Jimbo Fisher and Florida State have an opportunity to make a huge opening statement with a victory over Alabama in Atlanta
Upsets define any college football season, but no autumn is quite as memorable for its underdog theatrics as 2007. It's been a decade since that remarkable campaign, one which such unusual names as South Florida, Boston College and Kansas ascended to No. 2 in the rankings, and the national title hopes of teams like Oregon, West Virginia and USC were dashed in epic fashion.
The forecast for that incredible season became quite clear right from the first week, with landscape-altering upsets scored in the initial weekend of September. There's ample opportunity for a repeat 10 years later with a number of high-upset potential dates lining the first month's calendar.
10. Georgia Tech over Tennessee, Sept. 4
While it wouldn't necessarily be too shocking for a Paul Johnson-coached team to beat an SEC opponent – Georgia Tech is 5-1 against its former conference since the 2014 season – the Yellow Jackets are indeed underdogs heading into the final game of Week 1.
Las Vegas consensus deems Tennessee a four-point favorite, adding to the pressure on Butch Jones to deliver at the start of a pivotal season. The Volunteers fell short of expectations in 2016, failing to win the SEC East despite the down state of the division and some early-season success.
With several stars of the past few years gone – like Josh Dobbs and Derek Barnett – routine overachievers Georgia Tech could be poised to strike.
9. Memphis over UCLA, Sept. 16
Memphis football began to unearth its lofty potential the last few years. The first evidence surfaced in a nip-and-tuck battle at UCLA three years ago. The Tigers took a top 10-ranked Bruins bunch to the wire in the Rose Bowl.
In 2017, Memphis has the opportunity to give UCLA a receipt for that close loss.
Riley Ferguson and Anthony Miller combine to show the Bruins defense one of the more dangerous pass-catch combinations in college football. With some turnover in the UCLA secondary after several impressive years, the Bruins are prone to an aerial assault at this early juncture in the campaign.
8. Pittsburgh over Oklahoma State, Sept. 16
Pittsburgh navigated through one of the more fascinating 2016 college football seasons. The Panthers beat two national title contenders and Power 5 conference champions in Penn State and Clemson. Early in the 2017 slate, Pitt has an opportunity to replicate the feat when it hosts en vogue Big 12 contender Oklahoma State.
The Panthers lost a 45-38 shootout in Stillwater last season, but the multi-dimensional Pitt rushing game caused problems for the Cowboys. Pitt rolled off 290 yards and scored three touchdowns on the ground. With an impressive corps in the backfield, and promising USC transfer Max Browne now captaining the offense, Pitt has an opportunity to outgun the Pokes this time around.
7. Old Dominion over North Carolina, Sept. 16
Quietly, Bobby Wilder's performed one of the more remarkable coaching jobs in all of college football over the last decade. He was tabbed as the first Old Dominion football coach upon the program's relaunch, guiding it from FCS independence just eight years ago; to a berth in the FCS playoffs; to 10 wins and a bowl game in 2016.
Building off the success of a season ago, Wilder has a team capable of winning the Conference USA championship this season. A league crown and a signature win over a Power 5 opponent would be two milestone achievements in the growth of this program.
In North Carolina, Old Dominion sees a vulnerable Power 5 team. The Tar Heels finished No. 109 in rushing defense a season ago, dipping badly after the 2015 improvements Gene Chizik oversaw. This is an opportunity for Monarchs running back Ray Lawry to have an attention-commanding performance.
Add that ODU has the honor of hosting this game, and the potential for a truly landmark victory is there.
6. Arizona over Utah, Sept. 22
Last season was a debacle for Arizona football, which limped (quite literally) to a 3-9 finish just two years removed from playing for a Pac-12 championship. The Wildcats went 26-14 in head coach Rich Rodriguez's first three seasons at the helm, but are 10-15 over the past two. Unless he reverses the trend in 2017, this could be the end.
The Wildcats need a big win early in the schedule to generate excitement and belief. In Utah, Arizona sees an opponent that has been on the wrong end of a number of Arizona's more important wins of the Rodriguez era.
UA's multifaceted run game has caused problems for the tough Utah defense in years past, and even started to last year in Rice-Eccles Stadium before quarterback Brandon Dawkins went down with injury. Playing in the sweltering conditions common for Tucson in September, and with a healthier lineup, UA could be primed to complete the upset of this regular Pac-12 South contender.
