It is finally almost here! Football season. Summer is great and all -- really great, mostly -- but by August I'm always in internal turmoil. I want it to last forever, but I also want it to end so we can get to watching some football. Well, starting Thursday the wait ends. We have a very strong selection of college football games to get us rolling this year. Here are nine games which stand out not only because they could be great but because they should teach us something about at least one team that will be useful for bettors ( odds are from BetOnline):
Michigan (+4.5) at Utah, Thursday, 8:30 pm ET: The Harbaugh era has been all about the hype. Now we get to see what it can actually deliver. The Wolverines haven't publicly named a QB and lack explosiveness on defense, but the talent was much better than their record last year. We know Harbaugh will succeed eventually. This game against a very good Utah team will give us a clue as to how long it might take.
TCU (-17) at Minnesota, Thursday, 9 pm ET: TCU is playing with the big boys now. Sure, they have for a long time, but not like this. They are ranked No. 2 in the country, and they have the Heisman favorite at quarterback. We know they are good. This is a big test for them, though - opening on the road against an outmatched-but-feisty and easy-to-underrate squad. People love the Horned Frogs now, but they will fall out of favor in a flash with even the slightest stumble.
Michigan State (-17) at Western Michigan, Friday, 7 pm ET: The story here is much the same as the last game. Michigan State is a team that has long been solid but which is playing a whole different game this year. They are a Top 5 with championship aspirations. Can they handle the pressure of not being the plucky upstart anymore? Western Michigan can't match them punch for punch, but P.J. Fleck is a master motivator who is recruiting well and building a very strong program. This one will be fun.
Washington (+12) at Boise State, Friday, 10:15 pm ET: You don't need to know much to know why this one is a classic. Former great coach of program heads to greener pastures, taking most of his staff with him. One of his assistants stays and takes over the team. Now the former coach returns to his old stomping grounds -- and risks getting stomped by the Broncos. The respect is healthy between the two coaches, but neither will have any interest at all in losing.
Virginia (+19.5) at UCLA, Saturday, 3:30 pm ET: Josh Rosen is as talented a QB prospect as you could hope. He's also a true freshman and carries massive expectations on his shoulders. Virginia is far from great, but it will still be very interesting to see what we get from Rosen -- and how soon we can expect him to reach his potential. By now we know that the sky is the limit for freshmen QBs. We also know that most guys take a while to find their footing.
Arizona State (+3.5) vs. Texas A&M, Saturday, 7 pm ET: One team is Top 15, the other has the real chance to be as the season plays out. One has an established senior at QB. The other had a wide-open competition seemingly won narrowly. For both teams this is a chance to launch the season on hyper-drive.
Eastern Washington at Oregon, Saturday, 8 pm ET: You couldn't script it better than this. Vernon Adams, one of the best quarterbacks in the FCS, chooses to try his luck in the big leagues for his senior season. His former coach isn't happy about it. Now that coach gets to play Adams in his first game at Oregon -- coming off a shortened preseason as he was trying to graduate from Eastern Washington. How good will Adams be? Heading into a tough schedule there are few better ways to find out than to place him up against a team that knows him better than anyone.
Wisconsin (+10.5) vs. Alabama, Saturday, 8 pm ET: Wisconsin has a new coach with much to prove. Alabama has lower expectations than they have had in years -- they are still ranked third in the country, but it's all relative. The Tide also have big questions at quarterback. Both teams could be very good - or could have a rough year of adjustment.
Ohio State (-11) at Virginia Tech, Monday, 8 pm ET: Defending champions. Unanimous No. 1. In some corners their championship this year is just a formality. They face a unique challenge managing their QBs, though, and discipline issues have been a problem early. They should be able to crush an underwhelming Virginia Tech team, but will they? And what does it mean if they make the win look tougher than it should be?
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