t exactly look like the most intriguing matchup. However, the reigning National Champs will be with a new face under center with Deshaun Watson off to the NFL. We will get to see our first real exposure to Watson’s successor in junior Kelly Bryant. Bryant has thrown only 18 career passes, but he follows in the footsteps of Watson and Tajh Boyd as an athletic presence for the Tigers. Bryant is a good runner who is tough to bring down in the open field, but can he be consistent throwing the ball? It will be pivotal for Bryant to get into a rhythm in this game and build on that heading into week 2 where Clemson will host #13 Auburn.
Aside from the Bryant intrigue, watch for Clemson’s front 7 to dominate as they are led by DT Christian Wilkins, DT Dexter Lawrence, DE Clelin Ferrell and LB Dorian O’Daniel.
Maryland vs #23 Texas (12 EST, ESPN)
Expectations are higher than ever for the Longhorns with new head coach Tom Herman who comes over from Houston after building a great program with the Cougars. Don’t sleep on the Maryland Terrapins as they very well could play spoiler in Herman’s debut in Austin.
In D.J. Durkin’s debut season with the Terps, he led them to a Bowl game. With a sparkly offense featuring North Carolina transfer QB Caleb Henderson, along with playmakers in RB Ty Johnson, RB Lorenzo Harrison and WR D.J. Moore, Maryland’s spread offense will have the Longhorns defense on the toes throughout the game. Johnson averaged a school-record 9.1 yards per carry last season while Harrison averaged 7.2 yards per carry. Both are a threat to score every time they touch the ball.
If the Terps can play consistent defense and limit big plays from a potent passing game led by QB Shane Buechele, they can make this game too close for Herman’s comfort and quite possibly complete the week 1 upset.
Wyoming vs Iowa (12 EST, Big Ten Network)
There is one reason to tune into this game, and that’s two words. Josh. Allen. The Wyoming gunslinger has garnered some premature #1 overall pick talk, and has even landed at the top spot of @nfldraftscout‘s 2018 Big Board.
QB Josh Allen will face his toughest test of the season by far. NFL scouts will be sure to tune in (if they’re not in attendance), to see if Allen can perform against a tip-top Big Ten program. Allen displays major flaws on tape including decision making and accuracy, but he flashes tremendous talent at the same time. To prove he is worth a top draft pick, he must tighten up the screws and keep an underwhelming Wyoming squad in this tough matchup.
Allen faces a tough Iowa defense which ranked 29th in pass defense last year, although they return only one starter to the secondary. All American LB Josey Jewell is a draft prospect himself. The leader of the Hawkeyes defense looks to shutdown Allen.
California vs North Carolina (12:20 EST, ACC Network/Watch ESPN)
Despite losing star QB Mitch Trubisky to the NFL, the Tar Heels enter this ACC-Pac 12 matchup as an 11 point favorite against the California Golden Bears, who are also tasked with replacing an NFL draft pick under center.
Larry Fedora and the Tar Heels are hopeful that LSU transfer QB Brandon Harris can fill the void at quarterback. While Harris’ tenure in Baton Rouge was underwhelming as he completed only 53.6% of his passes, optimism glows through the streets of Chapel Hill that he can live up to his 4-star recruit prowess.
On the flip side, Cal’s starting QB came down to the wire as a starter wasn’t named until earlier this week. Sophomore Ross Bowers, a former 3-star recruit has yet to attempt a pass in his career. He will, however, have an experienced WR group to work with. WR Demtris Robertson and WR Melquise Stovall each enter their sophomore campaigns as well. Robertson broke DeSean Jackson’s freshman school record with 50 catches last season. Robertson is a star in the making while Stovall is an elusive, speedy, big play threat as well.
Between Robertson and Stovall, UNC senior CB M.J. Stewart will have his hands full as he plays this season with aspirations of being drafted next spring. Between the new faces at QB for each program and the Cal WRs vs M.J. Stewart, there are a couple of compelling headlines in this matchup, although the Tar Heels should come away with the victory.
