The first weekend of the college football season is loaded. Here are five things to know as you prepare to immerse yourself in football.
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 20 USC? No. 10 Notre Dame at Texas? No. 18 Georgia vs. No. 22 North Carolina. No. 5 LSU vs. Wisconsin at Lambeau Field. And that’s just to name a few. Lots of interesting matchups from which to choose, but the best looks as if it will be the last.
No. 11 Mississippi faces No. 4 Florida State in Orlando, Florida, on Monday night. The Rebels are in a bit of a reload season after losing three first-round draft picks that were the heart of a team coming off two straight New Year’s Six bowl appearances. There is still plenty for the Ole Miss fans to be excited about, starting with Chad Kelly, one of the best quarterbacks in the country, throwing to a bunch of speedy receivers.
Florida State seems set everywhere but quarterback. Redshirt Deondre Francois takes over a team with national title hopes. Dalvin Cook is one of the best running backs in the country and safety Derwin James is a versatile playmaker on defense.
Add in some SEC-ACC bragging rights and you have the game of the week.
No player could do more for his Heisman Trophy hopes in Week 1 than Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. The 15th-ranked Cougars open against No. 3 Oklahoma at NRG Stadium, the home of the Houston Texans. If Ward, who passed for 2,828 yards, ran for 1,108 yards and accounted for 38 touchdowns last season, has a big game and leads the Cougars to an upset, he can vault himself into the heart of a crowded field of Heisman contenders that includes three of the top four vote-getters from last season.
If Ward and the Cougars play a clunker, you can probably scratch him off the list of possible winners.
NUMBERS TO KNOW
—Longest current season-opener winning streaks:
Florida — 26. The Gators play UMass at the Swamp.
USC — 17. The Trojans face Alabama in Arlington, Texas.
Ohio State — 16. The Buckeyes host Bowling Green.
—Nebraska coach Mike Riley and Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall each enter the season with 99 victories. The Cornhuskers open the season at home against Fresno State. Mendenhall’s first game as Cavaliers coach is home against FCS power Richmond.
(SLIGHTLY) OFF THE RADAR
BYU opens against Arizona at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, marking the return of Cougars QB Taysom Hill for a sixth season of eligibility.
Hill lost most of each of the last two seasons to injuries. He also did a Mormon mission at the start of his career. So now at 26, a quarterback who was in the same recruiting class in 2009 as Matt Barkley, gets one more chance to lead the Cougars. When healthy Hill drew comparisons to Tim Tebow. He won a tight competition with Tanner Mangum to win the starting job.
The Arizona game is the first in a string of high-level opponents for the independent BYU. Also on the schedule: Utah, UCLA, West Virginia, Toledo, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Boise State and Cincinnati. All of those teams played in bowl games last season. All but Cincinnati spent at least one week ranked.
Regardless of how well the Cougars do, a full season from Hill will be a victory.
COACH IN NEED OF A WIN
It’s never too early to start the hot seat watch.
Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn enter the season with pressure to change the trajectory of their programs. Both start with huge home openers. The Aggies take on No. 16 UCLA and Auburn host No. 2 Clemson and Deshaun Watson.
Big challenges and great opportunities to show things are headed in the right direction. Also, a chance to start 0-1 in front of the home crowd.
For Auburn, a solid showing against a team that pushed Alabama in the championship game could make a loss in the opener palatable to Malzahn’s critics. That’s not necessarily the case for Sumlin. UCLA has the ranking and the star quarterback in Josh Rosen, but the Aggies are favored at home by a couple points. It is a winnable game. The Aggies are 1-6 at Kyle Field against ranked teams under Sumlin. Fall to 1-7, with an always tough slate of SEC West games still ahead, and things almost immediately get uncomfortable in College Station, Texas.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP