The 5: Can’t-miss matchups of college football’s opening week
I know, I know.
Technically, there were five games on the schedule last weekend, but the best of those was Hawaii nipping UMass by a field goal, so yeah, we’re treating this as the real Week 1.
And what a first full week it is! Matchups engineered for television, special uniforms — this weekend’s docket has a little bit of everything.
Here are the five games you should definitely check out this weekend:
5. #16 Louisville Cardinals vs. Purdue Boilermakers
Saturday, Sept. 2 • Lucas Oil Stadium – Indianapolis • 4:30 PM • FOX
Once upon a time, Jeff Brohm was the quarterback at Louisville. He was pretty good, too. He helped lead the Cardinals to a nine-win season and a win over Michigan State in the 1993 Liberty Bowl. He’s now the new head coach at Purdue, and the Boilermakers open their season by hosting Louisville. The Cardinals’ current QB, with all due respect to Coach Brohm, is the best ever at UL. Lamar Jackson won the Heisman last season after posting video game numbers. The junior threw for 3,543 yards and 30 touchdowns and added 1,571 yards and 21 more scores on the ground. Co-defensive coordinators Nick Holt and Anthony Poindexter will have their hands full trying to contain Jackson, who opened announced his Heisman candidacy with eight touchdowns (six passing) in last year’s opener against Charlotte.
4. Texas A&M Aggies at UCLA Bruins
Sunday, Sept. 3 • Rose Bowl – Pasadena, CA • 4:30 PM • FOX
If only bowl games were played in September, this one would be called the Hot Seat Bowl. Both head coaches — Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and UCLA’s Jim Mora Jr. — are facing intense job pressure heading into the 2017 season despite both experiencing success at their current schools. Sumlin is 44-21 in five years in College Station, has won no fewer than eight games in a season and has three bowl wins in five trips. But that’s not good enough in football-starved Texas, where the Aggies are trying to keep up in the ultra-competitive SEC. Mora is 41-24 in the same length of time at UCLA, but a third of those losses came last season. Good news for Mora — quarterback Josh Rosen is back after an injury-shortened 2016. Last year, threw he for 343 yards but was picked off three times by the Aggies in the season opener — a game A&M won, 31-24. Luckily for Mora, UCLA’s class schedule doesn’t being until Sept. 25, so he doesn’t have to worry about his quarterback being weighed down by his heavy academic load.
3. #22 West Virginia Mountaineers vs. #21 Virginia Tech Hokies
Sunday, Sept. 3 • FedEx Field – Landover, MD • 4:30 PM • ABC
Justin Fuente had a pretty good first season in Blacksburg, leading the Hokies to a 10-win campaign and a win in the Belk Bowl after taking over for the legendary Frank Beamer. In fact, Fuente joined Jimbo Fisher as the only head coaches to post 10-win seasons in their first year after taking over a program that had 23 or more consecutive winning seasons before he took over. Josh Jackson will be making his first college start for VT, but he’ll have a good weapon to hand off to. Travon McMillian had 671 yards on the ground last year after posting 1,043 as a freshman in 2015. Dana Holgorsen’s Mountaineers also won 10 games last year and averaged 485.5 yards per game on offense. By the way, these two teams are playing for The Black Diamond Trophy, which I don’t know the significance of, but let’s face it, it sounds cool as hell. It’s also the first time the teams have faced each other since 2005, when Virginia Tech won, 34-17.
2. #11 Michigan Wolverines vs. #17 Florida Gators
Saturday, Sept. 2 • AT&T Stadium – Arlington, TX • 12:30 PM • ABC
You know it’s a big game when both teams are rolling out special uniforms just to play it. On second thought, that probably just means it’s a college football game in 2017, but this is a big game nonetheless. It’s so big that Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh isn’t releasing a depth chart because he doesn’t want counterpart Jim McElwain to have any advantage. Oh wait, Harbaugh does that every week. This is the fourth meeting of the schools, and the Wolverines have won all three — and all three were bowl games, including the 2016 Florida Citrus Bowl. The game figures to be a defensive clash — Michigan was second in the nation in total defense last year, yielding only 253 yards per game. Florida was sixth, giving up only 299 yards per contest.
1. #3 Florida State Seminoles vs. #1 Alabama Crimson Tide
Saturday, Sept. 2 • Mercedes-Benz Stadium – Atlanta, GA • 5:00 PM • ABC
Most college fans who don’t root for the machine that Nick Saban has created in Tuscaloosa are probably hoping to see ‘Bama fall in this high-profile season opener. But I don’t think any of them would have signed off on what FSU president John Thrasher said last week when he proclaimed “we’re gonna beat Alabama pretty bad next week.” Ugh. Didn’t Mr. Thrasher get the memo? NOBODY beats Alabama bad. Ever. Their last loss by more than 10 points came in the 2014 Sugar Bowl when Oklahoma beat them 45-31. Furthermore, Alabama is 10-0 in season openers under Saban and has outscored its opponents by an average of 41-12 in those contests. They haven’t all been patsies either; five of the Tide’s opening day opponents were ranked in the AP Top 25 heading into the game. Florida State ended 2016 on a high note, winning five straight, including wins over Florida and Michigan, and quarterback Deondre Francois is a stud in the making, but this could get ugly.