Fillers Until the Feast
#10 Michigan vs #17 Florida (3:30 EST, ABC)
Overshadowed by the FSU-Bama matchup is another ranked contest between Michigan and Florida. The two teams last faced off in the 2016 Citrus Bowl, which ended in a 41-7 Michigan victory. The Gators look for revenge, but will be shorthanded. After an off-field incident, a handful of Gators will be suspended, including RB Jordan Scarlett and WR Antonio Callaway.
Still, this will be a test for the Michigan Wolverines who return only five starters between both sides of the ball. Despite the inexperience, the Wolverines have recruited well during the Harbaugh era and shouldn’t see too much of a regression from last season. They will remain stout on defense with DL Maurice Hurst and former #1 overall recruit DL Rashan Gary.
Both teams put naming their starting QB on hold (Michigan has yet to name theirs), but Jim McElwain finally caved and named true freshman QB Feleipe Franks the starter, despite the incoming transfer of Notre Dame QB Malik Zaire. Franks is a big, strong armed QB who can push the ball downfield and be difficult to bring down in the open field.
While Jim Harbaugh has yet to name a starter, the incumbent Wilton Speight is expected to start after leading the Wolverines to a 10 win season. Speight will need to step up his game and come out of his game manager shell as Michigan will need him to pick up the slack left behind by all the graduates.
With all the players suspended for Florida, they enter as the underdog. However, tension has arised between the head coaches. Between the tension and all the fresh faces on the field, this is one of the more fascinating matchups in week one. Expect a close, tough football game between two teams playing with a chip on their shoulder.
Kentucky vs Southern Mississippi (4 EST, CBS)
A matchup between an SEC and C-USA team worth watching? You bet. This game has upset written all over it. The Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles feature two dynamic playmakers on offense in RB Ito Smith and WR Allenzae Staggers. They face a tough test against an SEC defense in Kentucky, which returns eight starters.
Quarterback may be an issue for the Golden Eagles as they’ve yet to name a starter, but if they can take care of the football, Smith and Staggers will do the rest. Kentucky’s offense features some star power as well. QB Stephen Johnson returns for his senior season and RB Benny Snell looks like the next big back out of the SEC.
This game can go one of two ways. One: Both teams put points on the board in hasty fashion and it comes down to the last drive. Two: The defenses come to play and we see a lot of sloppy football from both sides. While the offensive firepower is intriguing; Kentucky has an experienced defense, and Southern Mississippi returns their top three corners from last season on a unit which ranked 10th in pass defense.
However this game unfolds, it has shootout potential and should feature a bunch of splash plays. A lot of unheralded talent will be on display. This game has shootout potential, and will be an under the radar game with a possible upset.
#14 Louisville vs Purdue (7:30 EST, FOX)
While this may make for more of a competitive basketball matchup, who doesn’t love ACC-Big Ten football? For one, we get our first glimpse at reigning Heisman trophy winner, QB Lamar Jackson. Another notable headline in this one is the debut of Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm. Coming over after an impressive tenure at Western Kentucky, Brohm is expected to rebuild this Purdue program. He’ll get things started against his alma mater, which is also the school where his coaching career started.
Lamar Jackson is expected to pick up right where he left off, and Louisville will most likely run away with this one. But how cool would it be if Brohm could complete the improbable upset against his former squad?
The Boilermakers have QB David Blough under center. Last season he led the Big Ten in regular season passing yards and passing TDs. He looks like a great fit in Brohm’s quick strike offense. He will have his work cut out for him against a secondary that returns three starters, including All American CB Jaire Alexander.
Game of the Week
#3 Florida State vs #1 Alabama (8 EST, ABC)
Where do I even start with this game? The best matchup opening week has ever seen very well could be a preview of this year’s National Championship. Jimbo Fisher takes on his apprentice, Nick Saban, in a battle of college football powerhouses. Fisher looks to hand Saban his first loss against former assistant coaches; Saban is 10-0 in those games.