5. Colorado over Washington, Sept. 23
Washington romped in its Pac-12 Championship Game matchup with Colorado last December. However, the Buffaloes – earning a spot in the title game after a shocking, 10-win regular season – were neck-and-neck with the Huskies before a handful of offensive miscues doomed their chances.
Colorado gets the rematch at home and in an early juncture of the season, at a point Washington is likely to be retooling its defense – in particular its secondary. UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski is replacing standouts Budda Baker, Sidney Jones and Kevin King, and this will be the first real test for the new-look unit. What a test it is.
Colorado's wide receiving corps may be the best in college football. Should the Buffs get their offense rolling, which they failed to do in last season's Pac-12 Championship Game, a massive upset could be on the horizon in the Rockies.
4. San Diego State over Stanford, Sept. 16
Head coach Rocky Long has established a burgeoning Group of 5 power at San Diego State, winning a combined 22 games and two Mountain West Conference championships over the past two seasons. The Aztecs' 2016 campaign included a Heisman Trophy pursuit out of record-setting running back Donnel Pumphrey, a spot in the final Top 25 rankings, and a warning to Power 5 programs that pay a visit to Montezuma Mesa: You have reason to be afraid of scheduling such games, as Long suggested in 2015.
Pumphrey's gone, but the rest of the returning corps might be enough for San Diego State to be even better in 2017. That means a shot at a berth in a New Year's Six bowl. San Diego State needs a marquee non-conference win, and a home date with perennial Pac-12 contender Stanford is just the ticket.
The Cardinal will be coming in off an emotional road contest against confernece rival USC, making this the quintessential letdown game.
3. Appalachian State over Georgia, Sept. 2
In case you have not heard, the 2017 season marks the 10-year anniversary of Appalachian State's historic upset of Michigan. And, if you hadn't heard, let me be the first to welcome you from out of under that rock.
So, what better way for the Mountaineers to celebrate the landmark victory? How about a repeat?
Appalachian State visits another traditional powerhouse to kick off 2017; one with realistic SEC East divisional title aspirations. Second-year head coach Kirby Smart returns an impressive cachet of talent, including the dynamite backfield duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Appalachian State – which returns key players like Antonious Sims, Eric Boggs and Devon Stringer – will be hard-pressed to match its top-20 rushing defense yield against that tandem.
However, if the Mountaineers can frustrate quarterback Jacob Eason, they can control the game's tempo. Get running back Jalin Moore rolling, and he could carve a place in Appalachian State history alongside legendary quarterback Armanti Edwards.
2. Stanford over USC, Sept. 9
Stanford has had USC's number for the last decade. Starting in the upset-filled 2007 season, the Cardinal are an impressive 8-3 against the Trojans. They finished a four-game winning streak in 2012 with a victory that removed USC from No. 1 in the AP Poll, and Stanford carries a three-game streak into this year's matchup – one in which the Trojans are likely to sport their highest ranking since that 2012 contest.
The fundamentally sound and physical style David Shaw's teams present challenges for USC most every year; win or lose. And this year’s meeting should be no exception.
Stanford comes into the Coliseum for this Week 2 date off a bye week, after opening Week 0 against Rice in Australia. Quarterback Keller Chryst should be at full strength by then, adding something of a surprise element to the Cardinal attack.
This one will have the atmosphere of a conference title game – Stanford's fared well in such contests under Shaw.
1. Florida State over Alabama, Sept. 2
It's not often a matchup between two of the best teams in the nation can be accurately deemed earth-shattering, but Alabama's dominance in season-opening showcase contests stands out as a notable exception to the rule.
The Crimson Tide's rout of USC last year in Arlington, Texas, extended an impressive streak Nick Saban has going in marquee matchups during Week 1. Check it out:
2016 - 52-6 vs. USC
2015 - 35-17 vs. Wisconsin
2014 - 33-23 vs. West Virginia
2013 - 35-10 vs. Virginia Tech
2012 - 41-14 vs. Michigan
The formula is simple: Give Saban an offseason to prepare for an opponent, and his team will deliver a beating. But this Florida State team is equipped to break the trend.
Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher is a Saban disciple – which, historically, has been a negative. Saban dominates former assistants routinely. However, Fisher's built a program very much comparable to Alabama, laying the foundation with physical defense and imposing play at the line. Florida State's also a rarity in that it has the talent to go toe-to-toe with the Tide.
There's no bigger upset in college football than any involving Alabama, and Florida State is primed to open the season with one.