College football is finally underway, and I couldn’t be more excited. One of the great things about college football is that there are always so many great games each weekend, and this week is no exception. In fact, for an opening week there seem to be more great storylines than normal here.
Let’s take a look at 10 games that really have my mouth watering on the first Saturday of the college football year (all odds are from Bovada):
Notre Dame (-16) vs. Navy
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Notre Dame’s first game of the year would be interesting no matter what given the QB situation for the Fighting Irish and the massive expectations Brian Kelly faces to actually make some significant progress. When the game is against an always-tricky Navy team, though, it gets special attention because of the trouble the Irish have had with them recently. On top of that, this game is being played in Dublin so the teams have to deal with the travel, distractions, strange surroundings, and so much more on top everything that already makes the opener so tough for teams.
Ohio (+6) at Penn State
Ohio has a very solid chance at running the table and becoming a serious postseason factor at 12-0 if they can win this game. They probably can win this one, and it would be a massive win for Frank Solich and his program given that it is on the road against a Big Ten program. That’s obviously not the big storyline here, though. After an insane amount of drama in the offseason all eyes will be on Penn State to see how they respond. How bad will they be after losing so much talent? Does new coach Bill O’Brien have a chance here under these circumstances? How will the crowd respond? Until we see what the Nittany Lions look like all we can do is speculate, and we really have nothing to compare this to.
Miami (Ohio) (+23) at Ohio State
Urban Meyer starts his tenure at Ohio State with a “gimme,” but that doesn’t make this game any less interesting. Expectations are absolutely massive for this team — even if they aren’t eligible to win their division this year. Can Meyer work his magic again — and do so in a much more conservative league than he is used to in the SEC? Can he turn Braxton Miller into a star? How many changes can he have in place this soon into his time? How sharp will the team look?
Clemson (-3.5) vs. Auburn
Clemson is interesting in a couple of ways. On one hand, they are gaining serious momentum as a program — they are killing it in recruiting, and the Tigers seem to be on the rise. On the other hand, they are coming off a truly humiliating performance in their Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia, and that could set the team back. Auburn is a solid team, so a nice win here would prove a lot. On the other hand, a loss would really hurt.
Hawaii (+40) at USC
This one won’t be particularly interesting on the scoreboard — the Trojans will win by a whole lot. There are two things are worth watching, though. First, we get to see just how good this USC offense can be. They won’t face a ton of resistance, so they should be able to show us how much they are capable of. Second, new Hawaii head coach Norm Chow made his name and had his biggest successes as the offensive coordinator at USC, so he’ll be particularly motivated here, and could throw an interesting wrinkle or two in.
Michigan (+14) vs. Alabama
The defending National Champions lose seven starters on defense. That would cripple most teams, but Alabama is so deep and talented that they aren’t expected to miss a beat. They are facing the most electric QB in the country, though, and Denard Robinson is now a senior with confidence like we have never seen. Michigan coach Brady Hoke knows how massive a win would be for his program. He also likely knows how tough it will be to beat Nick Saban.
Oklahoma (-31) at UTEP
This one won’t be a thriller, but it is worth seeing just because it’s so bizarre to see a major-level program play a nonconference game against a nonconference opponent on the road. It only happened here because the Sooners were supposed to play TCU, but the conference shuffling means that the Horned Frogs are now a conference opponent and a last minute fill-in needed to be found.
Arkansas State at Oregon
Oregon will, of course, absolutely destroy Arkansas State. This one is interesting more for what it could be than what it is. Offensive genius Gus Malzahn took over Arkansas State this year. Offensive genius Chip Kelly is running at full steam in Oregon. Seeing these two playing at full strength with their own programs would be one for the ages. Now all we can hope for is that Malzahn has a trick or two up his sleeve that will be fun.
Toledo (+10) at Arizona
In Rich Rodriguez’ disastrous first season at Michigan he led the program through many low points, but none were lower than losing a home nonconference game to a MAC team that came into the game at 1-4. That team was Toledo, and the game was a total mess. Now Rodriguez faces the Rockets again in his first game in Tucson. He’s older and wiser, but he has even less to work with than he did in his first year in Ann Arbor.
San Diego State (+14.5) at Washington
Aztecs’ head coach Rocky Long has suggested that he may avoid punting in most situations this year, choosing to gamble on fourth down instead. I really hope he goes through with it — it makes sense statistically, and it would be great fun to watch. He has to do it without star QB Ryan Lindley, though, and he faces a Washington team that has the potential to be pretty good — especially if QB Keith Price can take a big step forward.
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