Of course this game will come down to coaching and limiting turnovers, but most importantly the matchups. Where Florida State has the edge is defending the pass. Led by S Derwin James and CB Tarvarus McFadden, the Seminoles boast arguably the most imposing secondary in the nation. This, to Jimbo Fisher’s delight, as Alabama QB Jalen Hurts, although named SEC Offensive Player of the Year as a freshman, was sporadic at times throwing the ball last season. This was on full display in last year’s National Championship as he was 13/31 and couldn’t hold on against Clemson.
Florida State should be able to erase Alabama’s threat in the passing game, but can they do so against their tough, physical running game? The Seminoles return most of their defensive front which features a ton of talent. However, they may be overmatched in this contest. We’re all accustomed to the running ability of Jalen Hurts. But with RB Bo Scarbrough, RB Damien Harris and freshman phenom RB Najee Harris in the mix, Florida State’s front will have their hands full all game long – dealing with fresh, talented backs.
Alabama is known for their tough, physical, stout defenses as it’s served as their trademark throughout the Saban era. Despite losing five starters from their front 7, you can make the case Alabama still has the best unit in the nation. DL Da’Ron Payne and LB Rashaan Evans will step up as they play towards first round status. With a loaded secondary featuring the likes of S Minkah Fitzpatrick and CB Anthony Averett, among other standouts; the Crimson Tide are rock-solid from top to bottom.
Representing the top offense in the ACC, sophomore QB Deondre Francois leads the charge at QB for the Seminoles. Known for his leadership, charisma and toughness, Francois showed flashes of greatness early on in his career.
In his first career start against an 11th ranked Ole Miss squad, the Seminoles came out sluggish and took a 15 point deficit into halftime. Francois was forced to throw the ball 52 times, and thus he tossed for over 400 yards and a couple TDs, all while committing zero turnovers.
It was quite apparent after that valiant effort against the Rebels that Francois was bound for greatness. Now, he gets his chance to achieve it. With a win over Alabama, Francois would secure a big chip when it comes to handout the Heisman Trophy. More importantly, he would add to his legacy, and NFL scouts would take note.
Francois has a polarizing set of weapons at his disposal. Junior WR Auden Tate has enormous potential. Going up against guys like Fitzpatrick and Averett will serve as an opportune platform to showcase his skills. RB Jacques Patrick and freshman stud RB Cam Akers will make a more than viable duo to make up for Dalvin Cook’s departure.
This is a game for the ages, and a game people will talk about for a long time. With stacked rosters chock-full of premier NFL talent, major National Championship implications and all the headlines of a TMZ magazine, Florida State-Alabama could be the best college football game we see all season.
Late Night Snack
BYU vs #12 LSU (9:30 EST, ESPN)
This game will overlap the big FSU-‘Bama showdown, but you’ll still be able to catch the 2nd half. QB Tanner Mangum makes this game worth watching from a BYU perspective. His Hail Mary magic has been well documented, but he must keep that going now as the full-time starter with Taysom Hill’s departure.
Other than Mangum, there isn’t much to note on BYU. However, they’re a disciplined, mature group of players who never make it easy for the opposing team. In their four losses last season, they averaged a two point loss margin per game – this was against the likes of Utah, UCLA, West Virginia and Boise State. You know someone off a defense that returns six starters from their back 7 will sprout and ultimately end up getting drafted, my money is on LB Fred Warner.
The Cougars are a strong opponent, but can they keep up with the ferocious LSU Tigers? RB Derrius Guice takes the keys from Leonard Fournette (or was he already driving?), as he looks to run his way to a Heisman trophy. If QB Danny Etling can continue to make strides and provide LSU with a reliable passing game, it’ll all start in week one against BYU. It’s pivotal that Etling gets off to a good start and can have something to build on to start the year.
Star pass rusher DE Arden Key would’ve been fun to watch in this late game, but he is sitting out due to an injury. The Tigers may struggle to provide consistent pass rush without Key’s presence, but they still have some nice pieces up front.
I could see this being one of those classic week 1 games. The underdog comes out strong, the favorite can’t get into rhythm and they trail at the half. Much like we saw in the Ohio State-Indiana game this past Thursday, I have a feeling the favorite (LSU) will start off slow and trail at the half, but they come out in the 2nd half and dominate.
#21 West Virginia vs #22 Virginia Tech (7:30 EST, ABC)
These two teams couldn’t be closer in the rankings, but they couldn’t be as far apart when it comes to play style. Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineers bring a quick-strike, spread offense. Meanwhile, the Hokies are known for their stingy defenses under defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Although, Justin Fuente brought a different flavor to the offense during his debut season in Blacksburg.
In a shocking decision, former VT quarterback Jerod Evans declared for the NFL Draft (went undrafted), which opened the door for redshirt freshman QB Josh Jackson. Jackson will become the first freshman to start a game for the Hokies since Tyrod Taylor in 2007, and the first frosh to start a season opener since Michael Vick in ’99. Jackson’s father, Fred, has been coaching for 40+ years including 23 seasons at Michigan.
Jackson will be eased into college action against a weak West Virginia defense that returns only three starters. Jackson is joined by electric RB Travon McMillan and WR Cam Phillips, who caught 76 balls for 983 yards and 7 scores. The Hokies are expecting Phillips to pick up his production this season with the departure of Isaiah Ford.
As for the Mountaineers, their offense is even better. Florida transfer QB Will Grier comes to Morgantown after sitting out the entire 2016 season. Grier helped rejuvenate the Florida football program back in 2015. Grier was the most proficient QB the Gators have seen in quite some time, but he was dismissed from the program due to an off-field incident.
Grier looks like the perfect fit for Holgorsen’s passing scheme, and he should put up big numbers this season. He is joined in the backfield by RB Justin Crawford who should garner All Big 12 honors.
Virginia Tech returns eight starters on defense, including their entire back 7. Their defense should keep them in this, but Jackson’s inexperience will show late in the game as West Virginia takes it.
Texas A&M vs UCLA (7:30 EST, FOX)
Josh Rosen must be happy. He gets a rematch against Texas A&M, and Myles Garrett won’t be there. All eyes will be on QB Josh Rosen as he has his sights set on being the #1 overall pick in the upcoming draft. Rosen looks to breakout after an injury plagued sophomore season.
While the Aggies don’t return Garrett, S Armani Watts is known for his playmaking ability and will test Rosen’s patience in this one. Kevin Sumlin enters the season on the hot seat yet again. The key for them this season will be improving on defense where they ranked 90th last season, allowing 441 yards per game last season.
A win for Sumlin would cool the chair a bit, but Rosen should put up a strong showing to start his junior campaign. This matchup features two unranked teams primed for a spot in next week’s poll with a win.
Tennessee vs Georgia Tech (8 EST, ESPN)
As if the weekend didn’t treat us well enough, Monday offers an intriguing primetime matchup. To start, both programs will be forced to replace long-time starters as Josh Dobbs heads to the NFL and Justin Thomas graduates from Georgia Tech.
The Volunteers have yet to name a starter, but junior QB Quinten Dormady is expected to start the season opener. Dormady has spent two seasons in the system as Dobbs’ backup. Dormady is a former 4-star recruit who has completed 61.5% of his 31 pass attempts.
For Georgia Tech, they have also kept their starting QB quiet. One thing is for sure, he won’t have to pass the ball too much. We see a fun matchup here between Paul Johnson’s triple option against a tough SEC defense. RB Dedrick Mills is the centerpiece of Tech’s attack. As a freshman, Mills led the team in rushing and scored 12 TDs. Mills serves as the B-back in Johnson’s flexbone formation.
On defense, the Volunteers must play disciplined against the run. Although, they may be overmatched as they ranked 104th against the run last season. While it feels like most expect the Vols to win this game, the Yellow Jackets are well equipped and should come out strong in Atlanta.